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The woman sniper of Gallipoli


Bill Woerlee
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Bryn, This is what led me to ask the question about Women Snipers. I was searching for something else, and came across it.

It is a sad reminder of how some men were incapcitated.

" Case B, Dissociative deaf-muteness (Mott, 1916, pp. xv-xvi): A deaf-mute, aged 24, with no history of a neurotic temperament or neuropathic predisposition, was admitted under my care on November 16, 1915. He wrote the following account of himself: "I left England the 8th of March and went to Gallipoli on the 26th May, and about the middle of August one of our monitors fired short. I felt something go in my head, then I went to the Canada hospital; they said it was concussion [reduction in LOC]." In answer to questions he says the last thing he remembers is seeing the monitors firing. He came to a dug-out about one hour later. He could see and speak a little, but was quite deaf, and his head felt as if it would burst. He lost his speech completely when Bárányís tests (hot and cold water tests) were applied. He does not now complain of headache, but is quite deaf and dumb. Captain Jenkins reports that the ears are normal; it is therefore a functional deafness [somatoform: ANP]. He is able to cough and whistle, but cannot speak [somatoform: ANP]. His wife says that she has letters from him, in one of which he described how he killed a Turkish woman sniper. He does not remember writing this letter, but there is evidently some retrograde amnesia [psychoform: ANP]. He says he does not dream, but it seems certain that he has dreams but does not recollect them [psychoform: ANP], for the sister of the ward says that while asleep he [EP] assumes the attitude of shooting with his rifle, and he gives a jerk as if pulling the trigger, then he asumes the attitude of using his bayonet; the other men in the ward tell her that he gives the movement of the right parry, then the left parry, and lastly the thrust, as if he were in action [somatoform: EP]. He sometimes jumps his whole body as if he heard or saw a shell coming, and he catches his right elbow as if he were hit there. He was then observed to open his eyes wide, get up, and look under the bed [somatoform: EP]. Apparently he is not conscious of this [psychoform: ANP]. He then awakens and begins to cry, but there is no sound [somatoform: ANP]. "

The above is found here.

http://www.trauma-pages.com/a/vdhart-2000.php

Kim

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What I think would be useful (and instructive) would be a compilation of all reports of women snipers at Gallipoli, if only because this would demonstrate that these are usually so vague on detail as to be almost useless for any sort of analysis of details such as where, when, and just who is claiminng to have been an actual eye-witness.

Bryn,

Now that would be a fascinating study. Even more interesting would be to differentiate between the first hand references of actual sighting, killing or capture of women snipers as opposed to hearsay evidence that just heard about these incidents.

The results of that might prove very telling indeed.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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One aspect of the whole 'I shot a woman sniper' genre that hasn't really been discussed is the relative rarity of actually being able to examine the body of a dead sniper.

Usually snipers fired from positions within or behind their own lines, or from places pretty much inaccessible by the enemy. Not always, of course, and especially not in the early days (as the trench-lines had not formed), but in the majority of cases. If you think of snipers on the allied side such as Billy Sing of the 5th Light Horse, they fired from carefully-prepared and protected positions within their own lines. During the 2nd Battle of Krithia lines of Turkish skirmishers, who could reasonably be classed as 'snipers', occupied hidden positions in front of their main line. So these were in the 'open', but even if any of them were killed, and it's not certain that any were, their positions were not overrun, so their bodies could not be examined. Even if and when snipers were in trees and so on, it was not a simple case of 'shoot 'em, stroll over and have a look at 'em.' In other words, a very small percentage of 'snipers', even if killed, could be examined, and even fewer were captured.

The Turks held the very high ground at Anzac and Suvla, as well as what little there was at Helles, and had far more room behind their lines in which to move and position themselves. So snipers, whose job it is to kill individuals at a distance, did not need to be so close to the allies as to be easily captured or easily identified if killed. In the Anzac sector there were Turkish snipers operating from the seaward slopes of the Sari Bair Range. If any of these were ever killed it is doubtful that their bodies were recovered by the allies. Same for positions such as Baby 700, German Officers' Ridge, Mortar Ridge, Pine Ridge, and Snipers' Ridge, as the allies never reached those positions again after the first day's withdrawal from them. Likewise for Achi Baba and the 'far side' of the Kereves Dere at Helles.

If we were to accept every account of a woman sniper alleged to have been killed or captured was correct, then statistically there must have been a lot of them. Yet there is no proof of any.

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Good point Bryn. I'd actually thought along similar lines the other day. It would be extremely rare that an Allied soldier at Gallipoli, having maybe killed a sniper, would then be given the opportunity to actually inspect the body and thus determine them to be female or male.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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Bryn,

Your points are not only logical, but also the story does not hold up due to the shifting time span of these reports and the various locations given for almost the same stories.

On Thursday 12th August 1915, first of snipers from the Anzac force were sent around to Sulva to assist with countering the Turkish snipers. These men were drawn from the Australians, New Zealanders and Gurkhas, and within the next two days numbered 100 men. Several men from the 8th LHR were sent out to the 161st Essex Brigade at Jefferson’s Post, Kizlar Dagh, as snipers for this brigade.

All of these men were experienced snipers or acknowledged sharpshooters, and included most of the NZ & A Divisional Scouts. Their primary role was to counter the Turkish snipers out at Suvla and to train the men of the New Army Territorials in the methods that had been successfully employed at Anzac to counter the Turkish sniper threat.

It must be remembered that these English troops were engaged in their first experience of active service under fire. The Turks hold all the high ground that encircles Suvla Bay, they are all seasoned combatants. There were many snipers amongst their ranks, but also just about every Turk would be in a position to snipe men out on the Suvla Plain.

Now the point would be, if we have around 100 experienced men from Australia, NZ and the Gurkhas, it would seem inconceivable that if there were women snipers active at Suvla, and some of these had been shot or captured, that there would not be at least a number of accounts from these men that mention the fact, but there are NONE!

Jeff

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The men of 163 Brigade also report tales of women snipers, but I do wonder if we also have a case of old soldier wind-up.

I can't think of anything more like a soldiers joke than to alarm the new lads of the Territorials with lurid tales of women snipers, especially if it came from "experinced" Australian snipers.

G

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Jeff

Interesting to hear your details of the Anzac/Gurkha sniping specialists sent over to Suvla. I've been searching for references to these men but only found a brief footnote on the British official history.

A couple of questions:

1. Any idea when these guys returned to Anzac - or did they remain in the Suvla sector until the evacuation?

2.

Now the point would be, if we have around 100 experienced men from Australia, NZ and the Gurkhas, it would seem inconceivable that if there were women snipers active at Suvla, and some of these had been shot or captured, that there would not be at least a number of accounts from these men that mention the fact, but there are NONE!

Are you saying here that there are surviving accounts by these men but they all conspicuously fail to mention female snipers? If so, I agree that's a significant pointer to the non-existence of women snipers. Or do you mean that there are no accounts by these men known at all, but some would surely have come to light by now if they'd mentioned women snipers? If so, that's a more speculative point. (Sorry if this sounds nit-picking, I can't put the question in a clearer way.)

Tunesmith

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Slightly off topic, so apologies. I would be interested to learn more about the identity of the ANZAC marksmen sent to Suvla as there is a reference to them in C W Thompson's Records of the Dorset Yeomanry p.13. Up to now I had not been able to trace who these ANZACs might be. Interestingly this is in the context of passing the body of a female sniper of around 18 killed by 'some Australians' (but Thompson does not cite his source for this information). One of my grounds for being sceptical about the presence of female snipers was that I was unaware of the presence of ANZACs in the Suvla area, so this aspect of things interests me.

As an aside, it would be interesting to do some correlations on the number of reports of female snipers against the variables of time and spatial distribution. If there was a trend where the number of reports increased with the passing of time, and from one area to another, this might provide statistical grounds to suggest rumour spreading (a la pyramid selling model)? BTW I'm not volunteering for this task!

John

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  • 1 month later...

John

Mate, I have been quite intrigued by your hypothesis:

"As an aside, it would be interesting to do some correlations on the number of reports of female snipers against the variables of time and spatial distribution."

I can only answer this anecdotally as I have not been able to collect the specific evidence - newspapers and letters generally are unobtainable where the references may be found. However, from what I have been able to gather, the sightings and death of the female sniper generally is directly proportional to the ferocity of fighting and the Allied body count. Thus the sniper story reaches its zenith during the first days of the invasion in April 1915 and the August offensive. The appearance of the female sniper story is about a fortnight afterwards when the front line soldiers have had time to absorb the experience and inferno into which they have been led. So May and September the stories begin to appear in the local press, given the time it took for the stories to travel by letter to the homeland. The stories of the female sniper litter the letters pages of the British press in both these months. Same story, different body count and location. Everyone has heard of it but no one has seen it to give personal witness. There is a sanguine uniformity in these accounts with an [insert your location here] type of variation.

Your comment just put this more into a clear perspective for me.

Cheers

Bill

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Mates

Just to give folks a reality check on British propaganda and the use of the "female" aspect as the Amazon fighting for the homeland.

Below is a photograph of a woman who actively participated in a Boer Commando during the 2nd Anglo-South African War.

post-7100-1245812528.jpg

[From: Town & Country Journal, 27 October 1900, p. 42.]

This pic was circulated throughout the British Empire with the obvious implications attached to it.

The British military were not shy to utilize a peculiarity in the fighting to make a point. Nothing would have been better to display a female sniper for all the world to see. It would have been a propaganda coup, just like the above pic was in its time. However, there has never been such a body or a person and no such pic was ever taken. There is just no possibility that the British would ever have let such a propaganda coup pass them by without a whimper ... anywhere.

When such a pic of a female Turkish sniper is found attached to credible provenance, I will change my mind, but until then, I will treat it as a myth. Luckily, I suspect that my view will not have to be changed in my lifetime.

Cheers

Bill

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Hello, Bill: maybe I'm just tired or getting old but, when you've just posted a picture apparently showing a female sniper, why do you say. ". . . no such pic was ever taken"? Somebody took the pic you posted - even if it was staged propaganda.

On the broader matter of women snipers as a concept, it was my experience as a British Army marksman in the field that camouflage was essential to survival. To this end, ground-sheets or camo-netting woven with greenery may well have given the impression at a distance that I was a woman - which I wasn't :lol: Either way, I stayed alive.

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I take a much simpler view and just assume that someone, perhaps even several people, saw something that they took to be a woman – maybe a sniper dressed in loose-fitting camouflage with a head covering – and set off a rumour that grew into a myth, which is what the stories will remain unless/until someone produces convincing evidence to the contrary.

Glad to see my hypothesis lent support from Piorun's personal experience.

Just for interest, I wonder whether anyone has any contemporary photographs of Turkish soldiers and Turkish women that would give us an idea of how similar/different they looked facially? Based on Western perceptions, were Turkish women readily recognisable as women, even from a distance? Did some Turkish men have features that, at a distance, might be taken to be female? Turkish combatants would surely have been assumed to be male unless there were very strong indications to the contrary – but once rumours began to circulate of women in the opposing ranks, I suspect that 'spot the woman' may have become a local pastime.

And, by the by, why were the hypothetical Turkish women always snipers ...?

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Piorun,

I think Bill was specifically referring to pics taken of women snipers at Gallipoli, of a type similar to the Boer War one. (although initially I read it the same as you)

Cheers,

Tim L.

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One wonders if this issue of Turkish women snipers will ever be put to rest.

Despite the many and varied reports to their existence, the lack of substantive evidence to this being a fact, the structure of the Turkish Army of 1915, and the true realities of the Gallipoli campaign itself, all positively point to this being nothing but rumour and flights of fancy to vivid imagination. Many reasons to circulate for these stories have been outlined, over and over again, from many contributors to this topic, but the myth persists.

There is one undeniable aspect of the campaign that seems to be constantly overlooked. At Anzac in particular, men who were sniped in the front line trenches, rarely, if ever, saw the Turkish sniper who fired at them, and they were only hit when exposing themselves above the parapet, or looking through loop holes. On both sides, snipers chose well hidden and protected positions to fire from, either loop holes set in the parapet of the opposing trenches, using a periscope rifle, or from secure and indistinguishable positions. Men hit by sniper fire out of the trenches were fired upon when moving through areas that were overlooked from the higher up Turkish lines. Again, these from Turkish sniper positions where the sniper could not be seen.

It should also be noted that the average soldier in the ANZAC sector would have rarely seen a Turk while in the firing line, they kept their heads well below the top of the trench, as did the Turks. The only occasions a Turk was seen in the flesh, were, glimpses from the opposing trench lines, those taken prisoner, the dead in front of the trenches, and on the 24th May, during the armistice.

To the north of the ANZAC sector prior to the August campaign, there were Turkish snipers operating in the rugged and scrubby country facing the furthest extent of the entrenched sector. Measures were adopted to counter these snipers, and this was one of the main functions of the NZ&A Divisional Scouts.

To my knowledge, there is not one mention of a Turkish woman sniper, seen, killed, wounded, or captured, that emanates from the Scouts who were sent out to deal with snipers, or from any other Australian or New Zealand unit who maned the front line sectors.

With the Suvla area of operations where some of these woman sniper stories emanate from, again we have much put forward to dispel these stories as just that, stories.

As I have noted in my earlier post of the men of NZ&A Divisional Scouts, they were sent around to Suvla to train the new British troops and counter the Turkish sniper threat. Again, to my knowledge, no mention of a woman sniper, in any form, can be found from what accounts of these men that have been left.

Oh, and sorry Tunesmith, I thought I had answered your question, obviously another senior moment From what I have, and this particular to the 8th Light Horse Regiment, the last officer and men who had been sent out to Suvla, returned to the Regiment at Canterbury Slope, from Arghyl Dere, on Thursday 9th September 1915.

And to your second question. I only have two men who were scouts, that have left diary notes of opporating in the counter sniper work, and neither come within a 'Bull's roar' to mention of a woman Turk, sniper, dead or alive, or otherwise. Added to that, as noted before, I have no accounts of any mention of a woman Turk, either by supposed sighting, or retold story, from any other man of the Regiment.

It would seem on the face of it, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade were to busy and isolated up on Russell's Top to hear any of these Turkish woman sniper stories, and the men sent around to Suvla, were either deaf, or not talked to, to hear of the story. All rather strange in a way. If a Turkish woman sniper had been captured, or killed, it's odd that they never heard of it, they heard enough of the other wild rumours that circulated around Anzac.

Jeff

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There is good practical commentary in More Majorum's post (and others). Generally speaking, a seen sniper is a dead sniper. However, close inspection could usually only be achieved when the sniper's position was then overrun. On occasions where this had happened, I would assume that the record of a female body would have been made at the most official level, not through the trench grapevine - again assumimg, of course, that official levels weren't corrupted for propaganda.

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Piorun,

I think Bill was specifically referring to pics taken of women snipers at Gallipoli, of a type similar to the Boer War one. (although initially I read it the same as you)

Cheers,

Tim L.

Thanks, Tim, for your encouraging intimation that I'm maybe not as senile as I thought :rolleyes:

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Thus the sniper story reaches its zenith during the first days of the invasion in April 1915 and the August offensive. The appearance of the female sniper story is about a fortnight afterwards when the front line soldiers have had time to absorb the experience and inferno into which they have been led. So May and September the stories begin to appear in the local press, given the time it took for the stories to travel by letter to the homeland.

Bill

I take your point - it means there is yet another variable that is having an influence here i.e intensity of fighting and openness of the battlefield. I guess any statistical analysis would benefit from controlling for these factors by doing separate time/space correlations for April and August. This contracts the time frame, but frequencies of reports could be partitioned in blocks of say 3 days.

Cutting to the chase, what interests me is the mindset that impelled those reporting female snipers to subscribe to the myth. The paradoxical thing about myths is that they can be believed without the need for them being true. For instance, in the small market town in SW England where I grew up at the beginning of WW2 there was a myth that Russian soldiers had been seen at the railway station with snow still on their boots. [sic] Perhaps this was more widespread than the one town; I don't know. At face value the story was totally preposterous, but it was only sometime later that reality kicked in, people saw the funny side of it and the myth was debunked. Then there is the angel of Mons. What is the psychology? Are there times when reality is too stressful to confront so that people displace their feelings and plunge into the irrational? I suspect an in-depth study would tell us a lot about the outlook of the combatants at the time.

If I am on the right tracks, the reason that we are finding no first hand reports and photographs is that being a myth, the need for a reality check was totally irrelevant.

John

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Are there any Turkish accounts of Allied women snipers ...?

More seriously, did the myth also extend to French troops?

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Mick

Not a single Turkish account. This is even confessed by all the Turkish gurus with access to the Turkish archives. They only rely upon Australian and British accounts to throw this one around for publicity.

French accounts. Not a sausage mate. Apparently the bevy of semi nude snipers strung up and down the peninsular were only interested in loosening off their machine guns upon English speaking peoples and collecting the dog tags for their collection hanging on the wall in the various white houses that dotted the landscape in prominent positions where the foolish Allies failed to detect until after the sniper was discovered where her mother looked after the children while she engaged in her fiendish work. Apparently Bob Cratchet's son, Tiny Tim was there too in caricature to elicit sympathy.

Cheers

Bill

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Well put, Bill. Will this never end?

Bob

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Will this never end?

Probably not, Bob – because it's impossible to prove categorically that no person of the female persuasion ever fired so much as one single shot during the whole course of the Gallipoli campaign, so it will always be open to people to come forward with new theories or, who knows, maybe even evidence – if only of circumstances (not involving actual women) that might plausibly have given rise to the myth.

Incidentally, do people of indeterminate or ambiguous gender never occur in Turkey?

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Bob

SG is correct. You can't prove a negative so anyone who wants to peddle a sensation can do so while there is are the naive, wilfully ignorant or "conspiracy theorists" a la Xphilers to believe it.

Cheers

Bill

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