Royal North Devon Hussars at Gallipoli – a first hand account

A hundred years ago today the Royal North Devon Hussars were landed at Sulva Bay as part of the Gallipoli Campaign. Very little was reported in the newspapers at the time as there was a ban on the reporting of movements. It was only after the evacuation of the peninsula that the stories of those who served there were printed, in this example Sergeant Frank Cater of the Royal North Devon Hussars writes about his experiences…

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli
From: North Devon Herald, 13th January 1916 page 3 columns b-c

With the official news of the evacuation of Gallipoli and the publication of Sir Ian Hamilton’s lengthy despatch, the ban on the movements of the Royal North Devon Hussars as far at the Peninsula is concerned is now removed. North Devonians—and Barumites in particular—will read with interest the particulars of the landing of the local Yeomanry from the pen of Sergt. Frank Cater, the son of Mr. and Mrs, J, Cater, of Victoria-road, Barnstaple. Describing their voyage to their Mediterranean destination, Sergt. Cater states that they journeyed at night with lights out. They used to get some decent singing during the evenings from the members of the Welsh Horse, who were imbued with that love of singing which is characteristic of the Principality. “It was a sight coming into the Bay of—-. For an hour we didn’t spot a boat, and then as we passed through the minefields we came upon a most impressive sight which brought home to one’s mind the extent of Britain’s sea-power. The Bay was literally full of craft of all kinds—giant battleships, cruisers, gunboats, submarines, and transports of all classes. I tried to count the vessel one morning, and reached nearly two hundred, when I decided to give it up. . . Subsequently our turn came to go. We were packed pretty tight on a small transport, and everything went all right for the first four or five hours while the weather held good, but just as we were getting near the coast where we landed a storm sprang up. It was just getting dark. The wind blew terrifically, and the rain descended in a torrential downpour. Many of our boys were literally soaked. Just after we picked up a Government pilot whose launch had been damaged by the storm. After steaming slowly for about half-an-hour we anchored, and then a tender came out, and with great difficulty we made fast. . . It was decided, however, that it was too rough to attempt a landing. . . . The next morning dawned lovely—the sun breaking over the hills and tinting the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. Before us was the Peninsula, which had become familiar throughout the world—the scene of some of the bravest deeds wrought in the present war, and the last resting place of so many heroes. Well, we managed to make a breakfast from bully beef, biscuits, and tea, and we were then ready to land—a risky proceeding in daylight because of the Turks, who were in the habit of shelling the beach. We got ashore all right, although it was a rough trip—the tender rolling and pitching dreadfully. A large number of our fellows were sea-sick, although I am happy to state I was among the few who were lucky enough to escape that sensation. How lucky we were we were soon to learn; for no sooner had we marched up the hill, carrying packs, kit-bags, equipment, and rifles, than the Turks simply peppered the beach we had just left with shrapnel and lyddite shells. The shells were screaming over our heads and landing on the beach below. Half-way up the hill a halt was called, and we had to wait for the darkness before proceeding to the place destined to become our regimental base. For about a week we were subjected to sundry shellings, but happily we did not suffer a single casualty. On the following Sunday, however, the Turks commenced to shell a couple of our guns which were in the vicinity. The shells were bursting all around us, and unfortunately one killed Major Greig, officer commanding C Squadron. The death of so popular an officer naturally cast a gloom over the regiment. On the following day I was of the party of five N.C.O.’s told off to go into the first line of trenches to see how things were worked there. It was quite an experience. There are miles and miles of trenches, and each one bears a familiar name. For instance, there is Piccadilly Circus, branching off into Bond-street; Dublin-street, etc.’ and then there is an arch called the Marble Arch. It’s really necessary to have names of some sort, otherwise it would be impossible to find one’s way about. After remaining about a week in the dug-outs our squadron went into the trenches for twenty-four hours. We had a couple of trips, and then we were helping to man the trenches for eight days. I was put on outpost duty with six men, forming double sentries. . . . . With the break of day we returned to the fire trench; going on outpost duty again in the night. . . In the evening we had to go sand-bagging, building up the communicating trench, the bullets whizzing overhead the while, some of them hitting the bags, but fortunately missing us. The next night we had a much more risky job. The ——– Regiment on our right had pushed forward and established an advanced post, and it was up to us to do the same. I was told off with a party of eight. . . . and after cutting our own wire we advanced about 100 yards and started building what we call a grouse box. The remainder of the squad were engaged in passing out sandbags. We were extremely lucky in getting the wall high enough for shelter without drawing much fire from the Turkish trenches. We had to hold that box the following day and night, when another box was formed between ours and the —— Regiment. There wasn’t much risk of snipers, because there was no need for us to put our heads above the parapet, begin supplied as we were with periscopes. The next night a party of bomb throwers went out to cover a wiring party, and they were unfortunate in that they lost two men killed and one wounded. We also had tree men wounded by a shell, and another man killed and two wounded in a ‘grouse box.’ I forgot to state that while in the dug-outs a shell landed here and killed Sergt. Symons (Swimbridge) and Corpl. Ackland, and wounded two others. . . We are on the move again this evening—going to Anzac, the right base of Chocolate Hill—the scene of the great fight during the first landing, when it was taken and re-taken three times. . . . We are absolutely out of the world here—never see anyone excepting our own fellows. We cannot buy anything, with the exception of a little tobacco and matches, and at very long intervals, perhaps, a tin of sardines.” In conclusion, Sergt. Cater mentions that at the time of writing Arch Dobbs and Arthur Wall, both Barumites, were quite well.

Transcript from the North Devon Herald 13th January 1916 page 3 columns b-c. You can find more articles covering North Devonians experiences in Gallipoli on our Facebook page or by going to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon which is also the home of the Regimental Collection of the Royal Devon Yeomanry.

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