On the night of 8/9 August 1915 the 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers landed at Suvla Bay as part of the continuing operations at Gallipoli which had already claimed the lives of local men Harry Amos, Neville Lewis and George Hughes.
The 1/5th, being the local pre-war territorial unit, was popular with Abergele men and contained the greatest concentration of locals than any other unit in the army. The men from Abergele who landed with the battalion in Turkey were:
- Francis Henry (Frank) Borthwick
- Albert Edward Davies
- John (Jack) Davies
- Thomas William (Tom) Furnish
- William (Willie) Griffiths
- David Lewis Jenkins
- Oswald Edward (Ossie) Jones
- Robert Owen
- David Evan Parry
- David Roberts
- William Thomas Sturgess
- John (Johnny) Vaughan
- Daniel Williams
- David Williams
- Frederick (Fred) Williams
- John J. Williams
- Llewelyn (Llew) Williams
- Richard (Dick) Williams
- Robert Williams
Five of them would be dead and many of them wounded within 48 hours of landing. 10 August 1915 was Abergele’s darkest day of the war by a long margin. Biographical details of the five men who fell on 10 August will follow, and can be followed through the links above.
This is not the place for a detailed account of the Suvla Bay invasion, but a brief outline to provide context may be useful. The original landings in the south of the Gallipoli peninsular had failed to achieve a breakthrough. Consequently a second beach landing further up the western coast was planned. Suvla Bay was chosen. The landing was to be disaster, hindered by confusion. The 1/5th (Flintshire) Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 158th Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division, were to have a horrific baptism of fire and accounts of their experiences are confused and variable to the extent that there remains to this day a number of significant unanswered questions. Some of these are pertinent to the fates of the five Abergele men, but are the subject of additional research.
The initial landing and fighting had already begun and when the 53rd (Welsh) Division and the 1/5th RWF began landing during darkness on the night of 8/9 August 1915 they were entering an existing battle. Immediately units of the Division were called upon and whatever plans existed were soon in shreds. The divisional history records that by evening of the first day, 9 August, “General Lindley found his division scattered in all directions….while the three Royal Welsh Fusilier battalions were bivouacked west of Lala Baba” [H.C. Dudley Ward, History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, 1927].
Indeed that first full day was relatively relaxing for the 1/5th RWF, though no doubt the men were tense and nervous as heavy gunfire was constant and close. Many used the time to catch up on some sleep or write home, including Jack Davies of 15, Plasnewydd Buidings, Abergele. He wrote to his wife that:
“I have experienced a terrible time of it lately for we have been in the thick of the fighting and have lost a lot of brave fellows. Thank God I have come through it safely. This is indeed a dreadful place, and I should say that the Dardanelles is the worst place on earth. When we arrived on the battlefield they fairly mowed our men down. Pray for me, and God be with you till we meet again.”
Jack would die the next day.
At 3 a.m on 10 August reveille was sounded and the 1/5th were assembled on the beach. Orders were issued quickly: “it all sounded so simple and easy …. we were to cross the salt lake, move half right, support the attack of the 159th Brigade and pass through them and take the next ridge” [this and subsequent quotes from the divisional history].
It was not to prove simple and easy. The great salt lake, which was supposed to be dry, was not. The men’s feet sank in mud to above the ankles and progress was slow and tiring. And then the firing began. Exposed and slow moving, the RWF were presenting a perfect target as they stumbled out of the ‘lake’ and to the foot of a gentle rise of trees, hedges and scrub. The men fell to the ground, partly exhausted, but more practically to prevent a smaller target for the Turks: “we were soon split up and rather disorganised …. our original plan had evidently gone phut!“. The RWF were under heavy fire from a seemingly invisible enemy and had to move swiftly. Fifty yards ahead was a bank that offered some meagre protection. The men rose and charged towards it. “That 50 yards accounted for a good many“.
At this point the battle seemed to grind to a halt. Command and control had broken down and confusion had set in. A fire broke out in the scrub and a number of wounded men burned to death. An order to fix bayonets and charge the main ridge was received by some but not all. Some parties advanced further into the scrub and some did not. The 1/5th’s Colonel had been killed and Frank Borthwick of Abergele and Llanelian took command of the battalion. And then it fell quiet. No doubt shattered, both mentally and physically, the men needed rations. A party, including Abergele’s Jack Davies, was sent for them. He did not return.
Another assault on Turkish lines was ordered later that afternoon, but this too failed.