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1915 – Gallipoli – Flood and Departure

Suvla Bay

In silhouettes of silver and of gray,
With tall fantastic peaks against the sky
Of crimson and saffron in the dying day,
Imbros and Samothrace to westward lie.
No seabirds homing to the salt lake fly
Across the sapphire waters of the bay,
But thunder-echoes roll and faint and die
As the lean warship seeks her distant prey.
Yet not to westward in the sunset’s fire
Our eyes are set, tho’ there a splendour burns.
Nay-eastward- where the morning light comes in
The grave of hope-  the death-place of desire –
The goal to  which each ardent spirit yearns,
The sombre-circled heights we could not win.


However, by the begining of November the battalion were clearly in position. Fritz’s  article ‘The Flood at Suvla Bay’ describes the situation “If you broke a wash-basin in half, the line of the break would give you a good idea of the trench lines at Suvla. High, almost mountain high, they ran down the sunny slopes, where nothing grew but prickly Turkish holm-oak in dense scrubby patches, down to the cultivated flat land at the bottom of the basin. Over grassy hillocks they ran and away southwards  to the Anzac positions which we saw dimly….up the distant cliffs to the precarious foothold we had on the summit there. From 70 – 400 yards apart they ran – our trench and the Turkish line. The ground here was like a rough farm at home. There were hedges and ditches, trees, some poor olive groves and here and there a vineyard.

All the ravines and watercourses on the distant hills led the winter rainfall into the middle of the basin. Our division held the middle of the basin; my battalion was on the left flank of the divisional sector, and my left-hand company was on rising ground where the northern slope of the northern hills began. The battalion trenches were shaped like a bent bow with an arrow on it…The front trench was the string about ¾ mile long; from each end a communication trench led back; the arrow was the third trench, which was really a field ditch, dug out and widened, which ran from the middle of the front line to the junction of the 2 communication trenches. It was a Friday – in the last week in November. ..”

His mother’s diary reads   

Nov 24  The whole battalion in trenches for 8 days -with 300 yards of front
Nov 27  Three hours of deluge and flood following the storm from the hills.

1915 newspaper articles give an idea of the weather at the time.

Never probably, since Crimean days, have British forces in the field had to endure such cold as  the last days of  November brought to the men of the  Dardenelles; – ‘You can have no possible conception’ said an officer after he had been describing it for a ¼ of an hour, ‘ of what it was like.”

Fritz’s article sets the final scene but his poem really describes what happened “I heard a strange sound. I could have sworn it was the sea, washing on the beach! But the sea and the beach were 4 miles away. I stood in the doorway and listened; and as I listened, in the flickering light,  there was a curious slapping noise in the slit trench outside, and a great snake of water came round the curve – breast high – and washed me backwards into the dugout. I was off my feet for a moment , and then – sodden and gasping -I was in the doorway again and in the open air and the horror of drowning was gone – but what was left was bad enough!

“The Blizzard”

The night was dark as hell-mouth the wind was bitter cold,
And there was little comfort in a sodden blanket rolled.
A foot or two of water – an inch or two of mud –
Was what we had to walk in before came down – the flood

It caught the shivering sentries along the parapet,
The front trench was abrim before they knew that they were wet,
Full seven feet deep the trenches were,  the men were weighted down 
With kit and ammunition, and mostly had to drown.

Behind was soon no better – a million tons of rain
Came flooding thro’ the section by dug out, sap and drain.
Headquarters, store and cook-house, bomb-shelter, splinter-proof,
Were all filled up with water, and in fell every roof.

Scummy and dark and icy, the torrent at a touch
Sucked in the greasy trench-walls that mocked the drowning clutch.
And now, the land was covered, and now with choking breath
The wretched victims  unawares stepped into hidden death.

Behind the up-flung parados –half buried in the slime,
Their fingers numb and useless – their rifles choked with grime,
Thro’ thirty hours of darkness and twenty hours of day,
Foodless and drinkless (save the mark) a frozen handful lay.

My friends at home — at breakfast, you saw a casual hint,
Of half a quarter of the truth in seven lines of print.
But from the sullen skies above that seemed to mock our woes
God saw my soldiers freeze and drown. It is enough. He knows.”

The men were digging when I got back from struggling round. Eight of them were taking turns with two spades and they had dug down about 4 feet in a square of  9 feet. In this hole we existed for another 48 hours. In the afternoon two runners got up from the Brigade. Our orders were to hang on for the present, and I learnt that the whole front was disorganised, ration parties drowned, trenches impassable and floods everywhere in the basin.

No rations came up in all that time. We found one tin of gooseberry jam and a rum jar half full of rum and muddy water. These were shared out among the party. We had nothing dry of any kind – no matches, tobacco, paper, clothes. That evening it began to freeze and the night was bitter. The MO died in his sleep and 2 other men also.  Next day there was not more than 2 or 3 feet of water in the trenches, and we had about 40 rifles in action and the machine gun, but  all the men were exhausted.   One Turk sniped at us from a tree and hit several men before we got him.  It was quite impossible to get the wounded men away.   Five other Turks struggled across No Mans Land (it took them an hour) and gave themselves up – poor devils, they were half dead already.

On the second day the Brigadier waded up. He stood thigh deep in the trench to hear my gloomy report and went back with hardly a word.  He had seen all that was necessary – and there was nothing to say. Moving about carefully on the top we found a number of bodies. None were wounded – all had died  of cold and exposure. Two brothers of C Company had died together; the arm of one was round the other’s neck, the fingers held a piece of biscuit  to the frozen mouth.

It seemed a strange and inexplicable thing that these men who had come there to fight and had fought bravely, had been killed by the elements. The trenches were a foul sight; Everything was covered by a slimy scum of mud. The front trench in the southern half was unspeakably horrid; this was where the flood had been deepest and strongest.  On the third day we were withdrawn. Forty-five of us all told, crawled back to a ravine near Brigade HQ – many on hands and knees;  45  out of 500. The Adjutant was killed on the way back by shrapnel from a solitary shell. In the ravine we camped under tarpaulins and slept round a fire. They sent us up brandy and tinned chicken from the medical stores and dry boots and clothes. On each of the succeeding days we stumbled up to the trenches to collect identity disks and bury our dead.”

Picture taken 1 Dec 1915 of survivors

The article ends  here.

His mothers’ diary continues

Dec 2 – Rested by day – by night went up to bury the dead and collect lost stuff ‘all my kit gone’.
Dec 6   Feet no better (he had frost bite); Had to go sick as could not walk. Taken to hospital troopship on a transport ‘with 500 others on their backs with bad feet’.
Dec 12 Admitted to No 19 General Hospital, Alexandria.
Dec 29 Sailed for home.

The full article Flood at Suvla Bay can be found here….https://www.firstworldwar.com/diaries/floodatsuvlabay.htm

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