Sappers' experiences in Gallipoli


Letters from Gallipoli were taking over a fortnight to reach Luton and those received by the Luton Reporter newspaper in mid-September 1915 were sent by members of the East Anglian Royal Engineers before they had gone into action.

They had landed on August 16th, the day after the 5th Bedfordshires went into action and had since been almost continuously under shell fire while engaged on various works a few miles behind the firing line. Not the least of these had been the sinking of wells to obviate the difficulties which all the letters from the Peninsular had mentioned about securing an adequate supply of fresh water.

"We have only moved a short distance from the beach," says one Sapper of the 2/1st Field Company. "Our position is fairly safe, but we get shells all round us and are quite used to them. We can see our naval guns and artillery sending 'presents' to the Turks, and we get an occasional visit by a Taube aeroplane which drops bombs round here. We are making good progress.

"We get fairly decent food, but water is scarce and has to be brought up in boats. We expect to be supplied with cigarettes and tobacco, and have managed to get some from our ship. Our ships was damaged by shells yesterday, and she had top clear off - we could see all this from our position.

"I should like the Bedford 'shirkers' to be out here, if only to see the poor devils crawling back from the trenches and the wounded coming in. We do not expect to be out here very long, and I suppose they will find us a job elsewhere.

"I should like something to put in my water-bottle to improve the water. Money is of no use here, there is nowhere to spend it. We have no tents or billets (there are no buildings of any sort) and we have to fix ourselves up as best we can by digging ourselves in, or fixing up a shelter with waterproof sheets, blankets and rifles. There is a village a few miles away, but our guns have smashed it up."

Another Engineer, writing a week after landing, says: "We have had some exciting times. One of our chaps was killed by shrapnel last Saturday (August21st) and two others have been grazed by shrapnel bullets. Our company base is about two miles from the line, and one section goes up every night to repair trenches and bury the dead.

"A number of our chaps are sick with dysentry. Water is of every great value, and the greater part of us have not washed or shaved for a week."

"It's rather lively," is the description given of the E.A.R.E.'s situation by Sapper Percy Brown, son of Mr and Mrs A. Brown, of 4 Park Street West, Luton, who is in the 1/2nd Field Company. "We are encamped up the side of a hill, and it's a nice place, I can assure you.

"The insects here are rather big - lizards, grasshoppers, big black ants, snakes and scorpions etc - so you see, it's rather lively. We are road-making and doing different jobs. They send a few shells over now and again, just to show us they are about.

"We have some fine guns on the ships here. They must annoy the Turks somewhat. It is a very decent view you get when you are on top of the hill. You can see the hill Achi Baba stands on in the distance.

"But talk about a struggle for existence! You have to fight for water here, and cook all your own food up to now. A fellow threw a piece of bacon away the other day and we seized it, cleaned it and cooked it for tea, so you can see we are glad to get anything. The food, however, is not bad. We get bacon for breakfast, bully beef and biscuits for dinner and jam for tea. But there is no bread.

"There are plenty of Indians here with their long knives. They take water and different stores up to the firing line. It's a wonder how the mules they lead keep their footing on the small track on the hills.

"We get some nice nights here - the stars are lovely. It is cool at night and hot in the daytime. It doesn't seem to me the war is going to last a great while out here, I hope not anyway, because this is a wild spot and no mistake. We have a stone laid in the corner of our dug-out - that is our cupboard for odd biscuits and other dainties! Could you send me some sea soap as we are not supposed to have fresh water, and have to wash in the sea?

Writing on August 25th to friends at Vauxhall Motors, Sapper Gourley, of 8 Smart Street, Luton, says that many of his comrades are suffering from dysentry, owing to the hot weather and bad water.

"We had a very good voyage as regards weather, but naturally we had some exciting times. We went through the Straits of Gibraltar at night, but it was a grand night, and we stopped at Malta for a few hours but did not land. It is a splendid place, and looks grand. We then stayed at Alexandria for three days, but only had a few hours on land.

"We had no idea where we were bound for, but arrived here is the early morning, and were surprised to see that battleships firing and the Turks replying. We landed in small tugs under shell fire, and have been here since.

"We are only a few hundred yards from the beach, and all day the battleships are firing at the Turks, and we can plainly see where the enemy are. We are situated amongst a lot of hills, right away from civilisation, and not a living thing to be seen. We are on one side of the Peninsular, and the Turks on the other, and the bounders start shelling us about 6 am, and keep it up all day. Thank God, we have been very lucky.

"Although I myself have had some very narrow escapes from lumps of shell, none of our company have been hit. We are quite used to the whistling shells overhead, and the noise which they make when they burst. It is wonderful to think they do no damage near here, although there have been many casualties about us.

"For myself I shall be glad to get away from here, as it is hard to explain how we are situated. Fresh water has to be brought here by boat, and it is valued like gold. We must not wash in fresh water and, to tell the truth, although I have been here nearly two weeks, I have not had my clothes off nor yet a wash. We have a bathing parade every morning at five, but soap is no good as it will not act in salt water.

"Matches and cigarettes are also valued like gold. Money is no good as we cannot buy anything here. Bread and meat are an unheard of things, but we live in hopes of seeing better days. Water is our great trouble, but please tell Fred Wing that our chaps could do with some tobacco or cigarettes very very badly. I have known one Woodbine to fetch fourpence!

"As I write this that guns are booming away, but we are two or three miles away from the trenches, although we have to go there to take rations etc. We deserve all we get when we get back home, and shall know how to value common food and water."

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