The Trenches 3-6-'15
Dear Mr Dickinson,
You have my sympathy in the loss of your gallant brother. He was one of a little band of heroes who held an outpost in the face of overwhelming odds for 28 hours.
He and others perished in the attempt before the post was relieved, the marvel being that any returned.
The affair will be an obscure incident in a great war, but nevertheless it might easily have been another "Rorke's Drift".
Our wounded were bought out with incredible difficulty, and your brother died on the journey to the dressing station. We buried him there, on the spur of Walker's Ridge, rising steeply from the sea and commanding and exquisite view of sea and land, with Islands in the near distance; the place being known as "Fisherman's Hut", towards midnight on Sunday the 30th May, after repulsing an attack of the enemy, in which four more were wounded.
You may well be proud in your sorrow, that your brother died at the post of duty, like a good soldier, giving his life with so many more for the liberties of the world. That God our Father may comfort and succour you and all who loved him, is the prayer of -
Yours in sincerest sympathy,
William Grant, C.F.
[ Letter written by 11/86 William Grant, Chaplin of the Forces, Major. MiD.
Later Killed in Action Gallipoli
28th August 1915 ]
The photograph at right is such a powerful image, that we instinctively know there is more of a story here than just an isolated grave on a barren landscape. There is a feeling here of something more than loss of life.
There is a bond of friendship and comradeship that jumps across nearly a century of time to us today.
Here beneath this patiently carved slab lies the body of Alf Dickinson. The carver has worked the letters deep into the rock to make sure that rain and wind would not destroy the marker of his resting place, and we will surely remember him, and where and why he fell.
Alfred's military record shows he signed up while working at Gibons Limited, a small company in the equally small township of Hawera in the Taranaki, North Island.
The link between three men starts here.
The photograph taken of the grave site at Gallipoli is by fellow Trooper James Read, who had listed his next of kin address as Thomas Read, of Denbigh Road, Hawera.
Further confirmation of an association stretching back to the small town is the letter reprinted below, written by another of Alf's comrades. He was Archie Cameron and was with Alf in action when he fell. This trooper also gives his enlistment address as Hawera.
All three men boarded the Troopship Arawa, leaving Wellington on the 16th October 1914 with the Main Body with the Wellingtons.
It is obvious that a great bond existed between these men.
Alf Dickinson a.k.a. Dickenson departed New Zealand with the Main Body with number 4 Troop, A Squadron, Wellington Mounted Rifles.
A letter from Trooper Archie Cameron (Epsom, Surrey, England 20 October 1915) to Alfred's sister
" ... I was so pleased you received my message. You can't imagine how hard it was for me to write. As I know the bond of love between brother and sister could not be greater. Poor Alf, he was always speaking of you as his favourite sister. I felt his death more than my own poor brother who was killed on April 25 on landing at the Dardanelles. I shall never forget May 30th. We came into contact with the Turks about 2 o'clock on Sunday morning.
At dawn the Turkish snipers got busy they got a number of our brave boys, so poor Major Elmslie who got killed in August called five of us to locate them Alf and myself were chosen for the mission. We crawled through the rough scrub we came within about thirty yards from the Turks there was about 20 of them hidden behind some thick scrub on our right flank. We took up position unnoticed by the enemy, we accounted for almost the lot. Poor Alf he said to me 'well Archie if we don't get out of this alive we have done good work'. About 10 minutes later the poor boy got shot, the shot went through the front of my tunic and entered his side. I caught him in my arms he put his arms around my neck he only smiled and asked me to send you a message and also Miss Rands, we buried him at the number 2 post. We engraved a large stone for his grave. And there I left my best mate and faithful friend. He died for a just cause freedom, [and] Christianity and I am sure our good God will reward all who died for the same cause. I am leaving for the front shortly I am now on furlough I extend to you my deepest sympathy. And many thanks for your kind wishes.
I remain sincerely yours
[ Troopers 11/418 Archibald Cameron, and 11/606 James Read of the WMR, both survived the Great War. ]
A further reference to Alfred's death is contained in in a letter dated the 10th July 1915 and written by Major Jim Elmslie. Jim himself was killed in Action later on the 9th August and also buried near Fisherman's Hut.
"I have received a cablegram sent through you asking about Alf Dickenson who was killed here on 30th May, [the] same day as Duncan McDonald, and a good many others were wounded. Dickenson was, along with the rest of his troop lining a crest, in fact disputing the possession of it with the Turks, when he got his death wound. I understand he was shot through the body and also spinal cord, dying almost immediately. If you have any decent map of the Peninsula it will show Suvla Bay and to the south the coast sweeps out to Gaba Tepe. Just at the innermost bend is the Fisherman’s Hut (marked on our maps). We buried him there, in front of the hut (an old ruined sun-dried brick one) about 200 yards from the beach, “with his martial cloak around him”. It was also at midnight. He was very popular with all his mates and a cheerful willing worker. Am cabling bare fact of his death".
The Duncan McDonald referred to here, was Major Elmslie's nephew from Waverley.
From the Memoirs of Ethel Helen Prince written in 1988
I awoke…to find myself in a garden watching Mother’s young brother, Alf, laboriously digging a deep hole. How he came to be here did not seem odd, but his work did, so I asked, “Why are you digging that hole?” He dropped the spade, fixed me with his dark eyes and making a grab, said, “To bury you in!” I screamed, and ran for my life! Today, I can hear his feet pounding after me, and the flounce on my white dress kept flying up to hold me back! I do not think he caught me. If he did it was with laughter. Now, I reflect, that nearly eighty years on, I am here to recount the tale, while he, poor lad, had a short six years to live. He was one of the first to lose his life on Gallipoli.