Occasionally letters home from soldiers give us a keen insight into the battles they took part in and refer to other soldiers we are researching, so the information can be added to their separate biographies. These letters are unique personal records and fortunately for us they have been preserved in the newspaper record, although we accept they could be paraphrased in some small part. One such example is this letter from Sergeant Fred Smith of Silsden, who talks about Private William Gill of Silsden and Sergeant John Edmund Robinson of Keighley, who were both killed in action on 21st August 1915.
Keighley News 30 October 1915, page 12:
LIFE IN GALLIPOLI - SILSDEN SOLDIER'S INTERESTING LETTER.
Sergeant Fred Smith, of the 8th West Riding Regiment, who was formerly employed at the Silsden Dye Works, and whose home is at present in Bradford, writing to a friend at Silsden from the Dardanelles, says:–
“What an age it seems since I saw you and what a host of experiences I have had since then. It is really wonderful to realise that I have come through it all and am now alive and well. We were a portion of the Army that effected the new landing at Suvla Bay that you have heard so much of, and for nearly three weeks after it was simply one daily round of slaughter. Talk about carrying fire and sword into an enemy’s country – my word! that has been the case here.
One shudders to think how many thousands of good lads have gone to their last account within sight of where we are. But still one hasn't time to think about these things, and again, it is the fortune of war isn't it? Our progress since then has been rather slower; we have been consolidating our positions. We have lost rather heavily during the operations, but that is not a matter for surprise. When you come to consider the difficult nature of the country and the terrific resistance of the Turks. They are not cowards by any means, and their snipers especially are very clever indeed. During the last attack in which we took part I lost a young fellow named Gill, of Silsden. I think he lived in John’s Square, near the Dye Works. I have had all the addresses and next of kin of my platoon, but unfortunately have lost them or I should have written to some of the relatives of my fellows who have gone under.
Apropos of Gill, we were advancing under fire and I was leading the platoon, and before we got the order to extend, Gill, whom I had placed in charge of the leading section, was just behind me. When we got about 1,000 yards off we extended and advanced a little later by short sharp rushes, taking what cover we could until we were about 250 yards from the enemy, when, on account of the terrific fire they poured into us we sheltered behind a low ridge for a short time. When the fire had abated somewhat our captain gave the order to advance, and the sergeant in charge of the next platoon and myself jumped up and called to our respective platoons to advance. That was the signal for another terrible burst of musketry and machine-gun fire from the Turks. The sergeant on my left – Sergeant John Robinson, of Keighley – immediately fell dead with a bullet through his throat, although I did not know until an hour afterwards. A few yards further on the captain fell badly wounded, so I was left with a couple of platoons. Anyway we crossed a large open area in front (about half of us) and opened fire from another ridge, and I didn't see Gill again, so concluded that he fell during the last rush. On calling the roll a couple of days later no one had seen him fall or knew anything about him. Whatever his fate he was a good soldier and did his duty well.
AN AWFUL COUNTRY.
“We are now in reserve whilst being reinforced from England, and are in dug-outs near the beach. We get shelled several times a day with varying luck. I was unlucky enough to get a bullet through the fleshy part of the back of the head about six weeks’ ago, fortunately just missing the skull. The wound is now all right after five weeks’ dressing, and I discarded the bandages last week. I did not go into hospital and I was able to keep to duty without much inconvenience, so you won’t have seen my name in the casualty list.
We were on Chocolate Hill in the trenches at the time, and I and another sergeant were sent in charge of fifty men to a detached post at the foot of the hill to occupy it for four days; and it was on the morning of the second day that I got the above ‘kind remembrance ‘ from our friends the enemy. Sometimes I manage to get 'The Keighley News,' which I read with great interest, I can assure you, as the letters and papers we receive are the only things which remind us of civilisation. It is an awful country this. The ground is parched and hard as rock, and everything is dried up. You don’t see any cool, green grass and nice country lanes here like Silsden, and we shall all appreciate the end of the war and a consequent return to dear old England. I never loved the old country so much as I do now, and I could positively welcome a dirty Manchester fog followed by a heavy downpour of rain as a distraction from this eternal glare of the sun. You would hardly know the majority of us now - lean, bronzed and dirty as we are. What pleasant memories of the past crop up sometimes. I remember one particular time whilst in the firing line, we had had nothing only half rations of bully beef and hard biscuits, and could not get enough water to drink. What we could get we had to crawl in many cases half a mile for and then found it muddy; and when night comes on and it gets cooler we get desperately hungry, and for my part I can think of hardly anything else besides the pleasant meals I used to have with you all at the close of the day’s work, and the comfortable feeling that comes to one on changing into slippers and sitting by a nice fire in a cosy chair. The longing for something decent to eat and drink is sometimes painful. It is all part of the game though, and we must not grumble.
Everything here seems stagnant. Even the birds are quiet. It was yesterday the first time I heard a bird sing, and there is either another or the same one singing now - something like the English lark, only not so sweet. We have a fine view of Suvla Bay from here, there being warships of all descriptions and food ships. It is rather interesting also at night to see the hospital ships lit up with long rows of green lights with a red cross in the centre of all, and to see the flashes of the guns from the battleships and the answering flashes from the Turkish artillery stationed on the hills about four miles away. In addition there are searchlights playing about and star shells lighting up the country. Sergeant Beadman, of Keighley, was wounded early in the fighting and is now convalescent at Imbros, and may join us at any time now.
I am thinking of you often, and wishing I was amongst you again. I hope you are all in the best of health, as I am at present."
The author of this letter home, Sergeant Fred Smith died on 25th October 1915, of wounds received in action. He is remembered on the Helles Memorial.
The Keighley News archives, held at Keighley Library.
The 'Craven's Part in the Great War' website.