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The Collingwood Battalion and The Gallipoli Campaign

iThe New Collingwood Battalion and Gallipoli

The new Battalion started training at Crystal Palace before moving to Blandford Camp in Dorset. Their time at Blandford was spent on learning trench construction and trench warfare. It turned out to be a very wet and muddy experience.  It was at Blandford that the training was completed. Collingwood was in the 2nd Brigade with Hood, Howe, and Anson. Four of the Battalions left for Egypt in early March, Collingwood and two other Battalions left Blandford at 5am on May 10th 1915 for Plymouth and from there embarkation on H.M Transport Ivernia. There was a complement of 1,700 men on board.

The journey was a pleasant one, the men looking forward to at last seeing some action. One small incident occurred, while in the Bay of Biscay the ship encountered what can only be described as a little rolling weather, nothing serious. The men and officers suddenly had what they called a reaction to the vaccination they had before leaving, which mysteriously affected their appetites. When the Quarter Master asked for a party of 20 men to work in the hold, he found the Officer on the deck reclining in a deckchair looking a little green. The Quarter Master imagined that the same ailment had probably hit all the men, but fortunately 20 of the stronger ones were found to work.

The ship finally arrived at Mudros around the 23rd May having stopped at Gibraltar and Malta on the way. During the next week the men resumed training, particularly getting fit and acclimatizing which included route marches and field work.

The orders came through on Thursday 27th May that the men would be leaving for the front. On Saturday 29th they left Mudros at 7pm packed into four lighters arriving off Cape Helles at 2am. They were then taken off in trawlers leaving all their stores on board. Once on the beach the Battalion marched about 1 ½ miles to their temporary camp, they soon settled down to sleep. The stores were landed on the Monday then orders came for the Battalion to proceed to the trenches.

The Battalion left at 7pm, soon reaching the reserve trenches where for the next three days they worked digging and routine duties. On the Wednesday they were told they had four days stand easy. Shelling of the camps was continuous, but on their return to camp the guns were relatively quiet. On the Thursday orders were received that the stand easy was to be curtailed and that the Battalion were to go up to the trenches that night to take part in an attack the following day.

At 1.30am the Battalion started to make their way to the trenches, reaching there without casualties

June 4th 1915. Gallipoli.

The 2nd brigade of the Royal Naval Division were on the left of the French with Anson, Hood and Howe. The Collingwoods were in support. The attack was to be a straight forward trench assault, any hold up would open the unit next in line to catastrophic fire from uncaptured Turkish positions.

The day was hot and for hours the troops had to wait in stinking trenches amongst the dead from earlier battles and beset by millions of flies.

Howe, Hood and Anson went over the top at 12noon into a hail of fire, but despite heavy losses they managed to capture the Turkish front line.

The Collingwood Battalion were in support and “A” Company Collingwood went over at 12.15 in support of Anson. They suffered heavy losses covering the 400yds to the Turkish trenches. They tried to reach a second trench, but were force to retire. “B” Company Collingwood went up to the communication trench and into the Hood firing line. At 12.10 they went over the top. Up to 400 yards of No Man’s Land lay ahead. They reached the first trench with heavy loses, but by then they did not know of “A” Company’s’ retirement. Reinforcements were ordered, but before they could get there, the Turks had regained the trench on the right and “B” Company were also ordered to retire.

“D” Company were ordered into the firing line to support Howe and as soon as they reached there they went over. They reached a dummy trench after 100yds but with no support when they attempted to advance they too retired, again with losses.

Three companies were ordered to dig a communication trench between theirs and the enemies should the attack be successful. They went over at 12.30 and immediately stated digging, seeing the front line retiring they hung on and managed to advance to a little cover. But they too soon had to retire.

This ended the day for the Collingwood Battalion. A series of advancement then retirement resulted in heavy losses for the Battalion, the most painful was the loss of all but two of the officers.

The next day June 5th, the remaining Collingwood were relieved that night from the support trench and returned to the dug-out at Backhouse Post. Here on the next morning, the Turks stated shelling, although the Battalion took cover in the dugout it did not stop another 15-20 casualties being added to the already high toll.

That afternoon the Battalion returned to its own camp and the next two days were spent in squaring everything up. On June 8th the Collingwood and Benbow Battalions was disbanded with the survivors being attached to other Battalions as reinforcements.

The Royal Naval Division stayed on Gallipoli for the rest of the campaign, taking part in a battle on July 12th in reserve for the 52nd Division. By the 25th July conditions had become desperate with sickness rife among the men.  Two decisions were made, firstly all stokers [300] were to return to sea and the rest were reduced to two Brigades. Drake, Nelson, Hawke and Hood in the first and ½ Royal Marine, Anson and Howe in second. These men served in the front line until the evacuation in January 1916.