The experiences of soldiers during the Dardanelles Campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula are not well represented within our regimental collections. However, the few accounts which do exist tell the interesting story of the West Somerset Yeomanry (WSY) and the role they played in the campaign.
In a letter written by Private Fred Lawrence to his family in October 1915, he describes his location as ‘somewhere on the Gallipoli Peninsula’. He also mentions the ‘lovely weather’.
A month later the ‘lovely weather’ has given way to torrential rain as described in the account given by Private Charles Greenslade, WSY. The rain was accompanied by a sudden drop in temperature, a blizzard and more rain soon followed. These extreme weather conditions took place during the period 24-26 November 1915.
Lieutenant Harding did not identify his exact location in his report home. However, his description of the weather consisting of a ‘thunderstorm, snow blizzard and rain’, suggests he was in Gallipoli.
These accounts of severe weather conditions are echoed in the official history of the West Somerset Yeomanry written by R.C. Boyle. The rain fell for 24 hours followed by a north-east wind, cold and snow. The ‘watercourse filled… water piled itself up against the parapets’.
Boyle goes on to describe in detail the experience of the WSY machine gun section who were ‘still in the line’ when the water levels began to rise. The ‘gunners had to collect their gear with floods up to their middles.’
New evidence from the parish return for Aller gives a firsthand account of a member of the WSY machine gun section. Driver Dan Keirle describes how the weather was good until November. Then the rain ‘came down in torrents and soon began to fill the trenches and the parapets began to give in.’ He goes on to explain how they endeavoured to save their guns and ammunition, but the ‘water was around us to our knees.’
The order to evacuate the peninsula came in December 1915, once again Boyle’s account of ‘a quiet and orderly embarkation’ is reflected in Keirle’s letter: ‘The retreat was carried out well with very little loss of life. Of course we did it at night.’
Following the evacuation Keirle wistfully hopes to be ‘mounted again’, although the regimental history of the 1st West Somerset Yeomanry suggests otherwise. While staying in Egypt recuperating from their experiences in Gallipoli they are placed under the orders of the 2nd Dismounted Brigade in February 1916.
N.B. The title of this article is from the editor of the parish returns, Joseph Worner who with his usual journalistic flourish headlines the experience of Driver Dan Keirle, WSY as ‘The Gallipoli Gamble’.