Gallipoli: The Evacuation

More than 8,700 Australians lost their lives over the eight month campaign, with more than 2,000 of those on the first day alone.

On 7 December 1915, the British Cabinet agreed to the evacuation of ANZAC Cove and Cape Suvla and a detailed evacuation plan was devised by Australian Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White, involving operations such as the ‘silent stunts’ of late November, where there was no artillery fire or sniping from the Allied lines. This suggested to the enemy that preparations were underway for the coming winter, instead of a complete withdrawal.

Drip (or "pop off") rifles were self-firing rifles used at Gallipoli to deceive the Turks during the evacuation of December 1915.

After the withdrawal of the last men, action appeared to still come from the trenches by rifles arranged to fire automatically. This was done by a weight being released which pulled the trigger. Two kerosene tins were placed one above the other, the top one full of water and the bottom one with the trigger string attached to it, empty. At the last minute, small holes were punched in the upper tin; water would trickle into the lower one, and the rifle would fire as soon as the lower tin had become sufficiently heavy. Another device ran a string, holding back the trigger, through a candle, which slowly burnt down, severed the string, and released the trigger.

These devices provided sporadic firing which helped convince the Turks that the Anzac front line was occupied long after thousands of men had crept down to the beaches and escaped.

The drip rifle was invented by Lance Corporal W. C. Scurry  (later Captain W C Scurry MC, DCM) of the 7th Battalion, AIF, with assistance from Private A. H. Lawrence.

In the end, 80,000 men were evacuated with only very few casualties (making the evacuation one of the campaign’s most successful components), although most of the soldiers felt guilty leaving behind their mates who had given the ultimate sacrifice.

"It broke me up when we had to leave the Peninsula, after burying so many good, brave lads, but we all knew that it was the best thing to do under the circumstances. Don’t you think we did well without having one man killed?" (John Bell, letter, 27 January 1916, cited in D. Blair, Dinkum Diggers, an Australian Battalion at War, 2001, p. 97.)

Of course, this was not the end of the war for the troops at Gallipoli – the horrors of the Western Front awaited many for the remainder of the war.

C.E.W. Bean, The Story of Anzac from 4 May, 1915, to the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula: the official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918, Vol. 2, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1941, pp. 883-84