1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: John (Johnny) Vaughan

Private 2764 John (Johnny) Vaughan. 1/5th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 158th Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division. Killed in action, 10 August 1915, Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, aged 25. No known grave. Commemorated panel 77 to 80, Helles Memorial, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. Also commemorated on the Abergele War Memorial and Abergele Town Memorial.

Son of Lewis and Eliza Jane Vaughan, of 3, Peel St., Abergele. Eliza had died before 1911. Born Llanrwst, enlisted Flint in January 1915, lived Abergele. Worked as a quarry labourer and miner.

At first, following the events of 10 August, what had happened to Johnny was not clear. He was listed as missing in action and there was still no news in November 1916 (see Tom Furnish and the Abergele & Pensarn Visitor article quoted therein). Before the year was out Johnny’s father, who had been ill for some time, died. As the local newspaper commented, “latterly, the fact that his only son had been missing since August had weighed heavily upon him”. In the summer of 1916, with no further news of Johnny’s fate, he was declared to have been presumed killed in the 10 August 1915 assault.

John Vaughan

For background details to the events of 10 August 1915 see here.

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: John J. Williams

Lance Corporal 2111 John J. Williams. 1/5th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 158th Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division. Killed in action, 10 August 1915, Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, aged 25. No known grave. Commemorated panel 77 to 80, Helles Memorial, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. Not commemorated in the Abergele district, but is commemorated on the Llysfaen War Memorial.

Born Llysfaen, lived Llanddulas. Son of Thomas Kyffin Williams, of 11, Pentregwyddel Terrace, Llanddulas; husband of Margaret Jane Williams. A member of Llanddulas Football Club. Enlisted in Llanddulas and was a pre-war member of the 5th Territorial Battalion.

News of John’s death in Gallipoli arrived home in the third week of September 1915. His family placed an ‘In Memoriam’ in the Abergele & Pensarn Visitor on the anniversary of his death for several years afterwards. In August 1917 it read, “Days of sadness still come over us, hidden tears often flow, for memory keeps our dear one to us although he died two years ago“.

For background details to the events of 10 August 1915 see here.

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: John (Jack) Davies

Private 2648 John (Jack) Davies. 1/5th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 158th Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division. Killed in action, 10 August 1915, Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, aged 40. No known grave. Commemorated Panel 77 to 80, Helles Memorial, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. Also commemorated on the Abergele War Memorial, Abergele Town War Memorial and Old Colwyn War Memorial.

Husband of Maria Davies (formerly Hembry), of 4, Woodbine Cottages, Keynsham, Bristol. Oldest of the 14 children of Robert (Parish Clerk) and Anne Davies, of 15, Plasnewydd Buildings, Abergele. Born Abergele, enlisted Colwyn Bay. After marriage he lived at 34, Peel Street, Abergele, but was living at Ty Gobaith, Old Colwyn when the war began.

For background details to the events of 10 August 1915 see here.

The eldest son of Robert Davies, the town clerk, Jack Davies had been home on leave in early July 1915, shortly before sailing to the Dardanelles. He was to have a brief, upsetting and tragic experience of war. On 9 August 1915, Jack found a little time to write to his wife. It would be his last letter.

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.”

On 10 August 1915, Jack was assigned to a small group tasked with collecting rations from the beach and delivering them back to the battalion in the lines. He did not return.

The news of his death came to Abergele on 16 September 1915, in a letter from Lieutenant David Lewis Jenkins [1], an Abergele man and officer in the 1/5th Battalion. Jack Davies left a widow and four children. His brother Albert [2], serving alongside him in the 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in his first letter home following Jack’s death, made no reference to the event, which was thought to be strange at home. Nevertheless, an Abergele comrade, William Sturgess, wrote home saying, “how poor little Albert misses his brother Jack” [3].

Unlike many of his comrades of the 1/5th RWF who died in Gallipoli, Jack’s body was recovered and he was buried near the Anafarta Hills. The Gallipoli campaign ended in failure and withdrawal and today Jack’s body remains buried in unmarked ground somewhere in the southern end of the Suvla battlefield.

[1] Lieutenant Jenkins was himself killed 26 September 1917. He wrote several letters carrying the unfortunate news of the deaths of local men. For many families, this was the only news they were ever to get.
[2] Albert Davies, also killed 26 September 1917.
[3] William Sturgess of 58, Peel Street. A pre-war territorial, he fought through Gallipoli and was promoted Corporal in the field 26 August 1915 in the wake of casualties inflicted on the battalion. His seven years service expired in early 1916 and he was discharged home to Abergele 24 February 1916. He voluntarily re-enlisted in May 1916 into the Royal Field Artillery as Gunner 137182 and ended up with 38th (Welsh) Division, in France. He later transferred as Private L/13286 to the Royal Sussex Regiment and was wounded in October 1918. He was in hospital in Manchester when the war ended. The full letter from Corporal William Sturgess was reproduced in the Denbighshire Free Press, 20 November 1915, p.6.

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: Suvla Bay and Abergele’s darkest day of the war

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:

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“.

Three Abergele men, Tom Furnish, Johnny Vaughan and Fred Williams, and John Williams of Llanddulas, had fallen.

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.

1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: George Hughes

Private 15439 George Hughes, 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, 88th Brigade, 29th Division. Killed in action (assumed), 6 August 1915, Gallipoli. No known grave. Commemorated Panel 104 to 113, Helles Memorial, Gallipoli, Turkey, and also on the
Abergele War Memorial and Abergele Town Memorial.

Son of Harriet and the late George Hughes, of 10, Jenkin St. (formerly 4, Vale View Terrace), Abergele. Born Lichfield, Staffordshire, enlisted Worcester, lived Abergele. Brother of Tom Hughes, Canadian Army, who was killed 9 April 1917, and Robert E. Hughes who survived the war.

George enlisted into the 4th Worcesters on 13 September 1914 and went overseas with them in May 1915. His ultimate destination was Gallipoli, where he disembarked 24 July 1915. His last letter home was in the same month and he was last seen alive on 6 August. His death was not immediately known and in early September his Mother was informed that George was missing in action. When his brother, Tom, of the Canadian Army was killed 9 April 1917 , George was still listed as missing. The assumption of his death followed much later and the date decided upon was the last day he had been seen.

Hughes, George (2)