By Dr Jen Novotny, Research Assistant, Glasgow University’s Great War Project
25 April 2015 marks the centenary of the first landings at the Gallipoli peninsula. Over 50 individuals on the University of Glasgow Roll of Honour were involved in the Dardanelles campaign. Highlighting some of their stories puts this momentous campaign into context.
Spring and summer on the Western Front saw Britain and her allies battling in the trenches at Neuve Chapelle, Second Ypres, Aubers, and Festubert. Meanwhile, the campaign to force the Dardanelles Strait started with a naval engagement that sought a clear path to Constantinople in order to remove the Ottoman Empire from the war and create a direct route to link up with allied Russia. When the initial naval actions of February and March 1915 failed, the decision was made to land a ground force. Thus, as the Western Front debuted experimental technologies like poison gas and large-scale mining, the Gallipoli Peninsula saw the century’s first highly ambitious amphibious assault. As the planned sweep from the beaches to the top of the peninsula ground to a staggering halt, both sides dug in, resulting in a nine-month campaign that cost a combined total of somewhere near 500,000 lives.
An international university
ANZAC Day, as 25 April is now known, emphasises the importance of Gallipoli in the collective memory of the nations of Australia and New Zealand. Following the Second World War, it has also become increasingly significant to the Republic of Turkey.
The University has long attracted international students. From the years 1900-1919 the University of Glasgow had 61 students of Australian birth, 59 students of New Zealand birth, and 8 students from the Ottoman Empire (specifically Turkey and Syria. International students from other former Ottoman countries like Lebanon and Iraq did not arrive until later in the 20th century). These numbers do not take into account the many other students whose families emigrated or worked abroad and who are not immediately recognisable as natural-born citizens of these foreign nations. It is easy to see there were strong cultural ties between Scotland and the Antipodes. Twenty one individuals on the University Roll of Honour served in ANZAC units during the First World War. As yet no Ottoman-born alumni or student has been identified as having served in the Ottoman Army, but research into this is on-going.
Private Allan Cameron MacLean
One of the many ANZACs on the University’s Roll of Honour is Allan Cameron MacLean. MacLean was born in 1893 in Spain, but lived with his grandparents in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, where attended the Birkenhead Institute for six years. Afterwards he attended the High School of Glasgow and spent three years with the University of Glasgow Officers Training Corps (OTC). With the outbreak of war in 1914, the OTC offered MacLean a commission, but he had moved to Australia to study agriculture and had already enlisted in New South Wales with the 1st Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), the first infantry unit recruited for the AIF in the First World War. MacLean and the AIF (who together with the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force made up the ANZAC) arrived in the Mediterranean in May, along with the British 29th Division, the Royal Naval Division, the Royal Naval Air Service, and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps. MacLean’s family heard nothing after his arrival until they received notice of his death late in June. He had died at the age of 21 a month earlier on the first day of the Gallipoli landings.
The landings at Gallipoli began early in the morning on 25 April. Under the cover of darkness, landing craft ferried men to the beaches. The landings were dangerous work. Another member of the 1st Battalion AIF, Frederick Warren Muir, described the landings in his diary:
‘Lying on the beach were about 50 … who had been killed while landing. …. The country where we landed is steep sandy bluffs covered with thick low scrub: very difficult to walk over. …. We were loaded with our full packs, 200 rounds of ammunition, 3 days rations, … which made very heavy work on the ridges. The Turks were very well prepared for us…’
Two members of the 1st Battalion earned Victoria Crosses that day, enduring what must have been harrowing conditions.
Supporting the ground troops were the many Royal Navy ships and landing craft. One of these was the HMS Implacable, which arrived in the Mediterranean at the end of March. Aboard her were two University of Glasgow graduates: Fleet Surgeon Adrian Andrew Forrester and Lieutenant Charles Coventry Anderson. Forrester was born in Stirlingshire and studied medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1892-1897. After graduation he joined the Royal Navy as a Surgeon, being promoted to Staff Surgeon in 1906. He was posted to the Implacable in February 1914 and promoted to Fleet Surgeon in November of that year.
With much of the emphasis on the Gallipoli landings focusing on the ground troops, it is perhaps easy to forget that ships like the Implacable provided close support that often endangered their crews. HR Tate, a Midshipman on the Implacable, describes the landings on W Beach and the tragic death of Fleet Surgeon Forrester on 25 April:
‘Here the casualties had been bad, and over a hundred dead were on the beach alone, while the sand was all stained with blood, a derelict cutter full of dead, and water-logged, formed a basis for a temporary pier. …. Several of our men are wounded, a bullet found a billet in the stomach of our surgeon Forrester and killed him. We were in a group on the quarter deck when he was shot and he just collapsed quite quietly.’ (Lockyer 1936: 21)
Another crewman, Stoker Petty Officer Charles Cook, wrote:
“I saw hundreds of shots splashing like rain round the boats and it was glorious to see the boys leap out and wade ashore,” continuing, “…the dear old ship has come through splendid. Am sorry to say our Fleet Surgeon [Forrester] has been killed. We bitterly mourn his loss, and the Navy loses one of its brightest officers and one of the finest gentlemen that ever stood in a pair of boots.” (qtd. in ibid: 26-7)
The Royal Navy did not only provide support from the waves. The Royal Naval Division were ground troops that operated alongside the infantry. Lieutenant Charles Coventry Anderson was one of these. Born in Partick (now part of the City of Glasgow), he studied at Kelvinside Academy before studying at the University of Glasgow 1908-1912. As part of the Royal Naval Division, Anderson led the beach party during the landings at X Beach in the Second Battle of Krithia, falling in the first advance up the Achi Baba Nullah on the 8 May at aged 27.
Back in Britain, reinforcements for the Gallipoli campaign were gathering. In May the newly formed 52nd (Lowland) Division received their orders to embark for the Mediterranean. The Division was impacted by the infamous Quintinshill rail disaster near Gretna on 22 May, a train crash in which over 200 men on active service (mainly Royal Scots) lost their lives en route to Liverpool where they would board the troop transport ships. Four days later, the rest of the Division, which included the 1/5th Highland Light Infantry (HLI) set sail for the Mediterranean.
Six fellow officers of the 5th HLI had ties to the University of Glasgow and fought together in the Dardanelles. The battalion arrived at the Gallipoli Peninsula on 2 July 1915, where they would stay until the evacuation in January 1916. When the battalion left Cape Hellas, only 5 of 29 officers and 321 of 1,033 other ranks remained with the unit. Looking at these men together as a cohort makes us rethink the faceless statistics of the First World War. These men knew one another, serving together on the front lines, but also hailing from the same educational institution and same social circles in the West of Scotland.
2nd Lieutenant Ralph Edward May
Ralph Edward May was born in Glasgow 1886 and studied Law at the University of Glasgow from 1905 to 1909. He was Second Lieutenant in No. 7 Platoon, B Company. The officers of the 5th HLI published an account of the battalion’s service in the Mediterranean and relate May’s death as follows:
Sec.-Lieut. R.E. May was despatched on this duty [relieving the 7th HLI of a group of prisoners] with the twenty-five men left at Headquarters by “B” Company. We never saw him again. With the two or three leading men he got separated from the remainder of his party in the confusion which prevailed after nightfall in the maze of trenches in front. In his search for them he came upon a small trench held by a mixed party of units of the 155th Brigade. A strong counter-attack was developed against this trench. With the few men he had he took an active part in driving back the enemy but was killed as the attack was finally repelled, and buried where he fell. (Morrison 2007)
Major Andrew Marshall Downie and Captain James Gordon Milne
Major Andrew Marshall Downie was the Officer in Command of “A” Company. Serving alongside him in “A” Company was Captain James Gordon Milne. Downie was born in Shettleston, Glasgow in 1875 and enrolled at the University of Glasgow, studying engineering from 1896 to 1899. He later gained a diploma from the Technical College in Mechanical Engineering and was elected an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 23rd April, 1901. Downie put a successful career on hold to join the war effort. At the outbreak of war he was Managing Director of Duncan Stewart and Company of Glasgow, as well as a Director of R M Downie and Company, a Manchester shipping company. Downie’s mortal injury at Achi Baba nullah is related as follows:
On receiving this order [to move forward in support of the 6th HLI] Major Downie led Nos. 3 and 4 platoons over the parapet, the right half-company under Captain Morton following them at a short interval. Their route led along the lower end of [trench] F12A, which had been almost pounded out of existence by our high explosives. There were several casualties while traversing this zone, including Major Downie himself who received a severe bullet wound in the head. (ibid.)
It was Captain Milne, wounded in the same action, who wrote to his comrades in the 5th from hospital in Alexandria to report the Downie’s death. The officers of the battalion wrote:
‘From the first we had known that Major Downie’s case was a critical one,’ records the battalion history, ‘but our latest word of him before the hospital ship left Helles had been that “he was getting on better than could be expected,” and all had been hoping for further news of good progress.’ (ibid.)
Milne had just completed his first year studying Law at the University of Glasgow when war broke out. He survived the wounds sustained at the same time as Major Downie and was wounded again in December while in the frontline trenches between the East and West Krithia nullahs. He yet again recovered and continued to serve with the battalion in Egypt and Palestine until 10 August 1917, when he was lost during a raid into No Man’s Land in Gaza.
…[T]he two companies missed the flank of the enemy’s advanced force, getting into the gap behind it and just in front of the enemy’s reserve line which was also advancing. Thus they found themselves with no one in front of them, but with a bomb and rifle attack on both flanks. With some difficulty they were withdrawn. Our own patrol got home safely but Lieut. Milne and Pte. Graham were lost in the retiral. No one had seen Lieut. Milne fall, but months later we heard that he had died of wounds in a Turkish hospital. He was a great loss, as his bright and cheery nature helped all ranks. (ibid.)
2nd Lt Allan MacFarlane Turner
Another officer of the battalion was Allan MacFarlane Turner, a member of the University of Glasgow Officers Training Corps from 1913 to 1914. His death on 20 December 1915 was reported as follows:
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 [a trench between the East and West Krithia nullahs] to take command. (ibid.)
2nd Lt George Alexander Sillars
George Alexander Sillars was a student at the University of Glasgow, studying dentistry in summer 1914. He immediately enlisted with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), serving in the Mediterranean before transferring to combat duty with the 5th HLI. He survived the Gallipoli campaign and served with the battalion until 1917.
The month of November, 1917, marked a great change in the Battalion. The good days of Sinai, when war meant only an enemy aeroplane in the grey morning, were gone. Then we knew that to-morrow would be like to-day and that there would be no gaps in the ranks when next the earth swung into the morning sunlight. But November tore old associations to shreds. We left Major Findlay and Lieuts. Townsend and Scott beyond the pleasant orange-groves of Herbieh, sleeping among old comrades on the bare ridges of Sineid. Captain Buchanan left us on the road to Emmaus. Lieuts. M’Lellan and Price and Sillars lay on the rocky hill-top of Beth-horon. With them a goodly company of non-commissioned officers and men, who marched with us and drilled with us and fought with us and died gamely with their faces to the enemy. (ibid.)
Colonel Frederick Lansdowne Morrison
Frederick Lansdowne Morrison was born 1863 and grew up in the West End of Glasgow. In 1879 at the age 16 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, completing an Arts degree in 1883 and a Law degree in 1887. He was over 50 at outbreak of war, but mobilised with the 5th HLI. Morrison was much decorated, being Mentioned in Despatches (MID), as well as being awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and made a Companion of the Order of Bath (CB), the fourth most senior award in the Honours system.
When Professor Dudley Medley wrote to him to express the congratulations of the University’s Military Education Committee on this last honour, Morrison replied on the 22 June 1916;
“I have been rather overwhelmed at the honour which has been conferred on me, for I am only too conscious that ‘ beyond having the good fortune to ‘stick it out’ – I personally have done nothing to merit it. This being so, it can only have been given to me in recognition of the good work which my Battalion has put in, and, regarding it in this light, I can be and am honestly proud of it – and very grateful to the officers and men – the dead as well as the living – to whose splendid services I am indebted for my CB.”
Colonel Morrison commanded the battalion until 22 December 1917, when he died at Alexandria at the age of 54.
Unrest at home
In his correspondence with Medley, Morrison commented upon news from the homefront. He was sanguine in his pleasure at how well his alma mater was responding to the war and equally sanguine in his contempt of the news of strikes by munitions workers. Reports of labour unrest are prevalent in British newspapers, appearing side-by-side with headlines of actions in the Dardanelles. While soldiers dug in on the peninsula, The Scotsman reported strikes by moulders at Crookshanks & Co. Ironworks in Denny, cabmen in Paisley, engineers at United Turkey Red, yarn dressers in Dunfermline, and coppersmiths at Fairfield’s shipyard, to name but a few. Scathing letters from soldiers on service abroad denouncing the strikers were also published.
The Munitions of War Act, passed in 1915, suspended the right to strike in factories considered to be doing war work. Furthermore businesses were prohibited from employing any individual who left war work, meaning that any employee wishing to change employers had to first obtain a transfer certificate releasing them from their current position (which was often denied). Another tenet of the Act was that all labour disputes were required to submit to arbitration. Munitions tribunals were established to deal with the many ensuing cases. These tribunals were chaired by individuals like William Murray Gloag, Regius Professor of Law at the University from 1905 until 1934. He was Dean of the Faculty of Law, 1907 to 1909, and founded the Student Law Society. Gloag presided over a number of both local and general tribunals in Glasgow, making binding legal decisions that had very real effects upon the lives of the working class in Glasgow.
Gallipoli offers a complex case study, from those interested in dissecting the tactics of 20th century amphibious assaults, to untangling the politics of the emerging national identities of Australia, New Zealand, and later, the Republic of Turkey. On 25 April 2015, the world again looks closely at the Dardanelles to consider Gallipoli’s legacy, and remember (or resist the memory of) the genocide of Armenians. The voices of those who were there continue to challenge how we understand Gallipoli as we reflect upon and re-evaluate it from the distance of one hundred years.
Lockyer, Captain Hughes C. 1936. The Tragedy of ‘The Battle of the Beaches’ Together with the proceedings of H.M.S. Implacable’ including the landings on X. and W. beaches. Uckfield, East Sussex: The Naval & Military Press Ltd.
Morrison, F.L. 2007 (1921). The Fifth Battalion Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918. Project Gutenberg e-book edition available at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20250/20250-h/20250-h.htm