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   Chapter 24 THE SHARP-SHOOTERS

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 5567

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Just after the episode of the lost squads we were working our stretcher-bearers as far as Brigade Headquarters which were situated on a steep backbone-like spur of the Kapanja Sirt.

One of my "lance-jacks" (lance-corporals) had been missing for a good long time, and we began to fear he was either shot or taken prisoner with the others who had gone too far up the Sirt.

One afternoon we were resting among the rocks, waiting for wounded to be sent back to us; for since the loss of the others we were not allowed to pass the Brigade Headquarters. There was a lull in the fighting, with only a few bursting shrapnel now and then.

This particular lance-jack was quite a young lad of the middle-class, with a fairly good education.

But he was a weedy specimen physically, and I doubted whether he could pull through if escape should mean a fight with Nature for food and water and life itself.

Fairly late in the day as we all lay sprawling on the rocks or under the thorn-bushes, I saw a little party staggering along the defile which led up to the Sirt at this point.

There were two men with cow-boy hats, and between them they helped another very thin and very exhausted-looking fellow, who tottered along holding one arm which had been wounded.

As they came closer I recognised my lost lance-jack, very pale and shaky, a little thinner than usual, and with a hint of that gleam of sniper-madness which I have noticed before in the jumpy, unsteady eyes of hunted men.

The other two, one each side, were sturdy enough. Well-built men, one short and the other tall, with great rough hands, sunburnt faces, and bare arms. They wore brown leggings and riding-breeches and khaki shirts. They carried their rifles at the trail and strode up to us with the graceful gait of those accustomed to the outdoor life.

"Awstralians!" said some one.

"An' the corporal!"

Immediately our men roused up and gathered round.

"Where's yer boss?" asked the tall Colonial.

"The adjutant is over here," I answered.

"We'd like a word with him," continued the man. I took them up to the officer, and they both saluted in an easy-going sort of way.

"We found 'im up there," the Australian jerked his head, "being sniped and couldn't git away-says 'e belongs t' th' 32nd Ambulance-so here he is."

The two Australians were just about to slouch off again when the adjutant called them back.

"Where did you find him?" he asked.

"Up beyond Jefferson's Post; there was five snipers pottin' at 'im, an' it looked mighty like as if 'is number was up. We killed four o' the snipers, and got him out."

"That was very good of you. Did you see any more Medical Corps up there? We've lost some others, and an officer and sergeant."

"No, I didn't spot any-did you,

Bill?" The tall man turned to his pal leaning on his rifle.

"No," answered the short sharp-shooter; "he's the only one. It was a good afternoon's sport-very good. We saw 'e'd got no rifle, and was in a tight clove-'itch, so we took the job on right there an' finished four of 'em; but it took some creepin' and crawlin'."

"Well, we'll be quittin' this now," said the tall one. "There's only one thing we'd ask of you, sir: don't let our people know anything about this."

"But why?" asked the adjutant, astonished. "You've saved his life, and it ought to be known."

"Ya-as, that may be, sir; but we're not supposed to be up here sharp-shootin'-we jist done it fer a bit of sport. Rightly we don't carry a rifle; we belong to the bridge-buildin' section. We've only borrowed these rifles from the Cycle Corps, an' we shall be charged with bein' out o' bounds without leave, an' all that sort o' thing if it gits known down at our headquarters."

"Very well, I'll tell no one; all the same it was good work, and we thank you for getting him back to us," the adjutant smiled.

The two Australians gave him a friendly nod, and said, "So long, you chaps!" to us and lurched off down the defile.

"We'll chuck it fer to-day-done enough," said the tall man.

"Ya-as, we'd better git back. It was good sport-very good," said the short one.

Certainly the Australians we met were a cheerful, happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care crew. They were the most picturesque set of men on the peninsula.

Rough travelling, little or no food, no water, sleepless nights and thrilling escapes made them look queerly primitive and Robinson Crusoeish.

I wrote in my pocket-book: "September 8, 1915.-The Australians have the keen eye, quick ear and silent tongue which evolves in the bushman and those who have faced starvation and the constant risk of sudden death, who have lived a hard life on the hard ground, like the animals of the wild, and come through.

"Fine fellows these, with good chests and arms, well-knit and gracefully poised by habitually having to creep and crouch, and run and fight. Sunburnt to a deep bronze, one and all.

"Their khaki shorts flap and ripple in the sea-wind like a troop of Boy Scouts. Some wear green shirts, and they all wear stone-gray wide-awake hats with pinched crown and broad flat brims."

When at last the mails brought us month-old papers from England, we read that "The gallant Australians" at Suvla "took" Lala Baba and Chocolate Hill; indeed, as Hawk read out in our dug-out one mail-day-

"The Australians have took everythink, or practically everythink worth takin'. They stormed Lala Baba and captured Chocolate 'ill-in fac' they made the landin'; and the Xth and XIth Divisions are simply a myth accordin' to the papers!"

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