The Northern Rivers man who led the charge onto Gallipoli
NO ONE can know the thoughts that were running through the head of Lance Sergeant Joseph Henry Stratford on April 25, 1915, as his boat rolled slowly through the shrouded darkness towards the Turkish Coast.
The troops on the battleships had been woken at 1am, given a hot meal and drink, and mustered into companies.
It was pitch black when Stratford set off from H.M.S. Beagle in tows with other soldiers from the 9th battalion at 3.30am.
A thick sea mist clung to the black water and the men were soon chilled to the bone.
By 4am, the first glow of dawn would have allowed Stratford to distinguish between the hills and the sky.
Landfall was just 10 minutes away, and Stratford was on one of the boats closest to shore.
As the first of the fleets neared the shore, witnesses say they saw Stratford jump out and land waist-deep in the water, making him the first soldier ashore.
In an article published in The Northern Star on April 25, 1933, Mr N. Parker, who was also at the forefront of the Gallipoli landing, said he saw Stratford in the third boat "leap out and into the water while it was still waist high" while the first boat was two boat lengths from shore.
Mr Parker was one of the 16 soldiers on the third boat, six of which were killed on landing. By 1933 only two of the soldiers were still alive.
Returned Victorian soldier Private Studley Gahan also claimed Sgt Stratford was the first man to land.
"Joe Stratford was the first of Australia's troops ashore at Gallipoli, Lt Jones was second, and I was third," he was quoted in The Northern Star on November 2, 1916.
Correspondence from the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing files said: "Stratford was killed on the day of the landing. In the advance he threw himself on a machine gun and was ridlled (sic) with bullets".
It states "witness did not see this happen but it is generally attemted (sic) at the time in the company".
An article published in an Australian paper not long after the battle gave a recount of Stratford's death and said he had been recommended for the Victoria Cross and was the first man to land on the peninsula.
The claim that Stratford was the first man to land at Gallipoli was later questioned by the official historian Charles Bean, who wrote that Lieutenant Duncan Chapman, later killed at Pozieres in 1916, was most probably the first man ashore.
Aged 34 when he was killed, Stratford has no known grave.
He was born at Coffee Camp, between Lismore and Nimbin, on June 30, 1882.
After school he joined the Scottish Rifles and rose to the rank of sergeant before leaving Lismore in 1906 to work in the North Queensland canefields. In 1914 he enlisted for service in Brisbane.
In June, 1915, Mr and Mrs Thomas Stratford were notified that their son had been wounded at Gallipoli and was missing.
His whereabouts remained a mystery until late October 1916, when the Stratfords received a telegram from the Defence Department confirming their son was killed in action on April 25, 1915, at the historic landing.