When no guns were firing

Often postcards are found as single items with no identification, like the image below of a grave. To the naked eye even the writing on the thin plaque was difficult to read, but once scanned and ‘blown up’ the name and regimental number are the beginnings of a story…

David Cunningham was born in the gold mining town of Walhalla, Victoria in 1888. It’s no surprise that he signed up as a labourer working in Coolgardie, Western Australia, for by 1915 the gold had all but run out in Walhalla. He was assigned to the 28th Battalion and sailed to Egypt, where a two-day hospital stay cleared him of suspected measles. The battalion arrived at Gallipoli early in September, at a time when the summer sun was as dim as any hope of dislodging the Turks. Disease was rife within the trenches and in just a few weeks Cunningham reported sick with dysentry.

Through October the rains began and the prospect of withdrawal was soon to become a secret reality – once it had been ratified by a visit from Lord Kitchener on November 13th. Plans were set in motion to mess with the enemy – and the Unit Diary for the 28th Battalion mentions the order for ‘cessation of fire against the enemy except in the case of actual attack’. This was carried out for the three day period from the 24th to 27th of November, and regularly after that to make the Turks comfortable with silence as a prelude to the Anzac withdrawal.

Rather than manning the trenches, Cunningham’s battalion were on beach fatigues – loading and unloading stores. While rough seas were noted for making the work all the more difficult, the beach was also under consistent artillery fire from the enemy. It was on the first day of the ‘cease fire’ that David Cunningham died of his wounds. One entry in his record attributes death to a shrapnel wound, the other to a gun shot wound. Given that the rifles were silent that day, it was most likely he was killed by a shrapnel shell while working at Anzac Cove. The 28th battalion diary mentions several casualties occurring in this way.

Ari Burnu is one of the most frequently visited cemeteries by Australians, as it borders Anzac Cove (to the left of this image). There are 253 graves here, all within earshot of the consistent dancing of the Agean wavelets on the stony beach. A striking contrast to the deadly roar of shrapnel shells spitting out their lead…

See more on Gallipoli Cemeteries and look up David Cunningham at: