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The story of Frederick Joseph Yearsley Howarth

Paul's Great Grandfather, killed in the battle for Gallipoli during the Great War (1914-1918)

Frederick Joseph Yearsley Howarth was born in Whitefield, Manchester on 8th August 1871, to parents who ran a wholesale butchers there. The family moved to Blackpool, where they lived at 22, South Beach near Manchester Square. Sadly the houses are no longer there, having been demolished many years ago. He met and married Ada Bamber, who was know as Edith, (b. 10th November 1868) I'm not sure of the date of their marriage, I'll look it up when I get back from my travels. They had a large family, as was typical of the time, having seven children:

This large family lived at No.3 Bath Street, in a tiny 2-up/2-down house with an outside toilet in the yard. I remember my nana and grandad (Norah and her husband Harold Edwin Wright) lived at No.5 Bath street, which I can still picture as being very small (and cosy) with the front room reserved for best and the rear room and kitchen which led out into the small back yard where my granddad grew tomatoes in a small lean-to greenhouse perched on a little wall at the side of the kitchen, and the outside loo at the very bottom of the yard. How a family with 7 children could live in such a small space - at a time with no central heating and only a back boiler for hot water - is beyond my comprehension. I do recall my mother telling me about her and her brother, Peter, being given a bath in an old metal bathtub, filled with luke warm water from the kettle.

The Great War (as it was known at the time, it only became called the First World War after the second one had started) began after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which covered most of Eastern Europe) was assassinated, along with his wife, by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian-Serb. His motive was to try to force the Austro-Hungarian Empire to grant indepdence to the South Slavic provinces (which is modern day Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia) so they could be combined into one large Yugo-Slav country (along with Bulgaria). This led to war between the Austro-Hungarian empire and Serbia that dragged in all the Great Powers of the time, including the Central Powers: Austria-Hungrary, and Germany (later joined by the Ottoman Empire); and the Allies (signaturies of the Entente Cordiale): Russia, Great Britain and France (joined later by Japan (1914) and Italy (1915) with the United States joining the fighting as an associate power). Eventually Serbia, Belgium, Greece, Montenegro and Romania were all dragged in as associate members of the Entente. A true World War.

The war actually started in piecemeal fashion. After the assination on 28th July, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia on 31st July. At this point Britain was trying to convince Germany not to assist its partner, but this failed and Germany declared war on Russia (1st August) and France (3rd August). It was the invasion by Germany of neutral Belgium (on their way to invade France) that forced Britain to declare war on 4th August 1914.

At the start of the war, Britain's armed forces numbered around 710,000, with only 80,000 or so being regular troops. In order to rapidly recruit the number of men to fight the war, the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, embarked on a massive recruitment drive under the infamous slogan Your country needs YOU! with its iconic poster (that has been copied and doctored to suit just about every recruitment campaign since!). The response was unprecedented and by Januaary 1916 (when conscription was introduced) some 2,670,000 men had volunteered. A further 2.77 million men were conscripted, meaning that by the end of the war, 1 in 4 of the UK male population had joined up to fight.

Initially, the forces were looking for men aged between 18 and 41 (the age limit was raised to 51 in 1918). It was to this call that my great-grandfather, Joseph Howarth, responded, signing up on 29th August (or possibly 1st September, the exact date is unclear), initially being given a Short 3 year Service Engagement at Blackpool as part of the local Pal's Battalion. This was the 6th Battalion King's Own Royal (Lancaster) Regiment, part of the 38th Brigade of the 13th (Western) Division. He had recently turned 43, but it was not unusual for recruitment officers, who were given bonuses based on the number of recruits they signed up, to turn a blind eye to a recruit who was either too young or too old to meet the criteria. His service number was 12694, and with his fellow volunteers they undertook rudimentary training at Chiseldon or Cirencester before being moved in February 1915 to Blackdown in Hampshire to complete their training.

By late 1914, the Central Powers had closed the overland trade route between Britain, France and Russia and when the Ottoman Empire (which spanned all the way from the Balkans in Eastern Europe to the Middle East) entered the war on 29th October 1914 by attacking Russian ports in the Black Sea, supplies of essential goods were cut off. To address this, and to break the stalemate of the trench warfare on the Western Front, the First Lord of the Almiralty, none other than Winston Churchill, decided that the Allies should open a second front in the East. He chose the Dardanelles Strait, which would then allow ships to pass from the Mediterranean via the Sea of Marmaris to the Black Sea, destined for Russia. A second objective, according to some reports, was to attack Constantinople (as Istanbul was then known), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, thus expaning Britain's influence on the near East. As the Ottoman Empire had entered the war on the side of the Central Powers, fortifications on the Gallipoli peninsula an the Turkish mainland had to be put out of action if ships were to pass through safely. It was to this part of the war that Joseph was sent.

The 6th Battalion King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment (who I'll refer to as KORL from now on to make it easier) were assigned as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (M.E.F.) on 13th June 1915, and moved to Avonmouth where they embarked on the S.S. Nile to head to Gallipoli. They sailed on 16th June from the River Avon at 6.15pm, escorted by torpedo boat destroyers Matchless and Mansfield. They sailed down the coast of Portugal and past Gibraltar (on 20th June) and into the Mediterranean to Malta, where they arrived at 6:30am on 23rd June, but they didn't stop long, departing the say day at 6pm. The sailed into the Aegean Sea and finally ported in the Inner Harbour of the Greek Island Limnos at 2:30pm on 29th June 1915.

After a few days in a bivouac on the eastern side of Mudros Bay, where they'd been issued with sun helmets and khaki drill uniforms and worked in the 9 field hospitals there, even attending a Church Parade on 4th July, they embarked on 3 destroyers - the Beagle, Bulldog and Basiliek - for Cape Helles at the souther tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. There was a compliment of 28 Officers and 870 other ranks (including Joseph). Arriving at night on Y beach, Cape Helles, they found a sort of mini-Gibraltar, the rugged mountains studded with hundreds of small lights of the Turkish military who lived in dugouts on the cliffs with their sniper's rifles and machine guns. These were not simple dugouts either, but they were set in lines one above the other and in each the Turkish troops had a week's supply of rations and ammunition. Needless to say, these were very strong fortifications and made any landing, even onto a beach under Allied control, extremeley hazardous.

On arriving on the beach, the KORL regiment moved to a position in Gulley Ravine, where they spent a few days improving trenches before on 14th July they relieved the Royal Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the front line trenches. On 17th July, they were themselves relieved by the 4th Battalion South Wales Borderers and went into bivouac on the beach south of Gulley Ravine. The rest of the month saw them moving to the front lines to relieve other troops before being relieved themselves, during which time casualties were mounting, rising from 26 to 50 by the end of the month. On 31st July they were evacuated on the ships Basiliek and Grasshopper, as well as a fleet sweeper, back to Mudros Bay on the island of Limnos. This must have been a relief to all in the regiment and a time to collect their thoughts, but they weren't done yet.

As the attacks launched from Cape Helles, trying to take the highly fortified and elevated position at Krithia (now Alcitepe), continued to fail to produce results, the Allies began looking at alternative strategies. Lieutenant-General Birdwood, the ANZAC commander of the 4th Australian Brigade formulated a plan to break through the Ottoman lines by landing at a cove on the western edge of Gallipoli and seizing the heights of the Sari Bair range. The landing point would forever be known as Anzac Cove. Lieutenant-General Hamilton, the commander in charge of the M.E.F. agreed, and expanded the plan to include 2 British Divisions landing and attacking from Sulva Bay, 8Km North of Anzac Cove. The strategy was for these troops to take the heights of Anafarta, whilst the KORL would capture the Turkish stronghold known as The Farm and then continue up to help take Chunuk Bair, the highest point on the Sari Bair range. This meant that the KORL would be advancing up the cliffs of the Argyle Dere, a crevice covered with spurs and gullies and very rugged and steep, as well as being covered in prickly scrub, meaning that advancing at all would be extremeley difficult. As well as the KORL, these attacks would involve the New Zealand and Australian Division, the British 13th (Western) Division, the 29th Indian Brigade and part of the 10th (Irish) Division.

On 4th August, the KORL embarked once more on ships - the SS Albassieh and SS Saara - from Mudros Bay to Gallipoli, this time disembarking at Anzac cove, a compliment of 22 Officers and 722 Other Ranks (again, including Joseph). They disembarked at night, between 9pm and 2:30am onto an overcrowded and narrow beach which was little more than a scrubby ridge by the edge of the sea. The Allied line lay in a semi-circle with the Turkish trenches close up to it except near the shore where the ships' guns kept them back. After a bivouac in Victoria Gulley that night they came under heavy shell fire and a fair number of men became casualties during the day according to the War Diary (these were daily diaries kept throughout the conflict by each battalion). On the 6th August the each brigade was losing around 50 men to the heavy shelling, so an offensive was launched by the New Zealanders, advancing on the right and the Australians and Indians on the left. The KORL remained in the bivouac, but were spotted from the air and subjected for further heavy shelling, with 4 being killed and another 40 wounded.

As with all trench warfare, life was unpleasant to say the least. The usual routine was for troops to spend 3 days in the front-line trenches, fighting the enemy as best they could, and then 3 days out of them. When in the trenches, the men lived and slept in the fire trench, and a few yards behind this was a so-called dug-out for officers in command of each section of the line (although in practice this was little more than a recess dug in the trench). All food was man-handled from the kitchens, which were hundreds of yards down the communications trench, on the beach or dug into the cliffs overlooking the sea. The narrowness of the fire trench and the number of men in it made movement very difficult. Dysentry became a real problemt due largely to the clouds of flies which were everywhere leading to one diary entry recording the men ate and drank flies.

On 7th August, the enemy again shelled the bivouacs causing further losses. At 11am, Brigadier-General Baldwin (commanding the 38th Brigade including the KORL) received orders to proceed to to Reserve Gulley and then await futher orders, but they continued to No 3 Post and then took over the trenches of the 4th Australian brigade who had previously made an unsuccessful attack on the Turkish positions. They spent the day of 8th August improving the firing lines, and at 8pm Brigadier-General Baldwin received orders to proceed up Chailak Dere where they were to be deployed behind the New Zealand lines and to attack the hill known as Hill Q, at 5am on 9th. The march forward proved too difficult and as the attacks on them became increasingly ferocious they sustained heavy losses and reluctantly the order was given to retreat back down Chailak Dere and to Argyle Dere.

The War Diary records the events of 9th August thus: Turks attacked our left vigorously about 4:45am with rifle and machine guns. The latter caused heavy casualties because the trench was not deep enough and the parapet was not bullet proof. By 8am the Turks were beaten off but heavy machine gun and sniping fire kept up against us all day. Throughout the day large bodies of Turks passed across our front in a westerly direction.

The KORL was now relieved by the 4th Australian brigade at 4pm and they proceeded to brigade HQ at Argyle Dere, forced to travel slowly in single file due to the number of stretchered casualties streaming downhill towards them. By the time they reached The Farm the situation was confusing as its exact position was unclear and the maps they had were insufficient. The Turks then attacked them vigorously again from posts high up oin the Abdul Rahman Spur, eventually forcing the British to relinquish control of the Farm and retreat. The KORL lost 6 officers and 120 men during the retreat.

The events are recorded in the War Diary for 10th August thus: At 3am in the dark we were heavily attacked by the enemy and subjected to severe rifle fire. This attack however was beaten back. At 5am the enemy delivered another attack and succeeded in driving back our troops on our right flank. However, the positions they took rendered it impossible to hold the hill above Farm and we were forced to retire. At this point, Brigadier-General Baldwin was killed and at his point slight panic set in. However this was overcome and positions were taken up to the right and left of the gulley. The enemy then had to withdraw to their previous positions. Subsequently our troops had to withdraw from the high ground.

What remained of the battalion was withdrawn by 11pm to bivouac positions, but sadly Joseph was not amongst them. Whilst we can't be sure exactly when he was killed, it was sometime during this offensive to claim the Farm, battling atrocious conditions and under extremeley heavy fire from a very determined and well-organised enemy that had advantage both in numbers and position.

The rest of the battles on Gallipoli proved equally futile, the Allies never really gaining any significant ground and never looking like they could seize control over the Dardanelles, which had been the key objective. On 13th December, just 4 months after Joseph was killed, the order was given to evacuate Anzac and Sulva and retreat from Gallipoli. The retreat was about the only successful part of the campaign, as it had to be carried out without the enemy knowing, so guns were rigged up to keep firing whilst the final troops evacuated, after destroying anything that might prove useful to the enemy.

Joseph was killed 2 days after his 44th birthday, a birthday he spent fighting for his country in a foreign land, miles from home, his wife and 6 surviving children. He was awarded 3 medals: 1914/15 Star Medal, British War Medal and Victory Medal; his widow received a Bronze Memorial Death Plaque, and had to bring up her large family, including my Nana, alone.

I am deeply indebted to my first cousin, once removed (in other words, my mother's cousin), Michael, for allowing me to exploit his extensive research for this article. I have had to do very minimal research of my own in order to present the story of a man about whom I knew little until very recently.
I never discussed my Nana's Dad with her when she was alive, and I truly regret not doing so. She was only 11 when he died, just 5 days before her twelth birthday and in a country she never visited. As I write this, I'm sat in a hotel room in Esceabat, Gallipoli, Turkey, less than 10 miles from where he died.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

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