In the autumn of 1915 the Oxford Magazine published a series of letters from an unnamed officer who was serving on the Gallipoli peninsula. This article is based on these letters and also the War Diaries of his regiment the 8th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
The magazine advised its readers that the officer had been reported missing in August 1915. No names were mentioned, however, the magazine did say that he had attended Brasenose College prior to the outbreak of war.
This is where modern day detective work – i.e., the internet – swings into action. A search of Brasenose casualties of WW1 revealed a name:- Alfric Euan Allies. Alfric’s birth was registered in Martley parish in Worcestershire in 1890, the son of Alfred and Florence Allies. The family moved to Tonbridge in Kent where he attended Tonbridge School as a day boy between 1905-09. The school website has a biography which says that after leaving school he went up to Brasenose in 1910. He graduated in 1913 with a degree with honours in jurisprudence. War interrupted any career he may have had and he was commissioned into the 8th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and eventually found himself on the Gallipoli peninsula where sadly he lost his life. No trace of him was found and he is commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Turkey on Panels 77 to 80. He was survived by his parents and younger sister, Lorna. The family had spent some time in India as Lorna was born in Darjeeling in 1893.
This article makes use of the Battalion War Diary and the letters penned by Alfric to his family back home in Worcestershire.
On 28 June the battalion paraded at Pirbright and marched to Brookwood Station where the men boarded a train for Avonmouth. They embarked on the SS Megantic, a White Star Line ship, which had been put to use as a troopship. The ship sailed during the evening of the following day. (The claim to fame of the Megantic was that it was the ship that brought the infamous murderer Dr Crippen back to England after his arrest.)
The journey was uneventful, the first port of call was Malta. Alfric in his earlier letters described life on board. He felt that it was comparable to any hotel he had stayed in. It must be borne in mind that, as an officer, his accommodation would have been far superior to that of the ordinary Tommy Atkins.
After Malta the Megantic sailed to Alexandria where the spare kit and the bulk of the transport carts were unloaded. The final destination was the Gallipoli peninsula as the Dardanelles campaign had been in full swing since April. Mounting losses meant that reinforcements were desperately needed and the 8th Royal Welsh was one of the components of the 13th Division which arrived on the peninsula in mid July.
The 8th Royal Welsh Fusiliers was a service battalion that had been formed in Wrexham in August 1914 as part of Kitchener’s First New Army (K1). Following a few months of training in England they made the journey to Gallipoli as described above.
After landing on the beaches the battalion made its way up the gully to take over trenches for a few days before moving back into reserve. They experienced a great deal of shelling and sniping by the Turkish forces. Alfric, in one of his first letters home, informed his parents that on 22 July the battalion had sat up all night waiting for a potential attack by the enemy. Nothing materialised save for heavy fire. It had been fun to look at through a periscope, he wrote. The battalion was so close to the enemy trenches that it felt that the British retaliatory shells were falling on them rather than the Turks. Many dead Turks lay close to them and the smell was overbearing. Some had been partially buried, their hands and feet protruding from the soil attracting flies.
The battalion spent two weeks in the trenches before being relieved by 5th Battalion Royal Scots. They marched to the beach and embarked on HMS Beagle, a destroyer, and sailed for Mudros and a well deserved rest. The battalion, according to Alfric’s next published letter, had lost 3 men killed and 25 wounded. Despite only leaving England the month before he had lost weight. The ferocious heat had also taken its toll and he observed that he had been burnt “the colour of iodine”. It is well known that conditions on the peninsula were extremely trying. Alfric mentioned that officers who had previously served in France felt that it had been a picnic there compared with what they were now experiencing.
The rest on Mudros was short lived, only three days, before they sailed back to Anzac Cove. Many men from the battalion, including Alfric, had been struck down by diarrhoea and they were left behind to recover. The heat was unbearable and he sought shelter under a mess cart. He had bought food locally but had great difficulty in keeping it down. His parents had sent him a box from Fortnum and Mason containing potted meat, Quaker Oats and peas. In an effort to cure himself he abstained from eating meat, only eggs, rice and fruit. After the battalion had left he was in charge of about 100 men who, like him, were in various stages of recovering from illness.
Gradually he felt better but remained cautious with his diet in order to prevent a reoccurrence. If pushed he felt he might be able to walk three miles. The temperatures had slowly dropped and now that it was cooler he was able to take in more of his surroundings. There were vineyards and maize fields close by. It was still very dry and he had seen a column of pack animals kicking up a lot of dust as they made their way across the countryside. However, as he was still sheltering under the mess cart the dust had not really affected him.
Letters home written in early August suggested his health was slowly improving. He had been to a Greek shop and bought some fresh food. The cost was exorbitant and he said that the British were being ripped off by the locals. As he was feeling better he had been able to do some work with his men. He mentioned that the luxury liner, RMS Mauretania was in port and he had been able to get on board for a decent meal. He enjoyed a lunch of “savoury, soup, lamb, compote of figs, gorgonzola and coffee”. After lunch he had been able to enjoy the luxury of a bath and even got some tea with buttered bread afterwards.
His day of luxury came to an end and he soon found himself leaving Mudros to return to Anzac Cove. Alfric wrote saying that the countryside close to the cove was rugged and steep. Fortunately for all concerned the temperature had dropped considerably. However, the sights that greeted him were awful. Thousands of wounded lay all over the place with many hundreds on stretchers. He told his family that many had been out in the sun for 2 or 3 days without any attention. Fortunately over the course of the next few days many were able to be taken off the beach to hospital ships. Alfric had ended up helping in the hospital. At that point battalion losses were roughly 150 men and 7 officers. Compared with other battalions their losses were comparatively light. In addition to telling the family what he could about the war he also asked for items to be sent to him. One letter contained a request for Bovril, Oxo and Liebig. (Liebig would eventually become known as Marmite.)
Despite the fighting on the peninsula, he expressed hope that he would be able to return to England by the end of October. He wrote that back home at that time there would be “fogs and rain and nice misty days when every echo sounds across the desolate sodden fields”.
The War Diary notes that on 10 August orders were received to proceed to the left flank and report to the HQ of the Australian and New Zealand Division. On arrival some companies moved forward to reinforce those close to the front lines. Others formed a covering party on a nearby spur, Rhododendron Spur. A lot of firing took place that night and a company was ordered to reinforce the Leicester Regiment. However, nothing happened and the battalion returned to bivouac at daylight. The battalion remained in bivouacs for the next few days.
The last of Alfric’s published letters was dated 14 August and this time it was sent to his sister. He told her that he had been able to bathe in the sea which had been very smooth. The day was beginning to warm up and that water was scarce. “Try giving yourself four breakfast cups of water on a really hot day and make them last for washing, cooking and drinking and see how you like it. We don’t”. He wrote.
Losses continued to mount and at this point there were only 14 officers left in the battalion. “Two more casualties will make me a company commander,” he tells his sister. Despite the severity of the war going on around them the food had been good. He reveals that the rations included unlimited bully beef and biscuits. Bacon, jam, tea and sugar with occasional tinned milk were also available. “I have not changed my clothes for two weeks, however, they are still reasonably clean,” he wrote. A request for novels to be sent out to him was included in this letter. He didn’t want newspapers as they already receive them. His illness is now behind him and he was feeling “in the pink.” He finishes this letter hoping that the fruit at home does well and that their father keeps on smiling.
Following this last letter, a letter, dated 17 August 1915, from his company commander continued the story in the Oxford Magazine. This letter was to Alfric’s parents saying that he felt that it was his duty to write giving details of the way in which Alfric met what he feared was his death.
The War Diary entry for 16 August reveals that the Turks had erected 3 loopholes (a hole to fire at or observe the enemy) in a small knoll some 30 yards from the 8th’s position. A small party under the command of Lt A E Allies, an enterprising and capable officer, was sent out, covered by their machine guns in an effort to destroy the loopholes. Unfortunately, they did not succeed owing to enemy fire being directed on them and the survivors were forced to fall back. The diary noted that Lt Allies and 5 men were reported missing.
In his letter to Mr & Mrs Allies the company commander said that there was a chance that Alfric had been wounded and taken prisoner but he did not hold out much hope. He told them that Alfric had charged ahead of his men and had been seen firing his revolver into the Turkish trench and then fell over the ridge towards the Turks. He was finally seen crawling back up the hill trying to return but he was fired upon again and had not been seen or heard of since.
In addition to being commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Alfric is remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and also on the Roll of Honour in Worcester Cathedral.