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On 25 April 1915, the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula were stormed by an Allied force in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the First World War and to turn the flank of the stalemated Western Front.
The expedition moved to the Middle East full of a strange sense of exaltation; here was an almost sacred mission aimed at Constantinople and the ending of a terrible struggle. The young poet, Rupert Brooke, himself a member of the expedition, wrote: ‘Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour’.
The land attack was a sequel to a naval attempt to force the Dardanelles a month previously. This put the Turks on their guard, and under a German General they had redeployed their forces and improved their defences.
86 Brigade, a Fusilier Brigade consisting of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 1st Battalions the Lancashire Fusiliers, Royal Munster Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was the first to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula, to cover the disembarkation of the rest of 29 Division.
Battalion Headquarters and two companies of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers sailed in HMS Implacable, the other two companies in a minesweeper. The Battalion had been allotted ‘X’ Beach, a narrow ribbon of sand about 200 yards long, with cliffs some 100 feet high rising steeply from the beach. The men rowed to the beach in the ship’s boats and covered by the fire of Implacable’s 12-inch guns, waded ashore when the boats grounded.
Scrambling up the cliff, ‘W’ and ‘X’ Companies quickly captured the foremost Turkish trenches. ‘W’ and half ‘Z’ Companies were quickly then ordered to capture Hill 114, 1,000 yards away to their right, in order to join hands with the Lancashire Fusiliers who were landing at ‘W’ Beach.
Hill 114 had been elaborately entrenched and was strongly defended, but after a stern fight the Fusiliers carried it at the point of the bayonet. Continuing their advance eastwards they met further strong opposition on the reverse side of the hill, but they eventually dislodged the Turks from their trenches and dug in for the night.
The capture of Hill 114 turned the scale on ‘W’ Beach, and with linking of the two beaches a foothold was established on the peninsula.
Meanwhile ‘X’ Company on the left was being heavily counter attacked but in the end they beat off the attacks and the position was consolidated. An official historian wrote ‘The success of the Royal Fusiliers at ‘X’ Beach must be set down as a particularly memorable exploit’.
The Battalion’s casualties that day amounted to nearly half its strength, and included the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, and all the Company Commanders
The 1st Battalion XX the Lancashire Fusiliers, were allotted ‘W’ Beach. This was a strip of deep, powdery sand about 350 yards long and 15 to 40 yards wide.
The Battalion set sail in HMS Euryalus, except for ‘D’ Company, who were in HMS Implacable. At 4am they transferred to the ship’s cutters, which were first towed, then rowed by sailors to the beaches.
At 5am the naval bombardment of the beaches began; there was no reply from the enemy. Shortly after 6am, the boats touched the shore, and immediately the Turks opened fire. Rifles, machine-guns and pom-poms kept up a ceaseless hail of shot. Many soldiers and sailors died in the boats; of those who struggled ashore through barbed-wire entanglements and deep, soft sand, few were unscathed. One much wounded Fusilier, struggling to get through the wire joked to a nearby officer: ‘Thou’st given me a bloody job’!
‘D’ Company, on the left flank, surprised the Turks, bayoneted the machine-gunners there, and relieved the pressure. The few remaining officers rallied the remainder of the Battalion, and they pressed on behind ‘D’ Company. Other Battalions linked up now from other landing places, and together, the high ground behind the beach was carried.
The Turkish counter-attacks continued long after dark, but they were successfully beaten off. The cost was high; at the end of the day only 11 officers and 399 other ranks remained fit for duty.
Six members of the Battalion were later awarded Victoria Crosses; Capt R R Willis, Capt C Bromley, Sgt A Richards, Sgt F E Stubbs (killed leading his platoon), LCpl J Grimshaw (for gallantry in signalling) and Pte W Keneally.
Gen Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the expedition, ordered that ‘W’ Beach should be renamed ‘Lancashire Landing’. He wrote in his despatch:
‘…So strong, in fact, were the defences of ‘W’ Beach that the Turks may well have considered them impregnable, and it is my firm conviction that no finer feat of arms has ever been achieved by the British Soldier - or any other soldier - than the storming of these beaches from open boats on the morning of 25 April. The landing at ‘W’ Beach had been entrusted to the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (Maj Bishop) and it was to the complete lack of the senses of danger or fear of this daring Battalion that we owe our astonishing success…’.
‘Gallantly led by their officers, the Fusiliers literally hurled themselves ashore, and fired at from right, left and centre, commenced hacking their way through the wire. A long line of men was at once mown down as by a scythe, but the remainder were not to be denied…’.
Vice-Admiral de Roebeck, in his despatch on the naval aspect of the operation wrote:
‘…It is impossible to exalt too highly the service rendered by the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in the storming of the beaches; the dash and gallantry displayed was superb…’.
And HMS Euryalus signalled:
‘We are proud as can be to have had the honour to carry your splendid Regiment. We feel for you all in your great losses as if you were our own ship’s company, but know the magnificent gallantry of your Regiment has made the name more famous than ever’.
Gallipoli Sunday: The Sunday nearest 25 April is observed in Bury by the Regiment as the Annual Regimental Commemoration Sunday to commemorate ‘Lancashire Landing’ or more correctly ‘Landing at Helles’.