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From Orkney to Gallipoli
(By Brian Budge)
(3 Biographies of men from the Islands, killed in 1915 at Gallipoli)
David Stuart Spence was born on the 18th November 1892 in Stromness, the third son of William Spence, a baker born in Victoria, Australia, and Susanna Spence (née Smith), born in Stromness where she and William married in 1888. Stuart went to school in the town and then became a student at Edinburgh University. He had just graduated M.A. from the university, when successfully applied for a commission in the Special Reserve of Officers in March 1915.
Stuart had served in Edinburgh University O.T.C. as a gunner and attended 88 drills there, so was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in his preferred branch, the Royal Field Artillery. Stuart joined the 2/1st East Lancs Brigade RFA in the south of England. After a few months training, Stuart was posted to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and travelled out to Gallipoli.
Stuart landed at Cape Helles on the 20th September and joined the 1/1st East Lancs Brigade RFA. However, two days later he was transferred to join 66th Brigade RFA, one of several, of the always too few, British field artillery brigades that served away from their parent division at Gallipoli. The 66th Brigade remained at Helles, while its division, the New Army 13th, moved to Anzac and then to Suvla (it eventually returned to Helles after Stuart’s death).
The Gallipoli campaign had settled down to trench warfare when Stuart Spence arrived there, but the artillery was kept busy supporting minor British attacks and stopping those of the Turks, also in the continuous counter-battery fire. The French had started to withdraw their Senegalese infantry on 12th December, but Stuart's battery, "A" of the 66th Brigade, was probably firing in support of the French when he was killed in action on the next day.
A letter sent to his father in March 1916 stated that Second Lieutenant D.S. Spence, Royal Field Artillery, was buried at Zimmerman Farm Cemetery (French) and that the Rev. J. Duncan officiated. However, that grave was not identified when the Imperial War Graves Commission consolidated the Gallipoli cemeteries after the Armistice, so David Stuart Spence is commemorated on Panel 21 of the impressive Helles Memorial. Stuart was 23 years old, when he died on 13th December 1915 on Gallipoli.
James was born at Silverhall, in Lady parish on the island of Sanday on the 9th July 1885, the second son of James Moodie and Margaret Moodie (née King). James Senior worked as an engine driver and journeyman, then as a meal miller after the family moved to Icegarth in Cross and Burness parish. When he had finished his schooling on Sanday, young James left his large family and moved into a boarding house at 1 Bridge Street in Kirkwall. He served an apprenticeship as a shop assistant with Bailie J.F. Flett and Dean-of-Guild P.C. Flett and then moved to Kelso to work in a shop there. James was keen to see more of the world, so in 1907 he joined the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers. It was then stationed at Cairo in Egypt, where James was to spend most of his army career.
In 1911, the 1st K.O.S.B. left Egypt for India and was stationed at Lucknow when war broke out. The Battalion left Bombay on the 30th October 1914 and remained in reserve when three other battalions landed to drive the Turks out of Sheikh Sa'ad Peninsula and western corner of Arabia on the 10th November. James landed at Ismailia on the 16th November, when 1st K.O.S.B. became part of the 22nd Indian Brigade, general reserve of the Suez Canal Defence Force. The Battalion left Alexandria on the 15th December and reached Plymouth on the 28th. In the middle of January 1915, the 1st K.O.S.B. joined the 87th Brigade of 29th Division at Rugby. James was able to return home to Orkney for a short spell of leave, rejoining his battalion before it sailed from Avonmouth on the 18th March, to reach Alexandria again on the 30th.
The 1st K.O.S.B. sailed to Mudros on the 16th April and left there in the evening of the 24th in the cruisers Amethyst and Sapphire to land on Gallipoli. At 5 am the next day the Scottish Borderers lead a company of 2nd South Wales Borderers and the Plymouth Royal Marine Battalion ashore from cutters towed by trawlers at Y Beach, the furthest north landing beach at Helles. Fortunately only four Turks opposed the Borderers as they scrambled up the steep cliffs and then pushed forward 300 yards to the edge of Gully Ravine.
The force waited, in vain, for British troops to advance from the southern Helles beaches to join it and only at 3 pm began to entrench on top of the cliff above Y Beach. Turkish field gun fire started an hour later and at 5.40 pm a series of fierce infantry attacks began that continued through the night. The Turks had withdrawn by daylight, but had inflicted heavy British casualties, ammunition was short and requests for reinforcements met no response. Evacuation of the wounded from Y Beach in the morning of the 26th lead unintentionally to an increasing stream of demoralised men also boarding the boats and by noon the whole force had withdrawn.
James Moodie did not live to join the withdrawal, having become one of 1st K.O.S.B.’s 296 casualties in the night attacks. James’s body was not identified after the war and he is now commemorated on Panel 90 of the Helles Memorial. James died at Y Beach aged 29.
George was born in Pilrig, Edinburgh on the 1st June 1891. Both his parents were born Orcadians; father George was a native of South Ronaldsay who became an egg merchant in Leith and his mother Esther was born in Kirkwall. George’s father died from an abdominal tumour when he was only a year old. His maternal grandparents, stone mason John Lennie and his wife Jane, moved to Edinburgh to help bring up their daughter’s only child, while George’s mother found work as a dressmaker. When he left school George completed a trade as a compositor, but also joined the Territorials at the age of 17. He had served for six years in the 7th (Leith) Battalion, The Royal Scots when Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914.
After serving the winter on coast defence duties, the 1/4th and 1/7th Royal Scots prepared for service abroad after they replaced two battalions of the Scottish Rifles (sent to France) in the Lowland Division in March 1915. Like most of his battalion, George readily undertook to serve overseas and expected to be sent to the Western Front, but enough failed to volunteer to require making up “B” Company of volunteers from 8th Highland Light Infantry.
In the middle of May some new equipment was issued and other withdrawn, after Kitchener decided to send the Lowland Division (numbered 52nd on 11th May) to Gallipoli. The 1/7th Royal Scots left Larbert in two trains on 22nd May for Liverpool. George was fortunate not to be on the train that was involved in the Gretna railway disaster, which cost the battalion 214 killed and 224 seriously injured. These included the entire signal section, so George and other volunteers under Captain Wightman trained as signallers on board Empress of Britain while it sailed to Malta, then Alexandria and Mudros. George landed at W Beach on the 12th June with his half-strength battalion, which moved into the front line a week later.
On the 28th June 87th Brigade of 29th Division attacked five Turkish trench lines between Gully Ravine and the sea, while the 156th Brigade of 52nd Division attacked the H11 and H12 trench lines just inland of Gully Ravine. Almost all the available artillery was allotted to support the attack on Gully Spur, so the Scots suffered more from Turkish artillery fire on their own crowded trenches than benefited from the British preliminary artillery bombardment.
At 11am, the 1/7th and 1/4th Royal Scots charged the Turkish H trench lines on Fir Tree Spur. Despite taking terrible losses the Turks were killed or driven out by the Royal Scots, but the attack of the 1/8th Scottish Rifles on the right failed disastrously. The 1/7th Royal Scots’ signal section tried to run out a telephone line from captured trench H12 to Battalion H.Q. under heavy Turkish fire. Captain Wightman was wounded three times, Sergeant George Rosie was killed and the other four signallers joined the 1/7th Royal Scots’ total of 239 casualties that day.
George Rosie is now remembered, with many of his fellow Royal Scots, on Panel 26 of the Helles Memorial.
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