First Anzac on Gallipoli one of ours
AS AUSTRALIA pauses to remember the end of World War I at 11am today, local RSL members are pushing to get a Lismore soldier acknowledged for being the first man ashore at Gallipoli.
According to documents from the Australian War Memorial, Corporal Joseph Stratford, a canecutter from Goolmangar, was first on the beach and led the fateful charge.
But when he leaped from the landing boat he was dragged underwater by the weight of his pack and rifle. He managed to struggle free and make to the beach, unlike some of his mates who drowned that way.
Pinned down and unable to return fire as his ammunition was wet, witnesses record that Corporal Stratford stormed a Turkish machine-gun nest, bayoneting two Turks before falling dead in a hail of bullets.
According to letters held by Stratford family members in Dubbo, a Lieutenant Jones and Private Stu Gahan were second and third on to the beach and the officer recommended Corporal Stratford for a Victoria Cross.
Private Gahan later wrote to Stratford’s parents, who lived in Conway Street, Lismore, saying: “There was not a man amongst us who did not love and look up to him. He was fair and straight. I felt when he did not answer the roll call that I had lost an elder brother.”
Private Gahan recounted the story again in a 1916 tribute to Stratford in The Northern Star.
Another mate, Corporal Williams from Killarney, wrote: “He was a true and loyal friend, a gallant soldier and a gentleman.”
An Army Roll of Honour document reads: “Stated by eyewitnesses to be the first Australian ashore at Gallipoli.”
The City of Lismore RSL Sub-branch wants to create a memorial at the Lismore Cenotaph acknowledging Corporal Stratford’s bravery.
“We’re trying to get everyone together to talk about it so we can do something for the centenary of the Gallipoli landing in 2015,” sub-branch president Cecil Harris said.
“We want to put a memorial in there beside his name on the honour roll at the Memorial Baths in time for the centenary. We have four years and we’re trying to get the council, State Government and the Federal Government onside to sit down and get things going.”
It was Lismore MP Thomas George who first alerted the RSL sub-branch of Stratford’s notoriety.
“He brought it to our attention and one of our guys researched it,” Mr Harris said. “It was blooming magic to find out that a local bloke did this, which is something that hasn’t been recognised before.