The ill-fated Gallipoli offensive waged against the Ottoman empire cost more than 56,000 British and allied lives. Allan Tunningley discovers that the dead and wounded included hundreds of soldiers from Westmorland and Cumberland.

DEPENDING on which historical source you consult, the Gallipoli landings were either a ‘stalemate’, a ‘narrow defeat’ or a ‘disaster’ for Britain and its allies.

But what cannot be argued over is the bravery of the tens of thousands of soldiers who fought valiantly in the attempt to take the strategic Dardanelles peninsula from the Turkish Ottoman empire after it became allied with Germany.

Among them were regulars and volunteers from Westmorland and Cumberland serving in the Border Regiment’s 1st and 6th battalions.

In his 2003 book ‘Glory Is No Compensation’ - an impressive account of the regiment’s role in the Dardanelles campaign - former Border officer Ralph May reveals that 784 officers and men from the two battalions were killed or died from their wounds while fighting in the Turkish peninsula.

In addition, hundreds more were wounded or rendered incapable of fighting due to disease. Mr May, whose father Lieutenant G. C. May fought with the Border Regiment at Gallipoli, describes the regular 1st Battalion as a ‘close-knit, highly trained and disciplined’ body of men.

The 1st landed on the peninsula between the April 25 and 27, 1915 in extremely dangerous conditions, beneath cliffs of considerable height, which were protected by well-armed fortifications.

A day later, the battalion was ordered into what became known as the First Battle of Krithia with the rallying call of a divisional commander ringing in their ears: “The eyes of the world are upon us and your deeds will live in history.”

The words proved to be truly prophetic, for the Gallipoli campaign is remembered nearly a century later as one of the bloodiest campaigns of the First World War. At Krithia, ground was only gained at the expense of large numbers of killed and wounded. Similar attrition was also experienced when the battalion later saw action on the Eski Line, the Battle of Gully Ravine and at Sulva before finally being evacuated in January, 1916.

It was a costly campaign for the Border Regiment - a total of 23 officers and 520 NCOs and other ranks from the 1st Battalion were killed or died of their wounds. At Sulva, the 1st was joined by the 6th (Service) Battalion, one of the ‘New Army’ battalions, which recruited men from the farms, factories and offices throughout Westmorland, Cumberland and central Lancashire.

Mr May writes that, despite their inexperience, the soldiers from the 6th were immediately ‘pitched into the Gallipoli Campaign and the chaos of the Suvla Landings’. By the time the 6th Battalion was evacuated by ship in December, it had lost 17 officers and 224 NCOs and other ranks - either killed in battle or who died later from their wounds.

After Gallipoli, both the 1st and 6th battalions went on to fight on the Western Front in France, where they continued to suffer casualties in the Somme and Flanders’ offensives and fighting bravely in battles such as Albert, Transloy Ridges and Langemarck.