Families to mark Gallipoli Campaign

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Published: Sunday 19th April 2015 by The News Editor

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The disastrous Gallipoli campaign left Ernest Boissier with shrapnel wounds, a Distinguished Service Cross and a life-long aversion to flies, his son recalled.

Roger Boissier was a 12-year-old schoolboy when he asked why his father became agitated if he saw a bluebottle buzzing around the room.

His father’s stark response was that if he too had seen flies crawling over dead men’s faces, he would understand.

Now 84, Mr Boissier will be in a group of 15 descendants of British and Irish Gallipoli veterans who will travel to Turkey this week to mark the centenary, along with the Prince of Wales and Prince Harry, of the ill-fated campaign.

While Anzac Day, April 25, has long been celebrated by Australia and New Zealand, some relatives feel the British involvement in the heroic but doomed landings has been overlooked, particularly when around three times as many British and Irish died as Anzacs.

The Princes will meet descendants on Friday and attend commemoration events on the Gallipoli peninsula, before taking part in Anzac events the following day marking the 100th anniversary of the first landings.

Lyn Edmonds, a retired librarian from Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, who is an executive officer with the Gallipoli Association, wanted the balance to be redressed.

She will be attending the service on Friday at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Helles Memorial.

Her grandfather Benjamin Hurt, from Derbyshire, was a Private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was wounded but survived against the odds until the Allied evacuation eight months later.

She said: “There must be thousands of British people who do not know they had a relative there. We owe it to the men who fought there to remember them.”

Hugh Gillespie’s grandfather was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

Mr Gillespie, 72, and living in a village outside Northallerton, North Yorkshire, will join the commemorations.

He has visited the peninsula before and stood close to the spot where his grandfather Lt Col Franklin Gillespie died aged 42, while leading a daring assault which involved attacking across wild scrub, uphill, at night.

He said: “It is incredibly rugged, with steep ravines and gullies, and it is covered with very unpleasant holly oak, rather like gorse and covered with sharp leaves, so it was very difficult country to go through. And of course, the Allies were always attacking up hill.”

As the campaign stagnated into trench warfare, soldiers faced heat, poor sanitation, lack of supplies, then intense cold and flooded trenches.

“It is astonishing what the soldiers put up with, the terrible conditions and the very high likelihood of being shot,” he said.

Mr Boissier, who was chairman of the Royal Derby Porcelain Company, and who lives near Carlisle, still has a letter in which his father speaks in glowing terms of their Australian comrades.

He described them as fitter and bigger than the British. The Royal Naval Division Lieutenant-Commander wrote: “They are absolutely fearless, they cannot believe they could be killed. They are cheerful men, it is good to see them.”

But around 58,000 Allies did die, and around half the 559,000 servicemen were casualties. The campaign ended in failure, and did not change the course of the war.

Winston Churchill had pushed forward the plan, and he was tainted when it ended in ignominy.

Mr Boissier said: “My father didn’t think much of Churchill until 1940.

“As a schoolboy I remember hearing remarks about him, but that all changed and he said ‘I suppose we have the best man possible’.”

The poor planning and tactical mistakes that were made informed later military thinking, not least ahead of D-Day 29 years later.

Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, the 88-year-old renowned architect from Findhorn, Moray, Scotland, will honour his father Martin who was awarded the Victoria Cross for commanding a submarine crew which sank 97 enemy vessels.

Sir James said his father, who lived to be 83, was a modest man and although he could have told tales of escaping nets and mines to sneak through the Dardanelles straits into the Sea of Marmara, he did not speak of his heroics.

“I don’t think people do if they have been very brave,” his son said.

“My father developed a great respect for the Turks, he thought they were very brave and very fair fighters too.”

The submarine commander sank several dhows, but spared the civilian crews.

One had a cargo of Turkish Delight which the submariners took to add to their rations. Later, they came across another dhow, this one carrying locals and hens to market.

This too was sunk, but locals, who included elderly women, were first taken onboard the submarine and given a lift ashore.

“As they left, he would shake each of them by the hand and he gave each of them a box of Turkish Delight,” Sir James said.

“Some aspects of the war were very civilised.”

Published: Sunday 19th April 2015 by The News Editor

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