On this site and some others, there has been a great deal of commentary on the existence of a female sniper at Gallipoli. Some how, this story teases the psyche. The iconography of the story is evident, as is the sub text. We have the woman, a symbol of the life giver and nurturer suddenly turning on this role and becoming the life taker. Men find this rather chilling since their first memory of life is in the embrace of their mother and thus the learned response for survival is to trust the mother. This translates to females per se. A couple divorces soon tosses that out from the head but the notion of the mother still remains.
So the makings of an urban myth has fertile ground upon which to grow. Let's see if we can track it down.
We can start off with the end product through the mind of a man driven insane by naval bombardment at Gallipoli. In the book by F.W. Mott, War neuroses and shell shock
, (London, 1919) at pp. xv-xvi we find this story:
""I left England the 8th of March and went to Gallipoli on the 26th May, and about the middle of August one of our monitors fired short. I felt something go in my head, then I went to the Canada hospital; they said it was concussion." ... His wife says that she has letters from him, in one of which he described how he killed a Turkish woman sniper. He does not remember writing this letter, but there is evidently some retrograde amnesia."
You can read the full story at:http://www.trauma-pages.com/vdhart-2000.htm
We don't know where this fellow is stationed although judging by the dates it could be at the Helles. But hang on, don't we have this story from a book compiled and edited by C.E. Crutchley, Machine Gunner 1914 - 1918
, (1975) which says:
"An Australian patrol caught a Turkish woman sniper who had the identity discs of several British soldiers hanging round her neck. They shot her, and that shocked me for I thought she was a brave person doing only what many British women would have done to invaders of our land. But I kept my mouth shut for I knew that in war everyone is effected by its lunacy."
Again, the Australian role is strong in the legend. There is a photograph held by the Australian War Memorial - ID Number: G01767; Maker: James, W H; Swanston, W H - which states with hand on heart that:
"A small pine tree on the left centre on the slope of Walker's Ridge is the tree which was pointed out to the new arrivals by the older hands as the place where the lady sniper was caught in the early days of the campaign."
I have read the War Diaries of the units who were stationed at Walker's Ridge up to August 1915 and there is no mention of any female sniper being captured in any of them. Not even a hint.
Then we have the letter of Corporal Ronald Semmence from G Ward, British Red Cross Hospital, Giza, Cairo, Egypt, 22 August 1915
"I was wounded on Sunday August 15th, when our lot along with the Munsters and "Skins" took a Turkish trench and about 20 prisoners. ... The place is simply walking with snipers, and they paint themselves green. I have heard that some female snipers were captured. How true it is I don't know."
Well at least this fellow didn't claim to tackle the sniper but gave an objective comment upon the legend although by now the number of snipers is now plural so we suspect that for just about every sector on Gallipoli there is a female sniper story.
Let's track down another story, which we find in Myles Dungan, Irish Voices from the Great War
, where the following extract emerges:
"Some of the best Turkish marksmen, as it turned out, were markswomen. 'Among those discovered was a peasant woman - the wife of a Turkish soldier - who lived with her old mother and her child in a little house near the Irish lines' (referring to Suvla). This particular woman was a good shot who specialised in hitting stragglers on the many trails between the front lines and the beaches. Having made sure her targets were dead she would then rifle their bodies. When she was finally identified and captured her house was searched. A large quantity of money was found, but more surprising was the discovery of a number of identity discs. Either she was proud of her work or she was getting paid a piecework rate for the job!"
Now this is a curious tale which comes closer to the mark when dealing with the origins of the story. Bear in mind that this story takes place at Suvla as does Semmence story. Dungan also states that the story is extracted from Michael McDonagh, The Irish at the Front
, (1916) so we already know it is second hand and recycled.
My next posts will give a reason for this.