‘I suppose we are for it tomorrow, if we don’t get shelled on the way . . . if I should get bowled out – well it can’t be helped’
Soldier singled out for mention by Prince Harry one of scores of Irishmen to die in Gallipoli
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey’s founding father: he led the Turkish army at Gallipoli through June 1915, in battles which were lost by the British at a terrible cost
Pte Michael Lennon of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, singled out for special mention by Britain’s Prince Harry at a first World War memorial service in Belgium on Monday, was one of scores of Irish men to die in the failed attempt to dislodge Turkish forces from their command position on the Gallipoli peninsula in the spring of 1915.
Pte Lennon was mentioned because of a letter he wrote to his brother Frank, dated May 30th, 1915, just before he went into battle.
“Well, Frank, I suppose we are for it tomorrow, if we don’t get shelled on the way,” he wrote. “I can hope we have all the luck to come through the night and if I should get bowled out – well it can’t be helped.”
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The job to hand was taking the Turkish position in the commanding heights of Achi Baba, the main position of the Ottoman Turkish defences. The British commander in chief, Sir Ian Hamilton, wanted the heights captured to deliver a knockout blow to Turkish forces commanded by Mustapha Kemal, later known as Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Four times the British tried and four times they failed – at horrendous cost.
Pte Lennon’s military records held at the British National Archives in Kew, London, confirm he was deployed to the Aegean Islands and Gallipoli.
When the British fleet advanced on the Dardanelles in the Spring of 1915, they stopped at two staging post islands just off the Gallipoli peninsula – Lemnos and Lesbos. Troops waited on these islands while the Royal Navy pounded Turkish positions on Gallipoli.
The Dubliners made up part of the 29th Division of the regular army contained the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin, Munster and Inniskilling Fusiliers. On St Patrick’s Day 1915, they sailed from Avonmouth to Lemnos on board Ausonia, and dropped anchor on April 9th. On April 25th, the Dubliners landed with the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, half the 2nd Hampshire Regiment and other troops. Out of the first 200 men down the gangway, 149 were killed and 30 wounded.
Fighting continued throughout May and early June. On June 28th, a major offensive was made up Gully Ravine prompting, two nights later, a concerted Turkish counter-attack.
It was during these battles that 1st Dubliners suffered enormous casualties. In the two days of the 28th and 29th, the battalion lost 236 officers and men killed, wounded and missing. Among them was Pte Lennon, dying on June 28th. His name is among those on the Helles Memorial near Sedd el Bahr, the monument to those of no known grave.
On January 1st, 1916, the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers was ordered to leave the Dardanelles Peninsula. Of the 1,012 men who had gone ashore in April, 11 survived. The last remaining officer, Lt Henry Desmond O’Hara, from Co Kilkenny, who won a DSO for bravery, died of wounds on August 29th.