William Joseph McGilvray

 

By Mervyn Williamson

 

When World War 1 broke out, William Joseph McGilvray offered his services to the Army immediately enlistments were called for. On 18 August 1914, he attended a recruitment centre at South Melbourne. In an interview there, he named his birth-place as Port Augusta, South Australia.

 

He gave his age as 27, religion Church of England, occupation insurance agent, his address as 2 Sydney Street, Collingwood Victoria. William nominated his father as his Next of Kin - Archibald D McGilvray, of Rose Street, Mile End SA.

He told of previous Army experience - how he had served in the Indian Railway Volunteer Corps.

 

During a medical examination, William was described as being 5 feet 5-½ inches tall, with a weight of 11 stone 1 pound. He owned a medium complexion, light brown hair, and grey eyes. William was accepted into the 5th Infantry Battalion as a Private. He was allocated the service number 178 and given a job as a signaller.

 

After some training, William went overseas. He arrived in the Dardanelles in time to take part in the landing on Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. William joined in a lot of fierce fighting against the Turks, in attack and in defence. He remained in action for about ten days. Wounded then, he suffered a gunshot injury to the right side and a burst ear-drum. The Army took him to a hospital in Malta.

 

For his actions at Gallipoli, William was mention in despatches -

30 June 1915 Special mention for acts of conspicuous gallantry or valuable service Gallipoli April 25 - May 5 1915 William Joseph McGilvray 178 5th 1B (Australian Military Orders No 570 o f 1915)

 

William remained in Malta for about three months, and was then sent to England for further medical treatment. He was shipped home to Australia late in 1915 and was given a discharge from the army on 30 March 1916. While at Malta, William wrote to his parents. 

 

His first letter, 'No Surrender, No Retreat' was written on 9 June 1915. It described activities on April 25. This letter was published in the Adelaide Advertiser on 27 July 1915, and gained at lot of attention.

 

'Held at All Costs' followed on 6 August 1915, 'How the French Laid a Trap' on 11 August 1915. Then, on 24 November 1915, the Advertiser used a brief note from him, written earlier at the Australian Hospital at Harefield in England. He commented on Army discipline - comparing English/Australian Officers/men.

 

William's Army Department records show that he was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were delivered in 1967 to his brother, Stanley McGilvray, of Mt Evelyn, Victoria.

 

The records also contain the note that William Joseph McGilvray died On 17 November 1951.

 

Private McGilvray's letter in the Adelaide Advertiser on 6 August 1915

No Retreat and No Surrender - Refuse to Abandon Wounded-Desperate Fight for Life; How a party of South Australian soldiers on the historic 25th of April refused to abandon their wounded comrades in the face of considerable danger is simply related by Private W J McGilvray in a letter to his parents at Mile End. Private McGilvray was wounded and writes from the hospital at Malta, 9 June 1915.

Image: archives.sa.gov.au/ww1posters

Image: archives.sa.gov.au/ww1posters

PRIVATE MCGILVRAY'S LETTERS

“We got ashore at 8 0 'clock, and we went up to reinforce the firing line. When we got up there the lads who were there were dead anxious to get at the Turks again.

 

So, instead of stopping to fire, we went after them with the bayonet, and didn't they run. We went on to a ridge, and when we looked over we found ourselves with a pass in front of us, 100 yards wide, about 400 yards long, and about 85 feet (indistinct) deep.

 

Each side was a steep gully about a couple of hundred feet deep. There was a Turkish machine gun on the pass above halfway across, 50 yards in front of us. That was our objective. We wanted that gun.

 

With a cheer, we went over the ridge. Our friends did not wait, but took to their heels and got for all they were worth. On we went the other 50 yards. and took possession of the other ridge, and here we took up our positions, got our firing line together, and we got to work with the rifles at our back. Two machine guns were doing good work.

 

About an hour later we saw the enemy advancing in large numbers on the left. On they came, and instead of stopping, they came up till they were level with us, the nearest Turks being about a quarter of a mile to our left. Then the truth dawned on us, and we found we had come too far and were in danger of being cut off."

"There was nothing to do but go back, and that as quickly as possible. It was 100 yards across the pass, and away we went. There were about 300 of us, I was on the left.

 

While we were on the way, we heard groans coming from the shed where the Turkish mountain gun was over the trenches. They had two places rigged up with posts and branches of trees, so that they resembled at couple of sheds.

 

A few of us went to investigate, and to our amazement, we found seven wounded men. To go away and leave them would have been too cruel to think of So we went out to tell our mates, but they by this time, had gone over the ridge. When we caught up, we found that there were four officers and nine men, or with the wounded, 20 in all.

 

So we decided to hang on - no retreat and no surrender, and we meant to sell our lives pretty dearly if need be. We gave ourselves at the most half an hour to live, but it never came to that.

 

An hour after, about another 20 lads cut off came over the ridge, and we decided to get our position as strong as we could. Not that we had any hope of getting out of it, but we wanted to get as many Turks as possible. From our position on the pass we could see the enemy coming down the steep gully on our left, and going up the other side, reinforcing their firing line. I suppose they were a great target and the temptation to fire on them was not small.

 

But we decided to await developments from our extreme front. I was sent out with seven men and told to take charge of the right and report if we were threatened there. So, off we went, with no idea of coming back.

This was at 2  o’clock. We only shot where we saw a target, and as the Ridge was only 50 yards away, if a Turk put his head up it was a hard thing to miss. If they rushed, of course, we would all be goners in about 30 minutes.

 

There was a sniper who had got in between the two lines, and we could not get him. He was going too close to us for comfort. One of our lads said, 'I'll get that chap', and he kept bobbing up. We begged him to keep down. At last he must have seen him, because he stood right up and fired. He must have got the sniper, all right, because he did not trouble us again, But he, poor chap, paid for it with his life, because he was hailed with a shower of bullets and he was shot dead."

"There was an awful lot of firing going on on our right, so I went down to see who it was. I hoped against hope that it was our boys. I crept to the side of the pass and looked over, and there on the ridge, 50 yards in our rear, was the enemy.

We were cut off, and no mistake. It was an awful discovery. I went back. The lads wanted to know who they were, and I had not the heart to say they were Turks. So I told them they were our boys.

 

This cheered them up. I told them I would go back and see if I could get a couple of more men. What will they think at home? Back I went. I had to crawl all the way. To stand up or kneel up would have been suicide. It was a real hell. I got back, but the strain was telling. It seemed as if we were only dodging what was certain death.

 

I was not afraid. But the strain! I asked the officer for a few more men, explaining the whole position. I felt confident that he would give them. He listened and then told me he could not give me any. Just three I begged. No, lad, I can-not give you one.

 

That settled me - It is no good, sir. We can't hold them out there, the way we are. He looked at me. There was no anger in his eyes. He did not blow off, but said, look, laddie, there is a paper comes out in Australia tomorrow. Your people and mine will read it. That will mean me and you. It's hard, but we must hang on. The battle may depend on use. Go out now and do your best . He spoke quietly and without fear. That settled it. Out I went, more eager, and better off.

 

The afternoon wore on. Evening came, then sunset, and then night. Darkness came, and with it the order to retire to the given position. When I got back there, I go an awful shock. About 60 more men had come up."

"Then I started to get our wounded back. We had no stretchers, so we used blankets that had belonged to the Turks. They must have slept there. They waited an hour to start.

 

There were two machine guns there, which had been left by our men. These were got into action, and we prepared to get ready to cover our own retreat onto our main body, which we reckoned was about two miles in the rear.

 

The left of the pass was impregnable, owing to its steepness, and our right would not hold water. We were hoping the Turks would not find that out and trusted to a direct frontal attack. We had not too long to wait before they started, and about 60 rifles and two deadly machine guns gave them Limerick and held them with ease.

 

They dared not look over the ridge. It was bright moonlight by now - as light as day. The first line was just going to move when we got word from the observers that the enemy was concentrating on the right, Instantly we went there with one of the machine guns, leaving enough men to protect our front.

 

But now the Turk found he had been fooled all the afternoon, and he was very angry, and made a rush. It was a mad one. With the machine gun putting out 400 a minute, and our rifles, we repulsed him.

 

Again and again he came. His side oft he pass was not impregnable, because it was easily surmounted from the bottom of the gully. Again and again the Turks tried, but each time was futile, At last we got word from the observers to get ready the first line of retreat."

"They say there is no discipline in the Australian Army. If I am spared to get back and any say that to me, he will find a tough customer to argue with.

 

No wounded were left, each party covered the other with his fire, No running. We walked all the way. The Turk - we learned a lot of him. They say it is his religion and glory to die on the battlefield at the hand of a Christian. I can quite believe it. They walked right up to within 20 yards of us and we shot them down. A bullet would not frighten them.

 

But if it is in the Turks religion to die of a bullet, it is certainly against it to do so from the bayonet, because when you charge him with that he runs away squealing like a pig.

 

But we went, fighting all the way, but we were never hard pressed, and we must have got an awful lot of Turks. We got past the enemy's line and right back into our own, and there all night we dug trenches and fought turn about. All night long the Turks fired, but did no damage.

 

We had to dig lying on our stomachs with the bullets whizzing over our heads. However a man could go through a day like that, with shells and bullets everywhere, and not get hit, beats me.

I had blood all over my face and hands, caused by pieces of explosive bullets, which are about the size of a pin 's-head, and draw a small trickle of blood. They sting like a bee.

 

We had done our bit but so far we had got a footing and we were deter- mined to hold it. The lads kept going all night. Each knew that in the morning the Turks would start to throw shells about.

 

We thanked God for our deliverance, In the words of an old soldier who has had four campaigns, it was the tightest and worst corner he had seen or heard of."