My Private History of the Great War
By Col. Arthur Charles Fergusson, CMG, DSO, RA
At noon on 24th [April 1915] the Pera [troop ship] left Mudros [town on the island of Lemnos, Greece] for a secret rendezvous (Purnea Bay on the north of Lemnos). As we were almost the first to leave, and our mooring had been well inside the harbour, we had to pass through the whole fleet of assembled troop ships. It was most thrilling with all the troops on both our ship and others cheering, but it was sad to think that for many of them it would be their last cheer, though of course we never guessed then what we were really up against.
At midnight on the 24th/25th we left Purnea Bay for the landing. The landing orders were very explicit and had been drawn up with infinite care. According to them, 26 M.B. [Mountain Battery, the Battery he was commanding] were to land first at about 6 a.m. and their boats were to come back for us. Firing batteries only were to be landed the first day. We were to expect our tow at 8 a.m. and it was anticipated that by the time we got ashore there would be 12 guns and 6,000 men ashore. As a matter of fact the tow did not arrive for 26 [M.B.] till past 8 a.m. owing, it is alleged, to a disinclination to come under fire on the part of the captain of the ship carrying the horse boats, and no tow arrived for us till 4 p.m. This again is alleged to be because the Navy broke off for dinner in the middle of the operations. I personally can vouch for the truth or falsehood of neither of these allegations.
Birdwood [General William Birdwood] issued a stirring Order of the Day before we left Mudros commencing with the now familiar, ‘Boys’, and ending with ‘Now remember three things – covering fire always, husband your ammunition and rations, and dig, dig, dig’. By the light of events he should, as will be seen, have added. ‘Stick to your pals’. We had six battleships besides smaller fry covering us and I was awakened at about 4 a.m. by the firing of big guns. I made myself lie in bed as I knew we were in for a long day but about 6 a.m. could stick there no longer and got up. It was a wonderful sight, the whole sea full of ships with piquet boats towing barges and every type of boat everywhere.
I forget exactly when the Turks began to shell back but it was pretty early in the proceedings. When they did we were told to sheer off till wanted, so took a good offing. The Turkish fire was pretty good; I remember one shell which we thought had hit the Queen or a destroyer alongside her, but I believe it did not. Anyway the shells were too near to be pleasant. We got a splendid view of the proceedings ashore through glasses but things seemed very mixed up, as in fact they were. The first troops got ashore almost untouched. Colonel Parker, Kenyon and Thom as F.O.O. [Forward Observation Officer] went ashore in the second tow and the boats which came for them had had only one casualty their first trip. The casualties began when Gaba Tepe battery woke up. This was on a promontory and enfiladed the whole beach and was very deadly. One after the other the battleships stood in and appeared to blast the whole promontory into the sea, but the battery always came up smiling again. Then the Bacchante did a wonderfully fine thing; she stood right in till her bows were practically on the rocks. It was quite fairly rough, about 600 yards on the beach side of Gabe Tepe, and stayed there till dark firing broadsides. If it had not been for her I do not think we could have accomplished the landing. The Bacchante and the Triumph were also the only two ships that appeared to take any interest in altering their fire according to observations from the shore. None of the others answered the helm of the Forward Observation Officer at all. The Triumph was sunk by a submarine and the Bacchante afterwards spoilt the attack on Sari Bair by loosing off a very effective salvo into our own troops.
The day wore on, I continually trying to make officers and men sit down so as not to start dead tired. We went down to every meal very early and ate hugely. Troops were ordered to land with three days’ rations, first day ‘in the stomach’, and we tried to comply. At last about 4 p.m. our tow arrived, we set to work and got men and animals on board in very quick time and without accident. The men had to climb down rope ladders to the boats with bare feet and carrying all the various side-arms of the guns, signalling equipment etc. We had practised this a lot in Mudros but by this time it was quite rough and none too easy to get from the ladder to the boat. The captain said he would never have allowed it in peace time or allowed anyone to travel in flat-bottomed boats in that sea. We then had to sit for two hours waiting for someone to tow us, all the men being very seasick and in constant fear of being stove in against the ship’s side. At last about 6 p.m. we persuaded someone to give us a tow and finally landed at about 6.30 p.m. The delay was alleged to be partly because of casualties to boats and partly because the Navy broke off for dinner. I cannot vouch for the truth of this but am certain that if the battery had been ashore by 8.30 a.m. as intended and able to bring, with 26, a crossfire on the Turks, it would have helped our men a lot and they possibly would not have come back as they did.
As we got near the shore the sea got smoother but we came under fire and I felt more helpless than at any other time during the war. Sitting in an open boat whose sides were not bullet-proof with shell bursting all round is far from pleasant but thanks to the Bacchante we got no casualties. It was getting dark when we got ashore and the fire was slackening, gunfire anyway; and though the beach was a shambles and casualties were still occurring, we got away without any casualties ourselves. I was ordered to send a section away at once with a guide to show the way and sent Trenchard who was taken to what was afterwards known as Pugges Plateau. He had a fairly exciting night under shellfire and re-joined us next day having been relieved by a section of 26.
I was shown a place for the rest of the battery for the night, afterwards called Queensland Ridge, where we dug ourselves in and kept a sharp lookout all night in case the Australians came back. There was a tremendous fusillade all night and lots of bullets flying overhead but the Australians stuck it like men. We heard that 26 had done good work but had met some unlucky shrapnel which had wounded Chapman (died of wounds) and Kirby, and done a lot of damage. They had to be reinforced by Australians for a few days till their own reinforcements could arrive.