Gallipoli 1915

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  • Author:
    Joseph Murray
    This is a re-issue of a book first published in 1965. It is a first-hand account of the failed Gallipoli expedition of 1915-16 by an ordinary soldier. It is a valuable historical document, as well as being interesting and readable.

    Joseph Murray was the son of a Scots miner who worked in County Durham. He left school at the age of twelve to work as a miner himself, to help the family finances. Despite his limited education, Murray's Gallipoli 1915, based on his notes and journals made at the time, is well-written. He is fairly typical of young working-class men if that era, who were much better-educated than their contemporary great-grandchildren in State education. The basics: reading, writing and arithmetic, were dinned into them at whichever church or local authority school they attended. At the outbreak of war, he walked to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he signed on with the Royal Naval Reserve, going first to Crystal Palace for training, then to Blandford with the Hood Battalion, before sailing to Gallipoli. Born in 1897, Murray was eighteen years old when he first experienced fighting. In his book he comes across as intelligent, well-informed and well-read; certainly not an ignorant or innocent lamb led to the slaughter.

    Murray's Division, the Royal Naval Division, is almost forgotten today. It existed between 1914 and 1919. It became clear, soon after the Great War had broken out, that infantry soldiers would be far more in demand than sailors. The Royal Naval Division was Winston Churchill's - then First Lord of the Admiralty - response to that need. It was an Infantry Division, originally formed from Royal Navy and Royal Marines reservists and volunteers who were not needed for service at sea. As Churchill knew, there was a British tradition, pre-dating the formation of the Royal Marines and going back at least to Cromwell's time, of using sailors as infantrymen when the need arose. The Division fought at Antwerp in 1914 and at Gallipoli, at Anzac and Helles, in 1915-16. An early casualty, who died from septicaemia on 23 April 1915 before battle was joined, was Sub-Lieutenant Rupert Brooke. Murray appears to have met him and was familiar with his poetry, which was then very popular.

    At a time when the war of the Western Front had reached a bloody stalemate with no end in sight, the Gallipoli campaign was intended to achieve multiple objectives: to knock Turkey out of the war; to make the Dardanelles safe for Allied shipping and to supply and relieve pressure on Russia, which was fighting a campaign against the Turks in the Caucasus, as well as against Germany and Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front. Churchill was the main British instigator; he showed foresight, because the expedition was intended to avert a situation that actually occurred nearly two years later. This was the collapse of Russia, which freed the Germans from fighting a war on two fronts and allowed them to concentrate their forces on the Western Front. As a result, in the Spring of 1918 Germany nearly succeeded in winning the war.

    Had the Gallipoli expedition been successful, this would not have happened. The war could have been shortened and the Russian Revolution averted. In the event, there were failures of intelligence: as a result, the Allies committed insufficient resources to Gallipoli. The Turkish defences were better than anyone had imagined; the Turkish troops more numerous, better-prepared and better-led than had been believed; although General Sir Ian Hamilton was an experienced commander, the German commander of the Turkish forces, Liman von Sanders, was in a different league; and thanks to inter-Service rivalry, cooperation between the Royal Navy and the Army left a lot to be desired. The campaign was a disaster for the Allies. At considerable cost in British, Anzac and French soldiers' lives, it achieved nothing. The Australians and New Zealanders have never really forgiven Churchill for their losses at Gallipoli. Joseph Murray was one of the very last troops to be evacuated in early January 1916, leaving in that desolate place the unburied and unidentifiable bones of many of his comrades. His verdict was pungent:

    “Perhaps as the years roll by we will be remembered as the expedition that was betrayed by jealousy, spite, indecision and treachery. The Turks did not beat us – we were beaten by our own High Command!”

    The Royal Naval Division went back to the Western Front, where it passed the rest of the war. It was disbanded in 1919. Joseph Murray was fortunate to go through the war with only very minor injuries. Later he lived adventurously in various parts of the world. It was while working in Spitzbergen (Svalbard) that he found the time to edit his notes into a coherent narrative for eventual publication. He died in 1994.

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