22nd Jan 1916. Local Soldier’s Experiences at the Dardanelles

LOCAL SOLDIER’S EXPERIENCES AT THE DARDANELLES.

AN INTERESTING DIARY.

Corpl H Berwick, of the King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment, has forwarded us his diary from the Europa Hospital, Gibraltar, recording his experiences with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. He is a native of Rugby, and has served seventeen years in the Army, during which time he has seen service in India and Burmah. He was present at the retreat from Mons, and the battles of the Aisne and Marne, and has since seen fighting in the Gallipoli Peninsula. He states that he kept the diary on small scraps of paper, and he has often had to write it under very heavy shell fire. On one occasion, while he was marching with his battalion to relieve some troops, he remembered, after they had covered several miles, that he had left his diary in his dug-out. Although it was raining very hard, he went back for the papers, which he rescued just in time, as his dug-out was flooded.

The first part of the diary is confined to incidents occurring on the outward journey, and the latter part to the return from the Peninsula to Gibraltar. The middle portion deals with incidents in the fighting on the Peninsula, and a few interesting extracts are appended :—

The writer states that early in October they landed at Suvla Bay, and adds: “ From what I saw of it, it must have been a very hot place where they made their landing.” On the following day he was posted to a company in the first line trenches. On one occasion a party of men were ordered to dig a well within the range of the Turks’ guns, and when they had taken their coats off for this operation the enemy opened a heavy fire on them. It was like hell for an hour, the troops rushing about to find cover, as there was none near the well; and as a result 12 men were killed and 19 wounded.

Turkish Attacks Repulsed.

“ On November 6th, at 9.20 p.m, the Turks made a very stubborn attack on our first line; they came three times, and on the third occasion they gained part of our trench ; at 3 a.m we counter attacked and retook the lost trench, with heavy casualties, and rain and hail stopped further heavy fighting. On the 7th they made an early morning attack under the star shells, but they did not get much further than our wire entanglements; our machine guns mowed the wire down as well as the Turks. On the 10th they made another stubborn attack on our trenches, and they were very plucky, as we out-numbered them by five to one. But still on they came, and we had orders not to fire until they were on the wire; then the Captain said “ Fire like hell !” and we did. They went down like skittles; we had about 16 machine guns in nice positions, and all through the day they were doing nothing but sniping. On the 11th the Turks attacked in large numbers, but our heavy naval guns surprised them, and very few of them got away.

“ On the 13th November, as I was passing through a traverse to get into a communication trench, I felt a nasty sting in the left hip. I did not attach much importance to it till the next morning, when I found I could hardly walk. I then discovered a large bruise on my hip, and found that a piece of a Turkish 11-inch shell had penetrated my haversack, gone through a pack of cards and a comb, eventually stopping at a large nickle spoon, which was badly bent. These I shall always keep as curios. I had a few narrow squeaks at Mons and on the Aisne, but not to compare with this incident.

“ On November 26th we had a large mail from home, with hundreds of parcels. When they were served out there was one for nearly every man. That was a glorious day, and the troops laid in their dug-outs all day, blowing big clouds of smoke from the Woodbines they had received from home.

A Hospital Shelled.

“ On the 27th a Battalion order was issued that all men who had only been inoculated once were to parade at the hospital. I was inoculated for the second time just before I left the boat, so I was lucky, because, although the Turks had never been known to fire on hospitals, as soon as these men were lined up outside they sent over eight shells from two guns about 900 yards away. These fell right in the centre of the group, and legs and arms were flying in all directions. You could not recognise some of the men. We buried seventeen of them that night, and there were also twelve severely wounded.”

The writer describes a combined bombardment by the British artillery and the ships off the coast, and says: “ It was like a living hell. You could not hear yourself speak, and after they had had an hour of it, it was some time before we could hear what one another wad talking about. It seemed as if the drums of our ears had gone. But it was a fine sight; the sky was lit up beautifully, and I think it accounted for a few. In the morning, on December 2nd, the Turks made an attack upon our left section of trenches, but, thanks to our machine guns, they were mown down like grass.”

“ Some ” Storm.

A terrible storm occurred on the 3rd December, and the writer says : “ After about two hours we were all standing in about three feet of water, with everything we possessed drifting down the trenches, just like a strong tide. Some of the boys lost their rifles, and at about 12, midnight, the parapets of almost every regiment caved in, and then there was nothing for it but to get out of the trenches and walk upon the top to keep oneself warm ; we had to chance whether the Turks fired or not. When it got a little light we could see that the Turks were doing exactly the same as we were. They must have been worse off than we were, as their position was in the centre of a very large hill, and we could plainly see that their trenches were overflowing, and that the water was running into our trenches. They did not fire on us, and some of our commanders gave the order to us not to fire upon them unless they fired upon us. Both parties were in this position for about five hours.” He adds that shortly afterwards it commenced to freeze very hard, and many of the men, who were suffering with frost-bite, were ordered to the field hospitals. He himself was taken on a stretcher to the hospital, suffering from rheumatic fever. On the way to the hospital they passed many men who had died from exposure.

21st Nov 1914. Local War Notes

It is stated that the Leicestershire Yeomanry are now in the fighting line.

C Spicer and A E Lorriman have joined the Rugby Howitzer Battery. The latter was formerly a member, but went away to America, and returned to England in order to re-enlist.

Mr R Herron, of Rugby, who for the past two years has been in training at a Baptist Theological College, has joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He is a competent ambulance man, and has already been promoted to the rank of sergeant.

We understand that the whole of the Belgian refugees, with one exception, living at 17 Hillmorton Road, have obtained employment, three of them at the B.T.H Works at Rugby, and two others at Birmingham. A boy is also working at the shop of a tradesman in the town.

Members of the St John Ambulance Brigade are doing useful service in accompanying wounded Belgian soldiers from the Red Cross Hospital who are able to get out for walks in the vicinity of Rugby. On three days a week they are doing this, the walk generally occupying about an hour, and the men greatly appreciate the kindness shown.

The Rugby Co-operative Society’s employees have sent warm mufflers, helmets, and socks, together with supplies of cigarettes, to their comrades, 18 in number, who have joined Lord Kitchener’s Army. The gifts have been very much appreciated, and letters of thanks have been received, saying they were just the articles that were required.

On Sunday afternoon the Salvation Army Boys’ Band (under the leadership of Mr Whitmore) played patriotic airs and the various National Anthems for an hour at the Red Cross Hospital for the benefit of the wounded Belgian soldiers. The visit was greatly appreciated, and the soldiers sent to the band by way of thanks an illuminated card, the handiwork of one of their number-a graceful act of acknowledgement that the band fully reciprocated.

A QUICK PROMOTION.

George Edward Middleditch, a premium apprentice who was employed in Rugby Erecting Shop, serving his time to fitting, and enlisted in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry Regiment in August last, has done particularly well. He showed ability and quickly rose to the rank of sergeant. This week he has received his discharge papers from this regiment and offered a commission, which he has very naturally accepted. Middleditch has gone to his home in Devon for a brief rest, and awaiting instructions from the War Office as to the regiment to which he is gazetted. Before leaving Rugby for home he visited the erecting shop to say “ good-bye ” to the workmen, who took the opportunity to warmly congratulate him on his well-merited promotion.

WAR CASUALTIES.

Pte. Arthur Hill, a reservist in the Royal Horse Artillery, who previous to the war was employed by Messrs Willans & Robinson, has written to his former land lady, Mrs Judd, of 21 Dale Street, stating that he has been wounded.

Mrs Meadows, of Inwood’s Cottages, near Bilton Grange, this week received news of her son, Pte J T Meadows, 1st Northants Regiment, who is now lying wounded in Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital in Paris, but he hopes before long to be able to return home.

Pte G T Wills, of the North Staffordshire Regiment, who resides at 57 Jubilee Street, New.Bilton, and who, as reported last week, had been wounded, was an Old Elborow Boy, and a member of the Rugby Parish Church Choir during the rectorship of the late Mr Murray. He served for one year and ten months in the South African campaign, and has written to his wife informing her that he is in a hospital at Versailles, is being well looked after, and going on as well as can be expected.

We understand that Mrs H Flavell, of 14 Newbold Road, who a few week ago received official intimation that her husband, Pte H Flavell, a reservist in the Coldstream Guards, had been posted as missing, has since received a communication from him stating that he is well.

WOUNDED AND PRISONER OF WAR.

Pte A Hirons, of the 1st Coldstream Guards, of whom nothing had been heard for some time, has written to his landlady, Mrs Green, of Hillmorton, informing her that he has been wounded in the back and been taken a prisoner by the Germans. Pte Hirons, who is a native of Churchover, served three years in the Guards, and had been on the reserve twelve months. Before mobilization he was employed in the Loco Department at the L & N. W. Railway Station, Rugby.

HOW A RUGBY SOLDIER’S LIFE WAS SAVED – A COMRADES DEVOTION.

Pte A Glen, reservist of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and a native of Rugby, has arrived home, on sick leave, suffering from three wounds received in the trenches at La Basse, and tells the story of how his life was saved by the devotion of a comrade.

Pte Glen, who is the caretaker of the Conservative Club in Abbey Street and is well known in town, stated in an interview with our representative that the first battle he was engaged in was at Le Cateau. About a month ago his brigade was ordered to relieve another section in the trenches at La Basse. Their position, however, was located by a spy, and the Germans immediately started business with their “Jack Johnsons.” A church steeple near the British lines was set on fire by the shells, and fell into the trenches, causing great havoc. Several hayricks were also fired, and by the light from these the Germans were able to easily locate the British, and then rake them with such a shower of shells that they were forced to retire, their places being taken by Indians. Pte Glen received a bullet wound in the head, and was also struck on the neck and shoulder by a fragment from a “ Jack Johnson,” and thus was unable to leave. A comrade remained behind to render assistance, and whilst he was bandaging Pte Glen’s head was fatally struck by a shell, which would otherwise have struck the wounded man. When Pte Glen came round in the morning the dead body of his faithful chum was laying across his back. According to Pte Glen, matters are going very well for the Allies in the Western Theatre. He added, optimistically, “ We are winning safe as eggs, slow, but sure, and at big price. There is no doubt about that. The Germans have machine guns made of papier mache ; and these, in addition to being very effective, are easily carried by one man, and thus give them a great advantage. The rifle fire of the German infantry as a body is poor ; but the companies of sharp shooters do great mischief. One significant fact struck Pte Glen very forcibly, and that was the great deterioration in the quality of the German troops now being brought into action. At the commencement of the campaign the German infantry consisted of fine set-up men ; but the troops now opposed to the British consist, for the most part, of boys from 18 to 20 years of age and old grey-headed men. Pte Glen, who was also wounded in South Africa, said[?] that he only saw one Rugby man at the front, Pte S Cockerill, of his regiment, who has also been wounded.

NEW BILTON RESERVIST WOUNDED.

Mr H Berwick, a reservist in the 1st King’s Own Regiment, has returned to England wounded, and has written to his former landlady, Mrs Smith, of 123 Lawford Road, New Bilton. In this he states that after the retirement from Mons the British took up positions on a hill, and were ordered to prepare for a night or early morning attack. They were preparing to do this when at about 400 yards away a very deadly fire commenced with a few rapid shots from what we call their ” safe deliveries ” (siege guns), which were right in among our Brigade. It was found out after we had been forced to retire that the enemy had a whole Army Corps and had been carefully watching our movements. They had, it is estimated, eight machine guns all turned on one battalion, and I am sorry to say that battalion was mine. That was our first experience, and where we lost 540 officers, N.C.O’s and men. I received a hit in the shoulder by shrapnel, the first shot they fired, which also dislocated my shoulder.” After alluding to the German use of dum-dum bullets and the abuse of the white flag,” the writer says, “ I must confess that their (German) gunners are fine shots. So would you if you were near them. If It was not for their Susie Greens (big guns), I think the English Boy Scouts could beat them, as I think their infantry is absolutely bad.” Describing a German charge at Armentierres, he states that they had been contiguously attacked by the Germans at night and early morning, and the R.E. put some wire entanglements about 200 yards in front of the British trenches, and they then waited for the Germans. We spotted them at about 600 yards, and let them come on until they got to 300 yards. Then they seemed to hesitate. All of a sudden there went up a sort of downhearted yell, and on they charged – if we can call it a charge. It was simply lovely, a great big grey mass with their heads down, and could not see where they were coming until they got on to our wires. Some of our lads thought they were on a fair ground, as their great round heads looked just like cocoanuts.” Among the places where the writer saw heavy fighting were Mons, Marne, Aisne, St Margarette, St Omar, Lille, and Armentierres.

HILLMORTON SOLDIER KILLED IN ACTION.

About a fortnight ago Mrs. G. Thorneycroft, of Hillmorton, wife of Pte. Thorneycroft, of the 1st Royal Warwicks, received the following note, written on the back of a letter she had enclosed in a package of cigarettes to her husband :-” I am very sorry to have let you know that your husband met his death on the battlefield. His letters have been opened and the cigarettes have been given to his friends. We all sympathise with you in your great loss.” The letter was undated, and was only initialled. Mrs Thorneycroft has since been in communication with the military authorities, and on Wednesday received official intimation that he was killed in action on October 23rd. Pte Thornycroft served nine years with the colours, during which time he served in India and also went through the South African War, one of his most treasured possessions being Queen Victoria’s chocolate box. He had been in the reserve for seven years, and previous to being called up was employed by Mr Whittaker, the builder. He was about 36 years of age and highly respected in the village, where much sympathy is expressed for his widow.

RECRUITING AT RUGBY.

During the past week 20 recruits have enlisted at Rugby Drill Hall, bringing the total figures up to 1962, exclusive of a considerable number who have gone from the town to other recruiting offices. Men are still urgently required for the various regiments of infantry of the line.-Recruiting, for the Howitzer Battery Reserve has been proceeding at Rugby and Coventry this week, and we understand that the number required has now been raised.