Casualties of a military catastrophe at Gallipoli

FIELD OF COURAGE ... a British 60-pounder Mark 1 Battery in action at Cape Helles in June 1915. (Photo: Ernest Brooks).
FIELD OF COURAGE ... a British 60-pounder Mark 1 Battery in action at Cape Helles in June 1915. (Photo: Ernest Brooks).

A FORTHCOMING South Tyneside Remembers day at South Shields Library will commemorate those from the borough’s towns and villages who fell during the Gallipoli Campaign a century ago.

Here, the second of two features, based on extensive research by Jarrow man Peter Hoy, looks at the shocking losses suffered by the Royal Naval Division in one of the campaign’s bloodiest theatres.

OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN...Wallace Annand, Adjutant of the decimated Collingwood Battalion, was among those killed.

OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN...Wallace Annand, Adjutant of the decimated Collingwood Battalion, was among those killed.

THEY were wiped out in less than 30 minutes.

Before the war, George McDonald had been an apprentice riveter at Rennoldson’s shipyard in Shields and lived in Commercial Road. Now he was missing.

Another Able Seaman, Robert Reynolds, had been a putter at Harton Colliery and lived in Stoddart Street at Tyne Dock. He had been fatally wounded.

One death on the battlefield of Krithia, in the Dardanelles, would have particular resonance down the years.

While the Turks had sophisticated grenades, the British were restricted to using jam tins that were loaded with scrap metal.

Lieutenant Commander Wallace Moir Annand, Adjutant of the decimated Collingwood Battalion, died, leaving a small son at home – the future Capt Richard Annand, who would win the British Army’s first Victoria Cross of the Second World War.

But for now, all were heroes, casualties of a catastrophe that had seen their unit’s virtual destruction.

The Hawke, Benbow and Collingwood Battalions of the Royal Naval Division (RND) – re-formed after the failure to hold Antwerp in Belgium – had disembarked at Gallipoli towards the end of May, less than a week before.

They arrived just in time to participate, on June 4, in the Third Battle of Krithia, planned by Lieutenant General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, who would become known as ‘The Butcher of Helles” for what was deemed his callous indifference to the men under his command.

MISSING...Able Seaman Thomas Pond had worked at Whitburn Colliery and lived at Marsden.

MISSING...Able Seaman Thomas Pond had worked at Whitburn Colliery and lived at Marsden.

Hunter-Weston’s V111 Corps consisted of the 29th Division, the RND, the 42nd Division and the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade.

It was planned that the furthest advance would be 800 yards. The first wave would take the Turks’ front line, and then a second wave would leapfrog over the trench system and advance a further 400-500 yards.

There was a chronic lack of trench-mortars and heavy guns – and shells – and while the Turks had sophisticated grenades, the British were restricted to using jam tins that were loaded with scrap metal.

Two preliminary bombardments were planned from powerful naval guns, including those of HMS Swiftsure and Vengeance.

WOUNDED ... John Swan had worked at Readhead's shipyard before the war.

WOUNDED ... John Swan had worked at Readhead's shipyard before the war.

The troops attacked along the whole of the Helles front at midday.

Hunter-Weston’s fatal orders for yet another frontal assault in daylight against massed Turkish rifles and machine-guns over ground covered by a withering shrapnel barrage accurately directed from the heights of Achi Baba, were fated to achieve the inevitable result.

The Collingwood Battalion was enfiladed by machine gun and rifle fire from the area of the French Corps’ objective of the Kereves Dere Ridge.

At noon, the Howe, Hood and Anson Battalions attacked. Within a matter of seconds, half the officers of the 2nd Naval Brigade had been hit.

The first wave of the RND battalions HAD succeeded in capturing the second line of Turkish trenches, sustaining terrible casulaties, with only some 20 officers – half – and about 300 men reaching their objective.

The Collingwoods (minus C Company, which was held in Brigade Reserve), advancing alone some 15 minutes after the first wave had gone in, with no support to their immediate right or protection from the ensuing fire, suffered a substantially worse fate.

MISSING ... George McDonald was an apprentice riveter at Rennoldson's.

MISSING ... George McDonald was an apprentice riveter at Rennoldson's.

A total of 185 men were killed. A further 15-20 died of their wounds over subsequent days.

At least 17 of those lost came from South Shields.

An eyewitness recalled that their bodies looked like “dead leaves in autumn”.

The Collingwood Battalion was brought out of the line by Chief Petty officer William Carnall, from South Shields, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions that day.

He was later promoted to sub-lieutentant and posted to the Hood Battalion.

There were so few left it was impractical to think of reconstituting the battalion.

At noon, the assaulting RND force had consisted of roughly 70 officers and 1,900 men.

By 12.45pm, there returned to the original British front line only five officers and 950 men.

• Peter Hoy will give a talk on the Royal Naval Division at Gallipoli as part of the South Tyneside Remembers events – all free of charge – at South Shields Library from 12.30pm to 1.30pm on Saturday, May 16.

FATALLY WOUNDED ...Robert Reynolds. He had been a putter at Harton Colliery.

FATALLY WOUNDED ...Robert Reynolds. He had been a putter at Harton Colliery.