Midlothian tales of woe from the Eastern Front

W Beach Gallipoli
W Beach Gallipoli

On January 9, 1916 a small boat slips away quietly from a Turkish beach, writes John Duncan.

On board are the last men to evacuate the Gallipoli beachhead. A campaign, the brainchild of Winston Churchill, which had started with great optimism a few months earlier, had ended in defeat and almost in disaster. That it did not was due to meticulous planning, which had been sadly lacking before the campaign.

What of Midlothian’s part in this action?

Men from our county were in the spearhead of the attack and a number were killed and wounded in the initial landings, men like Mathew William Clayton from Gowkshill and James McKendry, killed with the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

Matthew Wishart from Penicuik was an old soldier, who had done his time but volunteered for service on the outbreak of hostilities. He joined the Foreign Service Battalion of the 5th Royal Scots. On the trip to Gallipoli he was told the sad news that his son – Sergeant W. G. Wishart, of the 1st Royal Scots, had been killed in action in Flanders.

Two weeks later, Matthew went over the top on April 28, 1915 leading one of the first waves of the attack. He died leading his men and is buried in Redoubt Cemetery, one of 32 men from his battalion who fell that day.

Very few of our lads who died at Gallipoli have a grave, but three that do are buried in the same cemetery.

The first is Sgt George Fowler, (27) 5th Royal Scots, who worked for Midlothian Council before the war and was a Territorial soldier of many years’ experience. Able Seaman Walter Hogg, Deal Battalion, Royal Navy Division, died of a gunshot wound sustained in an attack on May 28, 1915.

Coincidentally, Pte John Milne, 5th Royal Scots, a miner from Rosewell and a member of Newbattle Golf Club, was killed the same day. These men are buried near each other in Lancashire Landing Cemetery.

On June 4, 1915 the Allies mounted the Third Battle of Krithia in which they made a small advance but at terrible cost. The Allies took around 6,500 casualties, the Turks around 8,000 men. Following a weak barrage, the British went on the attack at noon on a blazing hot day and came under devastating fire, the hard ground providing little shelter, the cruel sun tormenting the wounded pleading for water.

The Royal Naval Division made a series of attacks that day. Among those who fell were Leading Seaman Edward Buchanan, Anson Division, who is remembered in Dalkeith Cemetery on the family headstone, and Stoker Andrew Elder, Hood Battalion, from Lasswade. Neither has a known grave.

Also taking part in the attack were the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

In their rank was James Davidson a miner at the Lady Victoria Pit in Newtongrange enlisted shortly after the outbreak of the war.

He was one of four brothers who enlisted. He was posted missing, one of nearly 130 men from his regiment killed that day including Private William Scotland Porteous from Auchendinny. Neither has a known grave.

On June 28, the attention turned to Gully Ravine, a dominant part of the Gallipoli landscape, and an attack was to be made to take it. This time the Territorial soldiers of the 4th Royal Scots would bear the brunt of the attack.

Although about 60 men from the battalion successfully reached their objective, casualties were extremely heavy.

A total of 219 men and officers of the 4th Royal Scots were killed. It broke the back of the battalion and among those who died in the attack were Captain Robert W G Rutherford, a member of Newbattle Golf Club. He was last seen leading his men in a desperate bayonet charge on the Turkish lines.

Killed by his side were Private Alexander Wilson (19) from Roslin, Private Andrew Watson, (19) from Loanhead and Private Andrew Lumsden a music teacher, whose family hailed from Borthwick. He had not long arrived in Gallipoli.

He wrote home on June 25 stating: “We have been in the trenches and are now in rest camp.”

On August 6, 1915 he and Ronald Stewart Innes, a banker living in Manchester, but originally from Dalkeith, serving with 11th Battalion Manchester Regiment arrived in Gallipoli after a long sea journey.

They were thrown straight into the attack as they landed at Suvla Bay, under murderous fire. Early on the 7th they managed to secure a ridge from which they advanced. Ronald was killed leading his men in this attack, a few short hours after he landed. He has no known grave.

Leading his platoon into attack the same day was Lt the Honourable Kenneth Dundas, Royal Naval Division, the 4th son of the Viscount Melville.

Accounts vary, but it appears he was killed either by a shell or a bomb from a German aircraft. He lies at rest in Lala Baba Cemetery.