First ashore in hail of bullets

It was the early morning of April 25, 1915, and George Frederick Sutton Combs was among the first Diggers headed for the landing at Gallipoli.

A member of the WA-raised 11th Battalion, he later wrote of the moment he sailed into Anzac history.

His memoirs, submitted by grandson Murray Blanchard, of Noranda, recorded that the men had been dropped off by HMS London in small boats.

"Not a man even whispered or coughed or stirred," Combs remembered. "All that could be heard by those close to the pinnace was the very gentle tick-tick of the engine, no louder than that of a watch.

"Without a sound the pinnaces cast off their boats and the men told off to row put their oars in the water. And as soon as they touched the water, one single rifle shot was fired by a Turk from the top of the hill.

"There was then a second's pause, two more shots and a signal light followed by one continuous hail of bullets! To go through it was just the same as going through a hailstorm without one piece hitting you.

"All the time the men were pulling for the shore for their dear lives, when all of a sudden we bumped, and the young midshipman who was in charge of our boat said, 'You are aground, boys, out you jump'."

The journey had started for Combs when he enlisted in Northam and went to Blackboy Hill, Greenmount, for training.

The battalion set sail from Fremantle on the Ascanius on October 31, 1914, for Egypt.

A number of the Diggers of the 11th gathered on January 10, 1915, to be photographed on the Cheops Pyramid.

_The West Australian _ is supporting a WA Genealogical Society project to name the 703 men in the famous image.

WAGS has divided a digital copy of the photo into grids, so each man is numbered, and is encouraging readers who believe they know the identity of men in the image to make contact. It is believed Combs is soldier 340 on the grid, although this is to be confirmed.

The 11th Battalion, along with the 9th, 10th and 12th battalions, formed the 3rd Brigade, the covering force for the Anzac landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and the first ashore about 4.30am.

Combs went on to recall in some detail the heroism, sacrifice and horror of the campaign, during which time he became ill. In September, he was sent to hospital in Egypt.

In 1916, he joined the battle on the Western Front, where he was promoted to the rank of temporary major in 1917.

The following March, Combs was sent to hospital again after falling victim to a gas attack, before returning to Australia.

Mr Blanchard said Combs married Amy Kilgren in January 1919 and took up a war settlement block near Manjimup where they cleared the land with hand tools and a horse.

They had six children.

When World War II broke out, Combs re-enlisted and served as a training officer at Northam and Rottnest. He later worked for the RSL and in the dairy supply industry.

Mr Blanchard said George Frederick Sutton Combs died in 1963, aged 70, survived by his wife, a son, four daughters and 24 grandchildren.

WAGS is holding a family history display at the State Library today from 10am to 3pm and will be available to talk about the pyramid project.

The West Australian

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