John McIlwain3 October
Issued with Serg clothing and caps again. Rumours about as to possible moves to France, Greece etc.
John McIlwain was a reservist at the outbreak of the War and rejoined as company quartermaster sergeant of the 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers. He served in France and Belgium and was wounded at the first Battle of Ypres. After a period of convalescence he returned to the Battalion, then in Ireland, and began training prior to dispatch for Gallipoli. He would land as part of the 10th (Irish) Division in August in August, and then move onto Salonika in October. He would leave the army in May 1919.
John's diary will be updated from April to October.
Follow the stories of the Irishmen who fell at Gallipoli from a century ago via their personal stories, ephemera, archive material, census details, military archives and diaries.
Issued with Serg clothing and caps again. Rumours about as to possible moves to France, Greece etc.
Arrived Mudros E Harbour and landed by boat loads about 10 a.m. Encamped in tents .We appreciate the change. Always in the Peninsula we were liable to shell fire, and even in the rest gullies high bullets came over the crest lines. Here is absolute safety and comfortable tents. More reinforcements to join us and some returned wounded and sick. We are almost a thousand strong again. Having parades and route marching.
Packing up for move to Mudros. At night I go to the beach with Lt. Skean (S.C.O Rifles, attached).We form an advance party. Much bustle on beach in the dark at Walkers Pier. Maltese labour battalion getting stores ashore assisted by Newcastle Brigade of R .Naval Division. Mixed jabber of Tyneside and Maltese. Lost Mr. Stein but board a lighter which grounded at first but eventually took us out to the trooper S.S. Prince Abbas. Remainder of battalion didn't come aboard until about 2AM.
Big draft arrives. We are up to 700 strong again. John Swords made C.S.M. in my place. Hugh O'Donnell C.Q.M.S. I am sgt. again. Spoiled my chances by applying for discharge.
Wrote application for discharge on termination of Section D (16 years). Jourdain and other officers displeased.
Rained rather heavy overnight and of course dysentery worse.
Try to carry out a drill parade in the limited space afforded by gully, but shrapnel being sent over we had to desist. The Anzacs laugh.This nighit reinforcements from Kinsale join us. Dan Twohig to D. We go in regularly for training parades. We seniors are much worried by the lecturing habits of the colonel and the unspeakable Ross Martin, Adjutant. Have an attack of dysentery which lasts all the rest of the time on the peninsula. Attending the doctor daily. Warm days, cold nights.
Moved after dusk to another gully. What an eventful place we leave. The S.W.B. bivouac whence we moved to the two attacks that finished the Battalion .We go to nice cosy dug outs as dugouts go.
One shrapnel shell came this morning, hit ten men and killed Major Money. The battalion reorganised into 4 platoons. Having easy time generally but an easy time renders me too conscious of enforced dirtiness. Have not had a wash except for mess tin or water bottle for a month. Water has to be brought under trying conditions from the beach. A lot of rum, the bully and biscuits sickening, am feeling unwell.
Rendered casualty list for D Coy since landing on Peninsula. K 14, died of wounds 4, W 90, W and M 5, M 12, to hosp sick 30. Total 155. And DI I believe had the smallest number of casualties. Carrying water to Anzacs front line this night. Tomorrow we do no more fighting. We provide roadmaking, digging, ration and water parties for others. We have some killed and wounded by snipers when so engaged. We are occasionally shelled in our gully.
Rested all day. The battalion now being unfit for action is employed on fatigues. Almost midnight I am with a party at Knoll 60 (where the fight was on the 27th.) sapping and digging generally. An occasional bomb from the Turks, quiet otherwise. I creep over to try to find the body of Lt. Lewis.
Roll call. The Battalion is now 180 strong and 5 officers (Col. Jourdain, Maj.Money, R. Martin, Godber, Harvey). Have a long rest and sleep. Tom Duffy (R.S.M. since 21st.August) tells me I am recommended.
Attack begins at 4 p.m. Small parties of 'A’, 'B' and 'C’ Coys attack after very heavy bombardment. We are in reserve. Our people have heavy casualties. Major Money commanding attack from sap where I am with him. After dark when fighting has slackened and the trenches chock full of Irish and Turkish dead and dying, seemingly owned by no acting force. Capt. Webber takes up us the reserve (about 50 strong) to occupy the position. At bifurcation of trenches the Captain goes north and sends me to command right and occupy where practicable. I did not see him again. The dead being piled quite to the parapet I take my party over the top in rear and with about 20 men and occupy portion of trench nominally Australian as many wounded Anzacs are there. Not long there when Turks bomb us from front and left flank, also snipe us along the trench from left. My men with few exceptions panicstricken. By rapid musketry we keep down the bombing. My rifle red almost with firing. By using G.coats we save ourselves from bombs. Turks but ten yards away drive us back foot by foot. I have extraordinary escapes. Two men killed beside me in the narrow trench and I am covered head to foot in blood. Casualties alarming and we should have fought to the very end but for the 18th. Australian Battalion, a party of whom jumped in amongst us, and held the position until reinforced. When able to look about me I find but two Rangers left with me. The rest killed, wounded, or ran away before or after the Anzacs had come. Struggling all night, consolidating, firing, and looking out. Anzacs abusive for the Rangers having lost the trench. The most awful night of my life. Weary and limp at sunrise I ask Lt. O' Donnell of the Anzacs 18th.Australian Infantry for a certificate to take back to my C.O. Find a few skulkers of C Co. on my way back who join me. Learn that the Captain was wounded and the rest of D Coy beaten back almost to Reserve. I was reported killed of course. Receive congratulations but wish that I could change my bloody clothes.
Capt. W. and the company on inlying picquet tonight. It is cold and there is some rain. We could do with G.Coats at night but have none and the drill khaki is clammy. The hardships are telling upon us. There is much colic and dysentery. The captain is sick and I am colicky. We have to attack again tomorrow.
In the action of the 21st all 'D' Co. officers wounded except the Captain, C.S.M. (Judge) and C.Q.M.S. (Heagarty) killed. I am senior left in the Coy and appointed acting C.S.M. I call the roll and a total of 96 answer. Making out returns etc all day. Congratulatory messages from Gen. Godley etc I have two days rest.
Slept with stretcher bearers until about 5 a.m. when I reported to Jourdain at Bn. HQ beside Rangers Well no. 2 that so much blood had been shed to take. Jourdain almost hysterical with the excitement of the previous day and night. Nervous in anticipation of a counter attack he spurs on everyone at the work of sandbagging round the precious well that we are not allowed to drink from. J gives me tea, tells me to rest a bit and afterwards calls upon me to assist at consolidating. Lt. R.R. Martin now Adjutant Bounder. Had a long and much needed rest that night in S.W.B. gully again.
Rest during morning. Divine Service.1.30 p.m. Gen Godley of the Anzacs gives a speech. We move up to the last bit of cover at 2 p.m. Bombardment begins. Mr. Kelly wounded. I take command of the platoon. 'C' Coy leads attack, we follow. It is a rather trying succession of short rushes over half a mile or so of open plain where half my platoon is knocked over. The only officer unwounded in the company is Capt. Webber. He has obviously paid little attention to plan of attack as cannot adapt himself to the position. He shouts at me for guidance. At the first lie down I describe the situation as well as I can and recommend that we rush to a farmhouse that has suddenly appeared. It is the best cover and we rush over a tomato field and take it. A mere handful of us reach it as we are then close to Turks on knoll (Kaiajik Aghala). We are also between the trenches taken by 'C' and the Turks. A hot place indeed. Lt. A. St. J. Mahoney is with us (wounded), Capt. Bond (wounded) also joins us. After dark Capt Webber sent back to report that we are withdrawing. We retire then to trenches occupied by Ghurkhas. Several alarms there and confused sniping. We are ordered to return to Bn.HQ. I am told off with one man to guide stretcher bearers. Anything but pleasant job among wounded and dying on the plain which is swept by bullets continually. The fire on the shores of the Salt Lake. Sgt. P. Danagher hit (mortally) as he is preparing to go back with the Captain. Between 1 and 2 a.m. stretchers exhausted, we make our way back. My companion a good scout or I should have been with the Turks many times.
Relieved at 2 p.m. and have bully stew and rice for dinner in the gully. Then back to bivouac of the 16th. (Lancashire Hill) until 7p m. when we proceeded to South Wales Borderers Gully. Slight diarrhoea and glad of the refreshing sleep. We are warned that we have to make a big attack on the morrow.
Machine gun sniper busy in gully. At night we go up to trenches again. Some fun getting water and tea up dodging snipers. Consolidating all our spare time.
A quiet time in trenches but deadly sniping down the gully on our right. The snipers are in the thick bush opposite our trench but we cannot detect them. Some are but a 100 yards away. Relieved about 9 p.m. In reserve in gully during night.
Get a new blue Turkish coat but have to chuck them away by order. The heat is great. Losing many men by sniping. Taking things easy until at 8p.m.relieved E. Lanes (6th.Batn.) in trenches.
Sunday. Resting till about noon when I take a party grave digging in D.M.Gully. At night eight of us drag the bodies of twelve (including British, Australian and one Ghurka) men to the grave. We are sniped at from a few yards away. For this job I get a full quart of rum for the party. After I return battalion moves to side of hill opposite old Turkish bivouac where "souvenirs” including cloth of all sorts and colours and some new greatcoats are to be had.
Retired to Olive Grove for much needed rest. Take our turn at sap digging for a little. Good rest during night.
At about 5.00 a.m. discovered no.14 simply enough being daylight. We are reoccupying a spur opposite to the Turks' position. Rather dangerous situation. All day without water. The young fellows and others so careless about water suffer desparately. About 10p.m.we are relieved but only go below the hill. I am sick and as most of the men are in a bad way prevail upon Capt. Webber to send a party down the Gully for water. We get it and a rum ration.
At night took up more advanced position on a ridge leading to the left of D.M's Gully. Sgt.Kiely of no.16 guides us. In touch with Sikhs on the left. Received orders to withdraw from detached post and stumble upon Bn.HQ where I am nearly shot by a sentry. Then I got lost looking for No.14 again and have to attach myself to C Coy.
We are relieved about 10 a.m. for a very necessary rest. At night employed building barricades and screens in Dead Man's Gully the death trap of the Hants, Rifles, and Gurkhas. Mr.K. still fearfully energetic. We use about 200 sandbags in a great barricade to save us from snipers by day; it collapses when nearly completed. Rested all next day.
When the sun got up nice and hot and the flies became lively we dragged the dead and swollen Turks with ropes from the front line Anzac trenches. The fighting has been terrible. The trench parapets partly formed of dead bodies. We used picks at times to dig the trampled bodies from the trench floors. Meanwhile the Anzacs looking out and sniping at times. The live Turks are but 50 or 60 yards away. The dead ones too painfully close. We use our respirators which are little good against the awful stench. About an hour of this and we knock off for a nominal breakfast. Little appetite. In the forenoon we have a sudden move. This time to the north where the Irish Rifles and the 10th. Hants had met disaster and were put out of action for the rest of our period on the Peninsula. We were literally rushed for three or four miles carrying reserve ammunition, bombs, camp kettles and the rest and were little use owing to irregular and infrequent sleep. We had a momentary halt by the shore in order that N.C.O's stripes and officer's badges should be removed .We were hurried along communication trenches almost blocked with the hundreds of wounded and dying being taken to the beach. Our brigadier Gen. Cooper is badly hit. I saw the dead body of Capt Nugent (Brig Major) pass on a stretcher. Our people were caught in a rather nasty trap and we arrive too late to help them. A and B Coys get into action on bottom slopes of Sari Bair. C and D dig in further back. Turks sniping us on our way up from the beach. This last few days we have been wearing in turn white cloth patches on arm and shoulder, and bright tin discs fastened to our backs, as signals to our naval and land gunners that they may identify us. These had to be discarded as the Turks early noted and imitated them. The boldness of the Turkish scouts and snipers is remarkable.
The Anzacs are unwilling that we should get share of the glory. They will not be relieved by British Tommies. Having cleared their own dead out of trenches recently taken they will permit us to bury Turks. This night we move up to do the job and my platoon commander, Mr. Kelly finds a nice soft sport for No. 14 to the internment of the unbeliever. So busy is he and energetic he gives not his nose a chance. A fed-up and indignant platoon prevail upon me to pray our commander to desist as it is increasingly obvious that we are redigging a grave. Shovelling back the stinking earth is, if anything worse than the excavating. Arrange with Anzac officer to put the dead Turks into disused sap off front line trench and close it up. We rested until dawn while another platoon carried on.
I go with a ration party to the beach. Shelled from Gaba Tepe by Beachy Bill who waits for ration parties, and does much damage. We take cover between piles of boxes. On way back meet our first officer casualty, Lt Cartmel Robinson, on a stretcher.
Move off at 4AM loaded with extra rations, bombs, tools, bags etc.to form a support just below the Anzacs position (Qunn's Post). Sat on reverse slope all day whilst loose form of scrapping seemed to be going on. Water carriers, ration parties, wounded and stretcher bearers moving up and down the narrow paths. We cannot but notice the magnificent physique and condition of the almost naked young Anzacs. The prevalent rumour is that a big attempt will be made by us to break across the Peninsula here to the Narrows thereby cutting off the Turkish Army at Achi Baba and the South. The four funnel H.M.S. Bachante assists considerably in the bombardment.
About 8PM moved a bit further, lay down and slept. It grows cold at night and we think of the coats we left behind at Shrapnel Valley.
Landed at Brighton Beach ANZAC about 4 a.m. dawn. March to Shrapnel Valley in rear of position being held by Australians and New Zealanders. Occupy dug outs and do more necessary digging out. Light shells flying about. Our first casualty about 11a.m. A man killed in 'C' Company. We are in reserve. In the evening a heavy bombardment of the Turks' positions by the Fleet. A lively infantry scrap all night if one may judge by the musketry.
Left bivouac about 10 a.m. each man carrying tools or cooking utensils, extra ammunition, bombs, medical or other stores, and everyone in marching order with 10 days rations. Everything to be taken by hand on to the peninsula. The boys realising what war is about.
Lay about until 4p.m. then embarked on SS "Elector" Harwich. A little G.E. cargo boat. Approach Gallipoli during the night. See Navy shelling Turkish positions. Continuous sniping amongst the hills.
Much bustle all day moving ammunition and getting things ready for tomorrow. Dismount guard at Retreat.
I mount camp guard. The first since the Curragh.
Manoeuvres. Night Operations.
Landed about 10a.m. Joined A Coy in bivouac. They had come in advance and had sailed in the Mauretania from Liverpool with Divisional and Brigade Hd.Quarters, the Rifles, Leinsters etc. All the Irish division is here. The youngsters suffer much from the heat as we have no tents and are kept going with fatigues. The sand and clouds of flies annoy much. Rationed with water which is scarce. Preparing for the campaign in the Peninsula. We form a "First Reinforcements' from each platoon to be left behind on our departure.
Early morning sighted Lemnos. Anchored in Mudros harbour.
Passed Rhodes. Through the Archipeligo for two days.
Sailed about 8 a.m.
Our battalion marches through the city. The drums playing "Kilaloe" and Brian Boru's March.
At night sergts being allowed ashore I get a pass and have a pleasant couple of hours in the streets and cafes.
Reached Alexandria. Anchored awaiting orders. Bum boats alongside and Egyptian newsboys scrambling aboard with papers hot from the press furnish amusement after the long sail.
Still pitching a bit. A week ago a man died and had a sailor's burial. Pneumonia.
A heavy swell. Many sick.
Malta. In the Grand Harbour with many more troopships. Coaled. Sailed out at 6.30 p.m.
Sunday. Passed Pantelaria in the forenoon.
At 7 p.m. off Tunis. We have been keeping close to Africa since we left Gib.
In the Straits about 4 p.m. Lay off about a mile from Gibraltar. As town was lighting up in the dusk we resumed our voyage.
W.S.W. course. I have a busy time as I am a troop deck sergt. A dirty old boat is ours. The lower decks caked with stale palm oil. An Elder Demptster W. Africa trader. 10 knots an hour.
We arrive at Devonport at 9a.m. Boarded S.S. “Bornu" and sailed from Plymouth Sound about 4 a.m.
At 11.40 p.m. our battalion moved out of Basingstoke Station.
In a rainy evening after they had vacated their tents the 6th R.I. Rifles and the 10th. Hants march out.
Left by 8 am train. Found battalion getting ready as we are at last under orders.
Arr. N'cle .5a.m. Another wire to return that night.
Friday. Another weekend leave. Met Steeksma in London. Departed Kinges Cross 11.30 p.m.
Take over week's Ord. Sgt. again. Easy enough time but strained relations with the mad C.S.M.
Left behind to clean up bivouac as I am Bn. O. Sgt. after Bn. marches out.
Waterloo centenary. Met Sir A Hunter whilst manoeuvring about Frensham.
More manoeuvres. South Warnborough, Holybourn and the pretty town of Alton. Innocent civilians arrested as suspected spies about our camp.
Court Martial. D gets 42 days detention. Judge on pass. I am acting CSM.
Reveille 3 a.m. March off 6am. Lay about for couple of hours till sounding of "Stand Fast." Back to camp.
Extensive operations from 8.30 am. Something like Battle of Marne. Walking up and down and round about the roads with no tactical object perceptible. Near Mortimer.
Another three day's outing. Still hot. Bivouac near Hook. An easy day. Thirst quenching at “Leather Bottle”.
Monday - left by 1.40a.m train. Arrived B'stoke 10.50a.m. Not wanted just then and regret hurried return.
In Newcastle, wire awaiting me to return at once, evidence in Dransfield Court Marshal.
Left by 3.15p.m train on weekend pass. Arrived Newcastle at 12.40 a.m.
Breakfast 5 a.m. Marched back to camp 10 a.m. The hottest day yet. Insubordination in no.14 Platoon. Dransfield.
On the move at 2am. Attacked by party of Engineers etc. about 2.30a.m.near my post on a great hall near Kingsclere.
Another three days operations. Thatcham. Concert in Market Place in evening.
We are inspected by Lord Kitchener.
Relieved from catering. Canteen duty.
10th.Division inspected by the King. I am off parade as usual.
Sunday. Take over catering of Sergt's Mess.
Rose at 5a.m. Raining steadily. Walking about all day in the rain. Get drenched. Operations cancelled, and marched back to camp about 4.30 pm. Drying clothes next day.
Marched out at 9.30 a.m. for three days operations against the l3th. Division from Aldershot. Billeted at Greywell.
A big Divisional day of field operations. 8.30 p.m. till 5.30. Very hot. Practising outpost beyond Basing.
Left by 5.20 p.m. train. Arrived B'stoke at midnight.
Weekend leave to Chesterfield where Louis was staying with Clara at Brimington. Handed Over O. Sergt.to Pat Danagher and caught train at 12.29 p.m. Had a narrow shave but caught the 3.40 at St. Pancras. Arrived C'field at 7.40 p.m.
Arr. Basingstoke at noon. Marched to camp at Hackwood Park. A busy time as orderly sgt. Beautiful weather. Great heat during route march on Friday 7th. Our men unaccustomed to heat, many fall out.
The Battalion left the Curragh by two special trains about 3.30 am. Sailed from Dublin in the evening. A calm voyage to Holyhead.
On conducting duty to Kinsale with unfits, accompanied by my platoon officer, Mr.Lee. Couldn't get a connection at Cork. Put up at Soldiers home for the night, after leaving an F.P. man at Victoria Barracks. Returned to Curragh next night after short stay at Kinsale.