|Marker at Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Gallipoli|
for One of the Six
On the 25 April 1915, one of the most gallant actions in the history of the British Army took place at W Beach at Helles on the Gallipoli Peninsula. A thousand men of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers stormed the beach under withering fire from the Turkish defenders. During the course of this action six Victoria Crosses were won by the regiment. The Fusiliers took the beach but at horrendous cost. Of the first 200 men who landed only 21 survived. 600 men of the Battalion were killed or wounded. The beach was later re-named “Lancashire Landing” in honor of the Fusiliers. This action was later referred to as “Six VCs before breakfast." One of the recipients was killed that day, two fell later in the campaign, and three survived the Great War.
W Beach is about 350 yards (320 m) long and varies between 15 and 40 yards (37 m) wide. While it lacked the strong defensive structures provided by the fort and castle at V Beach, it was mined and had extensive barbed wire entanglements including one extending for the length of the shoreline and another entanglement just under the surface of the water offshore. Trenches in high ground overlooking the beach provided good defensive positions, and the only exit was via a gully that could be easily defended.
|View of W Beach from the Defenders' Position|
The beach was protected by a single company of Ottoman troops, from the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Regiment; around 240 men, defending against a force of around four times their number who were taking part in the initial landing. British accounts say there was at least one machine gun, Ottoman accounts say there were none.
The 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers were embarked in the cruiser HMS Eurylus and the battleship HMS Implacable which took up positions off the beach. The troops transferred to 32 cutters at around 4 a.m. Euryalus closed in on the beach at around 5 a.m., while Implacable moved off to land troops and provide covering fire at X Beach and opened fire on the defenses. The cutters were towed toward the shore in groups of four by steam pinnaces, and at around 6:15 a.m., when they were about 50 yards (46 m) from the shore, the cutters were cast off to be rowed to the shore.
As at V Beach, the defenders held their fire until the boats were almost to the shore. When they opened fire they caused horrific casualties amongst the troops tightly packed into the boats. As the troops landed many leapt into deep water and sank under the weight of their equipment; others got caught on the barbed wire. However, unlike V Beach, the Lancashires were able to get ashore and, although suffering horrendous losses, managed to break through the wire entanglements and reach the cliffs on either side of the beach where the companies were reformed before storming the defending trenches. The battalion suffered 533 casualties, over half its strength.
|Survivors Settling in on W Beach After the Assault|
In his account, Corporal John Grimsaw reported that, "In boats we got within 200 or 300 yards (270 m) from the shore when the Ottomans opened a terrible fire. Sailors were shot dead at their oars. With rifles held over our heads we struggled through the barbed wire in the water to the beach and fought a way to the foot of the cliffs leaving the biggest part of our men dead and wounded."
Reinforcements started landing at 9:30 a.m., and by 10 a.m. the lines of trenches had been captured and the beach was secured. By 12:30 p.m. the troops had linked up with the 2 Battalion, which had landed at X beach to the left with the capture of the defensive position called Hill 114. However, it was not until 4 p.m. that the more heavily defended position to the right, Hill 138, was captured following heavy naval bombardment and an assault by the Worcester Regiment. During the fighting many of the fusiliers distinguished themselves. Here are the stories of the six men who received the Victoria Cross for their actions that day.
Captain Richard Raymond Willis, 1876–1966 Willis was in charge of "C" Company at Gallipoli, and it was from his company that four of the six VCs came. As the boats approached the beach, the slaughter began and Willis stood up in full view of the enemy to calm his men, famously holding his cane aloft and shouting the battle cry, "Come on Boys, Remember Minden". He died in a nursing home in Cheltenham in 1966, aged 89, having sold his VC due to financial difficulties.
Sgt Frank Edward Stubbs, 1888–1915 Awarded the VC for action during the landings at W Beach. His task on landing at Gallipoli was to lead his platoon up the south side of Hill 114 to the tree on top of the hill, where he was to join up with D company. He led his men through the heaviest fighting, and, though his platoon successfully reached its target, Stubbs fell just yards short of the solitary tree, receiving a bullet to the head which killed him instantly. He was the only one of the VC winners to die on the day of the landings. After the action his body was never identified and has no known grave. He is, though, listed on the Cape Helles Memorial.
Sgt Alfred Richards, 1879–1953 On reaching W beach he was shot so many times that his leg was almost severed. Constant movement was the only course of action and he crawled over the barbed wire to relative safety where ignoring his own injuries he continued to encourage others. He was evacuated to Egypt, where his leg was amputated. He served in the Home Guard in WWII and died in London in 1953.
Pte William Kenealy, 1886–1915 When his company was held up behind barbed wire he volunteered to crawl through the wire and attempt to cut it. Though unsuccessful—due to faulty cutters—he was promoted to L/Sgt. He was killed at Gully Ravine on 28 June.
Maj Cuthbert Bromley, 1878–1915 He was the adjutant to the commanding officer at Gallipoli and was shot in his back on the first day. He refused to leave his men, only reporting the wound three days later, after receiving a further wound in his knee. Promoted to major, he led his men during the battles of Krithia before being badly wounded in the foot at Gully ravine, refusing to leave his post until the battle was over. After a spell in hospital in Egypt he managed to get onto the troopship the Royal Edward to return to Gallipoli but was killed when the ship was sunk in the Aegean Sea. He was seen helping people, before being hit on the head with driftwood and drowning.
Cpl John Elisha Grimshaw, 189–1980 His role was to maintain contact between the HQ on board HMS Euryalus and the units on the ground. During the landing and the fighting on Hill 114, urging his fellow soldiers on when they faltered under fire. Grimshaw's water bottle and backpack were riddled with bullets and his cap badge was smashed—but he escaped any injury.
Sources: Articles from the BBC and Lancashire Landing Charity, Paul Reed Website