War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

In the Jordan valley I was in command of B squadron and mail had come in. It was a quite period. We were occupying our posts and there was nothing doing much, we used to get a shelling every now and again you know an used to get firing and that sort of business, but I was at the squadron headquarters mail came in and I had to I don’t know how many, probably two, three , four or six letters or a paper or two. And I was reading no mail, when I acquired a headache and it got worse. So we had always had a fellow who was useful with the shearers, clippers you know and I asked him to gut my hair thinking that that would be, it was very hot and dusty and dirty in the valley it was a horrible place, and I got him to give me a haircut and then we used to have our horse water buckets, they were held about two gallons and they were made of canvas, and I had one of these filled with water cold water and I was bathing my head in it to try and take away the headache thinking what with the hair cut and a good old cold douse to the head would fix me up when I simply collapsed and the next thing I knew I woke up in a bell tent. with suspected that was about mid day that happened, and about six or seven o’clock at night I woke up in a bell tent. With suspected malaria. Well that was a place that was full of malaria, we used to have working parties going around with oil and also with branches to with the leaves on you know, to try and kill mosquitos. they wee there by the millions absolute millions and I forget there was some tale about some enormous number that we evacuated from the Jordan valley with malaria in six weeks. I don’t know it was 4,000 or 40,000 but it was some very very high number. We evacuated from the Jordan Valley with malaria.

Turnbull: Were there any precautions taken against malaria.

Ellwood: only that only that.

Turnbull: You were issued with any sort of tablets.

Ellwood: No not you had it. And then we had strychnine and quinine. Strychnine to accelerate the heart beat I think it was for and the quinine to take the fever out of us. That was the medication, but any preventative, I didn’t know of any. There was no quinine like there was or in the last war. None of that.

Turnbull: Did you have enough medical supplies to cope with that outbreak.

Ellwood: Oh yes. well as far as we knew. of course medication in those days wasn’t as fluent or as large as what it is nowadays. It just a your fingertips now everywhere but in those days it was quite an uncommon thing to have a big range of medications. No the medical side of the show was rather primitive. When I say primitive, it was in keeping with the times and the age, and it had a lot of the minor necessities but the moment you became sick with any degree of lengthy period, you would be bundled off somewhere out of the way. Because there is no place for sick people in the front line.

I probably was that exhausted that my memory isn’t as good as it could be of those periods. That period, the whole thing. The things that I can remember I can remember what a nasty place the Jordan Valley is and Jericho, you have often heard the expression of “wishing people would go to Jericho” it had all the crawling, biting insects under the sun and it was the dustiest place I think I have ever been in. It was a terrible place. Nobody would like to live in Jericho, as far as I am and it was so many hundred or a thousand or two feet below sea level. It was anything but a pleasant place.

Turnbull: When I spoke to another veteran about Jericho, he told me that laughingly. “well you remember in the Bible about the walls of Jericho, well when we got to Jericho there was nothing but mud, huts and a dismal little village.”

Ellwood: umm. could have rained of course. but while I was there it was definitely dust and dirt. that deep. it was horrible. You couldn’t see if you said you to water you wouldn’t be able to see the dust. It was a nasty place, Jericho. and the Jordan Valley.

Turnbull: There was also a lot of random artillery fire into the Jordan Valley wasn’t there?

Ellwood: Yes from a place they call they had all sorts of names for it. One in particular is Nelly’s Tit, they called the place, I remember that quite well. But artillery fire there was something that I didn’t enjoy at all. Because after being hit by artillery, every time a shell came over I always felt that it was pointing straight in my direction. You know that was the state of my health at the time. It was from the Jordan Valley that we had a visit by Cheval, who was our GOC and a rather highly placed English medico and evidently something had been said about the exhaustion of the troops particularly those who had been originals. And I can remember this very highly placed English medico and Cheval and his staff coming through our lines inspecting us and looking for conditions of exhaustion. and It was not long after that that my regiment, my regiment my squadron, was detailed to as body guards to headquarters and that I was evacuated, I can remember that quite well.

After the experience on Gallipoli eight months of that sort of life while its too long to elaborate on the whole thing or to talk about it but after that and then the years on the desert with the heat and the flies and the lack of comfort and that sort of business you can imagine we were in a state of exhaustion. Not me in particularly but everybody who had been through it. And it was from then on that they decided to put into being the Anzac furlough. And it was given out that first on in Gallipoli were the first to take the first batch or somebody went from the first batch you know. Because that was when the whole thing commenced. It was purely exhaustion and evidently the complaint must have gone through to medicos right up to headquarters that was where it began there the evacuation of the original Anzacs on leave.