Piecing together the Gallipoli story


As Secretary of the South Beds Recruiting Committee Harry Inwards had built up many contacts within the 5th Bedfordshires who collectively helped him build up a picture of events in Gallipoli from the battlefield. He later compiled his own letter to the Press (below), bringing together details he had received of "that portion of the battle which took place on the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th August, in which the gallant lads of the 1/5th Bedfordshire Battalion bore so arduous and so glorious a part".

The Battalion, after leaving Alexandria - which was only touched for the purpose of landing reserves of about 170 men - sailed across the Mediterranean, and were landed "somewhere" on the Gallipoli Peninsular.

In the words of one of my informants, "they fell right into it straight away" for, in fact, the Bedford lads found there was not much in distance between them and the enemy. On the shores while landing, and on the beach when camped, they had to reckon with the fact that the Turks had found the artillery distance and dropped shells into the men struggling with their impediments during various times of the day. Although the shell fire was accurately distanced and timed, the damage done was extraordinarily small, and I may say this has continued to be - at all events up to the middle of September - the experience of our Regiment.

As soon as the stores were landed, all hands were set on to dig themselves in in trenches, and during this necessary operation the enemy opened a long range musketry fire, accompanied at intervals with shrapnel. This "baptism of fire" to lads who had never been under fire before - all of them only a few months before sitting calmly in offices, working at the bench or steadily engaged on some agricultural work - must have been a distinct nerve-shaker, and yet an eyewitness assures me "it was perfectly wonderful to see the men going on coolly with their digging, just as if they had been at home".

It was during these first few days that the Regiment experienced its first casualties. Among them was Lieut Chaundler, of Biggleswade, but so steady was the discipline that, although wounded, he just sat down and went on directing his platoon until it was insisted upon that he should retire to the rear.

As an example, however, of the enemy's shell firing it may here be mentioned that while Lieut-Col Brighten was supervising and assisting the men during these entrenching operations no fewer than three shells burst within a few feet of him, but beyond being covered by a shower of dust, no harm was done. The 1/5th Bedfords, both officers and men, began to think that the Turkish ammunition was poor stuff, and nothing whatever to make any bother about.

On Sunday, the 15th, the Battalion was ordered into action. The general position of the Brigade cannot, of course, be given here for obvious reasons, but the 1/5th had to act as a flank guard to a division which was making a push to straighten out the line. The Regiment was given the post of honour in the van of the Brigade.

'B' Company, under the command of Capt Baker, son of the Rector of Dunstable, was put on the right flank of the regiment to keep in touch with the other troops. 'A' Company, under the command of Capt Brian Cumberland, son of Mr Hugh Cumberland of Luton, was echeloned back a little on

the dangerous flank that had to be most carefully watched, and the Machine Gun Section, under Lieut Shoosmith, was detailed to support 'A' Company.

The Regiment at the time of the attack was short of, besides those left at Alexandria, one platoon of men and one Machine Gun Section, both of which had to be left to garrison the trenches the Regiment had been digging. Lieut Woodhouse was in charge of that party.

The Regimental Headquarters Section followed the two leading Companies, and the reserves Companies, 'C' and 'D' under Captains Meakin and Forrest respectively, were close behind. The following diagram will give some idea of the disposition of the Battalion.

Very soon an urgent message was delivered saying that the hill in front was very strongly held, and then the Battalion "went for it!" 'C' Company was thrown forward, and with 'A' and 'B' Companies were at once very hotly engaged in the attempt to clear the hill, and it was not long before 'D' Company had to be thrust onwards to support the charge. This weight of brave, intrepid, well-disciplined men soon took the first hill, but the next proved a much more difficult proposition.

The nature of the country in Gallipoli is such that an exact account of what subsequently happened is impossible. The small, precipitous hills, the immense boulders of rock and the her and there tangled thickets of scrub - the two latter features naturally taken all possible advantage of for cover - make an observer's chances very small, and it is only from piecing together various accounts from all quarters that any cohesive idea can be formed as to the "carry on" of the movement.

These obstacles, in themselves formidable enough against observation, were aided by the fact that at the assault on the second hill the tide of battle seemed to run off very much from the region of the Bedfords' Headquarters, and it became very difficult to keep in touch with the various units. The Adjutants, Capt Younghusband and Major Hill, were here of the greatest assistance to Lieut-Col Brighten, and hurried from place to place under fire to get the direction of attack changed, and to keep the four companies in touch with each other. They must have borne charmed lives. How they got through with a scratch is impossible to explain, unless it be on the ground that their extremely rapid movements were a protection.

When once more the Battalion were in touch and moved onward it came suddenly into a zone swept by an enfilade of shrapnel fire, and this was found to be of first-class order - nothing similar to the miserable stuff that had been expended during the landing and entrenching. This enfilade had evidently been carefully prepared, as the enemy's infantry immediately cleared off the slopes of the hill, leaving the operations to the artillery.

Shell after shell fell into the devoted Bedfords. Some dropped on top of the Headquarters Section, and the place became a shambles. Lieut Ballance, of Dunstable - Lieut-Col Brighten's signal officer - was wounded at this period, and Lieut Hunter passed by the section, being taken to the rear with a shrapnel foot. All the wounded men seemed to crawl to headquarters, and for some time came so thickly one could hardly move.

This was a time to rack the nerves of any officer. Men who had passed through previous campaigns, with nerves of steel, might view such a sight with calmness, but our boys, at this first sight of the effects of modern warfare, might have been excused had their steadiness deserted them.

But what really happened? Instead of their shrinking, the sight braced up their strength. With loving regard for the wounded they knew that the best way to protect them was to keep the line whole and preserve the ground which they had taken. Once more the units of the Battalion were brought into touch, casualties were sorted out, and the attack was continued.

About this time news came to the Headquarters Section that the Brigadier-General, General C. de Winton, had been wounded. This very gallant and Christian gentleman had endeared himself to every officer and man in the Brigade, and although he and some of his staff officers were wounded, he, remembering the straits of the 1/5th Bedfords, ordered up two battalions to help them.

The day was now waning, and the work was not done, but the attack carried the Bedfords to the crest of the second hill, where both musketry and machine gun firing was terrific.

Capt Baker, although suffering from a shattered arm, went on at the head of his Company until he fell, shot again. Capt Gerald Lydekker, of Harpenden, was also killed in this assault, and - here I will quote one of my informants - "Cumberland called on his Company for the last charge up the crest, and in the act of waving them on was shot through the head. Lieut Ralph Brighten (the brother of Col Brighten), who led No 1 Platoon of 'A' Company, which was poor Cumberland's show platoon, being close to him, was shot almost at the same time. Lieut Rising (who has since been reported 'wounded and missing') was not noticed after this charge, and he has never been found, and it is believed, too, that he is killed".

What a glorious charge! But what a price to pay, for this list of officers did not exhaust the casualties. Lieut James (Mrs Brighten's brother) was wounded very early in the action, being shot in the calf of the leg, but was able to hobble back by himself during the night which followed. The leader of 'C' Company, which had supported 'B' Company in the attack, Capt Meakin was, it is believed, killed at this time. To quote the words of a comrade: "I am told he was hit, but the man who saw it was hit himself later on. We never found him either, although I personally spent nights of searching."

Lieut Day was also wounded badly in the head, but, like the rest of the cheerful Bedfords, made very light of it. Lieuts Chirnside and Yarde were hit about this time too, but went on, not only during the remainder of the attack, but also through the night and te next day and night, until relieved.

Although one records these facts with sorrow, yet one is bound to feel pride in conduct like this. These two young officers, when night fell, found that "their Company was in for another twenty-four hours shift, and they insisted on stopping - brave lads both of them" - this sentence is also a quotation - and it was not until Tuesday night, when they were seen by the doctor, that they could be induced to leave, to be packed off to hospital.

'D' Company had, during the attack, supported 'A' Company and, being the last reserve until to be brought up, had fared a little better, although they had been badly marked. Capt Forrest opened an old wound early in the day, and his junior, Capt Andreini, well know to all Luton straw traders, got a touch of sunstroke. Apart from these, the casualties were all in the rank and file.

I must here quote another communication that is also relative to the fight of the 15th - "Shoosmith bore a charmed life that day. Practically all his NCOs and men were knocked out, and he was left with only one man to fight his gun, which he did with the utmost gallantry, and he simply swept the ground in front of out advance and cleared the way for them".

During the above-mentioned single handling of the gun, Major Hill, seeing it was a very pressing moment and fearing the worst, went up to Lieut Shoosmith, the son of Mr Frank Shoosmith, of Luton, and asked him who was fighting the gun if he got knocked out.

"No one else knows enough about it up here, your section is gone, you had better show me how to do it," suggested Major Hill.

The answer was: "Oh, you just pull this and press that - it's quite simple!" And all the time this was going on Lieut Shoosmith was letting the gun "rip" into the Turks for all he was worth.

Night fell just as the summit was won, and found the remnants of three battalkions in a very mixed up condition around the top of the hill. Although desperately weary, the men had to set to to entrench themselves and hold the line in a fairly straightened manner.

Adjt and Capt Younghusband ran around and collected all the "bits" of platoons left, and made some sort of a line, and Major Hill took charge of the advanced units. The headquarters were established in a small way in a fold of the ground about 50 yards behind the line, and there men were collected and organised for fatigue parties which went back and brought up, first of all, tools and sandbags and barbed wire, then food and water. Owing the circumstances there was that night none too much of either of the latter articles of convoy.

While this was being done by some sections, others were collecting the wounded and taking them to the Headquarters Section, where they awaited the Field Ambulance which, during the night, managed to get them all away.

At dawn on Monday, August 16th, more entrenchments had to be made, and the headquarters were then fixed up in a sort of natural ditch or gully that the Colonel had said he "had had his eye on," and then the Section set out to work to dig and fortify it partly as headquarters and partly as a support trench. A telephone wire was also run out and Brigade headquarters brought into touch.

These operations were conducted with the utmost rapidity, for one knew that at the first possible power of light the enemy would start shelling the position. The forecast was correct, and soon shrapnel shells were bursting all around.

This fire went on all day in the endeavour of the Turks to get the Bedfords out, but they were far too snugly esconced and far too wary and brave to lose what they had gained at such a cost.

During the day Lieut Rawlins, seeing a wounded Bedford man lying in front, left the trenches to bring him in. While engaged in this merciful errand he himself was wounded, and had to be brought in after a time by another brave man - Pte Bell, who had since been promoted to Coy-Quartermaster-Sgt. Again during this day Lieut Shoosmith held things together with his gun, and any movement of the Turks towards the Bedford lines was met by him at once.

The night of the Monday was comparatively peaceful, and men of the Battalion have told me how thankful they were for the nights of calm. "The days were too long and the nights all too short," writes one wearied officer.

But even the nights were not all rest. They were taken up with digging and reorganisation, and on Monday night the first proper reorganisation of the Battalion took place. The Companies were arranged into a Battalion frontage, and 'A' and 'B' Companies were withdrawn from the first line and set to work to make some reserve trenches a little behind the headquarters. During the night, too, all the gallant dead were reverently collected, and their living comrades in arms lovingly laid them to rest.

On Tuesday night 'A' and 'B' Companies were put back in the trenches, and 'C' and 'D' Companies were taken out for 24 hours. This operation was repeated as each day went on, and gradually the Battalion got more comfortable. More troops also were sent up to the front, and this went on until Friday, the 20th, when another forward movement was undertaken in another part of the line, but which, of course, had to be supported with fire from the 1/5th Bedfords.

Naturally this drew fire in return, and it was during such a comparative calm that Lieut Shootsmith got hit and was killed. It is said that he was walking from one part of the trench to another when, by his height, his head was exposed, and a bullet struck him. I have it on the best of evidence that on learning of his death Col Brighten exclaimed that he had "lost a tower of strength".

On the Sunday following more fresh troops came up during the night, and the Bedfords were relieved and sent down to their old camp where, in the pure luxury of relief, they could bathe in the sea and bask in the sun to their hearts' content. They loved the bathing, but they were quite prepared to do with a little less sun, and the beach presented a most eccentric appearance, for wherever they could be installed, blankets were stretched to make some kind of sunshade.

About this time Capt Maier, of Luton, had been feeling seedy with dysentery and had to go to the hospital, and on the Sunday the reserve left at Alexandria, under Capt Smythe and Lieut Hobbs, was landed as reinforcements.

May I here again quote from another letter I have received: " After that we had a day or two's rest, or, at least, what is called a rest out here - there's always a number of fatigues to be done, and always shell fire to dodge. We were then sent into another part of the line, where we are now and where we spend six days in the trenches and six out. When we are out we get back a little behind the line, still under rifle fire, and we then find digging parties - every man doing six hours a day in addition to his ordinary battalion routine - to work up in the trenches and on the communications behind."

Adjt Younghusband was next day seriously wounded in the knee, but fortunately not very seriously, Lieut Woodhouse was slightly wounded in the arm, and Capt Smythe was shot in the head and never recovered consciousness, but died next morning.

And so the toll of the Empire goes on, not a man of them that was not willing to lay down his life for his country and King, every lad dying or living a gallant hero. Among such a number of brave men it is almost invidious to mention special ones, but as a true chronicler of these heroic days it is only right that the rank and file who distinguished themselves should be known, although it must at once be said that in a Battalion where all fought like heroes the following are only quoted as entirely typical of all.

Privates C. Plummer and J. Bonner, both of the Machine Gun Section, moved fearlessly under heavy rifle fire and shrapnel fire, bringing up ammunition and carrying the gun from position to position.

Private F. King, under heavy fire. after all officers and NCOs in his neighbourhood were hit, organised and led party of about 20 men.

L-Sgt A. Payne, after his officers and senior NCOs had been wounded, aassumed command of two Platoons and led them with great gallantry. In this he was backed and materially assisted by his brother, Cpl N. Payne.

Pte R. Bell (since promoted, as mentioned earlier) showed great determination during the attack on the 15th August, and on the next day went about 200 yards in front of the trenches and dressed the wounds of Lieut Rawlins, and brought him in. On the next day he went out and made a reconnaissance of the Turkish trenches.

Pte H. Bryant organised and led a party of about 30 men up the hill, although himself wounded in the knee, and went on until he was again hit, and had to stop.

L-Cpl S. Redman showed great pluck and coolness. He was given a message by the Brigadier which he carried to Col Brighten under fire. His eyesight was affected by the bursting of a shrapnel shell, but he continued in the fighting line for six days more.

I could quote dozens, aye hundreds, of such reports, but the few examples given, I am sure, will suffice. The relatives and friends of many I have not mentioned must not think their hero is unknown. It is only time and space that forbid.

I have said little about the actual doings of Lieut-Col Brighten. As a personal friend, I shrink from saying much - he knows my opinions of him - but I cannot close this letter without asking if there is anyone in Bedfordshire who does not feel his blood course more rapidly through his body when he thinks of what Col Brighten has gone through, the handling of his gallant Battalion, the successful attack and, last but least, his calm fortitude when around him his brother, his brother-in-law and the sons of some of his dearest friends were falling.

As his friend and one who, as Secretary to the Recruiting Committee, has tried to "do his bit" I am convinced that the best way to show the county's appreciation of her brave sons is to send such a supply of officers and men as shall enable the 1/5th Bedfordshire Battalion to maintain the reputation it has achieved.

I will finish by quoting part of a letter sent to me by Col Brighten: "We never forget that we belong to the Bedfordshire Regiment, and that has carried us through everything so far. But let it not be forgotten that the best you can give us is officers and men, and your best is only due to those who have fallen, to those who are in pain or wounded, and to those of us who are left carrying on."

Is it possible that this voice from the field of battle can be heard unheeded by any Bedfordshire lad? Is it possible that there are any men who fight shy of the hardships and possible wounds and death?

Unfortunately there are, and they are known. I would sadly say to them - can you bear to think of other men fighting for you, and you stay at home at ease? I would remind them that there are worse pains to bear than hardships, and they are the everlasting regret and remorse that they betrayed their country in their country's need.



Hart Hill, Luton.

[The Luton Reporter: Monday, October 11th, 1915]