- Swinden, Greg
- History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On 7th August, the Train went ashore at Suvla (they rowed ashore on their pontoons), and soon had constructed a barrel pier at A Beach. On the following day, they built a landing pier in the same area. On the 9th, the Train was ordered to build a pier at Old A Beach to aid in the evacuation of wounded. This pier was constructed under heavy shell fire, but was completed in just twenty minutes and was in operation a few minutes later.
From then until the evacuation of Suvla, the Train was involved in the building and maintenance of piers and the supply of water and stores to the British troops. Often, when unloading stores, the following ditty was sung:
Bridging Train tourists, seven bob a day
Unloading lighters at Suvla Bay
If they should grumble, the Jaunty* would say
Away to the Guard Shed and stop all their pay.
*Jaunty being their Sergeant Major
All this was carried out under constant enemy shell fire, and the Train suffered a number of casualties. Apart from the wounded, Chief Petty Officer Perkins was killed by a Turkish shell whilst organising the unloading of stores, and AB Charles Shanke was fatally wounded. Shanke and four other men were taking a water tank to one of the forward distribution centres. Shanke was carrying a pot of paint with which to paint the tank when it was in position. On their way forward, a shell landed nearby, and Shanke was mortally wounded, his uniform being covered in blood and paint.
Apart from the risk of injury from enemy shelling, the Train suffered greatly from disease, such as jaundice, paratyphoid and blood poisoning from cuts and scratches. A number of injuries were also sustained whilst constructing piers. AB Driver Carl Schuler suffered a bad shin injury when a baulk of timber fell on him, and he had to be evacuated to Malta for treatment. Only hours before he left, he won fifteen pounds playing cards with his mates and so was slightly compensated for his injury.
Finally, on 18th December 1915, the train was evacuated from Suvla Bay. General Bland, the Chief Engineer of the 9th Army Corps commented that the Train had done outstanding work and could be relied upon to do any engineering task.
On their return to Egypt, the Train was attached to the 1st ANZAC Corps and sent to the Suez canal area. Here they were engaged in bridge building and controlling the existing swing bridges, which were formed and then broken to allow ships to pass along the canal. The work was monotonous, with bridges having to be formed and broken as many as six times a day.
Yellow Fever Scare
In April 1916, as a result of wrangling over who should have control of the Train, they were returned to the 9th Army Corps and moved south where they controlled bridges across the canal from the Great Bitter Lake to El Shatt. Throughout this time, the Turks often bombed the Canal zone, and patrols were needed to keep Turkish forces away from the area. One such patrol, composed of personnel of the RANBT, captured a group of Turkish soldiers one night, some miles north east of the Canal. AB Driver Phillip Rutlidge, who was a member of the patrol, stated that they got the biggest shock of their lives when the next morning they discovered that the Turks were suffering from yellow fever. The Australians spent an uneasy two weeks – the incubation period – waiting to see whether they had contracted the disease. Fortunately, they had not.
In December 1916, it was decided that the Train would take part in the landings at El Arish. They were to land with the attacking force on to a mined beach which was held by the Turks, and then construct a wharf over which troops and supplies could be landed. Luckily, the Turks had abandoned El Arish, and apart from being shelled and bombed, the wharf was constructed with little difficulty. However it was found initially to be too short and had to be extended.
With the rapid advance of the Allied forces into Palestine, the Bridging Train found it had less and less work to do, as the RAE now did most of the required engineering work. Also amongst the Train, there were grumblings that their job could be done by civilians, such as the Egyptian Labour Corps. The Train believed they should be released for front line service.