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Day of Days. V Beach, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915

James Durney

In early 1915 the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, conceived, what he thought was a brilliant plan to knock Turkey out of the war and force Germany to a negotiated settlement. The plan was to force the Dardanelles straits, bombard Constantinople and put Turkey out of the war; secure a short sea-route to Russia and open another front against Germany and Austria-Hungary. When an attempt to force the straits by naval power alone failed the Allies began planning an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula. By now, however, the Turks were well prepared and their defences were reinforced and skilfully strengthened with German help. The 29th Division was to land at Cape Helles at beaches designated S, V, W, X, Y. The Turks fully expected an attempt at invasion and had made great preparations. Overlooking V beach was the old castle and fort of Sedd-el-Bahr. Here 3,000 men of the three Irish battalions – Dublins, Munsters and Inniskilling Fusiliers – were to land and seize their objectives. With the 1st Dublin Fusiliers were many Kildaremen, all regular experienced soldiers who had been in the British army for years. An eyewitness to the landing, E. Keble Chatterton, wrote in Dardanelles Dilemma:

'The first troops to come ashore here arrived in cutters towed by the naval steamboats, but the rest of the covering force was landed by means of the collier River Clyde. So much has been written around this steamer, whose name has long since become legendary, that she needs only the fewest words of introduction . . . At the inspiration of Commander E. Unwin, R.N., and under his supervision, she had been specially prepared to act as a marine “Wooden Horse” on territory opposite ancient Troy. Large square ports had been cut in her sides, with wooden galleries to run out from either bow, so that her cargo of soldiers might dash ashore. A dozen little armoured houses built on her forecastle contained twelve Maxim guns.
'On she came, towing heavy lighters, and the plan was that, on grounding, the River Clyde would, of course, stop dead, whilst the lighters would carry on their way and reach the beach. The galleries or gangways would then be let down to the lighters, and a ready-made bridge would exist.
'In actuality what happened was that she grounded right enough, and the barges went on, but the latter failed to reach their proper stations, so that a gap existed between the two of them, and only the tallest men could wade ashore. . . Eager to rush forth and close with the enemy, those soldiers who had emerged and got so far as the lighters were shot dead from rifles, Maxims and small guns. Practically all who had landed from the cutters in the first trip were casualties … True, the River Clyde was fast ashore, and made a convenient breakwater at the eastern end of this beach; yet it was useless to waste more men’s lives by such a passage. Disembarkation of troops was therefore diverted to W beach; but, under cover of night, the River Clyde people dashed ashore and found shelter on the beach, though they could not get very far, as concealed Maxims were enfilading them from each flank.'

On that first day on Gallipoli the Dublin and Munster battalions suffered horrendous casualties. Private Michael Kavanagh (24), 1st RDF, from Corbans Lane, Naas, was killed in action, on that first day on V beach. So, too, was Lance-Corporal Michael Heffernan (23), 1st RDF, from Eadestown. Twenty-one year old Private James Birmingham, 1st RDF, from Dublin Road, Naas, was one of scores wounded on that fateful day. He was transferred to a hospital in Malta, where he died from his wounds. Private Thomas Doran, also from the 1st Battalion, from the Harbour, Naas, was also wounded as were Private Coughlin, Rathasker Road, Naas, and Private Christopher Pierce, Corbans Lane, Naas.

On that first day on Gallipoli the Dublin Fusiliers suffered horrendous casualties. Among them were many men from Co. Kildare.

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