Gallipoli: "No-one can imagine the torture and terror"


Herbert A. Bailey, 1360, of the Hawke Battalion, Royal Naval Division, writing from Gallipoli Peninsula under date of June 26th, to his parents Mr and Mrs W. J. Bailey, 64 Grove Road, Luton, says:

"I returned to my dug-out on Tuesday after eight days in the firing line. We made an attack on the enemy's trenches which unfortunately proved unsuccessful. We charged at night and, my word, what a night of horrors! I passed through hell that night and only God's mercy saved me.

"I stood in a hail of bullets and my friends near me were being killed or wounded. This lasted 10 hours. We sustained a rather heavy loss. No-one can imagine the torture and terror suffered on the battlefield. When you see big, strong men crying like frightened babies, see men pray and blood flow like water, it makes you wonder whether you are civilised or not. I saw one man's hair turn from black to white in a few minutes. I have seen men mad with terror.

"You have only to read the letters of the Luton fellows who made that Territorial charge described in the News of June 3rd to understand something of what we pass through. I was sorry to learn so many fellows we know had been cut up. How our own friends are falling! The realities of war are getting nearer to our hearts. I was surprised to learn that all these fellows were now at the front.

"The only things to end this war are men and munitions. I wish I had the power to write more freely I would tell you what I think of the situation out here. You may think things are better here than in France, but that is not so. There is more convenience in France. Here we are in the open dry country, living in holes in the ground, not a building of any kind for miles - nothing but war. And the Turks can fight, my word. I only hope you have conscription by this time.

"The more I see of war the more proud I feel I am out here. I should say every young man at home not is feeling more or less ashamed of himself. I am afraid there does not seem the remotest sign of peace yet, but something may happen out here before long.

"In September here we get deluges of rain, but so far I have not seen any rain since I left England. The sun is very hot all day, but cool at night, when we work and feed in comfort. Flies are a pest. If you spread a piece of bread and jam in the middle of the day, in a second you can't see it for flies.

"We are getting on well for food now. Of course, we get a little luxury sometimes. Occasionally, for instance, I barter with the French for coffee in exchange for cigarettes, make myself coffee (black), and smoke cigarettes "a la France". We now get tinned meat and vegetables. These I warm up, make coffee, with jam for dessert, then finish with bread and cheese.

"We get plenty of cigarettes and tobacco, matches etc, so of course we get a little pleasure in between. Since we have been in the rest camp I have been down to the beach every day for a bathe. We lay in the water and sands smoking cigarettes for an hour or so. This like being at Margate. We appreciate a bathe after being eight days without even a wash. Of course, we get a little work even while resting. I went down to shore yesterday to assist in unloading a cargo.

"I was digging in a trench on Thursday when I was struck on the boot by a 4 in shrapnel shell. I saw it coming and managed to get out of the way in the nick of time. I hope these things do not alarm you. Although I reaslie only God's mercy can bring me through, I am absolutely unmoved. My nerves are strong, I feel brave and confident, and my power of endurance has been a surprise even to myself. I am enjoying the best of health and strength, and none of these terrors move me in the slightest.

"If I survive all this I shall have had a wonderful experience, but whatever my fate you may rest assured that I always keep a brave heart and cheerful spirits, and do my duty with the rest. I do not think of dying, but if I should I thought it would be a great consolation to you all to know I am so happy and proud. So you need never have the least anxiety about your boy, for whom I know you pray, but trust you do not worry. I often wonder whether you do, because I know our people at home are suffering also.

"I look forward to the days when we shall all meet again to enjoy the blessings we possessed, and which, till you have been face to face with death, you do not realise their value. I advise you to make every minute of your life a precious one."

[The Luton News: Thursday, July 15th, 1915]