The photographs of Charles Ryan taken at Gallipoli, 1915.

Photographs and text courtesy Australian War Memorial

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The photographs of Charles Ryan

A unique series of photographs taken on Gallipoli form an enduring record of the Australian experience of the campaign.

For Charles Ryan serving as a senior medical officer in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was the culmination of a long, exciting, and colourful life. His remarkable images of Australian soldiers capture the mateship, the stoicism, and the dogged persistence that became the spirit of Anzac. Colonel Ryan outside the Australian 1st Division’s headquarters on Anzac.

Colonel Ryan with his camera on the island of Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign.

Colonel Ryan with his camera on the island of Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign.

The ancient pyramids of Egypt form a backdrop to the tent city of the 1st Australian Division’s camp at Mena outside Cairo. The division had left Australia in November 1914 for the war in Europe but was diverted to Egypt, where it underwent months of training and was formed into the ANZAC Corps. Bound for the war On 4 August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, and Australia was immediately committed. The nation quickly set about raising a special volunteer army, called the Australian Imperial Force. Charles Ryan was by then 60 years old and a colonel in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He was quick to offer his services and was appointed Assistant Director of AIF Medical Services. He sailed from Melbourne with the headquarters of the 1st Australian Division on the troopship Orvieto on 22 October 1914. The Australians thought they were destined for Europe. Instead, while at sea, they received the news that Turkey had entered the war on the side of Germany and that the force would disembark in Egypt. Ryan was in a familiar part of the world, but now his enemy was the very army for which he had once served. The Australians settled into camp in the shadow of the pyramids and began their training.  With the New Zealanders, they were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under the command of a British general, Sir William Birdwood.

The ancient pyramids of Egypt form a backdrop to the tent city of the 1st Australian Division’s camp at Mena outside Cairo. The division had left Australia in November 1914 for the war in Europe but was diverted to Egypt, where it underwent months of training and was formed into the ANZAC Corps.

Bound for the war

On 4 August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, and Australia was immediately committed. The nation quickly set about raising a special volunteer army, called the Australian Imperial Force.

Charles Ryan was by then 60 years old and a colonel in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He was quick to offer his services and was appointed Assistant Director of AIF Medical Services. He sailed from Melbourne with the headquarters of the 1st Australian Division on the troopship Orvieto on 22 October 1914. The Australians thought they were destined for Europe. Instead, while at sea, they received the news that Turkey had entered the war on the side of Germany and that the force would disembark in Egypt. Ryan was in a familiar part of the world, but now his enemy was the very army for which he had once served.

The Australians settled into camp in the shadow of the pyramids and began their training.  With the New Zealanders, they were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under the command of a British general, Sir William Birdwood.

Australian nurses with Captain Robert Ramsay on the platform of Cairo’s Ramses Railway Station. Ramsay, a wealthy Victorian grazier who was probably a friend of the photographer, had been commissioned as an automobile corps officer on 1st Division Headquarters after offering to provide his own car. Despite his age, Ramsay saw extensive war service, and after it was over he paid his own way back to Australia.

Australian nurses with Captain Robert Ramsay on the platform of Cairo’s Ramses Railway Station. Ramsay, a wealthy Victorian grazier who was probably a friend of the photographer, had been commissioned as an automobile corps officer on 1st Division Headquarters after offering to provide his own car. Despite his age, Ramsay saw extensive war service, and after it was over he paid his own way back to Australia.

Major General William Bridges (centre) raised and commanded the 1st Australian Division. Seen here in Egypt, he later took the division to Gallipoli, where he was mortally wounded by a Turkish sniper on 15 May 1915. Charles Ryan attended the general, who knew he was dying: “Anyhow,” Bridges confided, “I have commanded an Australian Division for nine months”. Lieutenant Colonel Brudenell White, Bridges’s brilliant senior staff officer (second from left), is with him here.

Major General William Bridges (centre) raised and commanded the 1st Australian Division. Seen here in Egypt, he later took the division to Gallipoli, where he was mortally wounded by a Turkish sniper on 15 May 1915. Charles Ryan attended the general, who knew he was dying: “Anyhow,” Bridges confided, “I have commanded an Australian Division for nine months”. Lieutenant Colonel Brudenell White, Bridges’s brilliant senior staff officer (second from left), is with him here.

Australian army nurses at Luna Park, Cairo’s large entertainment centre, whose buildings were taken over in time to handle some of the first wounded troops being brought back from Gallipoli in April 1915. Eventually, about 2,200 members of the Australian Army Nursing Service served overseas during the war.

Australian army nurses at Luna Park, Cairo’s large entertainment centre, whose buildings were taken over in time to handle some of the first wounded troops being brought back from Gallipoli in April 1915. Eventually, about 2,200 members of the Australian Army Nursing Service served overseas during the war.

The Gallipoli campaign On 25 April 1915, Anzac troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. They were to capture the narrowest southern part of the peninsula to support British forces landing at its tip. Taking the peninsula would remove the Turks’ defences and allow allied warships to reach Constantinople (Istanbul). It was hoped this would force Turkey out of the war. But the landings went astray from the beginning, and the British and empire troops only ever managed to gain a slim foothold on the Turkish shore. Charles Ryan was there from the start, in the role of consulting surgeon rather than administrator. He was on board a troop transport, and even before he went ashore around 8 pm he had already operated on some wounded Australians who had been brought on board. Once on the beach, he assisted in preparing casualties for evacuation. The medical arrangements were chaotic. In the weeks that followed, Ryan conducted numerous operations ashore or aboard the hospital ships shuttling between Anzac and Alexandria.

The Gallipoli campaign

On 25 April 1915, Anzac troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. They were to capture the narrowest southern part of the peninsula to support British forces landing at its tip. Taking the peninsula would remove the Turks’ defences and allow allied warships to reach Constantinople (Istanbul). It was hoped this would force Turkey out of the war. But the landings went astray from the beginning, and the British and empire troops only ever managed to gain a slim foothold on the Turkish shore.

Charles Ryan was there from the start, in the role of consulting surgeon rather than administrator. He was on board a troop transport, and even before he went ashore around 8 pm he had already operated on some wounded Australians who had been brought on board. Once on the beach, he assisted in preparing casualties for evacuation. The medical arrangements were chaotic. In the weeks that followed, Ryan conducted numerous operations ashore or aboard the hospital ships shuttling between Anzac and Alexandria.

A view of Anzac Cove several weeks after the landing by Australian and New Zealand troops on 25 April 1915. The allies had been contained within the range of hills just beyond the horizon. It was a stalemate: the Anzacs could not advance, nor could the Turks drive them into the sea. Stores stand in piles on the beach and crude dug-outs rise behind them in terraces on the rugged, eroded Turkish slopes.

Coming across a group of Australian dead on the Anzac slopes, Charles Ryan recorded the sad scene with his camera. Still wearing packs, these men were killed either during the landing in April or in a subsequent attack. Their rifles and ammunition have already been taken, possibly by their own troops or by the Turks.

Coming across a group of Australian dead on the Anzac slopes, Charles Ryan recorded the sad scene with his camera. Still wearing packs, these men were killed either during the landing in April or in a subsequent attack. Their rifles and ammunition have already been taken, possibly by their own troops or by the Turks.

Unable to advance further during the landing in April, the Anzacs were ordered, in the words of the British commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, to “dig, dig, dig, until you are safe”. Here a soldier has excavated a hole for a dug-out in the slopes above the beach and reinforced it with sandbags.

Unable to advance further during the landing in April, the Anzacs were ordered, in the words of the British commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, to “dig, dig, dig, until you are safe”. Here a soldier has excavated a hole for a dug-out in the slopes above the beach and reinforced it with sandbags.

Australian troops snatching a quick meal in Mule Gully under “the Sphinx”, a prominent natural landmark at Anzac. The feature reminded the troops of the sphinx in Egypt which was in sight of their camp at Mena. By the time the photograph was taken, probably in late May 1915, the men’s uniforms had been adapted to something more suitable for hard labouring in the hot weather.

Australian troops snatching a quick meal in Mule Gully under “the Sphinx”, a prominent natural landmark at Anzac. The feature reminded the troops of the sphinx in Egypt which was in sight of their camp at Mena. By the time the photograph was taken, probably in late May 1915, the men’s uniforms had been adapted to something more suitable for hard labouring in the hot weather.

Mindful of his own safety while using his camera, Charles Ryan has captured on film two Australians on the fire-step in the Anzac front line. The soldier on the right is observing through a periscope for his mate, who is sniping at the Turks’ positions.

Mindful of his own safety while using his camera, Charles Ryan has captured on film two Australians on the fire-step in the Anzac front line. The soldier on the right is observing through a periscope for his mate, who is sniping at the Turks’ positions.