30 May 1915

HELLES - Lieutenant John Hugh Allen, 1st Essex Regiment, 88th Brigade, 29th Division - sent a letter home describing the stressful nature of trench life

"I had only finished my letter to you half an hour, when at the least expected time of the day the Turks attacked us. I was dozing off when a sentry in the next trench cried out: "Stand to!" In a second we were at the parapet, the men with their rifles, I with my revolver. Three hundred yards away on our half left was a line of Turks, mostly in kneeling fire positions. One I noted in particular with his short beard and long-looking rifle. I must have once seen a picture of something of the sort, for his appearance and position were curiously familiar to me. It was a relief to hear the rifles bang around one. The ##### regiment had a few men out on a small trench or dugout in advance of us. They retired when about 1,000 Turks appeared in front of them. Some were killed, others reached our trench. One soldier about seventeen years old reached my part of the trench. I have never seen a human being so overpowered by his feelings. He was beset by a mixture of terror, courage, exhaustion, and resolve. He wanted to stay in the dugout and beat the Turks off his own bat, but everyone had gone. Running back 200 yards, he fell, but by a miracle escaped being shot. I was observing the country in front with all the intensity I could, but I responded sufficiently to what he said. He begged for water. All the afternoon he could hardly pull the trigger of his rifle, but he never lost his gameness. You can't make soldiers of seventeen fight day after day and retain their efficiency. All that long afternoon I was supported, by his courage. Messages passed down the line. We were told people on our right were retiring, and then that the Manchesters had returned to their position: - Manchester! Do you remember years ago my writing and saying: "I hate Manchester?" I hasten to withdraw all that now! And then the Turks began to advance from the cover of a rise in single file. They didn't carry on long, for we killed them all. One officer in smart khaki drill and sun-helmet - the drill was the pattern of the sort I rejected as too conspicuous - advanced at an easy trot, as though he was catching a train. He came within a hundred yards of our trench, and then fell riddled with bullets. Respect him as a brave Turkish gentleman. I think he meant to take our trench with his walking-stick Possibly he meant to lead a charge, and the men failed to come. Things went well for us at first, for the Turks did not reach us, and failed to take our trench. Friendly big guns from men-of-war bombarded the enemy position. However, they entrenched themselves not far from us. I thought we should counter-charge them. If we had done it early I believe we should have driven them out, but as the afternoon waned the men became utterly exhausted. You see, they have had an unexampled strain. In France you have two days in the trenches and then a relief; our men had been here for twelve, and for the last three days we have been digging or fighting almost continuously. The rifle fire of the enemy is worse than in France; the shell-fire not so bad, and we have nothing like the comforts they have there - no parcels or letters or unshelled bases to retire to. We have no sleep to speak of, and our men are utterly done up."

His father was James Allen, the New Zealand Defence minister during the war.


J. H. Allen quoted by I. Montgomery, John Hugh Allen of the Gallant Company: A Memoir, (London, Edward Arnold, 1919), pp.213-215