The Gallipoli peninsula is a spectacular place: steep valleys, deep ravines and high cliffs towering above long, narrow beaches. It can be searingly hot in summer and bone chillingly cold in winter. For most of 1915, this impressive and unforgiving landscape was home to thousands of young men; many of whom, like the New Zealanders, were far from home.
Conditions were tough in this harsh terrain. The weather took its toll – heat, cold, rain. Water was scarce for a lot of the time; troops sank wells and grabbed water bottles off dead bodies. Ships brought in most of the water, loading it into tanks on the beaches. In late November 1915, the place was awash with water as a huge storm hit the peninsula. Trenches flooded and the torrential rain swept everything into its path. Men drowned and possessions were washed away.
Food was plentiful, if unvaried. For the New Zealanders there was tinned meat, jam, tea, and biscuits so hard 'it was like chewing a rock', according to Russell Weir, who served on Gallipoli. Vegetables and fresh food were in short supply, although some were brought in with reinforcements. Flies swarmed everywhere:
Countless hordes of flies settled on everything edible. The soldiers waved them off. The black cloud rose and descended among the filth on the other side of the parapet. Presently they were back again on the food,—and so on, from the jam to the corpse, and back again to the jam, flitted the insect swarm, ensuring that the germs of most things undesirable were conveyed to the soldier's system through his mouth.
Fred Waite, The New Zealanders at Gallipoli, 1919
Rubbish was thrown into no man's land, that unsafe and increasingly unsavoury space between the Turkish and British lines. That was also the place of the dead; bodies were often left there until they could be buried elsewhere. After the disastrous Turkish attack on 19 May, no man's land was strewn with 10,000 casualties, living and dead. A brief truce had to be called for the Turks to bury the dead.
It was no wonder that men fell ill. Disease, especially dysentery, flourished among men already weakened by weeks of inadequate food:
I was running all the time. I couldn't enjoy my food. We were down to skin and bone. Dysentry just ate away our intestines.
Bill East in Maurice Shadbolt, Voices of Gallipoli, 1988
The psychological effects on the soldier were enormous. No place was safe from artillery fire. With the Turks overlooking them, snipers were a constant danger. All men lived with the fear.
I remember moving downhill in the dark. There was a bloke screaming somewhere, screaming terribly. He could have been a New Zealander. He could have been a Turk ... Scared? Sometimes you were too scared to be scared.
Vic Nicholson in Maurice Shadbolt, Voices of Gallipoli, 1988