A few months after the Antwerp fiasco (click here) Churchill enthusiastically contributed the Royal Naval Division (RND) to his next brainchild, the Dardenelles campaign. They were landed on April 25th, 1915 at lightly defended ‘X’ Beach, but didn’t advance from the beachhead and were soon withdrawn by sea as the 29th Division needed reinforcement at Helles. The RND remained in that sector throughout and participated in all of the Krythia battles. In the first battle (April 28th) The Royal Marine Brigade assaulted but failed to capture the strongpoint later called Gurkha Bluff because the 1/6th Gurkhas eventually took it. In the second battle (May 6th-8th) the RND served with two brigades of ANZACs in an ad hoc division-sized force. The Hood battalion succeeded in capturing a position called Kanli Dere but this only moved the line about 400 yards and the bulk of this attack was borne by the ANZACs, particularly the Kiwis. As a result of this brief association the ANZACS regarded the RND as poor fighters.
During the third battle (June 4th) the 2nd Naval Brigade of the RND successfully captured a position known as Achi Baba Nullah at the head of what was known as ‘Bloody Valley’. However, when the reserves moved up to support the gain they were caught in enfilade fire from Kereves Dere, a position that the French had failed to take, resulting in the virtual annihilation of the newly reconstituted Collingwood battalion. A subsequent Ottoman counter attack forced a retreat from all of these positions. The battle of Krythia Vineyard (August 6th -13th), which was intended to be a diversion to the Suvla Bay landings, saw the RND held in reserve to exploit any gains. Subsequently the RND was withdrawn due to the heavy casualties – the original nucleus of the division was consolidated into four battalions, two of ‘sailors’ and two of marines. The two battalions of Royal Fusiliers were transferred elsewhere. The RND’s service at Gallipoli was rated average at best, but on January 9th, 1916 the last men to leave Gallipoli were RND Marines.
The war poet Rupert Brooke served as a junior officer in the Hood battalion, and died of sepsis on a French hospital ship on April 23rd, 1915, two days before the initial Gallipoli landings. ‘The Soldier’, probably Brooke’s most famous poem, contains a couplet that has been quoted and re-quoted countless times. See if you can spot it:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Brooke is buried on the Greek island of Skyros. You can read an excellent biography of Brooke here.
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