Tha Gallipoli Oak: ‘Oh, the shells did fairly scream and bang’

A view of Achi Baba, the men's objective, seen from the Red Cross facility at Lancashire Landing where the Todmorden casualties ultimately arrived
A view of Achi Baba, the men's objective, seen from the Red Cross facility at Lancashire Landing where the Todmorden casualties ultimately arrived

There is an old saying that “cometh the hour, cometh the man”, and the Todmorden contingent of the East Lancashire Territorial Army was quick to be tested at Gallipoli in 1915.

The 6th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers had arrived at the Turkish outpost as part of a second wave of attack. Less than 24 hours after stepping on shore, on the morning of May 6, the men of Todmorden, Rochdale and Middleton would be thrown into the fray as part of the Second Battle of Krithia.

The Todmorden troops were led by 38-year-old Captain Gledhill, a solicitor, a prominent member of the Todmorden Golf Club, and a Conservative councillor. Gledhill was supported by the son of a local mill owner, Captain Robert Barker - “A splendid fellow of the bull-dog type, huge in build, sporting in instincts, certainly well-liked by the men,” according to one of the junior officers.

First out of the trenches were D Company led by Captain Gledhill, followed almost immediately by C Company with Major Lees (of Middleton) and Captain Barker.

Bobbie Johnson, a Todmorden man fighting alongside his father, continued: “The land batteries and warships started bombarding. Oh, what a noise: the shells did fairly scream and bang. We could see columns of earth thrown up. The seaplanes were flying around and directing fire.”

Captain Gledhill, at the vanguard, later wrote: “We advanced out of the trenches down an incline thickly covered with scrub. After that it was absolutely open ground. I was hit very early on, brought down concurrently by a machine gun and a shrapnel bullet. My upper right arm was broken and badly shattered.” The injury was so bad his war was effectively over. His men pushed on regardless.

Lieutenant GG Holden, a Todmorden man, had thrown most of his kit away in a bid to speed up movement. “We advanced about 50 yards. Then we got it, they absolutely poured shot and shell into our ranks. The firing was so heavy that we dared not raise our heads to fire. Our object was to find some kind of cover so we could open fire on them, covering the advance of the remaining companies. Men were dropping on each side of me and every minute I expected to do the same. When all the men who had managed to come through had got into a gully we started to make a trench. Then we gave the Turks a taste of our lead and advanced another 150 yards and there dug ourselves in.”

It was time for C Company to follow. Bobbie Johnson, the man serving alongside his father, wrote: “Captain Barker said, ‘Over you go lads’. Some got knocked over. I had seen my father fall and I wondered if he was advancing or not – and was just looking round to see when I got such a stunning smack.” Private Pickles, of Meadow Bottom, added: “I saw some fellows get their brains blown out and half their faces blown off. It’s a horrible game.”

D and C Company survivors, joined by B and A Company, would now have to dig deep and wait for reinforcements. In all 228 members of the battalion were killed, missing or wounded; roughly a third. The 6th had advanced further than any other unit that day on the Peninsula and, more importantly, had held on to what they had gained. The achievement was still however only to be measured in yards and the whole operation a costly failure. Worse was to come.