Disappointment over Suvla Bay report


The long-expected despatch from Sir Ian Hamilton [Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force] on the Suvla Bay operations has now come to the light of day. Natural disappointment will be felt locally that the references to the 54th Division, which contained the 1/5th Bedfords, are only slight, but there has been quite enough evidence forthcoming that the Territorials from Bedfordshire did wonders in that glorious failure, and merit inclusion in the generous tributes Sir Ian Hamilton pays to the men.

The despatch will probably prove a historic document not only for its intrinsic value, but from its happy choice of words and metaphor. There is poetic beauty to be found in many inspired lines, such as: "Nothing more trying to inexperienced troops can be imagined than a long night march exposed to flanking fire, through a strange country, winding up at the end with a bayonet charge against a height, formless and still in the starlight, garrisoned by those spectres of the imagination, the worst enemies of the soldier."

The 54th Division (infantry only) arrived and were disembarked on August 11th and placed in reserve, says Sir Ian Hamilton.

"On the following day - August 12th - I proposed that the 54th Division should make a night march in order to attack at dawn on the 13th the heights of Kavak Tepe-Teke Tepe. The corps commander having reason to believe the enclosed country about Kuchuk Anafarta Ova, and the north of it, was held by the enemy, ordered one brigade to to move forward in advance and make good Kuchuk Anafarta Ova so as to ensure an unopposed march for the remainder of the division as far as that place. So that afternoon the 163rd Brigade moved off and, in spite of serious opposition, established itself in difficult and enclosed country."

Immediately after this reference to the 54th Division comes one of the most remarkable passages in the report. Even the skilled pen of a novelist could not improve upon the words, and, although the incident had happily nothing to do with out own boys from Bedfordshire, it is well worth reproducing.

"In the course of the fight, creditable in all respects to the 163rd Brigade, there happened a very mysterious thing. The 1/5th Norfolks were on the right of the line and found themselves for a moment less strongly opposed than the rest of the brigade. Against the yielding forces of the enemy, Colonel Sir H. Beauchamp, a bold, self-confident officer, eagerly pressed forward, followed by the best part of the battalion.

"The fighting grew hotter and the ground became more wooded and broken. At this stage many men were wounded or grew exhausted with thirst. These found their way back to camp during the night. But the Colonel, with 16 officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before him. Nothing more was ever seen or heard of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight or sound. Not one of them ever came back."

[The Bedfordshire Advertiser: Friday, January 14th, 1916]