Gal­lipoli: 100 years on Re­mem­ber­ing the men who fought

Tells the story of the Gal­lipoli Cam­paign and shows how you can re­search the men who fought there

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There is no other way to put it – Gal­lipoli was a disas­ter from the be­gin­ning to end. The troops were poorly led and poorly re­sourced. In­di­vid­ual An­zacs and Tom­mies en­dured dysen­tery, drought and disas­ter with re­mark­able for­ti­tude and great hu­mour. Con­di­tions were ev­ery bit as bad as the Western Front and at times they were worse.

The rea­sons for the cam­paign lay hun­dreds of miles away on the Western Front where the Great War had be­come a bloody stale­mate. By seiz­ing the Dar­danelles, Ger­mans would have to di­vert re­sources away from the Western Front.

On pa­per, the omens looked good. Bri­tish troops were briefed that: “Turk­ish sol­diers, as a rule, man­i­fest their de­sire to sur­ren­der by hold­ing their ri­fle butt up­ward and by wav­ing clothes or rags of any colour. An ac­tual white flag should be re­garded with the ut­most sus­pi­cion as a Turk­ish sol­dier is un­likely to pos­sess any­thing of that colour.”

Tak­ing Gal­lipoli would still be a chal­lenge. Sheer cliffs scarred with deep gul­lies and ravines swept down al­most to the wa­ter’s edge and tow­ered up to rugged heights. In­land there were deep gul­lies, which be­came tor­rents in the rain, and nar­row ra­zor-edged ridges.

Dur­ing Fe­bru­ary and March 1915, sev­eral failed at­tempts were made by the naval ships to force the Straits. In­ten­sive prepa­ra­tions were then put in place to land troops at Cape Helles at the tip of the penin­sula, and at bays on ei­ther side as a di­ver­sion­ary feint. The Turks, well aware of Al­lied plans, beefed up their de­fences.

The Bri­tish Com­man­der Sir Ian Hamil­ton rue­fully wrote to Lord Kitch­ener, back in Lon­don, that: “Gal­lipoli looks a much tougher nut to crack than it did over the map in your of­fice.”

The first Bri­tish troops landed just be­fore dawn on 25 April, fer­ried from Royal Navy ships po­si­tioned a mile or so off the coast. Bri­gadier Gen­eral Ce­cil Aspinall- Og­lan­der de­scribed the land­ing on V Beach: “When the boats were only a few yards from the shore, Hell was sud­denly let loose. A tor­nado of fire swept over the in­com­ing boats, lash­ing the calm wa­ters of the bay as with a thou­sand whips. Dev­as­tat­ing ca­su­al­ties were suf­fered in the first few sec­onds. Some of the boats drifted help­lessly away with ev­ery man in them killed. Many more of the Dublin­ers were killed as they waded ashore. Oth­ers, badly wounded, stum­bling in the wa­ters, were drowned.”

Fif­teen miles to the north, men of Aus­tralian and New Zealand Army Corps (AN­ZAC) landed at what be­came known as An­zac Cove, or just An­zac.

Un­for­tu­nately, the troops landed at the wrong beach – a swift cur­rent had taken them a mile north of their in­tended tar­get.

Soon the Turk­ish guns started fir­ing on the beach and at the men who were clam­ber­ing up the cliff side or had reached the top.

Af­ter the land­ings, lit­tle was done by the Bri­tish to ex­ploit the sit­u­a­tion, and troops largely stayed close to the beaches. The at­tack lost mo­men­tum and the Turks had time to bring up re­in­force­ments.

In July, Sir Mau­rice Hankey was sent by the war cab­i­net in Lon­don to in­ves­ti­gate. He scram­bled up Gully Ravine where he found

When the boats were only a few yards from shore, Hell was sud­denly let loose

that: “Proper san­i­ta­tion is im­pos­si­ble in places as the Turk­ish dead lie in heaps, the smell be­ing bad, while the thought of masses of flies in such con­di­tions makes the flesh creep”.

He was, how­ever, im­pressed by the An­zacs: “Their physique is won­der­ful and their in­tel­li­gence in high or­der. Ha­rassed by con­tin­u­ous shelling, liv­ing in in­tense heat... com­pelled to carry their wa­ter and most of their sup­plies and am­mu­ni­tion by hand 400 feet up the hills and de­prived of any recre­ation ex­cept oc­ca­sional bathing, they are nev­er­the­less in the high­est sprits and spoil­ing for a fight.”

In Au­gust 1915, fresh troops landed at Su­vla Bay on the north west of the penin­sula to try to break the dead­lock. Com­mand was en­trusted to Sir Fred­er­ick Stop­ford who had come out of re­tire­ment with no ex­pe­ri­ence of com­mand­ing troops in bat­tle.

The land­ings at Su­vla Bay achieved to­tal sur­prise. How­ever, the wider of­fen­sive rapidly lost mo­men­tum as Stop­ford failed to press home the bat­tle.

His in­ac­tion and com­pla­cency led to his sack­ing in mid-Au­gust, but by then the dam­age had been done. On the beach, Sir Mau­rice Hankey found that: “A peace­ful scene greeted us. Hardly any shells. No Turks. Very oc­ca­sional mus­ketry. Bathing par­ties around the shore...”

Mean­while, the An­zacs had been torn to shreds as they at­tempted to break out of An­zac Cove in or­der to meet up with Stop­ford’s ad­vance. Turk­ish ma­chine gun fire cut through the Aus­tralians and New Zealan­ders who at­tempted to cross Sari Bair and Rhodo­den­dron Ridge. From the top of th­ese hills the troops could see Su­vla Bay.

When Sir Ian Hamil­ton ar­rived he im­me­di­ately or­dered an at­tack on a range of hills east of Su­vla Bay to lead to a Bri­tish break­out. By the time that the Bri­tish as­sault on the hills be­gan at dawn on 9 Au­gust they en­coun­tered the Turks stream­ing down to meet them. Stale­mate en­sued.

One fi­nal push was agreed. The at­tack at Scim­i­tar Hill on 21 Au­gust was the last at­tempt by the Bri­tish to ad­vance at Gal­lipoli. Once again, the Turk­ish de­fences could not be over­whelmed.

With au­tumn, the cam­paign ground to a halt. Heavy rain fol­lowed by snow turned the once dry as dust trenches into muddy quag­mires. The weekly re­port of the Royal Naval Divi­sion for 21 De­cem­ber said: “A thun­der­storm and heavy rain last night did more dam­age than a month’s shelling. In many places trenches and com­mu­ni­cat­ing trenches are im­pass­able and ev­ery­where mud ren­ders move­ment slow and dif­fi­cult.”

Cle­ment At­tlee, a com­pany com­man­der in the South Lan­cashires, bul­lied his men to keep alive by reg­u­lar ex­er­cise and “fairly fre­quent is­sues of rum” while dysen­tery, frost­bite and drown­ing dec­i­mated the other com­pa­nies in the bat­tal­ion.

On 11 Oc­to­ber, Hamil­ton was re­placed by Sir Charles Monro. His com­man­ders bel­be­lieved that their men were in no fit statte to take the of­fen­sive and urged evac­cu­a­tion as soon as pos­si­ble.

Lord Kitch­ener vis­ited Gal­lipoli to seee the po­si­tion for him­self. Once theere, he did not take long to make up his s mind. Stand­ing with Gen­eral Bird­w­wood, the com­man­der of the An­zacs, he putt his hand on the Gen­eral’s arm and said: “TThank God, Birdie I came to see this for mmy­self. You were quite right. I had no iidea of the dif­fi­cul­ties that you were uup against.”

The evac­u­a­tion was eas­ily the

most suc­cess­ful el­e­ment of the en­tire cam­paign, with the loss of just three men, with the Turks de­ceived into be­liev­ing that the move­ment of Al­liedd forces was not a with­drawal.

Af­ter a pe­riod of rest the e best troops, such as the Royal NavalN bat­tal­ions and the An­zacs, werew sent to the Western Front wherew they dis­tin­guished them­selv ves in very dif­fer­ent con­di­tions of the Somme.

Re­search­ing Gal­lipoli

Re­search­ing the men who fought at Gal­lipoli is ex­actly y the same as for other men who served else­where durin ng the First World War. Per­hap ps half a mil­lion men served at t some stage on Gal­lipoli or in neig gh­bour­ing wa­ters: you should be able tot find some­thing about each of th hem.

All the men were vol­unte eers. Some had been sol­diers in the pre -war Army, like the men of the 1st Batta alion Lan­cashire Fusiliers who led d the land­ing on V Beach on 25 April. Other rs were re­servists who had been re­called to the colours on the out­break of war or mem­bers of the pre-war Ter­ri­to­rial Force. Many, how­ever, had vol­un­vol­un­teered in the early weeks of the war andd had hardly been trained at alll.

Ev­ery ser­rvice­man who saw ser­vice over­seas waas au­to­mat­i­cally en­ti­tled to two camm­paign medals – the Bri­tish War Medal and the Vic­toory Medal. In ad­di­tion, meen who served at Gal­lipoli weere awarded the 1914-15 Star. De­tails ap­pear on in­di­ivid­ual Medal In­dex Cardss, which are on­line ei­ther throu­ugh Ances­try or The Na­tioonal Ar­chives ( TNA) web­site. In­dexes only are on Find­dmy­past.

TThe cards tell you the rank thhat a man held at the end of his ser­vicce, reg­i­men­tal num­bers, units serveed in, and the medals to which hee was en­ti­tled.

In ad­ddi­tion, the card should give the theatre of op­er­a­tions in which he first saw ser­vice, that is Balka­ans, Gal­lipoli or pos­si­bly the code 2B. The date on the card should be the day that he landed at Gal­lipoli, but oc­ca­sion­ally it may be when the man ar­rived in Egypt or even on the Western Front.

Ser­vice records can be a key re­source, sup­ply­ing de­tails of post­ings, ca­su­al­ties and per­haps their fam­ily back home. Un­for­tu­nately, less than a third of ser­vice records sur­vive. The re­main­der were de­stroyed dur­ing the Blitz.

In­di­vid­ual files con­tain a wide range of pa­per­work, but with a lit­tle prac­tice and pa­tience you should be able to de­ci­pher them and build up an in­ti­mate por­trait of the in­di­vid­ual con­cerned.

Ser­vice records are avail­able on both ances­try.co.uk and find­my­past. co.uk. If a man served af­ter 1920, his record will be with the Min­istry of De­fence. De­tails can be found at www.veter­ans- uk.info.

Of­fi­cers’ ser­vice records are not on­line. They are at The Na­tional Ar­chives in se­ries WO 339 and WO 374 and are easy to search. How­ever, they are not as in­for­ma­tive as those for other ranks.

Naval and air force ser­vice records for both of­fi­cers and men are avail­able through TNA web­site and in­creas­ingly on Find­my­past and Ances­try.

Who Do You Think You Are?

A map of the Dar­danelles and Gal­lipoli from 1916 – the scene of a dis­as­trous Al­lied cam­paign

Who Do You Think You Are?

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