H. C. (Herbert Charles) O'Neill.

The Royal fusiliers in the great war online

. (page 9 of 38)
Online LibraryH. C. (Herbert Charles) O'NeillThe Royal fusiliers in the great war → online text (page 9 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the other officers ; and there were still 425 other ranks.
On the night of the 2nd the bulk of the battalion was
again sent up in support. The two following days were
quiet. On the 4th the 86th Brigade was broken up, the
Royal Fusiliers, linked with the Hants, though as a
separate battalion, going to the 88th Brigade. The
landing phase was over. In a letter dated May 22nd,
1915, the Brigade Major of the 86th Infantry Brigade
said, " Where all have done well, the Royal Fusiliers have
been beyond praise. With five junior officers and under
400 men, they have never lost their form for a moment.
Not only have they always done what might have been
expected of them, but they have risen to a standard of
soldiering which could not be higher, and never departed
from it. I am filled with admiration for them." Praise
could hardly be higher than this.

On May 6th began the second battle of Krithia. At
about 11 a.m. the battalion moved to the extreme left of the
brigade front in support of the Hampshire Regiment,
and at 12.30 p.m. Huggett's company reinforced the Hants'
left in the advance. The Fusiliers' left rested on the Saghir
Dere (Gully Ravine), and in about four hours' hard fighting
they had carried the line forward several hundred yards ;
and, no further advance being possible, dug in as fast as

* The Brigade Major, 86th Brigade, quoted from " With the 29th
Division," p. 190.


possible under fire. So the position stood that night, and
on the following morning it was found impossible to make
headway against the Turkish opposition, while the flanking
brigade was held up. The Essex who advanced through
the battalion at 5 p.m. were in trouble for the same reason,
and during the night the Fusiliers had to send up a party
to fill the gap on their left to the nullah. All that day the
battalion had been under very accurately aimed shell fire,
and on the 8th they still suffered from this unwelcome
attention. But the second battle of Krithia died down
under heavy counter-attacks and the battalion went into
reserve 5 officers and 384 other ranks strong, after sixteen
days in the fire zone.

When the Fusiliers went back into the line again on the
17th they had the novel excitement of enfilading a
Turkish trench. Though at some 1,200 yards distance, the
fire very efficiently checked the activity of enemy snipers.
But this was merely an interlude. Saps were driven for-
ward and several attempts were made to lift the batta-
lion front with them. The second was on the 22nd, when
gallantly led by Moore, Hope- Johnstone and Webb-Bowen,
the Fusiliers captured a Turkish trench ; but a heavy
counter-attack forced them to withdraw with 40 casualties,
including Moore and Webb-Bowen. Both were wounded,
Moore for the third time. Maj or Brandreth had by this time
returned to the battalion, and there had been no pause in
the fighting when they were called upon to take part in
the third battle of Krithia, on June 4th.

The Turks had now organised a systematic defence
across the peninsula and the battalion had to advance
against a determined resistance. A small machine gun
redoubt, lying about 150 yards in front, was among their
objectives. Admirably sited on rising ground the position
was strong out of all proportion to its size. When
the advance began at noon W Company (Captain
Amphlett), on the right, rushed this redoubt, and there,
for the first time, the battalion came face to face with
Germans. The garrision was composed of a machine gun

F. H


crew from the cruiser Breslau. " One ugly looking cus-
tomer was captured, evidently the naval equivalent of a
military pioneer sergeant. He was armed with a rifle,
revolver and a serrated sword. The others retired on the
arrival of our men, leaving four heavy naval machine
guns, and belt boxes of S.A.A. ... I collected these guns
and sent them to brigade headquarters with labels, stating
time of capture, etc. The guns had evidently been taken
from the Breslau, the belt boxes were all marked S.M.S.

Captain Amphlett was killed on this occasion. A police
magistrate in Grenada at the outbreak of the war, he was
one of the new officers and appears to have shown his
quality at once and to have died beloved by his

The battalion swept past the redoubt and established
themselves in the first objective. No further advance
could be made as the Indians on the left were held up by
uncut wire. The brilliant French advance was followed
by a retirement which compelled the R.N.D. to fall
back. The Manchester Brigade of the 42nd Division had
reached the second objective ; and to strengthen their
position the Royal Fusiliers on the left advanced once more
under artillery support, and carried the line well beyond
the first objective. This was not an unmixed advantage,
as the sequel showed. The new front line was not con-
tinuous, and, with the coastal sector at the original posi-
tion, the ground gained formed an irregular salient in the
Turkish lines. Some 80 yards of the Fusiliers' line on the
left was a Turkish communication trench which lay prac-
tically at right angles to the main line, and the battalion
on the left, lying some distance ahead, shared this trench.
After the main attack on June 4th followed a quiet day ;

* Statement by R.S.M. Huband (June, 192 1). General Hamilton's
despatch says " Goeben." I cannot determine whether there were two
similar incidents, and the brigade diary is missing for this date. It
seems more probable that " Breslau " should be substituted for
" Goeben."


but at dawn on the 6th a loud noise of bombing was
heard on the Fusiliers' left. Almost immediately after-
wards a large body of men were seen retiring ; but
instead of going straight back they ran along the parados
and rushed into the left of the Fusiliers' sector. The
trenches were narrow and soon became choked. Brandreth
seeing the possibility of panic spreading, ran across with
Mundey and Sergeant Marston. Every effort was made to
restore order, but the vacated trenches were now occupied
by the Turks. Very soon the battalion were taken from
the left rear. Many men were shot in the back. Only one
officer, Second Lieutenant Cooper, remained. Word was
sent back to the brigade, but the company which was sent
up refused to counter-attack without information from the
CO., who was missing. So the battalion had to retire. In
the three days' righting it had suffered very terribly. The
ten new officers were all lost, and they included such men
as the famous embryologist Captain Jenkinson. The loss
of Brandreth was of greater importance to the battalion ;
and Mundey, who had also fallen, had revealed unexpected
strength. When it was relieved, the following day, it
marched, 2 officers and 278 other ranks strong, to Gully

Four company organisation was dropped and the two
companies fell under the command of Captain A. A. C.
Taylor, of the Dublins. While in reserve they were joined
by Major Julian Fisher, D.S.O., who brought with him a
draft of 10 officers and 400 other ranks from England.
Captain P. N. Wilson, who was commanding the divisional
cyclists, was allowed to rejoin the battalion, and the unit
was given ten days to reorganise. The new draft consisted
of very young men who had not received much training.
None of the officers were Regulars, but men who had
gathered from the ends of the earth to take their part in
the war. When the battalion went back to the line once
more, on June 23rd, they mustered 13 officers and 667
other ranks. Lieutenant Eustace commanded Y company,
Captain Ayrton X and Captain Gudgeon Z. About three



days later Captain FitzClarence * arrived from England
and took over the duties of the second in command.

On the 28th the battalion again attacked, leading the
brigade with three companies ; and their advance, though
successful, was dearly bought. They advanced about
1,000 yards, " a magnificent sight, the men never losing
their formation under a heavy artillery and rifle fire." f
The ground had been carefully ranged and the bulk of the
casualties were due to well-placed shrapnel. There were
few from rifle fire ; but in attempting to round off their
achievement in the night the battalion became involved
in hand-to-hand fighting. Few details of these encounters
have been preserved ; but when the Fusiliers were relieved
they were in the last stage of exhaustion. A twenty-four
hours' struggle in oppressive heat with hardly any water
has its unforgettable terrors. The actual losses included
nine officers : FitzClarence, Ayrton, Andrews killed ;
Bulbeck, Freer and Harford wounded ; Gudgeon, Eustace
and Willett missing. Of other ranks, 27 were killed,
175 wounded, and 57 missing. Not one of these officers
had been with the battalion when it landed in Gallipoli,
and the continuity was preserved by an ever-thinning

When the battalion returned to the trenches on July 3rd,
Major Cripps had rejoined and taken over the duties of
adjutant ; and in this tour the 9 officers and 409 other
ranks had companies of newly arrived troops attached for
instructional purposes. On the 15th the Fusiliers pro-
ceeded to " V " beach and embarked for Lemnos. The
next day was spent in bivouacs about a mile from Mudros,
the first day since April 25th that the 2nd Battalion had
not been under rifle or shell fire. There they were rejoined
by Major Guy on who took over the command from Major

* Captain A. A. C. FitzClarence was the sixth of his family to serve
in the regiment. He was a cousin of Brig. -General FitzClarence, V.C.,
also a Royal Fusilier, who initiated the counter-attack which restored
the line at Ypres on October 31st, 1914.

f Mr. Ashmead Bartlett in The Times, July 9th, 1915.


Fisher. Drafts were received from the 3rd,* 5th and
7th Battalions and the unit was able to return to three
company strength once more.

The battles of Suvla saw them in Gallipoli again. The
trenches were practically the same as those occupied
before the rest in Lemnos. Indeed, one of the terrible
characteristics of the whole of this campaign was the
impression of always advancing at great cost and never
changing the position. The actions of Krithia Vineyard,
which were subsidiary to the battles of Suvla, saw the
battalion bringing in the wounded of the 88th Brigade.
They had moved to the reserve trench before the opening
of the battle, and as the 88th Brigade left the trenches
early in the morning of August 6th, they took them over.
Well-directed and sustained, the Turkish counter-bom-
bardment exacted a heavy toll. The firing line was found
to be full of dead and wounded, belonging to different
units. Z Company, on the left, also suffered severely.
Some relief was afforded by the luck of a machine gun.
Mounted in a communication trench, this gun, at a range
of 850 yards, enfiladed a trench near the vineyard and
wiped off some of the score.

Suvla. — On the 16th the battalion relieved the Border
Regiment who were holding the extreme left of the line to
the sea. W Company lay on the cliff side as it rose from the
sea. The line occupied by Z ran almost at right angles to
this position, turning back roughly parallel to the sea. It
was not a sector that one would naturally choose. The
Turkish snipers were in the ascendant. The steel loop-
holes were being shot away and periscopes could not be
raised for more than a second or two. From the Turkish
trenches which, in places, were only 15 yards distant,
bombs were being continually thrown into the British
lines. The conditions, in fine, were intolerable, and
arrangements were made to relieve them. An intensive
treatment with jam-tin bombs and trench mortars some-
what chastened the Turkish bomb throwers, and a minor

* Men who had suffered from trench feet in France.


attack was planned for the 20th. But it was never to
take place. On the 19th the battalion were relieved.
They embarked from " W " beach at 7 p.m. on the
following day, and at midnight they disembarked at " C "
beach, Suvla. Packs were dumped and the battalion
marched to Chocolate Hill, arriving there at dawn on
August 2 1 st.

Their role was to assist in redeeming the past. On how-
many occasions during the war were the Royal Fusiliers
faced with a similar task ? A single battalion, 6th E.
Yorks. Pioneers had occupied Scimitar Hill on Sunday,
August 8th, and had been withdrawn, apparently by an
oversight. Its value, recognised later, led to the plan in
which the 2nd Battalion were to play their part. The
key to " W " hill and Anafarta Sagir, its possession was
necessary if a further advance were to be made ; and,
untaken, even the security of the main Suvla landing was
prejudiced. Scimitar Hill was to be taken by the con-
verging attack of the 87th and S6th Brigades, the 86th
advancing from the right. The Royal Fusiliers in brigade
reserve, were behind Chocolate Hill, their position being
connected with that of the Munsters and Lancashires by a
narrow communication trench. At 2.30 p.m. (August
2 1st) the bombardment began. A quarter of an hour
later, the men began to file down the communication
trench in order to be ready to take up the position ahead
as soon as it was vacated by the Munsters and Lancashires.
At 3.30 these troops went forward ; but the brigades on
the right had lost direction in front and little headway
could be made. While filing down the trench the Royal
Fusiliers came under a heavy enfilade fire from shrapnel.
It became blocked with dead and wounded, and to add
to the horror of the moment, the thick bush on both sides
was kindled by the shell fire. Such facts beggar

At 6 p.m., a patrol under Captain Bruce found that
the battalion was not linked up with the yeomanry on the
right. And during the night 150 men, under Captain


Stevenson, began to dig a connecting trench in the open.
But slow progress was made, and the men were picked
off all too easily. During the day it was realised that the
advance had fizzled out, and at 6 p.m. the battalion moved
back behind Chocolate Hill, in order to take over trenches
on the left of the 87th Brigade.

During the night of the 22nd the battalion took over
the fire trench from the 6th Royal Welch Fusiliers. The
position was beginning to harden in this part of the
peninsula. The fine hope that sped the Suvla battles
had faded away, and it became necessary to secure a real
grip on the ground already won. Consolidation was
pressed on, and trenches were dug to connect up with
the 88th Brigade on the left. The position was exposed,
life unusually precarious even for the peninsula. All
rations had to be brought up by night. But the Fusiliers
concentrated on their work, and the trenches and the whole
position were improved and strengthened. A large draft
brought the strength of the battalion to 16 officers and
1,015 other ranks, higher than it had ever been in Gallipoli,
and 150 yards of the Dublins' line was taken over.

On relief, the battalion, after a week spent in dug-outs,
embarked for Imbros on September 8th. It was their
first rest for six weeks, almost all of which had been spent
in the front trench under constant rifle and shell fire.
That week over 200 men were down with diarrhoea, and
another of the perils of the peninsula began to be experi-
enced. The casualties up to this time (September 14th)
were as follows : —




Dead .

. 19



. 40


Sick .

. 24

37 6


• 7


90 1,646

With so terrible a disproportion in officer casualties


it was obvious that there would be a shortage ; and this
was a characteristic of all the British units in Gallipoli.
Of all the original officers of the battalion not one had been
able to see the campaign through, and only 166 other
ranks had escaped wounds. Two officers, Guyon and
Cripps, and about ioo other ranks had returned from

On September 21st the battalion embarked in such
rough weather that it was with the greatest difficulty
the men could be transferred from lighters to the ship.
But at length this was achieved without mishap, and the
troops returned to Suvla, where they relieved the S.W.
Borderers in the firing line. During this tour of the front
trenches parties of the 2/3 London Regiment, who had
only recently landed in Gallipoli, were attached for
instructional purposes. It was a strange chance that
cast these two battalions of the regiment together. The
2/3 Londons had replaced the 1/3 in the Malta
garrison, and then, in April, 1915, had left for Khartum.
Detachments were also stationed at Atbara and Suikat.
In Gallipoli they reinforced the 86th Brigade, and took
part in various minor engagements.

The last days of September saw almost perfect weather.
The days were warm and sunny, the nights cool. It
seemed as if the terrible peninsula, which was yet to show
its worst, was, for the moment, determined to exhibit its
best. Under such conditions labour seemed no great
hardship, and the men settled down to the never-ceasing
task of improving the trenches. In early October they
took over a new stretch of fire line from the Munsters and
a company of the Dublins, and at once set to work like
ants on improving these positions. A new fire trench
was constructed, and a communication trench to it. In
the latter task Second Lieutenant Jepson was killed
(October 16th) and Lieutenant Fletcher was wounded.
But the battalion here, as everywhere, seemed imbued
with a divine discontent. The perfect alignment required
the assimilation of some elements of the Turkish system,


and so three night attacks were made, the last on October
22nd. These operations won the congratulations of the
corps commander.

On October 18th the 2/4 Battalion London Regiment
landed at Cape Helles. They had left Malta in August
for Egypt, and had been two months in camp at Alex-
andria. During their service in Gallipoli they were
attached to the Royal Naval Division, and took part in
the trench warfare until the evacuation.

It was in the latter part of October that Guyon, com-
manding the 2nd Battalion, fell ill with appendicitis,
and for a week he lay in his dug-out before it was
possible to remove him to hospital. It was at this
time, too, that the pace of the operations on the
peninsula settled down as though for an indefinitely long
tenure. From the view-point of the 2nd Battalion this
period was marked by ingenuity and daring initiative.
On November 2nd a small body attempted to pull away
the Turkish wire en bloc with ropes. Unfortunately, the
atmosphere had sapped the fibre of the ropes, and the
exploit proved more ingenious than serviceable. Turkish
sniping posts received one or two unwelcome visits from
bombing parties. There were several good reconnaissance
patrols. But, despite all attentions, the Turkish snipers
proved a pest to the end, and on November 12th Second
Lieutenant E. J. Haywood, the acting brigade machine
gun officer, was killed while visiting a machine gun post.

Lord Kitchener had visited Gallipoli and passed through
Greece on his way home again when the worst calamity
befell the batallion. November 26th dawned fine, and
so continued until about 5 p.m., when it began to rain.
Almost at once it became a characteristic tropical down-
pour. In an hour there was a foot of water in the trenches.
From the hills where the Turks lay a tremendous flood
of water swept towards the Fusiliers' position.* The
barriers reared so painfully against the Turks were swept

* " The Royal Fusiliers suffered much more than any other regi-
ment " (" The Dardanelles Campaign," Nevinson, p. 384).


away in a flash. In a few minutes the face of the country
had changed. Into the trenches swept a pony, a mule,
and three dead Turks. Several men were drowned. The
whole area became a lake. The communication trenches
were a swirl of muddy water. All that could be seen was
an occasional tree and a muddy bank where the parados
had been particularly high. The bulk of the battalion
had scrambled out of the trenches, and stood about on
the spots which remained above water, soaked to the skin,
and at least half of them without overcoats or even rifles.
The moon lit up these small knots of shivering men on
little banks of mud in a waste of water. Not a shot was
fired on either side. The common calamity had enforced
an efficient truce.

Orders came by telephone that the battalion was to hold
on to the line at all costs. Meanwhile two orderlies,
Frost and James, had been sent to brigade headquarters,
and had been compelled to swim most of the way. About
10 p.m. the water subsided slightly, and the men threw
up rough breastworks of mud. There they lay huddled
together in extreme discomfort, cut through by a piercing
wind. The next day the trenches were still from 4 to 5 feet
deep, and the men were forced to keep to them. The truce
had ended as strangely as it had begun, and any one show-
ing above the trenches was liable to meet the familiar fate .
Captain Shaw was shot dead, Lieutenant Ormesher was
mortally wounded ; and with such object lessons the
bitter discomforts of the trenches were made to seem pre-
ferable. In the afternoon the wind rose again. It became
intensely cold. A blizzard swept the country. Men were
sent back to hospital ; but some of them died on the way,
from exposure and exhaustion. Two of them, belonging
to W Company, who shared this fate, had struggled on
until they found some sort of shelter near the Salt Lake.
There they had paused to rest. The younger of the two
could probably have got back to camp alone, but he would
not leave his comrade in the storm and darkness and snow.
The next morning they were found together — frozen stiff.


The younger, his arms round his companion, held a piece of
broken biscuit in each frozen hand, and there were biscuit
crumbs frozen into the moustache of the elder man.

Under such conditions the tacit truce was renewed.
Rum and whisky were brought up to the trenches ; but
with the utmost difficulty.

At midnight on the 27th, the wind was colder, the snow
thicker. About 4 a.m. (November 28th) the commanding
officer and the adjutant were the only survivors in the
reserve line ; and it was clear that even superhuman
endurance had limits. Permission was obtained to bring
the battalion back to the brigade nullah, where the ground
was higher and more sheltered. There were only about
300 left in the firing line, and they were got back with
great difficulty. Hardly a man could walk normally.
The trench was crossed by a single plank. A few of the
men were shot as they staggered across. Some failed to
get back at all. Others were kicked along with merciful
brutality, or they would have given up the struggle. There
are few pictures in military history which equal in poign-
ancy that of this little band who, having faced what was
almost beyond the power of men, struggled back to life
from the very gates of death.

By 7 a.m. the battalion had arrived at the nullah, where
they were given warm food and put into blankets. The
majority were taken to hospital during the day suffering
either from exposure or frost-bite. The strength of the
battalion was now 11 officers and 105 other ranks. A
party of men, under Second Lieutenant Camies, were sent
back to the Dublin Castle post to hold on to next evening.
On the 29th it froze hard, and after midnight it was found
that the party from another regiment who were to have
relieved Second Lieutenant Camies, had lost their way.
At 4 a.m. (November 30th) Camies and his men were found
still at their posts, but in an almost helpless condition.
Sergt. -Major Paschall was sent to take out the relieving
party and bring back Camies. The outpost on return all
went to hospital, and at 4 p.m. roll call showed only 10


officers and 84 other ranks (70 effective) remaining. The
storm had wrought a greater havoc than any battle.*

On December 2nd the draining of the reserve trench was
begun, and on December 3rd the weather became a little
warmer. Some drafts arrived., and the battalion, organised
in two companies, began to hold the Dublin Castle position
by companies, forty-eight hours at a time. On the 13th

Online LibraryH. C. (Herbert Charles) O'NeillThe Royal fusiliers in the great war → online text (page 9 of 38)