Mark Barnes continues his Dardanelles travelogue.
We have already seen the carnage on ‘V’ Beach but misfortune was not exclusive
to that short strip of sand on 25th April 1915. Hunter-Weston’s plan called for a ‘covering’ force making a landing the opposite side of the main force beyond Cape Helles at a place now forever known as Lancashire Landing.
‘W’ Beach was entirely separate from ‘V’ Beach, a feature consistent with all the landings that day and you do begin to wonder how these choices were made. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, even for a bloke who has a read a number of books on the campaign and whose vast military experience amounts to a career described by Spike Milligan perfectly when he says he steadily rose to the rank of gunner.
If anything, ‘W’ Beach is even more attractive than ‘V’ with the same blend of white sands and the most magical sea. There are the remains of piers and a number of lighters to give some impression of the activities here a century ago. We bobbed around offshore in a diving boat while some of our party went swimming and the view of it all was stunning. Being at sea gave us a wholly different perspective where the topography of the land and the true scale of things can be fully appreciated. The important thing to remember is these landings were carried out without any form of specialist shipping or boats. Troops were transferred from a number of warships into small boats for the journey ashore. The practicalities of this should need no in depth consideration. This sort of method for putting troops ashore had hardly changed for centuries and it is easy to see why things began to change after that terrible day on 25th of April 1915.
The 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers landed on the beach in the face of sustained defensive fire from a company of Turks of the 26th Regiment. The beach was protected by three rows of barbed wire but the placing of this was nothing like you imagine from the Western Front. It was, all the same, an obstacle the British troops had to deal with in the face of growing casualties. Despite their ordeal, small parties of the Lancashires got off the beach and gradually took control. Here again, the analogies with Omaha Beach are quite apt.
Moving inland the British began to push on to link with others landing at ‘X’ Beach but were held up by strongpoints and poor maps. By mid-morning the beach was secure. Joining up with the main force at ‘V’ Beach took longer.
The Lancashire Fusiliers had started the day with twenty-seven officers and one thousand and two other ranks. The next day they could muster sixteen officers and three hundred and four ORs. There were so many feats of gallantry that day that it was decided to ballot the battalion for the names of men who should receive the Victoria Cross. Six names were chosen but; as always seem to be the case, three were denied for what seem now like petty reasons not worth troubling ourselves over. A campaign was started on behalf of the three who had missed out and the authorities caved in. The populist legend of ‘Six VCs before Breakfast’ was secured.
The medals went to Alfred Richards, Richard Willis, William Keneally, John Grimshaw, Cuthbert Bromley and Frank Stubbs.
Wexford man Lance Sergeant William Kenneally fought in the three Battles of Krithia during the campaign but was killed in Gully Ravine on 28th June 1915. We shall be going there later. He is buried at Lancashire Landing cemetery with many of his mates.
The cemetery is one of many that follow a broadly similar pattern. The headstones are unlike those in Europe and other places that allow space for a unit badge. A Christian cross is built into the main structure of the cemetery as opposed to being a separate feature. Unknown soldiers that were recovered were buried in large groups and you will always find large numbers of special memorials with the heading believed to be buried in this cemetery. Just as on the Western Front, these cemeteries stand out on the arid landscape but a good number can only be reached by often challenging paths. The Gallipoli battlefield is known for it’s feral and sometimes fearsome farm dogs who can be a bit scary if you consider some accounts, but we only met some showing any sign of an attitude on the last day at Azmak and they were much more interested in guarding their master’s flock of goats.
After the Great War the British chose to build their main Memorial to the Missing on Cape Helles and takes the form of a large obelisk standing 30 metres high set in a walled compound. The walls are lined with panels naming the missing. The memorial was designed by Sir John J Burnet and was one of a small number he built for the Imperial War Graves Commission. He had achieved success designing some of the galleries at the British Museum, for which he was knighted and for other work at the Selfridges store. He also designed Kodak’s London headquarters that now forms part of a very nice hotel in Holborn.
The memorial is very impressive and can be seen for miles. It is a useful landmark for getting a true impression of the battlefield when you are inland. It especially helps gaining an understanding of how futile the landings were given British ambitions. We sat and ate a picnic in the shade of an outer wall on a September day when the temperature was near as damned it in the mid thirties Celsius. The surrounding fields were full of the drooping remnants of sunflowers that acted a bit like the ghostly figures in Will Longstaff’s famous Menin Gate at Midnight painting.
As with many places on the peninsular, the surrounding fields yielded a surprising number of human bones. Years of our pilgrimage on the Western Front have shown us things are much different there but while a huge degree of care is taken with cemeteries for all the belligerents of Gallipoli, many thousands of men have no known grave and they remain where they fell, occasionally disturbed by agriculture and other interruptions. We found it to be something of a culture shock, but we have to appreciate the nature of the battlefield, it’s location and the history of the region.
One of the names on the Helles Memorial is Ernest Stanley Carroll who served as a lance sergeant with the Hertfordshire Yeomanry. He worked for The Times newspaper in London and was one of sixty-five men from Printing House Square who died in the Great War. I have been visiting the graves of men from The Times and other papers now in the News Corporation family and it was great to be able to pay my respects to him. I wonder if anyone with a connection to him had done so before?
We had a walk down to the impressive remains of Ertrugul fortress that offers a fine view of ‘V’ Beach and Seddulbahir. This is one of the most beautiful battlefields I have visited and all of us were looking forward to the next few days at Anzac and Suvla. They would prove to be just as spectacular.
Just inland from the Helles Memorial is a large French artillery position and we will be heading there next.
Words and images by Mark Barnes for War History Online. All material copyright: Mark Barnes 2014 All Rights Reserved.