Read CHAPTER V - TRENCH WARFARE ON GALLIPOLI of With Manchesters in the East , free online book, by Gerald B. Hurst, on

The routine upon which the Battalion entered at this stage remained almost unchanged until the evacuation. Our Headquarters, where I slept when in command of the Battalion during Colonel Canning’s various short spells as acting Brigadier, were usually in some heather-covered gorge, opening upon a deep blue sea. Essex Ravine was a frequent site. The side of this ravine which faced the north-east protruded beyond the side sheltered from the Turkish fire, and was thus forbidden ground. All down the slope were spread the dismembered remains of hundreds of Turks, who must have been slaughtered in retreat by guns from our warships in the AEgean Sea. It was impossible to bury them, owing to the enemy’s fire. The other side, where we slept on a rocky ledge high above the sea, was still a beautiful glen.

An hour before dawn we went round the lines, while the men “stood to.” We returned for a bathe and breakfast in the open, while the destroyers used to pass to and fro between Cape Helles and the Gulf of Saros, and a pearly haze brooded over Imbros. Then back to the trenches, which were always dusty and fly-pestered, to visit men always under fire, but full of bravery and patience. Diarrhoea and dysentery were already sending many of them from the Peninsula. The trenches were often noisome. Only in the evening, with Imbros growing fainter in the fading day and Samothrace rising huge and cloudy behind, while the red and green lights of the hospital ships off Helles shone brightly across the water, was physical vigour possible. When I acted as Second in Command, as was more usual, my nights were spent in the centre of the firing line, with excellent telephonists like Hoyle or Clavering close to me, but the nights were usually quiet, and indeed it was not until the middle of September that the Turks showed any symptoms of the offensive spirit. Our casualties were mainly caused by random shots at night, which chanced to hit our sentries as they peered into the gloom over the parapet.

After a fortnight’s spell in the trenches, rest bivouacs were welcome as a change, though the name was a mere mockery. Mining and loading fatigues were incessant. I admired the humour of a Wigan sergeant, whom I heard encouraging a gang of perspiring soldiers, while carrying heavy ammunition boxes up a hill-side one sweltering afternoon, with the incitement that they must “Remember Belgium.”

For a Field Officer one of the most trying experiences of such breaks in the common routine was the task of presiding over field general courts-martial. Courts-martial under peace conditions are not without interest to a lawyer, but these in the field dealt wholly with grave charges, such as falling asleep while on sentry duty and other offences almost as dangerous and considerably more heinous morally. It was hard in many cases to reconcile the exigencies of war with the call of humanity, and the sense of responsibility was only partially relieved by the knowledge that a higher authority would give due weight to the extenuating circumstances that appealed so often to one’s compassion. The introduction of “suspended sentences” by the Army (Suspension of Sentences) Act 1915, with a view to keep a man’s rifle in the firing line, and to give an offender the chance of retrieving his liberty by subsequent devotion to duty, was probably the War’s best addition to British Military Law. Nevertheless, the duty of acting as President on these occasions is found universally distasteful.

There were, however, two great charms in these short intervals in trench warfare. First, it was delightful to escape to places where you could move erect and see something besides the brown wilderness of saps and cuts. A walk to Lancashire Landing along the coast road, between great rugged cliffs on one side and the rippling sea on the other, took us past the little colony of the Greek Labour Corps, and past terraces of new stone huts and sandbag dug-outs, which indicated the presence of Staff Officers. Looking seaward, we saw the hull of the sunken Majestic, a perpetual sign of the limitations of “sea power.” We could then strike up from the beach and see the A.S.C. stores, admirably managed by Major (afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel) A. England, and pushing on to the top of the plateau, the whole area of warfare between Lancashire Landing and Achi Baba was at our feet.

Even more delightful was the long series of entertainments which we organised in the Battalion, and which eventually drew large numbers from the rest of the 42nd Division. These entertainments were opened by lectures on history. Our men became familiar with the history and conditions of all the belligerent Powers, and were kept well acquainted with the developments of the actual military situation in Europe. They enjoyed these lectures. Education has its uses, after all. Then followed concerts, which were splendidly arranged by Regimental Sergeant-Major M. Hartnett, a veteran of Ladysmith and East Africa and a pillar of the Battalion, now, alas, dead, and by Quartermaster-Sergeant Mort, himself an adept as an entertainer. These “shows” used to start about 6.45 in the evening, and the vision of our tired boys scattered in the fast fading twilight on the slope of some narrow ravine beneath the serene, starry sky of Turkey will be among our most lasting memories of Gallipoli. The sentimental song was typical of the Territorial’s taste. Even now I can hear the refrain sung by Company Sergeant-Major J.W. Woods:

“My heart’s far away with the Colleen I adore;
Eileen alannah; Angus asthor.”

At the finish, before singing the National Anthem and the no less popular anthem of the Machine Gun Section, our men always sang: Keep the Home Fires Burning. The soldiers could have no better vesper hymn.

On the 8th September 1915 we went into a new sector of trenches on either side of what was called Border Barricade. The name was, like Border Ravine, a relic of the Border Regiment, just as Skinner’s Lane, Watling Street, Essex Ravine and Inniskilling Inch recalled the activities of other units.

I can claim personal responsibility for placing Burlington Street and Greenheys Lane upon the map of Gallipoli. They are reminders of our Headquarters in Manchester.

Border Barricade barred a moorland track which led upwards to higher ground where the Turks were strongly entrenched. Below it were little graveyards of Turkish and British dead, and below them the moors contracted into the narrow defile of Gully Ravine. Here on the 15th September we lost some casualties in a mine explosion, which the Turks had carefully timed for our evening’s “Stand to.” Dense columns of smoke and earth shot up high into the air, and the rapidly increasing darkness of the evening added greatly to our difficulties. Most gallant work was done in digging out buried men, a task of great danger, as the front trench was completely destroyed, and the Turks, whose trenches at this point were within ten yards of ours, were bombing heavily. Thirteen men lost their lives through the explosion. For some days afterwards this spot and an open space behind it were constantly sniped, and, as an addition to our troubles, one of our own trench mortars, fired by a neighbouring unit, landed in error in our lines, killing 3 men and wounding 4, including Captain Smedley. Later the Turks exploded further mines in the same area when it was occupied by other units.

Our chief losses, however, were through illness. Captain P.H. Creagh, whose splendid work was rewarded by a D.S.O., left us at the end of August for good, and joined his own regiment in Mesopotamia. Before the end of September, Captain C.H. Williamson, the Brigade’s excellent Signalling Officer (afterwards killed in action); Captain A.H. Tinker, at that time Machine Gun Officer, but afterwards most admirable of Company Commanders; Captains H.H. Nidd and J.R. Creagh, most careful of Company Officers; D. Norbury of the Machine Guns; Pain and Pilgrim, invaluable Somerset officers attached to us, all left the Battalion with jaundice. Burn and Bryan left it with dysentery; Morten with a poisoned hand.

There was little indeed to cheer the men in the trenches. News percolated through to us of the failure at Suvla and of the hardships endured in that enterprise. Mails from home arrived all too slowly and precariously. Death was always present. We regretted the loss of Captain H.T. Cawley on the night of the 23rd September. He had given up a soft billet as A.D.C. to a Major General in order to share the lot of his old regiment, a battalion of the Manchesters, and was killed in a mine crater near Border Barricade.

The spell in the trenches admitted of few variations. The journey to them was always burdensome. It is easy to recall the trek, on the 1st October 1915, of weary, dust-stained, overloaded men some three miles up the nullah, inches deep in dirty dust and under a broiling sun, to occupy narrow fire trenches, unprotected as ever by head cover, and pestilential with smells and flies. Yet once established in the trenches, life was tolerable enough. As a Field Officer I was fortunate to be able to escape at times to enjoy the intense luxury of sea-bathing. Sometimes the evenings were misty, and the fog-horns of our destroyers and trawlers carried faintly across the AEgean Sea. More often the sunsets were gorgeous. The day always seemed long. Firing was frequent but targets were rare. Some men curled themselves up between the narrow red walls of the trenches, read, dozed, smoked, talked, one or two in each traverse observing in turns through the periscope across the arid belt of No Man’s Land, where groups of grey-clad Turks, killed long ago, still lay bleaching and reeking under the torrid sky. Others foraged behind for fuel, which could only be found with great difficulty. A little later dozens of fires would be crackling in the trenches, with dixies upon them full of stew or tea. Flies hovered in myriads over jam-pots. The sky was cloudless. Heat brooded over all. No one ever visited the trench except the Battalion Headquarters Staff and fatigue parties with water-bottles. Many soldiers stripped to the waist, and wore simply their sun helmets and shorts. Sickness alone drew men away. The soil was dark red, caked and crumbling. Here and there the dead were buried into the parados, with such inscriptions as “Sacred to the Memory of an Unknown Comrade. R.I.P.

The Mule Sap connected the trenches with Headquarters. We gathered curios, Turkish and German, from among its debris. At Headquarters the telephone, orderly-room and dressing-station alone denoted the presence of war. They were fixed in a beautiful ravine, looking upon a smooth sea, warm in the sunlight, with Imbros ten miles across the water. The meals were of first importance, but sandbags are uncomfortable seats, and the heat was trying. Pleasant it was in the cool of the evening to go to sleep with one’s Burberry as a pillow. The stars shone kindly down, as they had shone long ago upon the heroes of the Iliad on the Plains of Troy, seven miles away across the Dardanelles, upon the Crusaders and Byzantines. You were asleep in a moment, and hardly stirred until 5 A.M., when it was time for “Stand to.” Daylight moved quickly across the desolate waste, and by six o’clock another day of war and waiting had dawned.

The Territorial’s thoughts turn to home far more often than do those of the Regular, for to him the family has always been more important than the regiment. H.C. Franklin, who took P.H. Creagh’s place as our Adjutant at the end of August, and was an old Regular soldier of the Manchester Regiment, often said that the week’s mail of a Territorial battalion is as large as six months’ mails for a unit of the old Army. He told, too, a good story, which shows the perceptiveness of Indians. He was standing near to some Indian muleteers when the Manchester Territorial Brigade disembarked on Gallipoli. He heard them say in Hindustani: “Here is another of the regiments of shopkeepers.” One pointed to Captain P.H. Creagh, our Adjutant and only Regular officer. He said: “But he is a soldier.” Another said of Staveacre: “A fine, big man, but he also is of the shopkeepers.”

The story of trench warfare during these months on Gallipoli is undramatic. A record of their little episodes is almost trivial. Yet this want of movement and initiative is true to life, and was the common lot of the three or four British Divisions then responsible for operations at Cape Helles. The campaign, in fact, came to a standstill on the failure of the great offensive in August. The objects of the Army were simply to hold the ground so hardly won in the first two months of the expedition, and to contain as large as possible a Turkish force on Gallipoli for the benefit of our Russian Allies in the Caucasus and elsewhere. The first of these objects was attained in spite of the thinness of our line, the universal inferiority of our positions to those of the enemy, and the gradual improvement of their guns and aircraft. The Nizam i.e. the Regular first-line Turkish troops had been practically destroyed. The remainder lacked the offensive spirit after their heavy losses in August, and perhaps their hearts were not sufficiently in the struggle to welcome further sacrifice of life, with time already running in their favour. We heard of one British officer who had acted as a hostage during a short armistice at Anzac. The Turks loaded him with presents of fruit, and, pointing to their dead on the battle-field, said: “So much for your diplomatists and diplomacy!”

Our second object, also, is believed to have been gained, so far as was possible, having regard to our inadequate numbers and to the limitations of our technique of the period. Bombing used at this time to be practised by small sections in each battalion, who occupied dangerous salients called “bird-cages” in the fire trenches. Here in our Battalion, G. Ross-Bain and W.H. Barratt among the officers, S. Clough and T. Hulme among the N.C.O.’s all valiant men won a modest measure of fame. On one occasion Hulme picked up a live bomb thrown by the enemy and saved his comrades’ lives by throwing it over the parapet with splendid self-devotion. Our British sappers became more proficient in mining, special corps being formed from among the Wigan colliers of the Manchesters and the Lowland Scots. The guns were always active, and their co-operation with the infantry was perfected. Those who remember passing by night along the winding length of Inniskilling Inch will recall the red lamp that marked the artillery forward observation officer’s post at the corner of Burlington Street, and the well-hidden gun emplacement, where Greenheys Lane ran out of the Mule Sap. The familiar street signs carried men’s minds back to Manchester.