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The first Gallipoli donation

May 6th, 2016 By John Sullivan

On Monday 21 June 1920, Australian newspapers carried a brief news item to the effect that Sir Ian Hamilton, commander of the Allied Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during the Gallipoli campaign, had presented an autographed copy of his Gallipoli diary, together with some pages of the original manuscript, to the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

This did not go unnoticed on this side of the Tasman. The story was carried on the same day by the Evening Post and the Fielding Star, and it prompted Mr W H Triggs, member of the Legislative Council and former editor of the Christchurch Press, to write to Sir Ian asking if he would confer a similar favour on the Alexander Turnbull Library, which was officially opened on 28 June, precisely one week after Sir Ian’s gift to the Mitchell was announced.

When Triggs wrote on 1 July he was not making a cold call. He had first written to Hamilton on 14 January 1916, as editor of the Press, asking for comment on the conduct of the war. Hamilton’s papers, in the Liddell Hart Military Archives at King’s College, London, contain 63 letters between Hamilton and Triggs, from January 1916 to June 1931. From the chatty tone of Hamilton’s return letter, their relationship was a warm one.

William Henry Triggs (1855-1934), member of the Legislative Council, and editor of the Christchurch Press. Photograph taken 1927 by S P Andrew Ltd of Wellington. Ref: 1/1-018933-F
William Henry Triggs (1855-1934), member of the Legislative Council, and editor of the Christchurch Press. Photograph taken 1927 by S P Andrew Ltd of Wellington. Ref: 1/1-018933-F

Sir Ian responded on 6 September and on 30 October 1920 newspapers across New Zealand were able to report that Mr Triggs had received from Sir Ian the original draft of a large portion of his second despatch on the Gallipoli campaign, together with a letter which contained the following comment; ‘'Nowadays, when so much must be done by shorthand and typing, it is by no means easy to meet your wish. However, I have dug out a bit of my second despatch, which might some day be interesting to the historical bookworm. The way these things were done was that 1 first of all dictated the story, then corrected the typed sheets. The whole of the portion of M.S.S. I sent you was done at Gallipoli, and all the marks, cuttings out and writings are by my own hands.”

Mr Triggs handed the material to the Minister of Internal Affairs, with the request that it be placed in the Alexander Turnbull Library. The minister promptly did so, and the gift was recorded on page 4 of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s first donations book.

ATL Donation Book Vol 1. Shows the Donor and name of the donation, the date and where the donation was lodged.
ATL Donation Book Vol 1, Sept 1919 – Feb 1943, p4.

This was the Library’s first recorded acquisition of a Gallipoli-related item. It is housed in the Library at the reference number qMS-0908. You can see a descriptive record here. Its appearance is misleading. Two letters, one from Hamilton to Triggs and the other from Triggs to the Minister of Internal Affairs, and 48 heavily annotated leaves of typescript have been bound, probably by the library, with about 150 blank leaves to make an impressive and finely bound volume.

Hamilton’s second Gallipoli Despatch was published in the London Gazette on 20 September 1915. It covers the period from 5 May to the end of June 1915. Read it online.

Our draft covers 11 May to 3 June. Hamilton’s papers in the Liddell Hart Military Archives contain four annotated typescript drafts covering different overlapping portions of the same period; an indication of the level of massaging involved in preparing a despatch for Lord Kitchener.

Some of the emendations are telling. In describing the Turkish assault of 18-19 May on the ANZAC positions, the typescript refers to ‘the heaviest rifle and machine gun fire yet experienced’. The published despatch calls it ‘the most violent rifle and machine-gun fire yet experienced’. The typescript reference to ‘an attack in force … delivered on the left of no 2 section, which was broken off with heavy loss’ is rendered in the published version as follows: ‘… a heavy Turkish column assaulted the left of no 2 section. This assault was beaten off with loss’.

Most poignantly, in an account of the actions of 4 June in the Southern Zone, the typescript refers to ‘the losses of the Collingwood Battalion which had gone forward in support having been specially severe’. The published version refers to ‘the Collingwood Battalion, which had gone forward in support, having been practically destroyed’.

Clearly, a considerable expenditure of editorial effort was involved in preparing a despatch for the eyes of Lord Kitchener, and in due course of the public at large. Some, but not all, of the alterations have been entered into our manuscript; the four typescripts held in King’s College, London, may well contain others.

In refining his message, minimising the damage does not appear to have been Hamilton’s sole concern, as his account of the fate of the Collingwoods demonstrates. What comes through is the level of care involved in drafting a document in which the fate of a campaign, and the lives of thousands, may hang upon every word.

Detail from page 45. It shows annotated typewriting.
Detail from page 45. Ref:qMS-0908

This donation was the first of a stream of letters, diaries, sketches, maps and photographs relating to Gallipoli, that have been contributed by New Zealanders up to this day. Today, if you go to the National Library website and search on the term ‘Gallipoli’, you will get over 30,000 hits. Refine your search to include only unpublished heritage items from the Alexander Turnbull Library and you will end up with more than 1,500; including over 450 manuscripts, 840 photographs, 60 oral history recordings, 50 watercolours and drawings, 50 items of ephemera, 11 digital cartoons and 5 maps.

Each one has the potential to tell stories as compelling as this one.

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