8. Gallipoli 1915

‘There will be no retiring.
Every man will die at his post rather than retire.’ 1

This is the story of how seven Findlaters went to war and only three returned home, one with a limb missing. They were among the Irish heroes of the 7th Royal Munster Fusiliers, the 5th Inniskilling and the 6th Dublin regiments, from all strata of society, who served and suffered, so many of them fatally, in the First World War.

The declaration of war in August 1914, was the signal for an extraordinary outbreak of self-sacrificing patriotism, a great rallying of those who were loyal to the empire. For most Irish Protestants, the reaction was visceral and instinctive. F. H. Browning, the president of the Irish Rugby Football Union for 1914, issued a circular to the rugby football clubs in the Dublin district. This circular called upon the union to urge their members to place their services at the disposal of the country in carrying through the war which had just begun. As soon as Browning discovered that there would be a large and ready response, he inaugurated a volunteer corps, subsequently known as the Irish Rugby Football Union Volunteer Corps, which had its headquarters at the Lansdowne Road football grounds, Dublin. Browning perceived at once that the corps could be made a nucleus for recruiting for home defence, and he extended membership to men not only from rugby football but all other sporting clubs. He engaged several drill sergeants, and inside a few weeks had over three hundred recruits of business and professional men from the city, both young and old, learning the elements of military instruction and drill.

He then got in touch with his old friend Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Dowling. Dowling had been given command of the newly formed 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and had been well known in the football world in earlier years (1883) as captain of the first fifteen of Monkstown Football Club. Colonel Dowling agreed to keep open a special company, ‘D’ Company as it was subsequently known, for ‘Pals’ from the Irish Rugby Football Union Volunteer Corps.

The men of the Findlater family were perfect fodder for this ill-fated escapade. Oldest to volunteer was my Great-Uncle Alex, aged fifty-four, who had qualified as a doctor at Trinity College and was practising in Edgware, Middlesex. He joined up with the Royal Army Medical Corps, 1st London Mount Brigade Field Ambulance, and was posted to Gallipoli. Grandfather Willie stayed at home to mind the business, but his next brother, Charles—a member of Monkstown

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Rugby Club, a Trinity graduate, an engineer and a bachelor—decided to enlist despite the fact that he was forty-four years old, and that the upper age limit was supposedly thirty-five. Their younger brother, Herbert, enlisted—a Trinity graduate and practising solicitor—despite being forty-two, and married with two young sons. Elsewhere their cousin Victor, thirty-six, saw active service with the Royal Irish Rifles and his brother Percy, thirty-four, with the Royal Army Service Corps. More remote cousins, two sons of John Findlater who had emigrated to Texas in 1883, also signed up and suffered.

When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Irish-born Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War in the British Government, had appealed for one hundred thousand men and John Redmond, notwithstanding the fact that home rule had again been deferred, offered the services of his Volunteers to the Empire. Thus on Wednesday 16 September 1914 those who had up to that date enlisted at Lansdowne Road—barristers, doctors, solicitors, stockbrokers, barbers, medical students, engineering students, art students, businessmen who had responsible positions, civil servants and insurance agents—marched off to Kingsbridge Station en route to the Curragh Camp for training, receiving a great ovation from the public and their friends as they went. From almost every window in Nassau Street, College Green and Dame Street, handkerchiefs and hands were waved to them.

The training at the Curragh Camp was arduous and involved drilling, musketry training, digging trenches and route marching. The most memorable route march took place on 7 and 8 December 1914 when, following a mid-training break as guests of Lieutenant Stanley Cochrane at Woodbrook, Bray, South County Dublin, ‘D’ Company undertook the march from Bray to the Curragh in full battle gear.2 ‘D’ Company trained at the Curragh for seven months. During this time a correspondent from the Dublin Evening Mail visited them. He watched the recruits of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at ‘the labour of love and loyalty’ they had undertaken. Of particular interest to the reporter were the men of ‘D’ Company:

I was particularly interested in ‘D’ Company, the ‘Footballers’, as they were known when they were first drafted to the Curragh. The title is steadily drifting into abeyance. They were footballers when they went to the Curragh. They are soldiers of the King now; and proud to be nothing else; and, above all, proud to be serving in the ‘Old Toughs’.

I watched them at their drill in Gough Square vicinity; and they went through their movements with splendid precision and confidence. It was difficult to believe that the majority of the men were civilians like the rest of us only a month ago. They marched and countermarched, and formed fours; and wheeled and counterwheeled, and deployed and performed all the other evolutions of the parade ground with, so far as I could judge, the smartness and certainty of veterans. The Prussian drill-sergeant is supposed to be the last word in efficiency production. No cursing, swearing, jack-booted, bullying Prussian non-commissioned officer could have his men in better shape or fit

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I am not going to say that in this case, as they say before the footlights, it is all done by kindness. It is all done by keenness. Men, non-commissioned officers and officers are all animated with the one desire: to do credit to the regiment; to get on with the business in hand; and then to get to the Front. They have to work very hard. They are at it before breakfast and again before dinner, and again before tea. They seemed to me to be gluttons for work, and more work, and harder work. The labour they delight in physics pain.

I saw them again, after dinner— and they have their dinner at one, and are at work again at two— marching out to the veldt of the Curragh, and practising the great war game. In half an hour you see them dotted in detachments across the plain. Over there to the left men are practising signalling. In front of you a platoon is marching away and gradually opening out their line, as you would stretch an elastic band. They are advancing in extended order. Others are scouting towards the wood on the horizon, dropping behind


cover and progressing by short rushes. Others again are lying in a saucer-like hollow in the grass and practising rifle-drill for the future work in the trenches. They are getting hard as nails, busy as ants, and keen as mustard.

The report ended with a reference to the Findlater brothers:

The men are well fed, well led, and well housed, and as pleased as Punch with their new life. Private Findlater, one of the two well-known brothers who have joined the corps, and whom I met at the station, gave me a cheerful account of the cordial relations between the men, and of the respect and regard that are entertained for the officers. Under Colonel Dowling, who, I hear, may be induced to authorise an Irish terrier for the regimental mascot, the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers is becoming already a fine regiment. It will soon be a picked regiment. When it goes to the Front, as I believe it will do in a couple of months, it will carry the confidence as well as the good wishes of the class and territory it will worthily represent.3

Fate had earmarked ‘D’ Company for participation in one of the most ill judged ventures of the war, the attempted invasion of Turkey through Gallipoli. The war on the Western Front, on a line from the English Channel in the north, running hundreds of miles to the Alps in the south east, was in stalemate. Neither side was able to dislodge the other. Winston Churchill, then thirty-nine

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years of age and First Lord of the Admiralty, entranced by what he called later the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’ proposed to attack the Germans from the east and to split their forces by moving up the Danube valley from the Black Sea. The plan was to land the British, French, Australian and New Zealand units on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey and, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, to open up the Dardanelles Straits in order to gain access to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the Black Sea. This would allow supplies of ammunition to the hard-pressed Russians and permit shipments of Ukrainian wheat to France and England. Seventy-four-year-old Admiral Sir John Fisher, First Sea Lord, was extremely sceptical of the plan and warned Prime Minister Asquith of his concerns.

Nevertheless the invasion went ahead and resulted in one of the greatest disasters in British naval and military history. Out of nearly half a million allied soldiers and sailors, who served at Gallipoli and the Dardanelles, nearly half became casualties. The campaign was a disaster mainly through sheer political irresponsibility— planning the campaign with no thought as to its value—as Robin Prior observed in his contribution to the Oxford Companion of Australian Military History: ‘Gallipoli had no influence on the course of the war as a whole. More depressing still, even if the expedition had succeeded in its aims, it is doubtful if the war would have been shortened by a single day.’4 Undoubtedly, the force sent to Gallipoli was not only comprehensively defeated by the Turks, but betrayed by the incompetence of their own leadership. As New Zealand general of Irish parentage, Alexander Godley, wrote to his cousin in Cavan, Lord Kilbracken, ‘I do not suppose in history, that anything so utterly mismanaged by the British Government will ever be recorded.’5

Indeed, the British leadership of the Gallipoli campaign was nothing short of a disgrace. Captain Milward, one of the few GHQ staff officers present on the battlefield, described the expedition as ‘badly-planned and ill-conceived’.6 In fact, as Michael Hickey demonstrates in his excellent book Gallipoli, the whole military operation was inept and incompetent, from the War Council to the generals in the battle zone. He notes that in London ‘the political and military interests were in collision’ and that there was ‘no firm line of policy’ for the campaign. 7

However, when the Irish troops eventually departed from the North Wall on 30 April 1915, their hearts were high. Their war was to be a glorious adventure. Thousands of Irish people thronged the streets to wave off the volunteers. The Irish Times  reported the event:

Headed by the band of the 12th Lancers, and the pipers of the Officers’ Training Corps, Trinity College, the battalion moved out of Barracks. As they emerged through the main entrance they were cordially cheered, and the cheers were taken up all along the route. They looked exceedingly fit, and presented a fine military bearing. As they marched by in perfect order and in swinging, rhythmic step, every one felt that they were worthy of the city and of a country noted for its soldiers. The men were in great

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spirit, and laughed and joked along the way. The Union Jack and the Irish Flag were carried on the spikes of the bayonets, and wherever they were noticed cheers were raised. In addition to their heavy packs, some of the men carried melodeons strapped to their kit-bags. As they passed down the Quays, the crowd on the pavement and the occupants of windows lustily cheered, and the men, recognizing friends along the route, returned their farewell greetings with hearty cheers. In front of the Four Courts a large crowd of barrister, solicitors, and officials gave a cordial sendoff to the men. Amongst the crowd were judges, whose sittings had concluded for the day, and they cheered as spontaneously as the others as the men passed. In the ranks were members of the Bar who had forsaken excellent prospects to keep the Old Flag flying and as they were recognised they were cordially cheered . . . Fashionably dressed ladies walked beside their brothers and relatives, and women in shawls kept step with their husbands, brothers, and sons. The contrast was marked, but it served to show the spirit that animates the people. Men going to the Front under such conditions, with their minds set on one purpose, could be depended upon to act up to the glorious records of their regiment.8

Charles in uniform

Just six months later only 79 of the original company of 239 would leave the war zone alive.

Having departed from Ireland on 30 April 1915, the battalion underwent a further ten weeks of tough training, this time at Basingstoke in the south of England. The voyage to the east on board the liner Alaunia was relaxed and agreeable. The battalion embarked on Friday 9 July at Devonport, reached Gibraltar on the 14th, Malta on the 17th, Alexandria on the 20th and Mudros Bay in the island of Lemnos on 24 July.

By this time the Gallipoli campaign was turning sour. The allied forces had failed to batter a direct entrance, and were defeated in an attack on the southern and western sides of the peninsula. (Having, as they thought, comprehensively reduced the Turkish defensive position from the sea, the generals sent detachments of Dublin and Munster Fusiliers to invade the beaches in open boats. This gave the Turks time to emerge from their shelters and set up machine gun posts. As the Irish regiments approached they were simply slaughtered in the boats, many of which sank, and some of which drifted out to sea, with a ghastly load of bloody corpses.)

Nothing daunted, the generals had decided on one last push, this time to the

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north of the Dardanelles peninsula, into Suvla Bay on the coast of Turkey. On 7 August 1916, as dawn broke just before five o’clock, the trained but unseasoned troops arrived in Suvla Bay. The morning of the landing was beautifully fine. ‘A’ Company went first, under Major Harrison, and ‘D’ Company landed later, the lighter which took them ashore bringing back some wounded. As the historian of the Dublin Pals described:

The Bay was full of every kind of shipping. The naval guns were vigorously shelling the ridges round the Bay. The shells exploded with bright red flame edged with a black fringe of smoke, just like a tulip with the red leaves tipped with black. The noise was terrifying . . . as the light became stronger nothing was visible to the naked eye on the shore save the stretcher-bearers carrying wounded down the slopes of a hill. One could see a large number of men digging themselves in just behind the crest about half a mile from the shore . . .

Here they had their first sight of the horrors of war, the stretchers passing them with many of their burdens soaked in blood. The effect of this and of first coming under shellfire when they landed was a severe trial, but they passed through it well.

The Pals were soon in the battle zone:

The engineer officer had advised the lowering of the parapet of the trench occupied by ‘D’ Company, which was on the north-east and north-west corner of the hill, but when the attempt was made it was found that a good part of the parapet was composed of dead Turks, so the earth was only removed down to within a few inches of them—but the result was very unpleasant, and the smell became overpowering as the day became hotter.9

The Pals, like all the other troops, had little or no chance. There were no specialist landing crafts for the initial invasion, nor prefabricated piers and jetties and there was a lack of trench stores. There was a shortage of barbed wire and defective wire cutters and no corrugated iron to roof over the trenches against hand grenades. There was a lack of standardisation and uniformity of weapons and at times a shortage of ammunition and weapons, especially hand grenades so effectively used by the Turkish soldiers. One of the Pals reiterates the battle scene:

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The sights I saw going along that place I shall never forget. Some of our fellows throwing back the bombs which the Turks threw over and which had not exploded. One fellow caught them like catching a cricket ball. Wounded and dead lying everywhere. The sun streaming down and not a drop of water to be had. Neither had we bombs to reply to the Turks and drive them out.10

Maps, so vital in the alien terrain, were old and inaccurate and as a result advances became ill-directed shambles. Medical arrangements were hopelessly inadequate at the outset. As Brigade Major Captain Arthur Crookenden noted, ‘The military situation at this juncture beggars description.’

Indeed, the allies had little idea of the true strength, or battle-worthiness, of the Turkish forces in the Dardanelles area, even on the eve of the landings. On the other hand there were many Turkish and German agents in Egypt who were able to deliver a complete allied order of battle to the head of intelligence in Constantinople by the middle of March 1915. Kitchener in London had only a vague idea of what was required and merely fervently hoped that his commander on the spot would come up with a workable plan.

It is clear that the battle was lost well before these men went ashore at Gallipoli. Even the generals were inexperienced and unprepared to cope with the horrors of the war front. Michael Hickey in Gallipoli cites a case of a Lieutenant Douglas Hallam, a Canadian in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. ‘He had been in uniform just five months and had no military experience whatsoever. Now he was on a strange shore, under fire and with no idea of what he was supposed to do with the thirty men and six machine guns under his command!’ Leon Uris, in Redemption, deduces that the blame for this military disaster must be placed on Winston Churchill: ‘When all the commissions of inquiry are

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done, the finger pointing and cover ups and the lying and the justifications are told and retold, I realise that one glaring fact shall remain, that is that the name of Winston Churchill will forever be synonymous with one of the greatest disasters in military history’.11

In the first five days allied casualties were heavy; a witness who saw the 30th Infantry Brigade described the scene:

I witnessed these regiments drag their weary limbs over the ridge of Karakol Dagh. The drawn face and haggard look told of that dreadful week into which more privation and suffering had been compressed than fall to the lot of most men in a lifetime. Their faces were begrimed with smoke and sweat. The clay of the trenches showed on their hands and through the unshaven beard and close cropped head, for water was still too scarce for washing purposes.12

However, what lay ahead for these men was even more horrific. Let us now turn to read an account of the terrible battle of 15 and 16 August in which Herbert and many other Pals died: 

The Turks remained in their position under the shelter of the crest and ‘lobbed’ the bombs over the ridge among the Dublins, causing terrible casualties. The Dublins had no bombs and when they endeavoured to retaliate they had to creep, two or three men at a time, to the crest and, leaning over, fire downwards at the concealed Turks, or roll large boulders down on them, thus necessarily exposing themselves. It was enough to dishearten and try the bravest and most experienced troops to be in such a helpless plight. But they held on to the position for several hours, being practically unable to do anything by way of defence except ‘sit tight’ and trust to luck. Then shortly after six o’clock, in the bright early sunshine of the morning, came the incident which, to the 7th Dublins and especially ‘D’ Company, was the most fateful of the campaign. Somewhat earlier in the morning, before dawn, ‘C’ Company under Captain Palmer had been taken to reinforce the firing-line at the left, where it was being sorely pressed near the knoll. This was the hottest corner of all, and twice the line wavered and nearly broke, but with grim determination still held on.13

It was then that Major Harrison, who had until then been with ‘A’ Company on the right of the line, sent word that ‘D’ Company should be brought in to further reinforce the left. When they came they were told that the only chance they had of keeping the hill was to charge the bombers:

To every one it was obviously a deadly undertaking, but no one flinched. Those who were first to get out, mostly from No. 14 Platoon, fixed their bayonets and, having had indicated to them the position of the bombers, with a terrific shout rushed off to the top of the crest, led by Captain Hickman . . . immediately on coming into the open a bullet struck Captain Hickman and mortally wounded him.

The men never stopped, but Major Harrison, without a cap, and waving his cane, rushed forward, and calling out, ‘I will lead you, men,’ dashed out in front. He got as far as the edge of the Turkish trench, which was about ten yards in front, when he was struck in the body by a bomb and killed. Almost every one in the charge was killed or

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wounded by the machine-gun fire from the right flank; and only four, Sergeant Burrowes, Sergeant Drummond, and Privates Synnott and Verdon were able to crawl back over the ridge to the cover from which they had come.14

Among the men who followed the Major was Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Findlater and his platoon. As one of his comrades wrote to Willie (Findlater), ‘It was a mad-man’s charge, but on the other side a very brave one–we were relieved at 6 that evening by the 5th Royal Irish Fusiliers. It was a hard job fighting and ducking from 5 in the morning until 6 in the evening and the only thing to keep our spirits up was an odd song and a smoke from a woodbine–that was how poor Findlater went.’15

By this stage the effort to dislodge the bombers by bayonet charge seemed hopeless. By the following Monday morning (16 August) Lieutenant Hamilton, (a Trinity medical student) was the only officer left in ‘D’ Company. And even though he was wounded in the foot, he was now in command. As Henry Hanna recorded in The Pals at Suvla Bay: ‘It was a sad roll-call for the regiment. Their casualties during the night stood at 11 officers and 54 men, killed or wounded, and 13 missing; ‘D’ Company, which had landed 239 strong, being now reduced to 108 all told.’ The official dispatch notes that ‘reinforcements were promised, but before they could arrive the officer left in command decided to evacuate the front trenches. The strength of the Turks opposed to us was steadily rising and had now reached twenty thousand.’ Hanna wrote that it was during this time that the ‘company felt most the loss of so many gallant officers. From August 17 to the end of September ‘D’ Company had no officers (Lieutenant Hamilton having gone to hospital on account of his wound), and was under the command of Company Sergeant-Major Wm. Kee.’16

Charles and his remaining colleagues, although weary and saddened, had to press on. Hanna continues the story:

The following morning (Saturday, August 21) broke clear and fine, and our artillery both on land and sea replied to the Turkish batteries which had opened the ball previously, and the shells fell very close to us but did not do much harm. We stopped in our cover for the morning, and at one o’clock in a blazing sun the Fleet and all our land batteries began a bombardment of the neighbouring hills, which were held in force by the enemy and which we were to attack later. The bombardment lasted for over an hour, and at the end the hills were on fire in many places and it seemed impossible that anyone could possibly be left alive there—the Turks had not once replied to our fire; they were too cute.

About 3 p.m. on this blazing Saturday afternoon we got the order to prepare to advance, and as we got into our equipment and gave a last touch of oil to our best friend (the rifle), I can tell you that our hearts were going pit-a-pat, as we all knew well what awaited us as soon as we left our cover. However, not a soul hung back when the order came to advance—we defiled as smartly as on parade over the hill and took up our positions in the open in lines of companies. We advanced at a brisk pace across into the open plains which lay at the bottom of the hills, and until we had gone

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about a mile and a half there was no notice taken of us by the enemy, except the snipers, who were busy picking off the officers but without much success, as the range was too long. However, things were soon to hum. Just as we got nicely into the middle of a great field, which had been ploughed up by the Turks to render advancing more difficult, the enemy opened fire!

Good Lord! They didn’t half plop the shells into us—shrapnel, high-explosive and lyddite shells were bursting in absolute hundreds in front, above, and behind us, and now and then to add intensity to their fire numerous land mines blew up, throwing men and rocks into the air and blinding us with sand. Men fell all around, and the shouts and smell of the lyddite were awful. Soon the air was laden with pungent smoke which caused great smarting to the eyes, but those of us who were lucky enough to be still unhurt advanced. When we got out of the field the order to extend came, as we were now under rifle-fire, and we advanced at the double, throwing ourselves down as flat as possible every twenty-five yards to get our breath, then: ‘Prepare to advance. Advance!’. Up and away in a rush forward for another twenty-five yards and down again. Our casualties were much more heavy now, as the range was suitable to rifle-fire and the Turks would wait until we were getting up, and at each halt we left many men to mark our rests.17

The Turks during the remainder of the campaign were never dislodged but some were taken prisoner and the only comments recorded were that they were all fine fellows physically and seemed quite contented and pleased with their fate when captured! As an opponent, the Turkish soldier was both feared and admired by most Irish soldiers.

For Herbert’s family, the following few months would prove to be a difficult time. Herbert had not returned from the battlefield, but confirmation as to whether he was dead or alive eluded them. Doubts about Herbert’s death were finally put to rest by an affidavit made by Ernest Hamilton, who had been the second lieutenant in command of Herbert’s platoon on the fateful morning. Hamilton was bright and extremely handsome. However, the appalling horrors of the war turned him into a chronic alcoholic and he was subsequently courtmartialled and ‘dismissed the service’. He returned to Ireland but never continued his medical studies. Indeed, he never worked again and did nothing with his life, which to all intents and purposes had come to an end while he wore the uniform of the Dublin Fusiliers on the ridge in Gallipoli. Perhaps those who did not return were the lucky ones. The following affidavit gives a gruesome portrayal of Herbert’s last moments:

On the morning of the 16th day of August 1915 I was stationed with my Company behind a ridge somewhere in Gallipoli and at about 5 o’clock a.m., just shortly after dawn broke a charge was ordered over the ridge and down the hill towards the Turks who were in a very strong position about 80 to 100 yards away from us; my Company charged in two lots of about 80 men each, I (this Deponent) having charge of the second lot which included the said Herbert Snowdon Findlater. Immediately we went over the ridge a most severe machine gun fire was poured into us together with a fierce

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shell fire. We had to go through a gap immediately over the ridge and then into the open towards the Turks. When I was crossing said ridge a shell burst close beside me and I was blown back again behind the ridge and wounded, but still possessed consciousness and, on looking up to see how the charge was progressing, I found that every man in both lots of my Company was either lying on the ground dead or wounded. I remained in the ridge and a second party came up to take the place that our Company had left and we held the ridge for about three hours and were then relieved by another Regiment. The ground in front of the ridge mentioned by me and where the casualties in the said charge took place was never re-taken by us, and for the three hours during which we held the ridge after the charge the entire ground was most heavily shelled and a constant machine gun-fire swept over it, making it impossible, as I verily believe, for anyone to survive who was on the ground during said shelling and fire . . . 18

Hoping against hope, the family made strenuous efforts to establish whether Herbert was held prisoner by the Turks. They tapped contacts in the Mazawattee Tea Company in London. At last the final word came from Cairo: ‘Findlater was in a bayonet charge made by two other platoons on August 16th. Only four men returned and they said that he and all the others had been killed. Signed for Sir Louis Mallet.

Herbert died leaving two young sons, Maxwell (Max) who eventually graduated at Cambridge and spent a lifetime teaching at Pangbourne Nautical College, Reading, and Godfrey who settled in Canada.*

When the invading forces were finally removed by January 1916, the count showed that 30,000 men had been killed or had died of their wounds, 8,000 were missing or prisoners, and 74,000 were wounded. Of the original Dublin Pals ‘D’ Company of almost 239, only 79 remained to leave the peninsula.

As these survivors looked back from the transport at the scene of so much unavailing bloodshed, they were only human if they hoped that there might be some little recognition or word of praise for them. But it was not to be and little effort has been made to retrieve from oblivion the live human detail of their deeds. They with others may have failed in accomplishing all that was placed before them. Looking back it still seems to them to have been an impossible task that was set, but they faced it cheerfully and gave of their best to achieve the goal. Spectamur agendo—We judge them by their deeds. As they steamed away into the darkness every one’s heart was saddest at the thought of leaving their courageous dead on the hill-sides and cliffs that they were abandoning, but to their comrades and their friends the memory of all they did and tried to do will never fade.19

*Herbert was born in Dublin in 1873. Educated at Strangeway’s School and Trinity College Dublin, he qualified as a solicitor in Sir William Findlater’s office. He attended Findlater and Empire Theatre board meetings as the family solicitor. He was a member of the Royal Irish Yacht Club and was an accomplished amateur actor. Like his brothers he was a keen sportsman and a founder member of the Monkstown Hockey Club in 1895. He married Evelyn Thompson in 1904.

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Royal acknowledgment of a life given for the Empire

Even those who did not fight, but who witnessed the carnage and tried to support those left behind, they too played a part. As one officer said:

I really must say something about Father Murphy and Canon McClean, the Church of Ireland minister. These are our clergymen of the 6th and 7th Dublins and 6th and 7th Munsters, which four battalions form the 30th Brigade. The Canon, a dear old Irishman, from Limerick, holds his service side by side with Father Murphy. They put great spirit into the men, who love them both, in fact almost adore them. I personally think that nothing is good enough for these two noble gentlemen. Catholic and Protestant are hand-in-hand, all brought about by the gentleness and undaunted courage displayed by these two splendid soldiers of Christ. Never since the landing has the roar of battle, be it ever so ferocious (and God knows it is bad here at times), prevented these clergymen from forcing their way into the firing-line and attending to our gallant sons of Ireland.20

Herbert sadly was not to be the only member of the family to give up his life for the Empire during this long war. His brother Charles was also killed in action (13th November 1916) when, after a period of recuperation, he joined up with the 10th Dublin Fusiliers and went to France. It is easy to assign the war dead to a memorial stone in a far-off field. But each had his own personality, his achievements and his ambitions. Charles was no exception. Educated at High School, Dublin, and at Armagh Royal School, he subsequently entered Trinity College, Dublin. For a number of years he was associated with the family firm, after which he turned his attention to engineering. In 1902 he went to South Africa, and worked as an engineer in Johannesburg. Returning home, he became interested in the cycle trade and was later associated with the development of the motor car industry

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in Dublin. As a sportsman he was well known. He was on the gymnastic team of the Sackville Hall Club. He was a well known cyclist, and won a number of long-distance races in the Irish Road Club. He was also popular in Trinity College, was a member of the Monkstown Football Club, and he distinguished himself in the keenly competitive days of the Dublin Swimming Club.

The Evening Mail on 12 December 1916, tells the story of his death.

Charlie, as he was so popularly known, was a son of the late John Findlater, Esquire, J.P., and Mrs Findlater, ‘Melbeach’, Monkstown, Co. Dublin. He was killed in action (in France) on 13th November, in the big battle on the Somme front, in which his regiment, the Dublin Fusiliers took so glorious a part. The attack took place in appalling conditions that foreshadowed the horrors of Ypres the next year. German snipers made it their business to shoot the Dublin’s officers and many were hit. Nonetheless the Dubliners were able to take all their objectives. However, about one hundred Dublin Fusiliers died that day. Charlie who was in his forty-seventh year was not the kind of man to plead his years when his country needed his service. Those who served with him at the front describe him as a splendid soldier; anxious, above all, to come to grips with the enemy. In the ordinary course his official duty would have kept him behind. He asked permission to go ‘over the lid,’ as the parapet is called, with his comrades, and the service for which he volunteered cost him his life.21

Charles and Herbert’s cousin Percy was thirty-six when he was killed in 1918. The Irish Times (Friday 5 April 1918) reported:

Captain Percival St George Findlater, Army Service Corps, was killed instantaneously by a shell in France on the 28th March. Capt. Findlater, who was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and held full diplomas of the Engineering School there, obtained a commission in the Army Service Corps on the outbreak of war. He was shortly afterwards attached to the French front, and had served there continuously since 1915, being mentioned in despatches in 1916. Captain Findlater was educated at St. Stephen’s Green School, and subsequently at Elstree (Herts) and Harrow, and was the younger son of the late Sir William Findlater. He was a member of the University Club.

Percy’s elder brother, Lieutenant Colonel Victor Findlater, served with the Royal Irish Rifles, survived the war and settled in Kent where he married and had two sons. He died in 1957 aged seventy-seven.

Two nephews of Herbert and Charles, sons of John Findlater who emigrated to Texas in 1883, also signed up. Frank, the eldest, enlisted with the Canadian field ambulance department of the Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer for fifteen months, then transferred to the Scottish Canadian 16th Battalion (known as the Caddies from Hell) in which service he was wounded losing the use of his arm. His brother James Ronald was not so lucky. He was a private in the 3rd Canadian Overseas Reinforcement Battalion and died, in Bradshot Military Hospital, of broncho-pneumonia following influenza on 26 October 1918 aged twenty-seven.

Herbert’s brother Alex, known to all as ‘Dr Alex’, was the third brother in

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Dr. Alex

Gallipoli. He was with 1st London Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, from its formation and served with them from August 1914 to February 1917 in Egypt, Gallipoli and Salonika in east Greece which was occupied by French and British troops in November 1915. He was awarded the DSO ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on several occasions, notably on 29th September 1915, at Chocolate Hill, Gallipoli Peninsula’. Here Alex crossed over two hundred yards of open ground under very heavy shellfire to render aid to two wounded men. He saved the life of one, but the other was beyond help.

In a letter home written on 27 August 1915, Alex delineates the traumatic and dangerous plight of the medical corps:

We were under fire all the time (in fact we have been under fire for the last 10 days), 5 of our men were put out of action on Saturday dressing the wounded in the field, one shot thro’ the chest when assisting one to dress a case and the others close by—we were sniped at and under fire all the time. We are really an advanced dressing station and are in the midst of the troops and suffer the shelling equally with them. So far I have not been touched, but out of 70 of our lot—8 are out of action and one dead. Am writing this in a dug-out, a hole in the ground on the side of a hill. Believe me, have left no stone unturned to find out all about Herbert and do not give up hope. All very fit and well, very very dirty and so far have not been touched, many narrow squeaks as everyone has had.

The General came round this morning and complimented us and particularly the stretcher bearers on the good work they had done. He said it was the task of the entire camp, so after that nothing matters, and have done our job. They are shelling away at present—at night we get a rest from the shelling, as they don’t want to give away the position of their guns, but we are constantly sniped at. Thank God have got over nerves.

Felt a bit jumpy before the flag fell, but now feel as if I am in the middle of a good hunting run as I used to enjoy when having a hunt with poor Adam with the Ward Hounds. I must admit I will be very glad when it is all over as if one waits long enough one must be ‘kilt’. Big naval guns firing from sea 2 miles off and practically shake the dug-out each time they fire.22

When Dr Alex returned to Edgware where he was in practice, in June 1916, there were scenes of great rejoicing, with processions and civic addresses. This was in sharp contrast to the lack of welcome accorded to his colleagues returning to Ireland. As recorded in the Edgware Times:

A procession, led by the band of the 9th Middlesex Depot, Mill Hill, was formed and the hero (Dr Alex) was drawn in triumph through the streets in a brougham from

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which some of his most enthusiastic admirers had detached the horses. He was several times called upon to respond to eulogistic addresses. The town was gaily decorated with flags and bunting, and a banner inscribed ‘Welcome to our Doctor and friend’ was carried in the procession.23

But for those few Pals who returned to Ireland alive there was no hero’s welcome. In 1916 the population was just digesting the shock caused by the executions of the leaders of the Sinn Féin Rebellion—as it was then called. The attitude of the new state was notably ungenerous to the men who had fought in the British Army in the trenches. Laymen and soldier volunteers alike had fought valiantly, most of them knowing they would not return home. But little was done by the Irish government to accord some respect to the many men who died, to offer some thanks to the few who survived. Some were more generous than others. Todd Andrews wrote in Dublin Made Me:

Tom Reilly was to me a symbol of the 50,000 Irish men who lost their lives in the British Army in the Great War. He went to war with another 250,000 Irishmen at the behest of the leaders of the nation. I could never feel that they were less patriotic than we who took part later in the Volunteer Movement. It was, I think, a mistake on the part of the post-1916 leaders of the Volunteers to have repudiated the Irish survivors of the war; they should have publicly sought to recruit them into the Volunteer Organisation.

At the time of the 1916 fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1966, Harry Mundow, the Chairman of the Office of Public Works, suggested to me that, as a symbolic gesture of recognition that these ex-British soldiers were part of the historic tradition of the Irish nation, a bridge should be built across the Liffey linking the Phoenix Park with the very beautiful War Memorial Park designed by Lutyens on the other side of the river. I thought it was a highly imaginative and generous idea. I broached it to Seán Lemass. He was not prepared to go along with it, feeling it was too late to do anything. I regretted that Dev was no longer Taoiseach. It might have appealed to his expressed desire for a union of hearts. Dev believed with Pascal that the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.24

Many families, like ours, lost men during this appalling war. It is up to us never to allow their bravery to be forgotten. It is sad that it took until the Robinson Presidency (1990-97) for families of the 35,000 Irishmen who died in the Great War to enjoy official Government presence at the Armistice Day remembrance services in St Patrick’s Cathedral, and in the beautiful memorial gardens at Islandbridge.

The memorial gardens, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, are now fully restored and a credit to the Board of Works. The garden, on which work originally commenced in December 1933, was completed in 1939 at a cost of £56,000 [€3.5m] and was to have been officially opened by Éamon de Valera in that year. However, the event never took place due to the outbreak of war in Europe. By the 1970s, as a result of official neglect, the gardens had fallen into disrepair and decay, the pavilions were broken and the doors destroyed. A new restoration by

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The Lady of the House recorded the 54 Findlater staff who had enlisted by December 1915, out of about 350 men and women employed at that time. I estimate from a perusal of Ireland’s Memorial Records 1914‒18 that as many as 20 of these lost their lives and no doubt others were scarred for life.

the Board of Works was completed in 1988. A service of dedication and blessing took place in the presence of the British and French Ambassadors and representatives of both the United States and Turkish Embassies—but there was no representative from the Irish government. Today, however, feelings have changed, and the government is officially represented at the Armistice Day remembrance services in the capital.

The first official commeration for those who died in the first World War took place at the Irish National War Memorial Islandbridge, on Saturday 1st July 2006, in the presence of The President, Taoiseach and Members of the Government.

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Notes and references

  1. Commander of the 29th Division quoted in Michael Hickey Gallipoli London: John Murray 1995 p 143
  2. Henry Hanna The Pals at Suvla Bay Dublin: E. Ponsonby 1916 pp 20-22
  3. The Evening Mail. Quoted in Hanna op. cit: pp 24-27
  4. Quoted in Myles Dungan They Shall Grow Not Old, Irish Soldiers and the Great War, Dublin: Four Courts Press 1997 p 106
  5. Ibid. p 101
  6. Quoted in Hickey op. cit. p 229
  7. Ibid. pp 48, 61
  8. The Irish Times 1 May 1915
  9. Hanna op. cit. pp 60, 64, 90
  10. Ibid. p 110
  11. Leon Uris Redemption London: Harper Collins pb 1995 p 681
  12. Hanna op. cit. pp 98-99
  13. Ibid. 105-6
  14. Ibid. p 106
  15. Unpublished letter in the author’s possession
  16. Hanna op. cit. pp 113-118
  17. Ibid. pp 120-121
  18. Unpublished affidavit courtesy of A. J. M. Findlater, grandson of Herbert Findlater
  19. Hanna op. cit. pp 129-130
  20. Ibid. pp 132-3
  21. The Evening Mail, 12 December 1916
  22. Unpublished letter in the author’s possession
  23. Edgware Times 20 March 1931
  24. C. S. Andrews Dublin Made Me Cork: Mercier Press 1979 p 78