Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Those are familiar verses and each year on 11th November, I've taken part, often led, a small service to remember those who didn't return home. The poppies and the wreaths, the march to the war memorial, where heads are bowed and we swear to never forget the price that our forebears paid for our freedom. The years have now passed and next year, 2014, will be the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, a war fought in mud and sand to honour agreements made by countries to defend each other in a bid to retain powerful allies.
As I've discovered my family over the past few months, I've come across several members who fought and died in the trenches of Flanders and knowing their stories, this Remebrance Sunday will be more personal for me.
Tom Ballantyne's war story is different and quite unique.
In Aug 1914, the 1st and 5th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was a territorail unit stationed at Ayr and with the 1st and 4th Kilmarnock divsion, joined to make the South Scottish Brigade of the Lowland Division, and together, moved to Stirling. On 11th May 1915, they became the 155th Brigade of the 52nd Lowland Division.
Soon after, Tom and his comrades embarked for the Mediterranean from Liverpool, arriving at Mudros, a small Greek port on the island of Lemnos. This was a stategic port for the British in their attempt to seize control of the Dardanelle Straights, 50km away. It was also a stopping of point for troops on their way to Gallipoli.
- The Battles of Gully Ravine - fought at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula.. After two days of heavy bombardment, battle began at 10.45 am on 28 June with a preliminary raid to capture the Boomerang Redoubt on Gully Spur. The general advance commenced shortly afterwards. The artillery fire on Gully Spur was overwhelming and the 2/10th Gurkha Rifles and the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers advanced rapidly a distance of half a mile to a point named "Fusilier Bluff" which was to become the northern-most Allied position at Helles. In the ravine the 1st Battalion, Border Regiment did not advance as far as those troops on the spur since the Ottomans there were somewhat sheltered from the deadly bombardment from the sea. Their final position was fortified with rocks and boulders and became known as "Border Barricade".
On the right of the advance, along Fir Tree Spur, the battle did not go so well for the British. The inexperienced soldiers of the 156th Brigade lacked artillery support and were massacred by Ottoman machine guns and bayonet attacks. Despite the opposition, they were ordered to press the attack and so the support and reserve lines were sent forward but made no progress. By the time the attack was halted the Brigade was at half strength, having suffered 1,400 casualties of which 800 had been killed. Some battalions were so depleted they had to be merged into composite formations. When the rest of the 52nd Division landed, Tom being one of these men, the commander, Major General Granville Egerton, was enraged at the manner in which his 156th Brigade had been sacrificed.
Faik Paşa, known for his bravery and aggressiveness was put in charge of the right wing of the Ottoman line at Sıĝındere.
The Ottomans, with plentiful manpower in reserve but lacking any significant artillery and machine guns, made incessant counter-attacks culminating with the strongest on 5 July but all were repulsed. Still, the control of the strategic hills overlooking Sıgındere and Kerevizdere were denied to the Allies by massive Ottoman bayonet attacks. The Ottoman casualties for the period between 28 June and 5 July are estimated at between 14,000 and 16,000, four times the British losses. Where possible the Ottoman dead were burned but a truce to bury them was refused. The British believed the dead bodies were an effective barrier and that Ottoman soldiers were unwilling to attack across them. This was one of the few truly unvalorous and unmagnanimous acts committed by Allies which infuriated the Ottoman greatly.
In the face of immense losses, Faik Paşa had stopped the counterattack on the morning of 30 June. In spite of strong and direct urging from Liman Paşa (Otto Liman von Sanders) and pressure to continue the counter-attack, he wanted to rest his badly decimated troops for a day. Hesitation of Faik Paşa unnerved Weber Paşa who was in command of the front there. He contemplated pulling back behind the ever strategic Alçı Tepe as a last resort. This would have given over complete victory to the Allies. He had to be strongly dissuaded by Liman Paşa.
Finally, the Ottoman 1st Division led by Lieutenant Colonel (Kaymakam) Cafer Tayyar Bey commenced another counterattack at 18:00 on 2 July. Again, though they reached within 30m of the British trenches, the losses were unbearable. Men were melting away in front of rows of machine guns. Attack continued through the night. Eventually Faik Paşa ordered them to dig in and take a defensive posture. Liman Paşa immediately released him and assigned Mehmet Ali Paşa in his place. As soon as the 3rd Division crossed the Narrows and arrived at the lines around midnight, Mehmet Ali Paşa ordered them to attack. At 3:45 am. Liman Paşa agreed to delay the attack for 24 hours only after a Major Eggert on the staff of Mehmet Ali Paşa personally appealed to him.
Meanwhile the Allies had observed the preparation for the attack from the air and made their own preparations. On 5 July the last major attack of this battle commenced but met with a very strong wall of fire from the Allies. The dead were mounting again in front of the British trenches. Mehmet Ali Paşa and his staff were of the opinion that the Allied advance was already halted and there was no need for these heavy losses. Mehmet Ali Paşa, in fear of a reaction from Liman Paşa, who was in turn initimidated by Enver Paşa hesitated. Again, Major Eggert intervened and Liman Paşa yielded. Finally the slaughter was stopped. This was the bloodiest episode in the entire campaign.
After the counter-attacks ceased, the front line stabilised and remained largely static for the rest of the Gallipoli campaign although both sides engaged in a vigorous mining war around the ravine.
The plan was for one brigade to attack in the morning and the other to attack in the afternoon so that the full weight of artillery support could be lent to each brigade. The 155th Brigade (Tom's Brigade) would attack at 7..35 am and the 157th at 4.50 pm. Bombardment began at 4:30 am, from land, sea and air. Fourteen Allied planes participated in softening up the Ottoman defences, one of the first such combined actions in military history.
Both attacks began well with the capture of the first Ottoman trench but descended into chaos and confusion as, in a repeat of the April and May Helles battles, the troops advanced too far, lost contact and came under artillery and machine gun fire. The next morning confusion and panic resulted in a disorderly retreat which was eventually halted. Hunter-Weston ordered the advance to resume and sent the battered Royal Naval Division in again. They suffered a further 600 casualties on this occasion but the line was stabilised.
By the end of the battle, one third of the 52nd Division had become casualties. General Egerton was temporarily dismissed from his command of the division for protesting at the treatment of his troops.
The first shipload of rails and sleepers arrived at Kantara on 10 March 1916 and, four weeks later, 16 miles (26 km) of track stretching towards Katia had been laid by the Egyptian Labour Corps and Royal Engineers. There were also two new appointments: Brigadier General Edgar Askin Wiggin took command of the Katia district on 6 April and, three days later, Major General H. A. Lawrence became responsible for No. 3 Sector of the canal defences, which covered the northern section.
The Ottoman and Arab force travelled across the Sinai Peninsula on the northern route, which runs not far from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and nearly parallel with it. A series of oases with date palms and reliable water stretch for 15 miles (24 km) from Bir el Abd in the east to Oghratina, Katia and Romani near the Suez Canal. These oases make the northern route from the Ottoman-Egyptian Frontier at Rafa to El Arish and Romani viable, and British strategists thought it possible that 250,000 Ottoman troops could cross the Sinai, and 80,000 be based permanently in this fertile area. Whoever could hold the contested ground in the area of Katia and Romani would be in a position to protect the Canal, or within striking distance. The area was patrolled almost daily by Ottoman aircraft, which bombed the recently established Katia camp on 20 April, and both Katia and Romani the next day.
Life in the desert was harsh for these young men from Ayrshire. Nothing before in their lives could have prepared them for the scathing 'Hamsheen' winds that peppered the men with flying pellets of hot sand. In the middle of the heat and sand some fun was found playing rugby against the men from New Zealand at Hill 70.
At Dueidar the garrison of 156 men defended an area of just 450 by 150 yards (410 by 140 m) containing six small redoubts (sandbag fortifications). At 04:00 on 23rd April 1916, a linesman was sent out to investigate a loss of communication with Katia; the commander of the garrison visited the posts under his command and sent out a patrol to the south east, ordering his troops to stand to arms. The patrol saw nothing in the mist, but at 05:17 a sentry saw a large of group Ottoman soldiers and opened fire on them. This alerted the nearest redoubt garrison armed with fifty men and a Lewis gun which swept the Ottoman ranks. So effective was the fire that the attackers soon fell back leaving twenty dead and wounded, while an Ottoman mountain gun battery was unable to find the British positions. At 07:00 Ottoman forces attempted to outflank the British position to the south, but were stopped by fire from a small defensive works on that flank containing one Non-commissioned officer (NCO) and six men. Shortly afterwards Ottoman soldiers repeated their attack on the south eastern redoubt. Some of them got to within 20 yards (18 m) of the defensive barbed wire, but were again routed by steady fire.
Shortly after the mist cleared, a British aircraft dropped a message that the main Ottoman force was in retreat and that there were only about 150 rifles still attacking. A squadron of the Australian 5th Light Horse Regiment arrived at midday from Kantara, and moved off south east in pursuit of the main Ottoman force, while the garrison at Dueidar attacked the Ottoman rearguard which broke and fled, leaving behind seventeen unwounded troops who were taken prisoner.
The remainder of 5th Light Horse Regiment arrived at Duidar at 13:30 and took up the pursuit. They captured one officer and thirty-one other ranks, and killed seventy-five men; there were fifty-five British casualties. Sadly, Tom Ballantyne was one of these men.
Private Thomas Ballantyne, 7694, 1st/5th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Died of wounds, received at Dueidar, 25th April, 1916. Age 22. Son of Andrew and Elizabeth Dunsmuir Ballantyne, of 15, Quail Road, Ayr.
Thomas Ballantyne's name can be found on the war memorial in Wellington Square in Ayr.