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GUNN, Ronald McGregor (1895-1991)

GUNN, Ronald McGregor ‘Mac’ (1895-1991)

He was born 11 September 1895, the son of Ronald Richard Gunn and Ethel May nee McGregor, of Launceston. He was educated at Scotch College, Launceston, before becoming a boarder at Geelong College in February 1911. He left in December 1912.

During World War I, he enlisted (No 225) in the AIF on 20 August 1914 at Pontville Camp, Tasmania, and embarked on HMAT A2 Geelong on 22 October for Egypt and Gallipoli. Gunn was an original member of C Section, 3rd Field Ambulance, the same section as 202 Private John Simpson (Kirkpatrick), the 'Man with the Donkey', although Simpson embarked from Fremantle on the Ajana with the First AIF Contingent.

Private ‘Mac’ Gunn received a Special Mention in Divisional Orders ‘for acts of conspicuous gallantry during the period April 25th-May 5th’ , gazetted on 30 June 1915. Gunn had earned a reputation as a rower at Geelong College, rowing in the bow seat in the Head-of-the-River, a skill for which he was mentioned in despatches during and after the Gallipoli Landing, when he rowed between ships for medical supplies during a Turkish bombardment.

His diary of that time records:
'April 24th. Laid at Imbros and left at 10 am for Gaba Tepe where we laid off all day. Drew anchor about 2 pm and steamed out amid cheers, and took 3rd place in our line behind Nizam and Devanha, and in front of Ionian and Malda. Destroyers are on either side of us and the sea is calm. A & C Platoon of 11th Battalion transhipped via destroyers on to HMS London at 10 am this morning. They are in the first batch. Every-body is rowdy and tea was band of knives, plates and forks. We arrive off shore about 10 pm and then the work commences. Troops left this boat to time and steamed away on their risky voyage through the quiet moonlight to the shore. We laid by.

Sunday 25th. A very famous day for Australia and the British Empire. All quiet till 4 am when we heard rifles spitting bullets. At 4.30 the batteries and our battleships opened fire. At 11am we got news that Australians had taken two trenches, and 1 gun and had taken the hill expected of them. A great bombardment roaring all day. Noise of guns deafening and our ship though 10 miles off is trembling all over. By 5 pm the Peninsula covered in smoke and bombardment as thick as ever. At 8pm fire of battleships cease but at 11 pm a great rifle and machine gun duel was carried on till 12.30 am when battleships brought it to a close. Great spits of bursting shells, a great sight. Queen Elizabeth and about 12 other battleships here lying at anchor and pouring a hurricane of lead on to the Turks’ positions.

Monday 26th. Early after daybreak the bombardment recommenced. At 9am hear that Australian left flank suffered heavily during night. The 11th Battalion on left flank. A big lot of firing carried on all day, and hear at 6pm that enemy in retreat. Transports in hundreds landing troops and artillery all day in three different positions. Heard that our first landing party got ashore safely but second party got heavily fired up. As soon as the boat touched bottom lads threw the oars overboard and jumped overboard belly deep in water and straight away charged up the hill with bayonet and took positions. Seven were left dead in one of the boats, and all the boats were riddled. At 1 o’clock fore very heavy, and smoke very thick.

Tuesday 27th. Another big duel at dawn. Heavy firing around Australian position, others all quiet. Hear at 4 pm that Italy and Roumania had declared war on Austria. Greece and Bulgaria declared war on Turkey. At 3pm about 8 of our transports made out towards Bulgaria or Greece with 5 escorts. These had prisoners for Lemnos.

Wednesday 28th. At 1pm moved on to Galeta, a very hurried transship and find ship in terrible state. Had no meal comforts on board and had to get some from Nizam. Right in close to land but no firing of navy. Had a very thrilling experience on being nearly crushed between Menuosha and Derfflinger. Working like Trojans all day and night, and more wounded coming on all the time.

Thursday 29th. Have over 500 aboard and blood here, there and everywhere. Lying all over decks, hatches, cabins and mess tables. No comforts and are just feeding men on tea, bread and jam. Left 5.45pm and made out for Alexandria. Over twenty deaths up to tonight and bloody bandages everywhere. We have only twenty-three medical corps chaps and working all day and night. Operating all day and night. At 10.15pm one of the hospital ships passed us. Lights of green and red like fairy land to this infernal hell all round us. Hear that only one officer and 75 men remain of the 12th Battalion. Dead tired and feet aching. Today Australians have gained over one mile of ground.

Friday 30th. Working all night and got to bed at 8am. Had a good sleep but nothing to eat hardly.

Saturday 1st May. Got only 3 hours sleep and a cold night. I have about 60 patients to look after all on the promenade deck. Dead beat at 5 am so had to turn in. We arrived at wharf at 7.30am and started unloading in afternoon.

Sunday 2nd. Laid in bed all day and could not eat or drink anything without vomiting up bile.

Monday 3rd. In bed all day and unloading, in all we had 35 deaths on board.

Tuesday 4th. In bed, but feeling easier, and could take a little liquids. Scribbled a note home to let them know I was all right. Left for Port Said at 7.30.

Wednesday 5th. Had a good trip, and arrived at 10.30am but did not take on Tommies till 4 pm. Loading cargo all night.
Thursday 6th. Left at 7 pm with 2,000 Tommies on board. It was great to see a little civilization again.
Friday 7th. Feeling better and a smooth sea. Nearly half of our fellows down.
Saturday 8th. Nothing of interest.
Sunday 9th. Arrived at Gaba Tepe, where Australians are, but sent up Dardanelles to reinforce Tommies just near Point. Tommies landed in the afternoon. Not much firing going on. Got out of bed and walked about a little.
Monday 10th. Walking about. Returned to Australian position in morning.
Tuesday 11th. Heavy firing down at Tommies position.
Wednesday 12th. Hear that we took several trenches as result of heavy bombardments. Walking about, getting my own soup and oxo now.
Thursday 13th. Nothing of interest. Laid off all day.
Friday 14th. Moved off early in morning to Mudros Bay, where most of the transports had been sent the night previous. Three hostile submarines in vicinity.
Saturday 15th. Beautiful day. A tramp alongside and taking off all our infantry gear.

Sunday 16th. Moved into another cabin. Reinforcements and details from other transports all coming on board. Tramp left us at 6 pm.
Monday 17th. Left Mudros Bay at 6 am and dropped infantry at Gaba Tepe at 6 pm. Left after unloading and moved over to Imbros, where several of our destroyers, cruisers etc are.'

The Australian War Memorial website describes in part the landing of the 3rd Field Ambulance, and the circumstances of the lifeboat in the foyer of the Australian War Memorial (AWM):
'Most men landed at Anzac on ship’s lifeboats. This one came from the troopship Devanha and was one of six in a string towed by the British destroyer HMS Ribble. Closer to the shore, the men from the 12th Battalion or the 3rd Field Ambulance climbed from the Ribble into the lifeboats, 30 apiece. Among them was John Simpson, who would soon become a legend as ‘the Man with the Donkey’. The boats cast off and were towed under fire by a launch; then the men rowed the final distance to the beach. They were close behind the first troops to land. The boats from the Devanha carried men to the extreme left of the covering force’s front; there were a few casualties on the way in. Once the troops had clambered from the boats, each one was rowed back to the destroyer to pick up more men. After the landing, the Devanha was converted to a hospital ship, and in the following months her boats would make the journey between ship and shore many more times.'

‘Mac’ Gunn was evacuated from the Peninsula by HS Ascanius to Malta suffering dysentery on 10 September 1915, and then to England on HS Panama, where he was hospitalised at 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth.

He wrote to his family when he heard of the Evacuation from the Peninsula:
'This is a sad and yet a joyful time for us. I expect that you have the news as well as we here. I was over in my old hut after tea and one of the boys rushed in and asked had we heard the latest. The latest was that Anzac and Suvla Bay evacuated. I did not believe it but went down to Plumstead where we got a paper with the ‘Withdrawal from Anzac’ in black and white. It was hard to take and I felt a lump come in my throat at the thought of my good old pals retreating. I feel confident it was not force that put them off, if it was they would die to a man. To think of our old dugouts, our living and dead mates, our fine old lads who made our name in the Landing. It seemed like leaving a good home and to think of our great beginning blotted over by a withdrawal is a hard nut to take. Well I felt broken up at the thought of it, but Kitchener knows best, and we put our trust in him. Surely this will bring Australia’s recruiting on and make them more determined than ever. . . I still say John Turk is not a bitter enemy of any Australasians as he fights well and straight, a manly fighter. All that John Turk has of mine is my Aust. overcoat and my dugouts (2).'

‘Mac’ Gunn served with the 13th Field Ambulance in France when, during the 1916 restructuring of the AIF, C Section, 3rd Field Ambulance became the nucleus of the 13th Field Ambulance (4th Division). His school and 13th Field Ambulance compatriot, Norman Sadler was killed on 30 August 1916 near Contalmaison. Gunn served there until Passchendaele in October 1917, being wounded at Messines on 10 June 1917, but remained on duty.

The AWM Collection holds twelve original diaries relating to the service of R M Gunn of 12th Field Ambulance on Gallipoli, in England and France. His letters are a stark reminder of the conditions they endured, as well as a graphic picture of the war. Returned to Australia, suffering amoebic dysentery, embarking on 8 April 1918 on HS Dunluce Castle, and was discharged medically unfit in Launceston in July that year. He may have been the last surviving Old Geelong Collegian Gallipoli veteran, and attended the opening of the Gallipoli Gallery at the Australian War Memorial in 1984 with 240 fellow veterans; there he met Bert Baker, fellow C Section stretcher-bearer, for the first time since 1917.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. pp204-6 (citing Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives of Australia; Grant Malcolm; AWM PR86/066).
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