ANZAC DAY - 107th Anniversary of the Gallipoli Landings - 25th April 1915 - 'A Viking at Gallipoli' - The Diaries of Captain Nikolai Theodor Svensen of A Company 15th Battalion (Australia)

I have always felt that the broad notion of 'allies betrayed' has bound Poles, Australians and New Zealanders together in spirit however complex and many-sided the actual historical truth. 

The husband of my great-aunt Lillian was the eccentric Lieutenant Nikolai Theodore Svensen ('Theo' to the family). Lililan was the sister of the subject of my recently completed biographical project, the forgotten Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill. She was also a fine pianist. 

Originally from Norway (born in Larvik), Svensen emigrated to Australia and completed his schooling in Brisbane and became a survey draughtsman. Major N.T. Svensen (his final rank) was an incredibly eccentric yet highly talented gentleman. I use the word advisedly as he was descended from a distinguished Norwegian shipping and ship-building family who fell on hard times and emigrated to Australia when steamships supplanted sailing vessels. 

He first served in the Boer War with the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry and had over ten years service with the Queensland Rifles Regiment. At the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted in A Company 15th Battalion AIF on 30 September 1914. His unit embarked from Melbourne on board the Transport A 40 Ceramic on 22 December 1914. He was wounded in the face and chest at Gallipoli on 10 May 1915.   Evacuated from the peninsula in November 1915 with enteric fever he was repatriated to Australia in 1916. Svensen retired with the honorary rank of Major.

Portrait of Captain Nikolai Theodor Svensen (1878-1966) of A Company 15th Battalion (Australia) wearing the Queen’s South Africa (Boer War) Medal and 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

When landing at Anzac Cove he kept a meticulously detailed diary (which I treasure) in minute handwriting in two small volumes covered in dark green leather of the formidable event even during the very moments it was taking place. 'A bullet has just landed eight inches from my foot.' he coolly scribbled during the very landing itself with the grace under pressure of a Nelson. An extraordinary document. 

Captain J F Walsh (left) and Lieutenant N T Svensen (right) leading files of A Company, 15th Battalion during a march through Melbourne, 17th December 1914 shortly before embarkation. Two children are in the right foreground.
Svensen was an obsessional and perfectionist professional soldier throughout his long life. He played exciting table-top war games of Napoleonic and Great War battles with me as a child lasting weeks. We used detailed painted regiments of paper soldiers moving according to a throw of dice with small cannons that fired tiny wooden pellets. Each battle was written up in a ledger and soldiers that had distinguished themselves were decorated accordingly and promoted. He told me blood-curdling stories late into the night of 'Johnny Turk' (as the soldiers referred to the enemy) when I stayed with he and Lilian as a child over a period of years whilst my father was studying medicine at Queensland University.

These years spent in that eccentric environment as a child go a long way to explaining why I turned out to be the odd creature obsessed with detail that I feel myself to be.

Major N. T. Svensen prepares to fight a Napoleonic battle. He was a pioneer of  international Table Top War Games and as a child I was drawn into this world. Hence my love of the 1993  ITV series Sharpe one of the finest television series ever made on any subject

During these memorial years of the Great War, I have decided to write up the unique account of his personal campaign at Gallipoli which as a commissioned officer was of an intensity of detail unrivaled in my experience. On the new blog (not this post) I have lodged photographs and extracts as I discovered them during my researches. 

This posting is simply in the form of a communique.

Further material, photographs and updates on Major N. T. Svensen can be found at this blog address:

Major Nikolai Theodor Svensen (1878-1966) 

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