'Leaving for the Dardanelles' 1915

'Leaving for the Dardanelles' 1915
Peter Stanley takes a closer look at photographs from the library's Pictures Collection that reflect life during the First World War
1 March 2015

This post was originally writen for the regular feature In the  Frame in The National Library of Australia Magazine 

Young men leaving Egypt for the Dardanelles in 1915

David Izatt, 3rd Brigade Leaving Egypt for the Dardanelles, Egypt  1915, sepia-toned photograph; 6.3 x 10.2 cm, Pictures Collection, nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn736016

Until 1915, it would have been mainly seafarers who were familiar with the stretch of water known as the ‘Dardanelles’. Few in Australia would have heard of it, and fewer still would have travelled along the strait linking the Aegean Sea with the Ottoman capital, Constantinople.

With Turkey’s entry into the Great War, that changed. Visionary strategists in London (notably Winston Churchill) had the idea of striking at the Ottoman Empire by seizing Constantinople, using the might of the Royal Navy. This became the genesis of the Dardanelles campaign.

Among the first formations sent to the Greek island of Lemnos to support the naval attack was the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, whose members left Mena camp, on the outskirts of Cairo (practically in the shadow of the pyramids, visible in the background), on the last day of February, 1915.

Here, five unnamed men of the brigade carry their kitbags to wagons to begin the journey to Lemnos. There they will wait, mostly cooped up aboard transport ships, for the orders, which followed the failure of the naval attack, to invade the Gallipoli peninsula.

The 3rd Brigade comprised battalions recruited from what were often called the ‘outer states’—Queensland (9th battalion), South Australia (10th), Western Australia (11th) and Tasmania (12th). They would form the first waves of soldiers to land on Gallipoli.

This photograph was taken by David Izatt, a Scottish member of the 2nd Australian General Hospital, a former sailor who had volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force in October 1914. Underemployed before Gallipoli, he was free to wander about Mena camp taking snapshots—even though men were supposedly forbidden from taking photographs. He would become much busier when casualties, perhaps including some of these men, poured back into Egypt from Gallipoli.

David Izatt survived the war—indeed, he lived long enough to apply for the medallion marking the fiftieth anniversary of the campaign—and his photograph albums are now among the Library’s treasures. His snapshot is poignant because, while the men shown in it are probably just glad to get away from the flies and heat of Mena camp, we know what they will face on 25 April.