DRIVING along by the Dardanelles on a sultry summer's day, it's difficult to believe that this tranquil and unspoiled area was the scene of what has been called one of the most disastrous British campaigns of the 20th century. Its ignominious history has meant that as Remembrance Day approaches each year, it tends to be overshadowed by the battles and victories of the more 'glorious' French campaign of the First World War. But, despite its still prominent battle scars and gruesome past, when I first visited the Gallipoli Peninsula, just about three years ago, I knew almost nothing of the history of the area and was intending to use it only as a stepping stone to nearby Troy. I did know that in these glittering straits Leander had braved the fierce currents to reach his beloved Hero, and, centuries later, the poet Byron had attempted the same feat. On a personal level, I was only dimly aware that two of my great-uncles had died at the Dardanelles, John and Sam Mallaghan, hailing from Stream Street in Newry, but family history stopped short there. That first visit to Gallipoli will remain in my memory for ever.
Having left Istanbul, and its noise and pollution, far behind, my husband and I gratefully pulled into our boarding house, cramped and sweating from a fraught five-hour car journey. With the taste of Istanbul still in our mouths, we stepped into a garden where we were assailed by the scent of lavender and rosemary, the only sounds the bleating of goats, the chugging of fishing boats, and children's laughter drifting up from the nearby village of Sedd el Bahr. Freshened up, we decided on a stroll before dinner, and, as the sun set, streaking the Aegean with red and gold, we found ourselves approaching a sheltered beach below the village, overhung by steep cliffs on one side, and a ruined Ottoman fortress on the other. In the gathering dusk we could just make out the shape of a cemetery, tucked under the cliff, and, despite our growing hunger, we made our way towards it, followed by a motley crew of village dogs. It was as if some intangible feeling prompted us forward, and we turned to the grassy path that followed the crescent shaped sweep of the sandy beach. The sun had all but disappeared as we pushed open the gate to the cemetery and began to walk among the memorial tablets, our feet crushing clumps of lavender and scented stocks. The call to prayer echoed across the village and out, out, over the bay. Apart from the soft lapping of the waves, there was no other sound.
I still have difficulty recounting the next bit of this story. Several years later, it still seems a trifle unbelievable and the strong emotions of the moment remain with me. And the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I think of it. To set it in some kind of perspective, let me tell you now that on the Gelibolu, or Gallipoli Peninsula there are literally tens of thousands of graves, and over 30 Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries. Spread over a wide area, some in isolated gullies, the chances of locating anyone, without some kind of record, are remote. Nevertheless, we had barely entered the cemetery, and, in a half-hearted fashion, begun to read the memorial tablets, when I realised we were walking among the graves of Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Some vague memory stirred, and I turned to remark to my husband that this was the regiment to which I thought my great-uncles had belonged. He was standing behind me, stock still, with an unreadable expression on his face. Breaking the deep silence, he told me that he was standing by the memorial tablets for John and Sam Mallaghan, aged just 21 and 19, privates in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Hands shaking slightly, I stepped across the line of stone tablets, each bearing the name of a soldier who had died in this now peaceful and beautiful place. Yes, he was right. The tablets, side-by-side, were inscribed with the names of my two great-uncles. They had both died here, in this little bay, one on the 25th April, 1915, and the other, five days later.
For over 80 years, their remains had lain here, in this serene but foreign place, with the call to prayer the only disturbance to their rest. They had sailed away from a little province of the United Kingdom, to an alien land, never to return, never to see their loved ones again. Barely men, they would never experience the joys of living that their ancestors were to take for granted. I knew that I was the first member of my family ever to have stood on this spot, the first ever to read their memorials. Like them, I had come from a country far away to stand here in this foreign land where lay a little bit of Ireland. To me, at that moment, it felt as though I had been led there, as if from the moment of leaving the pension, someone had taken my hand and guided me to this very spot. When we had gathered ourselves sufficiently, we made further investigations. Darkness had finally descended, but a brilliant full moon bathed the cemetery in an opalescent light and white moths flitted in and out of the shadows like little pale ghosts. We read every tablet in the cemetery: privates, lance corporals, gunners, and seamen. Many of them Irish, from both north and south of the border, and most of them young. Lives, hardly begun, cut tragically and, as I now know needlessly short. A plaque by the entrance gate informed us that this bay was the V Beach of the Gallipoli landings, and we were standing in the V Beach war cemetery. The plaque gave only a skeleton outline of the grim events that had unfolded here, and, as we pulled the gate behind us, and groped our way back along the rutted track to food and rest, I was determined to discover more.
THE definitive aim of the Gallipoli campaign was to capture Istanbul, thus opening up a new supply route to Russia. Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, intended forcing the Dardanelles with a fleet, followed by a bombardment of the Ottoman capital. Following a miserable first attempt to carry out this plan, Allied troops regrouped on the Greek island of Limnos, allowing the Turkish forces, in the intervening months, to strengthen their position along the peninsula The Allied Landing on the peninsula commenced on 25th April, 1915, and was ultimately defeated, in great part due to the incompetence and vacillations of Allied commanders, and the unexpected resistance of the Turkish forces, led by Kemal Ataturk. Giving up by the following Christmas, evacuation was completed during the night of the 8th/9th January, 1916, and between those dates it is estimated that 160,000 Allied soldiers and 90,000 Turks died. John and Sam Mallaghan were privates in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, part of the 86th Brigade and 29th Division. Official records show that they enlisted in their home town of Newry, initially sailing from Avonmouth on the Alaunia on the March 15, 1915, passing through Gibraltar, Malta and the Greek Islands, and then sailing to Cape Helles, on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, on the April 25. Their final destination was V Beach, intended to be the largest and most important of the Helles landings. Despite the carnage, V Beach was nonetheless eventually taken by the Allies, and, by the April 26, those troops left alive were all ashore.Who knows what Sam and John Mallaghan thought as they sailed towards V Beach on that fateful April morning. Perhaps, like so many young men of that era they had been misled into seeing the war as a glorious adventure. Whatever they thought we will never know, for they did not return, and with them, in V Beach Cemetery, so beautifully tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, lie the bodies of other young Northern Irish men among them Private Coulter from Donaghadee, Private Diamond from Banbridge, Private Garvey from Portadown, Private Kewell from Londonderry, and Private Thompson from Belfast. And, all across the peninsula, similar cemeteries bear testimony to the bravery of Northern Ireland's young men.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is now accessible to all, and, as a national park, set in a naturally beautiful area, has been saved from the hideous development that has scarred much of the Turkish coastline. Today, a tangible atmosphere lingers on in Gallipoli, and it is impossible to walk among the memorial tablets, with their poignant messages to lost fathers, sons and husbands, and not shed a tear. As Robert Rhodes James wrote: 'If ghosts walk, they walk in Monash Valley, and Gully Ravine, and guard eternally the rocky escarpment of the Gallipoli Peninsula'. I like to think that my great-uncles are among them.
This article is written in memory of my great-uncles, Privates John and Samuel Mallaghan of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, aged 21 and 19, who died during the V Beach Landing of April, 1915.
© Belfast Telegraph Newspapers Ltd. Some text areas highlighted by me (BD)
The Alaunia struck a mine and sank whilst returning from New York on October 19th 1916; she is the largest wreck lying off the Sussex coast and is regularly visited by scuba divers
Sam may have been aboard one of the small open boats which preceded the River Clyde to the landing. This collier had holes cut in her sides and wooden gangways fixed to her sides. The idea was that she would be beached and the 2000 troops inside would run along these gangways and across two lighters which would form a landing ramp to the beach. It all went wrong. Here are some chilling eye-witness accounts (more can be read by following the 'Diary Entries' link at the bottom of this page): About this time three companies of Royal Dublin Fusiliers and one platoon of Anson Battallion RND embarked from mine sweepers into Six tows of boats, each made up of a pinnace and four cutters. They were intended to land half an hour in advance of the men from the River Clyde. Five tows onto V beach and 1 tow to Camber, a small harbour to the right of V beach.Captain Guy Nightingale who was on the Clyde wrote in a letter dated 1 May 1915 - the water was shallower than they thought and the Clyde was stuck about 80 yards out ......... None of us felt it, there was no jar. As she beached 2 Companies of the Dublins in "Tows" came up on the Port side and were met with a terrific rifle and machine gun fire. They were literally slaughtered like rats in a trap. Many men sank owing to the weight of their equipment and were drowned. The carnage on 'V' Beach was chilling, dead and wounded lay at the waters edge tinted crimson from their blood......... After being set adrift by their steam pinnaces, the boats had to row the last few hundred yards to the shore. The Turks waited until the men tossed their oars and were within 20 yards of the shore and swept them with fire.......... Lt Col Tizzard said - I don�t think that out of the 240 men in the boats more than 40 got ashore without being hit. Most were killed outright, many sank from exhaustion and loss of blood and were drowned, the water by this time was red with blood ........ As each boat got near the shore snipers shot down the oarsmen. The boats then began to drift, and machine gun fire was turned onto them, you could see the men dropping everywhere, and of the first boat load of 40 men only 3 reached the shore, all wounded. In his diary entry for 25 April 1915 he says the Dublins lost 21 Officers and 560 men in 15 minutes.
The River Clyde at V-Beach. Of the 1100 Royal Dublin Fusiliers only 11 survived the Gallipoli Landings. Re-floated and renamed, the ship was used as a cargo vessel by various companies and was finally scrapped in 1966.
Sam and Jack and Rupert BrookeYou might have died with Rupert Brooke,
but septicaemia took him off
two days before the Churchill madness
that did for both of you ; you occupy
some corner of a foreign field
that is for ever Ireland. B45 and 46
they call them, tiny plots of dead earth,
lonely graves by Suvla's waves,
land that shelters wasted Irish bones