Six Before Breakfast

“Do you remember what day this is, Dad?” the young man asked as we sat chatting in my Berwick Royal Oak senior’s residence café.

“It’s Wednesday, April 24, 2019,” I replied promptly and brightly. “It’s fresh in my mind because I had a dental appointment this morning. Along with doctor’s visits, such events keep my ‘what day is it?’ memory sharp. If I’ve remembered to write it down.”

“I was thinking more about tomorrow,” he said. “If you have remembered …” And, before I could dig up what I should have recalled from my faltering memory file, he rambled off down his own memory lane.

“It just seems strange to be sitting here chatting, while I’m thinking that about this hour tomorrow and 104 years ago my grandfather, your father, was lying very badly wounded on W Beach at Gallipoli.”

He was indeed, and close to death.

It took a second or two to respond because I had forgotten the time of year; I had forgotten that I had ever told Nicholas about his grandfather’s dawn charge ashore on April 25, 1915; about shrapnel from a Turkish shell killing two of his three-man machine gun crew, and leaving the third with massive wounds to chest and face.

It was dawn when he fell, and after dark before the Allies could get meaningful help to him and thousands – yes, thousands – of others lying in desperate need of help among the thousands – yes, again, thousands – of dead.

I once asked my father how far he got up the beach before he was hit. He said he didn’t really have an idea, “but it wasn’t very far – maybe 50 yards, maybe less. I didn’t know much at all after I went down … except for the flies.”

In Canada’s list of battles and wars to be remembered, Gallipoli (also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, an unsuccessful attempt by the Allied Powers to control the sea route from Europe to Russia) doesn’t stand very high. It did generate headlines briefly a few days ago with the arrest of a terrorist believed to be on his way to murder Australian and New Zealand pilgrims journeying to Turkey to celebrate Anzac Day at Anzac Cove. It’s just a few miles along the coast from W Beach. The young men from Australia and New Zealand fought there for king and country, dying for a cause they never really understood.

Anzac Cove is fixed in memories Down Under, and Gallipoli is remembered with holy grail reverence. At first glance, casualty figures leave the impression that beneath the Southern Cross losses have been exaggerated.

A second look tells the gruesome truth:

Great Britain, 21,255 dead; 52,300 wounded; France (rarely even mentioned as ever having been anywhere near Gallipoli) 10,000 dead, 17,000 wounded. Then comes Australia with 8,709 dead and 19,441 wounded; New Zealand 2,779 dead, 5,212 wounded; and India 1,358 dead, 3,421 wounded.

Canada? We appear to have beamed all available forces to Europe, but Newfoundland (not yet Canadian) made a cameo appearance at Gallipoli leaving 49 dead and 93 wounded.

The population of Great Britain in those days was getting close to 47 million; Australia was hovering around eight million; New Zealand was a baby with just over a million in total population.

Based on population percentages Australia and New Zealand made fantastic contributions to the Allied cause. It can be safely said all the children of the Commonwealth more than answered their nations’ calls to duty – and did so a second time when the world wobbled again in 1939.

I suppose I should thank the young lad for reminding me of the date, although I’m sure I would have remembered unprompted, even if a wee bit late. 

At the official Centenary of the Gallipoli Landing there was a remarkable display of six Victoria Crosses awarded to Lancashire Fusiliers on the first day of the Gallipoli battle. It was the first time all of the famous “Six Before Breakfast” had been displayed at the same time.

Captain Richard Reynolds Willis, in command of “C” Company which won four of the Six before breakfast VC’s. He survived the battle, dying at the age of 89 in 1966 “having sold his medal due to financial problems.”

Sgt.Frank Edward Stubbs, shot in the head and killed instantly as he led his platoon up Hill 114. The only one of the six to die on landing day.

Sgt. Alfred Richards shot several times in the leg which was almost shattered to pieces. Kept motivating fellow soldiers until he lost all energy. Eventually evacuated, lost his shattered leg. Died at home in 1953.

Pte. William Keenly volunteered to advance alone and cut barbed wire entanglement. Survived the action but killed on June 8 in the fight for Gully Ravine.

Cpl.John Elisha Grimshaw assigned to establish and maintain communications with HMS Euryalus. His citation calmly notes that at the end of the day “his badge, his water bottle and back pack. all were riddled with bullets but he emerged unscathed.He died in 1980.

Major Cuthbert Bromley – showed unprecedented bravery, wounded several times but stayed with his men. It was three days before he reported his first wounds. He survived the landing but was eventually evacuated to Egypt for treatment for multiple wounds. The ship on which he was returning to Gallipoli for further service was torpedoed and sank in Aegean Sea.

The Lancashire Fusiliers went ashore April 25,1915, with 1007 soldiers and 27 officers.When the day ended the ranks were down to 304 with 16 officers – and six VC’s before breakfast

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