Tasting Turkey

When we marched through Salonika on the way to embark, the streets were crowded with people waving good-bye.

As the troops passed the corner of one street they let forth a great cheer, for they had spotted a group of young ladies from the Red Lamp district who presumably had come to give a farewell wave to some of their satisfied clients!

On board the troop ship the sole topic of conversation was “Where are we going?” Some were still stuck with the Russia rumour but all hoped we were bound for Blighty. As the lighter drew near to the shore we made for a cargo ship which had been run ashore. Coming alongside we saw that this boat had been beached under heavy artillery fire as her hull was a mass of shell holes. We climbed aboard, using her as a landing stage and then we saw the name on her side – it was the ‘River Clyde‘.

The sea all round was a mass of rusting barbed wire, there was a narrow strip of beach and then towering cliffs. It seemed impossible that any troops could have landed under such conditions but when we had climbed to the top of the cliffs we saw the shallow trenches our men had scratched with their entrenching tools. Every few yards there was a line of these hastily hacked ditches, made to give cover as the men advanced a few yards at a time.

Map showing relative positions of Gallipoli and Cape Helles (Turkey)

Our casualties must have been very heavy here on Cape Helles and as we looked over the scene we
realised that once again our troops had been called on to do the impossible.

We camped on the Cape and the troops set about cleaning up the site, collecting ammunition and other equipment which was lying about. I was given the job of measuring and marking, on a large scale map of the Cape, the position of the lines of rough trenches made during the battle.

My company was billeted in what had been a large convent in Gallipoli and battalion headquarters were housed in a large house nearby. Now that the fighting was over there was no need for scouts, therefore we returned to company duty. When Christmas 1918 came I found myself detailed to take charge of the guard. Having been deprived of drink for so long, the men were now taking full advantage of being billeted in a town by getting as much as they could lay their hands on. I don’t know what it was they were buying from the Turks but it was certainly very strong and it didn’t take much of it to make them very drunk. By the time we mounted guard I was the only sober man in the outfit. Ordered to “Slope arms” two men dropped their rifles and the third slumped to the ground. Before leaving, the officer remarked “The boys will be celebrating tonight Corporal. Keep a look-out for drunks and drag them inside the gates before they get themselves knifed”. The three men were no good to me so I bedded them down in the guard room and let them sleep it off.

A few days later the whole battalion was paraded so that the local police and a number of Turks could try to identify a soldier who was alleged to have killed one of the locals. No one was picked out and rumour had it that the CO had hidden a man in the basement below headquarters.

I seemed fated not to do much of my army service on company duty for when we had been only a few weeks in Gallopoli I was given the job of running the battalion Canteen and catering for the officer’s mess. I suspect this was just one more job I got because I was a non-drinker. Once a week I had to take a party of men across the Dardannelles Straits aboard a trawler to a place called Chanak and buy stores, wines and spirits from a large supply depot there. There would be several other parties aboard from other units and once we had obtained our supplies we had to guard them with our lives. Talk about the Forty Thieves, they had nothing on our chaps! If I dared to turn my back for more than a minute, someone would ‘have an accident’ with a case of whisky and there would be several bottles missing in no time. Men from other units were on the look-out all the time for an opportunity to get some of our cases ‘mixed up with theirs’ so that the job was a bit of a strain. However, I was lucky enough to suffer no losses as I made a point of never leaving my stuff unguarded. For one like myself, who was a poor sailor, these trips were a night-mare. The water in the Straits was generally very rough and I was always very glad when they were over.

Demobilisation had now started and the QM who had been in charge of the Canteen was one of the first to go home. As was the case with the leave parties, so now those who had been out longest were first to get out so Bill and I were once again ‘sweating on the top line’. I suppose I had been about two months on the Canteen job when Bill came to see me one day; for once he looked very excited.

“Have you got yours mate?” he asked.

“Got my what Bill?”

“Your ticket of course, I’ve got mine. I’m for the next lot!”

I was shocked to know I had been left out and as I was very friendly with the orderly room Corporal, who wanted me to leave him my wrist-watch when I was demobbed, I went to see him. He told me that my name had been crossed off the list as I was wanted for the Canteen and officers mess and begged me not to divulge my source of information.

That evening I went to the officers mess after dinner and asked to see the President of the mess, a regular major. I told him I knew that my name had been deleted from the demob list. When he asked how I knew I told him that my pal, with whom I had come out, had just got his ticket and that I must be on the same list. The major told me I should be silly to leave as I was going to be raised to QMS and that I could have a wonderful career in the army now that the War was over. I told him I had no intention of staying on and after a long argument he saw it was no good and agreed to reinstate my name on the list. Bill was very glad when I told him the news and the orderly room Corporal got his watch without waiting until I had left.

The next week or so dragged terribly and all of us waiting for the next demob party dreaded lest something should happen to keep us back. I handed over the Canteen to another NCO and returned once more to my company to await the great day. Each man was given a ‘character’ on leaving and when I read mine I was rather staggered. I was vain enough to think that some mention would be made of my work as a scout but it actually read “Has done good work painting scenery for battalion show.”

As we marched away from the battalion we were cheered by the lads and told we were lucky devils. At the water-front, where we were to board lighters to be taken to the troop-ship, we found a band of Indian soldiers and as we marched aboard they played ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I was very touched and arrived on board with tears running down my cheeks. I took a side-long glance at Bill to see how he had taken the parting. He grinned and gave one of his famous belly-laughs “Haw! Haw! Haw!”

Here on 11 November 1918 succumbed the criminal pride of the German Reich, vanquished by the free peoples which it tried to enslave.

In the forest of Compi├Ęgne, France, where the Armistice was signed at the end of World War I.