The West

Optimism soon turned to horror
Different view: Alexander John McNaughton. Picture: Supplied

As Alexander John McNaughton set sail in 1915 for what would turn out to be the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, he was filled with optimism.

But the horrors of what he would encounter soon made him take a very different view.

Ian McNaughton, of Innaloo, said his father had been a fitter and turner before the war.

His father had been assigned to the 2nd Field Company Engineers when he enlisted in August 1914 and left Melbourne in October for Egypt, en route to Gallipoli.

McNaughton's diary recorded that not long before the Gallipoli landings he had been "put on a job down in the engine room".

"I am quite at home here and busy making tools for our outfit," he wrote. On April 22, three days before the first landing at Gallipoli, McNaughton wrote he "did 24 hours down below without any sleep".

As the transports left for the peninsula he had noted optimistically "now we ought to see some fun, thank goodness".

His diary then described horrific scenes of wounded and dead soldiers on transport vessels as his own smaller boat struck out for the shore.

"How we missed being hit was a miracle, only a delay occurring through one of the towboats saved us, for a shell burst only 30 yards in front of us and sent its message of death into the water's edge with one white spray," McNaughton recounted. "How we hugged the cliffs when we landed . . . there was a constant stream of wounded all day and night."

And to finish that day's entry, he concluded "thus ended a day which I pray God I will never have to witness again".

As an engineer, McNaughton played a crucial role.

The sappers, as the engineers were known, had responsibility for providing essentials such as water and defensive cover such as trenches and tunnels, along with crucial elements in the supply chain such as piers, bridges and tracks. The unit diary of the 2nd Company Engineers for April 25 records that they had landed at Anzac Cove at 7am and had begun building a road, sinking wells and unloading an ammunition barge under heavy fire.

As the day wore on they constructed a track to haul a field gun into position, started work on a pier and dug a trench line and occupied it until relieved by New Zealand infantry.

McNaughton's diary records weeks of battle, close calls in the trenches as shells burst within metres and a mounting casualty list, before he succumbed to sickness and was evacuated to hospital in Malta, listed as "dangerously ill".

After he recovered he rejoined the battle in 1916, this time on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

In 1917 he was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in Belgium when, as a company runner, he made seven trips totalling about 40km through enemy barrages, as well as going out under heavy fire in a bid to rescue a wounded Digger.

McNaughton was wounded in action in August 1918, not long before war's end, and returned to Australia soon after.

After World War I he married and had three children and set up an engineering firm until enlisting again in WWII.

Mr McNaughton said his father served at Port Moresby and Milne Bay, New Guinea, before being repatriated with war-related illnesses.

Alexander John McNaughton died in 1946.

The West Australian

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