Wallaby Warrior - Tom Richards
'Perfect hell' - Tom Richards at Gallipoli
Greg Growden
May 22, 2013
Tom Richards
Tom Richards' diaries provide a revealing and personal account of the Great War © Unknown

Thomas James Richards wrote one of the most amazing rugby stories in history, the New South Welshman being the only Australian-born player in history to play for Australia and the British Lions; hence the Wallabies and the Lions play once every 12 years for the Tom Richards Trophy. Richards also won an Olympic gold medal for rugby at the 1908 Games in London, after which the Times in London pronounced: "If ever the Earth had to select a Rugby Football team to play against Mars, Tom Richards would be the first player chosen."

Rugby, however, was but one part - albeit a major part - of his remarkable life: Richards, known as "Rusty", also was a wanderer who introduced surfing to France, and who felt "expanding one's horizons to be more important than money". He expanded his own horizons in part by serving in World War I, from Gallipoli to the Western Front, where he received a Military Cross.

ESPNscrum correspondent Greg Growden wrote Richards' biography - Gold, Mud 'n' Guts: The incredible Tom Richards, footballer, war hero - and recently edited Richards' war diaries. Those diaries, in which Richards revealed a revealing and personal account of the Great War, are now published in Wallaby Warrior.

Read below an extract of Wallaby Warrior, in which Richards describes the horrors of landing at Gallipoli, and enter our exclusive competition to one of 10 copies of the book signed by Greg Growden.

Landing, 1915

April 24: Tomorrow is the all eventful day. We have our bully beef and biscuits with a full water bottle for two days or more. There is no water on the Gallipoli landing place at all, so we have to take great care of our water and fill ourselves up to the neck before landing.

At 3.30am the first landing parties comprising battalions of the 1st Brigade will face the music which will probably be poured out to them from the trenches only a few hundred yards from the open beach, but it is just possible that the fleet will have cleared the Turks back from their advanced positions.

At 8am the Engineers and 1st Field Ambulance go ashore in small barges and rowing boats. Of course, our landing will be free from rifle fire but there are two huge forts 800 ft and 600 ft high back 2½ miles with a clear range on to the landing place. The fleet which includes the Queen Elizabeth, London and Prince of Wales may hold these forts up and keep them busy. Let's hope!

No bugle call to wake us this morning, but most of us were astir before the sun rose--a brilliant and pleasing red glow. It was just the same as sunset last night--a stage setting with the flashes and booming of the cannon to enliven matters.

I listened to Major Croxton speaking from the bridge deck this afternoon. He gave particulars of the numbers and the battalions landing and what was expected of them. His speech was full of fine humour, dealing chiefly with our likely fear. It was hardly the kind of speech one would expect on the eve of big doings, as there was plenty of ridicule, nonsense, but no hard facts or detailed information. It seemed more as though we were preparing for a pantomime instead of grim warfare. I don't mean for one moment that he should have made us melancholy and miserable but he could have given us something like an idea of what to expect.

Into my overcoat I have sewn a piece of waterproof sheeting as the coats do not keep the water out very well, and added extra pockets to my coats for possible convenience and emergency sake. I also have a waterproof bag to carry my notebook and camera in. I have seven rolls of film (8 exposures in each) which will have to do me for a time, until we reach civilisation I suppose.

Gallipoli has mythology interests as the great warrior of the Siege of Troy, Achilles, is buried here, or at any rate there is a place described as the 'Tomb of Achilles'. Lemnos Island is known also to mythology as it was here that Vulcan landed when he was thrown out of Mount Olympus by Juno.

There was a glorious sunset tonight. It was just like a stage setting with the lovely deep red-coloured orb disappearing between the purple hills and the dainty rose pink sky. I was drawn away from it to get more bully beef and biscuits in my mess tin.

Tonight, although the fellows are naturally a little excited, they are in good spirits. They have shown up splendidly (comparatively speaking) since we left the loafing and waiting ground in the sands of Egypt. There has been a stronger tendency for sacred music also of late, with mouth organ and concertina.

Only a few minutes ago they were playing and singing Nearer My God to Thee and Lead Kindly Light. It's wonderful how religion gets them down when there is danger about. This ordeal should also test and bring my lack of faith home to me and give me a new light in that direction, as I walk blindly and aimlessly now.

I don't feel the coming danger any more than I have felt anxious the night before an international football match.

Competition: Win one of 10 copies of Wallaby Warrior by Greg Growden.

April 25: No bugle call to wake us this morning, but most of us were astir before the sun rose--a brilliant and pleasing red glow. It was just the same as sunset last night--a stage setting with the flashes and booming of the cannon to enliven matters.

From just before daylight as we approached Gallipoli, there was a wholesale roaring and spitting of big guns, our warships being particularly aggressive. The roar of guns did not bother me much but as we were landing on the torpedo boat Scourge at 8.30am a shell came just over No. 13 transport and stirred up the water to a height of 60 feet, within 150 yards of us.

This brought home to me the grim reality of war, but to my surprise I wasn't troubled and took seven photos before landing over our knees in water from the rowing boats into which we were transferred from the Scourge.

As we were landing, a shrapnel shell burst 150 yards away and threw a shower of bullets into the water-rather a pretty display.

Twenty minutes on, with stretcher at the ready, we were climbing the steep, rough hills looking for wounded, but it was about 1pm when I got my first case and from then until 6pm I had fully 20 dressings to do.

The wounded were in splendid spirits, telling me that in landing at 3am the Turks were right down on the beach, but were soon driven back over the terrible ridges for a distance of two miles. But alas! Our fellows got knocked about badly before this.

Seeing that the Turks had been pushed back and three guns taken it was surprising to find only a few dead and wounded Turks, while our officers and men were knocked about.

In a fairly well sheltered valley I waited for an hour within a short distance of the attacking party. The word was continually being sent back that help was badly needed on the left flank. A whole battalion of men were sent in but it was too late.

The Turks had brought about a successful counter-attack and driven our men back through the use of machine guns and shells. Showers of these shell bullets were falling all around our positions and it made us shake. Machine guns were being pushed forward by the New Zealanders. They were only just past our little party when a captain got a bullet through his calf and a lieutenant got a shattered forearm. Both came under my treatment. A fellow came along and asked me to go up and fix up his pal whose foot was shot. With a stretcher, Watts and I went only 100 yards along the valley.

This brought home to me the grim reality of war, but to my surprise I wasn't troubled and took seven photos before landing over our knees in water from the rowing boats into which we were transferred from the Scourge.

The bush was too thick and the water-worn track so rough that we discarded the stretcher and proceeded on all fours up the firing trenches upon which our fellows had been driven back. Here was a poor devil with his heel and sole blown away, and although in great pain he was what might be considered cheerful. I cut his boot off and dressed the foot. Bleeding was then not heavy. Now the trouble was to get him away with rifle fire pinging overhead and through the bushes within a foot of us. This safely done, the way out was awful but my patient skidded down the steep side on his hands and seat while I went forward holding the limb. In the bottom of the gorge I got him onto my back and made good progress, but as the foot started to bleed heavily, I had to put a ligature onto the artery at the thigh.

Fully two hours had passed before we got back to the boats taking wounded aboard the transports, and he bore up wonderfully well throughout. In his belt was a large sum of money, which he said amounted to 100 pounds. When we got back I was pretty well finished. It was a hard job for me, but truly terrible for the patient. When he was waiting he got out a sovereign and made me take it.

It was a remarkable day right enough and a day in which it was easy to pick out the wasters, also the brave men. I am delighted with our Australian troops; the way they take the gruel is splendid.

At times there was a shortage of ammunition and reinforcements were badly wanted but seeing they had landed everything under shell fire I should say they did very well. The Turks seemed to do most damage with shrapnel shells, not so much damage perhaps as fright. Our warships kept up a steady fire throughout the day but I fear they were missing their marks badly.

It was heart-rending to hear the plaintive, and only too ominous call of 'More ammunition wanted on the left.' What a doleful story these words really unfold. Also the call for reinforcements that came back from mouth to mouth told of dire troubles experienced on the other side of the hill. 'Re-inforcements - hung up on the right!' What a significant sentence, especially when uttered by the parched lips of a wounded man. Reinforcements were hurrying forward, sweating and panting, loaded with their equipment and a box of ammunition between them.

April 26: The warships seem to have a monopoly of the firing, some six ships taking part. The Turks are not replying at all. Indians, with a whole line of mules, are ashore and carrying guns and shells up the most difficult slopes with these sure-footed animals.

All last night the rifle fire was terrific. I went up behind the firing line at 3am and the flashes were a bit thrilling to say the least of it. I slept in a bit of a 'dug out' in the hill that runs down almost to the shingle [pebble beach], but it rained and the position was too awkward to sleep much.

9am: Rifle fire is going on along our front to the right of where I am sitting, camera at my feet, and by reports of the terrific firing I should say our men are beating off an attack. At 10am with three stretcher parties we were dodging shrapnel for 1½ hours under the side of the gorge. The rain of lead poured down incessantly and as each whistler was heard overhead we ducked. I am beginning to pick up the sounds of the different guns and to know the bullet pellets. This is indeed a wonderful experience and seeing there is so much slaughter and lead flying about we all take it mightily coolly and joke all the time that we are dodging. Bully beef and biscuits for dinner with a dixie of tea boiled over a pine case fire.

News that the French and British troops have met over on the Dardanelles is good news and might mean that our poor devils in the trenches get assistance, as it must be a perfect hell. Shrapnel is such a strange and mystic stuff to our men; they don't like it and it makes them very shaky.

At 2pm we in stretcher parties were away out again and met the very despondent 3rd Brigade going back into the firing line. Two companies out of each battalion of this brigade comprised the landing party on Sunday morning, and although they suffered heavily I cannot yet understand how they came to effect so successful a landing, or any landing at all, in the very teeth of a machine gun in such small parties. The mistake made seems to have been in following the Turks 2½ miles back from the beach, which in this country meant getting away from ammunition and all supports, so that when the Turks stopped the 3rd Brigade got cut to ribbons and were too far away to be assisted. As we got a lot of wounded from there, the cry going along the communication lines was like a lost soul crying: 'For goodness sake hurry along more men and ammunition as we are losing ground like hell.'

Later . . . reports are very encouraging and make out that our left and right supports are making wonderful progress capturing 1000 men and nine guns. But around here we seem to be up against it all right and have probably lost 1800 men for the two days. Our Corps were working until 11pm and were out again at 1am, gathering in the wounded, most of whom bear up with wonderful fortitude and patience.

April 27: I got to bed at about 4am but woke at daybreak after 2½ hours' sleep - good sound sleep too - as this carrying work is very hard going. The big guns - chiefly the Turks' - prevented any hope of further sleep. It is now 9am and I expect 40 tons of lead has passed overhead going both ways already, as I lie in this dug-out balcony bedroom. We are told to sleep now as we will be out all night in the moonlight. The Turkish shells are giving our ships that lie in front of the landing stage a very rough time.

It is reported 18,000 Turkish reinforcements were brought in last night. I fancy our 'front' is feeling it at this moment as men are being gathered from all over the hillside camping and resting ground and being hustled away forward to the line of front which extends over a length, as far as I know, of 3½ miles, of which the country is somewhat like the ravines in the Blue Mountains only covered with low thick bush and a natural hiding place.

Yesterday we had several Indian-manned mountain guns in action and they seemed to hold back the opposition fire. It is grand to watch these Indians at work. They are so quick with their guns and remarkably cool. We have some number of mules taking shells and tins of water over the hills handled also by Indians, and bullets never make them flinch in the slightest. News that the French and British troops have met over on the Dardanelles is good news and might mean that our poor devils in the trenches get assistance, as it must be a perfect hell. Shrapnel is such a strange and mystic stuff to our men; they don't like it and it makes them very shaky.

News has (also) just come through that the Australian submarine has sunk a Turkish battleship in the Narrows but no news would raise any kind of a cheer just now, the fellows have had both nerves and muscle so knocked about during the past 48 hours.

At 6pm we started out to work but the stray bullets and bursting shells drove us into shelter for one hour. At 8pm we reached the right flank first-aid post but to our delight there was only one case which shows our artillery rescued the position that got so badly knocked about yesterday.

Wallaby Warrior by Greg Growden is published by Allen & Unwin

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