This Bloody Place

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  • Author:
    Major A H Mure
    sub-title "With the Incomparable 29th"

    Introduction by Richard van Emden.

    Captain (later Major) Mure served with 5th Bn The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) during World War 1 and this is his very honest story about his time in Gallipoli. Written up after the war it is based on the diaries he kept at the time and takes us through his time as a Company Commander, briefly Bn CO, to his being taken out the front line and sent back with shell shock.

    Following a brief introduction by Richard van Emden on the 29th Infantry Division, the book returns to Mure who starts us off his tale in Edinburgh with a phone call from HQ Scottish Command to the Adjt instructing the Bn to get ready to move within 48n hours to join 29th Division. Later they find they are to embark for the Middle East and Mure gives a very light hearted look at being embarked on a Troopship – Officers to cabins, ORs to hammocks. As a TA Battalion this was new to most of the men, and officers and Mure explained that he had to instruct the more junior subalterns that their job was to see to their men before bedding themselves down!

    5RS were a TA Battalion and unusually they were sent to a regular infantry Division, the 29th. Mure comes over extremely proud of the 29th Infantry Division yet somewhat in awe of the regular officers; the Regular v TA mindset was just as much in place 100 years ago as it is now. They soon settle in though and the journey takes the Bn via Egypt, to Moudros Harbour in the Aegean, the stepping off point for the Dardanelles.

    5RS were in the second wave onto the peninsula and were initially split into two parts; half the battalion went to the front lines and half were kept on the beach to unload stores. Mure’s Company was in the Beach Party. Far from being a safe area it was soon discovered that there were no safe areas on the peninsula and all areas were covered by Turkish guns. I won’t go into the campaign as such as this is more a story about Mure himself and how it affected him. One of his problems with the beach party was to stop the Jock’s wandering away to explore the area, as is their want! That did not stop him from doing that though as he found himself, as Company Commander, with some time on his hands.

    The start of the story, and the initial landings on The Dardanelles, are very upbeat and Mure is confident, becoming more sure of himself in his role and not so much comparing himself against regular officers. After a few days however, the Bn were reunited and all were in the front lines, such as they were. Trenches were not particularly deep and basically just temporary until they could push forward. The Turks had other ideas about that though. The Bn are involved in an attack and Mure leads his company forward. He describes the curious feeling of not really knowing what was happening in his immediate Bn area while observing the units on either side of him. The confusion of battle is well described and the feeling of just being a spectator at times is very acute. 5RS took very heavy casualties, as did the other units involved, for relatively small, in some places nil, gains. The reporting of casualties is somewhat offhand and not as intense as we have today. The Bn could have several hundred casualties and still be reported as calmly as if it were just one or two.

    Mure then has some time in the trenches, both at the front and in the ‘rest’ areas, all of which were in reach of Turkish guns. Casualties were still incurred while out of the front line so rest was not a real factor. Over the whole area hung the stench of dead, unburied bodies, leading to hordes of lies and consequently disease, a constant companion on this campaign. In all Mure took part in three major attacks on Turkish lines, all of which cut down the number of men in the Battalion with only a few reinforcements coming from the UK in the time Mure was there. The number of officer casualties was very high, including all senior officers and the RSM, and at one point Mure had command of the Battalion handed to him by the Acting CO who was being stretchered back to a hospital! Mure was not best pleased at this turn of events, but shortly after the CO returned, still not fully recovered but sufficiently well to take over and stay with the Bn for the remainder of the campaign until promoted to command a Brigade of ANZACs.

    The constant pressure that all ranks were under, being unable to get proper rest, irregular meals and lack of water all added to the stress that the Allies found themselves under in Gallipoli. After three attacks, the Bn was placed in line again to make a further attempt at the Turkish lines. By now Mure’s nerves are stretched to the limit and while being spoken to by the CO, Mure collapses and comes down with what was known then as shell shock. He was sent back to the MO and the ‘rest areas’ for three days, but the MO recognising the stage Mure has reached sends him back to a hospital ship and eventually back to Britain. Initially this confuses Mure even more as he is expecting to go back to the Bn but eventually he comes to realise what is happening to him,. He starts to eat and sleep properly and the book ends with him returning to Britain with other officers from his Bn.

    This last part of the book is a bit disjointed, as one would expect, but Mure is very honest and speaks about how he felt. Considering that this condition was little understood at the time this is a tribute both to him and the medical team who recognised and treated him. This was not the end of Mure’s war as he returned to the Regiment and served the latter part of the war on the Western Front, gaining promotion to Major. In all, Captain Mure spent a total of 43 days on Gallipoli, going from an enthusiastic young officer, confident in both his men and himself to a battlefield casualty unable to function due to the stresses and pressures he has had to go through. This is a harrowing tale highlighting that not all casualties come from shot and shell. Mure’s honesty shines through the book which is written with very little glory and much courage. It is well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book was published in 1919 which makes Mure's admission to shell shock all the more intense and courageous. General Hamilton came in for a lot of post campaign criticism but Mure dedicates this book to him out of respect - the fighting man's opinion versus the historians' !

    As an Afternote, it is very interesting to read Mure’s account then read the dry official account of the Bn’s campaign which just goes to show how the view of the man in the trench is so different from the official history! For further reading the RS website has this on the Gallipoli Campaign: THE ROYAL SCOTS TERRITORIALS IN THE DARDANELLES CAMPAIGN 1915-16 - Royal Scots Regiment every officer, except the CO was a casualty, and even he had been wounded! After reinforcements, 5RS had 161% officer causalities and an estimated 116% OR casualties in this campaign; other units were very similar in number and 5RS were not so different in this aspect.

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