THE INCOMPARABLE 29th AND THE "RIVER CLYDE"
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THE INCOMPARABLE 29th AND THE "RIVER CLYDE"
BY GEORGE DAVIDSON, M.A., M.I).
Major RAMC ABERDEEN JAMES GORDON BISSET 85 BROAD STREET
TO THE STRETCHER-BEARERS OF THE 89th FIELD AMBULANCE IN WARM ADMIRATION OF THEIR
CONSTANT ZEAL AND PLUCK AND IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE MANY EXCITING TIMES WE HAD
I had not the slightest intention of ever publishing these notes in book form
while jotting them down for the sole purpose of giving my wife some connected
idea of how we at the Front were spending our time. I found, to my surprise,
that keeping a diary was a great pleasure, and I rarely missed the opportunity
of taking notes at odd times-and often in odd places.
Several of my friends read the parts as I sent them home, and it is on the
valued advice of one in particular that I now offer these scraps to the public.
I make practically no change on the original, but in a few places, for the sake
of sequence, or more fulness, I have made additions. These are always in
brackets. Some of the remarks in the original might safely be published fifty
years hence, but at present the war is too recent for these to see the light of
A graphical description of the despatch of the 29th Division to Gallipoli in
1915 and the bloody and horrendous landing at Cape Helles.
The British 29th Division, known as the Incomparable Division, was a First World
War regular army infantry division formed in early 1915 by combining various
units that had been acting as garrisons about the British Empire. Under the
command of Major General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, the division fought throughout
the Battle of Gallipoli, including the original landing at Cape Helles. From
1916 to the end of the war the division fought on the Western Front in France.
The 29th Division served on the Gallipoli peninsula for the duration of the
ill-fated campaign. It made the first landings in April of 1915 and was among
the last to leave in January of 1916. The division suffered through the worst of
the fighting at Cape Helles before being moved to fight on the Suvla front as
On the morning of April 25, 1915 the Battle of Gallipoli began when battalions
from the division's 86th and 87th Brigades landed at five beaches around Cape
Helles at the tip of the peninsula. Three of the landings faced little or no
opposition but were not exploited. The two main landings, at V and W Beaches on
either side of the cape, met with fierce Turkish resistance and the landing
battalions were decimated.
The original objectives of the first day of the campaign had been the village of
Krithia and the nearby hill of Achi Baba. The first concerted attempt to capture
these was made by the division three days after the landings on April 28. In
this First Battle of Krithia an advance up the peninsula was made but the
division was halted short of its objective and suffered around 3,000 casualties.
The attack was resumed on May 6 with the launch of the Second Battle of Krithia.
On this occasion the 88th Brigade attacked along Fig Tree Spur and, after two
days of fighting without significant progress, it was relieved by the New
Zealand Infantry Brigade.
On June 4 the 88th Brigade was once more required to make an advance along Fig
Tree Spur in the Third Battle of Krithia. In the subsequent counter-attacks,
Second Lieutenant G.R.D Moor of the 2nd Hampshires was awarded the Victoria
Cross for shooting four of his own men who attempted to retreat.
Headquarters of the 29th Division at Cape Helles.
The division finally saw successful fighting at Helles during the Battle of
Gully Ravine on June 28 when the 86th Brigade managed to advance along Gully
Spur. As a prelude to the launch of the August Offensive, a "diversion" was
carried out at Helles on August 6 to prevent the Turks withdrawing troops. In
what became known as the Battle of Krithia Vineyard, the 88th Brigade made
another costly and futile attack along the exposed Krithia Spur.
At Suvla, the Battle of Scimitar Hill on August 21 was the final push of the
failed August Offensive. The 29th Division had been moved from Helles to Suvla
to participate. The 87th Brigade was briefly able to capture the summit of the
hill but was soon forced to retreat. The division was evacuated from Gallipoli
and January 2, 1916 and moved to Egypt before being sent to France in March.
The SS River Clyde was a 4,000 ton collier built in Glasgow in 1905 and named
after the River Clyde in Scotland. On April 25, 1915, the River Clyde was used
as a Trojan horse for the landing at Cape Helles during the Battle of Gallipoli.
The ship, carrying 2,000 soldiers, mainly from the 1st Battalion of the Royal
Munster Fusiliers, 29th Division, was beached beneath the Sedd el Bahr castle at
V Beach, Cape Helles, on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. However, the plan
failed and the River Clyde, lying under the guns of the Turkish defenders,
became a death trap.
For the landing, the River Clyde was commanded by Commander Edward Unwin, a
former merchant seaman and Royal Navy officer who had returned from retirement
at the start of the war to command the torpedo gunboat, HMS Hussar, in the
Mediterranean. The River Clyde had a battery of eleven machine guns from the
Royal Naval Air Service under the command of Josiah Wedgwood mounted on the bow
behind boiler plate and sandbags. Holes had been cut in the steel hull to
provide sally ports from which the troops would emerge onto gangways and then to
a bridge of smaller boats linking the ship to the beach. The hull was to be
painted a sandy yellow as camouflage but the work was incomplete by the time of
Three attempts were made to get ashore by companies of the Munsters and The
Hampshire Regiment but all ended in costly failure. Further attempts to land
were abandoned and the surviving soldiers waited until nightfall before trying
again. The efforts of sailors to maintain the bridge from the ship to the beach,
and to recover the wounded, were rewarded by six Victoria Crosses. The
recipients were Commander Unwin (aged 51), Midshipmen George Drewry (20) and
Wilfred Malleson (18), Able Seaman William Williams (34), Seaman George Samson
(26) and Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Tisdall (24) from the Royal Naval Division (RND).
Of these men, only Williams died during the landing. Samson was severely wounded
to following day. On his return to Scotland he was handed a white feather while
wearing civilian clothes. Tisdall was killed on May 6 when the 6th (Hood)
Battalion of the RND, made its advance along Kanli Dere during the Second Battle
of Krithia. Drewry, Samson and Williams had come from the Hussar along with
Unwin. Malleson, who died in 1975, served on the battleship HMS Cornwallis.
After the Helles beachhead was established, V Beach became the base for the
French contingent and the River Clyde remained beached as a dock and breakwater.
Her condensers were used to provide fresh water and a field dressing station was
established in the hull. She remained a constant target for Turkish gunners on
the Asian shore.
In 1919, after the war had ended, the River Clyde was refloated and taken to
Malta for repairs. As a tramp steamer, she was operated by Spanish shipping
companies for another 50 years in the Mediterranean under various names, the
last being Maruja y Aurora. In 1965 there was an attempt to purchase the River
Clyde for preservation but in 1966 she was sold for scrap instead and broken up
at Aviles, Spain.
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