Soldier recalls the hell that was Gallipoli


Gallipoli Day 1953

Gallipoli veterans remembering at Luton War Memorial in 1953


From a Luton Private [unnamed], of the 1/5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment who served with the Battalion in Gallipoli and is now at the Eastern Command Depot at Shoreham, we have received the following letter:

I thought I must write tonight [August 15th] of that night when, exactly 12 months ago, the Bedfordshire Territorials covered themselves with glory and nobly upheld the traditions of the magnificent regular battalions. The date brings back with full force all those horrible nightmares that I seemingly live through again and again, but of those I will not speak.

There have been many stories of heroism and adventure which will never be recorded in official despatches, but which nevertheless ought to be remembered by those on whose behalf they were done.

Tonight - August 15th, 1916 - is the anniversary of the advance under shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire made across the Salt Lake Plain (situate between Suvla and Anzac) by the battalion - a battalion which, without prejudice, Luton ought to be proud of.

As an advance it was no more or less than what many other battalions have done. At the same time it is one more example of bravery and steadiness which adds to the lustre already obtained for the county by the officers and men of the Regular Battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment.

We departed for our unknown destination "somewhere in the East" in the small hours of Monday morning, July 26th,1915, in very cheerful spirits. After a pleasant sea voyage which proved far from monotonous, although entirely free from any suspicion of adventure, we eventually landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, of the 11th day of August, 1915.

We rested for the first two days, adapting ourselves as best and as cheerfully as we could to our new surroundings - a greater contrast between England and civilised life and this could not be found.

Then came the long-expected order "prepare for attack," and at 12 noon on Sunday, August 15th, we commenced our historic advance, with the main object of capturing Kidney Hill and by doing so joining up and strengthening the British line.

We had hardly got over the crest of the hill when the Turkish gunners opened fire from concealed positions, and as we steadily advanced towards our objective we were met with furious rifle and machine gun fire. Gaps appeared in the ranks as casualties occurred but in this, our baptism of fire, not a man hesitated.

Only a few minutes before the attack commenced, our gallant Colonel [Edgar Brighten], in a few well chosen words, gave us the motto, "What we take we hold," and well did we carry out that motto, as when the order "Fix bayonets. Charge" proved.

It was hell, and only those who have experienced it can understand the mad lust that surges to the brain for the opportunity to get into combat with the enemy with the firm determination to kill. One sees red, and all the savage instincts of a man come out on top.

Oh, the memories of that awful day, when we lost the cream of our officers and men, are accentuated as I sit here in view of the deep blue sea and pen these few lines on the anniversary of that glorious charge.

When night came the line was re-organised as much as possible, but desultory firing continued until dawn. Stray parties of men were rounded up, digging was carried on, and when day broke the line was ready, though with only apologies for trenches.

It would be invidious to mention individuals, but I must say in all fairness that Lieut-Col E. W. Brighten and the late Major Younghusband did splendid work out there, and were mentioned in despatches. This is not the time to tell the whole story of the work of the battalion - it is too big a task.

It is a tribute to the whole 54th Division (East Anglian) T. F., to which we belonged, that the General Officer Commanding was able to send a message of congratulation and thanks for the sturdy spirit exhibited by all ranks.

When one realises - as only they who were at Suvla in those early days can - the abnormal difficulties under which we and other troops fought and worked, praise and appreciation cannot be too lavish. Want of suitable food and pure water, ignorance of the country and the fact that we were not acclimatised, were forces which called forth more than the best in men, and the wonderful thing is that all the troops responded so well.

Added to these difficulties was the terrible scourge of sickness, chiefly that dreaded disease dysentery from which even the Australians, acclimatised as they were, by no means escaped. As the days went on sickness developed and accumulated - the great heat by day and (by comparison) the intense cold by night, and the millions of flies, took their toll.

It is only natural, as a Lutonian myself, that I should wish to pay a tribute to the splendid way in which the men of the county have responded to the call of their King and country. No county can produce better men. Bedfordshire ought to be proud of her sons.

The Division is now in the backwaters of active service. The men have fought for their King and country. The remains of many comrades lie on the plains and hills of Gallipoli, their souls are in the hands of God. Unknown by name - like thousands of others - to the world at large, they have made the great adventure. In every Luton home - nay, in every Bedfordshire town, village or hamlet homestead, there are they who mourn and yet rejoice.

Let the people of Bedfordshire keep in memory the men, dead and living, of the 1/5th Bedfordshires who, on August 15th, 1915, proved themselves a credit to their county and worthy of the country that gave them their birth.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 19th, 1916]