Battle of Gully Ravine | 28 Jun 1915

This post is about the Battle of Gully Ravine, with a particular focus on how battles are seen by the wounded. For everything else that happened today (including Kenneth Best’s comments), please see this other post.

Battle of Gully Ravine

At 6am, the prepatory bombardment begins. The first few hours is given over almost entirely to a concentrated bombardment with the borrowed French mortars against the Boomerang Redoubt. Dug just to the right of the ravine itself (as the attackers see it), it’s been carefully sited so it won’t flood in the rainy season, and it has oversight onto the entire sector, including over onto the far side of the ravine. Anyone attacking here will have to deal with it. So they’re dealing with it. The main bombardment begins at 9am, and an hour and 45 minutes later, the Boomerang is in MEF hands.

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Over the top

When the rest of 29th Division goes over the top shortly thereafter, they do very well for themselves. On the far left, the 29th Indian Brigade heads forward at a rate of knots. They’re perfectly demonstrating the effectiveness of dropping large amounts of high explosive into a tiny space. They’re even discovering that while the shelling is still leaving plenty of enemy soldiers alive, they’re almost completely unable to deal with MEF blokes moving quickly across No Man’s Land and getting in and among them.

And on the right, the inexperienced Territorials, Hunter-Weston’s “young pups”, are demonstrating the ineffectiveness of a piecemeal bombardment consisting mostly of shrapnel. The 1/7th Royal Scots has only just arrived in theatre after putting itself back together following the Quintinshill disaster. Now, they’re going over the top shoulder to shoulder with the 1/8th Scottish Rifles. Private Begbie, who had been on the train following behind the one that crashed:

From the time we left our trench, the enemy bombarded us with everything they had. After a short halt while the supporting waves closed up, we advanced on the final objective. By this time the Turks had recovered from their panic and they delivered such fire that our Company fell in bundles. Halfway across, Major Sandeman dropped, and Captain Dawson and Lieutenant Thomson were killed as they neared their goal.

Major James Findlay, commanding the 1/8th Scottish Rifles in place of the colonel, isn’t doing much better. He’s trying to set up a forward headquarters, but has been obliged to attempt to sneak forward through a shallow sap.

They were still some 50 yards from the enemy trenches. Bullets were spattering all around us, and we seemed to bear charmed lives. Until, just as we arrived at the rear of this party, Captain Bramwell fell at my side, shot through the mouth.

I made up my mind that the only thing to be done was to collect what men there were, and make a dash for it. I told this to Lieutenant Stout, and stooping to pick up a rifle I was shot in the neck. At the moment I didn’t feel much, but when I saw the blood spurt forward I supposed that it had got my jugular vein. I stuck a handkerchief round my neck and attempted to get on, but I was bowled over by a hit in the shoulder.

Thoroughly marinated in adrenaline and duty, Finlay attempts to carry on, but Lieutenant Stout soon begins ignoring him. Meanwhile, Private Begbie’s advance comes to a sudden end.

Men were falling on my left and right. I then felt as if a horse had kicked my right thigh. I fell, got up, and found I had no feeling in my leg, so I fell again. When I felt where the pain was, I saw my hand was covered in blood. I lay still. I didn’t feel very much pain, but the sun high in the sky threw down intense heat on the sand, which was crawling with insects. The worst thing was the craving for water. Mouths were so parched by heat and sand that tongues swelled.

In some parts of the battlefield, the brush and scrub that covers No Man’s Land is catching fire. Begbie is lucky. Many more are not. Too badly wounded to get out of the way, they can only watch the fire coming straight for them, and they die screaming. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Stout and another man are trying to drag Major Findlay back to safety.

Together they got me back some 10 yards [into the sap], and though a bullet got me in the flesh of the thigh, I was now comparatively sheltered while they were still exposed. It was then that a splinter of shell blew off Tommy Stout’s head, and the other man was hit simultaneously. Gallant lads! God bless them!

With shells and bombs exploding all round him, Findlay finally manages to drag himself back down the sap towards the horrendously overworked medical men. Meanwhile (again), Private Begbie has to make his own escape, crawling backwards past the dead and the dying.

When I reached a trench I threw myself into it. Two first-aid men came. They straightened me out and bound up my thigh. One of them helped me to stand up. With his help I was able to hop to the aid post. The MO said “This man’s dressing seems okay, so if he thinks he can hop to the wagons, he can do so.”

The stretcher-bearers are all taken up with the most serious cases. The walking, hopping, and crawling wounded are left to do just that. It will be a long time before they can hope for any attention. Plenty of time for infection to set in, and complications to occur.

29th Division

While they drag themselves back, 29th Division is trying to hold onto their gains. The familiar old problem of the enemy guns being able to precisely target their own trenches quickly rears its head. And then, as the full heat of the Gallipoli summer makes itself known, the counter-attacks start. Ottoman reinforcements had been coming up anyway to relieve the last lot of defenders, and now they’ve got some trenches to take back. By evening they’ve shoved back the inside left a way, but the Indians on the far left are still clinging on.

Just to the rear, Private Daniel Joiner of the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers is out of immediate danger, but he’s found yet another horror to experience.

Both sides of the Gully were lined with what had been Turkish shelters – they were in appearance like a farmyard outhouse. They were still shelters, but not for live Turks. As we proceeded down the Gully, we had to drag the dead bodies into them, to make room for the traffic. Farther down, pools of stagnant water, with green, evil-smelling slime, had to be passed. Often the skeleton of some unknown soldier floated on top. The dead had to be disposed of. There were too many to bury, and not sanitary. Cremation was decided on.

Count had to be kept of the number cremated. One head, two arms, one body and two legs to count as one man. The sun was already having its effect on them. Respirators had to be worn. All scruples had to be laid aside, and get on with it, ‘Steady there, don’t lose that leg, it is only hanging up by the trousers. Bring that head here; that completes another man! Yes, bring that leg – we only want a body now to make another man!’ The fires blazed upon the ground of Gully Ravine. So hot did the fires get, we were forced to put sand on. It is too hot now to place them on, we throw them on. We have luckily forgotten we are human beings.

Eventually Joiner has to go back up the line, and fights most of the night beating off repeated Ottoman charges, which achieve little except populating No Man’s Land. Eventually he too is wounded, and back he goes also. Elsewhere, Captain Robert Laidlaw of the Dubsters is also in the thick of it.

The Turks attacked four or five times that night, but only once did a few of them get into our trench. None of these got out. Our men were as good with the bayonet as they were with the rifle! We had plenty of ammunition, brought up earlier, and a few jam-tin bombs, but most of the men had drunk their water during the day and were now very thirsty. All along the trench I could hear cries for water, and there was none. There was none even for the wounded.

No regular arrangements had been made to deal with the wounded as far as I knew. I saw later when our General’s diary was published that he knew we “were being hard beset to hold onto what we had won”. A little more imagination might have suggested that the prayers for ‘valour’ might have included a few for the transport of the wounded, and for a little water. Better still, the arrangements might have been made beforehand!

Let’s break out MSPaint to show the map at the end of the day.

Tube map not Ordnance Survey map
Tube map not Ordnance Survey map

It’s a decent advance. Now they’ve got to hold onto it.

Actions in Progress

Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Armenian Genocide
Battle of the Isonzo (First Isonzo)
Battle of Gully Ravine

Again, for actions elsewhere today, see this separate post.

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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