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Anzac Day 1915- Three Gordon cricketers were on a mission

The first Gordon cricketer to enlist in the First World War was third grader Cliff Geddes who, on 19 August, 1914 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces 3rd Battalion. Cliff would be foregoing his cricket creams for an Australian uniform which would become his mode of dress for nearly five years. He was born in Warialda to William and Sarah Geddes.

Interestingly two of his grandparents were convicts, one was from Ireland and one from England. Cliff and his family moved to Chatswood and lived in a cottage called Cyrene in Railway Street. He was a bank clerk when he enlisted on 19 August 1914 at the age of twenty-eight and sailed on the HMAT Euripides to England on 20 October 1914.

Within a week two more players, Frederick William Easton (4th Battalion) and Alan Downing Bruce (1st Brigade Australian Field Artillery), had enlisted and would begin preparations for embarking on their mission overseas.

Fred Easton was a twenty year old clerk who lived in Mowbray Road Chatswood. Like Cliff, he played a number of matches for Gordon in Third Grade before enlisting on 20 August 1914. Also like Cliff, Fred sailed from Sydney on the HMAT Euripides to England on 20 October 1914. Maybe they played a few knock up games of cricket aboard the ship during their two month transit to the war zone.

Alan Bruce was a civil servant who lived at Burleigh in Balfour Road, Lindfield, and enlisted on 24 August at the age of twenty-four. Alan played cricket for the Gordon Vets team prior to the war and embarked from Sydney on 18 October. This first group of three players was about to commence a journey that no man should have had to endure. They were destined to join those Australian regiments ordered to embark on an expedition to the Dardanelles. They would fight the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire who had sided with Germany after the outbreak of war with England. This of course would later be known to every Australian as the Gallipoli Campaign.

They would be part of the early waves of Australian diggers scrambling their way onto the beach at Gallipoli as their fellow soldiers fell around them. While Fred and Cliff had joined as artillery gunners in the 3rd and 4th Battalions, Alan had joined the AIF as a driver for the 1st Battalion. One can only imagine his surprise to find himself on a stretch of land no longer than one mile and only 500 yards in width at its widest point. Alan was not going to do a lot of driving.

On 25 April 1915 the Gallipoli campaign began, with Cliff being in the first wave of troops to land, while Fred and Alan were part of the second and third waves to reach the shore. Somehow all three survived the landing in the face of strong resistance by the Turkish forces and with massive casualties on both sides. By 5 May, only a small area had been held by the landing force which became known as Anzac Cove.

These three men were representing their country and their cricket club and like any three people you could pick in our cricket club today, they were very different, yet they had one thing in common. They were in the AIF. Their country, lifestyle and future was under threat and however naïve we might think of them today, they did not falter in the goal of protecting their families and being able to go to Chatswood Oval every Saturday for their game of cricket. How were they different?

Cliff Geddes was the adventurer and prolific diarist, who always said was on the trip of a lifetime and incredibly after returning home in 1917 after being wounded he went back to France a year later to fight out the remainder of the war.

Alan Bruce was the young civil servant from Balfour Street Lindfield who thought he could drive his mates around the beautiful French countryside. Instead he was on the hills of Gallipoli. He was on the front line on day 1 and didn’t leave there until his death in 1918.

Fred Easton was the classic Australian Anzac who was the first to be out on the town during his training in Egypt, but would always be the first to jump over the trenches and lead his mates into battle.

How many of the Gordon cricketers today can claim to be adventurers, night owls and always available to drive their mates to the game. Probably all of them!

On May 19 Cliff wrote in his diary:

Along with others I was ordered to lie on the ground above the trench. When we climbed out a startling sight met our eyes. The darkness of No Man's Land was lit by the fire of blazing rifles from the grass, and the Turks were within 25 yards of our trenches. The orders of my particular group from Captain Austin, company commander, were that if the Turks got very close to jump across the trench and charge them with the bayonet, but on no account to fire our rifles and let them know we were there. Thus I was a spectator of the most thrilling game I have ever seen. The Australians were magnificent. Every man who could was firing across the trench at the line of fire from the dark ground as fast as he could pull the trigger and pull back the bolt to reload. When the rifle got too hot to hold, or jammed, the man below on the floor of the trench handed up his with more cartridges. The machine-guns poured back their hail of lead.

Many of our grand chaps fell shot through the head, but immediately another man took the place of him who fell. The dawn now began to break and what a sight lay before our eyes. It seemed as if an army lay asleep in the grass. So confident were the Turks that they attacked with blankets strapped to their backs, presumably to sleep the next night in our trenches, but the majority were sleeping their last sleep in No Man's Land. The remainder could stand the fire no longer, and raced back towards their own trenches. I was struck by the magnificent running of an athletic Turk, who ran like a deer for his own trench. Bullets threw up the dirt all around his feet, but on he sped and I really hoped that he might get there as he was such a wonderful runner. Just as he reached his own line and was about to jump into the trench an Australian bullet ended his great effort, and he rolled back down the slope in front of the banked-up earth.

Tragically Fred Easton, was one of those gallant diggers who died that night as part of the 4th Battalion’s D Company, the lead group defending the Turkish assault. Fred was killed during hand-to-hand fighting when the Turkish forces infiltrated the 4th Battalion trenches.

As Cliff Geddes knew that his Gordon Third Grade mate was in the front line during this battle, he no doubt would have been concerned for his safety. Fred had only been at Gallipoli for twenty-five days, but his brave yet fatal defence of his fellow diggers meant that he would not return to his home in Mowbray Road or again take that stroll along Orchard Road to the oval.

As Fred and Cliff were both bowlers, sadly there would be no opportunity to return together to Chatswood to share the bowling attack for Gordon.

They gave up so much, we will always remember them.

LEST WE FORGET

Paul Stephenson

 

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