In modern computer programming we speak of a “graceful failure” or a “graceful exit”. It refers to a piece of coding which recognises a failure in a routine and closes the routine down with an error log that signposts a data quality analyst where to look for the problem.
Back in December 1915 the allied forces faced a different kind of an exit challenge. Winston Churchill’s idea of knocking the Ottoman Empire, the sick man of Europe, out of the war with a knockout punch failed. After 11 months of move and counter-move the allies acknowledged that the Turks were equal to the task of defending their homeland.
It was a campaign that illustrated how one bad step can follow another bad step embedding you deeper and deeper into an entirely unintended situation. The plan was to force a fleet up the Bosphorus to Istanbul and force the surrender of Turkey under the Big Guns of the combined British and French fleets.
The actions of a single Turkish mine laying ship blocked the entry of the fleet. When the navy sent in minesweepers they were shelled by Turkish shore batteries. So the Navy needed to send in ground troops to clean out the shore batteries. The Turks opposed the landings and the Dardenelles campaign descended into a hellhole of trench warfare. Up close and personal trench warfare, with only the narrowest strip of no-mans land between the front lines.
When the Allies decided to evacuate lance corporal W.C. Scurry presented them with a piece of genius. Scurry had arrived in Gallipoli only one month prior with the Australian Imperial Force. He rigged up a delayed firing system using two mess tins and a bit of string.
The top tin was filled with water, the bottom empty and suspended from the top one. A hole was pierced in the top tin and the water dripped slowly out, falling into the bottom tin. When the bottom tin became heavy enough to pull the top tin down both tins fell and pulled the trigger string, firing the rifle.
By using different size tins, different hole positions, different size holes and different amounts of water it was possible to set up multiple different timings.
On the 20th of December, 2015, as the Newfoundland rear guard of the evacuating forces silently departed from the trenches they triggered the mechanisms on dozens of these rigs. As long as the rifles kept firing the Turks believed the allies were still there. The evacuation of 80,000 men was achieved with only a half dozen casualties.
Gallipoli was an unqualified failure, but one with a graceful exit.
After Court Martial; by Francis Ledwidge
My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.
The Present is a dream I see
of horror and loud sufferings,
at dawn a bird will waken me
unto my place among the kings.
And though men called me a vile name,
and all my dream companions gone,
’tis I the soldier bears the shame,
not I the king of Babylon.