Finding 'The Cornfield'

Finding 'The Cornfield'
Gallipoli trench maps and war records
15 February 2017

The process of creating exhibitions is in some ways similar to that of writing a book. We investigate a wide range of material and then over time edit the content down. This also means that sometimes fascinating items never make it into the exhibition. ‘The Cornfield’, Originally considered for our 2014-2015 exhibition, Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War, was one such item. Fortunately the latest Treasures Gallery changeover has given us the opportunity to display this special map.

3rd Field Company Engineers, The Cornfield 1915, nla.cat-vn5741066

Drawn on tracing paper, the map details a small section of trenches, including details such as the locations of bomb tunnels, latrines, dugouts, drains and the battalion headquarters. On the bottom right hand corner it is attributed to the 3rd Field Company Engineers, and dated 31 October 1915. Despite having these details I was keen to discover where this section of trench was located in relation to the rest of the Gallipoli peninsula and who was stationed there at the time the map was drawn. Unlike the more well-known geographical landmarks such as Hill 60, Shell Green, The Sphinx, or Lone Pine, ‘The Cornfield’ proved more difficult to find.

One of the more interesting details on the map is a series of dugouts named the ‘Queensland Villas’. The practice of naming dugouts ‘villas’ was not uncommon, and is well documented in diaries and photographs from both Gallipoli and the Western Front. The dugouts had ocean views, something British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett noted in an 8 January 1916 Brisbane Telegraph article. In ‘Between Two Fires: Cave Dwellers at Gallipoli’, Bartlett notes that ‘a few weeks ago you could let a good bombproof on Sea View for almost any price, just as you can let a villa overlooking the sea at Folkestone or Eastbourne…’.

By searching for ‘Queensland Villas’ and ‘Gallipoli’ in Trove, I was able to find two newspaper articles which mention the location, one from 11 December 1915 in The Queenslander, and the other 9 November 1915, in the Brisbane Courier. Both of the stories make reference to a letter written on 18 September by a Corporal Neville Hatton of Toowoomba to his mother. Using his Service Record, I discovered that in 1915 he was serving on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the 9th Battalion. The 9th Battalion was the first infantry unit recruited in Queensland, which is likely how the ‘Queensland Villas’ got their name.

Once the battalion was discovered, finding the location of ‘The Cornfield’ became much easier. Unit diaries from the Australian War Memorial indicated that they were stationed near Snipers Ridge, and in the Chris Lowndes book Ordinary Men Extraordinary Service: The World War One Experiences of the 9th Battalion (Queensland) AIF & Reflections on the Gallipoli Campaign the location of their trenches was described as being the area behind ‘Tasmania Post’. This information made finding ‘The Cornfield’ on other maps much easier, and on another trench map I was able to find it, inland from ‘Shell Green’. What made this even more exciting was that knowing the location in relation to other key landmarks made it possible to identify the location on aerial photographs from the Australian War Memorial’s collection.

Segment of Trench Map No. IV 1915, nla.cat-vn5740817

The ‘Queensland Villas’ remained the home of the 9th Battalion until 3 November 1915, when they switched positons with members of the 1st Brigade, who had been stationed at Lone Pine since August. On the 16 and 17 November, the 9th Battalion left the peninsula for what they believed was a period of respite on Lemnos Island. One month later the Australian troops evacuated the Gallipoli peninsula, and the 9th Battalion never returned, instead joining the forces on the Western Front. Corporal Hatton survived the war, after fighting in both Gallipoli and France, and returned to Australia on the Osterley in January 1920. By connecting the engineer company’s map to the aerial photograph, I found the exact location of the ‘The Cornfield’. What was surprising about this was the level of accuracy achieved by the engineers and ‘diggers’ in the drafting and excavating of the trenches during the campaign.

‘The Cornfield’ is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery until April 2017. 

Comment: 
Very interesting story - thank you! (More elephants please!)