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
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 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?