Sailing into action at Gallipoli


Cpl W. H. Matthews, who went out with the 1/5th Bedfords and took part in the fighting in Gallipoli, had been invalided home in September 1915 and gave this account to the Luton Reporter newspaper of the landing and the regiment's first encounter with the Turks.

We sailed on August 26th. The first experience of seasickness was encountered in the Bay of Biscay, but that was only a temporary inconvenience and everyone was in the highest possible spirits. We saw little of Gibraltar, for we passed the famous sentinel rock on the night of August 2nd and arrived at Malta on the 3rd. The battalion spent a few hours at the Mediterranean fortress, and the soldiers were soon buying presents for their folk at home.

Proceeding on our voyage, which throughout was delightfully calm and enjoyable, we reached Alexandria on Friday, August 6th, and put into port, where we made preparations to get into fighting trim after unloading the transports and organising a base. A seven-mile route march round Alexandria, with band playing, afforded an interesting spectacle to the natives. The European part was very picturesque, and a sight of some Egyptian ladies with faces veiled greatly interested us."We left a few reserves behind, and then set sail for Gallipoli, the transport ship threading its way through a maze of small islands, rocks and volcanoes, some of the latter being in eruption. We stopped at the island of Lemnos on August 10th, but were soon signalled by the Naval Brigade to put to sea, and in an hour or two we had started on our final run to Gallipoli, where we arrived at midday.

We effected a landing at Suvla Bay from small flat-bottomed boats, densely crowded, and an exciting time we had, shells dropping all round, but, fortunately, there were no casualties in out battalion. Nevertheless, we were glad when we had secured a footing once more on dry land. We immediately settled down, not far from the coast, and in little groups proceeded to brew tea and partake of bully beef and biscuits. It was a crude meal, but we were in jovial spirits, and we thoroughly enjoyed this first meal on Turkish soil.

Then we moved farther inland, improvised a base, and bivouacked in the open, tying our blankets to bushes so as to form huts. We were having a fine time and enjoying the unique experience, and when an order arrived permitting bathing we were happier than ever. Scores of us were soon in the sea and, though the Turkish shells were dropping into the water, the first feeling of nervousness soon wore off, and we ceased to take notice of them.

For four days we stayed in the base camp, cooking and eating our meals when inclined, and bathing at will. On the 13th and 14th August we went trench digging, and were sniped at all the time, both going and coming back, but there was only one casualty on the first visit and three or four on the second.

On Sunday, August 15th, the morning before the battle, a service took place, one of the officers addressing the men. At 11.30 am a rumour was circulated that we were about to go into battle. We soon got definite orders to get dinner quickly, and bully beef and biscuit rations were made up for three days in case we should get no chance of procuring any more for a time.

At 12.30 we started into action, and a merrier lot you never set eyes upon. The spirit of the men was marvellous. The great guns of the battleships and our field guns, as we marched forward towards the enemy, opened fire to keep them quiet, and so our fellows, as the Turks at last replied, dodged here and there to cover, the same cheerful spirit prevailing, the irrepressible jokers of the regiment keeping up a regular fusilade of witticisms.

And so the advance went on, the shrapnel and rifle fire of the enemy becoming hotter and hotter, and casualties began to occur. For a mile and a half it went on like this, men dropping here and there, all the time we made bayonets fixed, as snipers were everywhere on the route, in concealment.

At last we came to the final stage, the order to charge with the bayonet rang out, and we dashed onward to the attack. The fire of the enemy was now causing great gaps in our ranks, but no man paused for an instant, and those left swept forward with irresistible impetuosity. There was no stopping our brave fellows then - London, Essex and Bedford regiments charged together, but our lads passed regiments on their right and left, and dashed to the lead, causing the line to form a crescent, and sweeping everything before them. Turks fell before the cold steel in hundreds, and those who survived turned and fled.

By this time darkness had set in, and the only thing to do was to hold the position we had taken, which we were ordered to do at all costs. It was a very thin line that settled for the night, and we were continually under shell fire, but the enemy did not dare a counter-attack by his infantry. Some of our men took shelter behind huge rocks and boulders, whilst those who get no cover proceeded to dig themselves in, and so hard did they work that by the time the next day dawned they had completed some very respectable trenches, especially when the conditions are taken into consideration.

The cover answered the purposes for that day, and the following night the position was consolidated, and the battle developed into trench fighting. So we kept up the fight until the following Friday, and during that time Lieut Shoosmith, in command of the Machine Gun Section, performed prodigies of valour. All his section were killed or wounded, but he stuck to his gun until, to the great regret of the whole battalion, he was picked off by a bullet through the brain, and he died where he fell.

Here Cpl Matthews' story ended, for he was seized with dysentry and was sent back to Malta, and thence to England.

[The Luton Reporter: Monday, September 20th, 1915]