09 January 1916

HELLES EVACUATION - The most exciting moments of the evacuation of Helles occurred on W Beach early on 9 January 1916. Here the sea was far rougher than at V Beach and the waves were pounding away at the makeshift jetties upon which the lives of hundreds of men depended. A further complication was the huge quantity of ammunition which had been packed into the caves at the back of the beach and fused ready for detonation after the last men had left. Nevertheless by dint of constant running repairs to the piers and pontoon bridges, most of the men were able to embark in safety. Then in the very last stages there was a complication as the tempestuous waves threatened the evacuation of the relatively small party of troops from 13th Division who were designated to leave by two lighters from Gully Beach.

When one of them ran aground and had to be abandoned there was no room for them all on the one remaining lighter and in consequence a party of 150 men was ordered to make its way to W Beach by the path cut into the shoreline and they set off just after 02.00. As Major General Sir Stanley Maude was not willing to abandon his headquarters kit he decided to make his own way with his immediate staff by the main road using mobile stretchers to carry the load 

"We had all the kit of headquarters with us, for which we had provided two steamboats, but as the horses had been shot and the vehicles destroyed, it was somewhat of a problem to get it along. Luckily however the ADMS remembered that there were three or four vehicle stretchers lying handy, and these we got and loaded up. We could not go by the beach route as it was too heavy going, so we started up hill on to the plateau, and very hard work it was. We all puffed and blew like grampuses, especially as we were all warmly clad. I then sent Hildyard by the beach route to try and notify W Beach that we were going, and the ADMS and I and party pursued our weary way across the top." (Major General Sir Stanley Maude, 13th Division)

At W Beach Brigadier-General James O'Dowda was placed in a quandary.

"I packed up my dispatch case, and leaving my office, brought up the rear of the last party. Just at that moment a GSO very disturbed, rushed up and told me that General Maude had not yet arrived. I asked what had happened and was informed that, after they had left Gully Beach General Maude discovered that his bedding roll had been left behind. He said that he was hanged if he was going to leave his bedding for the Turks, got two volunteers with a stretcher and went back for it. The time was now 3.50am and there was no sign of the missing General. I therefore sent an Officer and a couple of men, who knew every inch of the beach and gave them ten minutes to retrieve him. Fortunately they found him almost at once." (Brigadier-General James PMLO Beach Party)

For obvious reasons, O'Dowda was unwilling to abandon General Maude and his eye fell upon Lieutenant Owen Steele, who was peremptorily ordered to track him down. It was a terrifying experience. 

"I went up over the hill and shouted the General's name until I eventually found him and so soon hurried them on board the waiting lighter. This was a dangerous and fearsome undertaking when one considers the following. When I left it was 3.30am - the fuses in the magazines were lighted at 3.15 timed for 45 minutes - one of the many fires to be lit, among the stocks of supplies etc., was already burning - the Turks had sent over a few shells during the night, though very few, but two at a time, and two were likely to come at any time - and again, our firing line had been empty since just before 12 o’clock - 4 hours - so one might possibly encounter a body of Turks." (Lieutenant Owen Steele, Newfoundland Regiment, 88th Brigade, 29th Division)

While he waited in considerable desperation O'Dowda had taken to verse:

Come into the lighter, Maude,
For the fuse has long been lit,
Hop into the lighter, Maude,
And never mind your kit 

Lieutenant P. M. Campbell of the Ayrshire Yeomanry and detached to the beach party was in Maude's lighter as they finally left the beach.

"We pushed off in some excitement, for the last men to leave the firing line had done so four hours before (12 midnight), and the Turks might be expected any time; the glare showed us up very clearly to Asia, and why they didn't shell us is a mystery still; then the magazine fuse had been lit and was due to blow up any minute. As we let loose the wind caught us, and for some moments we drifted back towards the shore and straight to where the magazine was, within 50 yards of the beach. For some seconds we thought all was up, but the skipper succeeded in getting the nose of the lighter into the wind again just in time, and we began to make way safely out to sea." (Lieutenant P. M. Campbell of the Ayrshire Yeomanry)

O'Dowda was aboard the lighter and had got only 200 yards from the beach when the ammunition had blew up in a shattering explosion. 

"We had not gone 200 yards from the jetty when the expected terrific explosion nearly blew us out of the water. Thousands of tons of debris, rock, shell cases, bits of limber wheels, and other oddments hurtled over our heads. I could never understand how we escaped injury. The men had been battened down in the hold of the lighter and were safe, but the few of us who were on deck escaped I imagine because we were within the cone of the explosion i.e. the mass of stuff fell all round us like the outside of an open umbrella. At the same time the beach was lighted up as if for a Carnival, and would have delighted Mr Brock of fireworks fame. It truly was a magnificent sight. But the very last man left at Helles seems to have been Lieutenant Ronald Langton-Jones of the Royal Navy. He had been detached with two seamen on to the sunken hulk which was only connected by a flimsy pontoon bridge to the W Beach with the duty of making fast the destroyers from which many of the men would embark. Now he was trapped."

"In, the early hours of the morning, the frail bridge connecting us with the shore broke away. However, I managed to get a hurried despatch through to Captain Staveley, advising him of the situation, and he was able to divert in time the few remaining troops due to pass through the hulk. When the evacuation was completed, he passed by the end of the hulk in his picket boat, and shouted above the now howling gale that he would send in a destroyer to rescue us. The main magazine by that time had exploded and blown sky-high the cliff, forming it into a gully. Stores and dumps were burning furiously, and the Turks were really excited. As we stood in the dawn watching and waiting a piece of shrapnel tore off my left shoulder-strap and knocked yet another hole in the hulk's funnel. Just as daylight was breaking HMS Fury arrived, and, by a superb feat of seamanship, turned his ship short round on a lee shore and shoved her bows close into the hulk and held her with a bow line. Willing hands then threw us ropes and hauled us on board over her forecastle, one at a time. I was the last man." (Lieutenant Ronald Langton-Jones, Royal Navy)

He was taken off at about 04.30 in the morning. Shortly afterwards, as the rescuing Fury moved away with a smattering of Turkish shrapnel as a last goodbye, the British warships responded in kind, plastering the slopes of Achi Baba with mottled layer of shell bursts and spurts of flame in one last bombardment as a gesture of defiance. 

The Allies had tried hard to destroy their accumulated stores but much remained for the delectation of the Turks as witnessed by General Otto Liman von Sanders.

"The booty was extraordinary. Wagon parks, automobile parks, mountains of arms, ammunition and entrenching tools were collected. Here too most of the tent camps and barracks had been left standing, in part with all of their equipment. Many hundreds of horses lay in rows, shot or poisoned, but quite a number of horses and mules were captured and turned over to the Turkish artillery. Here as at the other fronts the stacks of flour and subsistence had some acid solution poured over them to render them unfit for our use. In the next few days the hostile ships made vain attempts to set the stacks and the former British tent camps and barracks on fire. It took nearly two years to clean up the grounds. The immense booty of war material was used for other Turkish armies. Many ship loads of conserves, flour and wood were removed to Constantinople. What the ragged and insufficiently nourished Turkish soldiers took away, cannot be estimated. I tried to stop plundering by a dense line of sentinels but the endeavour was in vain." (O. L. von Sanders, Five Years in Turkey (Nashville, Tennessee: The Battery Press, 2000), p.103)

Photograph: Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude, GOC 13th Division, Helles

HELLES EVACUATION - So who was the last man out? There have been several accounts published in past Gallipolian journals about the evacuation and the ‘the last man out’. This story of the last-minute departure of Major General Sir Stanley Maude (GOC 13th Division) is well known, but the following account was from someone who was there.

The following letter was sent to the regimental journal of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in April 1935 by Lt. Col. Edward Stretch DSO, DCM, MSM who laid claim to being the first NCO into Kimberley and the last man out of Gallipoli. In it he details a report that Major General Sir Stanley Maude was the last man off and then follows this with his own claim to that distinction (although he does appear to qualify it slightly):

"Dear Sir
Enclosed is a cutting from a local paper, ‘Last to leave Gallipoli’. Commander R.Langton Jones in a recent letter to The Sunday Times claimed to be the last to leave the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula. ‘Whilst not wishing to contest his claim to be the last to leave the shores, I think,’ writes rtd Lt-Col W.N.S.Alexander to that journal, ‘the last man to step off the beach was either the late Gen. Sir Stanley Maude, the then GOC 13th Div or one of the small party with him’. 

This is what happened to make the general so late that he nearly missed the last lighter to leave the shore. Two lighters were provided to take off the rearguard of the 13th Div from Gully Beach in the rear of a section of the line it was holding, but owing to the heavy seas, one lighter ran ashore. 650 men were crammed in the remaining lighter which got away all right and discharged them on a transport, but the General, some members of the staff of the Division and 150 officers and men still remained at Gully Beach.

Under instructions from W Beach we left at about 4.30 am to embark in two lighters which were still there, the General with two of his staff going by the road over the cliff. The 150 officers and men and myself moving along by the shore, which was considered further. When my party had reached W Beach, the General had not turned up there, the two lighters were therefore kept alongside the jetty to wait for him and everyone embarked in the lighter which was ready to cast off at a moment’s notice. We waited there perhaps half an hour, our surroundings brightly lit up by the burning dump on the cliff above and we wondered whether the General or the Turks would arrive first and what would happen when the main magazine just over our heads went up. Just before it did so, plunging us into the darkness and hauling “jam pots” all around us, I saw some people run down the beach and embark on the lighter which was inshore of us. 

These were Sir Stanley Maude and his party who had been unable to find a gap in the wire until luckily a demolition party came along who showed them the way through. We lost no time in getting off. The other lighter, more lucky than we were, soon found accommodation on a transport.

All our requests to be taken on board met with a blank refusal and an invitation to go to “Helles” so that there was nothing for it but to push off in the gale to Imbros where thanks to our “Captain” we arrived safely, though we narrowly missed being carried by the wind back to the Gallipoli Peninsula.’

As nothing appears in the History you so kindly sent me, it is only fair for me to let you know that the 8th RWF were the last troops to leave Gallipoli. We were holding the line at the top of the gully which is about 4? miles from Gully Beach and we were supposed to arrive there at about 2.30 am. There lighters would be waiting to take us off but when we arrived, the lighters were not available and we were therefore forced to proceed to W Beach.

It was the wire that our troops had put down which delayed us so much as we had to cut our way through and then relay again so as to delay “Johnny Turk” in case he was coming up behind us and by the time we had arrived at W Beach it was getting towards daylight. We had heard the explosion of the dump and were getting “the wind up” thinking that we would be left on the peninsula. However, it was a great relief to discover a lighter still there and as it was a case of devil (or the Turks) take the hindmost, it would be difficult to say who was actually the last person to leave, but I can definitely say that the 8th RWF were the last troops to leave.

Kind regards, Paddy Stretch"

Editor’s Note (Foster Summerson): Without wishing to be seen to endorse any claim, I think this contribution might be a suitable point to conclude the interesting round of correspondence about who was ‘The Last Man Out’.

Readers might like to know that this is not the first time the issue has been discussed in The Gallipolian. In Autumn 1970 (Issue No. 3), a veteran member Major Colin Avery, formerly a Sergeant in the Plymouth Bn. RMLI, recalled that he received orders to retire just after 1.00am on 9 January and boarded HMS Grasshopper from the River Clyde around 2.00am. He does, however, note that when they were on board, they heard explosions as sappers blew up all they could on the beach. Another veteran member, T H Edmunds formerly RE (Signals) wrote in issue No. 9 (Autumn 1972) that he had been ordered by Major Crocker (O/C Signals Office) to send a message to 9th Corps HQ (which had been transferred to a ship in Suvla Bay) reporting that the evacuation from Suvla was complete, and that he ‘... arrived at the landing stage just after the last lighter was pushing off, and that with the possible exception of two naval ratings he had the distinction of being the last to leave Suvla insofar as he could ascertain. In the same issue, Commander H S Ewart wrote saying that he believed he had been the last to leave Anzac. Perhaps the last word should go to another veteran George Dale of the RFA, whose letter appeared in issue No. 22 (Winter 1976). Mr Dale said he had once met ‘a baggyeyed humbug’ who claimed to have been the last off at Suvla and was then sent to Helles, where he was again last off. Mr Dale commented that in his view there should be an election, raffle or even a free-for-all to choose the ‘Lasties’ from the three evacuations, and that those selected ‘... should be hallmarked with ‘LAST MAN’ tattooed on each manly chest!’

OTHER SOURCES: 

S. Maude quoted in Sir C E Callwell, "Life of Sir Stanley Maude", (London: Constable, 1920), p184
J. P. Campbell "Letters from Gallipoli", pp.96-97 & O'Dowda, lecture notes pp.15-16.
IWM DOCS: R. Langton-Jones, Sunday Times, Letter; R. Langton Jones Collection
O. L. von Sanders, "Five Years in Turkey" (Nashville, Tennessee: The Battery Press, 2000), p.103

SOURCE:
O. W. Steele, Edited by D. R. Facey-Crowther, "Lieutenant Owen William Steele of the Newfoundland Regiment"(Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002), p.123-124