The Shields men who fought for Australia at Gallipoli

Anzacs at Gallipoli in June 1915 (Australian War Memorial).
Anzacs at Gallipoli in June 1915 (Australian War Memorial).

HIS family believe that it was growing-up among the ships and seafarers of Tyne Dock that gave Bill Hall his wanderlust.

Born into a large household of brothers and sisters in Dock Street, many of whom also settled overseas, it was Australia that, for him, held out the promise of a new life.

South Shields-born Anzac Bill Hall, who eventually settled in Australia.

South Shields-born Anzac Bill Hall, who eventually settled in Australia.

But he could never have imagined when he set out, that the path would eventually lead him to one of the bloodiest battlefields of the First World War.

Bill was one of the hundreds of men from what is now South Tyneside who fought in the Gallipoli campaign, the centenary of which falls in April.

But for the 25-year-old, it was on behalf of his adopted country.

William ‘Bill’ Calvert Hall is one of more than 100 people from the borough who have entered the history of the Great War as Anzacs - members of the Australian and New Zealand forces that suffered devastating losses during the campaign.

At night flying sand blew through the bell-shaped tents and into the eyes and noses of those inside, keeping them awake at night on their straw-filled bags.

Tom Curran

Next month, he and thousands of others will be remembered at a series of events in Australia, New Zealand and Gallipoli, where the Anzacs lost more than 8,000 men. A further 18,000 were wounded.

Bill Hall’s family were ship stores merchants - chandlers - so it’s easy to see how he probably grew-up hearing stories of foreign and exotic places.

He himself worked as a bricklayer and although details of his emigration Down Under are hazy, within months of the outbreak of war in 1914, he was signing up to join the Australian Imperial Force at Blackboy Hill, in the state of Western Australia.

Blackboy Hill was located in the bush, 15 miles from Perth, and was one of a number of such camps located outside each state capital to process recruits.

A recruiting poster for Anzac forces.

A recruiting poster for Anzac forces.

One of those at Blackboy Hill would go on to become the legendary Man With The Donkey - South Shields-born John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who had arrived there in August 1914, just a few weeks ahead of Bill.

In his biography of Kirkpatrick, Across The Bar, Tom Curran describes Blackboy Camp during what had been, for Western Australia, a year of drought: “At night flying sand blew through the bell-shaped tents and into the eyes and noses of those inside, keeping them awake at night on their straw-filled bags...”

There had been a rumour, he noted, that hundreds of men in the camp had been escaping the drought, and unemployment.

Bill Hall joined the 12th Infantry Corps and records show him embarking on the troopship HMAT A7 Medic from Fremantle on November 2, 1914.

Blackboy Camp. John Simpson Kirkpatrick is in the white shirt (Australian War Memorial).

Blackboy Camp. John Simpson Kirkpatrick is in the white shirt (Australian War Memorial).

He would go on to survive the Gallipoli campaign, but the physical privations are made clear in a series of hospitalisations over subsequent months, for, among other things, eye trouble and also dysentery, which took its own toll of casualties.

The toll on Bill Hall was certainly high - his family wonder now if he was actually medically fit for military service - and he was discharged from the Army in February 1916.

Bill subsequently returned home and married his first wife, Ethel, with whom he went on to have four children.

His family remember a quiet man, who never spoke about his experiences during the war, but preferred to bury his nose in one of his favourite cowboy books by Zane Grey.

But the wanderlust wouldn’t go away. After Ethel died prematurely, aged only 46, Bill eventually returned to Australia, this time with two of the children.

He subsequently remarried, and died in his 70s in Sydney, where he had settled.

A map of the Gallipoli landing sites.

A map of the Gallipoli landing sites.