Gallipoli 5: Frustration and Deadlock

Darkness brought some relief: the gunfire faded; the wounded could be moved, defensive trenches dug, gaps cut through the wire. Guy Nightingale, young and inexperienced, was now effectively in command on the beach. They buried Major Jarrett and spent a cold, wet night dug in under the cliff.

The Turks were also weakened and in difficulty, but still able to defend fiercely, though not strong enough to throw the invaders into the sea.

By the morning of the 26th, Lt-Col Doughty-Wylie was sent ashore and a plan was devised for a double attack through the Fort and from both sides of the village of Sedd-el-Bahr. The remnants of Munsters, Dubliners and Hampshires were now combined into one unit, known as the ‘Dubsters’. These took the fortress with a bayonet charge and moved on into the village.

The village was a formidable problem. Destroyed by the naval bombardment, it still offered concealment for snipers, and it took several hours to clear. Eighty Turks were killed and twice that number of British.

Beyond the village, the target was Hill 141, which was taken by bayonet charge. Nightingale describes the attack.

My company led the attack with the Dublins and we had a great time. We saw the enemy, which was the chief thing and all the men shouted and enjoyed it tremendously. It was a relief after all that appalling sniping. We rushed straight to the top and turned 2000 Turks off the redoubt and poured lead into them at about 10 yards range. Nearly all the officers had been killed or wounded by now. A Colonel Doughty-Wylie who led the whole attack was killed at my side. I wrote in about him to the staff and he has been recommended for a VC. I buried him that evening and got our Padre to read the service over him.

Seven months later, an unknown woman visited the grave of Doughty-Wylie. His wife, probably; his lover, possibly.

The very day that he was killed there was a letter from Winston Churchill in the Times:

A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this present war, than any other.

That night, the Turks made a couple of attempts to retake the hill, but were held off. In the morning, the Dubsters were relieved by newly arrived French troops and returned to V Beach, where they breakfasted and tried to sleep on the hot beach among the dead.

Not for long. In the afternoon, they were moved to a new position ready for a battle planned for the next day, which became known as the First Battle of Krithia. Hunter-Weston’s plan for this was more ambitious than effective. Little progress was made; casualties were high: a dismal shambles of a battle, all to no point.

On the night of May 1st, the Dubsters were attacked by a silent mass of Turks, creeping up through the gorse and bayoneting the men in their sleep. After five hours of hand-to-hand fighting, resisting charge after charge by the Turks, the Turks were driven off.

Gradually, the fighting diminished, as both sides began to recognise the expensive futility of attack. Bodies were everywhere. Nightingale records digging in one night and finding in the morning that he had dug in next to the remains of an officer of the K.O.S.B. who he had last seen at the Opera in Malta.

The stalemate began to resemble that on the Western Front, to avoid which had been the entire purpose of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Geddes returned from treatment, now promoted to command of the entire battalion. Nightingale comments: “Geddes is a ripping commanding officer to work with but he is frightfully worried and his hair is nearly white! I have never seen fellows get old so quickly.”

There is a photograph of the Munsters on parade, taken by Guy Nightingale 18 days after the landing. 5 officers and 372 other ranks, from the 26 and 1002 who set out from Coventry. Two men, side by side, wear the new flat caps rather than the tropical helmets of Burma. My sister and I both believe we can recognise our father by his stance and believe the other must be Peter.

Nightingale was sent a copy of the Times in May. He complained vigorously about the way the news is softened, with news of casualties dribbled out gently to avoid alarm at home. “I suppose they’ll try to make out it’s been nothing at all out here, just a scrap with the Turks whereas it’s been hell and frightfully mismanaged.”

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