On 7th August 1914 orders were received by 1st Battalion, Dorchester Regiment on eve of their departure to France to dispatch 3 officers and 15 N.C.O’S to Dorchester to form the nucleus for a new ‘Service’ Battalion. 3 days later recruiting for the ‘new’ Battalion commenced, it was commanded by Major C. C. Hannay who was the Commanding Officer of the Depot in Dorchester.
Following the six-month training period the Battalion redeployed to Witley Camp near Hindhead where it becomes part of 34th Brigade, which in turn is sent to join General Sir Ian Hamilton’s Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (M.E.F.) in Gallipoli.
They were transported to Liverpool and on 2nd July embarked on the RMS Aquitania, a modern Cunard Liner (launched in 1913) that had been converted as troop carrier as one of six battalions on the ship. The ship sailed on the following day at 1400 hours so as to pass through the danger areas off the Scilly Isles and Cornish coast in the hours of darkness.
July 3rd at 06.00 hours, escorting destroyers parted company. At 06.30 hours a torpedo was fired at the Aquitania 100 miles west of the Scilly Isles, it missed the ship, but the Aquitania undertook an evasive course for next 2 days, changing course every 15 minutes. Three days later the Aquitania passed through the strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea.
July 7th: RMS Aquitania passed close to an enemy submarine that was surfaced taking on fuel from a tram steamer. Neither vessel was able to attack each other as the Aquitania had no armaments of its own.
The Battalion arrives on July 10th off the coast of Lemnos and landed in force on the 11th July and duly transferred to Imbros and although not in immediate action sickness began to take its toll. During the first week in August, the Battalion was again taken by sea to be landed by ‘Lighters’ there were some casualties from Turkish fire whilst on board the ship. The Battalion eventually landed in Sulva Bay and formed up on the beach having got ashore in rowing boats because the ‘Lighters’ has become grounded.
Over the next month the Battalion were in almost continuous action against the Turkish forces, their losses being so heavy that by the 22nd of the month, they were only able muster 250 men fit to fight as opposed to the 800 or so that began the campaign. The remnants of the Battalion were temporarily amalgamated with the 11th Manchester’s.
Additionally the troops suffered from various forms of sickness associated with the climate and poor rations. There were also difficulties in supplying the men with clean water, rations and shelter. Stuart Hibberd, a 2nd Lieutenant in the Battalion describes a Corporal –
Sticking his fork into a piece of meat in his mess tin and it becoming black with flies on the way to his mouth, and I can hear him saying now, “Go ye devils, where your bloody brothers have gone” as he put the meat into his mouth flies and all!
In late September whilst the entire Brigade was in reserve enough men and officers had been drafted to enable the 5th Dorset’s and 11th Manchester’s to resume their separate formations. On September 28th the 5th returned to the trench with over 550 men, but still short of officers. A large proportion of men continued to be plagued by sickness with both diarrhea & dysentery affecting nearly all men. The new medical officer, Lieutenant Willocks of the R.A.M.C gradually reduced the numbers on morning sick parade and those admitted to hospital.
In November the Battalion is withdrawn from the trenches, but continuous storms result in further sickness and hardship for the men in the Battalion whose positions and kit are flooded. To escape the storms and bitter cold, the Battalion on the orders of a subaltern took refuge on the beach on the southern slope. The atrocious weather accounted for number of lives, the one redeeming factor being that the Turks suffered as harshly.
Over the next two months the 5th are redeployed in the region, but see no further action against the Turks before finally withdrawing to Egypt in January 1916