Address by Captain Christopher Fagan DL, Chairman, The Gallipoli Association,
whose father landed at Suvla Bay with the 10th Irish Division on 6th August 1915.
Winchester Cathedral - Sunday 26th April 2015
If you were to travel along the A45 from Coventry towards Northampton, you would be obliged to negotiate a roundabout, in the middle of which there is an impressive tall obelisk. It marks the spot on which King George V reviewed the British 29th Division on 15th March 1915. There were 18,000 men on parade, and in columns of eight they stretched for one and a half miles, each Regiment being led by their Regimental band. They were almost all regular soldiers and seasoned reservists, and had been training intensively for fighting on the Western Front. The standard of musketry was unparalleled, each man being capable of firing 15 aimed rifle shots per minute. Their destination had recently been changed from France to joining the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. They sailed from Avonmouth two days after the Review.
It is not my purpose today to discuss the reasons for wishing to take Germany's ally, Turkey, out of the war, nor the conduct of the Campaign. Instead I am going to pose the question: "Why should we remember those who fought at Gallipoli?"
I will elaborate on just two of the many scenes which took place 100 years ago yesterday.
Pte Brown, of 2nd Bn. the Hampshire Regiment kept an excellent diary. He came from Hook, joined up in 1908, was 5ft 3ins tall and had served in South Africa, Mauritius and India. Early that morning he was on a ship heading for W beach on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Suddenly, at 5 am there was the most tremendous noise as Royal Navy battleships opened fire on the shore. As their ship approached, the men were transferred into life boats, first to be towed and finally rowed ashore. In front of them they could see that the Lancashire Fusiliers had been very badly cut up, having had to negotiate underwater barbed wire, mines and heavy fire from the Turkish trenches overlooking and enfilading the beach. Brown says that it was a wonder that anyone could have lived through it. Although the Lancashire Fusiliers suffered 70% casualties, they still fought on and secured a beachhead. In spite of seeing what had happened in front of them, Pte Brown and the others landed and fought their way up to gain a foothold above the beach. At the end of the day they dug in, and were attacked constantly by the Turks all night.
Meanwhile a converted coal ship named the SS River Clyde, was steaming towards V Beach to be grounded like a Trojan Horse. In her hold she had 2,000 troops consisting of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, and two companies of 2nd Hampshires. Things did not all go to plan. The River Clyde beached further out from the shore than expected. The barges swung askew. The Captain, Commander Unwin, raced off the ship with an Able Seaman and they stood in the water up to their necks holding the barges straight under heavy fire.
The Dublins, totally exposed in six rowing boats, suffered murderous fire. The Munsters had to leave the ship through holes cut in her side on to gang planks outside, then on to the barges and then to the shore. In full view of enemy rifle and automatic fire, they were shot like ducks in a fairground. Very few of them made it to the shore. The same fate befell one of the Hampshire companies, the remaining company being held back until after dark.
So many officers having been killed, two Staff Officers brought some 700 men ashore during the night. One was Colonel Doughty-Wylie, who had been educated at Winchester College, had served in Turkey and been decorated by the Sultan in 1913. Exactly 100 years ago this morning, they organised several attacks. Then, at 2 pm, together with a Captain Walford, they organised another attack. It was led by Doughty-Wylie who refused to take up arms personally against his former Turkish friends and simply armed himself with a swagger stick! At 4 pm, just as they achieved their objective, Doughty-Wylie was killed. If you look at your watches you will see that that was exactly 100 years ago almost to this minute.
The beachmaster, Commodore Philimore, wrote: "The 29th Division are simply magnificent. After losing 50% of their men in the first 24 hours, they remained 18 days in the trenches without relief".
The Australians and New Zealanders, many of whom had been born in this Country, also fought valiantly at what became known as ANZAC Cove which was mostly in impossible terrain.
Just over three months later, on 6th August, there was a second landing further up the coast at Suvla Bay with six British Divisions, one of which, the 10th Irish Division, had been encamped at Basingstoke and reviewed by Lord Kitchener in Hackwood Park. Most of these troops consisted of Territorials and those who had responded to Kitchener's call to join up. Unlike the 29th Division they had had minimal training.
There were no less than 37 VCs awarded at Gallipoli, 13 in the first two days alone, and in the words of Ecclesiasticus, "they have left a name behind them to be commemorated in story".
But I put it to you that all the men who fought in that Campaign were brave and courageous, for whom Ecclesiasticus says; "Their line will endure for all time and their fame will never be blotted out". They were all volunteers. Men had flocked to join up in their Country's hour of need, and they all knew that they were putting their lives at risk.
In the nine months of the Campaign all these men not only faced constant bombardment and rifle fire, but also had to endure the unimaginable conditions described in your service sheet in the most stoical way. We should be so thankful for the part those brave patriotic men played in keeping this Country free and safe and we forget them at our peril. May we always be mindful of their example in the face of any future threats, and never cease to remember what we owe them.
Perhaps you would now all like to join me in saying the last four words of Binyon's famous verse: "At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them".