Gallipoli – what’s it all about?

1st January

Gallipoli – what’s it all about?

This year marks the centenary of the ill-feted Gallipoli Campaign of World War One.
During the eight and a half months of the campaign, the Allies lost at least 140,000 men, of whom more than 44,000 died and the rest became sick or wounded. The Turks probably lost double these numbers.

For Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, this was not his finest hour and forced him to leave Asquith’s government.

The Campaign was initially planned as a naval operation to secure the Gallipoli peninsula and take Constantinople. This would knock Turkey out of the war and force the Germans to divert troops from the Western Front.

The fifty-two mile long peninsula juts into the Aegean Sea. The town of Gallipoli is near the top where the peninsula is four miles wide. The Dardanelles is the strait that separates the Gallipoli peninsula in Europe from mainland Asia.

I have had the privilege of learning about this chapter in history from the personal viewpoint of Sister Muriel Wakeford of the Australian Army Nursing Service.

Muriel was my husband’s grandmother

He has the diary she kept in 1915 while serving aboard the Hospital Ship Gascon. I was so taken with her voice that I decided to write a novel based on her diary and set off on my own journey of two years’ intensive research about the Gallipoli Campaign. My starting point was the marvellous Australian War Memorial http://www.awm.gov.au/ and its vast collections of digitised documents, private letters and photographs etc.

Muriel started her journal on 24th November 1914 and squeezed the first few entries into the front of the diary. The first one reads:

“Wednesday 24th of November

A momentous day indeed. At 4pm we pushed off from Circular quay amidst wild enthusiasm and also a terrific storm. They ferry boats all saluted, the crowd cheered and I felt pretty miserable. My first experience at sea. The night was wild indeed – three sea men were knocked over by the elements and one had to be operated on next morning. I was fortunate enough to be able to assist at the operation. Unique experience at sea.”

In future blogs I will show more of Muriel’s entries and talk about the challenges of turning a hundred year old diary into a modern novel. If you’re interested in history and writing, please drop by again. Also have a look at another author’s website www.wendypercival.co.uk/. She offers two blogs for the price of one. Interesting stuff on family history and writing.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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