Finsbury Rifles Remembered on 100th Anniversary of Defeat in WWI

British soldiers captured by the Turks in the Second Battle of Gaza in Jerusalem, April 1917. <a href=>Photo Credit</a>
British soldiers captured by the Turks in the Second Battle of Gaza in Jerusalem, April 1917. Photo Credit

April 19 stands as a black day in the history of the Finsbury Rifles.

On that day in 1917, 115 men from the Penton Street Regiment died during the 2nd Battle of Gaza.

Dignitaries and veterans from Islington in the UK gathered to commemorate the Rifles this April 19.

Although the dead are interred in Israel, St. Mark’s Church in Myddleton Square, Clerkenwell, is the abode of their memorials, and those of their heirs killed in World War Two.

The only surviving Rifles officer Sir John Chapple, and veterans were joined by Mayor Kat Fletcher and many others to pay their respects at the service.

The occasion went off well, said organizer Darren O’Brien, who became intrigued by the Rifles while serving as a police officer in Islington and has authored a book about them.

The entire reason for the event was to memorialize the men from the local region killed during the battle, he explained.  It is as important today given world events and everyone who attended was there to remember the regiment.

Following one year defending the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Rifles started preparing for the up – coming invasion of Palestine in March 1917.  That came on April 19 at 7:30 am, when they and the 1st/4th Bn Northants Regiment advanced towards enemy trenches following a poisonous gas and artillery barrage failed to weaken defenses.

It was the first use of poison gas by the British in the desert operation, but the attack quickly fizzled out.  The wounded were stuck on the ridgeline all day under the killing fire of the enemy’s machine guns and artillery, Islington Gazette reported.

The war diary recorded 13 officers and 366 other ranks as casualties, 115 of whom were fatalities or died within a few days.

Darren, a veteran of the Gulf War, said the Western Front is well-known, but there is not sufficient awareness of other campaigns.  Everybody discusses France and Belgium. People do not travel to visit their graves very much, so they are not remembered as much.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE