1916: Sergeant John Robins, before evacuating Gallipoli

On this date in 1916, Sergeant John Robins of the 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment — demoted for the occasion to Private — was shot “at a point on the beach 400 yards North of the mouth of the Gully Ravine” for disobeying orders.

This redundantly named topography was a feature of an ill-starred (for the British) peninsula Robins’s army was quite ready to see the back of: Gallipoli.*

Winston Churchill’s brainchild for a knockout punch in the First World War had long since come to grief — the enduring grief of the British, Australian, and New Zealand troops who died by the thousands under Ottoman guns whilst attempting to seize the Dardanelles, open the Black Sea, knock the Turks out of the war, and expose the Central Powers’ soft underbelly.

It didn’t do any of those things, but it did help Mel Gibson’s career.

The first days of 1916 were the very last days of the Gallipoli campaign, by which time the object was just to get out.

Actually, the invaders’ positions had been steadily, stealthily evacuated over the preceding weeks — successfully slipping away without alerting the Ottomans to the opportunity for a turkey shoot. The evacuation, at least, was a triumph.

Sergeant Robins was a part of this hot mess; he’d once had to flee from his bed when the Turks surprised his camp and overran it. But it didn’t seem to be jangled nerves that did him in so much as the everyday infirmity of the flesh.

By December 1915, a quarter of his unit was laid up on the sick rolls, but when Robins begged off a patrol assignment for unwellness, the powers that be didn’t reckon him among the legions of ill — but court-martialed him for refusing an order. A rather stunned Robins attempted to explain:

On the night in question I was not well enough to go out. I was eight and a half years in India where I suffered a good deal from fever and ague, and I still get fits of this. I had been suffering from this for several days off and on, and the wet weather had greatly affected me. I have been out here for nearly five months and this is the first trouble I have ever been in. I have always done my duty. This would not have happened if I had been quite well. At the time I did not realise the seriousness of what I did.

He realised the seriousness when he was shot at 8 a.m. on January 2, 1916. A week later, his unit — all his countrymen’s units — were out of Gallipoli.

On this day..