‘Many … wondered who would be the first to go’
On the night of April 24, naval ships with steam pinnaces and row boats on board slipped away from the Greek Island of Lemnos. Off the western shore of the Gallipoli Peninsula the 3rd Brigade AIF detached the first wave of the 4000-strong covering force.
With muffled sounds, 1500 soldiers from the 9th, 10th and 11th battalions climbed into open boats and were towed in the inky darkness by the pinnaces. A second wave of 2500 was to follow.
A spring chill bit into the men. They had been ordered to keep their sleeves rolled up so their bare arms would distinguish them from the enemy in the pre-dawn light. An officer crouched in the bow of each boat: orders were that officers would land first and would lead from the front – and order that would take a harsh toll on the leadership of the original Anzacs.
Lt. Duncan Chapman wrote to his brother Fred: ‘I was one of the covering party who had been chosen to go ahead, and, as our boats sneaked on in the early morning light, many of us wondered who would be, the first to go.’
The question of who was first ashore became a subject of lively debate among the Anzacs, with claims lodged by both the 10th and 11th Battalions which landed on the edges of the Ari Burnu headland.
On the beach a few days after the landing, General Birdwood was reported to have congratulated (then) Captain Duncan Chapman on being the first ashore.
A report in a NSW newspaper in 1916 announced that Sgt Joseph Stratford from Maitland had been the first ashore, as claimed by Pte Studley Gahan. Evidence gathered by Charles Bean in dozens of interviews with witnesses points to Sgt Stratford, who enlisted with the 9th Battalion while cane cutting in Queensland, probably being the first New South Welshman ashore but he was in the third boat.
Despite orders for officers to be the first to land, when firing started Sgt Stratford leapt first from his boat and charged up the beach. By the time the first shots were fired half the men in Chapman’s boat were ashore and taking off their backpacks.
Joseph Stratford died a hero a few hours later, killed when making a bayonet charge at a Turkish machine gun nest.
Early in 1934 letters from Brisbane men published in the Telegraph backed the then recent decision of Charles Bean who had written that in the absence of further evidence it was clear that Duncan Chapman had been first ashore. It has been objected that it was too dark to see which boat was first. But there is ample evidence that, when the first enemy shot was fired, most of the boats were at least some yards from the beach, and no other case has been heard of in which a boat-load had then already landed and began to throw off its packs.