When John Derrick left his home in Scotland at the age of 20 to find his fortune in Australia he could never have imagined his final resting place would be a desolate Turkish peninsula five years later.
John gave his occupation firstly as sawyer and then as engine driver – and may have been working as both in the timber town of Canungra – when he enlisted in the AIF in February 1916.
Among the 5th reinforcements of the 15 Battalion, he left Brisbane on the Kyarra on April 16 and arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula, exactly six weeks after the disastrous ANZAC landings of April 25.
Aged 25, John was to become a casualty of another disastrous plan in early August, the costly attempt to capture Hill 971, the highest point of the Sari Bar Ridge, known to the Turks as Koja Chemen Tepe.
The plan was to seize the high ground from the Turkish forces and push across the peninsula to capture the forts which guarded the Dardanelles Straits.
However, on August 8, as the 15th and two other battalions moved over an exposed slope, they were raked by Turkish machine gun fire.
Reporting the loss of another comrade from the 15th Battalion, one soldier described how the men were cut down by furious fire:
“It was terrible. The men were falling like rabbits. Many were calling for mothers and sisters.”
Private John Derrick was among those who simply vanished in the chaos, after only two months at Gallipoli.
He was listed as missing on August 8, but it was not until April of the following year that a court of inquiry, held in Alexandria by the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, determined that he had been killed in action.
In a statement from the 3rd London General Hospital Wandsworth, Lieutenant Cecil James said that although Derrick did not belong to his battalion he knew him as an engineer from Queensland and had made inquiries about him for his family.
“I did not see him killed and none of those I enquired of could say for absolute certainty that he was dead, though they all said there was very little doubt about it,” he wrote.
Private John Scott Derrick is among the ANZAC soldiers commemorated on the memorial at Gallipoli’s Lone Pine Cemetery. Although there are 652 Australians buried at Lone Pine, the cemetery also serves as a memorial to the 4224 who have no known grave.
Although no-one knew it at the time, John had been dead for almost two months by the time a letter he had written from Gallipoli to a friend in Canungra, shortly before he was killed, was printed in the Beaudesert Times on October 1, 1915.
In it he speaks of daily life on the peninsula, his admiration for the work of the Navy whose broadsides ensured the enemy had little rest, and the new word which had entered the Australian lexicon, ANZAC.
“It’s about seven weeks since I landed on the peninsula, and up to the present, things have been fairly quiet, but I think long before you get this the Australian boys will be making more history and Johnnie Turk will be having some more rough times,” John wrote.
“Oh, by the bye, we have a regular Australian township here – Anzac Cove. I wonder if you have heard how it got the name. A.N.Z.A.C. stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. When it was found out that these letters made a good word Cove was added and now it is officially used – an honour to Australia and New Zealand I guess.
“We are close to the sea and swimming is greatly enjoyed. In fact, Anzac Cove is a real bathing resort. Mixed bathing, too. The Turks do the mixing – with shrapnel – but they can’t stop the boys from swimming.”
John’s letter details a number of amusing episodes when friends and comrades experienced near misses from Turkish fire – a loaf of bread shot ‘clean through’ and a biscuit tin knocked off a soldier’s shoulder by a piece of shell.
Chillingly, he adds:
“I have also had one or two very close shaves, but up to the present have got off scot free.”
After the war, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal awarded posthumously to Private John Derrick were sent to London to be forwarded to his father, along with a memorial scroll and plaque.
John’s next-of-kin, his sister Ella Derrick in Glasgow, received a pension until June 5, 1918, when it was cancelled as she was, by then, earning her own living.