Volume 1: Letters written on active service, A-L, 1914-1919 - Page 200
these we crowded and started for the beach about a mile away. Some silly shrapnel got about us but didn't touch our boat, had a rotten feeling all the time though. About 600 yards from land we clambered across into lighters and our first casualty occurred, not in my boat, a man was killed by shrapnel which was now welcoming us too closely and we kept "ducking"
Out of the lighters and we hope to get right at it and relieve our feelings – but no. We simply assemble and get as many as possible separted from the crowd of all sorts on the beach & then we huddle up against the hill and try to make shelter. Room for about 100 all told out of nearly 800. The rest were exposed and it is one of the mysteries of that day that not a shell landed on the mass of men – where later on hardly a man was safe. But the beastly shrapnel kept bursting over us and landing in the sea not far away, and there we lay all day and all that weary night being "blooded" to fight in this nerve racking way, and never a chance to fire a shot or relieve our feelings.
Yes, and look at the awful Tuesday. At 10.30.a.m. we move up the valley, a rough track then, can go only in single file, shelled all the way, a few men hit. We reach the top finally in pieces and then began our real meeting of lead and here the story is too complicated to put on paper easily. Sufficient to say I found myself in command of Quinn's and Courtney's Posts as they are now named. The too hottest places in the line, and so my command lasted for 4 days till I was relieved at Quinn's. The first day I lost Jack Adams, my second in command, and Captain Hoggart. Two other Captains had gone sick before we landed. In 3 days I have lost 5 Captains and 4 subalterns and self fell a victim to the fleu. We had no blankets, only C[h]arley and I had even great coats. It was awfully cold at nights and at times it rained, but harder than all the Turks kept up an incessant attack on these two posts and our losses were naturally heavy. The numbers I omit at present.
But I couldn't go "sick", not much, the really superhuman bravery and [calmness] of the officers and men in the 3 days of awe, of death and of hardships which never ceased for a moment are quite beyond my expression, – beyond what any man could ever expect, and far beyond all praise. Only the absolute confidence in the Battalion, a confidence begotten by watching the training closely for 7 months and an intimate knowledge of all ranks kept me" clothed and in my right mind". Really I never feared a "break" close as we must have been to it at times. Now in calm retreat I almost give way to emotion as I look back on the men who did that job. Yes, and those who gave their lives in doing it.
Two officers stand out in my mind – Bobby Rankine and Tommy Steel – products of the good old Scottish Regiment – and for years real good pals of mine. Jack Adams did his job but met his bullet too soon, but Rankine had Quinn's and Steel Courtney's Post and my admiration of them amounts almost to worship.
Myself, mostly crawling around, feverish, weary, anxious, dirty, unshaven, caring for nothing but those two posts, and doing everything possible to feed and comfort the men. No hot tea or any such luxuries for 3 days. No blankets as I have said, and no coats, the wonder is truly they didn't get pnuemonia, but not one man went sick till long after.
I didn't mean to worry you, Tom, with all this detail but I have just wandered on and on and it relieves my feelings, so you must forgive my prolixity, but don't think I have told you all or half. I have omitted much and a good deal purposely, it can keep, and will fill in the remaining causes of my final breakup, possibly.
Well after a few days I got rid of Quinn's Post and we consolidated Courtney's Post and for a fortnight we were at it nightly, almost without exception, the same story as I began with but not always so hot.
Let me close with this outline. I can give any one details by yarning if ever anyone wants to hear about what Ian Hamilton described as "The bloodiest fighting I've ever known".
(by R.E. Courtney)