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1st/4th Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment

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    Posted: 17 Jan 2011 at 16:59
Those with long memories, or a taste for back issues of the Gallipolian, will doubtless recall an article on wrote in issue 80 Spring 1996.
They do say that dead men tell no tales, but of course dead men will tell many tales to those who know how to listen and over the years quite a number of things have come to light to extend the story of a not very fashionable and in truth not very successful battaion of the 54th Division.
 

THE 1st/4th BATTALION. THE NORTHAMPTONSHIRE REGIMENT.

AUGUST 1914-NOVEMBER 1919

 

August 1914 - August 1915

England to Gallipoli

 

The 4th (Territorial) Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel S L Barry DSO, formerly of 15th Hussars, had gone to its annual camp on 26 July 1914 at Ashridge Park,  Berkhampstead.  On the following Sunday the Colonel, who had been ordered to join Sir John French's staff, was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel E G Curtis of the Bedfordshire Regiment.  The next morning the battalion left camp for the training area, but shortly after starting out were ordered to return, pack and disperse to their homes.  They reassembled next morning at Clare Street barracks in Northampton where they received orders to mobilise, and over the next week marched in stages to Romford, where the 54th (East Anglian) Division was concentrating.

 

The majority of the battalion spent the first few weeks of the war at Hare Hall camp in Romford, although some companies were detached for duties around London.  Lieutenant Pendered and twenty men were detailed to guard the Wharnecliffe Viaduct at Hanwell and spent several pleasant weeks encamped in the Brent Valley.  In reality there was very little to do.  Pendered and his small band were befriended by Montague Sharpe, a local JP and owner of Brent Lodge,  who gave access to that most precious of luxuries, hot baths.  The Sharpes, had many friends in Germany and had returned from there on the declaration of war, disguising themselves as Americans.  They reported the great surprise amongst the many anglophile Germans at the out break of war, and their own surpass and sadness at suddenly finding their close friends classified as enemies.  This internationalism was not shared by the population as a whole, and the general climate was one of anxiety and suspicion in which every stranger became an enemy alien of hostile intent.  The certainty that the country was thick with spies and saboteurs was illustrated for some by the very fact that soldiers were guarding potential targets such as main line railway viaducts.  Only when Lieutenant Pendered got to grips with the commissariat functions did the benefits of this training in small-scale independent command on detached duties begin to dawn on him.  He was never really certain whether training might have not been the real purpose behind this and the many similar activities of the early days of the war.  Whatever the real purpose, the duties were not particularly taxing.  The men enjoyed the fine weather and there was the hospitality of the Sharpes and the Clitherows at Baston House in nearby New Brentford.  On Sundays the party filled the gallery of St. Mary’s church.  The men were clearly not too familiar with the hymns, and as a shortage of hymn books led to a staggering of the lines the verses ended up being sung almost as rounds.  There was a large clock opposite the pulpit, and perhaps it was this that curbed the Reverend Farquhar’s sermons.

 

When not occupied in the general administration of the party, Pendered spent his time with a pair of field glasses on the lookout for he knew not what.  On one occasion, he discovered a man who seemed disorientated.  His suspicions were further aroused when he could offer no directions to the Post Office.  Pendered reported him to the local constable who said that he was having him followed by a man in plain clothes.  The disorientated stranger was later said to have evaded his pursuer and escaped towards London from Hanwell station on an East bound train.  Pendered thought no more about the matter until a few days later when two men hoeing in a field beside Brent Meadow south of the viaduct gave the cook a note and asked him to give it to his officer.  Pendered found the scribble illegible and the signature to be that of Lord Roberts of Kandahar.  He discovered that St.Bernard’s hospital which could be seen from the viaduct was the London County Asylum.

 

There had been no communication from the Battalion for some time.  Pendered visited the nearest barracks, at Windsor, but they could offer no further orders, although he found that the Battalion had left Romford, and after completing mobilisation had marched to Suffolk where training had begun.  Those who were too young or too old were to form the nucleus of a second line battalion and the 1st/4th as they were now called were being brought up to strength with new recruits.  Suddenly, an officer and twenty men from the Civil Service Rifles arrived to relieve the party, and Pendered was told to rejoin the Battalion in Bury St. Edmunds.  He and his men arrived by train.  The men stayed in The Black Boy and The Saracens Head and Pendered was put up in The Bell.  However, they found that the expanded battalion had not yet arrived in Bury and were being billeted in the villages of Lavenham and Long Melford.  On a very hot autumn day the party marched from Bury to Long Melford.  Soldiers on the march were still a novelty at this early stage of the war, and villagers greeted their passage with tea and fruit.  Plums seemed very refreshing at the time, although some of the men were later to regret their enthusiasm.

 

Accommodation was in short supply.  A tented camp was established in the grounds of, Kentwell Hall.  The officers stayed in the hall as the guests of Sir John Aird, the engineer and builder of the first Aswan Dam.  It was here that all of the detached men were finally reunited with the Battalion.  The tented camp was quite satisfactory while the pleasant autumn weather lasted, but it became rapidly untenable when it rained.  Men were then moved to the Long Melford maltings, and some of the officers slept in railway carriages drawn up in the station sidings.  As the whole Division was concentrating in the area the accommodation shortage became acute, and after only a week orders were received for the next move.  During a brief stay in Bury St. Edmunds, C, D and E companies billeted in Northgate Street School, which was also the battalion Headquaters and the quatermasters stores.  B and G companies had the Athenaeum.  A and H had the theatre and F were in the Guildhall.  As volunteers in the Territorial Force, the Battalion were only available for home service.  However, within a few days of the declaration of war it was obvious that a Territorial mobilisation for foreign service would be necessary, and the first call for volunteers was made at Bury St Edmunds.  It was not a spectacular success, with only twenty percent responding positively.  The commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis, did not have a long association with the battalion, and the Brigadier was even more remote.  Captain Brown suggested that company commanders and junior officers should speak directly to the men as they had know them for much longer.  This was agreed with the proviso that no pressure was to be put on the men who must be given time to exchange letters with their families before being coming to a final decision.  Henson and Pendered soon had fifty volunteers from A company.  In a few days, E company had a hundred, and posted their names on the schoolroom blackboards.  Within the week, D company had passed this total,  and soon there were eight hundred volunteers from the strength of about nine hundred and fifty.  After volunteering there was a further medical.  This does not seem to have been too demanding, and only few volunteers were declared unfit.  On 7 September the Battalion moved to the villages of Beyton, Tostock, Woolpit and Elmswell.  The Home Service men were divided from the Imperial Service volunteers and formed into three small companies.  Pendered was given temporary command of No. 1 Company ( formed from the Home Service men of C, D, E and H companies.) and marched with them to Tostock.  The officers often stayed in the village inns, and the men were billeted in private houses and in farm barns.  Tostock was the concentration point for the Home Service Companies, and Pendered was put up in the empty Holly Tree Cottage which had been requisitioned from its owner.  His temporary charges were found private billets in the village.  No 2 company  (formed from A and F companies) and No. 3 company ( formed from B and G) were less fortunate and slept in barns.  The Imperial Service men were concentrated at Beyton.  The Colonel and senior officers were put up in The White Horse, and it was here that four young officers arrived from the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps to join the battalion.  One of them was Goderic Hodges.  At the outbreak of war Hodges had returned to Cambridge where he had been advised to apply for a territorial commission.  This he had done and after a medical examination and an interview in the Old Hall of Corpus Christi College, he had been sent to his parents Derbyshire home and told to await further instructions.  When they came in mid September the instructions had been to report to Captain Thunder, the adjutant of the 1st/4th battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment.  Hodges had no previous connection with the regiment, and indeed had never knowingly set foot in Northamptonshire. 

 

While the Battalion was at Beyton, RSM Arthur Hatton met and married Mabel, a local girl from a house on The Green.  Training consisted of drill, fieldcraft and rifle practice.  Occasionally there were attempts to simulate battlefield manoeuvres.  These involved practicing advances in open order and other set pieces, which would have been recognisable to any soldier of the nineteenth century.  The machine gun was simulated on these exercises by a policeman’s rattle.  The sound may have been convincing, but even the former regulars and old India hands amongst the ranks of the territorials could not have imagined the effect that real machine guns were to have.  The battalion was still not at full strength, and a number of officers and NCOs were detached on recruiting expeditions to make up numbers and to replace the Home Service men.  Pendered found himself in charge of the three Home Service Companies and C company of the Imperial Service volunteers.  The Home Service men had to be paraded separately, as they were beginning to attract derisory comments from those who had volunteered.  This was quite a challenge for the young Pendered, who did not have a horse and was still learning to ride.  His mobility was greatly increased when the landlord of The Gardeners Arms in Tostock lent him a bicycle.  On 25 September Pendered was transferred to command C company.  The officers and men received inoculations in expectation of overseas service.  Unfortunately Pendered experienced a reaction to his and was quite ill for some days.  He was unable to remain alone at Hollytree Cottage, and moved to Woodbine Farm where the Methodist minister, Dr Moberley and his wife nursed him.  On 8 October he was promoted to Captain, and was pleased to receive the hearty congratulations of men he hardly knew in his new company.  The disciplinary position was slightly eased as the Home Service Companies left for Elmswell.  However, the logistic position became very taxing as the three companies were now over two miles away.  At this time it was discovered that a mistake had been made in the Battalion accounts, and that the Territorial bounty had been overpaid to a number of men.  As they had of course spent the allowance they were in no position to repay it.  Eventually, it was recovered, but it cast a long shadow over pay day for a long time as in some cases it was nearly a years pay.  Towards the end of October the Moberleys moved to Norwich, and Pendered look lodgings with Mr and Mrs Haynes who ran the post office and general store in Tostock.

 

Those who had not volunteered for Foreign Service, and those who had been declared unfit were formed into the 2nd/4th Battalion at Elmswell.  They were commanded by several officers who had been declared unfit for foreign service.  These moves created a vacancy for a second in command and Major Fuller joined the battalion.  His appointment in preference to an internal promotion created a certain tension, but he showed himself to be a good sportsman and a good horseman and soon became very popular.  The Medical Officer reported himself sick, and his self diagnosis of appendicitis ensured his removal from the Battalion on the eve of the next move.

 

On 4 November a move was made to Thetford, where the adjutant, Capt. S.H.J. Thunder left to return to the 1st battalion now in France.  Capt. J. Brown was appointed to replace him.  The new Medical Officer, Lieutenant C Searle, arrived and joined the strength.  The people of Thetford turned out in large numbers to greet the battalion which went into billets in the Guild Hall and in Market Street.  Exercises were held in Euston Park and rifle practice took place on the ranges at Ixworth.  Although the stay in Thetford was notable for the extent of local hospitality, it was a rather trying time in other respects.  The emphasis in training had hitherto largely been on fitness and proficiency in small arms.  The extension to cover tactical operations showed up the inexperience of the senior officers, whose inadequacies were often exposed by brigade and divisional staff.  They failed to win the confidence of the men, particularly the former regular soldiers who had extensive experience in South Africa, India and Egypt.  Emergency mobilisations were practised, but instead of a judgement of the time taken to turn out, men were criticised for unpolished buttons and dirty boots.  When things went wrong in company arrangements and men overstayed leave or reported sick in large numbers, Colonel Curtis seemed not to trust company commanders.  Other battalions in the brigade held dances and were encouraged to socialise with local people.  This provided distraction in the winter evenings and did much to keep up spirits.  Curtis would have none of it for the Northamptons.  The question of Christmas leave caused particular dissatisfaction.  Arrangements were made, then changed, then changed again then a week before Christmas, all leave was cancelled.  While Curtis was not wholly responsible for this, it did little to improve his popularity.

 

There was no hall large enough to allow whole companies to dine together, and men spent Christmas in their billets.  Each billet owner was given 1s 3d per man to provide Christmas dinner.  A school collection raised 6d per head, and this was distributed directly to the men.  On Christmas Eve, the Officers mess was moved to The Elms, a large house on the road to Bury St. Edmonds.  Several married officers entertained their wives for dinner there, and the day turned out to be very enjoyable. .  After Christmas dinner the single officers were entertained by a local bank manager, Mr Horne and his family.  The more junior officers often called subsequently to enjoy the company of the Horne’s daughters.  On Boxing Day permission was given for three days leave to be taken in rotation, which went some way towards making amends for the earlier dissatisfaction.  Early in the new year it was announced that the Battalion would be reorganised with four companies.  C and E were to be amalgamated from the beginning of February to form the new A Company, with Pendered in command.  In the last week of January Major Henson was taken ill and Pendered also took over as mess president.

 

There were constant rumours of impending departure, by the year wore on with the battalion still at Thetford, with regular day and night exercises in Euston Park.  A strict curfew was imposed and no one was allowed to be more than a mile from the centre of the town.  For the officers this was rather less constraining as the golf course was within the one mile limit, and several took out half yearly membership as a means of passing their daylight free time.  In the evenings there was little organised entertainment, and the officers relied heavily on the hospitality of the townsfolk.  The Burchalls opened their home, as did the Lovells, whose house, The Eyrie, became a centre for literary conversation.  The Padre, Revered Clarke, was a constant source of encouragement and diversion to the men.  He had been a keen and accomplished sportsman in his day and although approaching retirement he still retained a high level of enthusiasm and regularly organised sports days and games tournaments.

 

Pendered was given six days leave in the New Year, to be taken as soon as Henson returned to duty, which he did towards the last week of January.  Pendered returned to his home at Stoneleigh near Wellingborough.  The journey was fraught.  His connection at Ely was late, and he was stranded at Peterborough for three and a half hours.  However, this gave him the opportunity to visit the 2nd/4th Battalion and to renew friendships with former colleagues who now formed a Home Service unit.  Although his visit was only for an hour or so, he formed the view that many men could have been persuaded to volunteer for overseas service had they been sensitively approached.  As his visit was entirely unofficial he felt powerless to intervene, but the experience did little to increase his confidence in the senior officers.

 

The Battalion moved from Thetford on 4 April 1915, spending the night at Attleborough on the way to Norwich.  Lieutenant Hodges was billeting officer.  He went on ahead to arrange billets for the men and the horses.  He was ordered to billet himself in The Maid's Head Hotel until the rest of the battalion arrived.  ”In those days the dining room of the Maid's Head was the first room to the right of the entrance.  This room, which contained a fireplace mentioned in The Paston Letters, was too small.  I had to share a table with a correspondent of the Morning Post, who was in Norwich to report on the Conference of the Independent Labour Party.  He saw that I was wearing the badges of a regiment which was not stationed in the city.  He knew that I was not on leave, for he saw me speak to the sergeant after breakfast.  He very much wanted to know what I was doing.  I had no intention of telling him.  We were playing a game.  We were engaged in a war for our country's existence.  Every day at breakfast, lunch and dinner we had a little duel.  He tried to trap me, to find out what I was going to do or had been doing.  We got to Saturday morning.  He was desperate.  I thought what am I to do.  If I tell him to go to hell then he will get hold of one or two of my men, stand them drinks, get something out of somebody.  I'm sorry, but for the King's sake I shall have to lie.  I told him that we were looking for a car with a wireless set in the back of it which had been guiding Zeppelins in towards London.  He went back to Fleet Street quite happy.  Some weeks earlier, we had been doing just that, but the episode was over and I could safely make use of it.

 

At the table nearest the door sat a Staff Colonel, to whom, as I went past every day I said,  'Good Morning, Sir'.  On this Saturday morning, the Fleet Street man had gone, the Colonel and I were the only people left in the room.  I started to walk towards the door.  To my no small alarm, the Colonel looked up from behind his Times and beckoned to me.  As I approached, he leant over the table and said,  'Quite right, don't tell the bastard anything.'

 

As ever accommodation was scarce, and finding rooms for a thousand men was never easy.  A new procedure was tried for the first time.  Instead of looking for bed spaces, the front rooms of houses were requisitioned, the furniture except for a table was removed and men were given palliases on the floor.  This standardisation was much easier to record and administer.  The conditions were easy to inspect, in most cases overcrowding was avoided.  The senior officers stayed in The Maid’s Head, and company officers established small messes near to their men.  Hodges was the son and grandson of Anglican clergymen, and perhaps it was his familiarity with ecclesiastical organisation that led him to the administratively simple idea of billeting men in a company in the same parish, and placing their officers in the parish vicarage.  The whole system worked very well.

 

Shortly after arrival in Norwich the brigade was reorganised.  Since formation the previous summer it had comprised the two first line territorial battalions of the Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire Regiments, and the second line territorials of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.  The latter counties were amongst the smallest in England, and it was clear that they would not be able to support reinforcement or draft finding battalions.  It was also thought necessary to retain some men to assist in training, and to retain second line territorials in England.  They were therefore withdrawn and replaced by the 10th and 11th Battalions of the London Regiment.  These were the Hackney and Finsbury Rifles, and were amongst the senior and most experienced territorial battalions in the country.  They had hitherto being stationed in their home districts and had been given large public farewells with the assurance that they were to join a fine brigade and would soon be on active service.  An intense rivalry grew up between the battalions of the revised brigade, with each boasting of their history, training and general capabilities.  Training emphasised brigade co operation, and consisted of field days and night exercises.  The pace was very intensive and there was very little free time.  However, Norwich offered more diversions than previous locations, and the Theatre and Hippodrome became popular destinations when the opportunity arose.

 

In early May orders were received for the mobilisation of the brigade on several occasions.  Eventually, it was disclosed that it was not an exercise, and Major Henson was dispatched to St. Albans to establish an Officer’s Mess and to supervise the billeting arrangements for the Battalion.  On the last night in Norwich a Mess Dinner was held at The Maid’s Head, and afterwards most of the officers went to a show at the Hippodrome.  Colonel Curtis took dinner and retired.

 

They proceeded to St. Albans to fit out for overseas service.  The journey was long.  It involved travelling due East along the line to Leicester, where a halt was made in order to compensate for the meagre and inadequate lunch that had been provided for the journey.  They continued to Bedford, where a further halt was made for tea.  It was unfortunate that no stop could be made in Northamptonshire, as the Battalion had not visited its home county since mobilisation in the previous summer.  However, news of their passage preceded them, and there were parties of cheering waving onlookers at every station in the county that they passed through.  On arrival at St. Albans they found that Henson had acquired The White Hart Hotel for the officers mess and the men were accommodated in the streets of terraced houses nearby.  They formed up by Company, and marched through the town to the billets behind the band.  There were no exercise areas near, and all training was preceded  and followed by long marches.  On some occasions they found themselves in the very field at Ashridge Park where their adventures had begun almost a year before.  There was some advantage in the inconvenience as it at least gave some practice in overnight bivouacking and provided the opportunity for Company commanders who were unused to riding to gain some experience in horsemanship.  However, they were not to know how little they would need the skills.  The distance was also not thought to be of great consequence as route marches and a great deal of physical training was undertaken to lift the men to the peak of fitness.  Manoeuvres were undertaken with other units of the Division.  Ominously, this included casualty evacuation with the 1st/3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance.  Malcolm Hancock was just 18 when he joined the Battalion as a Second Lieutenant shortly before they left Norwich.  At St.Albans one of his main duties was to tour the billets in order to inspect the conditions and pay the householders.  As a public schoolboy whose only military experience had been gained in the officer training corps, hardened soldiers living in back street terraced houses broadened his experience of life considerably in a very short time.  Even Hancock was immediately able to see that the tactical exercises which formed an increasingly important part of training, were based largely on Boer War models.  The men practised advancing at the double over open ground and firing from standing, kneeling and lying positions in the open.  At the time, he felt that to fix bayonets and charge the last 50 yards to the target shouting “hurrah” would be little short of suicidal in the face of a real enemy.

 

St. Albans was a pleasant and interesting posting, although the training was hard, there was a little more free time, and it was even possible to spend an evening at a London theatre.  There was little or no organised recreation, although once again, the local people were very supportive and entertained the men very well.  The Reverend Clarke was replaced with the younger Reverend Walkey, who maintained the sports and games for the men while the officers found intellectual and sporting company in the tennis, golf and bridge circles.

 

The Bedfordshire Regiment organised a recruiting march for the whole battalion through their county.  This proved quite an attraction, and the Northamptons planned to do the same.  In the event, only 200 men could be made available, but Major Henson picked as many as possible with strong county associations and set off.  They were welcomed with open arms in every town and village they visited, and returned after a week with over 20 volunteers who were posted to the 2nd/4th battalion to commence training.

 

In the last half of July the men received four days embarkation leave which was taken in rotation.  Webbing equipment was withdrawn and replaced with leather, and in mid July Khaki drill and pith helmets were issued.  The helmets came with untied pugarees which caused much amusement and confusion until a number of mobilised reservists revealed themselves as old “India Wallahs” and put their previous regular service to good use in ensuring the sartorial elegance of the battalion at the final church parade on Sunday 25 July.  Only six men were declared unfit in the final medical examination.  They were replaced with six men from the 2nd/4th Battalion.  There was no firm indication of their destination, although the Mediterranean was a clear favourite.  On 28 July there was a farewell dinner for officers to which as many wives and families as possible were invited.  There was talking and singing until late into the night.  On the following morning the battalion marched to London Road station to be given an enthusiastic and emotional send off.  They travelled to Watford, where the whole division was paraded for inspection in Cassiobury Park before the journey for the men continued through the night in two trains.  A and B Companies with the battalion HQ were in the first, and C and D travelled with the divisional cyclists and the majority of the men of the 3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance, in a second.  With a short break at Exeter where they were given tea and sandwiches by the WRVS, they arrived at Devonport and boarded the verminous former cattle boat Royal George for the voyage to the Mediterranean.  Lieutenant Rands and eleven men took the battalion transport and the officers horses on the Manitou with the ambulances and transport of the RAMC Field Ambulance.  At the insistence of Colonel Curtis, the senior officers of the Battalion travelled on the Royal George. The officers of the Field Ambulance left their men and travelled to Liverpool where they embarked on the Aquitania.

 

All of these vessels had been engaged in trooping since the first landings of the previous April.  The Manitou had already had one lucky escape when intercepted off the island of Imbros by a torpedo boat flying the Greek flag. Manitou had declared her identity and seen the Greek flag rapidly exchanged for the Turkish.  The Turks had given three minutes to clear the ship before firing three torpedoes.  They were incorrectly set, and passed under Manitou.  The torpedo boat then retreated at speed.  However, an order to abandon ship had been followed by pandemonium as there had been no instructions or drill on how this might be done in any sort of order.  Lifeboats were capsized on launch and many men simply jumped overboard.  Some jumped in full kit and sank.  Others were killed when wooden deck gratings were thrown overboard in an attempt to assist the many non swimmers in the water.  The event showed the inadequacy of training and discipline and left 52 men dead.  Its direct aftermath was to be found in the almost constant drill and training that now occupied the outward voyage.

 

The 525 foot Royal George was a triple screwed steel steamer of 11146 tons which had been built as the Heliopolis by Fairchild and Co on the Clyde in 1907.  She was registered in Toronto by the Canadian Northern Steamship Company and spent her previous career in the trans atlantic cattle trade.

 

The Royal George sailed on the morning of 30 July, passing a Canadian Troopship inbound which gave them three cheers. The first of the two escorting destroyers returned during the morning.  The second remained until the middle of the next day when she circled the transport and signalled  “Good Bye, Good Luck and Safe Return”.  A system of guards and U boat watches was maintained around the clock, although the only things seen were whales, porpoises and flying fish.  Sentry groups were posted at six places around the ship.  They were each armed with rifles and copious supplies of ammunition, although what they were supposed to do with them if a U boat was sighted was never made clear.  They also provided the “company of the guard” whose duties were to guard the cells of the guard room, even though they were empty, and to mount a guard on all hatchways and stairwells on the ship.  In the later case their duties were clear and they were ordered to fire on men who did not not follow the evacuation drill and tried to leave out of turn.  It was generally believed that the first stop would be at Gibraltar, and many men wrote letters home which they expected to post there.  However, because of reports U boat activity the Straits of Gibraltar were cleared during the night of 2 August and the ship kept close to the North African coast until Malta was reached on 5 August.

 

On entering Malta Harbour in the afternoon, all manner of small craft came to meet the ship, diving boys yelled for money to be thrown into the water, and although some officers threw in quite a lot, very little was allowed to sink.  Tradesmen in 'dicers', propelled by a single oar over the stern, came out with fruit, cigarettes and chocolate. Captain Pendered noted in his diary that the many colours of the boats and traders made a remarkable sight on the bright blue water.  The ship was tugged to its place on the Sliema trots and anchored as a customs officer came on board, meanwhile the medical officer arranged for the removal of two  men who had reported sick on the outbound voyage, and had his diagnosis of appendicitis for  2nd Lieutenant Fay confirmed.  Coaling began as soon as the ship berthed, and soon everything not under cover recieved a film of black dust.  Lt. Col. Curtis ordered that officers and warrant officers might go ashore provided that one per company always remained on board.  When it was discovered that the ship would remain in harbour for the next day, arrangements were made for the men to go ashore in detachments of 250 at a time.  The officers and men divided into small parties for the journey to Valletta by dicer.  On landing they were greeted by small boys begging and cabmen who pestered them to take a carriage up the hill.  Pendered's party walked around the main streets before taking dinner in the Union Club in Valletta. Afterwards, they took a carriage around the harbour to St. Anne's Square Sliema where they visited the Alhambra cabaret club.  Others following a similar route found the Majestic Theatre equally attractive.  The next day the officers went ashore again, and Pendered's diary records a day shopping and following the tourist itinerary of Guard Room, Governor's Palace, Cathedral and City Walls.  They then took a tour by boat around the Grand Harbour and marvelled at the huge size and number of British and French warships at anchor.

 

At dawn on 7 August, the Royal George was escorted from harbour by a pilot boat and set sail for Alexandria.  The hot weather made drill exhausting and the routine was varied to include instruction in basic French and Turkish.  The machine gunners got some practice at a barrel towed astern, while training was also given in first aid and in gas precautions.  Lieutenant. Searle, the medical officer, was particularly critical of certain gas masks, and it was afterwards discovered that these were the very pattern which the battalion were due to receive.

 

At Alexandria, the Royal George was guided between rows of sailing ships which the pilot said were prize ships, and tugged to berth at the quayside.  At 17:00 on 9 August,the battalion was disembarked and paraded around the city behind the band, while on the next day orders were received  to disembark all of the baggage, and machine guns.  This, together with coaling took the greater part of the day, but officers not on duty were able to spend a few hours ashore sightseeing and shopping.  The city was very interesting, and it was noticed that the signs on the wide streets were in French and Arabic, but only occasionally in English.  The efficiency of the electric tram service was also striking.  "C" company were disembarked and transferred to Ras-el-Tin where they were to wait as a cadre.  The sister ship Royal Edward which was carrying other units in the division, including the stores and transport of the field ambulance, joined them in harbour in the afternoon.

 

Early on 11 August they were piloted out of harbour and made for Mudros Bay, on the island of Lemnos.  For many this was the most interesting part of the voyage, as the route lay between many islands of the Aegean.  A warning of German submarine activity was received and the engines were stopped for several hours before making a dash for Lemnos.  Two submarines being sighted on the surface caused some alarm before they were identified as British.

 

In the late afternoon of Friday 13 August they entered Mudros Bay where they heard a rumour that the Royal Edward had been torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 800 lives.  On Saturday a briefing was held ashore, but most of the officers and all of the men remained on board being told that next morning they would be landed at Suvla.  Iron rations consisting of corned beef, biscuit, tea, sugar and oxo cubes were issued for two days.  This took until late  into the evening, and at 04:00 the next day the men were roused and breakfast was served.  The remainder of the days ration was issued to be taken in the haversacks.  At 08:00 the two Beagle class destroyers HMS Scourge and HMS Foxhound of the 5th Mediterranean flotilla, came alongside and the men crowded onto the decks for the three hour crossing to Suvla.  The officers were given beer, sandwiches and cigars by the ship's officers who thoughtfully provided each with a box of matches.


August-December 1915

Gallipoli

 

The waters of Suvla Bay are contained by a strip of land reaching out into the Aegean sea.  Along the edge of the Bay runs a long beach of fine dusty sand.  To the north, facing out over the Gulf of Saros is a line of hills called Kiretch Tepe Sirt running about four miles to a summit of 650 ft.  From just beyond the summit another range of higher hills ran a right angles roughly parallel to the sea for about four miles.  At its southern end was the village of Anafarta Sagir, separated from the village of Biyuk Anafarta by a broad valley out of which the Anafarta spur ran into the plain for nearly two miles.  Biyuk Anafarta itself lay at the northern end of a high range of hills called the Sari Bair Ridge.  The plain, enclosed on three sides by hills and on the fouth by the sea was the only open ground on the peninsula, and it was this that led it first to feature in the British plans.

 

The plain and the beach were thought to be undefended, and the initial intention was to launch a rapid assault from the sea to capture the surrounding hills.  This would give a great strategic advantage and could be accomplished with few casualties.  However, the plan was gradually scaled down from a major strategic operation to the consolidation of a beach head for further operations.  The initial landings were made on the night of 6-7 August, and by the time that the men of the Northamptonshire Regiment landed over a week later there was no rapid movement inland and no strategic initiative at stake.

 

The landing at the improvised jetty on "A" Beach was made from the ships' boats and lighters and covered by the fire of two monitors, M32 and M33, and the Battleship HMS Swiftsure.  One of the tugs on lighter towing duty was the ancient Water Witch, which the battalion was to meet again some months later.  The disembarkation of twenty eight officers and nine hundred and thirten men began at noon, but took well into the afternoon to complete.  The men were collected by company about half a mile inland where they piled arms and were allowed to take off their equipment.  Sea bathing was permitted, and several men were incapacitated by treading on the small black sea urchins which infested the shallow water.  Here the loss of the Royal Edward was confirmed.  The human tragedy compounded the loss of most of the stores and medical equipment for the feld ambulance.  Work began on clearing the assembly point in the expectation of an overnight bivouac, but at 16:00 orders came to fall in and at 17:00 the battalion was moved towards Kiretch Tepe in support of the Bedfordshire regiment who had taken heavy casualties in their opening action.  The move involved an advance under small arms and shrapnel fire over country covered with rocks and thorn scrub which impeded progress without offering cover.  The support trenches, which were little more than shallow scrapings in the brokenground, were reached at 20:00.  The first casualty was Captain H.L. Wright, a Daventry solicitor in command of "B" Company who was wounded by a stray bullet.  He was not seriously hurt and remained at his post.  At 21:30 the battalion reinforced the 1st/4th Essex Regiment and was formally attached to the 163rd Brigade

 

The machine guns had been left at Alexandria, and the gunners landed with rifles and bayonets.  One recorded his own experience of the first day ashore in a letter home:  Moving over a ridge, we came into view of a Turkish observation post.  seconds later a shell burst amongst us with a sickening din.  This was our baptism of fire.  The bombardment from our ships had caused heavy casualties among the Turkish infantry but they were still there waiting for us in the hills above.

 

I remember reflecting that I had no personal grudge against the Turks lining the hills we had to take.  Yet at any moment, I knew I might find myself trying to stick a bayonet into one of them and that he would be endeavouring to do the same thing to me.  It was now a matter of self preservation.  We had to make use of everything we had learned in our military training in England t get the better of the so called enemy.

 

We were soon getting our first sight of the horrors of war.  We met the wounded coming away from the front line and I saw a boot sticking out of the ground attached to part of a Turkish soldier’s leg.  Then darkness came to shut out the horrible sights.  We spent the night digging trenches in anticipation of a Turkish counter attack.  We had no exit for only the sea was behind us.  As we dug a fresh battle flared up on the ANZAC side of the peninsula.  Very lights lit up the night sky and the rattle of machine gun fire echoed across the hill.  Eventually the Very lights fizzled out just like fire works on Guy Fawkes’ night in England.  Then I watched shells exploding as I dug.  Dawn came.  A Turkish observation plane circled high over our trenches, then suddenly swooped low and sprayed us with machine gun bullets.

 

After a night in the open amongst the rocks, the battalion moved forward at first light to Kidney Hill, and although under continuous fire, could not locate the enemy positions.  "A" Company were in the lead when  the Lance Corporal of Number 2 platoon was seriously wounded in the back.  The platoon commander, Lieutenant. M.E. Hancock, dressed his wound and called for stretcher bearers.  When they came, one, the 15 year old Private Rideout, was shot through both legs by a single bullet.  The remaining bearers removed the Lance Corporal and Hancock carried Rideout to the rear on his back, in full view of the Turkish front line troops.  This was observed by Captain Pendered and Hancock was subsequently awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.

 

As the sun rose, so did the temperature.  The machine gun officer, Lieutenant Crockett, detailed his gunners to collect ammunition from the rear.  It was not as easy journey as Turkish snipers seemed to be everywhere and everytime they toiled up hill they were shot at.  Private C E Crutchley noted that an Australian patrol caught a woman sniper who was wearing the identity discs of several british soldiers around her kneck.  They shot her, and that shocked me for I thought that she was a brave person doing only what many British women would have done to invaders of our land.  But I kept my mouth shut for I knew that in war everyone is affected by its lunacy.

 

From the very begining it was obvious that there was not enough water to provide for the mens needs.  Hancock was put in charge of the Battalion water supply, which meant that twice or more each day he led a party of 30 to 40 men about two miles back to the beach.  They travelled in single file two or three yards apart and returned, often under shell and sniper fire, each carrying four gallons of water in 2-gallon tins.  The water was brought in open bowsers which were filled from larger tanks on supply ships.  The water came from the sweet water canal in Egypt.  It was chemically disinfected, and by all accounts tasted vile.  However, as it was collected in empty petrol tins which only gradually lost their flavour with repeated use this was not as significant a problem as it might have been.  After a week, Hancock was seconded to the Brigade and put in charge of water distribution.  He lived in a dug out on A Beach which was he thought marginally safer than being in an advanced position with the Battalion.  As the beach was within rifle range of the Turkish front line positions the advantage was indeed marginal.

 

On 16 August the battalion rejoined 162nd Brigade, and on 19 August releived 1st/11th London Regiment at Lone Tree Gully.  Lieutenant R L Murray, a brilliant Cambrige undergraduate who had joined the Battalion at Beyton from the Officer Training Corps, was wounded by a shrapnel ball on 16 August, but again his wound was not serious.

 

Hodges, a subaltern in "B" Company, remembers being on detached duty with a hundred of his men at "A" Beach, at the disposal of the Naval beach Master.  "On the last day I was able to slip away to bathe.  When I came out of the water, blood was pouring from my right hand.  There was deep cut across the fleshy part at the base of the thumb.  Swimming in shallow water, I had struck the bayonet of a man who had been killed and was lying there in the water.  With my left hand and teeth I applied my field dressing."

 

The next day Hodges went to rejoin the Battalion, and found his own platoon isolated by a flat sandy bottomed valley on the right flank.  The head of the valley was in Turkish hands, and controlled by a well concealed sniper post.  "In the heat of the day, when I thought that he might be asleep, I had a good look at the hill.  Later in the afternoon I was sitting in a dugout which had been captured from the Turks, when a voice said  'Do you want anyone shot around here?'  The voice came from an Australian Sergeant, a super sniper, - a hunter of snipers.  I said ' Yes, I'll show you where abouts he must be.'  I came up the four steps until I was half out of the ground.  He was squatting on his heels. I was pointing to the curve of the hill.  Our heads were close together.  Suddenly there was a PHT between our heads.  I shot back down the hole and he came after me.  Unfortunately I was not quite quick enough in withdrawing my left hand from the second step;  his heel came down and he turned on it.  It was rather a mess.  He tied it up, and now I had two bandaged hands.  The next morning it did not look good.  The soil of the dug out was not clean and some had been ground into my left hand.  I decided that I would rather be shot than die of blood poisoning.  I should have to cross that gully.  If there was still a sniper on that hill, he could not help seeing me.

 

As I was certain to be hit, there was no need to make a fuss about it or to indulge in any dramatic stunts.  I walked down the steep path to the flat floor, walked across quite slowly without any hurry, went up a long smooth, sloping surface of rock and into the next gully where were the Battalion H.Q. and the M.O.  He soon had me nicely tied up, and I started back with two brilliant white bandages.  Early in the morning, there had been a slight shower of rain,  the only one that I remember during my weeks on the peninsula.  As I started to walk down the rock slope, my feet slipped and I went wallop, flat on my back. At that precise moment,  “ pht ” across my stomach.  I leapt up and ran like blazes.  I got a clear start of 20 yards, perhaps a little more.  The man must have thought that his shot had brought me down.  Probably he had laid his rifle down and picked up a pair of glasses. For the last 80 yards or so he was firing at me.  The silly man should have aimed at some fixed point ahead and waited until I got there.  He had lost his head and was taking pot shots at me.  Each bullet just seemed to miss the small of my back.

 

It is extraordinary how fast you can run when you have really got to.  Though you are already going flat out, the sound of a bullet makes you accelerate just a little bit more.  I felt such an ass doing the part of a running target, and that made me laugh to myself.  I think that everyone who has been through a war will agree that when there is really no more hope you cease to worry.  I was sure that there was no hope and was amused.  I might be asked, 'why not stop and stand still?'  That would be unsporting.  The man who is playing the part of the running target must play the part to the end.  I dashed up the track and flopped into the trench.  My platoon, of course, had seen all this, but they could not anything to help me."

 

Later on, although the Battalion H.Q. was in the same place, Hodges's Company was on the left, on the hills running up to the Gulf of Saros.  By daylight it was isolated except by telephone.  The H.Q. lay in the next gully and to reach it it was necessary to climb the exposed slope, break the skyline, and descend on the other side.  This was out of the question during daylight, and the company could only be supplied at night.

 

Early on the morning of August 21st, Captain H.L. Wright sent for Hodges and told him to report to the Battalion H.Q..  The gully was obscured by mist, which shielded him on the outward journey, and he reported to the Adjutant,  Major John Brown.  He was given the time of the attack to be mounted the following day, and the explanation that the codes were not thought secure and so each Company was being informed in person.

 

"I pointed out that my chances of arriving were practically nil, and I hoped that he had already begun picking my successor to the make the second attempt, and perhaps a few more after that.  He shook hands with me solemnly, as with a man about to go to the guillotine.  I asked if the message must be taken immediately. He said, 'No,- any time before midday will do.'  I walked slowly up the gully.  Meeting Regimental Sergeant Major Hatton, I had a chat with him, making it last as long as possible.  Then I came across the MO, Searle, and again spun out the conversation as long as possible.  I explained what I was about to do, and he played his part with understanding.  No one else seemed to be about.  I couldn't just sit down and meditate on death."

 

At the head of the gully he found Lt Crockett, the Machine Gun Officer, with field glasses trained through a thick thorn bush.

 

"For a time I sat there, and he peered through the bush.  Very soon I felt,  'Hell! I can't stand this.  If I have got to be killed let's get it over!'  I got up, turned around, jumped over the skyline and started running madly down the slope.  The machine guns started up at once.  Bullets were spattering on the rocks. I was zigzagging like mad.  The slope was steep and each stride was more like a leap.  It was something in the style of the Guides Race at Grasmere Sports.  I just zigzagged like hell and then suddenly I was on my tummy safe behind the line of stones which served as the front line on this rocky ground which was too hard for digging.  I was safe.

 

Having got my breath and pinched myself to make sure that I was still there, I could crawl along to the Company Commander at the other end.  This took place on August 21st 1915, the day of the great attack across the Salt Lake, the last great attack of the campaign"

 

On Sunday 22 August the battalion was at Green Hill when the second in command, Major A.C. Henson, RSM Hatton and Privates Craxton and Jones were all killed by a single shrapnel shell.  In due course, Arthur Hatton’s name was inscribed on the Beyton War Memorial.  His young widow Mabel remained in the house on The Green until her own death over half a century later.  She did not remarry.  That evening the battalion was relieved by the 1st/4th Worcestershire Regiment, and after a night march, returned to "A" Beach.  Lt. A. Howard was evacuated with a hernia, and the rest of the battalion proceeded to a rest area.  Their route lay over the highest part of Kiretch Tepe which was protected from Turkish view by covered trenches.  Each company occupied dugouts in bush filled gullies running down to the sea. A party of one hundred men was provided each day to assist in the movement of stores at the beaches, and parties had to collect water at night, nevertheless, most of the men were able to rest.

 

After four days news of a move to Lala Baba was received, and the following night a march was made over Kiretch Tepe, around the beaches and through deep sand along the shore.  The beach was eventually sheltered by a small cliff, under which, and in the sides of an adjacent gully, the battalion passed what remained of the night.  The following  morning the four company commanders reported to Brigade headquarters and were shown the trenches which they were to occupy.  Those allocated to the battalion were the reserve trenches on the edge of the salt lake some 500 yards in the rear of Chocolate Hill.  They had been very hastily prepared and most of the next three days were spent in repairing and preparing the positions.  The weather was very hot and the blankets and waterproof sheets which were hung in the trenches could provide no shelter from the plague of flies.

 

At this time, Hodges experienced a strange coincidence.  "I had been for a week at "A" Beach.  I could not report to the regiment because it had gone.  The whole brigade had moved away southwards and was now on the left flank of the Anzac sector.  We were stranded.  Our orders were to report to the commander of the Norfolk and Suffolk Brigade who we should find somewhere on the northern slope of the hills facing across the Gulf of Saros.  We crossed the hills. I chose a goat track halfway up, and we followed it. The light began to fail, we saw Norfolk flashes and knew that we were getting warm.  It was now dark.  I asked someone where I should find the Commander of the Norfolk and Suffolk Brigade.  He said, 'Keep on along this track and you will find him in a hole on the right.'

 

Leaving my fellow officer with the men, I went on along the path.  Presently I was looking down into a dug out.  There was a box with a candle on it, a Brigadier and four Colonels.  What was I to do?  Should I go in?  I thought of my tired men.  I stepped down into the hole and saluted.  The Brigade Commander did not say,  'Why this interruption/'  He did not say,  'What do you want?'  He said, 'My friend, what can I do for you?'  He saw before him a young officer away from his regiment, away from his Brigade; with a few words he had taken him under his wing, he had made him feel at home.  I said,  ' Sir, I have to report to you with a hundred men of the Northamptonshire Regiment.'  He said,  'Ah yes, I know.  Just step back a moment, will you?'  Then he looked very hard and said,  'My friend, I know your face.  Now I wonder where I have seen you before.'  I said,' Yes Sir, in the Maid's Head, at Norwich.'

 

On the night of 29 August the battalion fell in quietly after dark and moved up to Aghyl Dere, here they remained as Brigade reserve and occupied dugouts in Farm Gully.  Early the next morning, "B" Company provided a large party to assist in moving up stores.  At one point the gully had a shallow side and was overlooked by the Turkish positions in the hills.  The artillery had the range of this gap  precisely and placed accurate shrapnel fire over it at the first sign of movement.  As the party moved through the first shot killed Lieutenant. Heywood and wounded several men.  A few moments later a second shot killed Privates Cox and Watts.  Lieutenant Searle attended the wounded under fire and was recommended for the Military Cross, the stores party continued its work under Lieutenant. Hodges and the dead were buried that night.

 

Hodges recalled the death of Heywood, a fellow subaltern in "B" Company.  " I was the last person to speak to him.  I had warned him about danger ahead, then went on ahead to the head of the party.  There was a sharp crack of shrapnel, a shout  'Sir, Sir, Mr Heywood's been hit.'  I ran back.  Heywood had taken a bullet straight through the heart.  We buried him that night.  Two or three of us were allowed to go down each by a different route, at a slightly different time, each with an escort.  At the appointed time we all came forward out of the darkness.  Hastily the Padre said the prayers. Heywood had no coffin. He was buried in a blanket.  We stood round, each with his escort behind him.  We faded away into the blackness.  To me this seemed beautiful, moving, the perfect soldier's funeral.  I hoped that I should be buried like this, in the night, no flag, no shots, no bugle.  Darkness and armed men.

 

Heywood had been hit in the morning.  We buried him that night.  In between an  odd thing had happened.  I was bringing up to the Battalion the party of a hundred men who had been working at "A" Beach.  Following the Norfolk and Suffolk brigade, whom we had found on the hills overlooking the Gulf of Saros.  We had marched all through Saturday night,, spent a restful Sunday at Lalla Babba, then marched through Sunday night and were now just to the North of ANZAC.  To get to the Battalion in the hills, we had to follow a gully, which was dangerous only at one point at which one side was shallow and the Turks on the hills could see into it.  I had been taken over the ground early in the morning, and had come back to take the party up.  I had halted them before the danger spot, and it was then that Heywood was killed.  Coming out from behind the safety of a rock face, they sprinted in small groups across the dangerous bit.  After that they would be quite safe.  I went with the last group.  At that moment another burst of shrapnel arrived, in fact several.  I dived into the nearest hole.  Unfortunately a sergeant chose the same hole, which was not quite big enough for two. There we were wedged, laughing absurdly while the bush in front of us rattled as bullets passed through it.

 

As we sorted ourselves out, the knees of a lad not far ahead gave way under him and he fell backwards.  As we ran towards him, I saw a trickle of blood coming from his head and called  'Take his helmet off.'  They did, and as I arrived, brains fell out onto my boots.

As I looked down at him dead at my feet, I remembered it was Monday morning, wash day.  I had a clear vision of a Northamptonshire cottage and of mother hanging out the washing.  She did not know that her son was dead but she soon would.  He was dead here at my feet, with his brains spilling out.  I laughed.  I laughed at the futility and stupidity and wickedness of the whole business.  The Turk who had killed him did not know that he had done it;  he would never know.  He certainly had no personal hatred for the fresh good natured lad who was lying at my feet.  I laughed, with the laugh of a man sickened by the world's stupidity."

 

Local newspapers were received and were found to include an account of the landing and early days on the peninsula based on an interview with Lieutenant. Howard, who was now in England following his evacuation with a hernia.  This was thought by Lieutenant. Hancock to overstate the amount of action which the Battalion had seen, but it was of little significance as the level of action was in any event increasing to exceed the interviewers exaggerations.

 

On 31 August, the veteran quartermaster, Honorary Major Goacher, was slightly wounded in the hand by shapnel.  However, he was back at his post as soon as the wound had been dressed.  The total casualties for August were 2 officers killed 4 wounded, and 8 other ranks killed, 53 wounded and 1 missing.

 

As soon as it was clear that the attacks at Sari Bair and Suvla had failed to produce the necessary breakthrough, linking the two sectors became a   priority.  With this objective a minor assault was launched from Suvla on 21 August on Hill 60 to coincide with a major offensive by 11th Division on the western end of the ANZAC Sector.  The low summit and the thick scrub which grew right over it, had prevented any satisfactory observation from the air or the ground, but it was believed that there was a complete circle of deep trenches on the top of the hill.  If this ring could be captured the inland slopes would be commanded and there would be a clear view to Biyuk Anafarta and the North West.  The assault was initially timed begin at 3:00pm after an hours preliminary bombardment.  At the last moment it was delayed and the bombardment reduced to thirty minutes.  The Australians attacked first on the right.  They were enfiladed from Turkish positions which had been hardly touched by the bombardment and cut down in large numbers.  The New Zealanders of the Otago and Canterbury Light Horse fared no better in the centre, although a small group did reach the trenches on the western slopes of the hill before being isolated by Turkish artillery.  On the left, the 5th Connaught Rangers had an early success in capturing wells below the hill, but failed to make any substantive progress before nightfall.  During the hours of darkness, two trenches were dug to re enforce the New Zealanders isolated position and exploit the only real gain of the previous day.  The 18th Australian Battalion launched a new attack at first light and were initially successful in capturing a long line of Turkish trenches.  Machine guns and bombs gradually forced the Australians back and by nightfall they were close to their starting point.  Another attempt was made on 27 August.  The ANZAC Corps was so debilitated that no fewer than nine battalions were needed to contribute to the composite battalion.  The attack began at 5:00 pm and quickly developing into a fierce local fight around the original New Zealand positions.  The battalion consisted of 350 Australians on the right, 250 New Zealanders in the centre and the remaining 250 Connaught Rangers on the left.  The Turks had dug a fresh trench in front of that now occupied by the New Zealanders, which led in the direction of the upper ring against which the Connaught Rangers again moved.  The New Zealanders took the Turkish trench after a fierce fight and heavy casualties,  only to find that they faced a further fresh Turkish trench.  After another hour it appeared that they had taken the ring, but then in the gathering evening, the Turks counterattacked.  The New Zealanders held, but the Australian 18th Battalion and the Connaught Rangers were gradually pushed back.  At 9:00 the 9th Australian Light Horse were brought in a final effort to consolidate the New Zealand position and the upper ring.  After initial success there was another counterattack, and by dawn on 28 August only the New Zealand centre showed any gains.  Both sides tried to consolidate their positions during the day and fresh troops were brought up for a night attack.  The newcomers were the 10th Australian Light Horse, who took the upper ring and were immediately reinforced by the 8th ALH.  They built a barricade and then retired under fire to build a second thirty yards away.  At dawn the barricades were still standing and the ring had finally been taken.  For gallantry during this operation Second Lieutenant Throssell won the Victoria Cross.  Daylight brought the depressing realisation that the ring did not command the summit and did not overlook the ground to the north west.  Although it did provide better security and gave some local advantage, the strategic reality was that the new position was little better than the previous one.

 

In the week between the two assaults on the ring the 54th Division had moved from the Kiretch Tepe Sirt to the area around Chocolate Hill.  At the beginning of September the Division’s front was extended to include Hill 60.

 

Over the night of 3/4 September a move was made to South Wales Borderers Valley.  This was on the junction of the ANZAC and Suvla sectors, onthe southern slopes of Aghyl Dere.  Many men were suffering from dehydration and dysentery so arrangements were made for the baggage to be transported by mule in a precarious journey over open country.  In spite of the guards posted by the battalion, many found that their kit failed to arrive or came without any contents of use or value.  It was impossible to leave the valley in day light, and water became very scarce.  The company commanders made an initial visit to the ring of trenches on the summit of Hill 60 which had been captured the week before.  The battalion was once more attached to 163rd Brigade, and arrangements were made to relieve 1st/5th Suffolk Regiment in the trenches the following day.

 

On 5 September "A" and "D" companies moved up to Hill 60 under Captain. Fisher.  They found Australian and New Zealand troops in a state of exhausted debilitation.  Large numbers of decomposing dead lay where they had fallen in the gruesome struggle.  In places the dead simply filled the trenches which had been sealed off with sandbags.  The next day the rest of the battalion was brought up under Capt. Pendered, and finding themselves now in sole occupancy of Hill 60 they set about increasing the depth of the trenches and improving the dugouts.

 

On the first night on the hill Hodges was put in command of the centre company.  It contained men who he did not know as well as some Irish and Australian troops who seemed to have been left behind by their departing battalions.  In addition, there was a machine gun company of the 8th Battalion The Hampshire Regiment, who possessed the first trench mortar to be seen in the Brigade.  Hodges always tried to get around his company and speak to every man every day, and these strangers were no exception.  At the right edge of his sector was a blocked trench known as Beech Lane, and when talking to some men in this area, he sensed a stirring in the Turkish lines.  It was a very dark night, and as he stood on the fire step staring at the blackness and straining to listen for any sound, a hand grenade flew past him and fell onto the trench floor behind him.

 

"It is extraordinary how quickly you can move when you've really got to.  I had to step backwards and downwards off the fire step, turn left, do a standing long jump over the damned grenade and get round the traverse, before the grenade went off.  As I shot around the traverse, it went off.  Unfortunately an Australian had lain down at that point on the trench floor to get some sleep.  As I came round the corner at maximum possible speed, I tripped over his feet.  One of my feet came down on some portion of his stomach, the other, somewhere on his head.  There are moments in life at which it is better not to stop and explain.  In any case, a man going flat out can't stop.  I heard loud horrific oaths rising up into the night sky.

 

I went to the trench mortar people, gave them the target, and went back to observe.  A loud bang, but no apparent result.  We would try once more.  This time there were terrible groans.  They lasted a long time.

 

Though I was too occupied that night, I think that it was from that moment that I felt that I could not come home and take Holy Orders.  Listening to those horrible groans, I could not escape the fact that I had killed a man. The fact that he was a Mohammedan did not make any difference at all.  He was my brother, one of the children of God.  I had killed him."

 

The ring of trenches was roughly circular and about half a mile in circumference.  The positions were overlooked from Turkish trenches which were between 25 and 60 yards away.  Originally two communication trenches led out of The Ring towards the Turkish lines, these were rapidly sandbagged at each end and machine gun positions were installed in them.  The trenches were little more than scrapes in the rocky soil which were rarely more than two feet deep, and had no wire in front of them.  Working parties soon increased the depth of the ring to at least six feet, after which the defences were relatively secure and stable.  Two days later they were relieved by the Suffolks and a garrison rota was established with the battalion spending between three and ten days in the trenches alternated with similar periods in South Wales Borderers Valley. There was little military action and a stale routine developed of watching and harassing the enemy, nevertheless, casualties grew slowly as snipers and shrapnel took their toll.

 

On 11 September they relieved the 1st/8th Hampshire Regiment, and on 15 September were themselves relieved by the 1st/7th Essex.  The location of the camp in South Wales Borderers Valley was discovered by Turkish Artillery and while out of the line the battalion was subjected to four days of heavy artillery fire.  On 20 September they again relieved the Essex in The Ring at Hill 60, and were relieved by them on 25 September, when Sir Ian Hamilton visited the camp.  The battalion returned to Hill 60 on 30 September, and were relieved on 5 October, only to return on 10 October.  This routine was tedious and unproductive, and in an attempt to gain advantage, a party of 24 men took over the digging of a mine from an Australian contingent.  The Turks were also active and on the afternoon of 11 October they exploded a mine in the British front line.  Fortunately it was shallow and short and caused no significant damage.  Lieutenant General Birdwood visited the front line in the aftermath.  The failure of the mine led the Turks to switch to an artillery offensive, and there was a heavy exchange of fire on the afternoon of 14 October in which six men were killed.  On 15 October the battalion was relieved by 1st/5th Suffolk Regiment, and returned to South Wales Borderers Valley.  Further attempts were made to secure the position on Hill 60 by mining and the tunnelling party returned to the hill on 19 October and began to tunnel forward on the right hand edge of the 162nd Brigade position.  The rest of the Battalion came into the line on 25 October and on the night of 27/28 a large enemy mine exploded.  Again, it was short of the front line and did little damage, however, it was followed by a heavy and sustained grenade assault and a very fierce artillery barrage on the communication trenches which did considerable damage to the earthworks.  During the following night there was a sustained grenade assault, although the anticipated infantry attack failed to materialise.  On 30 October the Suffolks relieved the Northamptons who returned to South Wales Borderers Valley.

 

Lieutenant Hancock recorded the use of the periscope rifle:

I got alot of fun with the periscope rifle really.  It was pushed up over the top of the trench and it had a reflector fitted on so that you could see from down below up along the barrel of the rifle.  On one occasion by systematically aiming at the top of a sandbag it made a little jag in it.  You then went down two or three inches and gradually split the sandbag down.  We were able to completly disrupt one of their sandbagged areas and you could see the part built to hold up the machine gun start to slip.  We were rather pleased with it.  Of course they built it up at night and the next day it was back.  That was the kind of thing we were engaged in- just being a damn nuisance as far as we could.

 

Hancock was a bombing officer, and described three sorts of grenades:

One was what we called a jam tin into which was put a charge of explosive.  It was filled with all kinds of odds and ends; buts of stone, flint, empty cartridges, bits of iron, nails....Then a fuse was inserted into a detonator.  The neck of the detonator was crimped together to hold the fuse into the detonator.  It was put in through the top of the lid down into the explosive and then you’ve probably got four or five inches of fuse exposed.  In order to use it you would hold it in one’s left hand. The thing was that to light the fuse you had to be darn careful not to show a light at night.  I would often use the end of my cigarette - we were always smoking - that was very effective.  Then as soon as you heard it fizz you kept it for two or three seconds - not too long but not too soon either - you tried to get it to explode on landing.  It wouldn’t be in the air very long and you had to get your timing right.  You hoped it dropped into the Turkish trench.

 

One was the jam tin. The other was the cricket ball which looked exactly like a cricket ball made of cast iron.  And another was what we called a hairbrush and that was a flat piece of wood with a handle.  On that flat piece was wired a slab of dynamite.  It had a bit of fuse wire and a detonator stuck in.  You lit the end.  You waited about five or six seconds possibly, and you chucked it.  The detonation was the thing.  There was no metal attached to it at all.  But the detonation, anywhere near was very ,very upsetting.

 

One source of bombs was Turkish jam tin bombs.  They were the same as ours, although slightly smaller and very thin tin.  They had a fuse into a detonator, pushed it inside, lit it and threw it over.  I should think that 30% of them failed to go off.  We heard them fall and if they didn’t go off we marked them down, “There’s a dud there,” and at night I used to go out crawling about in no man’s land collecting all of these damned things.  We were never damned short of bombs.  All we had to do was to take the fuse out that hadn’t burnt through, take that out, refuse it with a detonator on the end and chuck it back!  They always went off.  A highly satisfactory sound.

 

For the most part, bombs were simply thrown.  Hancock likened the process to bowling in cricket, although the trenches of Hill 60 were a rather difficult pitch, and it was very easy to catch the arm on the back wall of the narrow trench or to fail to clear the raised parapet from the trench floor.  In either event the effect was to deposit the bomb amongst the bombers.  Small bomb pits were dug in the front of the trenches in order to provide enough room for the full rearward extension of the throwing arm without obstructing the trench.  This was quite effective in its own rather limited way, and some men became quite proficient at it.  Hancock was appointed bombing officer for the Brigade, and the rather medieval quality of trench warfare was extended by what seemed a new and rather exciting toy:

 

It was a wooden contraption meant to work on the principle of the catapult.  There was a hollow wooden cylinder on a framework which on either side had a strong elastic tape.  You primed and cocked the thing by winding a handle.  You pulled back the cylinder until there was a pretty good tension on the rubber and then fixed the catch.  You got the bomb, lit the end of it, dropped it in the cylinder and then released the catch and up she went.  Well it was literally a cock shy because there was no question of seeing where it went, you just guessed at wht angle you set the thing, high or low, and you had to work the tension of the rubber so that it didn’t go too far.  It was a very hit or miss affair.  It was quite fun really.

 

It was not always fun.

 

The macabre became part of normal life.  Half buried corpses acquired names as they became familiar features of the trenches, and a mummified hand protruding from a trench wall became a talisman to be shaken by men passing up to the firing line.  There was now a permanent water shortage and a ration of a pint per man per day, which had to be fetched in petrol tins from the beach, and the water parties faced many long and arduous journeys in the dark over rough ground with the precious supplies.  The position on Hill 60 was very crowded.  It was impossible to rest without being disturbed by moving men, and disease spread rapidly in the fly infested heat.  The Turkish trenches were so close that any attempt by artillery to register the locations could only be made after the partial evacuation of the front lines.  The crowded and unsanitary conditions in full view of the enemy made it impossible to cook meals and ration parties brought up food twice a day.  In the midday heat a "light meal" of boiled rice with jam or dried fruit was provided.  In the evening, dinner was invariably tinned meat with hard biscuit.  Sometimes flour was issued, but in the absence of water this was generally wasted.  The water position was eased by the discovery and enhancement of small springs on the hill and in the support valley behind, but these did not overcome the water supply problem.  Shortage of water and food and the tropical heat of the first three months on the peninsula all told on the health of the battalion.

 

In November the weather became bitterly cold and wet, adding exposure and frostbite to dysentery and typhoid.  The damage to the earthworks from mines and artillery led to one company of the battalion being detached to serve as a reserve to 1st/4th Norfolksand one platon being sent to join a special reserve force at Kaiajik Dere.  For the rest the routine continued.  They relieved the Essex on 9 November, were relieved by the Suffolks on 14 November, and again took over from the Essex on 24 November.  While they were out of the front line, the mining activity continued.  The Welsh Horse had been designated as pioneers, in the belief that they were coal miners.  They had been raised in South Wales, but for the most part were hill farmers.  On 15 November, they exploded a mine which threw up a bank of earth obscuring the view from the British front line and causing several casualties from falling debris.  Four smaller mines were exploded in no man’s land with the intention of pushing the front line forward, but the craters did not overlap and could not be occupied.  On 20 November a Turkish counter mine exploded and buried eight men in a Welsh Hose tunnelling party.  Their bodies could not be recovered.  When the Northamptons returned to the line on 24 November they found the position even more precarious than when they had left it.  The battalion was due to leave the peninsula for a months rest on Lemnos on 27 November.  However, at about 18:00 a violent storm began and rain filled the trenches with waist deep water.  It continued until next morning when a northerly wind froze everything hard with snow falling for the next few days making movement impossible.  At the beginning of December they packed and prepared to move, but there was a further delay when it was realised that the relieving Gurkha troops were too short to use the fire steps and loopholes.  The next few days were spent in trying to modify the defences, by which time it had been decided to abandon the Peninsula and the men were formed into parties to sort all the kit, equipment and stores.  Everything not of immediate use was burned. Between September and November the Battalion was in The Ring for 35 days during which time 35 men were killed and 129 wounded

 

On 7 December the battalion proceeded to North Beach, where they embarked in darkness on the Princess Ena.  This took most of the night, and at 06.30  on 8th December they finally left the peninsula.  At 12.30 they arrived in Mudros Bay and were disembarked by lighters at Mudros.  They then marched to Portianos Camp were they arrived at 5.00 PM. Sixty-five other rank reinforcements joined the battalion and on 13 December the 18 officers and 427 other ranks left on foot for Mudros.  They included only four officers and two hundred men of the original battalion.  At 17:00 they embarked on HMT Alaunia via the launch Waterwitch and at 17:00 on 14 December the Cunard fast mail liner sailed for Alexandria.  On 15 December it was reported that enemy submarines were active in the area and the ship put into Milos Bay for three hours.  At 07:00 on 18 December they arrived at Alexandria where the men were disembarked and marched to Ramleh where they entrained for Sidi Bishr Camp.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Gilly100 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2012 at 12:09
Very interesting information on a unit I will cover on my book on Hill 60. Could we please contact each other on this by personal message. It is the first info on 1/4th Northants I have come across thus far. The personal accounts are excellent and from where, if I can ask?

Cheers

Ian Gill
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