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Gallipoli 2015

At least 41 OCs lost their lives serving in Gallipoli, or died on their way home of wounds. 20 intrepid current Cheltonians and staff therefore spent this October honouring their memory on the peninsula. We remembered 38 in total, with both poppies and by taking out the research completed by this year’s Third Form, as a continuation of the project begun by the current Fifth Form two years ago, and carried on by the current Fourth Form in 2014 (photograph 1).

Captain Edwin Willoughby was the first of the campaign losses sustained by College, serving in the initial ill-conceived naval attacks of March 1915. Three old boys then lost their lives during the landings of 25 April 1915. On this day, the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, with 26-year-old Captain George Dunlop of Christowe amongst them and alongside the Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Hampshire Regiment, grounded the steam collier the SS River Clyde 100m off V Beach. Gallipoli overlooks ancient Troy across the Dardenelles, and the plan for the Clyde was that she would act as a Trojan horse, carrying some 2,000 men who would then emerge from ‘sally ports’ cut in the sides, to run down gangplanks a and board lighters. These sally ports unfortunately soon filled with bodies and the sea ran red with blood for 50 metres around. Alex and Harry, also of Christowe, can be seen (photograph 2) overlooking the spot where Dunlop gave his life, and the cemetery in which he is buried.

Assistant beach-master and second in command at V Beach was Lieutenant-Commander George Harley Pownall of H.M.S. Egmont and Southwood, who had worked in submarines since 1903, being entrusted with two flotillas at Gallipoli. Admiral Sir Roger Keyes remembered in 1941 how Pownall “begged me to get him a billet on one of the beaches.” We left a tribute for him alongside Dunlop: six years apart, they would have only just missed each other at College (photograph 3). Anglo-Turkish relations are happily far better now, as during our visit the pupils fell in love with Turkish food, took great joy in our guide Erdem’s desire to orientate us at all times (“Where are the Dardenelles?” being the cry of the trip) and began, to Erdem’s equal delight, a fascination with Turkish fauna, precipitated by the bats in the tunnels alongside V Beach. This was cemented as we encountered ‘Dunlop’ at George’s headstone (seen here with Josh, photograph 4). It was the first of many meetings with Turkey’s famed stray dogs. Istanbul ‘houses’ up to 150,000 alone and they soldier on indigently, despite attempts such as Sultan Mehmed V’s to westernize Istanbul, in 1910, by “addressing the dog situation”: rounding them up and shipping them off wholesale to a deserted island in the sea of Marmara.

Close by Dunlop and V Beach, the Helles Memorial (photographs 5 & 6) commemorates the servicemen who have no known grave, including 24 OCs (and 3 out of the 5 captains lost by the Royal Fusiliers were Cheltonians, photograph 7).  Here we remembered Harper Lowry (photograph 8), the first of three OC brothers to lose his life in the First World War (we have already visited his younger brothers, Auriol, at La Targette, and Cyril, at Pozieres). Harper was a tea planter in Sri Lanka, from whence he joined the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps as a volunteer, Private 825, departing for Egypt on the 17 November 1914. Commissioned into the Indian Army by January he headed via the Suez Canal to Gallipoli, landing on Z Beach on the 25 April 1915. Harper was killed on the 4 June 1915 at the Third Battle of Krithia, the day before Lieutenant Moor of Boyne House won his VC in the same battle, being then 18 years old, and thus the youngest recipient of the VC ever at that time.  An IWM account relates how a Turkish staff officer, Mehmed Nehad Bey, wrote of Lowry’s unit: “Had the British continued the attack the next day with the same violence, all would have been lost.”

Also at Helles we found 2nd Lieutenant Montagu Proctor-Beauchamp, who died at Suvla Bay on the same day as his uncle, Lt. Col. Sir Horace George Proctor-Beauchamp. They both belonged to the King George V’s Own Sandringham Company of the “ardent” 1/5th Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment, which is famous as the “vanished” PALS battalion of royal estate workers who all disappeared on 12 August 1915. Sir Ian Hamilton, who commanded the entire campaign, commented of Montagu and his fellow subalterns that “a finer, smarter, keener looking lot of young soldiers it would be difficult to find”.

Lancashire Landing Cemetery, not far along the coast, is famous for being where Allied troops won 'six VCs before breakfast', and Kieran Thorley paid his respects here to Edmund Buckley, also of Boyne House, who died aboard the hospital ship Clan MacGillivray (see photograph 9). At Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, we sought out four more OCs, including Hugo Grantham of Hazlewell, remembered by fellow Greenites Mr Moore and Henry. 2nd Lieutenant Norman Silk of Newick House lies in the same plot, and proved himself to his commanding officer to be “a most gallant and capable officer… as devoted to his men as they were to him… always bright and cheerful, and always only too keen to be ever right at the front. I know that had he lived he must have made a name for himself”… hence our Head Girl Yvie can be seen here standing in the sunshine with him (see photograph 10). The first day then wrapped with an appreciation of perspectives at the vast Turkish Memorial, and some stone skimming and sunset beach cricket before supper, in memory of Captain Charles Arthur Cuningham, OC, whose cricket career encompassing Sandhurst, Aldershot, Ireland and Burma is recorded in the newly published Wisden on the Great War: The Lives of Cricket's Fallen 1914-1918 (photograph 11).

Next day saw us exploring the northern end of the Aegean battlefields, where we found Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Thomas of Leconfield buried in Embarkation Pier Cemetery, having served bravely with the New Zealand Medical Corps. Tommy laid a wreath alongside with his sister Charlotte’s work (photograph 12), noting Charles’ diary entry of 29 May 1915, written just three months before he was killed leading stretcher parties up Hill 60: “Had an easy time on Lemnos Island for five days. Beautiful sea bathing. Played cricket for my unit against the Australians. They won easily!” Just over the road at 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery we visited Major Richard Carnegy whilst a snake, eating a lizard, made it onto the pupils’ Top 10 Fauna list. Not far from both of them, in Green Hill Cemetery, lies Lieutenant Richard Coxwell-Rogers, who was the last of his family to live at magnificent Dowdeswell Court, just outside Cheltenham (photographs 13, 14 & 15), his family having been there since the first manor was built in 1582. Richard now surveys Suvla from the same vantage point as David Niven’s father, William.

Hill 10 Cemetery is on a small hill further north above the Suvla Bay salt lake, which was eventually captured by 9th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 11th Manchesters. Originally a burial site containing just three graves from November 1915, the cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice, bringing in another of our Lieutenant Colonels, Harry Welstead, who as a career soldier like so many Cheltonians had previously survived the Boer War of 1899-1902, despite the many engagements he fought there. The Manchester Evening News reported in 2013 an account of how “as they looked inland toward Cape Helles the rifle fire coming from the entrenched Turks lit up the night sky. At 10.30pm the destroyers cast off the lighters, which made their way under their own steam across one mile of open sea to Suvla Bay. They approached the beach as silently as possible under thick cloud cover. Troops disembarked on to the beach without confrontation, but there was confusion everywhere. It was very dark and troops were landing in places they were not supposed to, which resulted in the 6th Yorks bayonet-charging the Manchesters until both sides realised that each was not the enemy. The 9th Lancs [Welstead’s regiment] were not faring too well either. They had been given white armbands to identify themselves to their own but this made them an easy target for the Turkish snipers.” Indeed, it was not long before C.O. Harry Welstead had been killed. We were appropriately savaged by blood-thirsty Turkish mosquitoes as we stood at his grave, and we could appreciate that the flies were certainly not the least of the perils facing the Tommies and ANZACs. At Suvla Bay itself, where the second major landing took place on 7 August 1915, we also lost Hugh Taylor and Robert Frankland; tragically Robert’s elder brother Thomas had been killed only 4 months earlier, on the first day of landings at Cape Helles on the 25th of April.

Our final full day, at Anzac Cove, revealed the sheer futility of the more northerly initial landings of 25 April 1915, as ships lost their way in the early morning dark overshooting the flatter land around what was to become known as ‘Brighton Beach’. After Shrapnel Valley cemetery, Beach cemetery (photograph 16) brought us our final two OCs. Lieutenant Brian Walton Onslow, of Christowe, died on this now stunning spot by the Aegean, and was mentioned in dispatches while serving as General Birdwood’s personal escort and guard, for trying to lead terrified mules, abandoned by some of the Indian drivers, to safety under heavy Turkish fire from the cliffs above (photograph 17). Brian’s fellow Cheltonian, Edward Lowndes, is touchingly remembered just a few feet away by his family with the simple words on his headstone: “Well Done Ted” (photograph 18).

Via Lone Pine, Walker’s Ridge and Johnston’s Jolly cemeteries we finally approached the lofty sites of the Battle of the Nek and of Sari Bair (photograph 19). Also known as the August Offensive, this was the final attempt made by the British in August 1915 to seize control of the peninsula. We finished, in the setting sun, with the glorious views from Shell Green Cemetery, where notable batting by Noni and Georgie was met by some spectacular thorn bush fielding from James, crowning an utterly memorable day. We were re-enacting the cricket match held by the 7th Light Horse Regiment on 17 December 1915 with shells whizzing overhead, as the Allies attempted to conceal preparations for the evacuation of the remaining 20,000 troops the very next day (photographs 20, 21 & 22).

An early start on the final morning saw us taking in some of the major sights of Istanbul: the Blue Mosque, the Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. Leggings and shorts were replaced with more modest skirts, and headscarves were donned; the peaceful jewel-like interiors and atmosphere of quiet prayer certainly more than commanded respect (photograph 23). Overall, however, perhaps respect was begged most of all by the bravery of the Allied soldiers, and the OCs amongst them, who followed orders in repeatedly attempting to take and hold this morbidly forbidding yet beautiful terrain: the Sphinx, the Nek and Chunuk Bair (see photograph 24)… How they could have ever anticipated victory beggars belief, yet some survived, with Cheltonians of course amongst them. That they were to face the Somme the following year renders it all the more poignant.

Jo Doidge-Harrison, November 2015