Much of the First World War was a standoff. Like any standoff, eventually someone has to retreat. During the Gallipoli campaign, where Allied forces tried to invade Constantinople, a major offensive to take ground failed. After suffering heavy losses on both sides, the Allied forces faced an unavoidable conclusion. It looked like pulling out was their only option and unfortunately, retreating armies tend to take staggeringly heavy casualties. The idea behind slaughtering retreating troops is to demoralize them so badly, that they refuse to come back and try again. To avoid this, the Allies had to come up with a new strategy.
The most obvious choice would be for a number of troops to stay behind and lay down suppressive fire. This would keep the enemy troops heads below the trench line, and allow the retreat to take place unchallenged. Unfortunately, for the troops left behind, survival was unlikely. Rather than die needlessly, two young Australian enlisted troops came up with a way to get nearly everyone out of harms way unscathed. Lance Corporal W. C. Scurry of the 7th Battalion, AIF, and Private A.H. Lawrence used some battlefield improvisation skills to win the day.
They rigged their rifles to fire sporadically after the last men left, keeping the Turks from pursuing their retreating forces. This was done by a using a weighted container to pull the trigger. The soldiers set up two kerosene tins, one above the other, the top one full of water and the bottom one attached to the trigger with a string, empty. At the last minute, they punched small holes in the upper tin and water would trickle into the lower one. The rifle would fire as soon as the lower tin became sufficiently heavy. On other rifles, they held back the trigger by a string run through a slow burning candle flame that severed the string, thus releasing the trigger. They timed the devices to go off at different times, to sell their deception to the Turks. Aside from the drip-guns and pop-off rifles, they left fires burning, set up periscopes above the trench line, and shoveled dirt to make it appear that they were building new trenches. All this combined to convince the enemy that the Allies dug themselves in for the long haul.
The Turks believed that the front lines held troops even after thousands of men crept to the beaches to escape. British generals estimated that half the force would be lost in any attempt to withdraw because the Turks could not fail to notice as the trenches were so close. In the event, the Turks were so deceived that 80,000 men evacuated the area with only half a dozen casualties.
For his part in making the evacuation a success, Scurry’s commanding officers awarded him the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and promoted to sergeant.
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