A Ghost of the Gallipoli Campaign
To-day in 1915 the evacuation of Gallipoli began. I’ve been reading some accounts from the Great War, most notably, Sydney A. Mosley’s The Truth About the Dardanelles, about this ill-fated campaign. While first-hand perspectives are always fascinating. what is even better is when, in the midst of sober analyses of Ottoman snipers, the competence of staff officers, and the weather, we find an account like this:
I hesitate to tell the story because of its entire improbability. I never intended to tell it, in fact. Only my own private diary and a friend should know. But here it is, after a week’s cold reflection. Indeed, time brings a mist of uncertainty and a doubt in one’s own belief to an extent which makes it necessary to write impressions red-hot, drawing from cold print when memory will no longer serve. It was the second day of the Suvla fighting. The French were heavily bombarding the Turkish lines in the direction of Kereves Deres. The din was perpetual and piercing. From the beach where the River Clyde is, the French base rises gradually to a hill. Here one obtains a wonderful panorama of the whole field of operations on the right and centre. The British, French and Turkish lines stood out prominently enough, and the damage inflicted by the big guns our own artillery and the monitors had joined in left one little doubt of how the battle was swaying.
Near me were the French General Staff watching operations, while a group of black troops clustered around registering the beautifully ranged shots with frank delight. Withal it grew tiring. It was like watching a man scoring a bull’s-eye with every shot. A miss or two would break the monotony. But the French never miss, and standing in the scorching sun, with sand blowing in your ears and eyes, is a trifle trying to a man longing to be in the thick of it. So I walked on, steering to the left, but not so extreme as to touch our own lines. A French dispatch rider galloped past me at a great pace till he was lost in the cloud of smoke from exploding shells of his own guns.
Finally, I found a little shelter, and from here the terrible beauty of this significant battle came home to me. The General Staff and the spectators on the ridge looked like dots burning in the sun. Just below them a line of a hundred flashes sprang from the ground mysteriously.
A long, black, curved line in the sand told me of a trench, and in the far distance an extended pillar of black smoke gave response to the hundred flashes of a few seconds back. Beyond that, ridges and undulations. Achi Baba, chipped and torn, lost nothing in its mystery and malevolence. It had defied the hysterical shells from the “.75’s,” the awful hell of the 14-inch monitors, the deadly aim of the guns of the British and French battleships. It told you to come on. But in the meantime, while the gallant French infantry held the flower of the Turkish army, the British came on, but not in the manner Achi Baba expected.
Lost in reflection in the wonderful wider scenery, I had overlooked the ground in my immediate neighbourhood, and I saw, not fifty yards from me, what I took to be a French soldier. He was lying in a manner suggestive of utter weariness. He seemed completely exhausted. I went to him. Upon getting nearer, I was surprised to see that the man was in khaki. I hailed him in French, but he did not reply; so, on reaching him, I shook him. He started.
“What’s the matter?” I asked in French, for his growth of beard denied any index to his nationality.
“Nothing,” he replied listlessly in London French.
“Oh, you’re English,” I said. “What regiment? How do you come to get here? Do you want to get to the base?”
He made an effort.
“Don’t ask me questions, but, if you like, listen. I’m dying. I don’t know how I came here and I don’t recollect what has happened. I don’t want to get to the base, for it would be useless. City clerk I was, and now I’m a soldier, and glad of having seen a bit of life instead of being cooped up in an office till the end. I’ve never been strong, but I cheated the doctor into passing me. Never mind how.
“There’s mother, my sister, and me. My sister didn’t want me to go. Of course I had to come. ‘You know what it means if you never come back,’ she said. ‘It would mean far worse if I didn’t go,’ I said. When I went she kissed me for we were old pals but I’ve never forgotten the look she gave me in parting. She seemed to know I would never return.”
He suddenly raised himself on his elbows and pointed to a cluster of bushes about twenty yards away from which I had just come.
“She’s over there,” he said in a strained whisper which made me doubt his sanity. “The same look as she gave me at the station. You see her?” he said sharply. I put my water-bottle to his lips, but he dashed it away.
“You see her?” he repeated wildly.
I made a pretence of looking. These hallucinations, I thought, were not uncommon. I had met another such case only recently. Yet I looked and started. At the spot where his trembling finger pointed was a cloud of white, which, as I watched, gradually assumed a human shape. Its outlines were not distinct, but, unless I had become afflicted even as the unfortunate man at my feet had, that efflorescent form was of a graceful girl. I watched spellbound, forgetful of all else. Then a voice shouted in triumph as my sleeve was jerked.
“See, she’s smiled at me.”
I turned to look at him, and he was dead.
I glanced from him quickly for here the dead are not uncommon but the illusion, if it were such, had vanished.
The Truth About the Dardanelles, Sydney A. Moseley, 1916: pp 70-73
Certainly apparitions seen by the dying are practically a staple of death-beds, on or off the battlefield. But when they are also seen by a witness, it is something else entirely….
Moseley was, according to the title page “Official Correspondent with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces.” He prefaces his book with some remarks on the exceptionally trying physical conditions for the troops (and correspondents) and adds: “These notes from my diary and dispatches were, for the most part, written under shell fire. They are not given for literary effect; only as actual happenings on the spot.”
In Reconsidering Gallipoli, by Jenny Macleod, the author notes that Moseley was highly unpopular with the other correspondents and with the officers. He was Jewish and, with the all-too-common prejudice of the British upper classes, General Ian Hamilton, Commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, reported that Moseley was “unfit” to associate “on terms of social equality” with the officers or correspondents. General Hamilton also reported that some of Moseley’s dispatches were “direct falsehoods.” When Moseley’s book came out, full of praise for General Hamilton’s conduct in the campaign, Hamilton apologized and said he had been “misinformed” about Moseley.
When we look at the rest of the book of which this account is only a minute part, the ghost-vision is an obvious anomaly in Moseley’s work. I found him to be a relatively sober, rather than romantic writer—a journalist at heart rather than a correspondent with a secret wish to be a novelist. (Unlike, we might add, General Hamilton, who wrote novels and poetry and whose account of the Gallipoli campaign was romanticized and revisionist.) Except for one or two mild mentions of premonitions, this is the only supernatural incident in the book. Make of it what you will.
Somehow the fact that Moseley did not add (in the age-old tradition of accounts in The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research), a literary flourish that he had later looked up the sister and found that she had died just at the time she appeared to her dying brother makes it all a bit more plausible. But perhaps it was simply a journalist’s fancy, suggestion, or smoke from the battlefield.
Other Great War ghosts? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
I’ve written before on the subject: Feeding Private Rex and A Colonel Presents Arms and Weird Tales from the Trenches and Portents of the Great War are a few of the supernatural posts about the Great War you’ll find here.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.