With Tuesday marking the 102nd anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, it seems appropriate to visit the Helles Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Memorial to the Missing, which is located on the promontory called Cape Helles by the British, at the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula near the small village of Sedd el Bahr in Turkey. The memorial includes the 30 meter tall obelisk depicted above, which dominates the skyline, and can be seen from ships passing through the Dardanelles as well as from the city of Çanakkale and the ruins of ancient Troy on the other side of the water. There are inscribed on the panels that surround the base and on the low walls surrounding the obelisk 20,887 names of personnel with no known grave.
The site was designed by Sir John J. Burnet, a French-trained Scot, who designed many important buildings in Glasgow during its Golden Age, and became known for a style called ‘Burnet Baroque’. He also designed the Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum in London and for this he was knighted in 1914.
For the April 25th, 1915 landings at Gallipoli the British command designated six spots on the peninsula and coded these S, V, W, X, Y and ANZAC beaches. Cape Helles is situated between V and W beaches. These two little coves were vitally important because most of the reinforcement and resupply would have to come through them. No fools, the Turks were aware of this and so, unlike ANZAC, both sites were heavily defended.
In what was later studied as a textbook case in ’how not to land an invasion force on a hostile beach’, written by Lt. Col. George S. Patton in 1936 for the US Army Command and General Staff College, the British 29th Division was all but destroyed, but toeholds were gained and held due to extraordinary acts of heroism. Six Victoria Crosses were awarded for actions on V Beach that day and six more for actions on W Beach (also called ‘Lancashire Landing’ to honor the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Lancashire Fusiliers).
Among CWGC memorials, there are some atypical aspects to the Helles site:
First, there is no cemetery attached to the memorial,
Second, there is no Book of Names,
Third, the lists include British, Indians, Newfoundlanders, Australians and other Colonials. This is the only CWGC memorial that recognizes both British and Australians, and no other CWGC memorial has so many different groups represented.
Fourth, the lists include naval personnel lost at sea in the Gallipoli campaign, especially on the battleships destroyed on March 18th, 1915, and
Fifth, the lists also include personnel known to be dead but buried at sea.
One of this latter group is 240 Serjeant William John Piggott, Royal Engineers (Territorial Force), 1/2nd London Field Company, attached to the 29th Division for the Gallipoli Campaign, who was from Eastleigh, Hampshire and was a railwayman in civilian life on the London and Southwestern Railroad. Sjt. Piggott died on Sept. 1st, 1915 while on a hospital ship enroute to the U.K. He was the maternal grandfather of my good friend John Hambidge MBE of Macclesfield, Cheshire. In the photograph John has his right hand by his grandfather’s inscription. We are left to speculate as to why a railway engineering unit was sent to Gallipoli?