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When the great war-cloud burst over the world in August, 1914, Newfoundland was engrossed in her peaceful occupations. From a military standpoint no country could be in a state of greater unpreparedness. Such various Church organizations as the Methodist Guards the Highlanders, the Church Lads’ Brigade and the Roman Catholic Cadets had very little resemblance to a modern military organization, though their ranks became rapidly depleted by the enlistment of the Regiment. And even those organizations were confined to Saint John’s. In the outports there was no group or body of men either in the nature of a military or social organization that could render any assistance as a unit in preparing to fight an enemy.
From the standpoint of immediately available untrained men the country was scarcely more prepared than in military organization. It was the time of every year when almost the entire country is engrossed in the prosecution of the cod fishery. Large numbers of men were scattered along the Labrador coast, far from the excitement and anxiety caused by the international cloudburst. And others, a greater number, were engaged in the same work at their homes around the entire Island. They were engrossed in a means of livelihood that could not be put off for a month, or even a week, but a kind of work upon the success of one brief week of which the happiness of the family for the entire year might depend. At any time of the year from October to May the response to a national call would have been many times as great. Government action.
The Government, however, lost no time in taking suitable action to meet the emergency. On the eighth of August, Governor Davidson wired the Secretary of State as follows: “Ministers desire authority to enlist special men service abroad by land and sea. Ministers undertake to raise force of Naval Reserve by October 31st to 1000 efficient men available for naval service abroad for one year and are willing to meet all local expense. Several hundred with efficient local brigade training offer Page Five
for enlistment for land service abroad. Believe that 500 could be enlisted within one month. Propose to induce serviceable men between 18 and 35 years to enroll themselves in training for home defense wherever corps instructors are available. These will form material for further drafts.” On the following day the Secretary of State replied to Governor Davidson: “Your telegram of August 8th. His Majesty’s Government to raise troops for land service abroad. Will telegraph later as to Naval Reserve.” For the purpose of making good our offer, a preliminary meeting was held on the afternoon of the tenth of August in the Executive Council Chamber, and was presided over by the Prime Minister, Sir E.P. Morris. Besides the Prime Minister there were present at that meeting the Colonial Secretary, Mr. J.R. Bennett; Lieutenant-Commander MacDermott of the H.M.S. Calypso; Inspector General Sullivan; Captain Wakefield, M.D., of the Legion of Frontiersmen; Major Hutchings of the Methodist Guards’ Brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel Rendell of the Church Lads’ Brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson of the Highlanders; Major Carty of the Catholic Cadet Corps; Captain Goodridge and Captain J.W. Morris of the Rifle Club. On Wednesday night, August 12, a public patriotic meeting was held in he C.L.B. Armory, the purpose of which, as stated by Sir E.P. Morris (now Lord Morris), was to endorse what the Government had already decided on. The enthusiasm of the meeting left no doubt that the public endorsation of the Government’s action was unanimous.
During the following week patriotic meetings were held for the purpose of getting together an efficient organization that would bee responsible for the immediate development of a military force. The public spirit ran high. While public excitement, and, in consequence, confusion, would have been more pronounced, the spirit of unselfish patriotism and of resistance of a brutal and militaristic enemy could not have been greater if the enemy were at the entrance of Saint John’s harbor. On August 21, a proclamation was issued by the Governor-in-Council calling for 500 volunteers, If the patriotic meeting of the twelfth lacked anything in the way of demonstrating the public endorsation of the Government’s action that was unquestionably supplied by the public response during the days immediately following the issuing of the proclamation. By the thirty-first of August over 500 had offered their services, mostly from the stores and offices of the Capital City. It is significant that considerably more than half of these hailed from the city brigades. On September 3, the second day of the Legislative Session, Governor Davidson informed the Prime Minister that in response to a telegraphic message he (Governor Davidson) had replied saying that “the Newfoundland Regiment is now 800 strong and going under canvas. Contingent of 500 will be ready to start on the first of October.” Page Six
Being the first ten men to take the oath.
Standing, left to right: W.H. Janes, J. Thompson, N. Patrick, M. Sears, J. Long. Sitting, left to right: J. Irvine, R. Andrews, G. Langmead, J. Carter, R. Williams. This tent produced 4 Commissioned Officers, 1 Warrant Officer (1st class), 1 Warrant Officer (2nd class), 3 Sergeants, 1 Private.
The action which had already been taken by the Governor-in-Council received the necessary legislative sanction by the enactment on September 4 by the General Assembly, which met on September the second, and was again prorogued on the seventh of “ AN ACT RESPECTING A VOLUNTEER FORCE IN THIS COLONY.” Page Seven
Section 1 of the Act provided, that: “The Governor may accept the services of any persons desirous of being formed under this Act into a volunteer corps and offering their services, and upon such acceptance the proposed corps shall be deemed to be lawfully formed.” Section 5 provided that: “Volunteers shall be enlisted for service abroad and for home defence against the alien enemies of the King. Every volunteer shall sign a roll in which the conditions of his service shall be stated.
No person shall be enlisted for a longer period than the duration of the war, but not exceeding one year.” It was the general opinion at that time that one year would cover the period for which military service would be required, but we shall later see that re- enlistment became necessary while the volunteer force was still in training in England and at a time when men of the type of the Newfoundland force were badly needed to reinforce the troops that were operating against the Turks on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The month of September was spent in the rudiments of military training in Saint John’s. The scene created by the hastily constructed military camps at Pleasantville will for many years remain fresh in the memories of the people of the Capital City.
On the fourth of October, the first contingent of the land force that was to represent Newfoundland in the Allies’ struggle against Central Europe set out for England on the H.M.S. Florizel. The event was one which, in point of military importance and demonstrated national patriotism, was without parallel in Newfoundland history. In answer to the call of the Mother Country her Oldest Colony had spoken in no uncertain terms. The voice of the country was loud and clear, and at no time during the struggle, not even when the hardest blow was met at Beaumont Hamel, can there be said to have been a note of uncertainty or faintheartedness. Whatever doubt there may have been as to the wisdom of the method of raising men, the fact that men were to be raised was practically unquestioned, even in the more isolated parts where the supreme importance of the situation
Was not fully realized and hence the spirit of national patriotism not so fully aroused. Voluntary enlistment may have been regarded as a plausible method during the first months of the war when it was almost unanimously believed that the war would be of short duration, but after Lord Kitchener’s famous prediction it must have been apparent to the enlightened legislators of that time that the only democratic, fair and systematic method, though more difficult to operate and less tasteful to the politician, would have been selective conscription. No sentimental argument should stand in the way of efficiency and fairness. The United States did not for one moment question the loyalty and patriotism of her subjects, though she had scarcely declared war on the Central Powers before she announced a plan of selective conscription. Political expediency, especially when international or intercolonial questions are involved, is a menace to the right conduct of any country. At the moment that this chapter is being written the United States are placing their own sincerity, and, indeed, their whole national reputation, at stake by declining to support or make any pronouncement on the League of Nations, though they themselves brought in the plan to forever prevent the horribleness and inhumanity of modern wars. Political expediency versus national and international interests, and in all such cases the former generally wins. The point is worthy of notice here only because it involves a very important principle affecting the conduct of our own Government while the question of maintaining a battalion in the field was persistently asking for a non-political solution.
Our concern here, however, is not the particular method adopted for raising and maintaining a battalion, but to chronicle briefly the military operations of our Battalion with its splendid record of heroism and ability. More than ten months were spent at Salisbury Plain, Fort George near Inverness, Stobs Camp near Hawick and finally at Aldershot in intensive military training, during which time several other drafts were sent overseas which brought the Regiment up to full battalion strength. It will be remembered that volunteers were first accepted for a period of one year, but at Aldershot, where the last days of training were spent, upon being given the alternatives, when reviewed by His Majesty the King and Lord Kitchener, of returning home or enlisting for the period of the war practically every man accepted the latter alternative. Selected for Gallipoli.
It was on the same day, in the early part of August, that Lord Kitchener made the pronouncement that the Newfoundlanders were just the men he wanted for Gallipoli, and a week later, on the seventeenth of August, they were informed that on that same night they would embark for the Dardanelles. The order went into effect, and early next morning the Regiment detrained at Devonport and marched on board the converted cruiser, “Megantic,” (see Extracts from the diary of the late Lieut. O.W. Steele at the end of this chapter for details). Page Twelve
Stage of the Gallipoli Campaign. Before continuing to trace the operations of the Newfoundland Regiment it is necessary that we understand something of the stage of the Gallipoli campaign when our Battalion arrived there, and the conditions under which it was fought by the Allied troops. As stated above, the port of Mudros, in the historic Island of Lemnos, about fifty miles from Gallipoli, was selected as a necessary subsidiary base. Mudros, as far as facilitating the campaign or being in any way beneficial to the Allied forces was concerned, was scarcely more than a safe anchorage. Quantities of stores, such as ammunition and fuel for the ships engaged, could with great difficulty be stored there, but no supplies for the troops or the battleships could be purchased there. The island produces comparatively little of what is consumed by its own small population. Neither did it offer any facilities for loading or discharging, so that the work of storing supplies of anything like the quantity required involved an enormous amount of incessant and strenuous toil. At Gallipoli this situation was aggravated and intensified by the fact that the work had to be done under the fire of the enemy’s guns. When a large British transport crossed the English Channel with a load of shells and big guns she pulled alongside a commodious pier in a French port, and her cargo was rapidly discharged by the use of powerful cranes, with comparatively little manual labor and out of the reach and sound of enemy guns. At Gallipoli ships’ derricks were used for taking the cargoes from the decks and the holes of ships, but there the labor-saving devices of scientific invention ended and incessant, arduous toil began. Only the troops who actually did the work can fully understand the difficulties and the hardships. Probably, however, the greatest difficulty, failure in which caused the greatest demoralization and enervation among the troops, was in keeping on hand an adequate supply of fresh water to relieve the scorching thirst of a whole army. The strip of land occupied by the Allied troops offered no fresh water that could with safety be utilized. This meant that all the water used by our entire army had to be brought 500 miles. The quantity needed was 80 tons a day. Without fresh water in the scorching heat of a Gallipoli summer’s day, living on a salt meat diet, while engaged in the most strenuous labor, - carrying heavy packs and getting large pieces of machinery up trackless hills, - and all under the fire of the enemy’s guns, created a hardship and mental strain which only the men who actually did it can ever fully appreciate. Page Fourteen
2nd from back: S. Goodyear, A. Penny, A.S. Newman, W.Manstan, W. Ryall, N. MacLeod, J. Williams, J. Robinson, W. Clare, J. Gardner, C. Dulley, E. Butcher, C. James, G. Hicks, J. Bethune, S. Smith, W. Ayre.
3rd from back: S. Ferguson, C. Oke, G. Taylor, C. Strong, W. Edwards, B. Dicks, E. Ebsary, M. McKay, G. Paver, H. McNeill, H. Ross, R. Ferguson, W. Miles, L. Murphy, C. Melville, L. Stick, H. Peckham, D.Eaton.
Front Row: M. Nugent, E. Barnes, R. Kershaw, G. Byrne, J. Snow, E. Churchill, G. Langmead, E. Edwards, R. Stick.
It was in the face of these difficulties and others of scarcely less magnitude that the Gallipoli campaign was carried on from April 25, 1915, when the first landing was effected, until the first days of 1916. The fighting during May, June, July and the first part of August was very sever, and costly in human life. Not only, however, was the German boast that the Allied troops would not land settled for all time, but great successes were achieved and possession taken of a considerable portion of the Peninsula. The record is one of glorious sacrifice and unsurpassable courage. The Allied offensive terminated with the failure of the thrust at Sari Bair, August 6th-10th. It failed through lack of sufficient men and water. The five days’ battle on a front of twelve miles has cost the Allies almost a quarter of their entire Gallipoli army. Fifty thousand men, with large quantities of food and ammunition supplies would be required for another attack. It was decided that these should not be sent, and after several thrusts during the latter days of August the fighting on both sides settled down into trench warfare. Regiment Landed at Suvla.
This, then, is the situation both as regards the nature and the stage of the Gallipoli campaign, when, in the early morning of September 20, the Newfoundland Regiment landed on the beach at Suvla, and was shelled for the first time by the enemy. The beach was piled high with ammunition, sandbags, large and small guns and innumerable other things that go to make up the equipment of an army. The ground inland was very hilly and in some places set with steep cliffs, and as our men moved off in this direction in small platoons the Turkish shell fore became heavier. One officer and eight men of other ranks were wounded during the first day. As night came on, under cover of darkness, our Regiment marched toward the trenches, about four miles distant, A Company taking a position in the support trenches. Each day a new company went into the support trenches and on the 24th A and B Companies relieved the Worcester and Hampshire Regiments respectively. These two regiments with the King's Own Scottish Borderers and now the Newfoundlanders constituted the 88th Brigade, and formed part of Sir Ian Hamilton’s “incomparable Twenty-ninth Division.” Page Twenty
The various beaches where British, Australian and Newfoundland troops made landings on the west coast of the peninsula, are indicated as “Beach W,” “Beach X,” etc., running north to “Beach Z.” Points where some of the severest fighting took place, after the cliff on the shore had been surmounted were Drithia, Achi Baba, Gaba Tepe, and Anafarta. In the earlier operations with ships the Dardanelles were penetrated almost through the Narrows.
The New Zealanders and the 88th Brigade were the principal attacking parties in the great effort of August 6th-10th for the all important hill, Sari Bair. They won their objective, but the troops that relieved them were attacked by an overwhelming force, and the hill was lost, not to be retaken during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. The trenches now held by the 88th Brigade were at the bottom of a series of several promontories which lay in front of Sari Bair. The promontories ranged from 250 to 600 feet in height, and Sari Bair stood majestically in the background about 900 feet high.
On September 28 the Turks tried several tomes to take the position held by the Newfoundlanders. Their attempts cost them heavy losses and ended in complete failures. In order to make any advance in this area the Turks had to rise over the crest of the nearest ridge, about 700 yards away. Their plan was to attack in mass formation, but as they appeared on the crest of the ridge they were subject to a terrific rain of shells from the ships in the Bay and the batteries at Suvla. The Newfoundland Regiment stood to arms for several hours. They expected at any moment the order to advance and engage the enemy or to have to ward off a strong enemy attack. Although the Turks did make an attempt to advance, and in great strength, so accurate and destructive was the work of our ships and artillery that comparatively few of the enemy were left to be held up by rifle fire. No casualties were suffered by our men. Dysentery and Enteric.
Practically no attempt was made by the enemy after this time to take the position held by the Newfoundland Regiment, and life at Gallipoli became monotonous and full of routine. The whole experience was a complete disappointment to our men. They went to fight the Turks, but, as we have seen, the Allied offensive at Gallipoli was over more than a month before the Newfoundland Regiment arrived there. But it must not be concluded that the soldier’s life at Gallipoli from this time until evacuation was mere play. Quite to the contrary; conditions brought about by other enemies were far worse than the Turks were capable of creating by military activity. Dysentery and enteric spread with amazing rapidity and played havoc with the entire forces. In front of the trenches held by our men were the corpses of hundreds of the enemy. Clouds of flies swarmed over these as they decayed in the sweltering heat of the day. The same flies preyed on the food and the drink, carrying disease and death in their trail. High winds blew the Peninsula dandy soil, which was thickly inhabited with disease germs, in to the food and water. Page Twenty-Four
The very fine sand, apart from any disease germs carried by it, was claimed to be responsible for much of the dysentery. Available hospitals at Alexandria, Cairo, and other places were filled with men suffering from dysentery and enteric, and, as will be seen from the records of the “FIRST FIVE HUNDRED,” many of our men were invalided to hospitals, some going to England. The vitality of the entire army was lowered. Few escaped the disease entirely, and many died from its effects.
Apart from the haunts of disease and extreme thirst, life was scarcely more than a daily routine. There was some shelling every day and every night, especially when either side showed unusual activity. Machine gun and rifle fire formed part of the daily and nightly program; but the most effective activity on the part of the enemy was sniping. Every possible nook or place of any kind in which they could conceal themselves was inhabited by Turkish snipers. Specially did they watch with great vigilance any place where drinking water could be obtained, so that any of our men who attempted to relieve their maddening thirst was shot down by cleverly hidden snipers. One writer, referring to the Newfoundland Regiment, says: “The soldiers had come expecting to find war a life of excitement. They found it, on the contrary, duller than the most dreary spells of lonely life in the back woods of their own island”. The heat, the hard work, the flies, the thirst, and the intermittent shelling combined to tax the nerves and temper of the men to the full”. Dullness, however, in the outport settlements of Newfoundland, has no resemblance, not even in the sense that there was no severe fighting. Disease and deprivations created hardships that were too great for human strength. Sickness Caused Many Casualties.
As an indication of how the ranks became depleted, although the Regiment sustained comparatively few casualties from the activities of the Turks, up to October 11 only half of the Regiment was in the front line at one time, and its place was taken after six or seven days by the other half. From that date it was no longer possible to make such a division. The whole Regiment went in together, with the time of relief always very uncertain. Usually, however, the period during which they were in the front line trenches was double what it had previously been. Relief depended upon Imperial troops being available. The only diversion from digging new trenches and making those already occupied more comfortable was in hunting enemy snipers. For this purpose and also for the purpose of finding out what the Turks were doing, patrol parties would go out in to No Man’s Land every night. Page Twenty-Five
One of these patrols had a trying experience. On the night of November 4, a patrol sent out under Lieutenant J.J. Donnelly occupied a ridge midway between the trenches occupied by the enemy and those held by our men. From this ridge the Turks had been giving trouble every night for some time. The patrol had scarcely reached the ridge before it was opposed by the enemy who outnumbered our men by about seven to one.
In the skirmish that followed only Sergeant Greene and Private Hynes escaped without being wounded. The coolness, resourcefulness and courage with which these two men managed the situation could not be surpassed by the soldiers of many years active warfare experience. By their rapid fire at close range they completely deceived the Turks who greatly exceeded them in numbers. The enemy finally retired to his own trenches, and the attempt to surround our original patrol was completely foiled. Page Twenty-Six
“The Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to Sergeant Greene and Private Hynes under the following circumstances: 266 Sergeant W.M. Greene, First Newfoundland Regiment. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of the fourth-fifth of November, 1915, on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
With an Officer and six men he led the way in front of our advanced line in order to support a party of his Regiment which was being heavily attacked and likely to be surrounded. Page Twenty Eight
The enemy were encountered at close range, and, when the Officer and two men had been wounded, Sergeant Greene took command, drove off the Turks and brought in the wounded.”
“807 Private R.E. Hynes, First Newfoundland Regiment. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of the fourth-fifth of November, 1915, on the Gallipoli Peninsula. With an Officer and six men he attacked superior numbers of Turks, who were attempting to surround a small post. In spite of heavy casualties on our side, Private Hynes kept up rapid fire at close range, which resulted in the Turks abandoning their enterprise, and enabled his party to bring in the wounded.” A Disastrous Storm.
The following three weeks were spent in comparative quiet along the section of the line held by the Newfoundland Regiment. The Turks ere unable to carry out their nightly sniping raids as formerly, and there was a marked diminution in the casualties sustained by our men. Soon, however the Turks were to be temporarily replaced by a much more powerful and destructive enemy. From November 26th to 28th, following on the heels of the decision to evacuate the Gallipoli Peninsula, an indescribable blizzard swept the entire Peninsula, falling with its cruelest violence in the Suvla region. The 26th, when the Newfoundlanders had already been in the trenches twelve days without relief, began as a bitter cold day, with a northeasterly wind augmenting its severity. In the afternoon the wind grew much stronger, assuming the proportions of a gale, with heavy sleet. The wind continued to strengthen and in the evening was accompanied by thunder and a violent downpour of rain. It is impossible to describe adequately the conditions caused by the rain. The Suvla area is thickly set with abrupt slopes, and in a few hours the water was rushing over these with a force that threatened to carry everything before it. So suddenly were the trenches turned into rushing rivers that the men had to jump from them, leaving food, trench coats and rifles behind them. In trenches that were at all tenable men were standing waist high in water. Parapets caved in and whole trench systems were wiped out. During the night of the 26th-27th the rain turned into sleet, which came down with a cutting force. The mud became frozen. And the biting, northerly wind increased, striking with a vicious force the drenched troops, who were without overcoats or food. All through the 27th this dreadful condition continued. Efforts were made to keep the men moving, but it was impossible to keep the men from becoming severely frostbitten. Page Twenty Nine
On the 28th the storm reached its climax. The northerly wind became colder, and a blinding snowstorm prevailed the greater part of the day. To the men in the trenches it seemed as though the storm would neve r cease, and that the whole army would be wiped out. As is very often the case, the storm was at its worst just before the calm. When, on the 29th, the storm abated, the ever famous Twenty-ninth Division, of which the Newfoundland Regiment formed a part, has lost two-thirds of its strength. Newfoundlanders Stood the Test Well.
The British had suffered 30,000 casualties, of whom 10,000 were unfit for further service. It must be places to the credit of the Newfoundland Regiment that it stood the terrible ordeal with a physical resourcefulness and courage that was without parallel in the whole army. The severe winter weather of our own climate had provided our men with a physical adaptability that could hardly be expected of office clerks from the city of London, and only when they were so frost-bitten that they were unable to walk did they give themselves over to the field hospital. The Regiment had suffered heavily, but not so heavily as most other units. Reinforcements which arrived from England on the first of December brought the strength of the Regiment up to 400. One Good Result of Storm.
It is almost impossible to imagine that such a disastrous storm, which had caused so much suffering and so many deaths, could have any good result. But one effect of the storm was welcomed by the entire army. The dysentery, which, for several months, had taken close on a thousand victims a day, stopped immediately, and was no longer a cause of casualties. Evacuation Hastened.
There can be little doubt that the storm also hastened the evacuation. The season was getting late, and there was grave danger that severe weather would continue for several months. The coast is very rugged and unsheltered, and if the weather continued stormy the ships would be prevented from landing supplies and the troops would be unable to leave the Peninsula. It was a strong warning, and the warning was taken seriously. Preparations for the evacuation were immediately started, and were rushed with all possible speed. Numerous devices were rigged up to deceive the Turks, and evidently the devices were entirely successful. At 7 o’clock on the night of December 19, in slightly hazy weather, but with a full moon illuminating the entire region, the Regiment proceeded to the beach, except two Officers, Captain Herbert Rendell and Lieutenant Cecil B. Clift, and 30 men. Page Thirty
These were left behind for the purpose of keeping up a desultory rifle fire during the night and doing final necessary work I connection with the plans for preventing the Turks from learning of the evacuation. The position that they held was an exceedingly dangerous one. It meant that these two Officers and 30 men stood for six hours and a half, from 7 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. when they also started for the beach, between the main body of the regiment and the Turks. If they had t hold them up until the last man of the 32 was killed. It was a position of tremendous responsibility, and reflects great credit upon the high esteem in which the two Officers and the 30 men of the Newfoundland Regiment were held.
Before midnight the whole Regiment had been transferred to the ship except the men who formed the rearguard who were taken off just before daylight the following morning. It is indicative of how well the plans had been laid and how well they were carried out that not a single casualty occurred amongst the entire Regiment. On the morning of the 20th, Battalion Headquarters and most of the Regiment, about 480 altogether, were landed at Imbros, and the remainder were landed at Mudros. Cape Helles.
It was the general hope that Christmas would be spent in peace, but the Gallipoli campaign was not over for the Newfoundland Regiment. On the evening of December 22, those who had been landed at Imbros again found themselves on the way to the Gallipoli Peninsula, this time to Cape Helles. They landed at Helles early the following morning, and were joined on the 24th by those who had landed at Mudros. The Newfoundland Regiment took over the work of a Greek Labor Corps, which numbered about twice as many as the Regiment contained at this time. Their work consisted chiefly of building roads and bridges, and later of building piers and loading lighters with the war material which was being transferred to the ships in preparation for the evacuation of Cape Helles. The quarters which the Regiment had to occupy were those vacated by the Greeks only the previous day, and were both cramped and filthy. The stay at Helles, though at all times exceedingly dangerous, the position being shelled day and night, was destined not to be a long one. On January 4, a party consisting of one Officer and 30 men of other ranks, most of whom were sick or had been wounded, were taken from the Peninsula. Another party, numbering about 90 of all ranks left on the 6th, and during the night of the 8th and the early morning if the 9th, the remainder of the Newfoundland Regiment acted as the rearguard to the last troops to leave Cape Helles, and saw the last of the unfortunate Gallipoli campaign. Page Thirty-One
Our Regiment consisted of 1050 Officers and men of other ranks when it left England for the Gallipoli Peninsula. Of these, 933 reached Suvla. Of the remaining 127, some had been taken for other duties but most of them had become unfit for military service because of sickness. The Regiment sustained 39 deaths in action and from disease, and 76 casualties from wounds. The casualties brought about by disease and the storm of November 26-28 were so great that less than half of the Regiment was left to take part in the evacuation of Suvla. Commander Praised Newfoundland Battalion.
No unit which took part in the Gallipoli campaign was more appreciated or received greater praise than the Newfoundland Regiment. In this connection, a letter written to Governor Davidson by Brigadier-General Cayley, who commanded the 88th Brigade, is a fitting conclusion to this chapter. “ I feel sure that you and the people of Newfoundland will be anxious to hear of the doings of their contingent since they have been on active service. As you doubtless know, the Regiment landed at Suvla in the Gallipoli Peninsula in September, and were attached to the 88th Brigade of the 29th Division, which Brigade I have the honor to command.
“ The Brigade was holding trenches very close to the Turks o the left centre of the line. The Newfoundland Regiment was at first in reserve. Whilst in reserve all officers and the different companies were sent up to the trenches and attached to the regiments in warfare. All ranks were remarkably quick in picking up all there was to be learnt, and their keenness was very noticeable. The result was that after a very short time they took over part of the firing line as a separate unit. There was no big operation, but small enterprises were frequently on foot, and in all they had to do, the Regiment continually showed a splendid spirit of readiness and resource. I especially recall incidents of the nights of November 4 and 5, when we advanced a part of our line. I detailed them for this work, and it was admirably carried out, all who took part showing the highest courage and determination in face of very severe opposition. The results of the operations were entirely successful. Page Thirty-Two
“ Another occasion, I should wish to recall is the storm of November 26 and the following days. A very violent rainfall, which flooded the trenches more than waist deep, was followed up by three days of northerly blizzard with intense frost. The conditions were such that the most veteran troops might have been excused for losing heart, but, in spite of very heavy casualties from exposure, the Regiment never for a moment gave in, but maintained their spirit and cheerfulness in a most wonderful manner.
“ Then again, in the evacuation of Suvla and Helles operations, of which the success depended entirely upon the steadiness and discipline of the troops taking part, their share in these extremely anxious movements was most admirably performed.
“ It has been the greatest honor and pleasure to me to have these gallant fellows in my brigade, whose traditions they have most worthily upheld. Their fellow-countrymen have every reason to be proud of them on their doings. Their casualties have been many from bullets and sickness. Extracts from the diary of the late Lieutenant Owen W. Steele of the First Newfoundland Regiment. These extracts cover the period from August 20, 1915, the date of leaving England for the Gallipoli Peninsula, to March 22, 1916, when the Regiment disembarked at Marseilles. August 20, 1915. On board train, 6 a.m. From 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (men’s teatime), the officers have been constantly busy, getting their men fitted out with dozens of various necessities for the front. They have been issued with new boots (better quality than previously), new uniforms (Khaki Drill, light in eight and color), and helmets. Their stocks of the following were also completed: - socks, shorts, underclothing, housewives, canteens, water bottles, - in fact, twenty-five or thirty other items. Sometimes we were compelled to work after tea. Then what spare time I had I endeavored to get the mess books done up. However, I finished and got clear of them yesterday at lunchtime – and am not sorry.
We “fell in” last night at 9 o’clock, marched to the station and left Aldershot at 11:20 p.m.; that is, C and D Companies, for A and B left an hour before.
The new uniforms, boots and helmets are not being worn just yet, but have been all packed in boxes. The officers have had to get a lot of new equipment also, but have had to pay for it themselves. Our new uniforms cost us about 4-15/-, helmets 21/-, boots 20/- to 40/-, binoculars and compass 5 and 3-10/- respectively, I think. (note: the money is pounds/shillings/pence/). Page Thirty-Three
Aug 20, 1915. On board S.S. “Megantic” 5 p.m. This is just a final word before we go. We are on board the White Star Liner “Megantic” (15,000 tons) and are all ready to go, and may do so any minute, but expect she will leave about 6 p.m. We are having a warship go with us and two destroyers for a period of twelve hours. I think we shall be about a fortnight on the water, but will be a thousand times more comfortable than in the “Florizel.” The “Arabic, “ which was torpedoed yesterday, is of the same line. Thursday, August 26, 1915. Arrived off Malta at 11:30 a.m. and had to stand by and await orders but keep moving. At noon we commenced to go into Valetta (capital of Malta), and got to our berth at 1 p.m.
At 4 p.m. officers were allowed to go on shore until 6 p.m. I went ashore with Gerald Harvey, and, on meeting Butler and Windeler, we hired a carriage and went for an hour and a half’s ride. Saw the Governor’s house and walked through the Marine Gardens. Malta is of very Eastern style. Went aboard at 6 p.m. and found that we could remain until 11 p.m., so went ashore again. Had dinner and then went to a small theatre and was board at 11 p.m. Weather, fine and warm. Friday, August 27, 1915. Left Malta for Island of Lemnos at 7 a.m. Sunday, August 29, 1915. Arrived at Mudros, Island of Lemnos, at 7:30 a.m. and anchored. Moved into one of the very small harbors at 10:30 a.m. and anchored again to await orders. Having received orders we left for Alexandria at 6:30 p.m. Through some bungling at Malta we had been sent to Lemnos by mistake. Tuesday, August 31, 1915. Arrived at Alexandria at 2 p.m. Monday, September 13, 1915. Parade at 6 a.m. for inspection by General land his Staff, which lasted two hours. All the men’s equipment, and what not required of officers, is taken by the Transport to Abbassia Siding, ready for shipment to Alexandria, as the Battalion is under orders to embark from there tomorrow for an unknown destination. Tuesday, September 14, 1915. Reveille was at 4 a.m., for we had to prepare for two companies to leave at 6:30. Remaining two companies left at 7:30 a.m. My company was in the latter two, and we left Abbassia Siding at 9:30 a.m., arriving at Alexandria about 3 p.m. My platoon did not get on board steamer until about 5 p.m. Page Thirty-Four
Our steamer was a very poor one – the “Ansonia,” a four years old purchase of the Cunard Line. Our camp neighbors – the London Regiment – (Reserves) were also on board. We left Alexandria at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, September 18, 1915. We are going to Suvla and shall land on the beach. We shall then probably march about a mile and a half to the Reserve Trenches, and after a few days shall watch our chance to get up to the firing line.
We have had a very good time all along so far, but we all know that the hardest part has now to come. The place where we are to land is shelled all day long, and the last Division which was sent there lost 1200 men and 36 officers the first day, and that without having fired a shot or seen a single Turk, so we have heard. Sunday, September 19, 1915. This morning was spent in continuing disembarking preparations. At 3 p.m. we transferred to the small steamer “Prince Abbas” (about the size of the “Fiona”), and left for Suvla Bay at 3:30 p.m., where we arrived at 9:30 p.m. After an hour or more landing, by means of lighters, was commenced. I was in the last load which left the shop abut 12:30 (midnight). Monday, September 20, 1915. Left the “Prince Abbas” and boarded a lighter at 12:30 a.m. After reaching the landing stage, owing to the unhandiness of the lighters, it took two hours to berth us. Landed about 3 a.m. and after forming up were led by the Landing Officer to our “Dug Outs” for the night, amid clouds of sand, just like a Newfoundland snow storm.
Our “Dug Outs” are simply holes dug into the ground and have no covering. We rolled ourselves in our blankets and slept as well as we could, for it was bitterly cold.
Got up at 6 a.m., having had two hours sleep. We were shelled by the Turks for an hour, from 8 to 9 a.m., from a distance of seven or eight miles. We had some fourteen casualties, including the Adjutant, Capt. Rendell, who was, during the day, sent back to Mudros. Fortunately no one was killed. Harvey, Knight and I had narrow escapes when having breakfast: a shell burst not ten yards from us, shrapnel falling all around us.
During the day we moved behind a hill to be sheltered from the enemy’s guns, as we were on the side of a hill facing them. At night A Company went into the trenches. Page Thirty-Five
Thursday, November 4, 1915. It was decided today to take possession of a sniper’s post midway between our firing line and the firing line of the Turks. Capt. Butler was acting O.C. Firing Line, so it naturally followed that C Company was given this to do. Lieutenant Donnelly with six men and an N.C.O. went out about 4 p.m. and occupied, or rather took up their position in this post, which could be easily occupied in the daylight unseen by the enemy. About 7:30 p.m. Lieutenant Ross went out with another six men and an N.C.O. as the N.C.O. of the first party had come in wounded, and was asked by Lieutenant Donnelly to ask for reinforcements to be sent out. It seems that just at dusk three Turkish snipers came stalking up to this post, as unconcerned as could be, and when quite close were challenged by Lieutenant Donnelly’s N.C.O. The only answer they got was a babble of Turkish. The order to fire was then given to our men. They immediately got the first two men, but the third retaliated and succeeded in getting Lieutenant Donnelly’s N.C.O, in the side of the neck – not seriously though. They claim they eventually got him, too.
When Lieutenant Ross went out with his men, whilst going along a small gulley, he came in contact with a small party who challenged them, saying “Who goes there?” to which Lieut. Ross replied “Newfoundlanders.” The Turking party, for such it was, then, said “Newfoundlanders: Allah, Allah il Allah!” (or something similar which they use as a battle cry), and then commenced firing. Our party, of course, returned the firing, which continued for quite a while. Our party then returned for Lieut. Ross and three of his men were wounded. Lieut. Ross was wounded in the arm, but the most serious was Joe Murphy of Mundy’s Pond. He got struck by a couple of bullets and a hand- bomb. Lieut. Ross said large reinforcements would be needed to hold the post, in case the Turks endeavored to obtain it. No reinforcements were sent out that night, for no one knew exactly where to locate the post, nor did they know whether the first party, Lieutenant Donnelly’s part, was O.K., or not. After midnight everything was normal again. Friday, November 5, 1915. Early this morning Lieut. Donnelly returned with the information that he and his party were O.K., excepting for two men who were slightly wounded. It was then decided to place about thirty men with N.C.Os. in the post. This was done later in the day, Captain Rowsell, accompanied by Lieut. Rendell, going in charge. Page Thirty-Six
Saturday, December 4, 1915. Well, today is just a week after the “Flood,” and things are now almost normal again. There is still a lot of work to be done in the way of clearing and cleaning up the trenches and making repairs.
Our Regiment is stated to have come out of the affair the most satisfactorily by far. Of course, some Regiments or Battalions were not very inconvenienced by the storm, such as the Essex, who were on our left for they were higher up on the hill. We got it very badly indeed, as did also the rest of the 88th Brigade who were on our right, that is, the Worcester, the Hants, and the Londons. The latter three lost some hundred men by death from exposure during the couple days frost that followed the flood. They had several hundred sent to hospital with frost-burnt feet, sickness, etc. One of the Worcester Officers told me four days after the storm that he had, the previous day, been down to the Block House (about a mile to our right) in the lines held by the 86th Brigade, where he had seen many men lying dead in the trenches and being walked over. He also saw fully thirty men sitting up in the firing steps, exactly as they were at the time of the storm, frozen to death. There was so much to do in clearing away and burying the dead that these bodies had not yet been attended to. He said it was a very gruesome sight indeed, as was another sight he had seen. We had recently built some winter Dug-Outs, made to hold about eight men lying down. Well, an Officer of one of the 86th Brigade Battalions had evidently gone into one of these and taken some men with him to the number of about thirty. These Dug-Outs, are without roofs, being unfinished, so the result was that the Officer and every man froze to death. Another Officer told me he was standing in the doorway of his Dug-Out, when he saw in the river of water flowing just outside the trench, two dead mules, one live mule, two dead Turks and many boxes and large pieces of debris pass down together.
On the night of the flood, the water in our support trenches and in the firing line was three feet deep nearly everywhere, and in many places men had to walk in water up to their waists. Everyone, of course was wet to the skin, and a means of drying one’s clothes was out of the question. Then when the frost came it tried us all to the limit and all suffered severely, but thanks to the general hardiness of Newfoundlanders not one death resulted in our Battalion, and I know there were very few Battalions indeed, around here which could say that. Of course, sleeping for the majority was out of the question, for many of the men had lost their blankets and rubber sheets, and quite a few had even lost their great coats. Page Thirty-Seven
Fires ere made without any thought being given to the fact that we were showing our exact position to the Turks; but the Officers were worse off than we, and they also had fires burning everywhere. All these big fires were just in the rear of the support line, and men on both sides wandered around and stood around the fires, with a wanton and utter disregard of the other side. Neither side bothered about the other in the least, until the severity of the frost began to lessen. Our firing line then got many wandering Turks, and they got a few of ours. Owing to the communications trench being from two to three feet deep, with water in most places, our ration parties had got into the habit of walking in the open. With the result that the Turks noticed it and eventually got a machine gun onto the track, followed and also sent in a few shells. We lost rather heavily in this for two days, for about a half dozen of ours were killed and a dozen wounded. Most of the Officers, too, lost the greater part of their kit.
I shall never forget the look of most of our men after the first and second night’s frost. It reminded one of the “Greenland Disaster.” The men’s faces were nearly all as black as niggers, where they had been getting as close as possible to the smoking fires all night, and what with their eyes and woe-begone looks, they presented a really terrible sight. One was fully expecting to find some lying dead from exposure, but wonderful to relate, there was not a single fatality, which speaks well for the physique of our men, for those were really terrible nights.
After the flood we were very short of rations for a while and had to do without some meals because food and drinking water were so scarce. It was with the latter that we had the greatest difficulty, for all the wells were spoilt, the water they contained being the same as the trench water. The doctor condemned the water for drinking purposes, and consequently, the first day we had nothing to drink, and on the second day, one lot of water for making tea was issued, but the drinking of unboiled water was absolutely forbidden, for there were so many dead bodies and rubbish of all kinds around that an epidemic of some kind would have resulted. Even the water that we then had was really only muddy trench water in which we would not have attempted even to wash our hands under normal conditions.
We have sent about 150 men to hospital, most of them suffering from frost-burnt feet. We have heard that the 86th Brigade lost 200 men by drowning and exposure, and nearly two thousand were sent to hospital. Page Thirty-Eight
Monday, December 20, 1915. (Evacuation of Suvla). My party went on board the Isle of Man paddle boat “Barry “ at 12:15 a.m., and left for “we know not where” at 1 a.m. We arrived at the Island of Imbros at 2: 15 a.m., but by the time we got inside the two lines of torpedo nets, reported, etc., it was 2:45 a.m. We had then to go on shore on lighters, and I landed at 3:30 a.m. We then had to walk about three miles to our allotted area, where we found many other Regiments’ or Battalions’ details. Everyone was then supplied with a good supper. This morning was spent in getting the Battalions and Companies together.
About 1 p.m. Lieuts. Rendell and Clift with their party arrived. Everything up to the last went off without a hitch. The Turks were apparently under the same impression they have been under for some time, viz., that we were preparing to attack them for they had been continually strengthening, improving and renewing their barbed wire, etc. I would certainly like to be overhead in an aeroplane when the Turks find out that they are shelling empty trenches. Then when they move forward they will have all kinds of plots to contend with, for the R.E. have various kinds of mines laid, such as “trip-wires”, and those which will explode when one walks on them. Then in many Dug-Outs mines have been laid, attached by a wire to a table leg, which will be exploded by a movement of the table. Wednesday, December 22, 1915. There were rumors this morning that we were moving; some rumors said to Mudros and some to Cape Helles. However, at noon we got orders to be ready to leave camp at 1:15 p.m. at which time we left and arrived at the beach at 2 p.m. We then went on board a lighter and were taken off to a small steamer, the “Redbreast”. In about an hour they had the various portions of units of the 88th Brigade on board, to the number of about 1300. At nine o’clock the anchor was taken up and preparation for starting was made. By this time we had heard almost definitely that we were going to Helles. At 10:40 p.m., just an hour and a half after we left Imbros, we arrived at Cape Helles. We had to go ashore on lighters in two or three parties, and by midnight were all ashore, except three officers and about thirty men, who were kept back for the purpose of landing some stores. Thursday, December 30, 1915. Having received orders from the Brigade last night, we went out to W. beach this morning where we were to take up our quarters, for we were now to do some fatigue work, as the Greek Corps had refused to work on account of so many shells coming to the beach; they wee beginning to lose quite a lot of men and were, therefore, afraid to work there. Page Thiry-Nine
Friday, December 31, 1915. This morning we commenced work on various jobs in preparation for the evacuation of Cape Helles, or, in other words, the remaining portion of the Gallipoli Peninsula now held by us. It looks as if the 88th brigade, “our Brigade” of the Twenty- Ninth Division, will be in the final stages of this evacuation, as well as that of Suvla, which everyone says is a great compliment and honor. Am afraid this one will not be so successful as Suvla, for conditions are not nearly so favorable here. However, we hope for the best.
Some of our men were building piers, others quarrying rocks, others carting the stone by means of trucks on rails to the piers, and others doing fatigue work of various sorts. Saturday, January 1, 1916. We continued work as yesterday and had the same inconvenience regarding the Turkish shells. The one we fear most is a 5.9 Naval Gun fired from Asia Minor at 9000 yards, and is a gun from the “Goeben”. Being on the beach with sloping high clifts on all sides, and as the shells come over the clift on the left side, we do not hear it until it is quite upon us and have not tome even to wink an eyelid, so have no time to seek cover. However, as the Turks generally send four or five, we have time to get under cover before the second one comes. The Turks can enfilade our beaches from the other side, so they become very hot sometimes. This Asiatic Gun is known by the men as “Asiatic Annie”. There is also another known as “Louise Loue”. Sunday, January 16, 1916. (At Alexandria). Some of the troops on board received orders to go last night at 9 o’clock, others this morning at 7 o’clock, and we, that is the Newfoundland Regiment, at 12:45 p.m. We left Alexandria at 1 p.m. The weather was quite fine and warm, and as we got farther in the country, it got much warmer and we could feel much more power in the sun. We had an uneventful trip and enjoyed the ever-changing country scenery until darkness came. About 7 or 8 o’clock we went asleep. At 2 a.m. we were awakened and told that we had arrived at Suez, so went to see about “falling in “ our men. Page Forty
Tuesday, March 14, 1916. Reveille 5 a.m. Breakfast 6 a.m., and “Struck Camp” about 7:30. Then we cleaned up the whole grounds and put everything in order. At 11 a.m. we left our late home and marched, in full marching order, to Tewfick, about four miles. By 1 p.m. we were all aboard the “Alaunia” (Cunard Line, about 13,000 tons). We moved away from the wharf at 4:15 p.m., and stayed in the stream for a couple of hours. The “Alaunia” is a fine steamer though not quite as good as the “Megantic”.
At 6:30 p.m., we started up the Canal, and up to bedtime had stopped for a couple of hours in two or three places. It was a bright moonlight night, so we could enjoy a few very nice views. Wednesday, March 22, 1916. We reached Marseilles about 7 a.m. Immediately after breakfast arrangements were made for disembarking. I was given the job of looking after the unloading of the ammunition and when landed had to place a guard over it. All the men and stores were ashore before noon. At 6 o’clock the Companies were “fallen in”, and we marched to the train which took us about fifteen minutes, where the men were all fixed off in the carriages. As we were not leaving until 9:30 p.m. we had about two and a half hours to wait.
We believe we are going to Arras which is on the other side of Paris and which is a little more than halfway between Paris and Boulogne. We left Marseilles at 9:30, and our first stop is to be about 3 o’clock tomorrow morning. Page Forty-One
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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