My Great Uncle George Pike took the Kings Shilling in 1914, joining the Gloucestershire Yeomanry as a Trooper in 1914, in the initial surge of jingoistic patriotism that convinced many that having dusted off the beastly Hun, they would be home before Christmas.
George was not much of a writer, so there were few letters home in the initial period of training, however he did surface once the Regiment was posted out to partake in the doomed Gallipoli Campaign. There he landed at “A” Beach Suvla Bay 18th August 1915, subsequently taking part in the attack at Chocolate Hill & Hill 112 on 21st August 1915. The Regiment continued in trench warfare activities in Green Hill & Chocolate Hill sectors until evacuated to Mudros 31st October 1915. Their numbers had been literally decimated – only 81 men of all ranks walked away.
The 2 year period 1914-16 saw promotion for George 5 times, culminating in ending his Army career as Squadron Sergeant Major. Much of the information in this period is only available from Regimental War Diaries which to say the least are rather sketchy. The period of the Gallipoli campaign were handwritten on a note pad in pencil, and most of the 1916 period was lost post WW2.
Here follows an extract from the Diary of A. H. S. Howard [‘D’ Sqn 1/1 RGHY] written Wednesday, 2nd June 1915 from Mudros Bay, Lemnos. Greek islands, Aegean Sea east of Gallipoli Peninsular.
“Col.Paul, Director of Works turns up and orders us ashore at once. Some of us probably going to day as advance party. I’m bored with the idea. Another bomb dropped on our camp at 12 morn. I don’t know if any damage is done or not. Three more bombs dropped. Colonel Paul R. E. insists on getting a move on and makes Admiralty send us a transport to go ashore. They send a lighter at 3 p.m. but the tug goes off and hasn’t returned, 7.15 p.m., so we shall refuse to go to night. We have loaded it up ready. Colonel Paul has gone to Alexandria so probably no tug will come, We shall probably have to unload it tomorrow again. I am lucky to be alongside the Umsinga. I have drawn everything I want including 17 pairs canvas trousers for the men. Corpl. Pike has been most useful with the boat, which we use all day. I am getting up quite a good boat’s crew. There was a lot of wind to day and it was quite hard work rowing the old tub. 8 p.m. Went over to the Aragon and made final arrangements to get a tug at 9 a.m. to-morrow to take us ashore. This will be the fifth time I have packed my clothes. I wonder if we shall ever get off the island again. I should think there would be difficulties when once we are ashore.”
The last sentence is a perfect example of good old fashioned Brit stiff upper lip.
Another Diary Extract is from E. T. Cripps [‘D’ Sqn 1/1 RGHY]. Written 30th September 1915 from the Trenches of Gallipoli :
“The mail goes to-day and I must send you a line. It is 6.30 and am lying in my valise. Now we are in reserve we can get up pretty well when we like and take our boots off. I have taken my trousers off the last two nights and got inside my flea-bag with only a shirt on — very comfortable after sleeping in one’s clothes and boots for the last six weeks. I have been rather seedy with a mild form of dysentery; it makes one feel rather a rag. I can’t think what they will do with us if they don’t send our reinforcements on. The Brigade-Regiment is now 250 men — started at 960; 50 went to hospital yesterday. It was fatal sending us from Alexandria here, when the men were so pulled down from that poisonous Chatby. If they had come out from home straight they could have stood it, but it is no use sending half-sick men on a campaign like this. I had bad luck the day before yesterday — had two men (in my Troop) hit by shrapnel. One, Barnet from Bristol, a gentleman and such a nice chap, and a great loss to me. All my old warriors, Pike, Welsby, and Philp, have been so bad. I fear two of them will go to hospital to-day, and you never see them again, as they have to be shipped off to get well.… I have picked a lot of bushy soft stuff with a little yellow flower, and dry and put it under my valise. It just keeps one off this damp clay soil. Smith mended my valise with a wonderful patch yesterday! We miss the good water we had at the old well at the support trench Mess dug-out. It is nothing like so good or clean here….I have never got the fly sprayer. It will have to be a very wonderful machine to cope with them here. One gets callous now to them and you simply brush them off when you can’t stand more than twelve on your face at a time !“
This is an extract from the History of the RGHY 1898-1922 (The Great Cavalry Campaign in Palestine) & a description of a typically nasty engagement of the time & place :
“On April 3 1916 Brig.-Gen. Wiggin arrived at Romani and assumed command of the troops.
Reconnaissances from Romani continued. A Worcester squadron went out to Bir-el-Abd on April 9 and found an enemyforce just arriving there. The squadron returned without casualties after killing two of the enemy. A German aeroplane visited Romani and Qatia on April 19, dropping two bombs on the latter camp. On April 21 an outpost of our position at Romani was attacked before dawn by an enemy patrol which withdrew on our opening fire. There were no casualties.
On April 23 the regiment suffered severely in a successful attack by the enemy on Qatia and Oghratina. The position onApril 22 was that a party of R.E.’s had been sent by the 52 nd Division to Oghratina to dig wells. Two squadrons of the Worcester Yeomanry were sent to cover them, and ” A” Squadron R.G.H., with one Machine Gun Sub-Section, under Capt. M. G. Lloyd-Baker was ordered to Qatia to take charge of the camp. On his taking over there he was left with about 40
Worcester Yeomanry details, mostly dismounted, and detachments of the R.A.M.C. and the Mobile Veterinary Column.
Under Capt. Lloyd-Baker were the following officers : Lieut. Lord Elcho (2nd in Command), Lieut. A. W. Strickland, 2nd Lieut. C. C. Herbert, and 2nd Lieut. W. A. Smith. Other ranks of the R.G.H. numbered 101
On April 23 a patrol was sent out about 4 a.m. and returned at 5 a.m. Shortly after an enemy patrol attacked our outpost lineand then retired. About the same time an attack was made by the enemy on Oghratina and repulsed. At 6.30 a.m. Oghratina was again attacked, and at 7 it reported that it was ” heavily attacked on all sides.” Communication was then lost with this camp, which was evidently captured about 7.30 a.m. A dense fog enveloped the country up to about 9 a.m. At 7.45 a patrol was sent out from Qatia towards Oghratina, and about 11 miles from Qatia encountered the enemy advancing in force. An hour afterwards the enemy opened fire with a field battery of four guns, assisted by an aeroplane ” spotter.” The fire was first directed on to the spot which had been occupied by the horses of the Worcester Squadron. Captain Lloyd-Baker had selected other lines for his horses, and the Turkish gunners were soon given this information, possibly by a ” peaceful ” agriculturist up a tree. In any case, they switched the fire on to the R.G.H. horses with great accuracy, thereby destroying them in a very short space of time. The enemy’s infantry attack then developed. Evidently he was in strong force, but the R.G.H. ” A ” Squadron was cheered by the news that ” B ” and ” D ” Squadrons were moving out from Romani to come to their support on the left, and by the arrival of Col. Coventry with one squadron of Worcesters, which came out from Bir-el-Hamisah and went into action on the left. The enemy fell back on this flank, and for a brief time it seemed that the position might be retrieved.
Shortly after noon, however, the enemy opened fire with his artillery again, and at 2 p.m. shelled the camp heavily, setting the hospital tent on fire and causing severe casualties in the firing line. An infantry attack followed. The R.G.H. kept their position gallantly until about 3 p.m., when the camp was rushed. Only nine of the R.G.H. succeeded in getting away. Neither of the relief forces
could save the situation. The two squadrons of R.G.H. that had moved out from Romani engaged the enemy heavily, and after suffering severely and losing, among others, Lieut. and Adjt. Lord Quenington, had to fall back on Romani. At Romani he O.C. tried to ascertain if there were any hope of infantry reinforcements moving out to his assistance, and, not getting any assurance of help, decided to fall back to rail-head.“
Subsequently Military Medals for gallantry in this action were awarded to :
S.Q.M.S. J. Cross, Sergt. H. A. Colborn, Lce.-Corpl. A. C. Wheeler, Lce.-Corpl. G. Castle, Pte. G. P. Pike.
In addition , Pike (now Sergt. G P Pike )was mentioned in dispatches for distinguished & gallant services rendered August 16.
He received a further promotion in October 1916 & was discharged from the R.G.H. as Squadron Sergeant Major.
His war was not over though, far from it. His boat skills had been noticed (having a MM would have helped) & he was transferred to the Senior Service with the rank of Lieutenant. He probably thought anywhere out of Palestine would be an improvement in terms of survivability. In strict terms he was probably correct, but the relentless daily attrition on nerve & body was to continue for George in a different theatre – the North Atlantic.
To be continued.
© DJM 2018