AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY BRIGADIER-GENERAL
J. PENRY DAVEY. C . M.G.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
Thursday, April 29, 1920
BRIGADIER-GENERAL, MITCHELL who presided, in introducing the speaker, said: My Lord Bishop and Gentlemen, I have great pleasure in introducing to you today BrigadierGeneral Davey. He was one of the real padres in the war. (Applause) General Davey had the distinction of having served on a number of fronts at various times during the progress of the war, in Gallipoli-on which he is going to speak today-in Egypt, in France, and in Belgium. I am particularly pleased to have the honour of sitting beside him, because he was what we used to call the "boss" padre in the second army in 1918; and the second army as you know was my own old army. We cannot just estimate how much we loved our old leader "Plum"-Sir Herbert Plummer. I am sure that General Davey, if he had the time, would speak to you about the second army and the fifth army in which he also served, but he is going to devote his attention today to Gallipoli, and I am sure, of that particular campaign, he will be able to tell you many things of interest which I know you will all be glad to hear. I have great pleasure in introducing to you General Davey. (Applause)
BRIGADIER-GENERAL J. PENRY DAVEY, C. M. G.
Mr. Chairman, and Gentlemen,-May I express very briefly my pleasure and my satisfaction at the honour conferred upon me in inviting me to speak at the EMPIRE CLUB. I am glad to hear the secretary announce that next week you are going to pay a dollar and a quarter. (Laughter) I hope you will get your seventy-five cents' worth today. I also realize, of course, that one who holds the rank of Brigadier-General can't expect to occupy the same amount of attention as one who holds the rank of Major-General.
Well, Gentlemen, I have a duty this afternoon and it is to talk about the Dardanelles. It is a big subject, so big that I shall be unable to deal adequately with it in the time allotted to me. I want to say at the outset that I have often heard the Dardanelles campaign spoken of as a big mistake. Our critics, Gentlemen, were the armchair critics at home. As a matter of fact those gentlemen have conducted tactics and won battles that were never won on any battlefield. (Laughter) Generally speaking some of the great critics at home were usually responsible for some of the huge blunders and huge mistakes that were made. Many mistakes made during the whole of the war have been made in imagination by the mere on-looker. The Dardanelles campaign, however, was not .the great mistake that many of you have been led to believe.
I want you to remember our position at the time; remember that Russia was then helping us; remember she was making her approach on Austria; remember that the Turkish army was the flower of the European armies on that part of the continent. It was a very, very courageous army. The Turks were never a mean foe, or a mean enemy. Their courage has never been doubted as fighters. It has been declared that there have never been greater fighters in the world. We knew that to be true; so it was necessary to hold the great Turkish army at some point, to prevent the Austrians from having their help, and to compel them to demand help from their German allies. The result was that Germany had to send troops to help the Austrians, which, of course, had the desired effect of decreasing the Hun's strength on the French frontier. You will remember that, at that time, things in France were very, very different to what they were later on. Our boys were up against an enemy who was always numerically superior to themselves. If they, the enemy, could have had these added forces and thus brought all their power to bear on our boys in France, I have no hesitation in saying-and I hope you will permit me as a mere padre to express an opinion on grand tactics-I have no hesitation in saying that the Germans would have made a far greater bulge in our line in France and Flanders than they did later on, and perhaps have put a different complexion on the ending of the war. But we held the Turkish army, and held them well, for eight months, from the 25th of April, 1915, until the 8th of January, 1916, when the final evacuation took place.
As regards the campaign: It did not take us a long time to realize that we could not take possession of the peninsula by a frontal attack, and it was therefore decided to land on the extreme point of the peninsula of Gallipoli. Now you want to look at these maps. (Maps shown) These yellow parts indicate the full extent of the occupied territory, and this part, right at the point known as Helles, is where our troops landed in August, 1915. Preparatory to our landing certain engagements had taken place by our naval forces, and it was intended, if possible, to go through the Narrows and into the Sea of Marmora and shell Constantinople itself. That was found to be not only impracticable but impossible; of course they made an awful mess of some of the forts, and there was one huge fort which they blew to smithereens. In fact the place was simply bristling with forts. Having found it impossible to make their way there, it was finally decided to land troops on the extreme point of the peninsula. That has been criticised. I have read criticism from all parts of our great Empire, and it is a great old Empire. (Applause) It has been criticised as being a stupid thing to do, a foolish thing. In my estimation the criticism is an unwarranted one, a stupid one. Supposing we had not landed troops here-remember, Gentlemen, the whole point was to enable our troops to use the Narrows to get into the Sea of Marmora. As I have already said, it was decided to land troops on the extreme point of the peninsula, and half way up, the reason of course being to clear the Narrows. It was then decided that the landing should take place on the morning of April 25th, 1915.
Preparatory to landing, the troops were collected in Tenedos on the Island of Lemnos, and were kept waiting, some for a week, some for a fortnight prior to landing--New Zealanders, the 29th Division, the East Anglian 'Division, the East Lancashire Division and the Royal Naval Division. Just a word about the troops of the 29th Division. These troops, Gentlemen, have made a name for themselves at Gallipoli, a name that will be undying as long as British History lasts. (Applause) To them was given the most difficult operation, and that was to land in Helles. As I have said; with these troops we had the Royal Naval Division. That Division,. Gentlemen, was composed merely of boys, public school boys. As a matter of fact apt one time, after we had been in the peninsula for some months, it was requested that all boys under nineteen years of age should be sent home. We found it was impossible to send home all the boys under nineteen years of age in that Division, because the great majority were under nineteen. And when you remember the great work they did, we can raise our hats to these gallant youths, these public school boys of .the Naval Division. (Applause)
Well, it was determined to land on the 25th of April. They left late in the evening of the 24th along with the Australians and a portion of the South Wales Borderers. I should say that, preparatory to landing, a reconnaissance had to be made of the whole peninsula. It was found that it was a very difficult place to land. The landing had to be made on a beach from three hundred to four hundred yards long and not more than from thirty to sixty yards wide. As a matter of fact all the beaches were very narrow. Well, they came on the morning of the 25th, and it was arranged that the South Wales Borderers should land on the right flank. Coming down here (referring to map) on the west side of the Peninsula, there was given to the K.O.S.B's (King's Own Scottish Borderers,) the difficult task of landing at 'Y' beach, the left flank of the Helles landing, which place was afterwards known as Y Ravine. The idea was to hold the road and prevent reinforcements coming down on that side. They managed to obtain a landing, but it was very, very difficult. They were supposed to land at five o'clock in the morning, but they were unable to land until seven o'clock. Fortunately they did not have the strenuous opposition that had been expected at that point. If they had had considerable opposition, it would have been impossible to have landed a large body of troops just there.
Now it had been arranged that the "River Clyde," with about two thousand on board composed of the Munsters and the Dublins, should be beached. Her sides had been so constructed as to drop down and throw out say a thousand of these men at a time on the beach. Lighters were there ready to take them to the beach. These troops were to be thrown out suddenly and make their way ashore. Up to the moment of landing not a shot had been fired from the Peninsula itself. As a fact only a few shells came over from the Asiatic side, but they were not very troublesome. At the same time as this landing from the collierthat is the "River Clyde" -took place, a landing was supposed to have taken place also with other troops from various war vessels lying off the peninsula in small naval boats. As a fact they were supposed to land first, but as things often turn out in war they were not able to do so. When the men were flung out on to the lighters, before they could gent ashore the lighters broke away. Up to that moment not a shot had been fired, when suddenly it seemed as though Hell had broken loose on the top of the peninsula. The cliffs were very precipitous, and in every case the troops had to climb the sides of the Peninsula to get to the top. There was a sort of gully up which the men had to climb, and it was wired, and heavily wired. It was no small thing for our fellows to gain the top, when you remember that the Turks were on top and were firing at point blank range with field artillery, machine guns, and rifles. You can perhaps imagine the difficulties of landing. As I have already told you, before the men could get ashore, the lighters had broken away and gone into deep water. The sailors made superhuman efforts to get them into their places again, a very difficult operation indeed as the tide was running very swiftly. Unfortunately some of the men jumped into deep water and, loaded down as they were with their equipment, a large number were drowned before their comrades' eyes. Finer men you could not find in the whole world than these gallant naval fellows who performed such heroic deeds endeavouring to save their mates. (Applause) The lighters were secured, but unfortunately only a few men had got ashore when some of them broke away again and many more brave men were lost.
However, to come to the landing: When the men did ultimately get ashore they had to lie down flat on the beach. They had to lie there unable to do anything for themselves, unable to fire a shot in reply. Finally they all got into position, but they had about a hundred and thirty-five yards of sand to cross before they could get into the shelter of the cliffs. After a great deal of trouble, the men were got into some sort of formation and an attempt was made to climb .to the top of the cliffs. The cliff rata to a very considerable height and that made the Peninsula itself a very strong fortification. I want to mention that hundreds of our men were killed before they reached the shelter of the cliffs. However, the remainder managed to get to the top by way of a short ravine, and finally secured a position, though it certainly was a very precarious one, at the top. The attempt showed magnificent endurance on the part of these men, but they certainly made good. (Applause) There were heaps of wounded to be attended, lying around everywhere.
At the same time another landing took place by the Royal Fusiliers. They had managed to get ashore on the first day but were driven back and had to re-embark and come down to 'W' beach. The whole battalion then advanced up the cliffs on three sides. They entered as it were a gully, and from the left, right, and front of them, shrapnel, pom-poms, and rifle fire came down on top of them. They also had to negotiate a huge mass of barbed wire. Many of you know what .the barbed wire was like in France. Well, it was barbed wire of the same type that the Turks used. You remember. in the early days of the war, the old-fashioned cutters that were used to cut the wire. Well, that 'is the kind that we had; and one boy would hold the wire with his cutter while another boy would smash down on it with his cutter. At the same time shrapnel and rifle fire would be pouring down on the top of them. These lads worked as though they were working on the farm fields of Canada, thousands of miles from shot or shell or bullet. (Applause) Of course, they paid a terrible price, a tremendous price! Blood must be shed when making an attack of that sort. The gallant fellows of the Lancashire Fusiliers paid heavily with their lives that day, but they finally cut their way through and on to the top of the ridge of what was known as 'Hill 41'.
Now they wanted to make an attempt to form a junction with the troops of the Munsters who had Landed at 'V' beach. The attempt was made that morning, but they found it was impossible and they had to dig themselves in, and it was not until the following day, the morning of the 26th, that this junction was formed. Of course we wanted reinforcements, and wanted them badly. During that night of the 24th they had not had any sleep and did not get any until the early morning of the 26th. You know the human frame can only endure so much, and these men had been tested almost to a limit. At this stage the Dublin Fusiliers had found things too strong for them, and the enemy too many. As a matter of fact they were driven off and had to re-embark, and they came back and formed a sort of reinforcement for the Lancashire Fusiliers.
A landing had not been expected by the enemy at 'Y' beach. It seemed impossible that any troops would be daring enough to attempt such a feat, but the K.O.S.B's, had proved their mettle time and again, and no braver troops ever fought for the British Empire, than the boys that come from Bonny Scotland. (Applause) These boys as a fact landed without much difficulty. Had they attempted landing at the left of the beach, they, would have found tremendous odds and difficulties, and it was fortunate that they landed where they did. The Turks, however; rushed up a couple of battalions and lined the tops of the ravine and fired down on our boys. Our men fought their way to the top; the Turks rushed up reinforcements and our troops had to fight for their lives the whole day through. It was a very, difficult feat indeed and w e lost tremendously, but our men made good their ground. Our men fought all day long and well into the night, and to show you how mixed up you can become on such an occasion, in the morning just when dawn was breaking they found a Turkish battery of machines right in their midst. I leave to your imagination what became of that battery. I can assure you, you will never meet any of those Turkish gunners if ever you visit Constantinople. (Laughter)
Well, our men held on and they were fighting tremendous odds, and they were far away from the rest of the troops. It was finally decided that they could hold on no longer as in some places they were outnumbered fifty to one, and waiting for the reinforcements that never came. It is well for us to remember this in our criticism, that there was always a shortage of men. Remember the superiority of the enemy in numbers and the difficulties we were up against. Remember the Turks had one of the strongest natural fortifications in the world. It took us a long time to realise that. When it was finally decided to re-embark, volunteers were called for to act as a rearguard, and, to their everlasting credit, every one of these men offered their services. A selection was made. Now, it is bad enough to land troops; it is far worse to re-embark them-to take them away. It was thought that the rear-guard would certainly pay for their bravery with their lives. But these men held their position magnificently until their comrades were away and not a wounded man was left. (Applause) The rear-guard fought their way back yard by yard against an enemy that was never less than fifty to one. They fought their way back to the sea until they got to the edge of the ravine. All this time of course the Turks were firing on our men; many of them dropped but their comrades picked them up and took them along with them.
On the second or third day the French came and landed at 'V' beach. They were to take the right flank; we were keeping the west flank or west side of the Peninsnia. Now, any officer here will readily understand that it is the most difficult thing in the world to manoeuvre troops in such a small area. When you remember that we were opposed to a vastly superior force, and had to hold the line with barely sufficient men, and that every man lost meant a tremendous weakening of our force, you will perhaps be able to realize the bravery of these gallant fellows.
Just a word about Anzac. The Australians were to land there, and some preliminaries had taken place in connection with the plan. It was intended that they should land as arranged, but by some mistake a batch of them landed a mile past where they should have landed. They landed a mile higher up. It was the most fortunate mistake ever made. In the British army, if you make a mistake and things go wrong, you hear all about it, but if you make a mistake and things turn out all right, you never hear anything about it. This batch of Australians made the mistake, as I have already told you, of landing a mile higher up. It seemed an impossible place to land. The Turks certainly never expected a landing there. If the Australians had landed where it was originally intended they should land, they would have got caught in the wires and the Turks would have shot them down at their pleasure; in fact it would have been impossible for them to have made a successful landing there.
Fortunately, they landed a mile higher up and went right through to the beach. They did not receive quite the same opposition there, and having landed so much higher up the Turks were not prepared to receive them. As soon as they landed they saw a couple of battalions of Turks on their way up to oppose them. The Australians were drawn into some sort of formation and (went right through the Turks and kept them on the move until the gully and a good slice of land was actually occupied. In the meantime their units had become so mixed up that dozens of men of one unit would be at the other end of the line. We speak of a Philadelphia lawyer; it would have taken a Canadian lawyer to unravel them all. (Laughter)
The Turk, however, was not going to submit quietly. He rallied his forces and the Australians formed a sort of semi-circle. There were about seventeen thousand of them. Now, seventeen thousand is not a big army as we understand armies today. Against the Australians the Turks brought about thirty thousand troops. The men from the Antipodes held their ground magnificently, and even advanced; and around that semi-circle of Australians was a ridge of enemy dead, which took many days to clear away. Finer fighters than these Australians we do not possess. (Applause) They were brave, gallant fellows, every one of them.
A little about conditions. One of the worst was this you could never get away from the beastly place. It was a beastly place; but, as a fact, I was peculiarly healthy, and though I tried to get a few diseases while I was there I could not manage it. (Laughter) Many of our poor fellows suffered terribly from dysentery and other diseases. When we landed first the place was not so bad; but afterwards we felt the heat very much, and we found the flies an awful pest, in fact they became a terrible nuisance. I remember when we had to put our food in our mouths with one hand and with the other chase the flies away. As we heard one "Tommy" vulgarly say, we always had bread and meat. (Laughter)
Our dead had to lie out, and we could not get them in. It was impossible to get them in. They would lay out in front of the line for days at a time, and in the heat you know what that means. There was another thing: we were always short of men; I don't know when we were not short of men. We were always short of reinforcements, and consequently our boys did not get sufficient rest. As a fact they preferred staying in the line to going into what we would call the reserve dugouts. We had not any nice French billets to go back to or any pretty French girls to wait on us. (Laughter) When the men were not working on the roads, they were in the line; and when they were not in the line, they were working on the roads. You know how pleased the soldier is to work on the roads. (Laughter) I may mention that, when we were resting in the dug-outs, on a normal day we lost more men than w e did when we were in the trenches. When we were in the line. we were comparatively safe. When we were behind the lines, we were constantly under heavy shell-fire from the Turks.
In December word went round that evacuation was to take place. I remember when Kitchener visited us. Sir Charles Munro's advice had been to clear out and Kitchener came out and corroborated that advice. Suvla was evacuated and Anzac was evacuated afterwards, and to the astonishment of every one in the British Empire these two places had been evacuated without the loss of a single life. (Applause) Then came the question of evacuating Hellas. We held that long strip of land and it seemed impossible that it could be evacuated without very heavy loss of life. We next received word that we were to hold on, and you can imagine how pleased ( ?) we were to think that the other fellows were going; and we had to stay behind. The reason was that we were told that no British soldier should remain unburied, and let me say this; the padres carried out their work magnificently, for not a British soldier remained on the Peninsula unburied when we finally all cleared out. (Applause)
Preparatory to our evacuation, night after night not a rifle shot would be fired, every thing would be quiet. Two nights before the final evacuation, when we had just sufficient men to hold the line very thinly, the Turks made a desperate attack. We lost about one hundred killed and about the same number wounded, but the boys drove the Turks back. Had they broken through, every man on the Peninsula would have been killed or taken prisoner.
I may tell you that we were on hard rations and getting to be fond of bully beef and biscuits, and when you live on that diet for weeks at a time-breakfast, lunch, and dinner-well, you will agree with me that there are some things at home which could tickle the palate a little more. But I am standing proof that I did not lose any flesh eating bully beef and biscuits.
This final evacuation was a brilliant piece of work. Night after night the number of troops grew less, but I want to tell you that there was a great deal of rivalry as to who should stay to the last, and when I tell you that the rear-guard was almost certain to be doomed to death, you can readily understand the magnificent spirit of those brave fellows. All the sick and wounded had already gone and only the strongest remained behind. Everything was quiet except for an occasional round or two by our artillery to bluff the enemy. Every step we took we could hear the Turk coming closely behind us. Speaking about getting the wind up--well I am sure many of you know what that means. If you say you don't, well I won't believe you. It was a natural feeling, and we felt it would be hard luck to "pan" out on 'that last night. When we got to our place of embarkation, we had to remain absolutely 'silent and of course no lights had to be shown. Everything had to be perfectly quiet until we got on board. I was not the
last man on Gallipoli, but I have met about two hundred and fifty who were-(laughter)-but I was on the last boat. All the men were on board with the exception of a couple left to set lights to the various heaps of the different things we had left behind. They were all piled up and petrol thrown over them and a match was put to the heap. As we were going away, word came that we could talk and say what we liked. Some of the men broke into a song beginning, "Good-bye, Johnnie, I must leave you." (Laughter)
I almost forgot to tell you that on the Asiatic side there was a big gun that used to be very troublesome. The boys called that gun, "Asiatic Annie.", I hope you will permit me to quote an old song very popular at that
time. It began,
"I am Annie from Asia
And I fairly play Hell
With those on the beaches
And the trenches as well.
The dwellers in Hellas
Will leave their wooden huts
For Annie from Asia
The Queen of the Sluts."(Laughter)
That is the worst of me, I can never forget a song if it has a "smack" in it. (Laughter)
Well, Gentlemen, I must now draw to a close; but before I do so let me recall to your mind the fact that on the other side of the Dardanelles we could see the old plain of Troy, where so many of the ancients fought so gallantly and so well, though not very often for a noble purpose and a noble ideal such as our boys fought for. Those lands on the other side of the Dardanelles are classic lands where the ancients fought for Helen of Troy. On this side now, there is ground no less classic where the boys of our empire have proved their valour and shown to the world that they were not decadent. This great old Empire is worth all the loyalty we can give it. (Applause) Our boys fought honourably and well against tremendous odds, against overwhelming odds; and they fought equally as well on the fields of France and Flanders. Let us see to it that the victory so hardly won shall not be thrown away. (Loud applause)
My Lord Bishop and Gentlemen,-I am sure you can realize after having heard General Davey talk, the kind of man he is. I lived in the same mess with him for some months, but I don't think I attended his church very regularly. Perhaps it was because I thought I was better employed, and I could get a sermon from Davey any day in the week. Unfortunately, the British army thought it was necessary to work seven days a week. That is a mistake and we found it so the last year I was at the front. One of the things I did before I came home on 18 weeks' leave was to arrange that I would work six days a week and have Sunday for a day of rest. I always believed the Creator knew more about us than we knew about ourselves when he said we should rest on the seventh day. We find we can get more work out of a man in six days than out of seven. I will also say that General Davey endeared himself to every man of the Fifth army with whom he came in contact. I don't know how strong he was as a padre-I think I only attended one service of his-but he was beloved by the men and that means a lot in the army. He was long on humanity if he was short on other things. It is a great pleasure to me to move a vote of thanks to him, but just before I do so I would like to make one remark. The General told me that unfortunately when the Fifth army was driven back he lost his riding crop. I therefore have much pleasure in handing him another one to take the place of the one he lost. I would ask you to give a most hearty vote of thanks to this speaker. (Loud applause)