"War is lunacy": The burial armistice

On 24 May 1915, both sides on Gallipoli agreed to a temporary armistice (ceasefire) to bury the dead, who were literally piling up between the trenches. This event was perhaps not as friendly as the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 in France, but nevertheless the men were thankful for a chance to bury the decomposing bodies. Here, three New Zealand veterans of Gallipoli, Walter Cobb, Mr Fraser and Mr Davidson, recall their experience of the armistice. Their accounts differ in their reporting of fraternisation (making friends) with the enemy Turks. This may be due to their different ranks (Cobb was a sergeant) or to the attitudes of their commanders.

Year:1915 (Recorded 1959)

Location:Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey

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"War is lunacy": The burial armistice

On 24 May 1915, both sides on Gallipoli agreed to a temporary armistice (ceasefire) to bury the dead, who were literally piling up between the trenches. This event was perhaps not as friendly as the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 in France, but nevertheless the men were thankful for a chance to bury the decomposing bodies. Here, three New Zealand veterans of Gallipoli, Walter Cobb, Mr Fraser and Mr Davidson, recall their experience of the armistice. Their accounts differ in their reporting of fraternisation (making friends) with the enemy Turks. This may be due to their different ranks (Cobb was a sergeant) or to the attitudes of their commanders.


Year: 1915 (Recorded 1959)

Length: 04:17

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 27624 [Interview with Gallipoli veteran, Sergeant Cobb]


People: Walter Leonard Cobb; Mr Fraser; Mr Davidson

Location: Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey


Image Title: Australian and Turkish troops identifying and burying their dead

Image Source: Courtesy Australian War Memorial: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/H12818/


During the first month of fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula, both sides sustained heavy casualties. The fighting was constant, with wave upon wave of infantry sent into the barrage of enemy fire. The no-man’s-land between the opposing trenches became thick with the bodies of dead from both sides. By the end of May 1915, some had lain there almost a month and their comrades were unable to retrieve them under constant enemy fire. The smell and flies became unbearable. The heat added to the effect and officers on both sides became concerned about the spread of disease and the serious discomfort for the men on the front lines.

On 22 May 1915, Turkish Major Kemal Ohri was escorted, blindfolded, to the Anzac headquarters to negotiate a truce. On 24 May a white flag was flown. A line was marked out down the middle of no-man’s-land, and each side was to leave the other’s dead there, so as to prevent “inquisitive soldiers poking about” in the opposing trenches.(1) Then the orders came for the living to tend to the dead. As well as burying the dead, there was a certain amount of fraternisation between the men as they exchanged cigarettes and food. Several thousand corpses lay in no-man’s-land in various states of decomposition, and by the end of the nine-hour truce they had all been retrieved and buried. That evening the shellfire began again as if nothing had happened.

1. Waite, Fred. The New Zealanders at Gallipoli. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd, Christchurch, 1919. p.143.