Reean Sneddon from the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum shows Duncan Chapman’s war medal.
Reean Sneddon from the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum shows Duncan Chapman’s war medal. Karleila Thomsen

Heroism highlighted

NO WORDS could capture the bravery and the terror felt at Gallipoli, but a letter written by the Maryborough soldier who was the first man ashore has given a new glimpse of the heroism shown on April 25, 1915.

The never-before published letter from Lieutenant Duncan Chapman has been released to The Chronicle by the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum, to coincide with the 97th Anzac Day.

Written to his brother Fred, who also served in the war, the letter details the harsh realities of life on the front-line, including a description of Lt Chapman's headquarters - which he said was "in reality, a cubical cave dug into the ground about eight feet deep, with some strips of galvanized iron and earth on top as a protection against bombs, shrapnel and stray bullets".

There has been some contention over who was the first man to land at Gallipoli, with Lismore's Corporal Joseph Stratford sometimes cited as the earliest ashore.

But Lt Chapman's first-hand account, given in the letter published today, is backed by others including a sergeant scout Frank Kemp, who verified his version of events.

"I happened to be in the first boat that reached the shore and, being in the bow at the time, I was the first man to get ashore," Lt Chapman wrote to his brother, from the trenches on July 8, 1915.

"I was one of the covering party who had been chosen to go ahead, as our boats sneaked on in the early morning light, many of us wondered who would be the first to go."

Lt Chapman described the tense moments as the men made their way to shore, with little idea of how many enemy soldiers awaited them, and expecting at any moment to come under machine-gun fire.

"It is a peculiar experience and one of extreme suspense, to be crouched down in a small boat making towards a hostile shore," he wrote.

"Many poor chaps were killed in the boat and the deeds that were done in rescue work were beyond mention."

But even at that point, Lt Chapman realised the battle would be one of the most significant in the entire war for Australians and New Zealanders - and one that has shaped history.

"The heroic advance of our fellows and the meeting with and subsequent counter attack by their main body, and the stolid resistance of our Third Brigade are now matters of history," he wrote.

Although he survived the historic battle at Gallipoli, Lt Chapman was killed in action at Pozieres, France, on August 5, 1916.

 

Extract from the letter Lt Chapman wrote to his brother Fred, from the trenches at Gallipoli on July 8, 1915.

Dear Fred

It certainly seems strange to be writing to you after so many years silence & also under such conditions but after receiving a letter from you it is with pleasure that I take this early opportunity of replying to you.

I am at present seated in my Headquarters which in reality is a cubical cave dug into the ground about 8' deep with some strips of galvanized iron & earth on top as a protection against bombs, shrapnel & stray bullets but I am beginning to doubt the stability of it as occasionally at night I hear suspicious little noises as of bullets striking the opposite wall.

Well we have been here now about 11 weeks & have pushed well on into enemy territory.

Strict censorship forbids me explaining to you in detail the plans or positions of troops but probably you would get splendid ideas from our own papers.

The landing of our troops you no doubt have read, as full accounts have appeared in all the papers. I happened to be in the first boat that reached the shore & being in the bow at the time I was the first man to get ashore.

I was one of the covering party who had been chosen to go ahead & as our boats sneaked on in the early morning light many of us wondered who would be the first to go. It is a peculiar experience & one of extreme suspense to be crouched down in a small boat making towards a hostile shore not knowing the size of the force opposed to you neither being able to use your rifles (owing to the danger of shooting your own men) & then to suddenly come under heavy machine gun & rifle fire.

Many poor chaps were killed in the boat & the deeds that were done in rescue work were beyond mention. Also the heroic advance of our fellows & the meeting with & subsequent counter attack by their main body & the stolid resistance of our 3rd Bde are now matters of history.

I was promoted Captain on April 26th & am now in command of a Company of about 250. I am sorry we are limited to two pages Fred but you can see what it means. I have to censor all my Company letters 3 times a week & they in their turn are censored by the Adjutant. Write again as soon as you can & address it to Capt D K Chapman 9th Bn, 3rd Bde, Intermediate Base, Cairo, Egypt & let me know the news of Australia.

Farewell for the present,

Your loving brother… Duncan.

Thank the little girl for her prayer & tell her I appreciate it, also kind remembrances to your wife.. DKC.



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