I wrote about my novel, Ghost of Gallipoli, in a previous blog. However, given the significance of Sunday, 10th November, I’d like to dedicate this article to all those men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, including my great-uncles, who died during the Gallipoli Campaign, in 1915.
A Chance Discovery?
Gallipoli, in Turkey, and the military campaign that took place there in 1915, has, over time, become synonymous with Australia and New Zealand. So much so that it is commemorated in these countries each year, on the 25th April, ANZAC Day. However, while that date is rightly significant to these nations, marking as it did the birth of a new national consciousness, the Gallipoli landings involved not just ANZAC troops, but soldiers from across the world.
The Gallipoli Campaign does not figure highly in the United Kingdom’s national consciousness, but its forces suffered hugely there. Casualty figures still vary wildly but there were almost twice as many British casualties as all other Allied troops together. Recently recognized is the role of Irish soldiers, although that has not always been the case: their contribution was written out of the new Irish Republic’s history. In 1914, over eighty thousand Irish men enlisted, over half from the ‘South’. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers were amongst the first troops to land on the Gallipoli peninsula, at Helles, on 25th April, 1915, suffering six hundred casualties in the first thirty-six hours.
I remained largely ignorant of these facts until the late 1990s when I became a temporary resident in Istanbul. Within a short space of time it became obvious that a bolt-hole was required … Istanbul is a very frenetic city … and thus my husband and I embarked on our first trip to Gallipoli. I knew little about the peninsula, other than the fact that my mother’s uncles … like me, from Northern Ireland … had apparently died there. With only a vague idea of the men’s names I knew nothing of their history, or their place in my family’s story. Neither World War One, nor the Gallipoli Campaign, had ever been of particular interest to me.
Following a long, tiresome drive, we finally arrived at our accommodation, a pension owned by Erol, a former employee of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. With time to spare before dinner my husband and I decided on a stroll. The pension was situated on the edge of the village of Sedulbahir, on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, a stone’s throw from the Aegean Sea. We headed for the beach, and, just as dusk descended, we spotted a cemetery in the far corner of the bay, and curious, we decided to investigate.
Many years later, it remains difficult to describe what happened next, or to explain it. A plaque by the entrance informed us we were in V Beach Cemetery but provided only a skeleton outline of the grim events that had unfolded in the bay. However, it was clear was the cemetery contained the bodies of many British and Irish soldiers. Almost immediately we found ourselves standing before two memorial headstones, both inscribed with the name Mallaghan. John and Samuel, Privates in The Royal Dublin Fusiliers: aged just nineteen and twenty-one. The memorial stones told us that they had both died in this bay, in April, 1915 … one on the 25th April, 1915, the day of the infamous V Beach Landing, and the other, five days later, on the 30th April.
Mallaghan is my mother’s maiden name, and I knew she had two brothers, Samuel and John, named after their dead uncles. There could be little doubt that these were the graves of the latter. I was the first family member ever to stand there … the young men’s graves had been unvisited and unrecognized for over eighty years.
Only later did I realize the true significance of our discovery: the thirty-one Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries scattered across the Gallipoli peninsula contain the bodies of twenty-two thousand men, of which only nine thousand have been identified. And, on my very first visit to Gallipoli I’d walked directly to the memorial headstones of my two great-uncles. A chance discovery … a random coincidence? Judge for yourself … I like to think not. One thing was certain, however. Knowing what I now did, I would resurrect the memory of my great-uncles and return them to their rightful place in family history.
The Search Begins
On returning to the pension, we discovered that Erol possessed a collection of Commonwealth War Graves Commission record books. And, on searching through these we were able to locate John and Samuel, and to discover where they had lived in my hometown, and their address there. The church I’d attended was located nearby: the Mallaghan family graves, including those of John and Samuel’s mother and father, lie just beyond the church door.
Once back in Istanbul, and the British Council Library, I was able to build up a picture of my great-uncles movements, from enlisting in Newry, to their journey to Gallipoli with the 1st Battalion of The Royal Dublin Fusiliers via the Greek island of Lemnos, thence to their sad demise at V Beach and the likely manner of their death.
Visits home to Northern Ireland proved useful too. Various relatives dug out old family photographs and documents, while the local museum provided further historical data. And as the years went on, and the internet developed, copious war and census records became available, filling in the many gaps in John and Samuel’s … and my … family history. More and more internet sites about Gallipoli appeared. There is a plethora of useful information now available, including many relevant Facebook pages. And of course, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site contains all the records of men who died at Gallipoli and who are buried or commemorated in their various cemeteries, or whose names are inscribed on the Helles Memorial.
It was only recently that I learnt that the families of dead soldiers were expected to finance the engraving of their loved ones’ names on memorial tablets. This, for many poorer families, would have amounted to a significant sum.
Photograph 2. A Letter to Jack’s Parents From The Imperial War Graves Commission, Requesting 3/9p For Engraving His Memorial Tablet
The Story of V Beach and The Royal Dublin Fusiliers
Having sailed from Lemnos, the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, which included my great-uncles, landed at V Beach off a converted steam collier, the SS River Clyde. Accompanying the Dubs were the Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Hampshire Regiment. The sides had been cut out of the Clyde … she would be beached and the two thousand men inside would run down wooden gangways onto pontoons, dragged near the shore alongside the ship. From these the men would jump onto the beach and advance inland to fight the Turks, under cover of friendly machine gun fire. But things did not go to plan. The German commander advising the Turks, General Von Sanders, understood the strategic importance of Cape Helles and had seen to it that it was heavily defended with barbed wire under the water. Along the ridge he placed more wire and machine-gun placements. The men on the Clyde, unaware of these developments, did not stand a chance. As the Clyde beached eighty yards off shore, Turkish soldiers, defending their country from the infidel, opened up with machine guns. As they attempted to get to shore under heavy fire, men who somehow escaped the hail of bullets sank owing to the weight of their equipment and were drowned. Dead and wounded lay at the water’s edge, now stained crimson with their blood, while their comrades were forced to climb over their bodies. V Beach became a scene of utter carnage.
Despite three attempts by the Munsters and The Hampshire Regiment to get ashore, the operation was a disastrous failure. The surviving soldiers waited until nightfall before trying again, and this time, under cover of darkness, they were successful. The valiant efforts of sailors to maintain the bridge from the ship to the beach, and to recover the wounded, were later rewarded with six Victoria Crosses.
Of the one thousand, one hundred Royal Dublin Fusiliers who had sailed to Helles, incredibly only eleven survived the Gallipoli Landings. Sadly, my great-uncles were not amongst them. In 1914, over 80,000 Irish men enlisted in the British army, over half from the ‘South’. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers were among the first to land at Helles, Gallipoli, on 25th April, 1915, suffering 637 casualties in the first thirty-six hours. Those killed included soldiers of the 1st Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, twenty-four of whom were from the ‘North’; five from the town of Newry. Jack and Samuel aside, the other Newry men killed are named in records as Thomas Lundy, Stephen McGuigan, and John Murphy. Records show that Samuel Mallaghan was one of the first soldiers to die on that terrible day, 25th April … now Anzac Day … perhaps cut down by enemy fire during the infamous River Clyde disembarkation. Two men who may also have been brothers died alongside Samuel: Samuel and John Smyth, from Glendermott, Londonderry, also commemorated at V Beach Cemetery.
Photograph 3. Jack Mallaghan’s Few Possessions, Returned To His Parents Following His Death At V Beach
It is now generally believed that such deaths were caused by the incompetence of commanding officers: Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, lost both his high office and his political reputation following the campaign, led astray by his 'amateur strategy' and over-ruling the advice of naval and military experts. But the terrible defeat at Gallipoli impacted strongly on the troops of the British Empire, leading to a demand for independent states, free from British rule. Gallipoli thus became a key event in the decline of the British Empire and the birth of a new world order. The Campaign is therefore significant, not just to the many Australians and New Zealanders who fought there so bravely, but to millions around the world. The ghosts of Gallipoli are not just Anzacs but the ghosts of many nations … and they are the ghosts of young men from the North and South of Ireland.
To discover more go to my website at: http://margaretwhittock.weebly.com
Ghost of Gallipoli, the novel, is available at: