28 June 1915
HELLES - THE BATTLE OF GULLY RAVINE - Although the attack on 28 June was a success on Gully Spur and at the Boomerang, it was a very different story for the 156th Brigade facing the H12 trench line on Fir Tree Spur. The fate of one battalion reveals the scope of the tragedy as they charged forward without adequate artillery preparation or support. Major James Findlay, 1/8th Scottish Rifles, 156th Brigade, 52nd Division, had only taken command of the 1/8th Scottish Rifles a week before, but now he had the responsibility of leading his inexperienced battalion into action on the right of the brigade front.
Photograph: Officers of 1/8th Scottish Rifles - 25 out of 26 would become casualties in the battle.
"I do not think that many of us got much sleep - I know that to me the night was slow in passing - but dawn came at last, cool and beautiful, with a hint of the coming heat, and the dried-up sparse scrub had been freshened by the night's dewfall. One was impressed by the good heart of all ranks, but, whether it was premonition or merely the strain of newly acquired responsibility, I could not feel the buoyancy of anticipated success. I remember going round the line in the early morning and finding that there was some difficulty about the planks which the support and reserve companies had to put across the front trenches to facilitate passage, but these eventually arrived in time. The artillery bombardment which took place from 09.00 to 11.00 was, even to a mind then inexperienced in a real bombardment, quite too futile, but it drew down upon us, naturally, a retaliatory shelling. How slowly these minutes from 10.55 to 11.00 passed! Centuries of time seemed to go by. One became conscious of saying the silliest things, all the while painfully thinking, "It may be the last time I shall see these fellows alive!" Prompt at 11.00 the whistles blew."
Over the top went his men, to be met by a deadly stream of fire from all sides. Findlay soon realised that the attack was breaking down in No Man's Land. He sent back to brigade for reinforcements and moved forward up a sap with his Adjutant, Captain Charles Bramwell, and his Signal Officer, Lieutenant Tom Stout, to try and establish a forward headquarters. They did not get far; rank was no defence against bullets.
"Bramwell and I then pushed our way up the sap, which for a short distance concealed us, but got shallower as we went along, until first our heads, then our shoulders, and then the most of our bodies were exposed. We soon arrived at Pattison's bombing party, which I had sent up this sap. He had been killed, and those of his men that were left were lying flat; they could not get on as the sap rose a few yards in front of them to the ground-level, and the leading man was lying in only about 18 inches of cover. In any case they were still some 50 yards from the enemy trenches. Bullets were spattering all around us, and we seemed to bear charmed lives, until just as we arrived at the rear of this party Bramwell fell at my side, shot through the mouth. He said not a word, and I am glad to think that he was killed outright . I made up my mind that the only thing to be done was to collect what men there were and make a dash for it. I told this to Stout, and stooping down to pick up a rifle I was shot in the neck. At the moment I didn't feel much, but when I saw the blood spurt forward I supposed that it had got my jugular vein. I stuck a handkerchief round my neck and tried to get on, but I was bowled over by a hit in the shoulder. I tumbled back over some poor devil, and for a minute or two tried to collect myself. Up came young Stout and said, "I am going to try to carry you back, Sir!" but I wouldn't let him"
It was obvious to everyone around him that his wounds were serious, but Findlay was obsessed with the idea that he had to establish his forward headquarters and co-ordinate the next stage of the attack. In the end Lieutenant Tom Stout simply ignored him.
"I told Stout to send another runner for reinforcements. A few minutes later he came back and took me by the shoulders and some other good fellow lifted me by the feet, and together they got me back some 10 yards, and though a bullet got me in the flesh of the thigh, I was now comparatively sheltered while they were still exposed. It was then that a splinter of shell blew off Tommy Stout's head, and the other man was hit simultaneously. Gallant lads! God rest them!"
Findlay lay there, out of immediate danger but hardly safe.
"It was insufferably hot, and I recollect having a drink of water, and giving one to a boy called Reid, who lay mortally wounded alongside me. We all remained lying there in that sap, sometimes conscious, sometimes blessedly unconscious. The heat as we lay there was appalling, but things were gradually getting quieter; what we longed for was coolness. Reid, poor lad, was by this time in agony, he had been shot in the stomach, and all I could do for him was to give him a little more water. The day wore on into the interminable night, broken by he moans and agonizing cries of the wounded and dying, till dawn came coolly and quietly. In a moment of consciousness, I realized I was looking at a Turk who had appeared round a corner of the sap. We gazed at each other, and he went away. One of my own poor fellows was lying dead alongside of me. The Turk returned and again looked at me, and again disappeared. A second afterwards I saw a bomb hurtling through the air - it seemed to be coming straight for me, and with a great fear in my heart I managed to pull myself up, my knees to my chin, and my left arm cuddled round them. The bomb landed at my feet, and bursting, bespattered my left leg and arm and portions of my thighs. It seemed, however, to galvanize me into action, and another bomb coming over, I managed to roll over on to the other side of the dead lad and all its charge lodged in him. Somehow I then succeeded in getting to my feet and staggered back down the sap for a few yards over the shambles of dead bodies lying there, until I fell down. Another bomb came over, landing short, and I got up again and got farther back down the trench."
Findlay finally managed to stagger back to the lines. By then he was in a dreadful state: either very lucky or unlucky depending on one's viewpoint, having suffered some seven major wounds as well as a liberal sprinkling of minor scrapes from bomb fragments. His battalion had suffered over 400 casualties and 25 of the 26 officers had been hit. All in all the attack of 156th Brigade was a massacre with nothing achieved but a few insignificant gains on the left. Although more attempts to advance were ordered during the day they achieved nothing but further slaughter.
1. Second Lieutenant Robert Pattison. No Known grave.
2. Captain Charles Bramwell. No Known Grave.
3. Lieutenant Thomas Stout. No Known Grave.
HELLES: THE BATTLE OF GULLY RAVINE
The opening bombardment for the Battle of Gully Ravine was about to begin, in an attack that was going to be hugely successful. Five lines of Turkish trenches would be captured in a mastermind of operational planning and execution.
Photograph: 460th Howitzer Battery, one of those supporting the attack on the Boomerang on 28th June 1915.
"At about 6.30 am the silence was broken by a peculiar loud whirring noise from behind and we observe a strange umbrella shaped object falling almost vertically from the air. It falls with a tremendous explosion on the "Boomerang" sending up a shower of earth accompanied by a dense cloud of black smoke. We learn that it is a kind of aerial torpedo which a French mortar battery is using to open the preliminary bombardment of the redoubt. They follow one another at about half minute intervals and before long it looks as though the occupants of the enemy redoubt are having a very rough time with it. This goes on for about an hour and a half and in the mean time there has been no return fire from the Turks. At 8 o' clock the mortar battery ceases fire and once more a strange silence falls over the place. Everything is so silent that one can hear the twittering of the birds as they flit about for all the world as though no such thing as war existed." (Sergeant Sydney Evans, 1st Battalion, Border Regiment, 29th Division)
The Boomerang Redoubt bombardment had began, with the first bombs from the French mortars falling on the redoubt with deadly accuracy. Petty Officer F. W. Johnston, a machine gunner, in the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division, RNAS recalls that the bombs
"Flight was easy to follow & was wonderfully fascinating. Reaching a height of, perhaps, two hundred feet and appearing to be directly overhead, it slowly turned over & still more slowly (it seemed) began to descend. It almost imperceptibly drew away from us and landed with a dull thud on the outer works of the Boomerang. A remarkable silence followed & then tons of earth, sections of entanglements, bodies, clothes and limbs were sent into the sky. A terrific explosion of unparalleled violence, causing the earth upon which we stood to tremble & spreading its pungent fumes, like a mist over everything & everyone, was the result. It's terrifying roar re-echoed along the ravine until drowned by the ships' guns at sea. Before the air was clear another torpedo was fired."
Evans continued his account:
"At 9.30 however the battery opens fire again and once more the huge projectiles fall in rapid succession on the redoubt. At 10 o' clock a furious bombardment of the whole Turkish line breaks out, everyone of our batteries joining in and within a few minutes we are in the midst of the most terrific bombardment that has yet been experienced on the Peninsula. Even the ships of the fleet join in and bombard the flank positions near the sea. The din is tremendous and we have to shout to our next neighbour to make ourselves heard."
At 10.40 the order went along the 1st Border Regiment's trench line to fix bayonets as the artillery barrage reached its crescendo.
"One further minute and the word 'Ready' is passed along. In that one minute we unconsciously take one look at the sun and the sea and involuntarily commend our bodies and souls to our Maker - and then before we realise - and then before we realise it a hoarse shout of 'Over' and we are up the ladders and racing like the wind for the redoubt about 200 yards distant."
The bombardment lifted off the Boomerang Redoubt at precisely 10:45, opening the way for the Borders to attack. Three open lines emerged from their trenches, bayonets fixed, advancing through the lingering dust cloud of the bombardment. The heavily fortified Boomerang Redoubt, along with almost a hundred dazed Turkish prisoners was quickly captured. Little return fire was given by the surprised defenders, and casualties were light.
This could not be said for other areas of the line, particular the attack by 156th Brigade."
J. M. Findlay, With the Eighth Scottish Rifles, 1914-1919 (London: Blackie & Son, 1926), pp.34-37, The full account by Sergeant Sydney Evans can be read in the The Gallipolian, No.46, pp.19-21