Lt Britt describes the first day on Gallipoli
Name: William Britt
Location: Gallipoli, France, Belgium
Lt William Britt seemed to be leading a charmed life when he survived the landing at Gallipoli. Bullets passed through his hat and several parts of his clothes. One broke his favourite pipe while another grazed his wrist, but still he fought on.
Then, all of a sudden an exploding shell put him out of action. And he was eventually sent to Ras-el-Tin military hospital at Alexandria from where he wrote to his mother, describing that fateful day, 25 April 1915.
"We knew what we were there for - the attack on the Dardenelles," he wrote. "The 3rd Brigade was picked for the covering party - that is to land first and clear the enemy away from the shore. The 11th Batt was the first to land. We left the island at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and steamed up towards the Straits. At 12 midnight we anchored and climbed silently over the side down rope ladders onto a destroyer.
"When all was ready the destroyer crept silently away in the darkness. We layed on the deck and had a short sleep. At 3.30 we could see land in the dim light and we crept closer and closer the big battle ships looming up on either side of us. It was fast getting light and when we were 600 yards from the shore the destroyers stopped and we prepared to get into the boats.
"Our first warning was a sharp crack and a flash from the hills in front of us and the ping of a bullet overhead followed by another and then a score. One of our comrades was hit and died after wishing us good luck. We scrambled into the boats about 50 in each boat and started to pull for the shore. By this time the bullets were splashing all round the boat and a great many of our fellows were hit some fatally. We had to row 600 yards in the face of a murderous fire, machine gun and rifle and not a man flinched. We could see the flashes from the hills in front but not a Turk could we see.
"The boat grounded 30 yards from the Beach and I jumped into the water icy cold and up to my waist. I was carrying 250 rds ammunition. Pack with clothes and kit weighing 30 lbs. Haversack with 4 tins dog biscuits etc, a water bag, 3 cement bags rolled up to be used as sand bags. Well I waded to the shore (by this time they had our range and men were dropping all round me. They had measured the range previously of course.
"I got a bullet through the cap as I stepped out of the water. I threw off my pack and took cover behind a heap of pebbles. There was no cover from bullets as the Turks were entrenched on the top of a cliff which ran round in a half circle and rose straight up at a distance of 500 yards from the water. Well I was loading my rifle by this time and trying to make out the trenches in the half light but could see nothing but the rifle flashes. We were getting it hot by this time. They were using dum-dums & explosive bullets which crack over your head like a cracker.
"Two of my chums fell here both killed instantly. Then one of my lacrosse chums, Corporal Danes, was shot and a lot more. Then someone spotted the trenches and we put a hot fire into them and drove them out. The first Turks I saw was crawling up the slope. I underestimated the range first shot but got him the second. We took the hill and advanced about half mile and the Turks counter-attacked and then the fight started properly.
"The machine gun and rifle fire was deafening and the shrapnel burst all over us. My rifle got so hot once I had to stop firing. The Turks were estimated at 50 to 1. The fight lasted all day. I told you before I was a sniper and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Once I crawled out on my own to snipe a machine gun. I was having a grand time till my gun jammed sand on the bolt. Took me 5 minutes to fix it.
"They spotted me at last and peppered the bush I was lying behind. I had to keep my head down I can tell you. All they did was to shoot a hole through my pocket and smash the stem of my pipe which I wouldn't have sold for a Â£1. I had carved it with all the names of the places we had been to. Any how they sent out a sniper to get me. I pretended not to see him and didn't fire. I let him crawl about 150 yards. I could see the stump he was making for and trained my rifle on it. The begger thought he was safe and I watched him push his rifle out to take aim and then he died mighty quick.
"After that I crawled back. I was mighty hungry but no time to eat. Things were too hot. By 5 o'clock things were getting dashed lively, our guns and theirs playing a duet. We got shrapnel at the rate of 10 shells per half minute. Every time a shell would burst over my head the shock of the explosion blew my cap off. I expected to get my head blown off too but I didn't. The rifle bullets were like Bees. I got hit on the wrist just a scratch and several went through my clothes without touching me. You soon get used to rifle bullets but shrapnel is rotten.
"I was firing away when all of a sudden there was a deafening shock along side me. I felt a severe blow in the hip, rifle blown out of my hands and I was lifted about two feet in the air. I was unconscious for a while and when I came round I saw what had happened. A shell had burst on my right killing a lot of fellows who were lying near me and wounding me in the right hip. My trousers were soaked with blood and I was in a bad way.
"I couldn't use my leg so I got my gun, gave the few cartridges I had left to one of the chaps and crawled back about 40 yards. I was settled then and had to have a spell. Then I crawled on about 1/4 of a mile and some more wounded chaps gave me a hand. Then we struck some Red Cross chaps who tied up my wound and stopped the bleeding. Then they carried me back to the beach and I was laid on a stretcher with hundreds of others wounded too. Wound was getting very painful by this time. Then I discovered some cigarettes which hadn't got wet. Borrowed a match and life saved. The enemy shelled us unmercifully as we lay on the beach killing several. It was 7 o'clock by this time.
"Presently we were put in a barge and towed out to a ship that was lying out from the shore. Shells bursting round us all the time. We were taken aboard the ship. There was no accommodation for us and we laid on the floor wrapped in a blanket. We got to Alexandria on the following Friday so you can see we had a good time on the boat. I was brought here and here I am tied by the leg. I contracted measles the second day I was here and so I am in isolation with an orderly with me all the time; a very nice chap belonging to the RAMC, Birmingham.
"Luckily I have got some tobacco and the orderly got me a pipe. He also gave me this paper and envelope. I am better of the measles now and the wound is getting on alright but it will be a long time before I can walk properly.
"The 11th suffered heavily. I don't know what our losses are yet but they will be large I know. I think that this will do for a while."
Lt Britt asked to be remembered to his friends and then put in a plea for some tobacco - an important ingredient in the battle for survival.
"A little present of Havelock tobacco would be very acceptabel. Don't send too much in case I don't get it. Ta Ta."
Lt Britt eventually recovered from his wounds and was sent to France where he fought with the 51st Battalion Australian Infantry. He was killed on Monday 10 June 1918 on the Somme and is buried at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery.
[No changes have been made to the spelling or grammar of the original letter.]
Material supplied by Mr Sam Cook of Western Australia