ONE Christmas when I was a small boy, I sat with my brother Hugh listening to the war stories of our great grandfather, Stanley Watson, who had come from Adelaide to Melbourne to visit us.
What I heard for the first time that day in 1977 was the story of the remarkable evacuation of Gallipoli and his part in it. Hugh placed a tape recorder beside our great grandpa, documenting his words for a school project.
We listened intently, interrupted only by tea, biscuits and the smoke from his strong tobacco. Sadly, the dodgy tape recorder failed and only our memories remained. I remembered as much as I could but great grandpa’s account was incomplete, wrapped with frayed edges and uncertainty, tied with loose ends and questions.
The simple facts were only part of the story. In civilian life he had been an engineer with the South Australian railways; he was a lieutenant with the 1st Australian Division Signals Company by the time he landed at Anzac Cove at dawn on April 25, 1915. He helped build the first pier there to enable easier landing of supplies and heavy guns; and at the end of the campaign he helped 20,000 men leave Gallipoli during two freezing nights in December.
To build the pier he had to scrape together both men and materials; he even defused a massive Turkish armour-piercing shell and filled it with shrapnel to make a pile driver. Constructed in full view of the Turkish artillery – the infamous “Beachy Bill” gun battery – Watson’s Pier was rated by soldiers at the time among the most dangerous assignments at the Anzac battlefront. While other piers were built along the shore and all have been washed away, Watson’s Pier remains on some maps, a potent symbol of both the terrible trap and the remarkable escape at Anzac Cove.
See more videos relating to Watson’s Pier on YouTube by clicking here.
The evacuation was devised by Lieutenant Colonel Brudenell White and its genius was to habituate the Turks to periods of calm punctuated with intermittent fire, allowing the Anzacs brief opportunities to escape. Watson ran the signals operation that was crucial to the success of that stealthy operation. The orders were to try to save everyone; in the end he and his men ushered every Anzac from the shore. As the story of one man, you couldn’t make it up. As part of our national story, I knew it had to be told. I have spent the best part of four decades tracking down the missing parts and assembling the pieces in my imagination.
To do justice to the story of the campaign that almost destroyed the Anzacs and their escape, and to help readers engage with the impact of war on a single soldier and a nation, I wrote the book as part history and part fiction. Mine is the last generation to have had direct communication with veterans of the Great War, fleeting conversations which maintain the link to our past. The book is to honour those veterans, but also for future generations who will have to construct their own history of Australia without personal contact with the men who were eyewitnesses at Gallipoli.
Watson’s Pier book launch by Major General John Cantwell, author of Exit Wounds, State Library of Victoria (Melbourne University Press).
‘How to renew our understanding of Gallipoli? How to enrich and renew the telling? Well, just do what Joshua Funder has done: call on the inherited history of that terrible campaign as it found its graphic resonance in one significant man, and create an intimate re-experience of the last, cold days on that peninsula in Turkey, and use a range of genres as tools to a remarkable re-creation. It is specifically by such creative means the real Gallipoli now emerges, and the extraordinary withdrawal Stanley Watson engineered and participated in, the chief success of that entire calamity we find it impossible to forget.’Tom Keneally
‘A great story sensitively told and carefully researched about Lieutenant Colonel Stan Watson who, with his soldiers, was instrumental to the remarkable evacuation of the Anzac contingent from Gallipoli without loss of life. The author, Watson’s great grandson, skilfully blends history and fiction to create an enjoyable reading experience.’Air Chief Marshall Sir Angus Houston AK, AFC (RET'D)
From the Media
“With all the attention on Anzac… I’ve been waiting for the great to come along. I’ve discovered two great things. One is the Anzac Voices CD. And the other is this book, Watson’s Pier by Joshua Funder.”
“I cried finishing the book. I cried because there are some extraordinary moments and some heartrending moments.”
“The legacy is here. I thank you for Watson’s Pier. It’s a great testament to the Anzac spirit.”Peter Goers
“It’s a magnificent book”
“A wonderful, touching story”Eddie McGuire
“A rather incredible novel” (from intro to whole show)
“A beautiful, evocative re-creation”
“Such a beautiful novel”Natasha Mitchell
From the Public
“You are a lovely writer, which is why I am enjoying the book so much.”Andrew Rule
“Dear Joshua, It was with pleasure that I came across your book about your Grandfather recently. And am finding it an enthralling and educational read. My Grandfather was Major Charles Black, an Englishman who was also at Gallipoli amongst many other horrendous battles of the First World War. He settled in Adelaide in 1955, sent here to work on the V2 rocket at Woomera. He too had been in signals. He became great friends with your Grandfather. And I have just read your description of Littler’s style of walking with cane, with a little twirl in the air….which is exactly how my Grandfather chose to walk the Anzac Parade one year, with no explanation…and now I wonder if he was doffing his cap to the beach walker. Many thanks for your splendid book.”Jenny F
“Today, Anzac Day, I finished reading “Watson’s Pier” and feel moved to write to you. From the beginning I was completely absorbed in it and experienced such mixed emotions. Congratulations on this work which gives the reader an intense experience of the deadly, overwhelming events on Gallipoli – I loved the narrative, the characterisation, the Aussie wit, the humour and was moved once again by the terrible tragedy of it all.”Marie J
“Joshua Funder has beautifully interwoven historic facts about one of the defining moments in Australia’s young history, with a recreation of events – vividly brought to life through the central character, Stanley Watson, the author’s great-grand father. Watson played a pivotal role in ensuring tens of thousands of Anzacs were evacuated from Gallipoli with no loss of life – an extraordinary outcome, given the impossible circumstances. While I can’t even try to fathom what those that fought at Gallipoli experienced, Funder’s storytelling provides a powerful glimpse into their harrowing world. It is a sobering and timely reminder of why we must continue to cherish the Anzac legacy. A wonderful read.”Sergio S
“I have just finished reading Watson’s Pier, over Easter – a fantastic read. You have managed to give a whole new perspective on the ANZAC story of Gallipoli, capturing both the huge and crass incompetence of the overall leadership and planning, and the inspirational performance of the ANZAC diggers, faced with an impossible and suicidal mission. And through it all—you have woven the major role of great grandfather Stan Watson—what a man! And what amazing vision he had—of zero losses in the evacuation—truly inspirational —though I guess poor Mayer may have died and been left at ANZAC cove. A wonderful book…”John C
“I’ve almost finished reading Watson’s Pier and there’s been nights where I’ve gone to bed a blubbering mess. One was around Stan’s trip to Gallipoli at age 89 and the coming together of the diggers (gives hope for peace), the other was around the still birth of baby Matilda (who would have been 100 today) and for some reason I can’t explain, the death of Fitzroy seemed especially cruel – possibly because he’d known so little love during his life. Beautifully written, esp the chapter about the visit to Gallipoli. As I’m nearing the end of the book, I don’t want it to end. I’m not sure if it was your intention but it’s a great anti-war piece. Congrats to you for remembering these men in such a beautiful way.”Jo B
“I have just finished Watson’s Pier. You have done a fabulous job. Well done. You have to be very pleased with the end result. The book is terrific. It is a wonderful story and you have told it so well.“Hugh T