The hell of Suvla Bay: a soldier's letter reveals the horror

 

THE FULL horror experienced by Irishmen serving with the British army at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli during the first World War is captured in a letter sent from Capt Billy Richards to his father in Dublin on August 10th, 1915.

In the letter, Capt Richards, the uncle of novelist Jennifer Johnston, outlines the high number of deaths he witnessed during the attempt to secure the approaches to Istanbul and the Black Sea.

“We have been fighting for four days and I am sorry to say may have lost most of the battalion,” he writes.

“We were doing fatigues for the first two days and only lost about 10 men but yesterday morning about 3am, we were called up to stop a counter- attack. In about two hours we lost 12 officers and about 450 men. How I got through I shall never understand, the shrapnel and bullets were coming down like hail.

“In the last five nights I have had about five hours sleep but still feel fairly fit in body but my heart is broken for all those fellows I like so much.”

In his letter Capt Richards, who served with the 6th Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, talks of witnessing the two divisions sent to replace his coming under heavy fire.

“We are at present much nearer to the enemy than they are, but they are giving us a rest. When they come up we will all attack.”

He also makes reference to those who have stayed behind in Ireland rather than joining the British army.

“I would like to see some of the young lads who are staying at home get a few days of this. If they weren’t killed they would or should die of shame,” he writes.

Capt Richards goes on to describe how some of his closest comrades were wounded in battle, but had survived and expresses hope that he, too, will survive.

“After yesterday I have a feeling I shall get through this ‘job’,” he writes.

Capt Richards died from wounds received in a bayonet charge five days after the letter was sent.

His death is described in detail by regimental chaplain Canon McClean in The Pals of Suvla Bay, a book about a group of young Dublin friends who all joined up and served together in the Dublin Fusiliers during the first World War.