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Obituaries

Roy Longmore; Gallipoli Veteran, 107

July 12, 2001|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roy Longmore, one of the last surviving Australian veterans of the World War I campaign to capture the Gallipoli peninsula, has died. He was 107.

Longmore died in his sleep at a nursing home in Melbourne on June 21. He was given a state funeral the next day.

Although dwarfed by the later carnage on Europe's Western Front, the unprecedented number of casualties in Gallipoli sent shock waves through Australia and New Zealand.

The battle became a part of the national character of both countries and signified for many the start of Australian and New Zealand nationhood.

The joint Australian-New Zealand Army Corps, part of the Allied force headed by Britain, suffered 250,000 casualties in the fierce trench warfare against Turkish forces. More than 50,000 servicemen from both countries served in Gallipoli, and 8,000 of those men were killed in the fighting.

"Roy Longmore was one of those who forged the Anzac legend, whose courage, service and sacrifice at Gallipoli laid down the tradition that for more than 85 years has helped define us as Australians," said Bruce Scott, Australia's minister for veterans affairs.

Longmore was born April 29, 1894, the year Melbourne was first illuminated by electric lights and steam engines began running in Sydney. A tall country boy, Longmore was working on a farm in northern Victoria state when World War I broke out. He was 19 when he enlisted in the army.

On April 25, 1915, Allied troops landed on Gallipoli, which started eight months of trench warfare.

The campaign was a disaster for the British-led Allies, brought about largely by poor intelligence, questionable command and poorly equipped troops.

The initial plan was to send Allied warships up the narrow Dardanelles straits to what is now Istanbul to knock Turkey, which was allied with Germany, out of the war.

However, Turkish forces savaged the Allied fleet, either putting out of action or destroying six of the nine battleships.

Longmore joined the Gallipoli combat on Oct. 12, 1915. Handed a shovel, he was pressed into service as a tunnel digger burrowing under Turkish positions to lay mines.

Years later, he told an Australian reporter that he was lucky to get that job because it allowed him to stay underground and--being tall at 6 feet, 1 inch--out of the line of fire.

"A lot of blokes would stick their head up saying, 'Oh, they'll never get me,' but they did, so I kept my head down," Longmore said.

The Allied position deteriorated as the months went on. Forces began withdrawing in December, and on Jan. 8, 1916, the campaign ended.

Longmore survived the Gallipoli campaign unscathed, but was not nearly so lucky in western France, where he was wounded three times in some of the worst battles there, including Pozieres, Armentieres and Villers-Bretonneux.

Longmore was discharged in July 1919. His war wounds--he took shrapnel in the right thigh, right arm and left knee--made a return to farming life impossible. On his return to Melbourne, he found work driving a car and later running a car rental business. He married and fathered one son.

In 1998, he received the French Legion of Honor for his World War I service. In January 2000, Longmore and two other veterans of Gallipoli were shown on postage stamps issued by the Australian government as part of the legends of the country series.

Australians mark April 25, the date of the first landings at Gallipoli, as Anzac Day. For years, Longmore would lead parades marking the occasion, which served to honor 60,000 Australians killed in the war.

"They're no good, these wars," Longmore once said. "A lot of lives lost, no use at all. There's got to be another way of fixing up these rows without killing each other."

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