Gallipoli – A century later
I spent Wednesday the 29th October travelling from Istanbul; down through the Gallipoli Peninsula, across the Dardanelles straits to Canakkale, my base for my search the next day for Embarkation Pier cemetery and the burial place of my Great Uncle, Timothy Dunne, a soldier of the First World War.
Timothy Dunne was the second eldest son of Michael and Thomasina Dunne of the New Road, Roscrea. His date of birth is not known but his baptism is recorded on 6th October 1888 in the Roman Catholic Church of St Cronin’s in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.
Not much is known of his early life but by the time of the 1911 census he was working as a Labourer and living with his younger brother, Paddy, in their parents’ home in Limerick Street, Roscrea. His sister Molly had married my Grandfather, George Fletcher and was living in Chapel Lane, just off Limerick Street. Another sister, Thomasina, (Babs), had gone to England in search of work and was to spend the rest of her life in London.
It was early in 1915 and like so many young men from Roscrea, eager for adventure and service in the Great War, he was recruited into the 6th battalion of the Leinster Regiment, part of Kitchener’s New Army. His battalion, alongside many of the other Irish Regiments, was attached to the 10th Irish Division. After initial training at Crickell Barracks in Birr and the Curragh, the Division was moved to Basingstoke in England. In July of 1915 the Division embarked from Liverpool for a secret campaign on the Mauretania. The Mauritania was the sister ship of the torpedoed Lusitania which had been sunk by a German U-
By August, Churchill and the British generals wanted a new offensive to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula; defeat the Turkish army, seize the Dardanelles and reopen contact with Russia through the Black Sea. The previous April offensive had been a massive failure and had resulted in many thousands of British deaths and casualties.
On the 9th August the 6th Leinster battalion were assigned to relieve the Australian and New Zealanders troops on the beaches of ANZAC Cove. Their task was to engage and take out the Turkish Army high on the ridges overlooking the beaches. My Great Uncle was badly wounded as he landed on the beach. Around him were many hundreds other wounded and dead soldiers. On the 12th August he died of his wounds and was quickly buried in a makeshift grave. Like many families in Roscrea it was quite some time before they got the news of his death and many years before they had any idea of where, in some far off country in the Eastern Mediterranean, he was buried. There was never the prospect of any of them ever visiting his grave, particularly given their circumstances and the events that followed the rising of Easter 1916.
At the same time, in May of 1915, my paternal Grandfather, John Fletcher, also known as Barney, of Limerick Street, Roscrea had been admitted to a field hospital on the Western Front suffering the effects of gas poisoning.
As a child I have many memories of being in my Grandmother’s house in Grove Street, Roscrea. I always wondered why a large brass plaque, inscribed with her brother’s name, a tatty letter from King George V and some war medals sat on her bedroom mantelpiece. When I asked her why she had them, she would say they were sent to her parents in memory of their son, her brother Timothy, who had been killed in the First World War. It was with these memories and a brief history of my Great Uncle’s life and death that I set out to be the first of my family to visit his grave, pay my respect and pray for him; a century after his death.
What struck me during my visit to the war graves in Gallipoli was the scale of the number of dead on both sides, killed during the April and August campaigns. However, I was also struck by the beauty of the immediate surrounding of my Great Uncle’s memorial in Embarkation Pier cemetery. The Aegean Sea with distant Turkish and Greek Islands at one side and fields with locals picking tomatoes, melons on the other side. My family can be pleased and take comfort that his grave can be found in such a beautiful place. May Timothy and all those who were killed in action during the Gallipoli campaigns of 1915, now rest in peace.