Gallipoli letters home

One of the things we come across on occasions are letters sent home by soldiers. We have been lucky in finding several of these printed in the local newspaper. In this case, The Keighley News.
Many of them are usually quite short quotes and later on in the war, censorship restricted quite a lot of what could be divulged.
Here are some fairly recently transcribed letters which give an interesting insight into life on the front line at Gallipoli and the circumstances the men were serving under. They offer a very interesting insight, particularly as the battalion war diaries were often very scant in their descriptions of conditions at the front.

Here is the 8th Battalion Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment war diary for the period 1st August to 31st August 1915:

August 1915.
In bivouac, uneventful.
In bivouac, uneventful.
In bivouac, uneventful.
In bivouac, uneventful.
Orders to proceed tomorrow to Peninsula.
6/8/15 4.30.
Embarked for, landing unhindered at Suvla Bay.
Heavily engaged in night and during day. Heavy losses.
On beach, resting.
In action, heavy losses. Lt. Col. H. J. Johnston wounded & missing.
In reserve, in action at noon. Losses few.
In reserve, 17.00 relieved.
On beach, resting.
In trenches on Chocolate Hill, uneventful.
In trenches on Chocolate Hill, uneventful.
In trenches on Chocolate Hill, uneventful.
In trenches on Chocolate Hill, uneventful.
In trenches on Chocolate Hill, Turkish aeroplane dropped bombs. No damage.
In trenches on Chocolate Hill.
On beach, resting.
On beach, resting.
3:00 pm.
Attack on village of Anafarta. Two lines of trenches captured. Heavy losses. Capt V N Kidd wounded.
Held captured trenches under heavy artillery fire.
On beach resting
On beach resting
On beach resting
On beach resting
Occupied trenches below Jephson's Post.
Occupied trenches below Jephson's Post.
Occupied trenches below Jephson's Post.
Occupied trenches below Jephson's Post.
Occupied trenches below Jephson's Post.

The Keighley News, Saturday September 11, 1915.

Sergeant John Edmund Robinson, 8th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding regiment:

In the light of Sergeant Robinson's death, referred to in our casualty records, the soldier's last letters home have a pathetic interest. Writing within sounds of the guns, he said:-
We landed in large steam shore boats, having travelled from the base in destroyers. The hour was something after 11 at night, and our regiment had orders to land immediately behind a second battalion. Both were accomplished without great difficulty. Three-quarters of a mile were covered with caution, but in close order, until marching over a slope we were hailed by myriads of rifle bullets. Since then movement has been continuous and rapid. At the break of dawn I was ordered with my line to cross the valley beyond. We went forward, ploughed up with shrapnel and high-explosive shell, in a single line which was kept steady, until, after several mad dashes we reached cover under a ridge at the base of the opposite hill. The men, shocked and tormented by the risk, held themselves like true britons. Every man was true to his country's honour and himself. Captain___ himself a candidate for "baptism of fire" could not help but exclaim, "Well, you are a great lot of men!" But the details of that day will be told better than I can express by some who observed but did not take part. I cannot tell you how many casualties there were. Every movement we make, either in entrenchments of behind them, is seized by snipers as an opportunity.

Women have been used as snipers here. A woman was captured last night with 400 rounds in her posession. The two worst engagements I have been in were later than the taking of the hill beyond the "Valley of Death." After a long night of outposts, under a continuous rifle fire from unseen snipers, we were ordered to move to a very high hill to our left post. Advancing in fours by platoons in broken line, we were met by terrific fire, which whistled round us, ploughing up the ground everywhere. Several gallant acts by many men will make that day one of glory to our regiment... In our retirement we sallied well and kept a pretty sound line. Early next morning I was sent on a ticklish bit of guide work - first, to find a place, and secondly to lead the battalion - all that was left of it - to the place. During this manoeuvre my sole companion was missed by an inch, and as I led the battalion on the enemy spotted us and sent a burst or two of shrapnel. One of our sergeants was killed by one of these shells. Next day we were suddenly called upon to save the advance line, and in ten minutes I found myself exhausted on the ground with a line of eight men. The rest who had gone up with us were either dead or wounded. We expected death every second. Rifle fire could have been more accurate but not much thicker. We had decided not to return, but some bushes were blazing in the rear, and the fire was approaching us. We dashed back toward our own right flank, and succeeded in saving our skins. What was required had been done, but we thought to do more.

In another letter Sergeant Robinson stated: I have passed through a few awkward situations and I am unhurt. Yesterday there happened to drop on our fortifications or near an explosive shell which set on fire the adjoining brushwood. The slopes are thickly clad with low bushed up to ten feet high. These quickly formed a huge bonfire, which travelled alarmingly near. I was called upon to note its progress, and to take steps for preventing our trenches being swept. Three times I went over the parapet alone to prevent dry bushes near to us from becoming alight. In the fire area there were obviously scores of Turkish cartridges left about, bullets flew from all points in rapid succession, but our great difficulty was from snipers. I was compelled to get ten men to cross the open space to combat a danger point. The snipers got our range and simply ploughed up the ground around. I was ready for returning, having finished the immediate work, when one of my men got a nasty hit in the shoulder. It fell to my lot to carry him on my shoulders. Before the 100 yards were covered they had missed us a score of times. I feel I am constitutionally a shrinker from danger, and the relief I felt when he was safe over the parapet, assisted by many hands, and I had followed I cannot express. But what a thirst it gave me! The same morning I read the burial service over a lance-corporal who was sniped whilst on look-out duty over a trench.He was a good fellow, and we laid him to rest on a rocky hillside alongside some who had gone before him to a heros rest. The same office as this I repeated for a man named Baker, a cheerful man of kindly nature, who will be deeply missed by his comrades. On this occasion it was dark, and the service was simply a heartfelt Lord's Prayer with the blessing. Baker leaves a wife and five children I am told. I am ever so sorry for them. Every single man of us wishes we were well out of this and home, but I suppose they will stop just as long as England demands that they shall.

(The Lance Corporal who was sniped on look out duty may have been 11496, Private Frederick Patefield, of Bradford.)

(The Private Baker referred to was 14316, Private George Baker of Keighley, who did have three surviving children out of five born.)

Comments are closed.