The Foresters in Gallipoli

April 20th, 2015

When people think of the First World War they usually imagine mud and water logged trenches in Flanders. However, theatres of war were all over the globe. Tomorrow, 25th April, is ANZAC Day; Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, a commemoration of the conflict in Gallipoli, where the troops of Australian and New Zealanders suffered particularly heavy losses. A large number of British troops, including the Sherwood Foresters fought at Gallipoli too. The record Office has letters and diaries which detail the struggle. They track George Strutt’s (jnr.) time in Gallipoli and his friends’ and family’s response to it.

Gallipoli is considered one of the worst Allied failures of the First World War and particularly hard on the troops sent to fight. Herbert Strutt, George’s father, responded with pessimism to the news of the failing offence on Turkey

‘I think things look very bad in Gallipoli, we have failed in all our attacks, and the Turks are now, no doubt, prepared for us at every turn, and in a short time we should not be able to land stores or munitions, I hear the war office very optimistic, but I cannot see what grounds they have.’

Herbert’s prediction regarding supplies came true. Due to the harsh rocky terrain the only way to get goods to the troops was via the sea and it became increasingly hard to supply food and weapons. There was also a severe water shortage, there were concerns that the wells had been poisoned by the Turkish troops. This was exacerbated by the extreme heat, dehydrating the soldiers and evaporating the small water rations. The heat also created problems with the short food supply that was available, speeding its decomposition and encouraging flies which created huge swarms.

‘he said he’d got used to the heat [in Egypt], and there were very few flies, I’m afraid he won’t be able to say the same of Gallipoli, Louis Hurt wrote me that his son said it was next to impossible to take any food in the trenches between 6am and 8pm on account of the flies.’

A mixture of rocky ground and sand made it difficult to bury the dead which meant that the flies could breed inside the decomposing bodies. This also contributed to the very poor sanitation. The latrines were very basic and were even a target for shells. There was a serious dysentery epidemic which left many dead. Almost all of the men were affected by it. The problems of getting ships to the Turkish Front meant that it was difficult to evacuate men who were sick or injured. This also meant that they were left on duty for very long periods of time. George Strutt was lucky enough to get leave on Lemnos and was then sent on to Cairo to be treated for gastroenteritis at a Red Cross hospital.

‘we hope they will not send him back to Gallipoli again, he [has] stuck ten weeks of it and three or four is supposed to be enough for most men’

Through sickness, injury, dehydration and hunger the number of men who died during this part of the conflict was huge. By September 23rd 1916 George had already reported having lost 37 out of 130. The number of allied casualties had reached 250,000, including 42,000 dead by the time the troops left. The number of casualties for Turks was similar. All for a few extra miles.