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CORPORAL THOMAS RYAN (6 BATTALION THE ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS) KILLED IN ACTION AT GALLIPOLI ON 9 AUGUST 1915 th

Research Report by Robin Russell for Mr Sean Ryan and his family.

This report describes the circumstances surrounding the death of Corporal Thomas Ryan, who was killed in action on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 whilst serving with 6 th Battalion The Royal Dublin Fusiliers. His family were aware of his unit and the CWGC record of his name on the Helles Memorial to the missing at Gallipoli, which they had visited previously. However they had been unable to find out any more about what happened to him. At the request of his great nephew, Sean Ryan, I have used a range of historical sources, to find as many details as possible and provide at least a partial account of how Thomas Ryan gave his life.

Š R G Russell 2010 1


A search of the National Archives produced the following relevant documents, copies of which I have included as attachments to this report: a. Medal Index Card, and respective medal rolls, recording the award of the1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal to 13556 Cpl Thomas Ryan. b. 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers war diary extract, covering period 29 July – 31 August 1915. c. 29th Brigade war diary extract covering August and September 1915. d. 30th Brigade war diary extract covering part of August 1915. Unfortunately these documents do not provide a great deal of detail about Thomas Ryan himself. A key stumbling block is the fact that his personal record of service appears to have been among the many thousands destroyed by fire when the Record Office was bombed in 1940. Also, the fighting in which he was killed was particularly chaotic, and there is no reliable account of what really happened – just a few snippets and snapshots. However, the national archives documents do provide some useful and fascinating background information and context. I have cross-referenced these documents with my own further research, using a variety of sources. As a result I can give you my best interpretation of the circumstances in which Thomas Ryan fought and died, along with so many of his comrades. In early July 1915 the 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers were at Basingstoke in Hampshire, completing their training as a “Service” battalion formed at the start of the war as part of Kitchener’s “New Army”. They were one of 4 battalions in 30 th Brigade. This Brigade was part of the 10th (Irish) Division, along with the 29th and 31st Brigades. Eleven of the twelve infantry battalions in the division were Irish. On 9 July 1915 the 6th Dublins travelled to Devonport by train and embarked on SS Alaunia, a troop transport. They sailed via Gibraltar and Malta to Alexandria in Egypt, arriving on 20 July. On 22 July they sailed again for the islands off the Turkish coast which were being used as bases for the campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula. The campaign had stalled in the face of stubborn Turkish resistance, and a new offensive had been planned, incorporating new landings at Suvla Bay by the reinforcement Divisions, including the 10th (Irish), designed to outflank the Turkish defences. On 25 July the 6th Dublins disembarked on the island of Mitylene (now known as Lesbos), which was their assembly area for the new offensive. Here they made their final preparations for the forthcoming operations. On 2 August, the 6 th Dublins were visited and inspected at Mitylene, along with other units of the 10 th (Irish) Division, by General Sir Ian Hamilton, who was commanding the entire operation and was later blamed largely for its failure. He found the Dublins “in good heart, and keen, despite their obvious inexperience as a fighting unit”. On 6 August the Battalion embarked for the Suvla Bay landings on two ships, the Sania (A and B Companies) and the Fauvette (Bn HQ, C and D Companies). They were just under 800 strong, having left about 160 men behind on the island as reserves. As you know from your newspaper cutting, Thomas Ryan was serving as a Corporal in C Company. © R G Russell 2010 2


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At 0800 hrs on 7 August the 6th Dublins’s war diary records that they landed at ‘C’ Beach, just south of Nibrunesi Point (see airphoto above and photo below). They were following other brigades which had landed ahead of them during the night and were advancing inland, though not rapidly enough for the overall plan to succeed. The 6th Dublins were held in reserve and moved to the area between a hill called Lala Baba and Nibrunesi Point, where there was some shelter from shell and sniper fire, on the south side of Suvla Bay. C Beach

Nibrunesi Pt

Lala Baba Hill

Salt Lake

Chocolate Hill

Green Hill

View of Suvla Bay looking north-west from the Sari Bair ridge, showing the area where 6th Dublins operated during 7-9 August 1915. For the rest of 7 and 8 August the 6th Dublins were detached from 30th Brigade and supported 31st Brigade which was fighting to capture Chocolate Hill and Green Hill. 6 th Dublins main task during this period was to provide parties of men to carry ammunition and water tins forward to the attacking battalions of 31 st Brigade (5th and 6th Irish Fusiliers, & 5th and 6th Inniskillings). I have no doubt they also would have carried some casualties back to the beach. The supplies of water were totally insufficient in the blistering heat, and there was none to be found on land. Also the medical support units were totally inadequate.

View towards Lala Baba Hill from near Chocolate Hill, showing the terrain across which 6th Dublins moved vital supplies and evacuated casualties. It is impossible to say exactly what job Thomas Ryan was doing at this time, but in view of his participation in the later attack he was more than likely a section © R G Russell 2010 4


commander in C Company. Hence he would probably have been in charge of a carrying party, moving between the beach and the front line. The 31 st Brigade eventually captured Green Hill and Chocolate Hill late on 7 August and consolidated their positions there on 8 August. I believe you visited the Green Hill cemetery where many of their dead are buried, and now there is a new memorial there to the 10 th Irish Division, unveiled in March this year by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland. Green Hill

Direction of Scimitar Hill

Chocolate Hill

View of Chocolate Hill and Green Hill looking across the Suvla plain from the north. The next attack in that sector was planned for 9 August by the 11 th Division. The Division was ordered to strike north-east from Green Hill (known as “Hill 50” at the time). Their objective was to capture Scimitar Hill (known as “Hill 70”) some 500 metres away in the direction of the village of Anafarta Sagir. The 33 rd Brigade of 11 Div was leading the assault and 6th Dublins were placed under their command. In the early hours of 9 August the Battalion moved to Chocolate Hill and were held in reserve. The 33rd Brigade attack went wrong almost immediately, although some of the assaulting troops did reach Scimitar Hill and held on there for a short time. There were breakdowns in communications, poor coordination, navigational errors, visibility destroyed by smoke and dust, and loss of all cohesion due to casualties amongst commanders. Much of this was the normal chaos of combat, but it was exacerbated by the inexperience of the barely trained “New Army” units involved.

Scimitar Hill

View from Green Hill towards Scimitar Hill. Thomas Ryan was killed in action during the attack across this ground.

© R G Russell 2010 5


As the morning progressed, the shambles grew worse. 6 th Dublins were ordered to send ‘A’ Company to protect the right flank of the attack. Then the remainder of the Battalion, including Thomas Ryan’s Company, were sent forward from Chocolate Hill to Green Hill and then onwards into the fray. They were ordered to try and support those troops who had apparently reached the objective on Scimitar Hill. However, they had only a vague idea of how to get there or what was required of them. You will see from their war diary extract that there are no real details of the action. That is because no-one could be sure of what was happening around them, in poor visibility, noise and with communications breaking down. All they knew is that it was a confused and hellish disaster. Shells were falling all around, from both sides, and disorientated, terrified men were shooting in all directions. It was simply impossible for anyone on the spot to resolve the situation. It is unclear how far 6 th Dublins were able to advance before all control was lost. By nightfall on 9 August the limited advances made during the day had been given up, and the survivors of all the units involved had made their way back to the startline of the attack, mainly in disorderly groups. The front line was re-established in former Turkish trenches on Green Hill, and the 6th Dublins held a stretch of it for the next 3 days. When they reorganised and called the rolls, they found that they had lost a third of their strength in their first battle – 11 officers and 259 soldiers killed wounded or missing. Very few were actually captured by the Turks. Tragically, many wounded men were burned to death in the scrub fires which had raged across the battlefield.

Green Hill Cemetery where Thomas Ryan’s remains may now lie. Thomas Ryan was one of those who did not return to Green Hill, and none of the survivors could say what had happened to him. Hence it was not until 10 August that he was officially reported missing, presumed dead. In all likelihood he was killed or severely wounded by a shell or bullet, in amongst the bushes and thick smoke, somewhere between Green Hill and Scimitar Hill. Anybody who saw him fall must have become a casualty themselves. The dead in that area could not be collected because it remained “no-man’s-land” for the rest of the campaign. However, it is quite likely that he lies in Green Hill cemetery, amongst the 2472 unidentified soldiers there, because that is where all the bodies from that whole sector were collected when the battlefields were properly cleared in 1919. Equally, his remains may still be lying where he fell, no more than a few hundred metres away towards Scimitar Hill. Either way, at least you can know that his resting place is close to his comrades, and also © R G Russell 2010 6


close to the new Irish memorial on Green Hill, even though his name is recorded several miles away on the Helles Memorial, which you have seen. You will see from the Battalion and Brigade war diary extracts that the 6 th Dublins were pulled back from Green Hill on 12 August and had rather more success between 14 -17 August on the Kiretch Tepe ridge, back under command of their own 30 th Brigade. The 29th Brigade war diary extract is somewhat irrelevant to the 6 th Dublins, as this Brigade was detached to ANZAC for the whole period, in support of the attack on Chunuk Bair. Nonetheless, it does give a further insight of how operations were conducted at the time, in such difficult conditions and terrain. I hope all this is of some use, and adds something to your family record of Thomas Ryan. Even though your knowledge of him remains patchy, I am quite sure he would be pleased with the interest you have had in his exploits and that you travelled to Gallipoli to visit his final resting place.

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Corporal Thomas Ryan WW1  

Research by Major Robin Russell about Corporal Thomas Ryan

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