LOOKING BACK: Alive but scarred by Gallipoli campaign

Jack Ashbee
Jack Ashbee

On April 25 the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns are being commemorated.

My grandfather, John, aka, Jack Ashbee was one of the 16-year-old naval cadets sent to the Dardanelles by Churchill to support the army landings.

The Gallipoli campaign

The Gallipoli campaign

When the cadets were told they were being sent to war there was great excitement amongst the boys at Dartmouth Naval College.

They did not expect to have to fight. Their families were appalled and many mothers complained about it.

Nevertheless they sailed on some of the oldest and slowest ships the Navy had.

The Dardanelles were a strategically important piece of narrow sea off the coast of Turkey. Knowing it was an important supply route for the Russian allies of the British, the Turks had closed the Straits.

The Dardanelles

The Dardanelles

Unbeknown to the British, they had been tipped off about the invasion and the Turks had mined the Straits. Three British ships were sunk with a great loss of life.

The invasion was a disaster as the British and allied troops came under fire from the Turks on top of the cliffs.

Many, like Jack Ashbee were wounded or killed as they tried to get off the beach and up the steep cliffs.

Jack was hit by a bullet which went straight through his ankle shattering the bone. Unable to walk and under heavy fire, he lay on the beach for three days, until he was rescued and put on board a ship to sail to hospital in Alexandria.

The Gallipoli campaign

The Gallipoli campaign

He returned to England to a hospital in Hastings.

The surgeon there said his leg needed to be amputated but his mother would not sign the consent papers. His leg was saved but he always walked with a stick.

Later on he married and settled in Polegate.

Despite his injury he made a living driving a Southdown coach. Eventually he received a gold medal from the company for his careful driving.

Like most of the veterans of the First World War he did not talk about his experience very much but he suffered from dreadful nightmares for the rest of his life.

I remember the pictures of the grey battle ships and minesweepers that lined the hallway of his bungalow and I once asked him about a small hole above his upper lip – “just a bit of shrapnel”, he replied.

He was a cheerful man who liked a joke and I remember him well, although he died in the 1960s when I was 10-years-old. He was in his sixties and had poor health in later life but always displayed the stoicism and humour common to his generation.

The campaign and those dreadful days laying on a beach listening to the cries of his comrades had a lasting impact and I’m sure the trauma stayed with him for life.

These are photos and mementos my grandad kept. The postcard he sent home when he sailed, his sister Gert, mentioned in it also settled in Eastbourne. Her husband George Lacey worked for the Herald as a printer. The grainy image is of a raft with men on– probably from a sunken ship.

Madeleine Marshall, madeleinemarshall@btinternet.com