Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli

This teddy bear at the Royal Welsh museum in Brecon belonged to a Welsh soldier killed at Gallipoli
This teddy bear at the Royal Welsh museum in Brecon belonged to a Welsh soldier killed at Gallipoli

One hundred years ago this weekend the Allies launched a land invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

The plan was to capture Constantinople and take Germany’s ally Turkey out of the war.

The landing failed and the battle developed into a stalemate – the trench warfare of the Western Front in miniature.

Every year on April 25, Australia and New Zealand mark the sacrifice of their troops in the battle on what is known as Anzac Day.

But thousands of Welsh troops took part in the Gallipoli campaign too and their contribution has been largely forgotten – until now.

This weekend Radio Wales will broadcast ‘Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli’, a programme to commemorate the men who fought and died in the Dardanelles.

Among the men who served in the campaign was William John Jones, of the Penmaenmawr Company of the 6th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

The company was composed of men who worked at the quarry in the town of Penmaenmawr, near Llandudno.

William Jones’ grandson, Dennis Roberts, said: “When he was an early teenager he joined a fife and drum band which was part of the local [army] volunteers.

“He moved from the little cadet band to be an active soldier in the volunteers.

“War broke out and they wondered what was going to happen to them. As volunteers they didn’t have to go abroad – they had to be asked nicely. I am sure most in 1914 said they were happy to go – they daren’t say no.”

The Quarry Boys did not take part in the initial landings at Gallipoli, although many Welshmen did.

On the first day of the landings at Helles in the south, the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers lost three officers and thirteen men. The battalion would remain at Helles until evacuated in January 1916. They would leave behind more than 500 dead.

After the April landings the invading force was held back at the coast. It dug in and held on to the small amount of territory gained.

By August 1915 a new strategy was needed. A fresh invasion with even more troops.

The 4th battalion of the South Wales Borderers, the 4th and 8th battalions of the Welsh Regiment and four battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers prepared to play their part in the coming battle.

On the Greek island of Lemnos the Quarry Boys of Penmaenmawr were writing final letters home.

They moved onto boats in the early hours of August 9th, 1915. Ahead of them, their target: a rocky stretch of the Turkish coast called Suvla Bay.

Private Richard Jones, a friend of Williams Jones, later wrote in his diary: “I could hear something dropping in the middle of another regiment. I felt rather nervous. Another followed in a few seconds and she fell about 15 to 20 yards the other side of me.

“We all were laying down flat on the ground wondering where the next was going to drop.”

But it was on the following day, August 10th 1915, that the Quarry Boys fought their most terrible battle, charging ahead in full view of the Turkish guns.

Dennis Roberts said: “There was no cover, they had to cross a salt lake which in summer dried up. But the men were struggling to cross this lake, the mud was above their knees.”

Private Richard Jones wrote: “I could see one of the shells dropping in the middle of our boys and knocking about nine of them down.

“A little further on we came to a bush and we attended to some wounded here. Here I saw Sergeant Roberts, of Holyhead, he was shot through the leg. In about two minutes we had a few wounded behind this bush and I was thinking to myself that my last day had come.

“I saw Dick Williams wounded – a very bad wound, too. We put him to lay on one of the stretchers. The poor lad was shouting for his mother. There was poor hopes for him.”

By the end of the day it was clear the attack had not succeeded. But the Quarry Boys were ordered into battle again.

This time they had to make a bayonet charge up a hill.

They did what was asked of them – but the plan was a disaster and they lost their leader, Major Gus Wheeler, who in peacetime had been the quarry manager.

“I get angry,” Dennis Roberts said. “Those who led the lads down in Turkey – well, I don’t know what they were doing.”

William Jones
                     William Jones

Once again, after these initial attacks, the campaign developed into a stalemate.

In the dust and heat of the Turkish summer the soldiers were desperately short of water. In the early stages of the campaign all men could do was risk the local wells – but each of these was covered by a Turkish sniper.

Quarry Boy RJ Davies wrote in his diary: “There are dozens of Turkish snipers. They are painted green all over – the same colour as the trees. We shoot at every tree we see but we cannot get them. Some of them are women. Three or four dropped yesterday, one of them was a woman. They do a lot of damage to our chaps. There are a lot of dead lying close to every well.”

By January 1916, the campaign was over and the Allied soldiers had been evacuated. More than 1,300 men who served with Welsh regiments were dead.

Williams Jones served in Palestine but survived to return to work in the quarry at Penmaenmawr.

Sunday’s programme features a specially recorded ballad, using the poems of soldier WR Williams and an unknown comrade from Suvla Bay. It is sung by Conwy Museums Officer Helen Bradley and the music is composed by Neil Dunsire, of TAPE Community Music and Film, of Old Colwyn.

 * ‘Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli’ is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 12.30pm on Sunday, April 26, and repeated at 6.30pm on April 27 and 5.30am on April 28.

Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli

Greg Lewis

Upcoming radio programme for those interested in World War One and Gallipoli in particular:

Quarry Boys: The Welsh at Gallipoli

To be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales  Sunday, April 26 at 12:30pm. Repeated on Monday, April 27 (6.30pm) and Tuesday April 28 (5:30pm)

More info here soon.

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The Life of a Writer

keep calmIn my various writing guises I currently have (in what I think is descending order):

* one book being prepared by the publisher – proofs due any day now

* one thriller I am ghost-writing half-finished – I’m overdue on this

* one film script with an agent and being touted around now

* one children’s book with an agent

* one e-book version of a former print title ready to go

* another e-book of a print title in development

* two, three, maybe four things just under half-finished

* and other files I’ve tucked away deep in sub-folders on my computer. One day, one day…

And then I have my day job.

The writer’s life. The best life.

Classic paperbacks#7… Navarone revisited…

The Guns of Navarone
      The Guns of Navarone

Could not resist ending on this version of The Guns of Navarone (see also #3).

It made me chuckle.

Great cover. But in the book the raiders don’t climb the cliff on Navarone in German uniform, do they?

And, when they do, there is a storm raging. This German soldier is making the climb in the blazing sunshine.

I wonder if the photo is actually a genuine one from WW2?

Classic paperbacks#5: The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed
The Eagle Has Landed

A truly wonderful book which has thrilled since its first appearance in 1975.

Although the author had been already writing for many years, The Eagle Has Landed established Jack Higgins as one of the great thriller writers of the modern day.

His is a style I absolutely love.

The film starring Michael Caine came out the following year.

The above is the paperback version I first read in the early 1980s.

As a bonus here is the original cover:

TheEagleHasLanded

Classic paperbacks #4: Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare
        Where Eagles Dare

The novel version of Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare is not all that it seems.

It’s a classic thriller made into an explosion-filled, action-packed film.

Well, not quite.

In fact, the book started out as the film.

Producer Elliott Kastner approached MacLean directly and asked him for an original script.

MacLean wrote the script and then the book to coincide with the movie’s release.

Years later, Kastner remember the moment he first approached the author.

“I rang Alistair MacLean at his home in Surrey, and told him that I would really like to meet with him.  He refused; he didn’t wanna meet without my telling him more details.  So I told him:  I wanted him to consider writing an original story, directly for the screen.  There was a moment of silence, followed by ‘Hmm, nobody ever asked me that before…’

“ ‘So’, he said, ‘What is it you want?’  ‘I want a team of five or six guys on a mission in the Second World War, facing enormous obstacles.  I want a mystery.  I want a sweaty, exciting adventure movie.’  That’s all I told him, just that.”

And in the book and film that is exactly what we got!

Spitfire down: The WWII camp where Allies and Germans mixed

James Blennerhassett

Found this interesting article by Dan Snow while trolling through BBC archives about Ireland during “The Emergency”!

An attempt to recover a Spitfire from a peat bog in Donegal will highlight the peculiar story of the men – both British and German – who spent much of World War II in relative comfort in neighbouring camps in Dublin, writes historian Dan Snow.

In Northern Ireland in 1941, a routine Sunday afternoon sortie by a pilot flying one of Britain’s Spitfire fighters runs into difficulties.

Returning to base after flying “top-cover” for maritime convoys off the coast of Donegal, the Rolls Royce Merlin engine overheats and fails.

The pilot yells into his radio “I’m going over the side”, slides back the bubble canopy, releases his seat straps and launches himself into the air.

The Spitfire is one of the most vaunted examples of British engineering’s history. The greatest ever single-seat, piston-engined…

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