Mixed first impressions of Gallipoli


Even before the 5th Bedfords landed at Gallipoli, Luton was represented there by men of the East Anglian Royal Engineers, some attached to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

From one of them, Sapper F. C. Croft, the Luton News received a rather upbeat letter supported by six comrades. But from wounded Pte T. Deller, 3534, 1st Battalion Essex Regiment, in an Egyptian hospital came a letter giving a very different picture and revealing some of the horrors that were to come in Gallipoli.

Sapper Croft wrote: "The undersigned are attached to the R.E. Signal Service platoon, and the majority of our Company are Liverpool fellows. However, during November last the East Anglian Engineers' headquarters at Luton were recruiting in order raise the Western Army to its full strength.

About 50 Lutonians joined originally, but during our training we were split up, and when the Corps headquarters, composed of about 70 NCOs and men, left for Egypt during March there were only about half a dozen Luton fellows among us. Whilst in Egypt we were attached to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, so our Company now comprises the Signal Office staff for the above Corps.

"We were landed at the commencement of hostilities on the Peninsular, and, needless to say, have had some exciting times. One of us, a Dunstable lad, has been wounded by shrapnel and, I understand, been invalided home.

"We are having a good time here and, were it not for the risk and danger, we could almost imagine we were on holiday. The scenery is splendid and, being stationed on the seashore under a warm sun, we cannot complain about much. There are splendid facilities for bathing here and almost everyone takes advantage of it, during which time the beach almost resembles a seaside resort in August, until the enemy begins shelling, when everyone vanishes.

"As far as we know everything seems to be progressing favourably here. As you know, we are not allowed to say too much, but we are hoping and expecting that we shall be back in England before long."

The letter was also signed by Sapper J. Hyde, Sapper A. Warner, Sapper C. Sivil, Sapper A. Bird, Sapper F. Clarke and Driver P. Hawkins.

Pte Deller wrote his letter from No 2 Australian Hospital in Cairo, where he was lying wounded. He wrote: "I should like the Luton boys to know how it is up the Gallipoli Peninsular.

"We started from the base for the Dardanelles on April 24th, and before daybreak on the 25th we stood and watched the bombardment which lasted till about 1 pm. It was a splendid sight and when the "Lizzie" (HMS Queen Elizabeth) started, she made things hum a bit. Fort after fort went down till we arrived at the landing places. It was supposed to be impossible to land troops there, but we had to do it.

"The L.F. were first to land, followed by the Essex. They started us off in small boats and we were nearly all hit before we could get out of the boats. The barbed wire entanglements up the cliff were wicked, and how anyone got up alive was a miracle. They must have had 50 machine guns turned on us and the poor fellows went down like flies, but we hung on like grim death, and we had to shift them with the bayonet.

"We gained about a mile in the first fight and every inch was well fought, for we were in the trenches 18 days without a relief and we dare not think of sleep. I don't believe one man had eight hours sleep in those 18 days, unless we stood up and had it.

"There are not many of us left now from among those who first landed, but they have all 'done their bit'. One fellow was digging his mate's grave the other day, and he was shot dead himself, and he therefore had dug his own grave.

"We cannot do a bayonet charge without being met by a shower of hand grenades, and if one hits you, well you are not worth sweeping up. But we have got them on the run now.

"Last Sunday was a terrible slaughter. The Turks went down in hundreds. It started about 2 am and lasted all day. I quite enjoyed the sport till I got hit.

"The bullet went in just below my ear, went round my skull and out at the back of my neck, so I expect to be in hospital for a week or two. But I am satisfied to get away with my life as things were that day."

A separate story said the first mention of the Bedfords in the Dardanelles was made in the casualty lists on Tuesday, June 28th, when it was reported that Lieut W. A. Leland, 10th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, had been killed while serving in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

[The Luton News, July 1st, 1915]