Western Front Association, North Northumberland branch

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CAMPAIGN DISASTER: Last month, the North Northumberland branch of the Western Front Association welcomed the return of Peter Hart, oral historian at the Imperial War Museum, to deliver his talk The French at Gallipoli.

The ill-advised and poorly coordinated attempt to defeat Turkey by landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula and opening the Dardanelle Straits as a route for supplying and supporting Russia, was an unmitigated disaster and an unnecessary diversion of resources from the Western Front.

Instigated by Winston Churchill, the 1915-16 Gallipoli campaign was to be a largely British and British Empire affair. However, French unwillingness to cede political influence in the region drew them into supporting their Allies.

While the 18,000 French and French Colonial troops committed at the outset of the campaign represented only about twenty per cent of the total Allied force landed on the Peninsula, the 47,000 casualties sustained, including 5,000 killed in action, is testimony to the significant French contribution to the campaign which goes largely unrecognised in Britain.

Peter highlighted many lost opportunities. For example, at the outset the French landed 3,000 troops unopposed on the Asian shore around the fortress of Kum Kale at the mouth of the Straits but delays in getting all troops ashore combined with poor planning meant that little was achieved before the force was withdrawn. Little did the French realise the short-sightedness of that decision.

The main French landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula was at Besika Bay. Peter illustrated for his audience the dramatic terrain which made military operations perhaps even more difficult than the better known Helles and Suvla Bay operations.

The French held the right of the Allied line and were subjected to incessant artillery attack from Turkish forces both in front of them and from the rear, from artillery batteries on the Asian shore.

As always, Peter brought a fresh approach and outlook to his subject which made for a thoroughly entertaining evening.

There is no formal WFA meeting in August but two meetings will be held next month.

On September 12, Lt Col John F Bessette (USAF, Ret’d) is making a special visit to Alnmouth to deliver his talk ‘Over There with O’Ryan’s Roughnecks: the US 27th Division under British Command in 1918’ before he returns to the United States the following day.

John Derry, Professor Emeritus at Newcastle University, will be the speaker on September 26, with his talk From Crisis to Victory.

WFA meetings are held at Alnmouth Ex-Servicemen’s Club starting at 7.30pm for 8pm. Visitors and new members will be made very welcome. The suggested minimum donation is £1 to include a light buffet supper.