THE FIFTH BATTALION
HIGHLAND LIGHT INFANTRY
IN THE WAR
The Fifth Battalion
Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918
Printed for Private Circulation by MacLehose, Jackson and Co.
Publishers to the University
TO THE MEMORY OF THE OFFICERS, WARRANT OFFICERS, NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE FIFTH BATTALION HIGHLAND LIGHT INFANTRY WHO FELL IN THE WAR 1914-1918
The 5th Highland Light Infantry was originally known as the 19th Lanark Rifle Volunteers, one of the Volunteer units raised in 1859. In 1880, it became the 5th Lanark Volunteers. The connection with the Highland Light Infantry began in 1887, when it was named the 1st Volunteer Battalion Highland Light Infantry, a detachment of which served in the South African War. On the formation of the Territorial Force in 1909, the present name was adopted. The old history of the unit is contained in the Records of the Scottish Volunteer Force 1859-1908, by the late Lieut.-General J.M. Grierson, C.V.O., C.B., C.M.G.
This book deals with our record of service in the war 1914-1918, and we feel we need only say three things in the Preface:
1. The book is published privately for those who served with us and others interested.
2. It has been written by officers of the Battalion who were with us during the period of which they write.
3. It is written to the memory of our gallant comrades who fell and who themselves did so much to make this History.
I. FROM MOBILISATION TO THE EAST 1
II. GALLIPOLI—TO 11TH JULY, 1915 7
III. GALLIPOLI (contd.)—OPERATIONS 12TH-18TH JULY, 1915 19
IV. GALLIPOLI (contd.) 33
V. GALLIPOLI (concluded) 60
VI. MUDROS, CAIRO, SUEZ CANAL AND HILL 70 LINE 73
VII. THE SINAI DESERT, MAHAMDIYA, ROMANI, KATIA 92
VIII. ACROSS THE SINAI DESERT TO EL ARISH 112
IX. EL ARISH AND FIRST BATTLE OF GAZA 130
X. SECOND BATTLE OF GAZA 143
XI. GAZA, 1ST MAY TO 7TH NOVEMBER, 1917 157
XII. ADVANCE BEYOND GAZA. WADI HESI, SAUSAGE RIDGE, ESDUD, KUBEIBEH, NEBI SAMWIL, TAHTA 169
XIII. FROM TAHTA TO THE AUJA 185
XIV. LAST DAYS IN PALESTINE. NORTH OF JAFFA 194
XV. FRANCE 201
I. LIST OF OFFICERS, SENIOR N.C.O.'S, ETC., WHO EMBARKED IN MAY, 1915 237
II. ROLL OF OFFICERS, WARRANT OFFICERS, NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS AND MEN WHO DIED ON SERVICE 239
III. HONOURS AND AWARDS 243
IV. TURKISH ORDERS FOR ADVANCE ON ROMANI 246
COLONEL F.L. MORRISON, C.B., D.S.O., V.D. Frontispiece.
OFFICERS OF THE BATTALION, JULY 1914 To face p. 4
CAPE HELLES, GALLIPOLI " 8
GULLY RAVINE, CAPE HELLES " 16
SUEZ CANAL AT BALLAH " 80
IN A REDOUBT, MAHAMDIYA " 96
WATER CAMELS, MAHAMDIYA " 104
SHEIKH'S TOMB, KATIA " 108
BIVOUACS, EL RABAH " 112
CAMEL LINES, EL ARISH " 120
BAGGAGE CAMELS ON SHORE NEAR EL ARISH " 128
MOUTH OF WADI EL ARISH " 132
BEDOUIN SHEIKHS, BELAH " 136
BEDOUINS, KHAN YUNIS " 140
TYPICAL SMALL NULLAH NEAR WADI GHUZZEE " 144
NATIVE GIRLS, BELAH " 148
INSIDE YAPTON POST " 160
SHEIKH ABBAS " 164
OBSERVATION POST IN FRONT OF YAPTON POST " 168
SAUSAGE RIDGE, DEIR SINEID " 172
ORANGE SELLERS, MEJDEL " 176
BERFYLIA " 180
JAFFA FROM THE SHORE " 192
IN SARONA " 200
GALLIPOLI—BATTLE OF 12TH JULY, 1915 To face p. 54
SKETCH TO ILLUSTRATE POSITION ON NIGHT OF 19-20TH DECEMBER, 1915 " 64
AREA OF OPERATIONS 7-8TH NOVEMBER, 1917 " 174
SKETCH SHOWING ROUTE TAKEN BY THE BATTALION BETWEEN GAZA AND JAFFA, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 1917 " 184
AREA OF OPERATIONS 24-27TH AUGUST, 1918 " 216
MOEUVRES, SEPTEMBER, 1918 " 224
GALLIPOLI AND THE DARDANELLES, BIRD'S-EYE VIEW } } NORTHERN PORTION OF SINAI PENINSULA } In pocket at end } of book. GAZA }
FROM MOBILISATION TO THE EAST.
The period from the date of mobilisation to the date on which we began our active service experiences we propose to pass over quickly, as the events which happened then seem now of small interest to those coming later.
With orders prepared carefully in peace time, mobilisation went smoothly. The Normal School, Glasgow, became a barracks and a place for the busy public of the New City Road to gaze at with interest.
Within a week our Brigade found itself at Dunfermline, and a few days later we were at Leven, with two companies on duty at the docks at Methil. The Leven companies did uninterrupted training, the Methil companies uninterrupted guards, and to the credit of the latter no one was drowned on these inky nights in the docks. It was there one night a small but gallant officer was going his rounds. One sentry was posted in mid-air on a coal shute, and to challenge persons approaching his post was one of his duties. On the approach of the officer there was no challenge, so to find the reason of this the officer climbed up the ladder and found the sentry, who explained he had seen something "right enuff," but thought it was "one of them things they tie ships to"—in other words a bollard.
The Army authorities had not then become prolific publishers of training pamphlets; training therefore was in accordance with the Red Books previously published, which meant that we trained for open warfare. Bombs, Trench Mortars or Rifle Grenades we never saw, still the training was invaluable and we became a very fit battalion.
All ranks have happy memories of the many kindnesses shown there by the good people of Leven and Methil, but in spite of the pleasures of home soldiering, being then enthusiasts, we thought we had been forgotten and longed for orders to proceed overseas.
Early in May, 1915, we gathered that we would soon be going abroad. It was then we heard that our Division would be known as the 52nd (Lowland) Division, and our Brigade, consisting of ourselves, the 6th and 7th H.L.I., and the 5th A. & S.H., as the 157th Infantry Brigade. Anticipating our move, the G.O.C. Division, General Egerton, lectured the officers at Markinch on warfare in France. He referred to us embarking on the greatest adventure of our lives; to many attending the lecture it was also their last. In spite of the lecture we found ourselves bound for the East.
On May 19th, Major T.L. Jowitt, Captain J.D. Black and eight subalterns with their trusty batmen left Leven for the South and they were lost to us for a month. This was owing to limited boat accommodation. The Battalion, under command of Colonel F.L. Morrison, moved from Leven on May 24th, with, we think we can say, the best wishes of the inhabitants. The next day found us at Plymouth boarding the Transylvania for her first voyage as a troopship. The transport section under Lieut. W.L. Buchanan sailed by another steamer. In addition to ourselves the Transylvania carried the 6th and 7th H.L.I. and about 100 unattached officers. It was a tight fit.
The ship was detained from sailing until our pith helmets arrived on the 26th, when, at 10 o'clock on a clear moonlight night, we steamed away escorted by two T.B.Ds. The Bay was crossed in calm weather. Gibraltar passed on the 30th and Malta reached on the 2nd June. Our clothing, consisting of the ordinary drab khaki, now began to prove unsuitable for a hot climate.
At Malta parties were allowed ashore while the ship coaled. The Maltese methods of coaling are worth seeing. A goodly proportion of the coal is dropped intentionally into the sea, as it is being carried from the lighters to the bunkers. After coaling is finished, a fleet of rowing boats with dragnets collect the ill-gotten coal from the bottom of the sea. It was our introduction to the oriental mind.
On the 5th June we entered the harbour of Alexandria, threading our way through a fleet of transports and other vessels such as the place had never known in peace time. Disembarking we entrained to Aboukir some ten miles away on the Bay of that name. A camp was pitched near the sea, where abounded scorpions, snakes, flies, beetles and mosquitos. Leave was given to visit Alexandria, and this, to those visiting the East for the first time, afforded endless interest. It was there we learned to scatter the unfortunate natives with "imshi" or stronger, and what "mafeesh" meant.
The officers were fortunate in securing for their mess the cool verandah of a solitary house round which the camp was pitched. The house, which was unoccupied, was said to be owned by a Frenchman in Cairo. He arrived one day with a bride on his arm—he had just been married—not knowing that the district was now crowded with troops. He had intended to spend the honeymoon at his seaside residence. With all a French gentleman's courtesy he made the officers welcome to his house and sought his honeymoon elsewhere.
We found ourselves aboard the Transylvania again on the 12th June, and sailed at dusk. Our course was Northwards, so now, we thought, we were in for the real thing. Gallipoli and the Turk would know us in a few days time. To travel hopefully, reflected R.L. Stevenson, is better than to arrive. Ere Crete was passed the ship put about and steamed for Alexandria again. A wireless had been received recalling us to Egypt, the reason for this volte face being, we understand, congestion at Mudros, the advanced base.
Alexandria on our return was dimmed in the heat and choking in the sand clouds of a khamsin. This wind blows off the desert and man is almost prostrate in its scorching blast. We had met a particularly hot one—Alexandria had not known its like for years. The move back to Aboukir was therefore very trying. We were now rejoined by the Transport Section, and Major Jowitt and his party also returned. They had gone direct to Mudros in the Mauretania, where an attempt was made to post them to the 29th Division. The compliment was declined on the ground that their unit was in the offing. After transhipping to the Donaldson liner Saturnia, which was nearly hit by bombs from an aeroplane, they were sent to Alexandria by the Minnetonka.
About this time Colonel Morrison had the pleasure of dining with the Sultan of Egypt at his Palace near Alexandria, his tartan slacks attracting considerable notice.
On 28th June we again embarked for Gallipoli, this time on the Menominee. The Transport Section were left behind at Aboukir as there was no room for them in the small sector occupied by our troops in Gallipoli. We were all aboard and ready to sail by 4 p.m. All aboard did we say? Then where's the Padre? Last seen going through the town with the intention of making a few final purchases, he was now nowhere to be found. As the relentless ship cast off and moved down the harbour, his tall and for once dismayed figure came in sight on the quay. Too late. Too late. All ranks crowded to the side shouting advice and sympathetic cheers.
But the Padre was not to be denied. With the resource of the hero in the film play, he routed out a motor boat and came speeding after us. Down the ship's side hung a rope ladder to which clung a couple of natives in a small boat. Overtaking us in great style, the Padre leapt into this and essayed the ladder, but his pith helmet got in the way and his cane and parcel of purchases burdened his hands, so he threw the lot to one of the natives and began the precarious ascent. Half way up a swing of the ladder brought him under a shoot of water from the ship's side, and at the same moment an extra burst of cheering from the decks drew his attention to the native who, as the best way of carrying the helmet, had good humouredly donned it. It was a trying situation for any man, but the Padre did full justice to the occasion and was eventually hauled on board amid wild enthusiasm.
In spite of submarine scares the voyage up the Aegean Sea was a pleasant one. By day the succession of rocky islands (among these Patmos, where St. John was inspired to write his Revelation) shining in the sea like jewels in an azure setting, marked our progress and recalled their ancient story.
In the evening impromptu concerts were held, at one of which, on the fo'c'sle decks the pipers played "The 5th H.L.I.'s Farewell to Aboukir," composed by Pipe Major Thomson. Can its plaintive harmonies still be heard, or did they perish with him when he fell just ten days later?
At dawn on the 1st July we sighted Lemnos island. Soon we were lying in Mudros Bay among over 120 ships, British and French of all sizes and types, from battleships to submarines, and from great ocean liners to trawlers, all safely at anchor in this wonderful natural harbour. Now picks, shovels, rations and extra ammunition were issued, and in the afternoon of the next day the destroyer Racoon took off Brigade and Regimental Headquarters with A and B companies, followed by the sweeper Whitby Abbey, with C and D companies under Major Jowitt. Singing and cheering we passed down the long line of shipping to the harbour mouth, then into darkness and silence, bound at last to meet the enemy.
GALLIPOLI—TO 11TH JULY, 1915.
The main objects the Allies had in view in their operations at Gallipoli may be briefly stated:
1. To relieve the pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus by forcing the Turks to withdraw troops to the new front.
2. To open the Black Sea to allied shipping by forcing the passage of the Dardanelles.
3. By striking a blow towards Constantinople to compel the Turks to abandon their attacks on Egypt.
In Southern Russia there were immense stocks of wheat of which Western Europe was in need. If the operations were successful this wheat could be shipped from Odessa, and in exchange the Russians would receive munitions for the heroic fight they were putting up against Germany and Austria between the Baltic and the Carpathians.
Those of us who served at Gallipoli had not always these great issues before us. We were content to know that we were fighting the Turk who had basely sold himself to the Central Powers, and were upholding the Cross, like Crusaders of old, in its long struggle with the Crescent.
The evening of 2nd July was fine, with a fresh easterly breeze, and though the troops on the deck of the Racoon were packed like sardines the passage was a pleasant one. As we neared our destination artillery were at work on Achi Baba, and the flashes of the explosion followed by the dull boom of the guns were—to most of us—our first glimpse of actual warfare.
Arriving off Cape Helles in semi-darkness about 8 p.m., the Racoon slowed down and felt her way cautiously to the landing place at Sedd-el-Bahr, better known as "V" Beach, where she brought up alongside the River Clyde. The pontoons connecting that historic hulk with the shore had been much damaged the previous day by the enemy's big shells from Asia.
In disembarking we had to clamber up an accommodation ladder to the River Clyde, follow a devious path through her battered interior, descend a gangway from the bow, and pick our way ashore over a miscellaneous assortment of half-sunken pontoons, boats and planks—no easy task in the dark for a man laden with rifle, pick or shovel, pack, blanket, ground-sheet, and 150 rounds of ammunition.
About 9.30 p.m. as the first men were quitting the Racoon, a message was passed back that the O.C. troops was urgently wanted on shore. When he had triumphed over the difficulties of the obstacle course and reached the roadway at the pier-head, the C.O. found an officer of the Divisional Staff awaiting him.
The S.O. was a little excited and the instructions he gave were not so clear as one could have desired. The patch on which we were forming up was a favourite target for the enemy's shells from Asia. They were in the habit of devoting special attention to it on nights when they thought troops were being landed. We were to proceed to No. 1 area—wherever that might be. A guide would accompany each party and an officer of the Divisional Staff would be with the first party. We must move in absolute silence; no lights or smoking. We would be exposed to shell-fire whenever we passed the crest of the rise from the beach, where we ought to adopt an extended formation. At our destination we would find some trenches, but not sufficient to accommodate the whole Battalion, and it was up to us to lose no time in digging ourselves in.
The C.O. was hustled off with two platoons of "A" Company before these were properly landed. Where we were bound for and exactly what we were to do when we got there, none of us knew, except presumably the Staff Officer who accompanied us and perhaps the N.C.O. who acted as guide. But subsequent happenings proved that they were almost as ignorant on these points as ourselves.
Winding up a steepish rise through a region which seemed crowded with dug-outs and piles of stores, we gained the crest where we had been urged to extend. It was pitch dark, with a steadily increasing drizzle of rain and an occasional rumble of thunder. In front there were as yet no indications of shell-fire, only an intermittent crackle of distant musketry.
So far as we could judge we were moving on a fairly defined road or path, of uncertain surface, much cut up by traffic, and at many places pitted with shell craters. To estimate the distance traversed was impossible, but we must have been descending the gradual slope for over half an hour when our guides began to exhibit symptoms of indecision. The truth was soon out—they did not know where they were.
We ought before this to have struck the trenches allotted to us: possibly we had passed them in the dark. It transpired that neither Staff Officer nor N.C.O. had even been near the spot except in daylight, but both still professed confidence in their ability to locate the trenches. It was explained to us that these lay between the Pink Farm Road on which we had been moving, and the Krithia Road, which was some distance to our right. So we turned off the road towards the right and commenced our search.
After wandering in the rain for half an hour, we came upon what appeared to be a wide ditch sheltered by some straggling trees. Our guides decided that this must be a section of the elusive trenches, and at their suggestion Major Downie and his half-company were bestowed in it temporarily while the rest of us continued our quest for the remaining trenches.
Our progress was frequently interrupted by flares sent up from the trenches somewhere in front. To our inexperienced eyes it seemed that the lights were very near us, for they showed up vividly the whole ground over which we were moving, every little clump of scrub standing out sharp and distinct as in the glare of a powerful searchlight. From repeated study of Notes on Trench Warfare in France, we had become permeated with the theory that where one's presence is revealed by a flare, safety from rifle or machine gun fire is only to be attained by lying down and remaining perfectly motionless. So to the first few flares we made profound obeisances, grovelling on the wet ground or behind the nearest patch of scrub as long as the stars illuminated the landscape. But familiarity breeds contempt, and as we gradually realised that the flares were much further to our front than we had thought, the necessity for this uncomfortable performance became less and less obvious until we discarded it altogether.
After ages of fruitless wandering we stumbled against a landmark which our guides recognised as within a hundred yards of the long sought trenches—a large tree marking the sight of an Artillery Ammunition Dump known, inappropriately enough, as Trafalgar Square. Here were one or two dug-outs in which the party in charge of the Dump slumbered peacefully. After we had circled the tree several times without result, the gunner N.C.O. in charge of the station was roused and questioned. Yes, he knew where the trenches were—quite close at hand.
With great good nature he rolled out of his blankets, and clambered out of his subterranean shelter to find them for us. The prospect brightened considerably, but only to become darker than ever when after a quarter of an hour's further walking he, too, proved at fault. Then suddenly it occurred to him that he had turned to the left on leaving his dug-out instead of to the right, and had been leading us away from our goal.
Wearily we retraced our steps, and then finally we found the trenches. The manner of the discovery was simplicity itself. As a matter of fact the C.O. fell into one of them, getting rather wet and clayey in the process.
In the meantime the second half of "A" Company had arrived on the scene, but we now found ourselves faced by another problem—the locating of the trench (or ditch) in which we had left Major Downie with his half-company. This threatened to prove as hard a task as that which we had just accomplished, and the C.O. remarked he would keep an eye on the trench he had found lest it should attempt to disappear again, and a party was sent off to find Major Downie.
And, after all, Major Downie found himself for us. His arrival was almost dramatic. He, too, fell into the trench. He had heard the search party calling for him and had come out to meet them. Missing them in the dark he had chanced upon the trench from the front and tripped over the parapet. With his assistance it did not take long to retrieve the missing half-company.
Instalments of "B" Company began to arrive. Casting about to the front, rear and flanks of our original discovery, traces of other less finished trenches were found, and parties were set to work to complete and extend them with the object of having some apology for cover ready for the whole Battalion, before daylight could reveal our presence to the enemy.
As the night wore on additional parties joined up from the beach.
The Whitby Abbey had now arrived and was disembarking the left half-Battalion. The first party of "C" Company reached the trenches about 5 a.m. The enemy must have spotted us soon after daylight, for they saluted us with a few rounds of shrapnel at irregular intervals. These did little damage, but served to stimulate the flagging energies of the digging parties, encouraging them to special effort to get the trenches completed.
It was 8.30 a.m. before Major Jowitt appeared with the last party landed. By this time sufficient trenches of sorts to accommodate the Battalion had been completed.
While getting "D" Company into our most advanced trench, Capt. Findlay was slightly wounded by shrapnel. He was sent back to Mudros on the Whitby Abbey which had brought him across a few hours before. His first visit to Gallipoli had not been a prolonged one.
Throughout the day the enemy sprayed our trenches with occasional bursts of shrapnel. By this time we had discovered that they were officially described as "rest" trenches, and were some considerable distance behind the firing-line. So we "rested" as best we could, each man effecting such improvements to his own personal bit of cover as could be carried out unostentatiously behind the shelter of the parapet.
That afternoon Colonel Morrison and Major Jowitt, with other senior officers of the Brigade, were shown round some of the forward communication and support trenches, and had the general situation explained to them.
The night was devoted by all ranks to the improvement of our trenches and to sleep when we were satisfied with our handiwork. More rain fell, and we got very wet and smeared with that remarkably tenacious mud which only Gallipoli can produce.
The following day (4th June) parties of officers were sent forward to be shown the Eski Lines, others going up to spend an instructive night in the firing line in the Centre Sector held by the 42nd Division.
We could not but be surprised at the smallness of this cockpit in which three nations battled. From the cliff at Cape Helles to the top of the impregnable Achi Baba was only 5-1/2 miles. The distance straight across the Peninsula at the firing line was not more than 3-1/2 miles. On our flanks we were shut in by cliffs along the Aegean Sea on the left, and along the Dardanelles on our right. Every acre of ground we held was dominated by the hill in front, about 720 feet high. Our right flank and the vitally important landing places, "V" Beach and "W" Beach (Lancashire Landing), were under observation from Asia, less than three miles away at its nearest point. Somewhere across there on the Plains of Troy the Turks had at least one big gun to harass us, "Asiatic Ann" we called her, probably a gun dismantled from the Goeben. Their 6 in. guns on Achi Baba could reach any part of the Peninsula they choose.
The ground we stood on sloped gently up to the hill, pleasant arable land with here the remains of a farm and the trampled crops around it, there an olive grove and fig-trees or battered vineyard. Elsewhere was scrub and, in those early months, sweet-smelling and aromatic plants and flowers round which bees hummed and butterflies hovered in the heat.
The Peninsula was rent by three great ravines; the Gully with its precipitous banks on our left, and the Krithia and Achi Baba nullahs in the centre. In the dry season only a gentle flow of water trickled down these courses, leaving enough room for a path or even a roadway to be beaten out by which men and rations and stores could be got forward unobserved by the Turk. Their banks were honeycombed with crude dug-outs (mere scrapings in the ground with a waterproof sheet or blanket for covering) in which men sought protection from shell-fire and relief from the pitiless sun.
Monday, 5th July, was a Turkish Holy Day. Under the personal direction of Enver Pasha, or rather Enver Bey as he then was, the enemy marked the occasion by making a most determined attack. The brunt of it fell upon the 29th Division.
We who were in support were awakened before daybreak by continuous artillery and rifle fire which ominously increased in volume. At 4.30 a.m. the Battalion was ordered to hold itself in readiness to proceed in support of the 29th Division. Breakfasts were hurried on and an extra 50 rounds of ammunition was issued to each man.
Our position came under the enemy's shell-fire, and we were heartened by the very spirited reply put up by our artillery, particularly "L" Battery R.H.A., of Mons and Le Cateau fame, firing from our immediate left front.
Walking wounded from the firing-line began to pass through our trenches. From these we learned that the attack was being well held, and that the Turkish infantry coming on with fanatical shouts of "Allah, Allah!" was being mowed down by rifle and machine-gun fire.
The enemy realised his defeat, and about 9 a.m. the firing died away.
During the morning two of our men were wounded, one by a spent bullet, the other by shrapnel. Later on in the day the Battalion was ordered forward for an instructional spell in the front trenches.
Guides from the 29th Division arrived before dusk and at nightfall we set off, moving in column of route as far as Fig Tree Farm. From thence we passed in file up the Eastern Mule Track and through a labyrinth of trenches to a ruined cottage near Twelve Tree Copse. This was the Headquarters of the 87th Brigade, and here the Battalion was split up, "A" Company going to the trenches of the 1st Battalion Dublin Fusiliers, "B" to the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, and "C" to the 1st Munsters.
Battalion Headquarters and "D" Company were stowed away in the reserve trenches. All these battalions had suffered very severely since the historic landing on April 25th. The Munsters, for instance, had not more than a hundred of their original men left.
About this time the Turks were evidently apprehensive of an attack, and made the night hideous by prolonged bursts of rapid musketry fire. Our introduction to the front trenches was therefore a fairly lively one.
Here we first encountered some of the gruesome spectacles incidental to this style of warfare. Such sights as the withered hand of a Turk sticking out from the parapet of a communication trench, or the boots of a hastily buried soldier projecting from his shallow grave, produce on one's first experience of them an emotion of inexpressible horror. It was still more trying to look on the unburied dead lying in groups in front of the parapet; and further away, near the Turkish lines, the bodies of so many of the Scottish Rifles who had been swept down by concealed machine-guns only a week before in their gallant attempt to advance without artillery support.
It is well that this acuteness of feeling soon becomes blunted. One quickly learns to regard such things as an inevitable aspect of one's everyday environment. Thank God for this; life in the trenches would otherwise be unbearable.
Major Fisher, commanding the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, was good enough to let us have a perusal of his Trench Standing Orders. Afterwards he allowed Capt. Simson to make a copy of these, which we always referred to as "Napoleon's Maxims." As a record of practical experience in trench routine they proved invaluable to us later on; when we had to hold trenches of our own we used them as the basis of our organisation of duties.
During this instructional tour "D" Company sweltered in its reserve trench under a blazing sun, vainly seeking shade and refuge from the flies.
Evening brought the report of the Battalion's first "killed in action"—Pte. Wallace of "A" Company, who had been shot through the head while on look-out in the firing-trench.
If possible the heat became more scorching. We all suffered an unquenchable thirst upon which gallons of tea when available made little or no impression.
The drinking water was unpalatable, being heavily chlorinated to sterilise it. Our modest ration of unsweetened lime-juice sufficed to remove the unpleasant flavour from one fill of a water-bottle, but would not stand further dilution. In any case water-bottles could not be refilled at will, and it was a long walk to Gully Ravine from which we drew our water. It may be recorded here that this "trench thirst," as we dubbed it, remained with us for our first few weeks on the Peninsula. Thereafter it gradually disappeared until our craving for liquid became normal.
Meanwhile we were rapidly learning to adapt ourselves to circumstances; to sleep soundly on the fire-step of a trench; to extemporise fuel and cooking appliances; to endure the myriads of flies which swarmed over our food, pursuing it even into our mouths, bathed (and drowned) themselves in our drink, and clustered on our faces, waiting in queues to sip moisture from our eyes or lips; to live with relish on bully-beef, Maconochie, tea, hard biscuits and jam; in short, we were becoming able to fend for ourselves.
After dark on July 8th the Battalion moved back to our rest trenches near Pink Farm and had an excellent night's sleep.
The following day we received orders to relieve the 7th H.L.I. in the firing-line to the right of the Achi Baba nullah.
The move took place in the afternoon, and although we left in very open formation—single file with distances of three yards between individual men and thirty between platoons—the Turk spotted us and turned on his artillery. Seven men of "D" Company were wounded, and more casualties were incurred further on when we reached the communication trenches.
It is easy to write that between 4 and 7 p.m. we took over the firing and support lines, but the relief itself was a difficult matter—those reliefs always were, for trenches are narrow things through which a fully-equipped and weary man passes with difficulty. Troops must not leave a trench until the reliefs have arrived and taken over the duties. This is absolutely necessary, but it means that until the relief is completed the trenches are usually crowded out and one's passage along them is a painful struggle.
The nomenclature of trenches is always interesting. Those we were now in borrowed their names from battalion commanders in the Royal Naval Division—Parsons Road, Trotman Road, and Mercer and Backhouse Roads. Through this system of trenches ran two communication trenches—Oxford Street and Central Street, in which latter Battalion Headquarters were situated.
Our first night passed uneventfully, but the following day we gathered that something was brewing. Orders were received to clear the western portion of our firing line and support trench to permit of a bombardment by the French artillery. (The French held the right sector at Gallipoli.) Fire opened at 3.45 p.m. and for about two hours the "Seventy-fives" kept at it, doing considerable visible damage to the enemy's wire and trenches. The enemy replied with counter-battery work, and also shelled our communication trenches what time Colonel Morrison and Captain Simson, our Adjutant, had the unpleasant duty of reconnoitring the area in which the bulk of the enemy's fire was falling. They were searching for trenches in which the Battalion would be held in reserve for the attack which was now in preparation.
During the night Lieut. W. Beckett reported some activity in No-man's Land in front of "A" Company and invited the bombers to try their hand. Now the bombers had received their first introduction to their precarious weapons only 24 hours previously, when they took over from the 7th H.L.I. a Garland mortar, a trench catapult and various crude jam-tin and canister bombs of sinister aspect. Selecting the catapult, which Lieut. Leith thought would be less dangerous to his team than the mortar, they aimed as best they could in the dark, applied a canister bomb to the pouch, lit the fuse and pressed the trigger. The shot was a lucky one exceeding their highest expectations. It burst among a party of Turks crouching in the open. Amid shrieks of "Allah!" survivors could be distinguished making for cover. Immediately the Turkish line opened up rapid fire, which was continued for about half an hour before things settled down to normal again.
Our first week on the Peninsula was over. Casualties for this period were: officers, one wounded; other ranks, three killed and twenty-six wounded, of whom three subsequently died of their wounds.
GALLIPOLI (contd.)—OPERATIONS 12TH-18TH JULY, 1915.
In the afternoon of July 11th the firing and support lines were cleared for another bombardment, and later we were relieved by the 7th H.L.I., who took over our right sector, and the 5th Argylls who took over our left. Enemy artillery gave us unpleasant attention, causing some casualties before we had installed ourselves in reserve trenches immediately behind.
In accordance with orders for the battle which was to be fought the next day, "A" Company was moved into Plymouth Avenue in support of the 6th H.L.I. on the extreme left.
There were to be two attacks against strong Turkish positions which had already defied capture; the first in the morning by the 155th (South Scottish) Brigade, from the right of the sector of trenches held by the Lowland Division; the second in the afternoon by our own Brigade. French troops were to push forward simultaneously with the first attack. The 156th Brigade—Royal Scots and Scottish Rifles, who had been so badly cut up in the attack of 28th June—was to be Divisional Reserve.
Both attacks were to be preceded by a bombardment, and in each case three lines of trenches were to be captured and the furthest line held.
Fortunately the eve of the battle was quiet, and the exhausting ration, water and ammunition fatigues, which only those can appreciate who have taken part in such preparations, were pushed through in the dark without serious interruption from the enemy. At length it dawned and the sun rose in a cloudless sky.
It is well-nigh impossible for one who has played but a small part in a big engagement to give a coherent description of the whole. He can tell only of such happenings as came under his own observation. Of the broader issues and general trend of the action, as well as of the minor local incidents away from his own little corner of the field, he can but repeat what he has learned from others, reconciling as best he can the conflicting versions of the same episode as it is narrated by those who have seen it from different points of view or taken part in it.
The preliminary bombardment of the enemy's lines commenced punctually at 4.30 a.m. The Turkish guns replied almost at once, and the volume of fire on both sides rapidly increased until the din and vibration became almost unendurable. From our Headquarters at the junction of Oxford Street and the Old French Road little could be seen of what was going on. Our artillery was mainly concentrated on the trenches away on the right which were to be assaulted by the 155th Brigade, only a few guns being directed at the position on our immediate front; its turn was to come later.
At 7.30 our artillery fire ceased with startling suddenness. The hour for the attack had arrived, and the guns were now to be switched on to the Turkish artillery and reserves to prevent these giving any effective assistance to the troops defending the trenches. A minute or two later distant cheering and the sharp rattle of musketry were heard mingling with the roar of the Turkish guns. The 155th had gone in.
An hour or two elapsed before any news of their fortunes reached us; an hour or two during which the guns thundered almost as vigorously as ever and the rifle-fire came and went in bursts. Then things began to quieten down and tidings sped along the lines that the attack had succeeded: the French had gained some ground on their extreme right, and the 155th had secured their objective.
Soon, however, this good news was robbed of some of its gladness by a rumour that at least one of the K.O.S.B. battalions had been badly cut up—that they had gone too far and had been unable to return; what had become of them no one seemed to know. It was several days before we heard what had actually happened. The 4th K.O.S.B. had been ordered to take three lines of trenches which were shown on the maps issued for the attack. Two lines were rushed without much difficulty; but there was no third line to take!—at least not where the third line appeared on the maps. The map had been prepared from photographs taken from aeroplanes, and in these photographs there appeared as a trench what proved to be, in reality, only a shallow ditch or sunken pathway. Photography, we are told, cannot lie; evidently it may at times mislead.
When the attacking battalion reached this ditch they did not recognise it as their furthest objective and went right on, seeking the non-existent third trench, until they came into the area which the French artillery were shelling to prevent the forward movement of the Turkish reserves. It was long hours before they were able to fall back on the captured trenches, and then only after terrible losses.
Towards 2.30 p.m. a message reached us that the attack by our Brigade might be delivered earlier than the appointed time and that we were to be prepared to move. Orders had previously been received that companies were not to go into action with more than four officers and that each was to leave twenty-five men with Battalion Headquarters.
The artillery preparation for the afternoon attack was a repetition of the morning bombardment, but as fire was now almost entirely concentrated on the trenches in front of our Brigade, we were able to form a better conception of its effects. The destruction was enormous. Parapets and trenches were scattered in clouds of dust which soon became so dense as to blot out the entire landscape from our sight. The impression was that of a huge black cloud resting on the ground, a cloud incessantly rent and illumined by the red flashes of the bursting shells. Nothing, it seemed, could live under such smashing fire. In actual fact, as we saw for ourselves after the position had been taken, the enemy's casualties from it were appalling. The morale of the survivors must have been terribly shaken. The marvel is that, after such an experience, they were able to put up so stout a resistance as they did at many points.
The attack of the 157th Brigade was launched about 5 p.m. Over the parapet of Oxford Street we watched the 6th H.L.I. advancing in successive lines on our left flank. Nothing could have been finer than the steadiness with which line after line pushed on through the enemy's bursting shrapnel, until each in turn was hidden from view in the inferno of smoke and dust which screened the trenches.
Meanwhile the 5th A. & S.H. and the 7th H.L.I. were pressing forward on our front and right respectively, but of their movements practically nothing could be observed by us. "C" Company moved up into Trotman Road as soon as the attack had passed clear of it and—as we learned by a message from Major Downie received two hours later—half of "A" Company had been advanced into Nelson Avenue in close support of the 6th H.L.I.
At 6.20 a message arrived from the Brigade that the 7th H.L.I. had secured their objective and that we were to send fifty men with picks and shovels to assist in consolidating their front line. These we supplied from "D" Company in reserve, with instructions to get the tools from "B" and "C" Companies as they passed through.
After 7 a further order was received to send at once a fatigue party of twenty-five, with tools, to Brigade Headquarters at Port Arthur. Lieut. J.F.C. Clark was despatched on this duty with the twenty-five men left behind by "C" Company. A few minutes later another message arrived, with instructions for "C" Company to move forward and support the 7th H.L.I., whose firing line required reinforcement. This was passed to Captain Neilson. On taking his company forward he found the front trench already so crowded that only a few of his men could be got into it, and he withdrew the remainder again to the support trenches, leaving Captain Brand with one platoon to assist the 7th.
Shortly after 7.30 an officer of the 6th H.L.I. brought a message from the Brigade Major (Major E. Armstrong, H.L.I.) asking us to send a party to take over a number of prisoners from the 7th H.L.I.
Sec.-Lieut. R.E. May was despatched on this duty with the twenty-five men left at Headquarters by "B" Company. We never saw him again. With the two or three leading men he got separated from the remainder of his party in the confusion which prevailed after nightfall in the maze of trenches in front. In his search for them he came upon a small trench held by a mixed party of units of the 155th Brigade. A strong counter-attack was developed against this trench. With the few men he had he took an active part in driving back the enemy but was killed as the attack was finally repelled, and buried where he fell.
Until far into the night every available officer and man left at Battalion Headquarters was kept hard at it bringing ammunition, stores and rations from the Brigade dump at Backhouse Post up to the firing line. The work was exhausting but the men, recognising its vital importance, laboured willingly. When finally we did get settled down for a few hours sleep, it was with the pleasing consciousness that in this, our first big engagement, if the fates had afforded us no opportunity of gaining special distinction, we had at least put in much useful work and contributed indirectly to the success of our comrades' efforts. But in the meantime, although it was not until the following day that any news of it reached us, "A" Company had had an innings and had played the game in a way that must ever be recalled in the Battalion with pride.
It will be remembered that this company had been sent to support the 6th H.L.I. That battalion's task was to seize the Turkish trenches on the west bank of the Achi Baba nullah—trenches officially designated F11, F12 and F12A. Our capture of these would protect the left flank of the E trenches—the objective of the remainder of the attack—which would otherwise be left very open to counter-attack from the west of the nullah. Branching off from F12A, and running back in a long curve into the enemy's next line of defence, was a trench known as F13. It was necessary, if F12A was to be held by us, that the southmost stretch of F13 should be cleared of the enemy.
F11, the portion of F12 running eastwards from F12A down to the nullah, and F12A itself were captured in rapid succession by the 6th H.L.I. For about 100 yards to the east of F12A, F12 had been so knocked about by our artillery that it was no longer a trench—merely an irregular series of shell craters—and it was completely evacuated by the enemy.
But when they had secured F12A the 6th found their impetus exhausted. It is no discredit to them that this was so, for of the three Battalions launched to the attack they had the worst ground to traverse and the heaviest fire to face.
"A" Company during the earlier stage of the attack had been pushed forward, in close support, to a small work known as the Lunette near the head of Nelson and Plymouth Avenues.
About six o'clock, finding that his own battalion had as much as it could do in holding and consolidating F12A, Major Anderson, who was temporarily in command of the 6th, ordered "A" Company to move forward and take F13. On receiving this order Major Downie led Nos. 3 and 4 platoons over the parapet, the right half-company under Captain Morton following them at a short interval. Their route led along the lower end of F12A, which had been almost pounded out of existence by our high explosives. There were several casualties while traversing this zone, including Major Downie himself who received a severe bullet wound in the head.
Reaching F13 the company drove the enemy a considerable distance up the trench until checked at a point 70 or 80 yards beyond its junction with F12A. Here the Turks, possibly reinforced, made a determined stand behind a traverse or interior work of some kind and a comparative deadlock ensued, both sides maintaining a heavy fire at a distance of less than 30 yards, but neither being able to gain any ground.
At this stage, through some misunderstanding, two machine guns arrived from another unit in response to a verbal message passed back through the crowded trenches asking for "a machine gun in a hurry."
The enemy had all along been using grenades freely, and very soon after the arrival of the machine guns a vigorous counter-attack was pushed against our narrow front under cover of a perfect hail of bombs. Sec.-Lieut. J.W. Malcolm, who was with our most advanced party and had been handling his men coolly and steadying them by a splendid example of courage and endurance, was killed.
Simultaneously with his fall one of the machine guns was disabled and put out of action. The men, deprived of their leader, gave back about 20 yards, leaving the machine gun behind, while the Turks pushed on still under cover of a storm of bombs, to which our men could not reply as they had not been issued with grenades.
For a time the situation was critical. It looked as if "A" Company were to be driven back and the trench lost. But they soon steadied down to hold on. The Turkish grenade had a fuse which burns for 8 to 10 seconds; it therefore rarely explodes until some seconds after it has fallen. Recognising this, some of our bolder spirits began to pick up and throw back the enemy's grenades. Pte. J. Melrose and Corporal A.R. Kelly were amongst the first to attempt this and their example was quickly followed by others. It was a deadly dangerous game, for it was impossible to tell how long any fuse had still to burn and the grenade might explode at any moment, but though several men were killed and wounded in this way, the survivors persisted bravely and the Turkish advance was effectually checked. Their bombing slackened off gradually and it became possible to hold on until the R.E. came up and erected a barricade across the trench.
While this was transpiring word of the loss of the machine-guns had gone back. Captain Morton heard of the incident and decided to make an effort to recover them. Having collected a small party of six or eight volunteers, he climbed out of the trench and worked his way along the open ground beside it, making a slight detour apparently with the intention of rushing the guns from the flank. Dusk was now turning to darkness and those who were in the trench were unable to see what actually happened. The little party evidently came under heavy fire before they were in a position to make the rush. One or two got back unhurt; one (Private Cleugh) mortally wounded, staggered into the trench just in front of the barricade which was being erected, and was brought in only to die; of Captain Morton and the others nothing more was seen. One can only hope that their deaths came quickly and that they were mercifully spared the lingering torture of waiting wounded for succour which could not be rendered. It was a splendid plucky effort, which might well have succeeded, and, though it did not succeed, it at least failed gloriously.
Lieuts. W. Beckett and L.G. Aitken with the sadly diminished company held on grimly, and Corpl. C. M'Intosh, who was blinded by a bomb which exploded in his hand, Corpl. R. Holman, Lance-Corpl. W. Miller, Pte. G.B. Langland, who was severely wounded, and Pte. (afterwards Sergt.) A. Paterson specially distinguished themselves. At 1.30 next morning the Company was relieved by the Plymouth R.M.L.I. Before dawn an alarm summoned them to the front again, but nothing untoward happened.
On the morning of 13th July a curious incident happened among certain troops in the firing line. The trouble began, as it so often does, with an indiscreet verbal message. One of the front trenches was over-crowded and the officer in charge wished to relieve the congestion by sending back a section. Without thinking of possible consequences he passed along a message for No. —— Section to retire, and, as this order was not complied with as rapidly as he expected, followed it up with a more peremptory message that the section was to retire at once. Scarcely ever does the simplest verbal message passed along a line of men reach its intended recipient in the form in which it was despatched. The result is sometimes puzzling, sometimes amusing; on this occasion it was nearly tragic, as part of the firing line was left untenanted.
Captain John MacDonald, who had "B" Company in Parsons Road as Permanent Garrison, as soon as he became aware of what was happening telephoned back for instructions. His message was somehow delayed, and receiving no reply to it he took the responsibility of acting on his own initiative. Though the Permanent Garrison was detailed in orders to remain in Parsons Road, he pushed forward at once with his company and occupied the abandoned trenches before the enemy had time to make any move to secure them. This saved the situation.
Early in the forenoon vague and conflicting rumours began to come in about "A" Company and the losses it had sustained. As we were anxious to get definite particulars of what really had happened and as to where the company now was and how it was faring, Major Jowitt set out to find it and obtain the desired information. He had not been long gone when a message arrived from Lieut. Beckett giving particulars of the losses. The hours slipped past without any word from Major Jowitt and we began to fear that some mischance had befallen him. At last, towards three o'clock, word came from the 7th H.L.I. that he was lying wounded in a trench known as E12A a short distance in front of the Horse Shoe. On further enquiry we learned that his wounds did not appear to be serious, but that it would not be possible to get him out of the trench until after dark as all approaches to it were being heavily sniped. Colonel Galbraith, who had found him wounded, had made him as comfortable as was possible in the circumstances, and one of our own men, having heard where he was, had gone up to the trench to remain with him until he could be removed. As soon as it was dark enough to cross the intervening ground, Captains Simson and Neilson with our medical officer, Captain Kennedy, and a stretcher party went up and brought him down to a dressing station, where his wounds were attended to and he was sent down to an hospital ship. The report was that his wounds were not serious, although he was naturally in considerable pain after lying so long in the sun and after his trying passage down from the front through narrow and winding trenches.
At a conference of C.O.'s held at Brigade Headquarters at 3.40, we were informed that a battalion of the Royal Naval Division was arriving to deliver an attack on the right of the 155th Brigade with the object of securing some gaps in the line between that Brigade and the French. This was preceded, at 4.30, by the usual bombardment. There would appear to have been some ghastly blundering in connection with the arrangements for this attack. We heard afterwards that the battalion was quite ignorant of the ground; that it only arrived a few minutes before the attack was timed to commence; and that it had difficulty in finding the trench from which it was to move on its objective. There must have been similar uncertainty about the objective itself, for the troops advanced across the open, suffering severely from shell-fire, into a trench already held by the 155th Brigade, a trench which—had they known it was so held—they might have walked into by a communication sap with little if any loss. Afterwards they pushed on some distance beyond this trench but found no other to take, and when they fell back on the existing front line the position remained exactly as it had been before the attack, except for the terrible casualties they had so unnecessarily sustained. In his published despatch, Sir Ian Hamilton, referring to this attack, explains its necessity by stating that "about 7.30 a.m. the right of the 157th Brigade gave way before a party of bombers, and our grip upon the enemy began to weaken." He must have been entirely misinformed as to the position, unless the "giving way" to which he refers was the mistaken retirement from the trench which Captain John MacDonald had occupied, as previously narrated. If this is so, the officer who issued the orders to the Naval Battalion cannot have been informed that the "giving way" was only temporary and that the 157th Brigade had almost immediately reoccupied its trenches and was actually holding them when this unfortunate attack was launched.
About four o'clock we received the bad news that Captain John MacDonald had been killed—shot through the head by a sniper's bullet—in the front trench which his company was still assisting to hold. This brought the total of our officers' casualties in the two days' fighting to seven; three killed (Captain MacDonald and Lieutenants Malcolm and May) one missing (Captain Morton), and three wounded (Majors Jowitt and Downie and Lieutenant J.G. Milne).
For two days after the battle all units were kept busy gathering up the arms, equipment and loose ammunition with which the terrain was littered, as well as maintaining the defence of the captured positions.
On the afternoon of July 15th, "C" and "D" Companies took over the trenches on the west of the Achi Baba nullah from the Plymouth Battalion, while "A" Company relieved part of the Drake Battalion and the 6th H.L.I. on the east of the nullah. This relief had to be carried out after nightfall, as the position was as yet unsafe from Turkish marksmen who sniped the approaches by day. The sector included the famous Horse Shoe Trench which was then a death trap, although, after much labour had been expended upon it, it was latterly known as the safest position on the Peninsula.
That first night was an eerie one for "A" Company, and for our Signalling Officer, Captain R.H. Morrison, who had to link up Battalion Headquarters in Wigan Road with the isolated company. Selecting a quiet interval about 11 p.m. he slipped out from F12 with a couple of his Headquarters signallers to run the line across. Working over almost unknown ground, with only a general idea of the direction and position of the enemy, their worst anxiety was lest in the dark they should lead their wire into a Turkish trench instead of the Horse Shoe. A few bullets were sweeping down the nullah as they crossed, but fortunately none of the little party was hit. Breasting the slope on the further side they eventually landed safely in the Horse Shoe, much to the surprise of the sentries there. It did not take long to instal the instrument, and, leaving one of the signallers in charge of the new station, the party retraced its steps and got back to Headquarters shortly before midnight to report communication established.
On the 16th we took over from the Manchester a small stretch of trenches on our left, and "C" Company salved fifteen asphyxiating bombs from a pent-house in one of the nullah trenches. A captured Turkish officer, evidently disapproving of these innovations by his German masters, had given information as to where they would be found. Packed in two cases marked RAKATEN, they were long, slender, uncanny-looking projectiles evidently intended for discharge from a trench-mortar.
For the next two days and nights we laboured almost unceasingly, dog-tired and hardly able to keep awake, improving our defences.
The R.E. wired our front across the nullah, and we ourselves extended F12A and F12 down to the bed of the stream as a first step towards joining up with the Horse Shoe.
Over forty Turks were buried at this time between F11 and F12. F11 itself was so densely packed with corpses that it had to be filled in.
After dark on the 17th, "B" Company, now commanded by Lieut. N.R. Campbell, relieved "A" in the Horse Shoe. "A" had several casualties during its tour of duty there, some men having been hit in the trench itself, others while going back for water.
On the west side of the nullah Pte. A. Heron was killed, and the bombers holding the barricade which had been thrown up on the 12th had casualties also. Our snipers gave a good account of themselves, one having seven observed hits to his credit and another five on the same day. There was a well about 400 yards off, round which occasional parties of Turks could be easily observed until they realised that the recent advance had exposed the place to our view.
On July 18th, "A," "C," and "D" Companies were relieved by the 6th East Lancs, and painfully dragged their weary way back to rest. The journey of less than three miles took us fully four hours, for we were all pretty well played out after nine such days and nights as we had just come through, and the scorching heat necessitated many a halt by the way. How we revelled in that drink as we paused at Romano's Well!—the only spot on the Peninsula where we could get a draught of real, cold, unchlorinated water!
About 6 p.m. we reached our destination, a series of holes in the ground lying between the Pink Farm Road and "X" Beach, and about a mile behind the Farm itself. The Quarter-Master, Lieut. T. Clark, and his satellites had a good meal of hot stew and potatoes ready for us, and lots of tea, after which we stretched our blankets on the ground, lay down and fell asleep.
It was not till 5.30 next morning that "B" Company rolled up, absolutely "cooked." They had not been relieved until 2.30 a.m., the Lancashires not having considered it safe to move up their company until a communication trench, on which we had been working for some days, had been completed.
The Battalion remained in "Rest Camp" for twenty-one days.
The words "Rest Camp" conjure up a mental picture of shady trees and green, close-cropped meadows sloping to a winding river, of ordered rows of tents or huts, of a place where the horrors of the trenches can be forgotten and war-jangled nerves re-attuned in a placid atmosphere of peace and innocent recreation—not to mention baths and long cool drinks. Nothing could be more unlike this ideal than the reality of a Rest Camp on the Peninsula. We used often to exercise our imaginations in seeking the reason for christening these delectable abiding places Rest Camps. Was it in a fine spirit of official irony, or on the lucus a non lucendo principle, or was it in respectful but rather slavish imitation of the organisation of the Expeditionary Force in France? They had Bomb Schools, Training Camps, Rest Camps and all sorts of luxuries. We on Gallipoli must therefore have the same. So we instituted Bomb Schools on the Peninsula and a Training Camp at Mudros to which our weak battalions had regularly to send parties of officers and men who could ill be spared from duty in the trenches. We must therefore also have Rest Camps in name if not in actuality. They were not camps, and were not conspicuously restful, but we knew them officially as Rest Camps. At the time of which we are writing they were sometimes referred to as Rest Trenches. This was, if anything, less appropriate. In no military sense could they be regarded as trenches.
Having explained what a Rest Camp was not, let us now attempt to convey some idea of what it was by describing the fairly typical example in which we found ourselves planted. Imagine then, a bare expanse of clayey soil from which all signs of vegetation—if there ever was any—have been obliterated. The surface is trodden fairly hard and is powdered with a thin layer of heavy dust, which the slightest shower of rain converts into mud tenacious as tar. The "Camp" is bounded on the North (i.e. the extremity nearest the enemy) by the remains of a ragged hedge, in the thickest clumps of which an intrepid explorer may discover a few dusty, juiceless, brambles. The previous tenants have been superficial in their methods of tidying up their lines, for the hedge also shelters a miscellaneous assortment of discarded clothing, empty meat and jam-tins and all the odd items of rubbish which, in a well disciplined unit, disappear in the incinerator. South of the hedge the ground falls with a very gradual slope for perhaps 200 yards, to the dry bed of a ditch or streamlet just beyond which a row of trees serves to conceal partially the dug-outs in which our Divisional Staff have their permanent quarters. Beyond this again the surface is almost level for a space, then it rises again with increasing gradient, past the lines of the 1st Lowland Field Ambulance, to the ridge half a mile away, behind which it drops precipitously to the sea.
In one of his earlier despatches, Sir Ian Hamilton very aptly likens the configuration of the Peninsula between Achi Baba and Cape Helles to the bowl of a huge spoon, with Achi Baba at the heel of the bowl and the Cape at its toe. This Rest Camp of ours was near the toe and rather to the left of the centre line; in full view of Achi Baba itself, but screened to some extent from its lower slopes by an insignificant intermediate crest-line about 200 yards to our front.
The so-called "trenches" as we found them, bore more resemblance to hastily constructed strings of golf bunkers than to anything else on earth. They did not appear to have been laid out on any definite plan. Speaking generally they ran in long irregular lines from East to West, the narrow strips of pathway between being broken here and there by detached experimental efforts. The excavations were of all shapes and sizes. They varied in depth from two to about six feet according to the caprice of the designers and the energy of the most recent occupants. One could not walk five yards in the dark without stepping or falling into some sort of hole and drawing lurid language from an abruptly wakened sleeper. The parapets were ragged, irregular, and rarely bullet-proof. There was no suggestion of revetting; probably there were not more than twenty sandbags in the area allotted to the Battalion. Sandbags were scarce enough in all conscience in the fighting trenches, and it was not surprising that none could be spared for the troops in the back lines; any which might be available being required for such semi-permanent works as Divisional and Brigade Headquarters and the trenches occupied by the R.E. and other Divisional troops. Nor was there any form of overhead cover. In some places the dangerous expedient of under-cutting the sides had been resorted to to secure a little shelter. Fortunately the undersoil was stiff, the sides of the trenches could be cut quite perpendicular and in fine weather there was slight risk of the under-cutting causing subsidences. Shade from the sun's heat could only be obtained by stretching ground sheets or blankets overhead. These also served to keep off the night dews.
The C.O.'s dug-out was the only one which boasted anything approaching a roof. It was burrowed into the bank under the hedge which has been already referred to. The floor space was about 8 feet by 4, entrance being obtained by going down two or three roughly cut steps. For about two thirds of its length—the furthest in two-thirds—it was roofed with branches and some old torn sacking, covered by 6 or 8 inches of loose earth. This roof was level with the bank of the hedge and gave about four feet of headroom. Living in—or rather below—the hedge, the C.O. soon discovered he had to share his quarters with a populous and flourishing colony of flies, which actively resented his intrusion at any time during the day, though by night they exhibited an admirable spirit of resigned toleration. Flies were inevitable, but when strange winged beasts and enormous centipedes developed the habit of dropping in casually at inconvenient hours, one felt that one's hospitable instincts were being over-taxed.
It was on the second or third day of our stay that the Divisional General, while making an informal inspection of the Camp, found the C.O.—or we should rather say, ran him to earth—in his den, and after sitting on the doorstep chatting for a few minutes, dropped a remark as he departed to the effect that he thought a C.O. should do himself better in the matter of a dug-out. The seeds of dissatisfaction thus soon ripened quickly, and came to full fruition when a snake about three feet long was discovered in the corner where his pillow usually rested. No doubt he was a harmless, well-meaning chap. Probably his visit was prompted by the most friendly motives; but when he was urged to clear out he lifted up his head and became vituperative. After that there was nothing for it but to cut him into convenient lengths with a shovel, upon which he was afterwards removed for interment. Shrinking from a possible interview with his widow the C.O. sought another resting-place, and a fairly roomy dug-out was excavated for him in the open ground a few yards north of the hedge. But when he removed to it a large party of the flies insisted on accompanying him and installing themselves in his new quarters.
At first the officers messed in the open in picnicky fashion. While this was pleasant enough there was always an element of uncertainty about it, for one could never foretell when a meal might be postponed or rudely interrupted by an outburst of "straffing" from Achi Baba or Asia. So Captain Simson applied himself to the construction of a dining saloon, at the digging of which the defaulters sweated for several days. The result was imposing, a large rectangular excavation not unlike an empty swimming bath, with a massive table of solid clay, and benches of the same simple design and material round the walls. Though, of course, roofless, it afforded a measure of safety from shells, but one shudders to think what would have been the effect had a high explosive landed on the table while a meal was in progress.
Captain Findlay had made a rapid recovery from his wound and was awaiting us when we arrived at Rest Camp. A fortnight later—on 31st July—we received a welcome reinforcement by the return to the Battalion of Captain V.P.B. Stewart and twenty-six other ranks from the Lowland Division Cyclist Company.
The climate, the flies, and the experiences of the preceding fortnight had already begun to tell upon the general health of the Battalion. Diarrhoea and dysentery were prevalent throughout all the troops on the Peninsula, and we suffered with the rest. One factor which contributed to, if indeed it was not—as many of us believed—the primary cause of, the prevalence of these diseases, was the unsuitability of bully-beef and hard biscuits as the basis of our diet under the weather and other conditions in which we were then living. This was quickly recognised by the medical authorities and important modifications were soon introduced in the scale of rations. The toothsome Maconochie, rather rich for the average digestion under a tropical sun, disappeared in the meantime from the menu. Fresh meat—or, to speak more strictly, frozen meat—of excellent quality was substituted for bully, which latter was only issued on the rare occasions when, owing to transport difficulties, no frozen was available. The hard biscuits gave place to good bread; the ration of desiccated vegetables was increased; an issue of rice was instituted; cheese was reduced and preserved milk increased. The only rations which were never quite sufficient to satisfy the men were those of tea and sugar—especially sugar. They liked their tea very strong and very sweet, and quickly tired of rice unless boiled with lots of sugar, which the limited rations of sugar did not run to. Jam was plentiful and popular; marmalade only appealed to a limited circle. Some uncharitably minded fighting men were wont to insinuate that the best beloved brands of jam, such as strawberry and raspberry, never got beyond the Beach, the A.S.C. who handled the supplies being suspected of a nefarious weakness for these varieties. One hesitates to listen to such calumnious suggestions, but it must be admitted that for many long weeks we received an overwhelming proportion of "Apricot Jam" with which, popular as it originally was, the men became so "fed up" that they changed its name to "Parapet Jam," because, they explained, it was so invariably thrown over the parapet instead of being eaten.
In his desire to keep the troops fit, our Divisional Commander issued instructions that the hottest and most trying hours of the afternoon were to be set aside as a period of rest similar to that which, he explained, is officially enforced in the Italian army under the name of "Riposo." Between two and four o'clock no work was to be done: fatigues unless vitally urgent were to be suspended: all ranks were to remain lying down quietly in their quarters: there was to be no moving about: noise of any kind—even conversation—was forbidden: nothing was to be allowed to interfere with our afternoon naps. "Redosso," as the men promptly dubbed it, bade fair to become an extremely popular institution. But the General had reckoned without the flies. They had not been consulted and their Union leaders were bitterly opposed to any form of compulsory repose. The hours which we were supposed to devote to refreshing sleep were those during which they were usually most active, and in vehement assertion of the rights of Fly Labour they worked harder than ever, with the result that our "Riposo" proved a period the very reverse of restful.
The effect of these reforms, medical and military, was to check to some extent the ravages of the diseases which most afflicted us; but to eradicate them entirely, even to prevent their spreading, was beyond human power. From the middle of July until we left Gallipoli for good, our effective strength was being continually reduced by dysentery, pyrexia, and jaundice. There were of course other forms of sickness and disease, but the number of cases was negligible. The wastage from the three mentioned was not uniform, but it was constant. The number sent to hospital during each month would range between 5 and 10 per cent. of our strength, as that strength decreased from month to month. These, it must be remembered, only represented the worst cases, a very small proportion of which returned to duty, although fatal cases were fortunately rare. A much larger percentage of those affected were able to remain with the Battalion and carry on their duties, though with temporarily impaired energy and efficiency. The older N.C.O.'s and men, and the very young ones, suffered most severely. The officers had no better fortunes than their comrades in the ranks, and we lost several during this stay in Rest Camp.
Lieuts. A.B. Currie and R.M. Miller had been sent to hospital while we were still up in the trenches. Three more were sent off on 20th July—Captain A. Dingwall Kennedy (our medical officer), Captain J.D. Black and Lieut. L. MacLellan. Scarcely one of those who remained was not affected to some extent. Captain Kennedy's duties were taken over by Lieut. Downes of the 1st Lowland Field Ambulance.
General P.W. Hendry, our Brigade Commander, had been in indifferent health since our arrival at Mudros on 1st July, but had struggled gamely to carry on his duties. By the end of the month, however, it had become obvious that his illness was gaining a firmer grip on him and the doctors ordered him off the Peninsula. He went most reluctantly, and we were sorry to part with him. We were exceptionally fortunate in the officer appointed to succeed him, General H.G. Casson, who had been in command of the 2nd South Wales Borderers (the old 24th) since the original landing on 25th April, and whose practical experience of fighting in Gallipoli was the best possible qualification for the command of the Brigade in the work which lay before it.
During all this time the various Beaches and Rest Camps were regularly shelled by the enemy's heavy guns on the reverse slopes of Achi Baba and—with even deadlier effect—from the Asiatic coast. The beaches and the roads leading to them over the ridge received most of this unpleasant attention. We used to watch the big shells bursting over the cliffs and wonder how life could be possible on the beaches below. Many tales reached us of casualties in the administrative and non-combatant services whose work lay there, and many of the marvellous escapes of individuals. For instance, at Gully Beach on one occasion a surgeon was blown to pieces, while the patient upon whom he was operating escaped untouched. The roads were exposed over their whole length but certain special points were usually selected as targets, and several high explosives would land at short intervals on one of these. The resulting casualties were extraordinarily few, but it was hair-raising to see—as we often did—a mounted man, or a gharry with its pair of mules and Indian driver, suddenly blotted out in the dust and smoke of a huge burst, to reappear, when the cloud cleared, moving on its way as unconcernedly as if nothing had happened. But the next rider or driver to pass this particular spot generally made a slight detour.
The Rest Camps were also favoured with a few shells at all sorts of odd times. Some units lost quite a number of men in this way. In this respect we were more fortunate than most of our neighbours, for although we had several men hit while out on fatigue we had in the whole three weeks—if we are not mistaken—only one man wounded actually in Rest Camp. This comparative immunity we attributed to our lines being partly screened from the view of the enemy's observing stations by the low lying crest to the north. Still we had several thrilling half-hours when shrapnel spraying over our lines compelled us to lie low. Only once in these weeks were we treated to a dose of high explosives. This happened about seven one morning when most of the officers were at breakfast in the swimming-bath mess room. Six big "coal-boxes" were hurled on us in rapid succession. One exploded near our mule lines just beyond the Quartermaster's dump, doing no damage to speak of; a second landed and burst right inside a trench occupied by several of the Headquarters signallers. We thought they were all wiped out, but, miraculously, not a man was hurt. They were even laughing—somewhat nervously, it must be admitted—as they scrambled out of the ruined trench. Another shell exploded about 30 yards short of our mess, leaving a symmetrical saucer-shaped crater about 6 feet in diameter and a little over 2 feet deep in the centre. Its dust showered over us and covered our unfinished meal with a thick layer. It had been an unusually attractive breakfast too! The other three shells were "duds."
Training of any kind was impossible. There was no ground unswept by fire on which to train. Two or three men might move across the open with impunity, but the appearance at any point of even a small party, say a group standing or sitting in the pathways between the rest trenches, often drew fire. Still the men got plenty of exercise, though it was of a kind not exactly popular with the average infantryman. Day after day, the Battalion was called upon to supply from 400 to 600 men for fatigues. Sometimes these were day fatigues under the R.E.; more frequently for the A.S.C. or Ordnance at one or other of the beaches, unloading and stacking stores and ammunition; but most of our work was by night, when large parties were employed under the R.E. in the construction of main communication trenches to enable troops to be moved up to the various sectors of the firing line without using the exposed roads or crossing the open. Though the men never pretended to like this work it was carried out cheerily enough.
Facilities for personal cleanliness were rare on the Peninsula, but when in rest camp the men were encouraged to bathe, a portion of "X" Beach, which was within half a mile of our lines, being allotted for this purpose. Full advantage was taken of this. The cliff overlooking the beach was honeycombed with untidy dug-outs; the beach itself rough and dirty, the water still dirtier, clay-coloured and coated with a thick scum of straw, grain, and other light debris from the barges that were unloading—all that could honestly be said in its favour was that it was wet. After a time the officers discovered that it was worth the forty-minutes walk to bathe at a cleaner and more attractive beach, Morto Bay, on the other side of the Peninsula. This lay within the French sphere. To reach it we had to pass through some of our allies Rest Lines, and it was interesting to have a peep at them and at their ways of doing things. The beach at Morto Bay was clean and sandy; the water clear, though very shallow for a long distance out. It was an ideal spot for a lazy floating bathe. But it had one drawback. The enemy's Asiatic batteries and their aircraft were rather addicted to landing shells and dropping bombs in its placid waters—shells and bombs intended, no doubt, for the camps near the shore, but none the less distracting to the bathers whose ablutions they disturbed. Two of the officers returned one evening with a thrilling tale of a huge bomb which had landed in the sea within fifty yards of them.
Our Church Parades, which were only possible when in rest camp, were peculiarly impressive. To assemble the men during daylight was out of the question; the services were therefore held under cover of darkness. Although attendance was voluntary there was almost invariably a good turn-out. None of us is likely ever to forget these little gatherings; the solemn quiet which the distant crackle of rifles seemed but to emphasise; the Psalms and Hymns, in which all joined devoutly but in tones muted and softened in harmony with the evening stillness; the short lesson, read by the light of a screened candle or electric torch; the simple prayers for our comrades facing death, for the sick, the wounded, and the dying, for the bereaved, and for the dear ones waiting for us at home; the brief, practical address; and—to finish—the National Anthem, which one sang with dimmed eyes and a lump in the throat—it seemed to mean so much. No service in the finest man-built place of worship, with pealing organ and highly-trained choir, with sermon earnest and inspired, could have such power to move and impress, to convey such certainty of the near presence of the Almighty and the Eternal, as did these humble, informal meetings under the stars, the congregation dimly visible as it clustered on the parapets of the nearest trenches or squatted on the ground at the Padre's feet.
While we were taking our leisure (!) in rear of the firing-line, things in front of us were comparatively quiet. There must have been times of anxiety for the higher commands, but we knew nothing of these or of what might be impending, except that everyone must have realised that our available force on the Peninsula was none too strong for the task which it would have to face if the enemy should make a determined effort to pierce our lines. At the end of the first week the Battalion was again placed at the disposal of the 29th Division, then holding the extreme left of the British line. The chief use they made of us was to call for large fatigues to construct terraced dug-outs for them in the sea-cliff, but for several successive nights we had to sleep in our boots with equipment and ammunition beside us, ready for an immediate move. We had also to link up all our lines of rest trenches with communication trenches to render movement possible under shell fire and to excavate at high pressure a communication leading up the west side of the Pink Farm Road into one of the main cross-cuts. We cannot recall the official designation of this trench; we always spoke of it as Armstrong Alley, in compliment to our Brigade Major who had driven us to the task of constructing it.
It happened one quiet forenoon that a batman was cleaning his officer's revolver. In rest camps revolvers are not supposed to be loaded, but this one was, and the batman was so unversed in the ways of revolvers that he failed to recognise the fact. A revolver in the hands of a novice is almost as dangerous as an automatic pistol. In fact it spells considerable danger to all in the vicinity. It was therefore scarcely surprising that the batman let off a round in his efforts to remove the cylinder. As ill luck would have it the Divisional General chanced at that moment to be passing through our lines preceded by an orderly. The bullet whizzed close past the General and brought down the orderly with a wound in the leg. The thing was, of course, a pure accident; but the possible consequences of carelessness in handling loaded fire-arms are so serious that the man who accidentally lets off a round is invariably punished for his negligence, even when no serious harm has resulted. In this particular instance the offender would have appeared in ordinary course at the regimental orderly room the following morning, when the circumstances would have been enquired into and the claims of justice satisfied. But the General, who was naturally annoyed—to put it mildly—departed from the normal procedure and, taking the matter into his own hands, sent for the culprit and interviewed him on the spot, whether for purposes of admonition or of punishment we know not. After an impassioned harangue in which, with many winged words, he fully expounded the enormity of the offence, he concluded dramatically somewhat in this fashion: "I hope you are satisfied with your morning's work! You see what you have done. You have wounded this poor fellow, and you very nearly hit me! Are you satisfied?" It was an awkward question to answer with due tact. Rattled as he was by the dressing down he had just received the man could hardly be blamed if his reply was ambiguous. At least it might have been more neatly expressed. It was "No, sir."
On 29th July a letter written by Lieut. J.G. Milne from hospital at Alexandria brought us the bad news that Major Jowitt had died of septic poisoning on the hospital ship Rewa on 17th July, while on the passage to Alexandria, and that Major Downie, who had been on the same ship, had succumbed to his wounds in hospital on the 20th—the day after being landed. The loss of two officers so deservedly popular was sincerely mourned throughout the battalion. Major Jowitt's death was wholly unexpected. His wounds had not been considered serious and the possibility of complications had not suggested itself to any of us. From the first we had known that Major Downie's case was a critical one, but our latest word of him before the hospital ship left Helles had been that "he was getting on better than could be expected," and all had been hoping for further news of good progress.
Before we left rest camp all ranks underwent two inoculations against cholera.
Early in August we learned that the Brigade would shortly take over the extreme left sector at Fusilier Bluff. After a reconnaissance of the position by Colonel Morrison and the Adjutant, a party of eight officers and sixteen N.C.O.'s went forward on August 6th to spend a night in the new firing line. On the way up, as they were passing along the westmost sector of the Eski line, one of our most promising young N.C.O.'s—Corpl. W. Wood, "D" Company—was killed by a stray bullet.
This was an historic day on the Peninsula. Fifteen miles up the Aegean coast the first landing was being made at Suvla Bay. To divert the enemy's attention and to supplement the advance there and at Anzac, the 29th and 42nd Divisions attacked on our front that afternoon.
In spite of very terrible losses these two divisions gained some ground. The Turks, however, threw in reinforcements from their reserves concentrated at Maidos, a force with which they had boastfully threatened to drive us into the sea. The bulk of this army stemmed the advance at Suvla, but enough could also be spared for the fight at Cape Helles to annul our success. Indeed by August 7th only the forward portion of the Vineyard, between the Krithia and Achi Baba nullahs, remained in the hands of the 42nd Division as the nett gain of the previous day's battle.
Our party of officers and N.C.O.'s spent the night at the Border Barricade sector. Up there on the left they had the pleasure of coming across our pre-war chaplain, the Rev. J.A. Cameron Reid, who was at that time attached to the 1st K.O.S.B. They got back to rest camp the following afternoon, having been compelled to lie low for a considerable time in the Gully, which had been heavily shelled by the enemy since sunrise.
The same day our move to the left sector was cancelled, and instead we were sent up at 8 p.m. to relieve the Chatham and Deal Battalion in the Eski line and to be in general reserve to the 42nd Division in the centre sector. On the trek forward two men of "A" Company (Captain D.E. Brand now in command) were wounded near Clapham Junction in the Krithia nullah.