One hundred years ago,on April 25th,1915,one of the most disastrous military campaigns of the 20th century began. Seeking to put Ottoman Turkey out of the First World War,Britain and France landed an invasion force on the Gallipoli Peninsula in South Western Turkey. Over the next eight months more than 100,000 British,Australian,Turkish,New Zealander,Canadian,Indian ,French and Irish soldiers would lose their lives. In Australia and New Zealand April 25th is marked as ANZAC Day-commemmorating the day in which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps put their nations on the map with what was seen as their blood sacrifice. Many of the Anzac troops were of Irish origin and as many as 7.000 were Irish born.
The British soldiers who landed at Gallipoli in 1915 included thousands of men serving with the historic Irish Regiments;the Royal Dublin Fusiliers,the Munster Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Fusiliers. Irishmen also served in the Royal Navy at Gallipoli and Irish doctors and nurses helped to care for the wounded at hospitals in Egypt and Greece. Gallipoli was as much an Irish tragedy as an Australian one. Up to 4,000 Irish died there. Until recently their service was almost completely forgotten.
Among the thousands of British soldiers who landed at Gallipoli were men from Westmeath. Those who died there included the 5th Earl of Longford,owner of Tullynally Castle,and Private Austin Kelly from Clonmellon. Those who survived the hell of Suvla Bay and Sedd-el Bar, where men from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers,the Munster Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Fusiliers disembarked,included Sgt Dan Gilroy from Patrick St,Mullingar,Sgt Michael Dunne from Barrack St ,Mullingar and Private Daniel Flood ,also from Mullingar.
Sgt Gilroy was an “old warrior”,as the papers described him,with over 30 years of military service behind him. He was 57 and should not have still been on active service. But when the war started he left his job with the post office to return to the Army. He landed in Gallipoli on August5th at Lemnos Bay.Within a very short time 12 of his men were dead and another 50 wounded. The survivors battled through an area known as “Shrapnal Alley “and on to what was known as Chocolate Hill.
Among those killed when they battled the Turks on this hill was Nicholas Smyth from Piercefield-one of some 10 officers and 250 men killed as he and his men battled hand to hand with the enemy. With all the officers dead or wounded it was left to Sgt Gilroy and Sgt Alec Little from Carrick,Mullingar to hold the position,which they did,despite Gilroy being seriously wounded in the leg by a Turkish bayonet . The local papers in Mullingar reported Gilroy’s death-much to his amusement. “I am as good as ten dead men yet”,he told reporters when,following hospital treatment for his wounds,he came home on leave.
Private Daniel Flood was not even 18 when he went to Gallipoli in the summer of 1915. One of the thousands who volunteered for military service at the start of the war,Flood arrived at Suvla in August attached to a machine gun section. His unit endured heavy shell and machine gun fire as they landed and his Colonel was among the many casualties. A few days later he was involved in an attack against the Turks using the machine guns.
The following day he was wounded twice by shrapnel.After treatment in a dresing station he was moved by hospital ship to Malta and then to England. While the ship was heading for Malta,one of the wounded men,Private Barry from Mullingar,died from his wounds and was buried at sea.. Private Flood told reporters at home that he respected the Turks as tough but humane fighters. Aged only 17 when he was at Gallipoli.he would be killed in Palestine two years later,aged 19.
Sgt Michael Dunne from Barrack Street also saw action at Gallipoli,serving with the Inniskilling Fusiliers. He survived hand to hand combat with the Turks as well as heavy shell and machine gun fire. He was recommended for the D.C.M (Distinguished Conduct Medal ) for his courage under fire. He suffered injuries but survived and was able to give the Westmeath papers an interview from his hospital bed. Sadly,Sergeant Dunne was killed the following year at the Battle of the Somme. His brother was killed on the Western Front in 1915.
Private Austin Kelly from Clonmellon,a past pupil of Wilsons’ Hospital School was just 18 when he went ashore at Suvla Bay in August 1915. A week later he was one of hundreds of men killed in the British attempt to capture the heights of Kiriche Tepe. Short of water and of ammunition desperate men battled through intense summer heat to scale the heights. Machine gun fire and grenades rained down on them and Private Kelly was one of the very many who did not survive the assault. Another fatality was the Earl Of Longford who was ,like Sgt Gilroy overage for frontline military service but put himself in danger because he believed it to be his duty. Lord Longford was last seen walking along the sand dunes leading towards the Turkish positions. His family was informed that he was “missing”. A year later he was officially declared to be dead. although it took his widow a long time to accept that he was dead.
A fortnight after the Gallipoli campaign began the passenger liner the Lusitania” was torpedoed off the coast of Co Cork. Among the almost 1200 fatalities was Anne Doyle from Mullingar. She had been working in America and was returning to Ireland. Her father worked in a coach building firm in Harbour Street. Two years later her brother would be killled on the Western front.
The First World War inflicted terrible sorrow on many many families in Mullingar District. One hundred years after the horrors of Gallipoli and the Lusitania we should remember all those from our town who lost their lives. May they all rest in peace
By Ruth Illingworth