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Gallipoli Concluded

British Isles Genealogy | The Fifth Battalion, Highland Light Infantry

Early in December, after a few days in the rest camp, we returned to the Eski lines, west of Krithia nullah. The Eski line was the first trench one met on the way up to the front line and was a continuous trench running across the Peninsula. It had been dug during the early stages of the campaign, when the original forces had succeeded in getting a footing on the Peninsula and driving the enemy back from the beaches towards Achi Baba. The trench had been greatly improved since these days and was now used by troops in corps reserve.

While here we were unfortunate in losing Captain Fyfe and the Quartermaster, both wounded by stray bullets. It was a bad place for this sort of thing as the enemy's spent bullets landed in this area—proof that the Turk as a rule fired high and was not aiming at the trenches directly opposite his front line. Neither of these officers were seriously wounded; although the Quartermaster was lucky in escaping as lightly as he did.

On the 15th December the C.O. was summoned to Brigade Headquarters and informed by General Casson that the Battalion was probably to attack two small trenches held by the enemy known as G11A and G12. This attack was to be carried out on the 18th or 19th December and instructions were given to the Colonel that a reconnaissance was to be made and a report forwarded stating the best possible manner in which the attack could be successfully carried out. G11A was a peculiar trench situated on a tongue of land between the two branches of the Krithia nullah, some few hundred yards north of a point where the nullah divided. The ground on both sides of this trench stood about forty feet high and was held by us entirely on the west side and partly on the east side. Owing to our overlooking this trench the Turks did not occupy it during daylight, but it was decided that they sent a few men forward at night to garrison this trench. Several frontal attacks had been made earlier in the year on this trench but without success. It was accordingly decided that on this occasion attacks would be made from the flanks. To enable this to be carried out the Engineers had tunneled a way through the cliff rising from West Krithia nullah to a point which they calculated was directly opposite the western end of G11A. They did not carry the tunnel right through at this time but left an outer shell which could be knocked away when the attack was to take place. It was a great piece of engineering work and in some ways proved very useful when the attack was ultimately carried out, although in others it probably accounted for a number of the casualties which the battalion suffered. To enable the Colonel to submit his report and make the necessary preparations, officers frequently visited the line and reconnoitered the position. Major Neilson and Lieut. Leith made a reconnaissance of G11A by night, entering the trench through a man-hole near the mouth of the tunnel. They gained the necessary information and the C.O.'s report was submitted to Brigade Headquarters, who approved of the scheme and orders were issued that the attack should be carried out on Sunday the 19th December.

It is a peculiar thing that during the Gallipoli campaign, and in fact throughout most of the war, that the attacks in which the Battalion took part were carried out on a Sunday, which we were accustomed to regard as a day of rest. Whether this was done with the object of deceiving the Turk is uncertain.

The final orders issued by Battalion Headquarters were on the following lines. The Battalion was to seize and hold the following enemy trenches.

(a) The north-west portion of G11A from West Krithia nullah inclusive to junction inclusive of G11A, with the main central communication trench leading north-east from G11A to G12C. If the remaining portion of G11A was found to be either unoccupied or very lightly occupied that portion was also to be seized and held.

(b) The portion of G12 lying between the East Krithia nullah and the junction of G12 with the enemy communication trench leading south from G12 to Grenade Station No. 2.

(c) That portion of the communication trench referred to in (b) as leading south from junction with G12 to Grenade Station No. 2.

The above trenches were to be consolidated at once and barricades for Grenade Stations erected at about points A, B, C, D, E, F and G, as shown in corresponding red letters on the sketch. In the case of E, F and G, communication was to be at once opened to our Grenade Stations at Nos. 4, 3 and 2. If the whole of G11A was secured, a barricade was to be erected about point D1 in place of D and an emergency one afterwards at D.

In addition to the Battalion the following troops were to be at the C.O.'s disposal. Two grenade teams from the 7th H.L.I. and as a reserve two companies and three grenade teams from the 7th H.L.I., two grenade teams from the 6th H.L.I. and two from the 5th A. & S.H. In order to prevent confusion the grenade teams were lettered to correspond with their allotted stations and each grenadier wore on his arm a red band marked with the letter of his station, the reserves being distinguished by prefixing the figure 2.

Special arrangements were made by Brigade signaling officers regarding signal communication, and throughout the entire attack and afterwards these arrangements worked admirably.

The attack was divided into two portions, that on G12 and the communication trench leading into it from Sap 2 being named the East Attack, that on G11A the West Attack.

The East Attack was carried out by "B" Company under command of Major Findlay, with the assistance of two grenade teams from the 7th H.L.I. The parties were specially detailed for certain objectives and shortly before 2 o'clock the attacking parties were all in position. At 2.15 p.m. a mine was exploded at point E, and immediately the grenade teams and assaulting parties were seen doubling forward to their objectives, followed at a brief interval by the consolidating parties. Immediately the positions were reached the erection of the barricade was proceeded with. All parties reached their objectives without casualties, but very shortly afterwards the enemy opened heavy shell-fire and some rifle-fire. A number of casualties soon resulted. The consolidating parties had a very stiff job to face, as these trenches had been continually bombarded for some months, with the result that there was a large amount of broken earth to be cleared away before reaching hard undersoil. It was almost like working in sand. The work was continued with great perseverance and after some hours our labors began to show satisfactory results. About 9 o'clock the enemy launched a counter attack against F and G barricades without success, and again at about midnight a second counter attack also failed. Our casualties, excluding those of the attached grenadiers, were two officers wounded, Lieut. M'Culloch and Lieut. Dewar. Other ranks, eleven killed and thirty-six wounded.

The West Attack was commanded by Major Neilson. G11A was known usually to be unoccupied by the enemy at least by day, but the main central communication trench running back from G11A to G12C was known to be held by the Turks at various points, and it appeared to be very much a question of time whether they or the attacking party could first reach the junction of this trench with G11A. The attack too was obviously handicapped in this race by the fact that it must be initiated from the mouth of a tunnel, entrance to which was difficult and from which it would be necessary to emerge into the nullah man by man. Time was bound to be lost in hastily assembling each party at the mouth of the tunnel and getting it started on its mission, while to rush men forward individually as they left the tunnel would inevitably result in confusion, disorganization and possible disaster. Instructions were therefore that each party was to assemble in the nullah and move as quickly as possible on its objective as soon as it was complete.

Sketch to illustrated position on nights 19/20 December 1915.
Position of exploded mines indicated by circles.
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, denote objectives of Grenade Parties. e, f, g, in East attack were established a, b, c, d, in West attack were not established The barricades erected being named No. 6 and No. 6a.

"C" Company was employed in this attack with grenade teams from other companies of the battalion to make it up to the necessary number of parties, while each had a definite object as in the east attack. At 2.15 p.m., simultaneously with the mine which was exploded at point E, another mine was exploded in the cliff of Krithia nullah some yards north of the tunnel. A few minutes after this explosion one of the grenade parties, whose objective was the main central communication trench, had got clear of the tunnel, assembled and was moving up the slope outside the west parapet of G11A. It was closely followed by two other parties, all three being clear of the nullah five minutes after the exploding of the mine. These parties, which were moving along in front of G11A, came under heavy rifle-fire and had to drop into the trench. The overhead traverses, which were in a state of disrepair owing to the trench being unoccupied by the enemy, were low and made progress difficult and slow. Lieut. Aitken, who was leading the first grenade team, had rounded a bend in the trench with a bayonet man of his team when they came under fire from a few yards range from an erection at the junction of the main communication trench with G11A. The bayonet man was killed and Lieut. Aitken wounded in the arm and leg. By this time the enemy were beginning to throw grenades from their central communication trench and getting them into G11A. Lieut. Milne, Lieut. M'Dougall and many of the men were wounded. The parties were crowded, there being about forty of all ranks in twelve yards of trench; the assault party was entering the trench at its northern end and the tunnel was still full of the rear parties coming down. Communication with the attack commander was impossible, and Lieut. Leith, who was the only unwounded officer in the trench, decided to erect a barricade at the furthest point which had been reached. The barricade was completed by 3.30 p.m., and during its erection grenades were constantly thrown at the enemy communication trench but with little effect, as they had to be thrown uphill from the trench while the enemy's grenades frequently rolled down into it. In the meantime another grenade party under Lieut. Pitchford had entered the trench at its northern end; they found a party of the enemy behind a barricade of bags about twenty yards up the communication trench, which runs parallel to the nullah. On throwing a few grenades the enemy began to retire. The grenadiers, however, and Lieut. Pitchford advanced up the trench with a bayonet man, but on arriving at the barricade he found none of his grenadiers had been able to follow him as they had got entangled with the head of the assault party which was pushing up G11A. As he went back to fetch his grenadiers, the Turks reoccupied their barricade and opened a brisk rifle-fire; he then decided to erect his barricade at the junction of the trenches, and in spite of the enemy fire the work was carried out.

The assault party was now working up the trench from the tunnel. Captain Frost led the party and was mortally wounded just as he reached the parapet. He crawled back with difficulty, and in spite of his wounds continued to direct the advance; the men were somewhat shaken by losing their leader and were inclined to hang back, but C.S.M. M'Kean, who was in the rear of the party and still in the tunnel, pushed his way forward, put the necessary stiffening into the men and led them into the trench. The consolidating party were now working down the tunnel and their progress was extremely difficult as each man was carrying a pick and a shovel as well as his rifle. Before they emerged an urgent message was passed back for a supply of bombs and the consolidating party was stopped while these were passed through. A party under Lieut. Dow, whose objective was to remove one of the barricades, followed the assault party. Lieut. Dow was killed as he entered the enemy trench. Lieut. Kirbe, in charge of another party detailed to deal with the barricade at the nullah, was also killed a few minutes after leaving the tunnel, but Sergt. Waddell, the N.C.O. of the party, doing splendid work, had the barricade completed by 4 o'clock, which rendered the passage across the nullah from the exit of the tunnel to the trench quite secure.

Another small party whose work was to establish a dump for stores and ammunition went forward under the charge of Lieut. Turner and C.Q.M.S. Stewart. Lieut. Turner was mortally wounded and C.Q.M.S. Stewart killed before the dump was established. It will be gathered that the casualties were extremely heavy, all five officers of "C" Company having been killed or wounded within a few minutes of entering the trench, and at 4 o'clock Captain Morrison was taken from his company which was in support and sent forward into G11A to take command.

The light was now beginning to fail and it was apparent that no further progress could be made to secure the junction of the central communication trench with G11A. It was reported to Brigade Headquarters that no further progress could be made that night and all energies were applied to the consolidation of the portion of the objective actually secured. From the very beginning the work had been carried on with difficulty owing to the congestion in the trench. Steps were taken, however, to get the casualties removed and the work was carried on more rapidly. The enemy's communication trench was severely bombed by the grenade teams which had been established at the various stations and the enemy bombers became much less troublesome.

The casualties in the west attack were: killed, three officers and six other ranks; wounded, four officers and thirty-one other ranks, being in all nearly one-third of those employed in the actual attack. We were unfortunate in the fact that nearly all the officer casualties occurred within a few minutes of the commencement of the attack, and it reflects great credit on the N.C.O.'s and men the manner in which the work was carried through.

From the manner in which the enemy opened fire on the whole position which we were attacking a few minutes after the explosion of the mine, it must be inferred that he had some knowledge that the attack was to take place. His fire was specially directed at the mouth of the tunnel, and whether he had heard mining operations being carried out on the cliff or not cannot be definitely stated, but this fire was responsible for a great number of the casualties which we suffered.

The Battalion was greatly indebted on that day to the 155th Brigade, who were holding the trenches from which the parties in both attacks started. They supplied the Battalion with several hot meals, the benefit of which was fully realized, especially after our previous engagement in July, when such thorough arrangements could not be carried out.

On the morning of 20th December the Commanding Officer received messages of congratulation from the Brigade, Divisional and Corps commanders. The Brigadier visited the trenches and informed us that the evacuation of Anzac had been successfully carried out the previous night. The object of our local attack at Krithia nullah, which was timed to take place in conjunction with other two attacks, one on the right carried out by the French, and one on the left carried out by the 42nd Division, was to hold the enemy to the Helles line should the Turks at Anzac and Suvla discover that our forces were evacuating the latter position.

With the news that the General brought us, it was apparent that the object had been successfully accomplished, and it was certainly gratifying to learn this, as the actual results of the attacks judged in yards of trenches gained did not seem to justify the number of splendid officers and men whom we had lost.

On the 21st December the Battalion was relieved from the trenches which they had recently captured and moved into support lines where we remained for a few days. The time here was not altogether comfortable, as we had several nights heavy rain and a considerable amount of shelling from the enemy's artillery.

We moved back into the line again a day before Christmas, and on Christmas day the Turk gave us a very heavy bombardment by way of greeting.

That night orders were issued that all troops on the Peninsula would cease fire at a certain hour and this was to be continued until the moon was well up. These tactics had been carried out at Anzac prior to the evacuation and it was hoped that the Turk might be induced to attack when he found us doing the same at Helles, but he was not to be drawn. It was a very peculiar sensation in the trenches that night with not a sound from our own lines and only an occasional rifle shot from the Turks. Sentries were doubled and a very sharp look-out was kept. The men were beginning to get a little bit "jumpy," when suddenly on our right a burst of rifle-fire started; every one seized his rifle and before you could count ten the whole line across the Peninsula had followed suit. This was only "wind up" and it died away very shortly afterwards, but it showed that all troops were at extreme tension.

The following day we moved back to the rest camp and Major Simson left us on his appointment to the 155th Brigade as Brigade-Major. Major Neilson took up duties as Adjutant.

On the 30th December a message was received from Brigade Headquarters that all surplus stores were to be returned to Ordnance and all baggage was to be sent that night to the beach. The reason given for this was the early relief of the 8th army corps by the 9th army corps, but in view of the recent evacuation of the position further north this story of relief was very much doubted and an opportunity was given to many to circulate the wildest of rumors. We were all decided, however, that we were not sorry to be spending our last few days on Gallipoli. The following day the Colonel left the Battalion to take over command of the Brigade and secret instructions were issued that the evacuation of the Helles position was to be carried out within the next week.

A few days later the Battalion moved up to the eastern section of the Eski line, a position joining the French. There was little done in the few days we spent there except in making detailed arrangements in connection with the evacuation. It was a very tedious time and as rations were none too plentiful, foraging parties used to go down to the beaches with the hope of collecting any odd dainties, such as tinned chicken or tinned fruit that might be found in the vicinity of the canteens that were being rapidly dismantled.

It might be mentioned that while one of the largest canteens was packing up stores, the working party came across several cases of bulbs for sparklet syphons; there had been a great demand for these during the hot weather, and the canteens had always been without a supply, now they were discovered when nobody wanted them.

At night-time shortly after it became dark the Turkish artillery which had been reinforced with some heavier guns from Anzac and Suvla subjected the beaches to pretty heavy shell fire. This caused much discussion and difference of opinion as to what his action would be on the night of the evacuation, and it was thought by most of us that we were going to have a pretty thin time of it, as we considered the Turk was too wily to be tricked a second time.

At last the day arranged for our departure came, the 8th January. Early in the morning the Battalion returned from the Eski line to the rest camp. The day was spent in destroying stores and equipment which had not been removed so that nothing of any value would fall into the enemy's hands. The orders issued with regard to movements of troops to the beaches for embarkation were, that parties of fifty should be made up including one officer. This was for purposes of checking at the various control stations the numbers embarked. The Battalion being in rest camp was included in the first embarkation, which was timed to take place about 9 p.m. Just as it was growing dusk the parties of fifty already detailed moved off and after various checks and halts reached "V" beach. Up till now everything had been perfectly quiet. As the troops moved forward on to the landing stages which led on to the River Clyde, the famous Asiatic gun, known as "Asiatic Annie," started firing. That morning she had had two direct hits on this landing stage and at the moment, owing to some delay on the part of the lighters which were carrying the troops off to the waiting transport, every square inch of the landing stage was occupied; we passed a very anxious few minutes there. It was a question of so near and yet so far, and we were greatly relieved when the gun stopped firing after sending over three or four rounds, none of which came nearer than about 25 yards away, landing in the sea with a tremendous explosion and splash. Ultimately the congestion was relieved and we moved forward into the province of the navy, who were in charge of the operations as soon as we got on board the lighters. Organization up till this point had been perfect, but the naval officers did not seem to care about keeping units together, the one object being to get everyone off and load up the waiting transports as quickly as possible. The result was that Battalion Headquarters found themselves on H.M.T. Osmanieh with about eleven hundred men of the Royal Naval Division. The rest of the Battalion, which was only about 258 strong, was scattered over other ships, but very relieved to find themselves where they were with a feeling of great safety, although in reality the danger from enemy submarines was considerable. Luckily nothing of this nature occurred and about 11 p.m. the first convoy of transports sailed.

The parties which had been holding the front line trenches left their positions at about 10 p.m. and, protected by rear parties, made their way to the beaches. Embarkation throughout the entire night was carried out without any interference by the Turk and about 2 a.m. everyone was clear of the Peninsula and not a moment too soon, because the wind which had disappeared during the earlier part of the night had now sprung up and was blowing pretty fresh, which would have meant considerable difficulty in embarkation if it had to be carried out later.

It was with very mixed feelings that we left Gallipoli. When we landed in July it had been with the hope that we would be successful in driving the Turk north from the positions which he held and even some had pictured themselves taking part in a triumphal entry into Constantinople. We had soon realized the impossibility of the situation and in reality were glad to get away from the scene of so many disappointments and hardships. Our greatest regret was the number of officers and men whom we had left behind, and it seemed wrong that we could not remain to avenge the sacrifice which they had made.


The Fifth Battalion, Highland Light Infantry

The Fifth Battalion, Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918

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