A part of Turkey that is forever Lancashire

Authors Martin Purdy & Ian Dawson at the Gallipoli Oak
Authors Martin Purdy & Ian Dawson at the Gallipoli Oak

From little acorns do mighty oak trees grow - and author Martin Purdy told Todmorden Antiquarian Society how childhood tales in Middleton from three neighbouring war veterans, then his work for a local newspaper inspired him towards 20 years of researching the Great War.

With co-author Ian Dawson, Martin, who is also a freelance WW1 adviser to BBC’s programme Who Do You Think You Are, wrote The Gallipoli Oak, story of the 6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, a Territorial Army unit comprised of men from Rochdale, Todmorden and Middleton, in the Great War.

Martin explained that the Battalion comprised of 500 Rochdale men, plus 250 from both Todmorden and Middleton. Captain Gledhill, a Todmorden Solicitor, and Captain Robert Barker led the town’s contingent. Extra recruitment was organised in Todmorden Town Hall. Local young men craved adventure, and Martin described how class structure still ruled within Army ranks. The Todmorden men marched to Rochdale where they were billeted near the Drill Hall, then to camp in the West Pennines near Turton.

These volunteers were the first ever to go overseas to battle. The older Sergeants were a characterful crew who participated in one-day-a-week professional training over 10 years. They were asked to go abroad, but had the right to refuse. Troop trains transported willing Lancashire Fusiliers to Southampton where a flotilla of ships sailed to Egypt. Letters written home told of their voyage into sunny climes.

In April 1915, with stalemate on the Western Front, Churchill planned a campaign against Turks to reach Russia through the Dardanelle Straits. Our Territorials provided reinforcements to French, British and Australian troops. There was insufficient preparation.

When our men arrived at the Front Line on the Gallipoli Peninsula, they went in to attack within three hours. Many were hit in their first 100 yards. Captain Gledhill led the advance under little cover, bombarded by shot and shell. He lay wounded for hours before being courageously dragged 50 yards by two soldiers - it took two hours under sniper fire. One Todmordian, Bobby Johnson, fought alongside his dad only to witness his fall. There were catastrophic losses.

Martin also described the primitive conditions with lack of natural water, polluted streams, lack of sanitation etc. Lord Rochdale, the overall Commander, was outraged by ill-fated Gallipoli. Six local men received medals though one had died, one was ill and the remaining four were considered “over-age”.

Lt Eric Duckworth was from an influential family running Northern England grocery stores. The Gallipoli Oak book tells the story of the commemorative oak tree planted by Eric’s parents when they stepped from a cruise ship onto the Gallipoli shores in March 1922 desperate to visit this Mediterranean outpost. His parents planted the sapling in Redoubt Cemetery which contained the graves of their son’s Territorial’s comrades from Rochdale, Todmorden and Middleton.