My surprise whilst wading ashore at Anzac Cove

I visited Gallipoli several years ago and decided to walk out into the freezing waters of Anzac cove in a cold twilight.

The water was so cold my hands ached. I felt irritated.

As I turned around to wade back into shore, I was struck by a wave not of water, but of emotion. I saw the beaches, the hills and the famous landmarks like The Pyramid. This was what my ancestors saw when they waded ashore. The fear these young men felt, men the same age as my sons, must have been enormous. As they were mown down in machine gun fire or blasted by bombs, their mothers and fathers were sitting at home praying that their sons would survive.

I was surprised at how deeply the whole Gallipoli experience moved me. It genuinely felt like a sacred site to me, as it is to many others.

It is 100 years since the beginning of World War I

I have been thinking about the horror of the war, the power of the bombs.

Fifty years earlier, the world had a taste of that horror during the US civil war, but WWI elevated the horror to a new level. Huge weapons and shells had now been invented and railroads delivered the weapons throughout the front. It is impossible to count the number of shells fired in WW1. In the battle of the Somme the British shelled the German positions relentlessly for 7 days. Guns placed every 75 feet along a 21 mile front – millions of shells in one battle alone.

Two out of these beyond millions of shells have affected my family.

The two Stanley’s and their WW1 injuries.

Stanley Beale was 22 when he was sent to the Western Front. He had grown up in the docks area of London but when he was three his father was lost at sea leaving him to be educated at the Royal Merchant Seaman’s Orphanage in Snaresbrook London, an institution that looked after and educated the children of seamen that drowned. I don’t know what effect that had on him but he must have felt few ties because he left London for Brisbane, Queensland at the age of 17. He worked as a labourer, enlisting on 29 March 1915 in the 9th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), the main expeditionary force of the Australian army formed from August 1914 following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.

He departed for service on June 12, 1915 aboard HMAT A63 Karoola. He trained in Egypt and served at Gallipoli until that campaign ended on January 9, 1916. He was then moved to the European theatre. Tragically, whilst he was serving in the Somme region, he learnt that his mother Harriet had died in London of spinal myelitis. It is hard to comprehend his mixed feelings for the loss of the mother, who was his only parent after his father drowned, but whom he hadn’t seen much at all for 4 years.
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A letter from his 20 year old brother William (shown left), who continued to work in the docks area as a shipwright, and was presumably exempt from UK conscription on the grounds of essential civilian work of national importance (shipping) and/or domestic hardship (he was the only breadwinner for his widowed mother) was sent to be read by Stanley on this 23rd birthday. Stanley’s battalion was involved in the bloody battle for Mouquet Farm in the Somme, a farm on strategic high ground near the iconic town of Pozieres. This largely fruitless battle was waged throughout August 1916 and cost 11,000 casualties. They eventually bypassed the farm.

At some stage on August 21, a German HE Bomb landed near where Stanley was fighting. He died of either the blast or shrapnel or both. Like so many young men who died in that way, his body was never found. His memorial plaque is at beautiful Villers-Brettoneux cemetery, where I found it a few years ago. The first, I think, from our family to actually see it. He never got to his 23rd birthday so he never go to read that letter from William, his younger brother, my grandfather, ‘pop’ Beale.

What it was like for pop to get the news of his brother’s death so soon after his mum had died, and without a father around. Pop never discussed any of this with us, and when I rang my aunty Audrey, his youngest daughter, she confirmed that he spoke nothing to her or the other kids about these events. She knew very little. The degree of grief experienced on the loss of a father, mother and older brother is hard to comprehend.

Despite all this grief, my pop was a humourous and wonderful man. He was an original ‘Docker’ and used to take us onto the ships in Fremantle Harbour when we visited him. I still remember feeling important as security waved us aboard with him, the smell of steam, the vibrations of the ship, and the mystique of it all. I can still remember his constant humour and witticisms, and the names he made up for places and events. He developed prostate cancer, a disease which cruelly presented as spinal metastasis and left him paralysed from the waist down for the last years of his life. I remember visiting him in his nursing home in Mt Lawley, sadly so far from the sea for a Docker. We would play chess, more at my mother’s insistence than any kindness on my part, and thinking how demeaning it was. The nurses and other patients loved the fact that I visited him. They plyed me with red drinks and food. I had to let pop win a few games – although he was good at chess, I noticed that a body full of cancer could slow down one’s strategic thinking. We weren’t the sort of family that talked much about cancer and dying and all that. After he died I noticed how much grief mum felt – dad said that she was very close to her dad. Indeed when she was young and living in Fremantle, a US sailor from Ohio had proposed to her. She refused to become a war bride – “why should I leave my close family to go to your country?” was apparently her view. Her closeness to her dad and her grief at his death are soft memories for me.


Stanley Robinson was a 23 year old Brookton farmer, from a pioneering family, when he volunteered for the AIF on 26th of October 1916. He embarked for the battlefields at Fremantle on the HMAT Borda A30 on 29th, June 1917.

He served in the 3rd Australian Division 44th Battalion in the Field France then he was transferred to the 11th Battalion. The 3rd Division is considered to be the longest serving Australian Army division. It fought major battles at Messines, Broodseinde Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens, and the St Quentin Canal, including the German Spring Offensive and the Battle of Amiens. After the Allied line collapsed and German forces advanced, the 3rd Division was moved from Armentieres and sent it to Ypres to block the German advance and protect approaches to Amiens.

At various stages during this campaign and like most of his comrades, Stanley suffered from various infections, e.g. trench fever, PUO (fever of unknown origin) and bladder infections. At a location unknown to the family, a german HE bomb exploded near him, but not too near to kill him by its blast wave or shrapnel. He was hit in the back by a clod of exploding earth and suffered for the rest of his life from that injury. After the war he returned to the farm, lived in the 1850’s colonial house at Sunning Hill in Brookton (the building is still there), and married Dorothy.

Their first son was Dudley, my father.

One of my middle names is Stanley, chosen I think for the two Stanleys on either side of my family who received bomb injuries in WW1.

More information on High Explosive Shells

High explosive shells
The typical shell used in WWI was a high explosive shell, or ‘HE’ shell, made of Lyddite (Picric acid), PETN or TNT. A fuse detonates a large charge, the case shatters and hot, sharp fragments of the case, plus bits of shrapnel, leave the bomb at enormously high velocity. The fuse can be set to cause the HE shell to burst on impact or above the ground, or some distance after entering the earth (to create a ground shock)
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Why did these bombs kill so many men in WWI?
  • The blast – Primarily the pressure blast either blows a man apart or ruptures the lungs of those still standing. The dying soldier does not hear the blast that kills him – the blast wave travels faster than the speed of sound. Even if he survives this, the soldier can be smashed against an immovable object by the blast.

  • The fragmentation – The casing of the bomb plus additional shrapnel (nails, bits of metal etc.) will shoot out of the explosion. They may also create extra shrapnel by hitting concrete walls, glass or the dirt itself. The sharp pieces enter various parts of the soldiers body and pass through and cause damage, such as by creating holes in lungs (causing massive bleeding into the chest and/or air leaks that compress the lungs and prevent oxygen entering) or penetrating the heart (causing blood to be pumped out into the chest at the high pressure that the heart normally generates). The shrapnel casing used in WWI was thinner than previous casings and allowed space for more shrapnel.
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