The West

Soldier s diary of despair
James and Charles Mann

May God protect you.

It was May 15, 1915, and James Mann recorded in his little diary the words of the nurses as he and his mates prepared to board the troop ship that would take him to Gallipoli.

Mann, a Toodyay-born farmer, had joined the WA-raised 10th Light Horse Regiment in October 1914 and sailed from Fremantle on the troop transport vessel Surada in February 1915.

After training in Egypt, he wrote that on May 16, as they sailed for the front, "we were jammed like sardines in a tin" but were "of good cheer for we were off to help our brave comrades".

On May 19, they could see "the flash of shellfire, hear the booming of guns, our pulses slightly quicken". When they finally got to shore, they took shelter in dugouts.

The reality of the situation hit home the next day. "At the present time we are smack in the valley of death," he wrote. "Laying about are the graves of our brave comrades who paid their life to force a landing."

As May wore on, his diary, which has been painstakingly transcribed by his grandson Bruce Mann, of Beverley, became fuller with those horrors.

He described a battle on May 29 in which the Anzacs and the Turks threw bombs and grenades into each other's trenches.

"For about an hour and a half it was hell itself, you couldn't hear yourself speak," he wrote. "The brave ambulance men were doing their noble work bringing in the wounded."

He also wrote of a narrow escape the next day. "A bullet struck my ammunition belt which I am keeping. It was lucky for me it didn't go a little higher or lower."

As the days dragged on he wrote of an "awful smell from the dead bodies" and the constant bombing was "dreadful on our nerves".

On into June he noted the cruelly misguided rumours that the end of the war was close.

The light horsemen were also finding the battle in the trenches trying. On June 10: "We'll be pleased to see our horses again do not care for this trench fighting."

By July 30 Mann was sounding desperate: "Life getting very hard. Feel it is hardly worthwhile living. Dysentery is very prevalent amongst us all.

"Weather is hot as hell, water very tainted. The long hours in the trenches, little sleep is beginning to tell on us."

And then on August 7 came the tragedy of the infamous charge from trenches into lines of murderous Turkish fire at the Nek, of which Mann wrote: "Stood to arms at 3am then took up our respective positions for attacking. A gun of ours commenced bombardment of the Turk trench in front of ours but did little good.

"Dawn about to break 8th (Light Horse) have charged Turk machine gun fire dreadful. Turks giving our supports hell. Word passed around that the 8th down and most of the poor beggars dead.

"10th then charged, heavy casualties, the sight very sickening. Withdrawn from the trenches at 9am our losses very heavy. Everyone downhearted tears shed by many."

The next day he was struck down with dysentery and evacuated to Egypt. Mann was back at Gallipoli in October but the diary was not continued. His war records indicate there were periods of training and also further bouts of illness that required time in hospital, and in November 1916 he was on his way home.

In 1920, he took up a farm at Beverley under the soldier settlement scheme. He was elected as the MP for the seat of Beverley in 1930 and retired in 1962 after 32 years in State Parliament.

James Isaac Mann died in 1965, aged 74. His brother Charles also served, sailing for the war with James on the Surada.

Charles was wounded during his time at the front and returned to Australia in 1918.

The West Australian

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