13 July 1915: A witness is found

Suddenly, at Alexandria Percy Lubbock heard of the arrival in one of the city’s hospitals of a Sergeant-Major Allen from the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), the battalion George had been attached to at the Third Battle of Krithia on 4 June. Percy found him and talked to him yesterday. Today, Tuesday 13 July, he typed up his interview and sent it off with the briefest of notes to Kittie: ‘Kitty dear I hope & hope & hope you may have had news. Mustn’t write — my eyes have given out. Your PL.’ As a family intimate, he could use the spelling ‘Kitty’. He was visually impaired and later in life completely blind. Shortly after sending Kittie his report, he left for Cairo on Red Cross business.

The Sergeant-Major whom Percy interviewed said he remembered George, but Percy was ‘not sure he really did’. This KOSB sergeant-major talked of 6 June being the day of the battle, he was not in the same Company as George, and because the KOSB were ‘consolidating gains’ that day, he could not see why ‘anybody should be missing on that day’. ‘I have not as yet been able to find any Officer of the 1st KOSB’, Percy concluded his report. ‘The difficulty with the men is that as G. had only so lately been attached to the Battalion they none of them knew him by name.’ Percy was absolutely right not to give credence to this sergeant-major’s testimony.

However, unbeknown to Percy, a VAD called Mrs Ludolf at another Alexandria Hospital met today a Sergeant-Major Allan of the 1st KOSB, realised his possible importance, and interviewed him. Like Percy, she typed up her interview. Then she sent it to Gertrude Bell, rather than Kittie. The top copy made its way into George’s War Office file. It reads:

Witness stated that in an advance made by the Regiment in two lines, Lt. Calderon was in the 2nd line, and was seen to fall. The Regt. took a trench as the result of this advance and never retreated. It is, therefore, impossible that Lt. Calderon should be a prisoner. It is probable that he was killed outright, and the body left on the open ground.

Before this action Lt. Calderon spoke to witness, and gave him a drink of brandy. He picked the leaf of a certain shrub, and told the men to do the same and chew the leaves, as these were said by the Turks to give vigour. All the men near picked leaves and chewed them.

Reference: St-Major Allan
1 K.O.S.B. (B. Coy)
15 Gen. Hosp. Alexandria

Mrs Ludolf
July 13, 1915

Now this Sergeant-Major Allan was a genuine witness. Not only was he in the same Company as George, and would therefore have known him as the lieutenant in charge of 8 Platoon, he also told Mrs Ludolf that ‘the officer he meant had been an Interpreter in Belgium, and was elderly for a lieutenant’, as Percy wrote to Kittie on 20 July.

Even so, there is some confusion or compression of the facts in the first paragraph. By ‘two lines’ Allan must have meant the first wave comprised of two companies, A and B, rather than two waves, as George was definitely in the first wave but B Company. As all official sources agree, this first wave was slaughtered and did not get anywhere near capturing the first Turkish trench H9a. Survivors taking cover, the dead, dying and wounded, were therefore stuck in no-man’s land until the second wave advanced half an hour later, did take the trench, and ‘never retreated’ (see my post for 4 June). Allan’s conclusion, therefore, that George was probably ‘killed outright, and the body left on the open ground’, is in my view indisputable.

It was a great stroke of luck that Mrs Ludolf questioned Allan and sent off her report. Before Percy had returned from Cairo three days later, Allan had left for home.

*                    *                    *

There were many possible reasons for these two 1st KOSB sergeant-majors being evacuated by hospital-ship to Alexandria. The most likely is that they had been wounded in the Action of Gully Ravine 28 June-5 July (see my post of 30 June), in which the 1st KOSB played a very distinguished part. The official history of the KOSB in World War I does not say how many casualties they sustained, but I would be surprised if they were half-strength by the time they were sent to Lemnos for rest around 8 July.

Meanwhile, yesterday and today the 1/4th and 1/5th Battalions of the KOSB, who were Territorials, suffered terrible losses in the Action of Achi-Baba Nullah, which was an attempt by the British and French to conform the centre of the Helles front with the advances made earlier on the flanks. The battle was the all too familiar combination of excessive staff cleverness and downright incompetence. As a result, hundreds of the 1/4th KOSB over-ran their objective and headed up the lower slopes of Achi Baba, where they were mown down. Of the approximately 700 men of the 1/4th KOSB who had been in the action, only seventy answered the first roll call on 15 July.

All three battalions of George’s ‘old’ regiment — the 1st KOSB, 1/4th KOSB and 1/5th KOSB, who had been the very backbone of the 29th and 52nd Divisions at Gallipoli — were now shredded. They never reached full strength on the peninsula again.

Next entry: 14 July 1915: Very great concern

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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