Education Gallipoli

Learning through Gallipoli

In 2015/16 Islington Museum received funding from the Gallipoli Centenary Education Project to tell the stories of those men who travelled from Islington to Mudros to fight in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Five local primaries, Ashmount, Copenhagen, Drayton Park, Newington Green and Tufnell Park, worked with musicians Jonathan Rees and Firat Derat to explore the campaign from a variety of cultural perspectives. Pupils investigated the Finsbury Rifles’ war diary, learning about their costly campaign and imagining what daily life would have been like for them at Gallipoli.  They also looked at primary sources from both the Ottoman and Allied Forces to explore different experiences of the campaign and its aftermath.

Pupils learnt four songs about the Gallipoli campaign in both English and Turkish.  They also recorded readings of key primary sources, to which they composed an emotive soundscape. This sound background was combined with archival images of the campaign and artwork created as part of separate project. The resulting video is a musical and artistic meditation on the realities of the Gallipoli campaign, its local links and its human cost. A unique resource to explore Islington’s First World War from a truly world perspective.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 2015 Islington Museum also worked with Richard Cloudesely Secondary School and Samuel Rhodes Secondary School to produce two printed banners exploring the Finsbury Rifles Campaign. Pupils used mark making techniques to create the peninsula. They then used archival images of the campaign to create stencils, which they screen printed on to the map.




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally on the 8th November 2015 four children from Tufnell Park Primary School joined the Gallipoli Association to take part in the Cenotaph march on Remembrance Sunday.

The four children – Amy, Charlie, Natalie and Ruby – said, ‘It was an opportunity to take part in an experience of a lifetime. It helped us realise and feel the importance of remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.’ 

The children brought a wreath which joined the carpet of red beneath the Cenotaph. On the wreath were the words, ‘It is an honour to stand in the presence of our Lord, as we give thanks to the brave souls who sacrificed their lives to make our world a better place. May they rest in peace. Let the memory of Gallipoli live on through generations.’  

You can find lots more fantastic resources about Gallipoli at, @GallipoliEd  and


The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye

It’s present day London and three school-friends, Chris, Poppy and Alesha, are helping clear out a cupboard at school when they discover a very dusty box!

Underneath many novels and loose papers, they find an old book at the bottom with “The Private Diary of Edward Hampton” written on the cover and the date says “From June 1914…”! They start reading the book and discover what London life was like for Edward in 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War.

In 2014-15 Islington Museum worked with Fun Kids, the UK’s children’s radio station to research and create a radio series about children’s lives in North London in 1914, at the beginning of the First World War. Follow the series and explore what North London looked, sounded and smelled like, over a hundred years ago, through a child’s eye!

Evelyn Hilda Hutchings aged 5 yrs 'Victory' (1918)

There are 10 short episodes drawing upon local sites, sounds and stories to create inspiring diary entries. Find out how Londoners lived, what they learnt at school and what they did for entertainment!

To view all the radio episodes visit the Fun Kids radio station for The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye

Fun Kids is the UK’s children’s radio station. Tune in on DAB Digital Radio in London and the South East, on mobile and online at

fun kids radio


Finsbury Rifles

Finsbury Rifles in Gallipoli: 12 October to 18 October

Location: AGHYL DERE (Anzac)

Date: 12.10.15
13 men returned from Mudros. Orders received to relieve 1/5th Beds following day. Fatigues as before. 13 men to hospital.

Date: 13.10.15
Battalion paraded before dawn and proceeded to relief of 1/5th Beds in firing lines. Relief completed by 06.30. At about 10.00 B Squadron of Suffolk Yeomanry arrived for instructions. One troop allotted to each company, the men to be posted with our groups. Sandbag Ridge bombed about 15.30 with some effect; 3 direct hits being made. No reply by enemy. During afternoon a Turk gave himself up and was sent to Bde. under escort. Quiet day and night. Nil report from Patrol listening post, one man wounded and 10 to hospital.

Date: 14.10.15
Lines inspected by Brigadier General Hodgson during morning. Sandbag Ridge shelled about 16.00, poor results. Our lines shelled in return at 16.15, no damage done, 3 shells failed to explode and one sent to Bde. Day otherwise quiet, also night. Two patrols out, neither came into touch with enemy. Two men wounded. One officer and 8 men to hospital (Lt H.G. Brown).
(see notes below)

Date: 15.10.15
Very quiet day/night. Patrol returned with nothing to report. Digging continued along trench line and routine as usual. 6 men to hospital.

Date: 16.10.15
Whole garrison stood to arms at 03.30 and at 04.00 a demonstration was made along the British line with a view of drawing enemy fire; experiment a complete failure. Day quiet. Patrol at night came into contact with party covering considerable body of enemy engaged in putting up wire entanglement across Aghyl Dere near 92Z3 (n.b. all trenches were numbered for easy reference) and were fired upon and ? on returning. No casualties. D Squadron Suffolk Yeomanry reported during day for instructions. B Squadron now acting independently. 4 men to hospital. Lieut. A.F. Harding reported from Mudros.
(see notes below)

Date: 17.10.15
Very quiet day. Patrol sent out to place where patrol was attacked previous night. Returned with valuable information as to ? and construction of a new trench. Routines as usual. One man to hospital.
(see notes below)

Date: 18.10.15
A few shells dropped near lines between 15.00 and 16.00, no damage done. Day otherwise uneventful. Patrol went out towards Sandbag Ridge and reported all quiet to our front. Orders received to prepare new rest camp, in connection with re-organisation of firing line. Ground inspected and found very foul and dirty, part used as a burial ground. 2 men to hospital.

More Information

On the 14th October General Hamilton was dismissed and replaced by General Sir Charles Monro, a soldier who had commanded 3rd Army on the Western Front. Monro was sent immediately to Gallipoli to report on what should happen next.

On the 16th October the Finsbury Rifles must all have been pleased to see the reinforcements from the Suffolk Yeomanry.  The Suffolks were originally cavalry: ‘A squadron’ is the cavalry equivalent of an infantry company. Perhaps at this point D squadron would have numbered 150 or so men. They had left their horses behind for this campaign.

On the 17th October General Hamilton left Gallipoli. It seems likely that rumours of his dismissal had reached the Ottoman High Command and they probably guessed that the invasion of Gallipoli was now unlikely to be reinforced or pursued with any real vigour. Certainly there were no more major battles anywhere on the Peninsula. One authority (Erickson 2010) estimates Turkish death rates in battle anywhere on Gallipoli, from then on, at 300 a month, far, far below those in the horrific slaughter between April and September.

Blog Post

Canonbury man’s experiences: newspaper story

Islington Daily Gazette and North London Tribune
11th October 1915

Canonbury man’s experiences
The loss of his mate
An awful baptism

Mr. W.R. Lovell, a church warden at St. Mary’s, Upper Street, Islington, has received the following letters from his son – Trooper R.F. Lovell.
He is an Islington lad. His father lives at 34, Canonbury Square.
Trooper Lovell has been out in Egypt guarding the Canal, and recently was sent to take his share in the fighting in the Dardanelles.
The letters give a graphic account of the great advance by one who took part in it.
He writes:-

When last I wrote I told you I had received infantry equipment and was moving to an unknown destination. We are at present in the reserve trenches.

We had an awful baptism. We were on a hill some way from the firing lines, and we had orders to parade at three o’clock ready to move. We had to cross about two miles of open country to another front just behind the reserve trenches.

No sooner had we started than we were enfiladed from the hills by shrapnel and sniped at from the open. Shrapnel was bursting at every yard we took and our men behaved splendidly.

We came across extended, and everybody was as cool as anything. Regulars who were on the hill said they had never seen an advance like it.

I managed to come through all right, having one or two near shaves, but I am sorry to say I left my mate behind me. I heard officially this morning that he was dead and buried, and it is an awful blow to me.

He was wounded in the head and hand and died from injuries. He was the nicest chap I ever met, unassuming, matey with everybody and I was very attached to him. He was in my half-section and we were never apart.

My sympathy goes out to his parents and fiancée. He was the only son and the last of his line. He so far is the only death in the squadron and the one we could least spare.

We made this hill all right and then rested for awhile. Then we pushed on to the reserve trenches across exposed country. We spent the night till three o’clock here in case of a counter-attack. We then pushed back to our base on the original hill and stayed there the night ‘Till seven o’clock the next evening, when we occupied dug/outs and reserve trenches on the second hill.

I believe things are going on very well here, but the snipers are a rare trouble when moving about.

Only a little while ago they caught a woman with 19 identity discs round her neck.

They have had a lot of trouble with a gun running along a railway, but latest rumour has it that part of the line has been captured. I shall not be sorry when it is over; war is not a nice game, though. I am not sorry in a way they have given us the chance.

Young James has just got dinner ready, so must finish this letter. With love to all.

That casual conclusion about dinners being ready is typical of our soldiers’ letters.

In a second letter he says: –

Since my last letter home I have spent a week in the trenches. We stayed for three or four days on the hill, all well dug into the ground. We used to get strafed fairly often there.

First thing in the morning, at all meal times, and just before dusk, the jolly old Turks used to bombard us with shrapnel and we had a fair number of casualties.

I was broken into trench life by spending 34 hours with another regiment. The next day the regiment moved into safer quarters, and we occupied a line of trenches behind our first line.

We were very comfortable there. We used to cook our own grub, consisting of tea, bacon and tinned goods. Water was very handy there; only had to dig a foot down, and there was a well already made.

The part that gets one down most is having to turn at 3.45 to stand and wait for the Turks to counter-attack – otherwise things were comfy.

Then we shifted to the trenches we now hold. They are not half as good as the first lot, and we have to go a long way for water.

The flies are about our biggest enemies- heaps worse than the Turks. They hold competitions as to who can stop on a piece on a piece of bread and jam the longest before you can take a bite.

It is a good job you can’t see me now, and I’m afraid I can’t have my photo taken. I have not had a wash or a shave or a change of socks for a fortnight now. I’ve got quite a fine beard, and trim it occasionally with a pair of nail-scissors.

I think from what I can gather that we have got them fairly well whacked now and but for occasional attacks things are quiet. The Turk is a very jumpy person and blazes away all night long. He does very little damage except to keep us out of our beds.

I have managed to settle down all right, and, on the whole, manage to keep fairly cheerful, though the loss of my mate has made a big difference to me. He has paid the biggest price of all, but I’ve paid very heavily in losing him.

I don’t think I mentioned  it my last letter, that I had one or two near ones when we came across the open under shrapnel fire I was hit in four places by flying pieces, and escaped with only a couple of bruises on my legs.

One fellow burst only a yard away from me, and by all the laws of things I ought to not be where I am. They are sending one or two overhead now. Just a nice, quiet after-dinner strafe.

Our Major was one of the first wounded, and out Troop Officer took over the squadron. All the officers are splendid.

I had a nice job last night. Six of us were on a sapping fatigue to a new trench being dug- two hours on and two hours’ sleep. Some graft. My enthusiastic love of digging in the garden has come in very handy.

Blog Post

The Streets They Left Behind – the animation

In 2014/15 Islington Museum received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an educational resource to complement The Streets They Left Behind (STLB Mapping Project).

The map 

The STLB is an interactive map commemorating all those with Finsbury and Islington connections who died in the First World War. The project focused on the streets where these men and women lived and worked before they left for war. Each casualty is represented by a poppy on the interactive map at their last known address. Local war memorials and schools are also highlighted on the map. 

During the project we discovered many powerful, heart-breaking stories about the devastating impact of the First World War on those who lived in Finsbury and Islington.


Animation resource

There were stories of great bravery, tragic loss and remarkable fortitude. We decided to create an educational resource to help share some of these stories and support schools, educational settings and individuals to access the STLB map.

In Spring Term 2015 Islington Museum worked with artist Amanda Wayne and pupils from St John Evangelist Roman Catholic Primary School to create a stop frame animation introducing users to the STLB map. Pupils from Mars and Jupiter classes investigated some of the themes and stories within the map, before focusing on six stories to tell through animation.

Stories include

  • Recruitment in Islington
  • Victor Hember, the tragic story of a family searching for their son after the battle of the Somme
  • Alfred Smith, a remarkable hero who gave his life to save others during a bombing raid on London
  • Captain Frederick Parslow, one of our local Victoria Cross recipients
  • Clara Shead, a brave women caught up in one of the tragedies of the war
  • War widows

Mars and Jupiter learnt how to create stop frame animations, from story-boarding, to creating their own props and photographing frames, very, very slowly! The final editing was completed by Amanda.

Please watch our animation before looking at the STLB resource. We hope it will inspire you to research, uncover and commemorate the remarkable lives of our local men and women who died in the war.

Using the STLB map:

Local schools have used the map in a number of different ways to explore the impact of the First World War in Islington.

  • Ashmount and Drayton Park Primary Schools used the data for a whole school remembrance project. Each class did a workshop with the museum looking at the resource, focusing on individual stories. Each class then chose a different person from the resource who lived near the school to remember.
  • Samuel Rhodes Primary Unit created their own ‘Tower of London’ poppy memorial in their school corridor. Each pupil made a poppy for a different person from the resource.
  • Samuel Rhodes Senior School pupils used the resource to identify six men who had lived close to their school and died on the Western Front. They then researched these individuals, before finding their graves when they visited France and Belgium on the Battlefields Tour.
  • St John Evangelist Primary School chose to focus on two soldiers from the resource who lived near the school. They based their topic of WWI around these soldier’s lives. They researched their early life in Islington using census records and other archival material, before using geography to explore their military careers and the impact of the First World War on their lives and family.

If you’d like to find out more about these project or replicate them within your school do get in touch.


“Thank you for this resource. Even though the children have heard figures about how many people died in the war, the visual impact of this on a local scale really struck a chord with them” (local teacher)

“What an amazing resource!! I’ve been engrossed all morning checking the areas I live in to find out who and what has happened. I’ve found my next door neighbour fought and died in the First World War” (local teacher)

“Only just looked at this email how amazing – will 100% be sharing in the morning with 4J” (local teacher)

Archive Blog Post

Finsbury Park man’s experience: newspaper stories

Islington Daily Gazette and North London Tribune
7th October 2015

Warfare in Gallipoli
Finsbury Park man’s experience

We recently published extracts from a letter written by Trooper E.V. Balsom, of the machine Gun Section of the City of London Yeomanry Rough Riders, whose father – the proprietor of a well-known laundry- resides at Hermitage-road, Finsbury Park. To-day we quote from a letter received from Trooper H. J. Balsom, who is attached to the same regiment.

After being at the base for two or three days, the writer states: “We were forced to go forward to do our bit. The forced march was very trying. We were on the ‘go’ for seven hours in all, carrying by hand everything we usually have the horses carrying. We were told it would be only a 48 hours’ ‘stunt.’ Consequently we took only essentials, including emergency rations. Every Jack man left his shaving gear behind, and if you could only see me now you would not recognise me.

In the forced march five of us got separated from the section and did not join up until a day after. It was two days before Ern found us. It is a long story how we got separated and not particularly interesting to us.

I found another Machine Gun Section I know very well, and stuck to them until I got unexpected information as to where our section was. It did my heart good, and made me feel a different chap when I saw the old faces again.

The 48 hours’ stunt has turned out up to the present to be ten days. Last night we were relieved after having nine days off the real in the fighting-line. We are now at the base, having a rest, and Great Scott! It is a mental relief, I can tell you. We have no idea how long we shall remain here.”

Trooper Balsom heart has a word respecting the feeding of the men. “The grub we are having is simply marvellous. Fancy! Bacon- and good stuff at that – under such conditions. Each man did his own. During those nine days we were a happy little party. Alongside of us we had some Irish gentlemen and we soon became great pals. They were indeed really excellent chaps. I found myself talking as much as they did. I like their accent very much. They were sports enough to give us some of their bread. It was like eating cake.

My beard is ever so long, and as I have not had a wash for twelve days, you can just imagine how I look.

One thing in the trenches impressed me very much. One morning, just as we had orders, ‘Stand to your trenches,’ a communion service was held. A number of men knelt in the trenches while everything was going on around. Again this morning I saw another service, and I thought it fine. I have not come across a Wesleyan chaplain yet, but I think Mr. Chaddock can’t be far off.”

The writer goes on to refer to other experiences.

“We are all getting like rabbits,” he writes. “ Whenever we move  and settle down for the night we dig ourselves from shrapnel. It’s nearly four feet deep, and at the bottom we have dug inwards for special protection for our heads. As I write shrapnel is bursting on my right. We have plenty of water to drinl, but there’s a lot of red tape in getting it. I suppose this is necessary. In the trenches or quite near there are wells, and we draw our water from them.”

As regards the snipers, Trooper Balsom states that they are very treacherous, “and one has to be a bit careful.”

“They make a mark of the wells, and so it is necessary that too many do not hang round at a time. Everything here seems to have, come as a matter of course, but I shall be very glad when it is all over.”

“If we could only get down to the beach about two miles from here we could have a lovely bath.

“We are working entirely separately from our regiment.

“Machine guns are very much appreciated here, and are very much respected. We have a division of guns now, and we all work together.

“We get an issue of cigarettes about twice a week, and about once a week we get a small issue of tobacco. All this is very cheering and comforting. It is a very funny thing that whenever firing is going on I just get a fag going, and then I’m all right.

“It will interest you to know that my baptism of fire was shrapnel, not rifle bullets. It seems so strange here to be able to stand up straight and fire without being hit by bullets Of course, when shrapnel burst here occasionally the ‘rabbits’ fly to their holes.

“You will be very surprised when I tell you I have broken my pledge. The Army issues a very small amount of rum to the men about three times a week. The nights in the trenches are very cold indeed, and for five days we simply laid down as we slept. Naturally, one used to wake up perished.

“I don’t like the stuff, but it’s warming effect is marvellous. The first time I had three sips, and the effect was wonderful, and what it more it has a lasting effect. Under such conditions it was beneficial and good.

“We have now our great-cloaks and two blankets. Last night we were very ‘comfy’ and slept well.”

Finsbury Rifles

Finsbury Rifles in Gallipoli: 5 October to 11 October

Location: AGHYL DERE (Anzac)

Date: 05.10.15
Two enemy guns located on top of ridge to left front of right of ? and pointed out to Brigadier. Day quiet. Two officers patrol sent out at dusk in direction of 92Z1and 92Z2. The former reported enemy outpost in old position, the latter did not come across enemy but found body of dead Gurkha and brought in identity disc; also body of dead Turk and horse. Trench routine as before. Quiet night and day.14 ex-wounded and sick arrived from Mudros. 14 men to hospital.

Date: 06.10.15
Day very quiet except for persistent sniping from Sandbag Ridge. At 17.00 bombardment of ridge started but shells dropped short, one at least in our lines, wounding 3 men of the M.G. section. Officers patrol went out at dusk to bring in white flag noticed in front of our ? post. This was done and found copies of a Turkish document attached thereto. Patrol reported all quiet to our front. Night uneventful. Trench work as usual. R.E. continued barbed wire. 2 men to hospital.

Date: 07.10.15
Battalion relieved at dawn by 1/5 Bedfordshires and proceeded into divisional reserve. Lieutenant Gibson and 20 men left behind for special work during night. 3 Officers of 16th Reg. reported for duty with the battalion divisional fatigues during day, otherwise day occupied in settling down. At dusk Lieutenant Gibson and party proceeded to attack outpost previously referred to, under cover of machine guns. Attack failed 1 man killed and 1 wounded. Lieutenant Alford and 5 men to hospital. 7 ex-sick and wounded returned from Mudros.

Date: 08.10.15
Arrival of Lieutenant Laurence and draft of 25 men from 3rd Battalion. Fatigues as usual during day. Orders received to move next day from Bivouac to one previously occupied by ? Ground inspected by C.O and found to be in very dirty condition. Fatigues continued as usual. 5 men to hospital.

Date: 09.10.15
Morning spent in cleaning up new camp. Battalion moved in about 14:00. Two fatigue parties on road making. 3 men to hospital.
(see notes below)

Date: 10.10.15
Battalion paraded for Divine Service at 08.30. Fatigues as usual during day and night. 7 men to hospital.

Date: 11.10.15
Routine fatigues as usual. Bombing course restarted. Lt Salmon and 4 men to hospital.
(see notes below)

11th London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles); bomb and bayonet attack 1915

11th London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles); bomb and bayonet attack, 1915 © IWM (Q 53973)

More Information

On the 9th October the mentioned reorganisation of the camp was possible because the Ottomans were reorganising too. Several of their regiments were exhausted by the fighting and needed to be withdrawn and replaced. They were also suffering from the dysentery epidemic.

Their generals were content to strengthen and develop the defensive positions  which had by and large served them well. Kemal Ataturk, who became the first President of Turkey after the war, was in command of the sector where the Finsbury Rifles were now based.

The 11th October was a momentous day for those at Gallipoli, though few of them knew it. At long last, stories of what was really happening were being listened to in London. The politicians and field marshals were asking whether the expedition was remotely worth the suffering and loss. General Sir Ian Hamilton, the Commander-in-Chief, received a message. ‘What would the cost of withdrawing from the Peninsula be?’ Hamilton was horrified. He cabled back that he would lose half his force in an evacuation. This snap and wrongheaded response probably sealed his fate.

Milner Square

Through the hole in the wall: Milner Square 1935-1975

Password: milner

Produced and Narrated by Susan Oudot
Directed by Chiara Messineo
Edited by Dan Jobar

When Islington Council took over their slum tenements in the 1970s, Milner Square’s residents were dispersed to estates and New Towns. They gained bathrooms and boilers, but lost their tight-knit community; they were filled instead with a sense that the world – their world – had changed forever.

Through the candid, colourful and often emotional recollections of those who lived there through the pre- and post-war years, this film shows them returning to the Square and beautifully recaptures a place in time, and its importance to those who called it ‘home’.

For more information on this HLF funded
project visit the Milner Square project or contact


Finsbury Rifles

Finsbury Rifles in Gallipoli: 1 October to 4 October

Location: AGHYL DERE (Anzac)

Date: 01.10.15
Trenches shelled about midday and also between 16.00 and 19.00; less than a dozen shells in all no damage done. From 16.30 onwards heavy bombardment of Hill 100 to Sandbag Ridge; observation made by ? and reported to Brigade. At dark two officer patrols sent out on a special mission to fix flags with proclamations in Turkish attached, as near enemy line as possible. Both successful; one reported coming into contact with an enemy patrol and both heard sounds of digging. Night quiet. Digging parties of 1/5 Bedfordshire employed throughout 5 hours on trenches and new ? 2 men to hospital.

Date: 02.10.15
Day quiet until about 17.00 when our trenches vigorously shelled during the daily bombardment of Sandbag Ridge. Some damage done to parapet and one man wounded. Patrol and output reported all quiet to our front at night. Work on trenches as previously and R.E. continuing barbed wire entanglements. Sickness again on increase and eleven men to hospital. Lines linked during day by Lieutenant Birdwood, commanding ANZAC.

Date: 03.10.15
Two shells burst over trenches during day, otherwise quiet. Enemy did not reply to bombardment of Sandbag Ridge started at 17.00 but enemy aeroplane appeared over dunes at 17.30. Officer patrol sent out to move forward one of the flags flanked by ? succeeded in task but saw into enemy outpost and was forced to open fire; it ? without incident. Work on trenches ? through workers of 1/5th Bedfordshire Reserve Coy. Barbed wiring continued by R.E. General routine work as usual. 11 men to hospital. ? of expected arrival of small reinforcements received.

Date: 04.10.15
At 09.00 trenches somewhat heavily shelled for 15 minutes, then whole line swept by rifle fire for ½ an hour. No signs of enemy attacking. A fair amount of damage done to trenches but no one injured. Officer patrol went out at dusk from Barricade and proceeded towards spot where outpost had been located previous night, they failed however to locate enemy. Work on trenches as usual. One man killed and 16 to hospital. Night quiet.

311 London Regiment, Finsbury Rifles, on parade. October 1915

3/11 London Regiment, Finsbury Rifles, on parade. October 1915 © IWM (Q 53821)

More Information

On October 1st, the Finsbury Rifles remained in post at Aghyl Dere (‘Sheep pen river).  Aghyl Dere is for much of the year a dry riverbed rising up from the beach between layer upon layer of steep and jagged hills. It had been the scene of heavy Allied and Turkish casualties in early August when it was the route chosen by the British for part of a surprise night attack to capture high ground held by the Turks. The attack failed and the two sides, by October, were still steadily strengthening defensive positions facing each other.

The Finsbury Rifles battalion took turn and turn about in the front trench line with the 1/5 Bedfordshire Regiment, another battalion in their Brigade. While the Rifles were at the front, their task was to ensure the security of the line, both by vigilant observation and improvement of the trenches (digging was a constant activity for both sides at Gallipoli- see the powerpoint with A.P. Herbert’s poem Digging- A Song of the Spade), respond to any enemy attacks when necessary and send out patrols to detect any enemy activity. When the Bedfordshires relieved them, the Rifles went back down the hills to their base camp which was never entirely safe from the Turkish big guns, but at least less cramped than the trenches.

The soldiers passed fit for duty at Aghyl Dere now numbered under 400 men in the Finsbury Rifles, under 250 men in the Bedfordshires, barely a third of those who had landed just two months ago.  The vicious fighting at Suvla, and then the sickness, mostly dysentery and diarrhoea, had killed many and taken many others to hospital. Those remaining often faced a sort of half life as they tried to recover while still remaining on duty.

They all looked so ill, poor devils, that it required a heart of stone to send the lighter cases, say of simple diarrhoea, back to duty. ….my heart used to bleed as I watched some poor, diarrhoea stricken, emaciated skeleton, with sunken lack-lustre eyes and unsteady gait, accept without murmur my decision that he must return to duty, pick up his kit and slowly return to the stinking pestilence-stricken, ill-constructed trenches.

Norman King-Wilson 88th Field Ambulance RAMC

Blog Post

Finsbury park man in Gallipoli: newspaper story

Islington Daily Gazette and North London Tribune
30th September 1915

Finsbury Park man in Gallipoli
How he dodged the snipers
“The extravagance or a wash.”

If the British Tommy at the Front is asked when he would like to come home, he would reply, “When the Germans are whacked.” The phrase is one uttered a few days ago by an officer recently returned from the scene of hostilities, and the epistles sent home by the men who are successfully waging war across the water indicate that that is the spirit permeating those who are to-day defending us .

A letter received by Mr. and Mrs. Balsom, of 27, Hermitage-road, Finsbury Park, from their son Trooper E. V. Balsom, attached to the machine gun section of the City of London Yeomanry Rough Riders, and now in Gallipoli, is a case in point. The writer reports that he has just reached a rest camp after having been in the trenches some days, and is recuperating in a dug-out.

“Last night,” he proceeds, “when we arrived it was only about two feet deep and considerably smaller in area. We had carried fairly heavy loads and had dodged snipers by intermittent runs and rests, so that we were rather tired and in a terrible bath of perspiration. However that is a mere nothing, and by now we are used to doing heavy navy work at a moment’s notice. So we set to and cooled ourselves down by digging a foot deeper in the dark! With that we were content and proceeded to fit ourselves in. My word; it was a squeeze. Sardines in a box are not to be compared with it. Not even a case of “When Pa says turn we all turn,” because turning was almost impossible and, in addition, our feet were climbing up the foot of the hole somewhere, sort of waving in the breeze. Nevertheless, with our haversacks filled with bully beef tins, & c. , as pillows, it was not long before we were asleep, and altogether it was one of the best night’s rest we have had for many a long day.

We were up early this morning and hard at digging again. It was not long before our comfortable dugout became an accomplished fact. This makes the sixth I have worked on in less than twice as many days.

Trooper Balsom gives a few sidelights on life in the trenches. “The way troops in the firing-line fare was one of the greatest surprise to me,” he writes. “Here is roughly, the daily issue: -Good bully beef and desiccated vegetables, or tins of cooked beef and mixed vegetables in ample quantity; good quality biscuit – sometimes of the whole meals sort, but larger; a liberal supply of rasher bacon – the best we have had since mobilisation: tea and sugar sufficient for about three pints of tea per man per diem; and a sufficiency of jam. Some of the infantry round/about us actually had fresh bread and meat suitable for frying as steaks. That, of course, was an occasional luxury, but when we remember the difficulties of transport it is truly marvelous. The men do their own cooking, using the boxes the supplies come in as firewood, and it is surprising how expert one becomes in doing quite a lot with just a few sticks. On one occasion I had three hot dishes at one meal. These consisted of fried bacon with desiccated potatoes soaked, boiled, strained and fried in the fat; biscuits broken up, soaked, mixed with sultanas, and made into a sort of bread pudding; and a pot of hot tea.  How’s that for active service! Matters, as a whole, were fairly quiet, and we had a good well not far off with an ample supply. The only draw backs were snipers and stray shots, of which there was a constant fusillade. Still, a little care, precaution, and a lot of good luck-call it Providence if you like / landed us through our first experience quite safely without a casualty in the section.”

Trooper Balsom refers to the fact that not only the middle classes but the well-to-do are doing their bit at the Front.

“Amongst, the men with whom we were more directly associated,” he states, “were some awfully nice fellows-gentlemen of education and station. They were very kind to us, and we were a bit to reciprocate, to a certain extent, and that put matters on an amicable basis. It was quite a treat, after months of being snubbed and imposed upon, to find ourselves suddenly appreciated and looked to as an important unit. The other people of the Regiment are beginning to realise this now, and the men have shown themselves most anxious for news of our welfare.”

Some of the experiences of our fighting men are humorous if not always pleasing to those primarily concerned.

Trooper Balsom tells of an incident where the water-supply was somewhat limited. ”We were hoping that on getting back to this cam,” he observes, “we should have an opportunity of a wash and perhaps a shave, but in this we were mistakes. There is sufficient water for drinking and cooking purposes, but not risks are takes by allowing the extravagance of a wash. I almost doubt if you would recognise us at first sight. Our last wash was in the sea the day after we landed (11 days) and our last shaves were on the transports, about a fortnight ago. You can therefore imagine the beards and the shade of our skins. Mind you, it would not be so bad if only one of us had brought a comb; then we could cultivate our hair to some style to which it lent itself.”

The writer, proceeding, refers to the Army as a wonderful organisation – a most extraordinary, complex system. “The order of one day,” he states, “is liable to modification all the time until it is actually executed. At the same time it is a little novel to see the staff officers – with their smart decorations and fine military bearing – unshaved! War, as we see it here, is a great leveller of men. In appearance, there is little to choose between a moderately tidy private and the officer of this section.”