Huge Storm Lashes Gallipoli

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 212th installment in the series.  

November 27-30, 1915: Huge Storm Lashes Gallipoli 

Following the failed landings at Suvla Bay in August 1915, regular trench warfare took a steady toll of casualties on the Gallipoli Peninsula throughout the autumn, with thousands of men on both sides killed or wounded by snipers, trench mortars, or more or less random shelling. However Allies and Turks both faced a third fierce adversary as well – the environment itself. 

Since ancient times the Aegean Sea has been famous for its unpredictable weather, immortalized in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and responsible for the destruction of Persian invasion fleets in 492 and 480 BCE. After the scorching summer months with their plagues of flies, in November 1915 the elements turned on the ill-prepared invaders yet again, as British and French troops suddenly found themselves confronting hurricane-strength winds, freezing rain, snow, and flash floods, in addition to their human foes in the opposing trenches. 

After weeks of dropping temperatures, the first major storm landed on November 17 and caused the most damage along the shore, smashing the piers built by the Allies to land food, ammunition and other supplies and evacuate sick and wounded. William Ewing, a Scottish chaplain, recalled the frightening scene as the storm pounded the beach near the landing sites: 

Later in the afternoon the sea rolled shoreward in tremendous, foaming billows that plunged in white cataracts over the hulks, sending jets and spray more than mast high… The timbers of the piers gave way, under the impact of the mighty waves; the structures crumpled up, and were hurled in wreckage on the beach. A stone jetty built by our enterprising Allies, the French, was dashed to ruins… The sun set over a scene of turmoil and fury. The darkness lent an element of dread to the voices of the tempest, and the crash of tumbling waters on the wreck-strewn beach. 

The storm continued through the night, with scenes that could have come directly from Homer: 

The night drew on with heavy rain, and loud rolling thunder. The lightning was beyond description splendid. The night was very dark, the light of the moon being quite obscured. The sea was roaring like a vast monster under the lash of the tempest. Then a  mighty sheet of flame would flash across the heavens, torn by gleaming, twisted, and broken lines, and for a moment the wide welter and turmoil of foaming waters, with the white hospital ships riding at anchor, leaped into view. 

However this was just a taste of the huge storm that would sweep the peninsula from November 27-30, with rain forming cataracts that swept away Allied encampments and drowned 200 unsuspecting troops. One British officer, F.W.D. Bendall, was chagrined to discover that his dugout lay directly in the path of a dry seasonal streambed running south through the middle of the peninsula (his experience also proves that the phrase “flash flood” doesn’t necessarily entail exaggeration): 

As I fished about underneath for gum-boots I heard a strange sound. I could have sworn it was the sea, washing on the beach! But the sea and the beach were four miles away. I stood in the doorway and listened. And as I listened in the flickering light there was a curious slapping noise in the slit outside, and a great snake of water came round the curve – breast high – and washed me backwards into the dugout. I was off my feet for a moment and then, sodden and gasping, I was in the doorway again… The water was at my throat, waves of it licked my face. I reached both hands to the top of the walls, but I could get no hold there. My fingers tore through the mud. Slowly I forced my way along the slit… I do not know how long it was before I turned the last corner… Thank God! there was the ledge. A great heave and I was on it. 

As temperatures fell over the following days rain gave way to freezing rain and snow, and floodwaters soon turned to ice. This was even more dangerous, as wet and hungry soldiers now faced the possibility of freezing to death as well; overall around 5,000 men died or had to be evacuated due to frostbite. Bendall recorded the pathetic sights he witnessed as he tried to round up his troops with a young junior officer following the flood: 

On our way back to Headquarters we saw a number of men who had obviously died of cold and exhaustion. Two brothers of “C” company had died together. The arm of one was round the other’s neck, the fingers held a piece of biscuit to the frozen mouth. It seemed a strange and inexplicable thing that these men who had come there to fight, and fought bravely, had been killed by the elements. 

The conditions were especially grueling for Australian troops who were used to rough conditions in the outback but had little experience of cold weather so far. However there was a silver lining, according to Ewing, who note that the Turks seemed happy to observe an informal truce during this period: 

The Australian Corps, indeed, suffered heavily. Many of the men, accustomed from infancy to do battle with heat and dust, now saw snow for the first time… As the rain gathered on the hills, it poured down in cataracts, turning the dugouts into swirling pools and the trenches into raging torrents… Friday evening brought sleet and frost… If the Turks had cared to attack they might have had the position for the asking. But probably they also were suffering, and may have been thankful to be left unmolested. 

On the other side of No Man’s Land the Turkish soldiers were also approaching the limits of their endurance, according to Mehmed Fasih, an officer in the Ottoman Army, who wrote in his diary on November 27, 1915: “10.30 hrs. We find Agati [a fellow officer] distraught. Even though he prodded his men with bayonets, some of them refused to leave the trench and started crying like women. Those who did go suffered heavy casualties from the enemy fire and shells. The entire unit is demoralized.” 

Now the inclement conditions, lice, bad food, and lack of clean water contributed to the other great scourge of the troops at Gallipoli – disease, especially typhus and dysentery. W.H. Lench, a British soldier who arrived with fresh reinforcements in November, described the epidemics that raged over the peninsula, inflicting casualties even when the Turkish guns were silent:

Everyone was demoralized; everyone was sick, waiting, waiting for the stretcher bearers who never came… There was not much sudden death, but there was slow death everywhere. The body was slowly dying from the inside. We talked to each other; we laughed occasionally, but always the thought of death in our minds – our insides were dying slowly. The water was death; the bully beef was death; everything was death. It terrified me; it made me feel dead. A man would pass me holding his stomach, groaning in agony, and a few minutes later I would take him off the latrine, dead. The men contracted dysentery and fever every day. The bullets did not take a big toll. It was the death of germs. 

Another British soldier, Edward Roe, wrote in his diary on December 10, 1915: 

I am personally aware that at least a dozen of the men in my company sleep every night in the latrine; when the reach the last stages they are sent to hospital by night. The hospital is 3 miles from our position. Some may reach hospital and some may fall into a trench of water – where they remain. We are all aware that if every man were sent to hospital that is sick, it would be impossible to carry on. 

And an Australian soldier, Frank Parker, remembered: “The sickness was just as bad as the casualties, the wounded and the killed. I was pretty crook myself, I had the greatest quadrille you ever saw in your life. I had yellow jaundice, dysentery, hives and lice. I was lousy. Anyone that wasn’t lousy was never on Gallipoli.” 

As it happened the storms came just a week after Secretary of State for War Kitchener had visited Gallipoli (since October under the command of a new general, Sir Charles Monro) to see if there was any hope for the failed campaign. The news of the worsening weather would help make up his mind and those of the Allied commanders: it was time to throw in the towel and evacuate the peninsula.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

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- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

- HP Neverstop Laser Printer $250 (save $30)

- HP ScanJet Pro 2500 f1 Flatbed OCR Scanner $274 (save $25)

- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

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- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

- Officemate OIC Achieva Side Load Letter Tray $15 (save $7)

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Selieve/Amazon

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Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

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- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

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NECA/Amazon

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12 Surprising Facts About T.S. Eliot

Getty
Getty

Born September 26, 1888, modernist poet and playwright Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot is best known for writing "The Waste Land." But the 1948 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was also a prankster who coined a perennially popular curse word, and created the characters brought to life in the Broadway musical "Cats." In honor of Eliot’s birthday, here are a few things you might not know about the writer.

1. T.S. Eliot enjoyed holding down "real" jobs.

Throughout his life, Eliot supported himself by working as a teacher, banker, and editor. He could only write poetry in his spare time, but he preferred it that way. In a 1959 interview with The Paris Review, Eliot remarked that his banking and publishing jobs actually helped him be a better poet. “I feel quite sure that if I’d started by having independent means, if I hadn’t had to bother about earning a living and could have given all my time to poetry, it would have had a deadening influence on me,” Eliot said. “The danger, as a rule, of having nothing else to do is that one might write too much rather than concentrating and perfecting smaller amounts.”

2. One of the longest-running Broadway shows ever exists thanks to T.S. Eliot.

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In 1939, Eliot published a book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which included feline-focused verses he likely wrote for his godson. In stark contrast to most of Eliot's other works—which are complex and frequently nihilistic—the poems here were decidedly playful. For Eliot, there was never any tension between those two modes: “One wants to keep one’s hand in, you know, in every type of poem, serious and frivolous and proper and improper. One doesn’t want to lose one’s skill,” he explained in his Paris Review interview. A fan of Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats since childhood, in the late '70s, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set many of Eliot's poems to music. The result: the massively successful stage production "Cats," which opened in London in 1981 and, after its 1982 NYC debut, became one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time.

3. Three hours per day was his T.S. Eliot’s writing limit.

Eliot wrote poems and plays partly on a typewriter and partly with pencil and paper. But no matter what method he used, he tried to always keep a three hour writing limit. “I sometimes found at first that I wanted to go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory," he explained. "It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.”

4. T.S. Eliot considered "Four Quartets" to be his best work.

In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. His poems and plays in the 1930s and 1940s—including "Ash Wednesday," "Murder in the Cathedral," and "Four Quartets"—reveal themes of religion, faith, and divinity. He considered "Four Quartets,” a set of four poems that explored philosophy and spirituality, to be his best writing. Out of the four, the last is his favorite.

5. T.S. Eliot had an epistolary friendship with Groucho Marx.

Eliot wrote comedian Groucho Marx a fan letter in 1961. Marx replied, gave Eliot a photo of himself, and started a correspondence with the poet. After writing back and forth for a few years, they met in real life in 1964, when Eliot hosted Marx and his wife for dinner at his London home. The two men, unfortunately, didn’t hit it off. The main issue, according to a letter Marx wrote his brother: the comedian had hoped he was in for a "Literary Evening," and tried to discuss King Lear. All Eliot wanted to talk about was Marx's 1933 comedy Duck Soup. (In a 2014 piece for The New Yorker, Lee Siegel suggests there had been "simmering tension" all along, even in their early correspondence.)

6. Ezra Pound tried to crowdfund T.S. Eliot’s writing.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1921, Eliot took a few months off from his banking job after a nervous breakdown. During this time, he finished writing "The Waste Land," which his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound edited. Pound, with the help of other Bohemian writers, set up Bel Esprit, a fund to raise money for Eliot so he could quit his bank job to focus on writing full-time. Pound managed to get several subscribers to pledge money to Eliot, but Eliot didn’t want to give up his career, which he genuinely liked. The Liverpool Post, Chicago Daily Tribune, and the New York Tribune reported on Pound’s crowdfunding campaign, incorrectly stating that Eliot had taken the money, but continued working at the bank. After Eliot protested, the newspapers printed a retraction.

7. Writing in French helped T.S. Eliot overcome writer’s block.

After studying at Harvard, Eliot spent a year in Paris and fantasized about writing in French rather than English. Although little ever came of that fantasy, during a period of writer’s block, Eliot did manage to write a few poems in French. “That was a very curious thing which I can’t altogether explain. At that period I thought I’d dried up completely. I hadn’t written anything for some time and was rather desperate,” he told The Paris Review. “I started writing a few things in French and found I could, at that period ...Then I suddenly began writing in English again and lost all desire to go on with French. I think it was just something that helped me get started again."

8. T.S. Eliot set off stink bombs in London with his nephew.

Eliot, whose friends and family called him Tom, was supposedly a big prankster. When his nephew was young, Eliot took him to a joke shop in London to purchase stink bombs, which they promptly set off in the lobby of a nearby hotel. Eliot was also known to hand out exploding cigars, and put whoopee cushions on the chairs of his guests.

9. T.S. Eliot may have been the first person to write the word "bulls**t."

In the early 1910s, Eliot wrote a poem called "The Triumph of Bulls**t." Like an early 20th-century Taylor Swift tune, the poem was Eliot’s way of dissing his haters. In 1915, he submitted the poem to a London magazine … which rejected it for publication. The word bulls**t isn’t in the poem itself, only the poem’s title, but The Oxford English Dictionary credits the poem with being the first time the curse word ever appeared in print.

10. T.S. Eliot coined the expression “April is the cruelest month.”

Thanks to Eliot, the phrase “April is the cruelest month” has become an oft-quoted, well-known expression. It comes from the opening lines of "The Waste Land”: “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

11. T.S. Eliot held some troubling beliefs about religion.

Over the years, Eliot made some incredibly problematic remarks about Jewish people, including arguing that members of a society should have a shared religious background, and that a large number of Jews creates an undesirably heterogeneous culture. Many of his early writing also featured offensive portrayals of Jewish characters. (As one critic, Joseph Black, pointed out in a 2010 edition of "The Waste Land" and Other Poems, "Few published works displayed the consistency of association that one finds in Eliot's early poetry between what is Jewish and what is squalid and distasteful.") Eliot's defenders argue that the poet's relationship with Jewish people was much more nuanced that his early poems suggest, and point to his close relationships with a number of Jewish writers and artists.

12. You can watch a movie based on T.S. Eliot’s (really bad) marriage.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tom & Viv, a 1994 film starring Willem Dafoe, explores Eliot’s tumultuous marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a dancer and socialite. The couple married in 1915, a few months after they met, but the relationship quickly soured. Haigh-Wood had constant physical ailments, mental health problems, and was addicted to ether. The couple spent a lot of time apart and separated in the 1930s; she died in a mental hospital in 1947. Eliot would go on to remarry at the age of 68—his 30-year-old secretary, Esmé Valerie Fletcher—and would later reveal that his state of despair during his first marriage was the catalyst and inspiration for "The Waste Land."

This story has been updated for 2020.