WW1: The Belfast soldiers who fought at Gallipoli

By Claire Noble

  • Published

It has been 100 years since the Gallipoli campaign, a doomed World War One military operation that claimed the lives of more than 100,000 men.

The landings began at dawn on 25 April 1915 when allied troops stormed ashore on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula.

The mission, directed by Winston Churchill, was poorly equipped and is considered to have been a disaster from beginning to end.

The Turks were prepared and fought back against poorly trained, raw recruits.

Now the world is preparing to mark the centenary through a range of commemorative events.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
A British soldier at a grave in Gallipoli 1 November 1915

In east Belfast, war researcher Jason Burke has uncovered some of the human stories and photographs of the men who fought at Gallipoli, as part of a wider project on east Belfast soldiers who fought in World War One.

"Gallipoli is a forgotten campaign," he said.

"It's been overshadowed by the narrative of the 36th Ulster Division and the Battle of the Somme.

"This pretty much corresponds with the same argument in the Republic [of Ireland], that events surrounding the 1916 Rising have resulted in Gallipoli being overlooked."

Jason's collection ranges from newspaper obituaries, detailing the sorrow of a grieving widow, to the story of the man considered to be the first Belfast casualty in Gallipoli.

The ultimate aim of the failed campaign was to force the Ottoman empire, the heart of which is now modern-day Turkey, out of the war and stretch the German army beyond its limit.

'Unmarked graves'

But there was no clear plan, conditions were terrible and the invasion failed.

The heaviest allied casualties were sustained by soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, the Anzacs, who made the first landings.

Around 21,000 British and Irish troops died in the disastrous eight-month battle.

At the time the sea was reported to be red with Irish blood.

Jason has a family picture of 40-year-old Pte John Baker from Kenbaan Street in east Belfast.

Image source, Image courtesy of relatives
Image caption,
The Baker family: Pte John Baker with his sisters

According to relatives, Pte Baker enlisted with the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and was dispatched to Turkey in July 1915. He died in the Dardanelles as part of the Suvla Bay landings.

A former shipyard worker on Queen's Island in east Belfast, Pte Baker was married with two children.

"Sadly, he was killed a fortnight after landing in Gallipoli," Jason said.

Image source, Belfast Central Library
Image caption,
Farewell: The wife of John Baker says goodbye to her husband in a newspaper obituary

Great-grandchildren of the Baker family have contacted Jason in the hope of finding out more about the Belfast soldier.

"The only information they can find relates to the Somme, and they've found that frustrating," Jason said.

"Pte Baker's relatives have emailed me to say his name is engraved on the Helles memorial in Turkey, courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

"But they'd like to see something similar here in Belfast," Jason added.

During the Gallipoli campaign, one of the five landing sites was V beach, which sits on the peninsula of Gallipoli, leading up to Istanbul, an area the Allies had hoped to capture.

The soldiers who sailed to a landing point at Cape Helles on the SS River Clyde came from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Hampshire Regiment.

'Tending the wounded'

Many soldiers from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers also fought and died at Gallipoli.

"They came from different traditions and different classes," said historian Eamon Phoenix.

"You had the poor of Dublin to public school boys.

"North and south, orange and green, they followed the cause and fought together at the Dardanelles."

Jason Burke also uncovered the story of James Scott, a royal marine from the Plymouth Division.

He was killed in action aged 19.

A local newspaper report at the time said Marine Scott was probably the first Belfast man to lose his life in the operation on the Dardanelles.

He lived in Cheviot Avenue, Strandtown, and enlisted with the Royal Marines just 18 months before he died.

Marine Scott was sent east after being involved in the evacuation of Antwerp.

Image source, Belfast Central Library
Image caption,
Marine James Scott from Cheviot Avenue, Belfast
Image source, Belfast Central Library
Image caption,
The death of a Belfast marine: James Scott, killed in action at the Dardanelles
Image source, The Hutton family
Image caption,
Rifleman John Hutton of Fox Street, east Belfast. Killed in action on 11 August 1915, leaving a wife and two children behind

Historians have debated for years over whether the United Kingdom and other allies should have been involved in the operation at all.

"It does strike me as an avoidable disaster," Jason said.

Eamon Phoenix agreed: "An attempt to shell the peninsula alerted the Turkish troops that an attack would happen. It really was a disaster for the British at the Dardanelles."

"Thousands of men were killed, they are buried in unmarked graves. The men died as a result of enemy fire and poor conditions, like the heat."

Thousands of men were also injured.

One of them was Rifleman John Foulis, a teenager who was wounded at Gallipoli.

He served with the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and was injured in September 1915 at the age of 18.

His home was in Bryson Street in east Belfast. His father was an engine driver on the County Down railway and his two brothers also served in the army.

Image source, ALAMY
Image caption,
The Foulis family: Pte Thomas Foulis, Pte John Foulis, L/Cpl Robert Foulis and their father, John.

Dr Francis Wisely, a 31-year-old Belfast surgeon who tended the wounded at Gallipoli, was also among the casualties.

Eamon Phoenix said: "He was the son of a publican who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and was killed while tending the wounded."

"A Celtic cross monument with an Irish inscription stands in his memory in Friar's Bush Graveyard, Stranmillis.

"Dr Wisely is buried in Egypt."

On Saturday 25 April 2015 people in Northern Ireland and across the globe will remember the soldiers who died in the doomed Gallipoli campaign.

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