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The Royal Newfoundland Regiment embarked
for Gallipoli on the morning of August 20th, 1915. The Regiment boarded
His Majesty's Transport Ship Megantic. They numbered 34 officers and 1042
other ranks. The trip was quiet and relaxing for the troops. On August
26th, the ship stopped at Valetta Harbour, Malta. The next day they set
sail for Mudros Harbour which was located on the Aegean Island of Lemnos.
The trip took two days and despite the threat of U-boats there were no
incidents to spoil the peace and tranquility of the Mediterranean.
At Mudros, the troops were informed that they would not be landing. They
would, instead, be leaving for Alexandria. The Newfoundlanders were disappointed.
The Turks would have to wait.
On September 1st, the RNR arrived in Alexandria and boarded trains bound for Abbassia Barracks just outside of Cairo. These barracks were nothing more than four walls with a roof. Here they stayed for 4 days.
Next, they were on to Polygon Camp. This camp consisted of tents that the Regiment set up themselves. The tents were designed for the desert heat, having a "double roof" that provided insulation from the scorching sun. But nothing could relieve them from the "flies" that came by the thousands and tormented the men constantly during the day. The men switched from their "heavy" uniforms to the "desert" shorts and sun helmets. They trained daily and paraded often. Their schedule left them ample time to do some sight seeing and take photos that they would send home.
On September 13th they were inspected by General Sir John Maxwell and the next day they were back on the trains headed for Alexandria. Here they embarked the Ausonia, and headed for Mudros. They trip took nearly four days and on the 18th they anchored. Preparations to disembark took place on the 18th and 19th. On the morning of the 20th, they were transferred to the Prince Abbas for the last leg of their journey.
Suvla Bay was the last stop. The Newfoundlanders knew they were at war. They could see the flashes and hear the thunder of the artillery pieces from both sides and they heard the familiar sound of rifle fire. The troops were carried ashore on "lighters", a motorized flat bottomed boat with 3/8 inch steel plate as protection from enemy fire. These lighters were hard to maneuver and it was late in the afternoon before all the Newfoundlanders finally stood on the pier of Kangaroo Beach. Their kit was stowed on the beachhead and the men were shown their "accommodations" which were a series of dugouts in the ground. Barely deep enough to protect them from the howling winds and the clouds of sand. They settled down for what was left of the night. This would be their home for the next 3 months. It was September 20th and cold. The Turks welcomed the Newfoundlanders with an 8:00 a.m. wakeup call from their artillery batteries. The shrapnel found approximately 15 soldiers that morning including Captain Walter Rendell, the battalion adjutant. No one was killed. Capt Rendell was evacuated to a hospital in Malta and it would be a full year before he saw his troops again. He was replaced by Captain Arthur (Tim) Raley. All the Band's instruments were also destroyed that morning.
The troops moved that morning to better "accommodations" in a gully called Essex Ravine. From there Captain Carty took "A" Coy forward to join the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the front lines to learn trench warfare. Other companies followed, each holding a section of trenches for two or three days, and on being relieved moving into the 88th Brigade Reserve.
It was during this training period that the Regiment suffered its first and second fatal casualties. Private H.W. McWhirter was killed on September 22 by a Turkish shell and the next day Private W.F. Hardy was killed by a sniper's bullet. They are buried on Hill 10 overlooking Suvla Bay along with eight of their comrades. Trench warfare was a monotonous life. There was the morning "stand to", followed by breakfast and then rifle and ammo cleaning. Sentry duty and trench maintenance followed by the midday meal. After that the troops turned to personal grooming and sanitation. This entailed trying to keep the "lice" at bay. Drinking water was scarce. One half a pint per day. As the local wells were contaminated the troops were ordered to stay away from them.
Following the evening meal the men had to man the "listening posts", patrol the enemy positions, and, repair or extend the protective barbed wire or dig a new trench. It was during these nocturnal activities that the Turkish snipers were most active. However, the Newfoundlanders managed to keep their casualties low.
The normal tour of duty in the front line lasted ten days. On its first relief, October 11, the Newfoundlanders moved back two miles to the second line of defense and were replaced by the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. There they worked on upgrading the reserve trenches and making communication trenches. They received mail from home and had the opportunity to attend Church services. As October slipped away, the weather turned warm. And with the warm weather came the flies. They came in the millions, using the unburied corpses as breeding grounds. They brought with them diseases such as dysentery, jaundice, and enteric. Casualties rose in numbers because of the flies and the hot climate. Many never recovered and are buried in cemeteries at Alexandria, Mudros and Malta. The remainder carried on and took up the slack for their depleted ranks. The first reinforcements came in December.
In November, Capt Charles Wighton, was shot and killed while visiting one of "A" Company's listening posts. He was the first officer of the regiment to be killed. The very next day a violent thunderstorm broke over the Suvla Plain. The storm that followed will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. There were storm force gales, rain, and electrical storms that lasted almost three weeks. The flooded trenches were soon awash and rivers formed in the drainage ditches. Company Headquarters was ruined. The Orderly Room paperwork was washed away.
The next morning the troops, tired, wet, and exhausted, started to rebuild. But nature was not done. The winds turned cold and blew harder. Sleet turned to snow. The temperature dropped well below zero. Ice formed in the trenches. For two days there was no change. It was the worst winter on the Gallipoli peninsula in forty years. The allied forces lost 200 men.
The Newfoundland Regiment had around 150 casualties. The majority with frost bitten feet. No fatalities. Men stayed on duty despite frozen feet. Whale oil and dry straw were issued. The Newfoundlanders rubbed the oil into their feet and wore straw-filled sandbags because their feet were too swollen to wear boots. Few escaped the painful disability of trench foot.
Sometime after this disaster, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Hadow was appointed Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion and rumours started that an evacuation was in the near future.
The evacuation started in November. The Newfoundlanders were told to send their sick and wounded aboard ship. Excess kit and stores were held at Brigade Headquarters. On the 18th, a party of four officers and 100 men were moved from the front lines to the beaches on the north shore of Suvla Bay. They embarked at Little West Beach, just west of Kangaroo Beach. At dawn, they were followed by another 100 Newfoundlanders.
Sunday, the 19th, those that were left behind did everything to make it seem like a normal day. The Navy provided a small barrage. The men fired their weapons occasionally while laying booby traps and setting up devices to fool the Turks long after the troops had left. By midnight all troops behind the forward line had been embarked. Around 3:00 a.m., the Newfoundland rearguard boarded a lighter. Early on the 20th the majority of the Battalion found themselves on the island of Imbros, fifteen miles from the Gallipoli peninsula. The remainder were taken to Mudros. The evacuation was done! Everything had gone according to plan and there were no casualties. But it wasn't over. The Newfoundlanders were under canvas and had hot food for about a day and a half. On the 22nd they boarded the steamship, Redbreast, and headed for Cape Teke on the Gallipoli peninsula. They were to reinforce the British at Cape Helles in anticipation of an assault by General Liman von Sanders because of the successful withdrawal at Suvla Bay. The Newfoundlanders landed at Lancashire Landing and went into Brigade reserve until the first week of January when word came that they would be evacuated again. The Newfoundland rearguard was among the last troops to leave. They would not return to Gallipoli again during the war!
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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