John Marsh was born in Brierley Hill, Staffordshire on 11th May 1890 to Alfred Marsh and Clara Marsh [née Willis] one of nine children; seven boys and two girls. His father’s occupation was that of a ‘bacon curer and farmer’ and was by any standards an extremely wealthy man. On his death in 1918 his estate was valued in excess of £322,000, or £14m in 2015!
John was educated at Wellington College, circa 1902-07 and enlisted at Worcester with the 1/1st The Worcestershire Yeomanry as Private 2361 John Marsh on 3rd September 1914. The Regiment consisted of four squadrons. ‘A’ Squadron based at Kidderminster, ‘B’ Squadron at Camp Hill, Birmingham, ‘C’ Squadron at Malvern, and finally ‘D’ Squadron at Worcester.
On his submission for a commission in the Territorial Force, his occupation was listed as that of a ’Gentleman’. His application was approved and he was discharged to a commission as a Second-Lieutenant in the same Regiment on 23rd February 1915 at Kings Lynn in Norfolk where they were now based. Whilst here the area suffered one of the first Zeppelin raids and the men were called in to assist the civil population.
The Regiment’s Medical Officer1 kept a diary, published in 1921, which described their life in Egypt and Gallipoli. Relevant extracts from the diary appear where appropriate.
Orders were soon received for overseas service and on 11th April 1915 they sailed from Avonmouth bound for Egypt. They arrived at Alexandria on 22nd April after a brief stop-over in Malta having lost a number of their horses en route as they had contracted pneumonia due to the change in climate. Once in Egypt the Regiment was mainly used on garrison duties based at Chatby Camp, near Alexandria.
By early August they made preparation to leave Egypt, minus their horses, as they were now dismounted troops, and on 14th August having had their cholera vaccination embarked on ‘HM Troopship Ascania’ for Gallipoli. One hundred men and four officers remained behind to care for the horses.
The ship steamed through the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea. The boat was a comfortable one and meals were excellent. It seemed strange that although we were shortly going into action and would have to live on the simplest rations, the normal routine went on board as if we were crossing the Atlantic. We had our bedroom stewards, bathroom stewards, table stewards, etc. During the day we all had our heads shaved by the ship's barber, as prevention was better than cure.
It being our last night on board, a successful concert was held. Little did we think that four days hence at this hour some of those present would be lying dead on the plains of Suvla Bay. Before turning in, two brilliantly lighted hospital ships passed us, a double row of green and white lights over the portholes and an illuminated red cross amidships and at either end. We, of course, were steaming with all lights out.
On the morning of 16th August 1915 the ship arrived off the island of Lemnos but was unable to enter Mudros Bay until a specific time so the ship steamed around until the signal was received to move in. After disembarkation in Suvla Bay on 18th August they had, by the evening of 20th, skirted the western slopes of Lala Baba and halted behind the commencement of a spur that led to Point Niebruniessi. Here they found what little shelter there was and spent the night.
The next morning, 21st August 1915, they were awoken by a terrific noise as soon as it was light.
A 60-pounder gun fifty yards to our left had opened fire on the enemy's position, and shells from our battleships were roaring over our heads. As the enemy were obviously searching for the 60-pounders, the Brigade nearest to them took up a position further to the south and nearer the beach. It was very interesting, watching the precision with which these guns were fired. There appeared to be regular danger zones between our Division and Lala Baba and between ourselves and the ground occupied by the next Infantry Division. No troops were encamped in these zones, and when one had to cross them, one did so at the double. Along the top of the crest behind which we were dug in was situated an old Turkish trench captured at the original landing about ten days before.
Our Divisional Headquarters were established on the western slopes of Lala Baba. At 8 a.m., as the enemy's shells had become unpleasantly frequent, most of us left our temporary shelters, and ate our breakfast in the tiny ravines that ran down through the cliffs to the sea. Afterwards we had an enjoyable bathe. We were told that our Division was to take part in a general attack on the Turkish positions that afternoon. Some of us crawled over the ridge and lay down in the low scrub to examine the position through our glasses. Looking almost due east across the Salt Lake, we could see the low brown-coloured hill known as Chocolate Hill or Yilgin Burnu (53 m.), and in the foreground some low scrub. Under cover of the hill could be seen a Brigade of our infantry in their temporary dugouts; these we supposed were part of the Tenth Division. To the north of Chocolate Hill we could see Hill 70 (Burnt Hill or Scimitar Hill), which is the commencement of the Anafarta Ridge. Immediately behind Chocolate Hill could be seen Hill 112 (or/ 4 W " Hill), on whose summit were the guns which caused most trouble to "B" and "C" Beaches and to the southern part of Suvla Bay.
We fully realized that when our time came to march across the plain these guns would be very troublesome. South-east we could see what looked like a series of cliffs at the foot of 971, running up towards Hill 101. These cliffs were partly occupied by the Australians, and a fertile valley lay between them and Chocolate Hill. Having had a good look, we returned to a safer place for lunch near the beach. At 1.30 p.m. I climbed the western side of Lala Baba in order to see our A.D.M.S. at Divisional H.Q. and to receive my orders; I was told to carry all equipment on stretchers and make my own arrangements with regard to the wounded, and that the latter would have to be carried from the Field Ambulances to the beach by hand, as the country to the south was too rough for mule transport. At 2 p.m. all the battleships and monitors in Suvla Bay steamed in as near to the shore as possible, and two cruisers which had appeared south of Lala Baba promontory did the same. A few minutes later an observation balloon rose from one of the cruisers south of Lala Baba, and then commenced what appeared to us the most terrific bombardment of the enemy's position, chiefly Hills 70 and 112, by our battleships, cruisers, field guns and heavy howitzers. The enemy's positions appeared to be swallowed up in clouds of dust and smoke; the Turks replied, but without any very obvious result as far as we could see. At about 3 p.m. our firing ceased, and four hospital ships, two in Suvla Bay and two south of Lala Baba, steamed in to within half a mile of the shore, taking care to give the battleships a wide berth.
Not a shot was fired until we had gone a quarter of a mile and were well into the plain, when suddenly we seemed to walk into an inferno of shrapnel and H.E. Our first casualty was a Worcester yeoman with a spent bullet in his thigh. After that, men seemed to be dropping like flies. Finding an old Turkish trench, we made it our first Aid Post; this was soon full of wounded, dressed and labelled and fairly safe, as it was deep. I then looked for a Field Ambulance, but ours was at that moment only just starting down the hill behind the last Brigade, and the only Red Cross flag to be seen was 2 miles away across the Salt Lake. So, noting the position of our trench, we moved on. Selecting another Aid Post in a slight depression behind a stunted oak-tree, we were soon busy again bringing in the wounded.
It was heartrending work, as so many were past hope of recovery; the proportion of killed was very great and many were quite unrecognisable. Three slightly wounded men were killed in our Aid Post as a shell burst over us. The H.E. caused ghastly effects, as men were literally blown to pieces. My bearers worked splendidly, and brought the wounded in a perfect inferno of bursting shells. We found that we were now picking up chiefly Notts, Derby’s, Inniskillings, Irish Fusiliers, Sherwood Foresters and Hertfordshire Yeomanry, as our Brigade had turned slightly northwards and we, being busy, had not noticed this, and had kept straight on. Our Aid Post now contained about fifty wounded and dying, and I was very relieved to suddenly see a Red Cross flag appear about 200 yards behind our position. This turned out to be our Second Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, so, after detaching an orderly to inform them of the position of our first Aid Post and the one we were just vacating, we pushed on to form our third.
We now entered a piece of land covered with tall rushes, which made the search for wounded difficult. Here I was working with several M.O.'s, but we each had our own zone to draw. On one occasion practically nothing was left of what had been two stretcher-bearers carrying a man. I came upon a group of five yeomen, quite dead in realistic attitudes, without a scratch on them, probably the concussion effect of H.E.
Several men unwounded had completely lost their reason and some were blind. Huge holes seemed to be torn in the squadrons as they advanced, but to quote Ashmead-Bartlett's report, "they moved as if on parade, and losing many, they never wavered but pressed steadily on." The Indian Mule Corps advancing with us to bring up ammunition showed the greatest contempt for the enemy's fire. Our men bore their wounds with the greatest courage, and our stretcher-bearers worked in the calm routine fashion, as if they were working at a Field Day on the Berkshire Downs or on the marshes of the East Coast. One recognized now how important discipline and routine are on these occasions, when one saw each squad of three or four men performing their duties methodically. As we advanced the men of the Signal Companies, R.E., kept on laying their field telephone, and if one man, rolling his wheel over the ground, fell, there was always another behind to take it on. Here and there one came on large holes made by the H.E. shells; they were useful to put men into, as they were safe from rifle fire. We had to work as fast as possible in order to keep ahead of our Third and Fifth Brigades, which were following us, as we knew that if they passed us they would draw more fire on our wounded.
My next Aid Post was just in front of a little wood of scrub; there were now more bullet wounds, as we were nearer to the trenches. The fleet in the Bay now opened fire again, and we could hear the big shells roaring over-head. To quote Ashmead-Bartlett : "The rifle fire was deafening, and I do not think that I have ever heard such a din as that produced by the ships' guns, field pieces, bursting shells and thousands of rifles, on any battle-field before." Snipers in the low scrub in front of the hill now became very troublesome, remaining behind and firing on our men when they had passed. My Aid Post was now full, so, sending back another messenger, we pushed on again. We came to a point where a little path forked in the wood, and there we found quite a pile of men, evidently all shot by the same sniper as they passed that spot. As we were removing one of them another man was shot by the sniper. About this time the scrub on our right caught fire and burnt furiously. This made the immediate search for wounded very urgent. We could hear those who could not move crying for help as the flames crept up. Some men of another Division advanced along little footpaths amongst the flames, and when they were wounded badly, it was very difficult to remove them. I now moved on to form my next Aid Post at the base of the hill, but to get there we had to leave the scrub and double across two fields, which were continually being searched by snipers; some of these were left exposed by the fire and were shot by our men on sight.
The Second Brigade Field Ambulance, which till now had been taking our cases, had been passing them on to the Casualty Clearing Station on the beach south of Lala Baba promontory, whence the wounded, after receiving their anti-tetanic inoculation, were removed by barge to the hospital ships.