From the Illustrated London News, 5 June 1915:
AFTER three days in the fine natural harbour of this island situated in the Aegean Sea, and where the Allies have made for themselves a naval base to attack the Dardanelles, we left suddenly at noon on Wednesday, 28 April, 1915, for the scene of action.
Now to tell you of one of the greatest days in my life — the day that I first came under the fire and was privileged to see one of the finest bombardments yet fought in history. About three o'clock, or three hours after leaving Lemnos, we sighted many vessels and land ahead. Then we saw flashes, and knew where we were. The cannonade became distinct, and gradually we came up with hundreds of craft of every description surrounding the entrance to the Straits and around the Peninsula of Gallipoli.
Transports supplying soldiers, stores, guns, and ammunition were there galore, and the men-o'-war, small and large, were darting to and fro. Some were lying broadside on, and great flashes of flame came from their guns. We were soon up on the boat-deck to take in the situation and gather information. On Sunday we had landed some Australian, French, and English troops at Helles Bay.
Our troops were landed with great opposition. Barbed-wire entanglements on land and under the sea caused great trouble. The men got caught in this wire and were slaughtered in hundreds. Eventually, barges made the shore, and the British Iroops landed at Helles Bay. The Australian Contingent were landed at the bay shown on the map, and the opposition was even greater here. A transport was eventually run aground, and the troops got on shore by using this as a jetty.
When we steamed up, we saw the landscape as shown on the sketches enclosed, and if these are joined, you will get the whole. I am told this gives a very accurate idea, so that you can perhaps glean some interest from my efforts. As we got into position, the guns of men-o'-war in the mouth of the Strait were doing damage, and already the village was burning. Then another of our cruisers started on our right, and finally the Queen Elizabeth and a cruiser took a position on our left and right, respectively, and let go for all they were worth. Need I say what a stirring sight all this was! We could see the land laid out like a panorama before us, and could see the flash of the enemy guns as they sought the batteries of our landing-party. Many of their shells dropped near the coast. So near was the Dublin to us that we could view the landing of the great guns and the tars skipping around as happy as sand-boys. Then came the great flash and yet another, and the following volumes of smoke. A while, and then the crash; broadsides were fired — salvos delivered. Jove! it was terrible! Every nerve quivered with excitement as we watched the bursting of the shells and the shrapnel. Bang! and up would go a great column of smoke from the village. As night fell, we could see the lurid flash of the bursting shells and the great flames of the burning village. This was war indeed!
Then the cruiser let go every gun she had upon her, and some trenches to the right of the village must have been sky-high. So night fell, and the fires and lights of our landing- party, and the great glow of the flaming village on our port, with the many lights of the vessels standing "off" on our starboard, made a scene I shall never forget. For a quarter of an hour our guns spoke at eleven o'clock. At 5 a.m. they gave the enemy a gentle reminder for thirty minutes. This was Thursday, and all day we heard the booming of guns and occasionally saw the bursting of enemy shrapnel. Early in the afternoon, a great column of smoke arose from behind a ridge of hills, and continued to rise all day. At night there was a great glow there, and a small town must have been well alight. In the evening, bombardment took place all round, and it transpired that our troops had a terrible time — the Turks advancing with heavy guns and forming a most strong opposition; so much that our troops were forced to retire.
Two men came off the shore to our vessel and stated the carnage to be awful. If you only realised in England how we are hanging on by our eyebrows here, some of the spruce young city men would come and lend a hand. Think of it, and try and realise what a task we have when it is known that the Turks are reinforcing in thousands, led by Germans who have brought some very heavy guns with them.
Thursday afternoon, a battleship on the extreme left, where the Australians had landed, did some good work, and at night there was exchange of artillery fire. It was very cold this night. Up at 5 a.m. next morning, I heard heavy firing from the enemy, and just about 8 a.m. the shrapnel was bursting over our trenches. The enemy's fire became general, and several shells fell along the cliff; three dropped in the sea around a transport which lay about 300 yards in front of us. She immediately moved to the rear with her load of prisoners. We could see the Turks with their red flag and khaki uniform. Their hands were shackled! Altogether, very exciting!
Then our dogs of war barked, and the Turkish-German guns were silenced. The village, to which the enemy had advanced, was given attention, and altogether the foe must have had a very warm time. Land fighting took place all day, but some good work was done from our vessels in the Narrows. From here a large forest and brushwood land was set on fire, and once more we had a bonfire. Dense columns of smoke arose, and as evening fell, the sky was painted red with the reflection of the flames. On this day we hear that the Australians put in some fine work, and especially at night under cover of the forest fire, when they did much damage to the enemy. During the morning, two of our aeroplanes carried out a reconnaissance, and a man-o'-war to our right was plumping shells right over the coveted hill. Oh, if we can only gain that prominence! Then, indeed, we should have an advantage, but one that would have been hardly earned. During the afternoon we were visited by a German 'plane. It had black crosses under the wings, and tried to drop a bomb on our observation-balloon. It was an unsuccessful attempt, however, and our anti-aircraft guns with their pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, sent her flying home.
After tea, we were treated to one of the finest sights of the many that have recently been offered to us. As twilight fell, the enemy made a terrific attack on our trenches. In the darkness, the bursting shrapnel, here and there and everywhere, was extraordinary. Away on the hill and ridge at the back we could see the flash of the enemy's guns. Then almost simultaneously would come the bang and the burst of the shell. Our artillery replied, and we could see the shell bursting on the Turkish positions. Then we had an exciting time, for the Germans sent over half-a-dozen star shells which lit up the land. These things are just like rockets, only that they fly lower — more like a rifle-bullet. Behind the hill was the lurid glare of the fire, rifles and machine-guns cracked, the moon in all its fullness gradually rose in a beautifully clear sky, and we — well, we stood in breathless excitement as the players in this extraordinary drama carried on their part in the darkness of the land which lay before us. It gave me an unpleasant feeling of helplessness — a wholesome horror of war — but it was a wonderful sight. All night the guns boomed, and the next day (Saturday) too. In the morning we moved to the island of Tenedos, but speedily returned to the scene of the conflict. Once more we were "in the stalls," but expect to have to take our part at any moment.
We dropped some Engineers two days ago, and since then we hear that, upon landing, they were awaiting orders when a shell dropped right in their midst, and few of them were left. A cheerful prospect; but may God rest their souls — our late companions! More Engineers and some of the A.S.C. have left the ship, and the guns have been going all day long. Another fire occurred on Saturday afternoon, and the aeroplanes and observation-balloon were busy. Also guns boomed all day, but we seem to be getting used to these things.
Saturday evening we watched the battle, which quieted down. The sun sank behind the island of Imbros in all his glory, and as this island is very rocky and hilly it was a fine sight. The sea, too, was beautiful; and, as darkness fell, the many transports, with their flash-lamps, ships' lights, and signals, looked like a small town. Overhead, the stars shone out in the deep-blue sky in myriads. A lovely evening! Just after we retired (and I am now sleeping in the ladies' cabin on the top deck — very comfortable, and plenty of sea air) the guns began to speak. It got so hot that our cabin was lit up by the flashes from our guns. We got up, put on our overcoats, and saw the fiercest of battles. To describe it in full would be useless to try. In the pitch dark the blue sky made a silhouette of the all-important hill. The enemy shrapnel burst continually all along the coast, and particularly over the Field Artillery and the two coves where our men are being landed. Great flashes came from our batteries, which did a lot of work, and the rifle-fire was quite audible and very rapid.
Just off the point of the Peninsula our man-o'-war let go every half-minute, and we could see her shells bursting on the hillside. Star shells floated over our encampments, and what with the continual lighting-up of the land by the bursting projectiles, the boom of the guns, the cracking of the rifles, and the rays of the searchlight with the signals flashing to and fro, an awful but memorable scene was presented to us.
This battle raged throughout Saturday night, May I, but abated somewhat during Sunday, although the naval guns kept up a constant bombardment, especially one man- o'-war well up the Straits. We attended service in the morning. One of the hymns struck me as being somewhat appropriate:
Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Onward goes the pilgrim band, Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the promised land.
In the afternoon, after a dinner, I confess I enjoyed a nap. By the way, you will like to know our bill-of-fare. There is plenty of water for drinking purposes, but for washing body and clothes the sea provides.
Breakfast consists of tea, porridge, jam, bread, and butter. Always the same, sometimes minus the porridge, which has reached quite a good standard. Dinner gives us stewed meat or bully beef, doubtful potatoes, and occasionally haricot beans — no fresh vegetables. Sometimes no pudding; but if any, rice and currants (unwashed) or a plum duff. Tea consists of bread, butter, jam, and the favourite beverage (I mean tea). On rare occasions we get a cheese ration, and very welcome it is. The way we deal with rations is thus: Two orderlies, our lorry-drivers — clear the cabin up (we are fortunate to have the ladies' room, 30 feet by 15 feet on the top deck — hence, plenty of air) and draw the stores. Regular times are detailed for drawing boiling water, meat, and bread. These are called "Sittings." At a certain time groceries (sugar, tins of condensed milk, and butter) are issued. At the start of the voyage "dicksees" (i.e., metal cans), tin mugs and plates, knives, forks, and spoons were issued. The three corporals get the men seated and serve each man with the food. No man is allowed to take anything, and thus all get equal rations.
Now for Sunday evening's battle! An everyday occurrence, which we now treat just as we do the playing of a band or going to the theatre or pictures at home. Our men-o'-war right up the Straits had been pounding away at the Peninsula. These naval guns form our heavy artillery for the infantry's advance. Suddenly shrapnel began to burst all round. Flashes came from the hill and the ridges, and we knew the enemy had opened the ball. The sun sank once more in glory behind the island of Imbros. As night fell, an aeroplane reconnoitered over their position. On the seaward side of the Peninsula our friend the cruiser started her work in the darkness; we could actually see the shells' trail. The enemy on the Asia Minor side were dropping shrapnel — "bags" of it — just off the point, and, thank heavens most of it was short and burst over the sea.
Away in the distance, and further up the Peninsula where the Australians landed, our ships were dropping shell after shell on the heights. Altogether we had plenty to see. In front of us lay the French hospital-ship, with the little tugs running to and fro to her. From the Strait came a great man-o'-war to take a rest and load up ammunition after her day's work, and the heliographs and signalling-lamps were busy all around us. The only sign of peace here is the tranquil and beautiful sky with its gems twinkling ever.
And you think, as you lie back on the cushioned seats of the train or the "Tube" — you think the taking of the Dardanelles is going along so nicely — at least, so the daily papers inform you. Oh, it 's a picnic to come here! It 's a holiday from our offices, our homes, and our loved ones. We are lucky to see the world and enjoy the beautiful climate: but can you ever realise what it is costing England's sons to hang on by their eyelids on this terrible place? We know, because we've seen it, and it has been a great and terrible experience. We have seen Britain's wonderful organisation and greatness as you can never know it, although the great city of London and all its splendid workings are example enough; but, believe me, if the Allies ever gain the ascendancy over this terribly strong military position, it will only be by dint of some of the hardest fighting in this war. Our boys have had their powers of endurance tested through the terrible winter in France, but the heat which is beginning to make itself felt, and the extremes of temperature, will test any man's physical powers to their utmost.
Monday, May 3. Comparatively quiet in the battle-area. Our naval guns continue to tickle them up! Some of the men rowed officers ashore and came back full of the tales of battle. On 5th May we are going to make a big effort to get the hill and its adjacent ridge, for, on that day, the Australians hope to have gained a certain ground which will be conducive towards victory. May it be so! Hundreds of Greeks — compelled by the Turks to fight, are coming in to surrender. Our poor fellows lay wounded for three days between the two fires before they could be brought in for treatment. The enemy have one or two big guns which are a nuisance, and they are fighting very doggedly. But actually how things are going we cannot, of course, tell.
Today an enemy aeroplane made a daring observation-flight. Our anti-aircraft guns made a useful attempt to pot him, but he escaped after quite an exciting flight. He looked like flying over our way, and we speculated as to a bomb; but no, he tried another course.
The despatch-ship brought letters for the ships' officers to-day. None for us, and great disappointment. Three and a-half weeks and not a word by mail or Press from home. It's rough on fellows homesick and unused to it. Lucky merchants, those in France!
Another big battle on Wednesday night. We havegained the village of Krithea, and fighting hard for the Hill [Achi] Baba. [Neither were ever captured in the campaign.] As usual, a terrific bombardment by our naval guns and the French 75-millimetre, which were landed early.
May 6, Thursday. Awoke to a glorious morning — full sun and cool breezes, sea perfect and dancing in the sunlight. What weather, and we get it every day! Beautiful nights and myriads of stars come to our gaze after viewing sunsets that beat any picture "all ends up."
Guns booming and banging, as usual. At 6.25 a German aeroplane flew overhead and dropped three bombs around a transport lying 300 yards from us. Great columns of water went up. The missiles were meant for our artillery just outside the camp, situated by the landing-place on the sea side of Helles Point. Later, a British and then a French aeroplane made observation-flights, and we had a most exciting time as the enemy's aircraft guns made merry, and fired well over a hundred shots. To see the shell burst and the resulting smoke hang in the air was very pretty, and it was finer still to see the way our 'planes fooled the gunners by their daring.
Heavy bombardment continues. I was on the boat-deck in charge of the party disinfecting up and cleaning machines. Some of our officers and ship's officers went ashore, but the ship hooted them back, and we guessed we were to move. At five o'clock they came back, and we started immediately for Alexandria — so we are told. So we left the danger zone. So it was, for if one of those bombs had, perchance, hit us, we should have been blown sky-high — why? — well, perhaps, you can guess! After a rubber of whist and an excellent day's grub, I went forward to enjoy the night and have a talk with two of the boys about the constellations and their marvels. The phosphorescence danced gaily by us, and above us the gems of the sky sparkled gloriously. Low down the old "Flasher" threw colour upon colour before our eyes. We picked out the Pole Star, turned west, and thought of home.
The men flushing down the decks woke me at 5 a.m. this morning, but what a morning! Air like wine, and through the cabin-doors the islands of the Archipelago — the Cyclades group — were studded all over the ocean. So we continued to pass them whilst eating brekker and performing physical drill. A panorama fit for the god!
Our officers who went ashore brought across relics of the great battles. Shell, cases, bullets. Tres interessant! I hear that the fight upon landing was one of the most terrible in this war. Ghastly beyond words!
So ends my first visit to the Dardanelles.
Sadly, I've never been able to identify this correspondent. Thanks to Tony Langley for discovering this gem and providing the photos. MH.