23 August 1915

SUVLA - Lieutenant George Davidson, 89th Field Ambulance, 29th Division, RAMC - The scale of the defeat on 21 August took a while to be obvious; but soon everyone had realised just what a disaster had occurred. Lieutenant George Davidson's diary entry for 23 August summed up their awful experiences over the last two day and charted his growing disillusionment.

"I ended my notes two days ago by remarking that we were all in good spirits over what seemed to us to be a victory. Soon after that some of us had to change our tune. Two officers were ordered up to Chocolate Hill, so Agassiz and I went across the north side of the Salt Lake which we found dry and caked hard. Towards the far end, as we neared the terrible hill, bullets were flying in hundreds-one struck the ground practically under my left foot, another passed between Agassiz and myself when we certainly were not a foot apart. A few more hundred yards, at the double, took us to that absolute inferno, Hill 53. (The hills were named according to their height, 53 meaning 53 metres high.) We got to the top through dead and dying men lined out everywhere. We at once looked up the A.D.M.S. who, along with the heads of the 29th Division, was in a deep and strongly protected dug-out. Now came the terrible and most unexpected news-the Staff were in a state of hysterics - Hill 72, which is separated from Hill 53 by a small dip, had been fought for all day and captured at immense cost, and was now about to be given up, it was impossible for us to hold it. The 11th Division had sent word that they were at a certain point which was their objective, but they were actually some distance behind that, and never did reach that point. But this piece of information, which the line had been eagerly waiting for, now allowed our centre to advance, thinking they had the 11th Division protecting their flank. They soon got too far forward and were at once enfiladed. This was the beginning of what was a catastrophe and which will cost us thousands of lives to rectify. "We are to give up Hill 72!" said the A.D.M.S., "And if the Turks make a night attack, as they always do after an engagement, we'll be pushed off this Hill (53) into the valley, and it is hard to say where it will end. In that case we want every stretcher-bearer we can lay our hands on to work with might and main to get the wounded back from the trenches, or they will fall into the hands of the Turks." This sounded terrible, but we had to face it, so we sent back for all our men who could be spared, and many regimental men had to help to carry the wounded back, which was a most difficult piece of work. In making communication trenches along which the wounded have to be carried from the firing trench, the carrying of stretchers is never considered. Traverses must be made certainly, and the narrower the trenches the better while fighting, but they should be made wide enough to let stretchers along, and the corners of the traverses should be rounded. As it was the stretchers could only be carried along the straight parts with the stretcher traverses "kicked in," and even then the backs of all the men's hands were peeled to the bone. Being- impossible to get round the corners the stretchers had to be raised above the top of the trench, and as a rule the bearers soon tired of doing this at every few yards, and got right over the parapets and carried in the open. We had a terrible night, and next morning as soon as the day began to break, although we were on the opposite side of the Hill from the enemy, they knew the range so thoroughly that they dropped their shells at the exact angle of the Hill, which was but a gentle slope, and raked it from top to bottom time after time. Those of us who escaped were lucky, but it was a bit trying to one's nerves. The Turks had made great preparations for this battle, which of course had to come off, and they fired as much ammunition as we did, and everything was to their advantage. Their snipers, often armed with machine-guns, played the very devil with our men. By good luck the Turks had had enough and did not attack at night, and we were glad when daylight came, although with it came again the terrible, raking fire. Through the day our troops deliberately and slowly evacuated part of Hill 72, but most of it we unexpectedly managed to hold, and are likely now to stick to. Had we thoroughly defeated the Turks, as we should have done had there been no bungling, the end of this part of the campaign might have been in sight, but now we are held up, and how we are to get out of the fix will sadly baffle our Staff. The men of the 89th Field Ambulance . behaved with admirable pluck, and worked hard, and up to evening we had eight men more or less badly wounded-one at least fatally, poor Adams. The 21st and 22nd were spent practically without food, and hardly a drop of water was to be had, and all suffered badly from thirst-more bungling. In the afternoon of the second day it was rumoured that the whole of our Division was to be withdrawn to the reserve lines, and that our 86th Brigade, to which we had been again attached, were to march off as soon as it was dark, and we were to follow and take up our position behind the Infantry. Good news indeed! The G.O.C. in C. had done a wise thing in bringing two Brigades of the 29th Division round from Helles to stiffen Kitchener's Army. Our Royal Fusiliers were in reserve all the time, and although they never fired a shot were in such a position that they were badly exposed to shell fire, and were within view of snipers, and lost no fewer than 150 men. In the dark we set off over the N.W. corner of the lake making for a certain point at the foot of a ridge. It was difficult to strike the exact spot, the night being dark, but we got wonderfully near it, and after spending a bitterly cold and cheerless night at the back of a low stone wall, across which bullets whistled all night we rectified our position before the sun rose. As we came across the lake three more of our men were hit, bullets flying about for the first mile or so. To-day, after reaching our destination, and while in a shelter, a bullet hit another in the thigh, bringing our casualty list for this fight up to sixteen. All are agreed that it has been a very bloody affair, and the difficulty of seeing a way out of our present position has made all despondent, and a number of those in high positions are being torn to shreds. Our men are not grumbling, and look as if they could go through it again, but it was a very trying two days and nights. Fires broke out in the thick scrub almost at the very start of the battle, and after a few hours many acres were ablaze, and as it was largely from such places the men of both sides were firing many wounded were burned to death."

G. Davidson, The Incomparable 29th and the River Clyde (Aberdeen: James Gordon Bisset, 1920), pp.p167-170