Battle briefing at Gallipoli
Under the heading "My war story", a Luton Terrier with the initials C. G. O. wrote of his experiences in Gallipoli and his return to England, wounded on board a hospital ship. [The initials suggest the writer may have been Pte Cyril Gilbert Olney, 3930, 1/5th Bedfords, whose home was at 66 Ivy Road, Luton. He had previously written to his mother from hospital].
It was in the sunny month of July that for the first time in my life I left the shores of England for an unknown destination, for a purpose known only too well. It was on the eve of my 20th birthday that I left the city of St Albans. We were cheered heartily as we left the parade ground, en route for the station, the friends, of whom we had many, well knowing our mission.
"We entrained, and as the train moved away in the small hours of the morning we heard a cheering which would ever be impressed on our hearts. It was the cheering of mothers, wives, sweethearts and friends - their last farewell before we left England.
Sleep we could not. We were all wondering what would be our fate and when we should return to the old home fire again. Glorious were the glimpses we caught of the countryside we were leaving behind, perhaps never to see them again.
We stopped on the way, but nothing happened until we reached Exeter, when, through the kindness of the Mayoress, we were supplied with tea and cakes and a small card on which were the words, "From the Mayoress of Exeter and Committee. Wishing you luck". Then off to ------.
The day was well advanced when we arrived, but no time was lost. We left the train and formed up ready for embarking. After all goods had been transferred, we were told off in different sections for our berths. The ship which was singled out to take us across the ocean was the ------, which was used as a troopship during the Boer War.
It was after one o'clock in the afternoon of a glorious day when we sailed away from England's sunny shores, experiencing for the first time what it was like to leave old friends behind and journey to a land unknown, yet happy in the thought of going away to help crush the barbarous enemy in the cause of right against might.
As we sailed away we began to feel the roll of the boat, and many a lad began to feel dizzy. When we could no longer see land we partook of our first meal on board ship. The first thing to be done was to become acquainted with the numerous rules of the ship.
Next morning the fun began, as the majority of us were in a state of mal-de-mer commonly known as sea sickness. This continued for two or three days as we were going through the Bay of Biscay, but after that we got used to the rocking of the boat and all was well.
The weather was delightful, but we could not see any land. We passed Gibraltar on the night of Friday, the 30th, but could not see anything owing to the heavy fog. As we neared Malta we were were accosted by boats of all descriptions. We stopped at Malta for a few hours, and then steamed off for the Near East.
We arrived at Alexandria on August 6th and stayed there for a day. While there we went for a route march for a stretch, and saw both sides of the city. In the evening of the 7th we journey on our last lap. The 10th saw us at ------ Island, the naval base for the Mediterranean. This the last stopping place, and also a hospital base.
On the 11th we landed at Suvla Bay on 'A' Beach. We were soon at work making our base satisfactory and, after unloading stores, we prepared a meal and settled down for the night. During the night we heard for the first time what a pitched battle was like, as both sides were firing heavily, and our naval guns were booming consistently.
Next morning we were greeted with a fusilade of shells, but they all missed their target. We were soon busy trench digging and making fortifications and strongholds. While this was going on the enemy snipers were busy practising and, unluckily, they managed to hit one or two. Small parties of us went out hunting snipers, and met with some measure of success. This sort of thing went on for two or three days and we lost men daily, being hourly exposed to the aims of the Turkish gunners.
After several light skirmishes with small scouting parties we were ordered to make a concerted attack on a very commanding position at noon on Sunday, August 15th. We were expected, evidently, as shells and bullets were flying all over the place.
As we neared the positions we could see that we had a hard task in front of us. We were losing men by the score, and the groans were dreadful. As we got into the thickest of the fight the ground was scattered with dead.
Ah, those awful moments, when all expected every moment to be laid low, yet never flinching or turning, only stopping now and then to tend a wounded comrade and then on again, stumbling, parched but with only one cry coming from the mouth of our leader, "On, boys, on!"
We were within grasp of our treasure when a shrapnel shell burst directly overhead, depositing itself in many places. I chanced to turn just then and saw our Brigadier was wounded, and almost at the same time I felt a thud in my right thigh. At first I thought a piece of rock had struck me, and continued on my way. Presently I felt a stiffness developing in my leg, and putting my hand there I felt the throbbing of free-flowing blood.
Pausing for an examination, I found I had been struck at the top of the thigh and the bullet had gone through over a foot of flesh and deposited itself near the skin on the inside of my leg. I then proceeded to the dressing station, which was three miles away. My leg was very painful and walking was extremely difficulty, but I managed to get there and, after several preliminaries, I was taken to the landing base. Here I remained until the morning.
All this time not a drop of water or a bit of food had crossed my lips. About 7 o'clock on the 16th we were taken down to the beach and put on a lighter. Just as I was moved the Turks shelled the hospital and killed several poor fellows.
Once on the hospital ship we were speedily attended to. Later we were landed at Lemnos Hospital. After two weeks of dressing, my leg began to heal but, unfortunately, I contracted dysentery, from which I have since been suffering. After three weeks of agony and terrible pain I found a slight relief, but was in a terrible condition.
Later I was moved to the convalescent camp, but here, owing to the unsuitable condition of the food, I grew worse, and was eventually put down for England. On October 18th I was transferred to HM hospital ship ------. She sailed from Lemnos on the 21st and, for the second time in my history, passed through those numerous islands which compose the Greek Archipelago in the Aegean Sea.
We steamed along very quickly, and occasionally caught glimpses of the sunny shores of Southern European. Our only stop was at Gibraltar, where we arrived on October 24th, and stopped for an hour or so. It was very fascinating to see Britain's great stronghold glaring in the sun - so solemn and so firm.
We moved on, and came in view of the old country once more in the early evening of October 27th, and the land first sighted proved to be the Isle of Wight. After a lot of manoeuvring we came to Southampton Docks and were moored alongside, then transferred from ship to train and on to Manchester. I was taken to Tootal Road Auxiliary Hospital, Weaste [Salford], and after a few weeks transferred to Alfred Street Hospital, where this story is written.
One thing I should like to say. The friends here, of whom I have many, have been extremely kind in their attentions towards me, and have earned a permanent place in my memory.
[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: February 19th, 1916]