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PTE. SYDNEY JOSEPH DRAKE, P.O.W. WWI, BORA TURKEY, TAURUS RAILWAY

The history of Australian involvement in WWI rarely mentions the prisoners of war (P.O.W.). Only 325 ANZACs were captured by the Turks and one in three never returned from captivity. The death of Australian P.O.Ws in Ottoman Turkey was mainly due to maltreatment. The Australians were used for slave labour in the Taurus Mountains to dig tunnels and work as pack animals to construct railroads. The Australian soldiers were captured at Gallipoli, in the Sinai-Palestine, as sailors from the submarine AE2 in the Sea of Marmara, and airmen, members of the Australian Flying Corps captured in Mesopotamia.

Private Sydney Joseph Drake’s Embarkation Roll in WWI is listed as follows: Number: 1934; Rank: Private; Unit: 14 Infantry Battalion - 5 to 12 Reinforcements (April-November 1915); Ship Name: HMAT Hororata; Ship number: A20; Date of embarkation: 17 April 1915; Place of embarkation: Melbourne. Additional information was found in the Australian Imperial Force Nominal Record: 18 years old, single, stonemason on enlistment. Enlisted at Drysdale, Victoria, and father W.F. Drake given as next of kin. Religion: C. of E. Unit: 4th Brigade, 14th Infantry Battalion, 5th Reinforcements, Returned to Australia 5 March 1919.

There were 2 pre-internment covers dated 1915 and both were on active service, and were stampless. The first was sent to Sidney’s mother, Mrs. W.F. Drake, Drysdale, Victoria, Australia. It is printed at top left with ‘Young Men’s Christian Association/ Army Branch’ and there is a ms. ‘(Anzac, Gallipoli)’ immediately beneath as well as a ms. ‘Posted at Gallipoli 20 July 1915' at the lower left corner. A further ms. ON ACTIVE SERVICE is along the top and there is a red boxed ‘PASSED BY/ [CROWN]/ No. 2688' handstamp at right. as well as a black postmark ‘4 th AUST INF/ 20 VII 15/ FIELD/ P.O.’ (Figure 1).

The second cover had along the top a ms. ‘On Active Service/ No Stamps Available’, and it was addressed to Revd A.R. Westley, The Vicrage, Drysdale, Victoria, Australia. At bottom left there is a ms. ‘6 th Field Amb Bde / fr Gallipoli/ Nov 11/1915' and a red boxed PASSED BY/ [CROWN]/ No 3018/ CENSOR handstamp, as well as a partial black postmark (---)/ 11 NO 15/ FIELD P.O. (Figure 2).

The third cover has a ms. 424 at top left and a ms. P.0.W./ Nidga/ Turkey (1917) at bottom left, a purple boxed PASSED handstamp as well as a purple 2-line black boxed handstamp applied in Turkey. It is addressed to Mrs. W.F. Drake, Drysdale, Victoria, Australia (Figure 3).

The reverse has at the top a ms. S.J. Drake/ 14 th Batt. AIF/ Bora/ Near Nidga, Turkey, a ms. 2/4/17 and a Turkish postmark with an illegible date (Figure 4).

The fourth cover is addressed to Mr. (Rev.) A.R. Westley. "The Vicarage", Drysdale Nr. Geelong, Victoria, Australia. At bottom left there is a ms. A.I.F./ P.O.W./ Constantinople/ Turkey/ ( 1918), as well as a black boxed Turkish handstamp (Figure 5).

The first 2 lines of manuscript on the reverse are indecipherable except for ‘Drake’/ Haida Pasha (Hospital), Constantinople, Turkey. There is a distinct MELBOURNE/ 4.30A-2 JA 19/ L.C. ROOM [LETTER CARRIERS ROOM] (Figure 6).

Private Drake of the 14th Battalion A.I.F. was captured on 9 August 1915 during an advance on Hill 971, and he was one of the fortunate soldiers to return home in March 1919 after being a P.O.W. in Turkey, for depending on the reference, either 1 prisoner in 3 or 1 in 4 Australian prisoners died in captivity. The men were mistreated and it would have been interesting to learn the reason for Drake’s hospitalisation in Constantinople. The Australians were imprisoned at Bora, Turkey, building and maintaining the railway through the Taurus Mountains. The vendor stated that the railway was used to transport troops and equipment to the Mesopotamia front in the closing months of the war. The red arrows point to Gallipoli, Constantinople, Taurus Mountains and Mesopotamia in this important area during WWI (Figure 7).

Hill 971 (or Koja Chemen Tepe), the highest point of the Sari Bair Ridge, Gallipoli, was the objective of the 4th Infantry Brigade as part of the main break-out operations, by the ANZACs in early August 1915. The intention was to seize the high ground between Hill 971 and Chunuk Bair in order to secure a drive across the peninsula to capture the forts guarding the Straits. The 4th Brigade, forming part of the left column of the assaulting force, advanced during the night of 6 August but made slow progress due the difficult terrain and by dawn on 7 August was well short of its objective. An assault on the summit attempted on 8 August proved a costly failure. An example of the rough and steep terrain around Hill 971 is shown in Figure 8.

The Australian War Museum is inconsistent in listing Drake on his embarkation records as ‘Sidney’, but in subsequent records his name is given as ‘Sydney’, which is the preferred name used in this paper.

 
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