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A1 and in the Pink – 100 years on

WWI as seen in the letters of Sgt GC Roberts MM of the 1/5th Welsh Regiment

Month

August 2015

August 28th 1915

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Pte GC Roberts 3144
C Company
1/5th Welsh Regt
159th Brigade
53rd Division
MediterraneanExpeditionaryForce

August 28 1915

Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line to let you know that I am getting on in the pink and hope you are all the same. I am still at the convalescent camp and I don’t do so bad there. We get plenty of food and my foot is getting alright again. I have not received a letter from you yet. I can tell you that when I do get one it will do me more good than all the medicine in the surgery. I hope you received my letters alright.
There has been a good many chaps sent home to England from here, I wish I had that luck. The weather here in very unsettled, we get plenty of rain, thunder, and lightning. There will be a rough time here in the winter.
Give my kindest regards to Mr Cooper, tell him I have written to Hughie, hope he is still alright. How is Jon and May getting on, tell them I should like to hear from them. I have a job to get writing papers or I would write I have written a few times. Hope Dyfan and Mailys are in the best of health and are enjoying their holiday hope Mailys has passed her Junior Exam. Hope Dad and Mam are keeping alright.
I shall be very glad when this war is over so that I will be able to come home and do my bit for you again only to stick to it this time. I am sick of war, soldiering in England is alright but by soldiering in the Dardanelles you might get hurt, I was hurt a bit. Give my love to Auntie Annie and all at Hengoed. I must now close with fondest love to all
I am
Your loving son
Goronway

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August 25th 1915

August 25th #1 August 25th #2 August 25th #3 August 25th #4

Pte GC Roberts 3144

C Company

1/5th Welsh Regt

159th Brigade

53rd Division

Mediterranean Expeditionary Force August 25 1915

Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line to let you know I am alright but I still at the convalescent camp. I hope that you are all well at home and not worrying about me, because there is nothing to worry about. My wound is nearly alright again. I shall be very pleased to receive a letter from you. I would willingly give a few quid for one. I should like if you could send some writing paper, 3 or 4 penny packets would be best. I hope you are receiving my letters. When you write, give me all the news you can.

I was at a Church of England service on Sunday morning, there was no other here. The Chaplain was a very plain speaker, I enjoyed him very much. There was not any of the fancy touches about him. His text was, “Take thought for your soul”. There are a great many think of that when they are in action I can tell you. I hope to be able to see you before very long and come to stay at that. How is Mailys and Dyfan getting on? Hope they are enjoying their holidays. I have had a very different holiday this year to last. Is Nain Jones still at Abertysswg, give her my best love. Has Mailys had the result of the junior exam yet? Let me know when she does, wish her luck. I bet you would have a fine laugh if you saw me walking about with a boot on one foot and a puttee wrapped round the other, looks a bit queer. We get plenty of food in the camp so that is all I worry about. Give my kind regard to Mr Cooper, tell him I am going to write to Hughie. Also give my love to Jon and May. I must now draw to a close. Hoping you are all in the best of health. I am in the Pink.

I am your Loving Son

Goronway

Comment – When GCR refers to the Chaplain being a plain speaker with no fancy touches, this would have been meant by way of approval from the young Welshman brought up as a Baptist who would have expected a CoE Chaplain to be a bit “High” for his liking.

August 18th 1915

Pte GC Roberts 3144
C Company
1/5th Welsh Regt
159th Brigade
53rd Division
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
August 18th, 1915

Dear Dad and Mam

Just a line to let you know that I am getting on alright and have been discharged from hospital and am at present at a convalescent camp. I hope that you are all alright at home. I may tell you that I am anxiously waiting for a letter from you. It is time I had one now. I hope you are receiving my letters alright. Have written several times. It is very little I am allowed to put in the letter. I hope I will be able to be home for my Christmas dinner this year. Give my love to all. Hoping you are all in the best of health. I am alright, my foot does not spoil my stomach. Give my best love to all. Hoping to hear from you soon.
I am your loving son
Goronway

August 18th #1 August 18th #2 August 18th #3

 He didn’t actually get home for Christmas dinner until 1919.

 

Casualty Evacuation at Gallipoli

From the 53rd Division History and from the Diary of a Yeomanry M.O. by Captain O Teichman DSO MC RAMC it is possible to get some idea of how GCR and other casualties wound have be managed.

It has already been described how having been wounded in the foot but without fractures, GCR was able to get back to British lines and alert stretcher bearers to the plight of his friend lying out on the hillside.

From there he may have been managed at an aid post by a Brigade Medical Officer or his staff before being evacuated to a Brigade Field Ambulance and then onto one of the Divisional Field Ambulance; this would have been either the 1sr, 2nd or 3rd Welsh Field Ambulances. From there he would have been sent on to the 53rd Welsh Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) if that had been established by then. This unit was set up on A beach to the north of the Salt Lake. Given the confusion during the initial landings and early days of battle he may alternatively have passed through another brigade’s medical units and ended up at the CCS on C Beach south of the Salt Lake and Lala Baba.

Between these units casualties would have been carried by stretcher-bearer parties or mule ambulance carts. GCR would probably been expected to make his way down to the beach under his own steam.

At the clearing stations the wounded would have had their wounds redressed and received a hot meal and an anti-tetanus inoculation before being transferred to barges from evacuation to hospital ships and beyond.

The ships would have then sailed to Mudros harbour on Lemnos where walking wounded, including GCR, who might be expected to recover well enough to rejoin the battle after treatment or those not expected to survive a long voyage were off loaded and sent to the General Hospital. The others who were wounded sufficiently to warrant a significant period of treatment and rehabilitation if they were ever to rejoin their units set sail for England (hospitals in Egypt were already overwhelmed); these were said have received a “Blighty” wound.

The Australian hospital at which GCR was treated would have been the 3rd Australian General Hospital, the nursing officers of which had sailed to Alexandria on the SS Huntsgreen along with GCR and the 5th Battalion the Welsh Regiment.

IMG_4077

From The History of the Great European War Volume IV

Medical and nursing sisters of 3rd Australian General Hospital (3AGH) in the tent lines with patients J01438Two nursing sisters and officer in the tent ward lines with patients at No 3 Australian General Hospital J01446

Medical and nursing staff of the 3rd Australian General Hospital, Lemnos

Landing Troops at Suvla Bay

Landing troops at Suvla Bay

Illustration from “The History of the Great European War” Volume IV. Caxton Publishing.

This ten-volume publication was written during the war and it is unashamedly a biased piece of history and propaganda. The caption to this illustration reads: ” The Germans and Turks received a staggering disillusionment when the British forces landed at point after point on the Gallipoli peninsula, regarded by both as impregnable, and established themselves firmly by never-to-be-forgotten feats of arms and deeds of heroism”

August 16th 1915

August 16th # 1 & 4 August 16th # 2 & 3 August 16th # 2 & 3 - Version 2 August 16th # 1 & 4 - Version 2

Pte GC Roberts 3144

C Company

1/5 Welsh Regt

159 Brigade

53rd Division

Mediterranean Expeditionary Force

August 16 1916

Dear Dad and Mam

Just alive to let you know that I am getting in the pink. My foot is much better by now and I will be able to jump quite as good as before because there are no bones broken. I am having a decent time and the sisters here are very good to us. They are much more homely than our English. I forgot to tell you I am in an Australian hospital. I may tell you I have great reason to be the thankful to God that I only had it in the foot, because I was in a warm corner when it happened. I hope this war will soon be over. There is a great difference in soldiering out here and soldiering in England you are apt to get hurt here, but still I am not at all down hearted. I shall be very pleased when I receive a letter from you have not had one yet. Give my love to Dyfan and Mailys hope they are getting an alright. Hope Mailys will pass her Juniors and that Dyfan enjoyed being in camp. Give my love to Jon, Mag, and Nain Jones. I was speaking to a chap from Jack Jones Regiment, he is alright. I have written to you several times hope you have received them. Please let me have a word as soon as you can. I have no more to say at present. Close with best love to all.

I am

Your loving Son

Goronway

First taste of battle, Suvla Bay

The Suvla Bay landings were commanded by Lt Gen Sir Frederick Stopford, a 61 year old who had never commanded troops in war. Many of the other senior officers in command positions for the attack were also getting long in the tooth, in retirement before the war.

“While the generals were old Regular Army officers, their troops were civilians and young; and all of them, generals ands soldiers alike, were wholly unused to the rough and individual kind of campaigning upon which they were now to be engaged.” Alan Moorehead, Gallipoli

The landings started the night of the 6th of August, the 11th and 10th Divisions ashore by the 7th and the 53rd Welsh Division on the night of the 8th.

Inexperienced troops, landing at night with poor maps and difficult terrain, they became quickly disorientated and there was a breakdown in communications and control. Worst of all, Stopford failed to instill the sense of urgency into his subordinate generals that Hamilton expected. Instead of pushing hard to command the high ground before the anticipated Turkish reinforcements arrived 36 hours later a “ghastly inertia” set in that was only broken by Hamilton’s direct intervention that was in any case too late. By the 10th Turks had beaten the British to the heights and the troops were ordered to entrench. The chance to break the stalemate had been lost.

It was at sometime between the 10th August, when the 53rd Welsh Division landed at Sulva Bay, and the 16th when the next letter was written that GCR was wounded. The story that he told was that he and a buddy were out on a patrol when they came under fire; both were hit. His buddy was hit in the thigh and incapacitated whereas GCR was wounded in the foot. GCR managed to make his back to their unit to fetch stretcher-bearers but by the time they were able to get back to the point where he had left his buddy, the hillside had caught fire and he was dead. This haunted GCR for the rest of his life.

Sulva bay photo

Gallipoli prior to the August landings

The Dardanelles campaign, as conceived by Winston Churchill early in 1915, was primarily intended to relieve Russia of Turkish pressure in the Caucasus and also assist her by opening supply lines to the Black Sea. Secondarily, knocking Turkey out of the war might have encouraged Bulgaria and Greece to declare on the side of the Entente. Also, by this time the western front consisted of trench fortifications from the North Sea to the Alps and so another route at the Central Powers through the “soft underbelly of Europe” was desirable.

The initial plan was for a purely naval assault to force the Dardanelles, threaten Constantinople and force Turkey to her knees. Several attempts to penetrate the straits in by the British and French fleets failed. On March 18th the final attempt was defeated and three battleships were lost to mines. The decision to commit the army to an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula was made on March 22nd by General Hamilton and Admiral De Robeck.

The landings took place on April 25th, the British at Cape Hellas, The Australians and New Zealanders further north at what was to become known as ANZAC Cove and the French, as a diversion, on the Asiatic shore. The landings at Cape Hellas were soon in disarray; 6500 casualties and little more than a foothold ashore. Confusion also reigned at ANZAC Cove, where the assault troops had landed one mile north of the intended beach. Before any significant gains could be made they were held up by Turkish troops under Mustafa Kemal (The future President Ataturk). 2900 ANZACs were killed or wounded.

Despite multiple offensives by both Allies and Turks over the next three months the situation became a stalemate with the Allies still clinging to their enclaves on the tip of the peninsula. Hamilton decided on a fresh landing further north to drive a Corps of fresh troops across the neck of peninsula thereby cutting off the Turkish routes for supply and reinforcements.

The landings would take place on August 6th at Suvla Bay while diversionary assaults were put in at ANZAC and Hellas.

IMG_4003

From Gallipoli, Alan Moorehead

August 1st 1915

August 1st 1915

GCR to Mam and Dad

GCR has arrived in Egypt after 11 days at sea in the Mediterranean. Although he couldn’t say from where he was writing this letter, we know that he had landed in Alexandria. (The 4th Battalion was ahead of SS Huntsgreen, the ship GCR traveled on, by one day and Bryn Davies’s diary refers to mooring at Alexandria on 29th July. Also the 50 nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital are known to have disembarked at Alexandria between the 30th July and 1st August – http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/nurses-at-gallipoli ).

Back at home, at this time, GCR’s 13 year old brother Dyfan was at a camp in Portmadoc of North Wales. His 16 year old sister, Mailys is expected to take her her Junior exam soon. This is the first we heard of GCR’s siblings. He also comments on his older brother Jon, or Jonathan Roberts, who was 26 at this time. At this time, GCR was in camp, most likely near the docks, in Alexandria; his first experience of the heat and the aggravating flies.

Mediterranean Exped Force                Sunday August 1st, 1915

Dear Mom and Dad 

Just a line to let you know that I am alright. Hoping you are all the same. I am still not allowed to tell you where we are only I am somewhere in Egypt at present. We were on the water for 11 days and it was very calm indeed. We called at Malta for a day it is a fine looking place. You can write to me as soon as you like only you must put the same address as when I was in Bedford but instead of Bedford put Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. I can tell you it is very funny to be without a letter for such a long time. Do you know where Jack Jones is … I may have a chance of seeing him. The weather here is very warm except at night when it is nice and cool. We wear light kaki drill uniforms and helmets out here because we would be absolutely roasted. This time last year I was on my holiday if you remember. This time I am having a rather warm holiday. I am short of note paper and envelopes or would write to Jon (GCR’s older brother) tell him so. I wrote to him last week also to you and a PC (Postcard) to Auntie Annie tell him I should like to hear from him. Is Nain Jones down? Give my love to her also Dylan (GCR’s Younger Brother) and Mailys (GCR’s Younger Sister). Has Dyfan been to Portmadoc in camp yet. I expect he has, hope he had a good time. Does he like keeping guard at night. The natives here are a dirty looking mob at least what I have seen of them. They will do you down under your nose. But they can’t do me because I have no money to be done of. They look funny in their baggy pants. How is Hughie Cooper getting on out in France. Give his father my kind regards. Flies are rather a nuisance here but things are not so bad as some like to make them out to be. At least I am not grumbling only I would rather be spending August Bank Holiday at home instead of out here. When you write to me let me know as much as the gossip as you like it will be a pleasure to have a bit of news. I hope your all well, give my love to Mailys, tell her I hope she will pass her junior exam alright, also to Dyfan. At least I could say more but I’m not allowed to. I am in the pink, hope your are all the same I close with the best of love to all.

I am your loving son Goronway

I was talking to a man belonging to the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) yesterday from New Tredegar, at least he was working there before the war as an engineer. He knows Mr. Rees. I do not no his name.

Map of Alexandria

 https://peterhbiles.wordpress.com/tag/dardanelles/

August 1st #1 August 1st # 2 August 1st #3 August 1st #4 August 1st #5 August 1st #6

Dyfan

Dyfan Roberts as a young boy dressed in Boer War Period Uniform

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