Original image
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Allies Complete Gallipoli Evacuation

Original image
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 218th installment in the series.  

January 8, 1916: Allies Complete Gallipoli Evacuation

The New Year brought long-awaited relief to tens of thousands of Allied troops finally evacuated from Gallipoli. After the Allied positions at Suvla Bay and ANZAC cove were abandoned in late December, on January 8 to 9, 1916 the evacuation was completed by the withdrawal of the remaining troops from Cape Hellas, on the tip of the peninsula. 

The few weeks between the first and second evacuations were eventful ones, as low-grade trench warfare continued unabated around Cape Hellas, with the usual routine of sniping and shelling claiming a steady stream of victims on both sides. Owen William Steele, a Canadian officer from Newfoundland, wrote matter-of-factly about these losses in his diary entry on December 30, 1915, describing his unit’s shift on labor fatigue under the enemy guns:

We all got out before dinner but unfortunately the Turks shelled us very heavily. We went out in parties of 20 at five minutes interval, but after a while the Turks saw us with the result the shells were soon falling all about us. We then divided our parties of four at 100 yds interval. One shell, though it landed 30 yds away got the whole of one of my parties of four. My orderly, Thos. Cook, was one of them, he was wounded in the left leg & left arm, – our mess cook was another, he got it in the stomach, – another got a leg wound, and another a splinter in the heel. I went to the Hospital this evening to see them and they were all happy and feeling no pain, except poor Geo. Simms, our mess cook, who died about 3 o.’c. 

For those who managed to survive the final weeks on Gallipoli, January 8, 1916 was a time for celebration—provided, of course, they didn’t get killed on the way out. Having been hoodwinked during the first evacuation, the Turks were waiting vigilantly for the second one to begin, hoping to inflict some parting casualties on the withdrawing British and French troops. Then there was the danger of the Allies’ own “scorched earth” policy, involving the destruction of any supplies that couldn’t be moved in order to deny them to the enemy. Steele recalled the final moments, as timed explosives detonated while the boats prepared to pull away from shore:

… before we had even untied from the wharf, the first magazine went off with a very heavy explosion. A great volume of flame shot hundreds of feet into the air, debris of all kinds went everywhere, and as we were only a hundred yards away from it some came our way. It did no damage beyond breaking one man’s arm in three places... By now there were fires everywhere, and it was really a wonderful sight… The sky was also well lit up by the fires at V. & X. beaches… 

Next the evacuated troops had to survive a long journey through rough seas to the nearby Greek islands of Imbros and Mudros, their first destination. This was a considerable challenge for smaller boats trying to cross the stormy Aegean Sea in mid-winter (in fact heavy winds caused the piers at Cape Hellas to collapse twice on January 8, complicating the effort even further). In his diary entry the next day Steele described the rough conditions: 

Unfortunately for our sight-seeing desires, we were all ordered to get below, for it was very windy indeed, and the sea was beginning to wash over the lighter… This lighter, which was all that its name implies was handled very playfully by the sea all the way over and instead of taking 2 hrs, the time of the normal trip, we took 5 hrs. not reaching there until 9 a.m. 

For those who survived these last travails, the Gallipoli campaign was finally over. The scale of the ill-fated venture to capture the Turkish straits had been enormous, as was its cost. Over half a million Allied troops served on the peninsula over the course of the eight-month campaign, including 79,000 French troops, 20,000 Australians, and 14,000 New Zealanders, who faced off against around 350,000 Turks at various times. 

The Allies suffered a total of around 250,000 casualties, including 44,150 killed, 97,397 wounded, and well over a hundred thousand casualties due to diseases including typhus and cholera, which exacted a terrible toll on both sides. The Ottoman Empire also suffered at least a quarter of a million casualties, including 86,692 killed and 164,617 wounded, and thousands of sick.

The disaster at Gallipoli played a key role in the formation of national identities separate from Britain in Australia and New Zealand, which suffered huge losses in proportional terms, considering their small populations; many soldiers and civilians held incompetent British commanders responsible for these losses, adding to their feelings of separation and difference. Today April 25, the day of the initial landings, is observed as “ANZAC Day” in both countries. 

Gallipoli was also a foundational event in the creation of modern Turkey on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. It demonstrated beyond a doubt that a distinct Turkish national identity had emerged within the medieval empire, with an emotional pull strong enough to convince tens of thousands of young men to fight and die in order to protect the Turkish heartland. Gallipoli also provided the stage for the rise of Mustafa Kemal, who won fame for his bravery and tenacity in the desperate battles of 1915, and after further victories would be honored as Atatürk, or “Father of the Turks.” 

From Peninsula to Pyramids

The troops withdrawn from Gallipoli by the Allies were sent to a wide range of destinations. Many were simply transferred to the new Allied expeditionary force occupying the northern Greek city of Salonika—the legacy of a failed attempt to help Serbia during the final conquest of the country by the Central Powers, which they later maintained to apply pressure to Bulgaria. Others headed to the Western Front, while some were deployed to Mesopotamia, where the British were frantically organizing an effort to relieve the army under Charles Townshend besieged at Kut.

However some lucky soldiers got a (relatively) pleasant assignment – garrisoning Egypt and guarding the Suez Canal (above, Australians in Egypt). While they still faced the inescapable threat of disease, and a new Turkish offensive against the canal was brewing, for the time being this meant access to luxuries which had been distinctly lacking in Gallipoli, including fresh food, abundant water for bathing, sightseeing expeditions to the pyramids, and leave in exotic Alexandria and Cairo, with the associated possibilities of female companionship (below, Maori troops from New Zealand in Egypt).

Egypt’s beauty certainly made a big impression on the Allied troops after the squalor of Gallipoli. One British soldier, William Ewing, recalled sunrise and sunset in the desert west of the Suez Canal:

One could never tire of the arresting beauty of dawn and evening, as the sun rises over and sets behind the desert hills, with never a cloud in all the sky. Peculiarly delicate are the tints of violet, pink, pinkish purple, saffron, and pearl, over which the eye passes to the deep azure above. Suddenly they vanish as the sun leaps into the sky, glorious in his splendor, flooding the world with golden light.

Ewing also left a striking description of their tent encampment not far from the canal, which had a beauty all its own, at least at night:

The canvas city spread around to north, south, east, and west, with wide open spaces that served as parade grounds… When the sun sets, darkness descends swiftly upon us. On moonless nights, a change, as if wrought by enchantment, passes over the camp. The light within transforms each tent into a luminous pyramid, clean cut against the superincumbent gloom. Gathered in groups and squares and thrown out in lines, one could imagine them as gigantic Chinese lamps picking out the borders and pathways in a maze of fairy gardens.

Ewing also left his impressions of the canal itself, including the strange scene of ships passing through the desert (above, Australian troops bathing in the canal):

The world’s great waterway through the desert – a pathway of silver across the brown flats – is always an impressive sight, especially at night. Gigantic ocean liners with flaming search-lights show up picturesquely through the shadows; yet do they seem strangely out of place amid the barren waste, like monsters of the deep strayed from their element.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Original image
iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
The Elements
9 Essential Facts About Carbon
Original image
iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.


It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.


It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.


While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.


It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.


May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.


Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.


Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.


American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

Original image
Nicole Garner
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
Original image
Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.


More from mental floss studios