Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Gurkhas at Gallipoli

Contributed by Jim Patton

Gurkha Soldiers in a Trench at Gallipoli (Cap Badge Shown)

When organizing the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton lobbied hard to get a Gurkha Brigade included. Hamilton was an old India hand and appreciated the Gurkha’s ability to fight in hilly terrain. When he offered to leave four cavalry brigades, he was to get an Indian brigade, to be all Gurkhas when available, as there was only one Gurkha battalion in Egypt, the 1/6th. Adding three other Indian battalions on hand (14th Sikhs, 69th and 89th Punjabis), the 29th (Indian) Brigade was formed. Due to delays in formation the new 29th didn’t arrive at the front behind V Beach until 9 May. The ability of the 1/6th was quickly proven by the capture of a highland subsequently known as "Gurkha Bluff". Two previous assaults by British troops had failed, and this secured the left flank of the British line all the way to the sea. 

Two days later Hamilton decided to remove the Punjabis because of concern about the loyalty of their Muslim companies, even though they had already been engaged and sustained casualties. The brigade was at half strength until 2 June, when the 1/5th and 2/10th Gurkhas arrived from India. Hamilton had his Gurkha brigade at last. 

The 29th fought in the Third Battle of Krithia and specifically the action at Gully Ravine, where the 14th Sikhs were decimated in a brave but futile attack. On 5 July, after heavy casualties (only eight British officers remained in the entire brigade, including the staff) the 29th had to be pulled back to Imbros. 

Gully Ravine Today — A Horrible Place to Fight

It was difficult to replace officers who could not only speak the language of the men but were often deeply respected and implicitly trusted by the ranks. It was thought important that officers set a high standard of élan. One frequently mentioned example was Capt. W.K. Brown of the 1/5th Gurkhas, who drew his sword — he was probably the only officer on the peninsula who wore one –— and led his men in a gallant, though doomed, charge. 

The battalions were brought back up to strength, and the brigade was to be augmented by the 1/4th Gurkhas and detachments from 2/5th and 1/9th Gurkhas sent from France, but they were delayed and didn't arrive until 25 August, so the 6th S Lancs and the 9th Warwicks (which included the young Lt. W.J. Slim, much later Field Marshal and Viscount) were temporarily attached. This reconstituted 29th became part of the new Indian Expeditionary Force “G”, landed on 6 August, and immediately moved to the northern flank of Anzac and joined in what would be last major attempt to break the stalemate.

Part of the left assaulting column, Force “G” were continuously engaged in action, with little rest or sleep, till the 10th. Despite this, they rose magnificently to the occasion and played a vital role in the battle for the Sari Bair Ridge. 

The climax of this action occurred on the morning of the 9th when the ridge was crested at Hill Q by an ad hoc force led by Major C.J.L.Allanson, the CO of 1/6th Gurkhas, which included his 1/6th, elements from the British battalions, and a party from the 1/5th that had been separated from their battalion, charged at dawn, and overcame the enemy defenders.  

Major (Later Lt. Col.) Allanson

Allanson, who was wounded but survived, later wrote:

Then off we dashed, all hand in hand, most perfect and a wonderful sight. At the top we met the Turks; Le Marchant was down, a bayonet through the heart. I got one through the leg, and then for about what appeared to be to be ten minutes we fought hand to hand, we hit and fisted, we used rifles and pistols as clubs and then the Turks turned and fled, and I felt a very proud man: the key of the whole peninsula was ours, and our losses had not been so very great for such a result. Below I saw the strait, motor s and wheeled transport on the road leading to Achi Baba. As I looked around I saw that we were not going to be supported and thought that I could help best by going after those who had retreated in front of us. We dashed down towards Maidos but only about two hundred feet when suddenly our Navy put six twelve inch monitor shells into us and all was terrible confusion. It was a deplorable disaster; we were obviously mistaken for Turks and we had to go back … We all flew back to the summit and took our old positions just below. I remained on the crest with about fifteen men; it was a wonderful sight.

John North added in his book Gallipoli: The Fading Vision

The lonely advance of these British and Gurkha skirmishers to the crest of the ridge, when the battle was already lost must always remain one of the most gallant episodes in the whole campaign.
As the Gurkhas pursued the enemy down the opposite slope, they were hit by a salvo of naval gunfire which, combined with heavy enemy fire from the directions of Abdel Rehman Bair and a subsequent counterattack, drove them back from the summit. They were able to rally on the line held the previous night, but all of the British officers of 1/6th except the medical officer were casualties and in command was a subhadar-major who spoke no English.

The battle for Sari Bair was now lost, and strong enemy counterattacks on the 10th pushed the Allies to a line along the lower slopes of the ridge, which was entrenched and held till the end of the campaign. 

Hill Q in the Middle Distance from Chunuk Bair, Hill 971 Farther Back

The Indian Brigade was actively involved in the assault on Hill 60, the last battle of any magnitude to be undertaken. After the capture of Hill 60 on 28 August, the entire line settled down to the routine of trench war. Force “G” held a front on the extreme left flank of the Anzac defenses, extending northward from Hill 60 and joining up with the right of IX Corps at Suvla, and elements remained in these positions till the final evacuation on 20 December.  

Indian casualties for the campaign were 4,130, with 1,300 dead.

When the historic Indian Army was divided in 1947, four Gurkha regiments went to the British Army. Although not one of the distinguished regiments, one was the 6th Gurkhas. Designated "Queen Elizabeth’s Own" in 1959, in 1994 the 6th was combined with the 2nd to form today’s 1st Bn, Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Sources: United Services Institute (India), Byron Farwell, The Gurkhas, 1984


  1. I recall in 1933 sitting around a Boy Scout campfire in Alair NJ listening to "Pop" Barker
    telling about his experience in Gallipoli. He was with the Australian New Zealand troops.
    He was a great storyteller. Sorry I don't remember the details.

  2. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  3. My great grandfather CSM George Oaks Harp Cheshire Regiment died on the 6th August 1915 advancing up Russell’s top, I would like to know which other Regiments were with him... he is buried at Ari Burnu Cem

  4. "... subhadar-major who spoke no English"
    This subedar major was my great grandfather Gambhir Sing Pun from 1/6th GR