The important Great War Gallipoli Landings 25th April 1915 River Clyde V Beach Victoria Cross winners Great War Memorial Plaque, issued in memory of George Leslie Drewry, Sub Lieutenant with the Royal Naval Reserve, and formerly the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, who as part of the crew of the minesweeper Hussar, then along with his commanding officer, Commander Edward Unwin, boarded the River Clyde to take her in to V Beach on 25th April 1915. As the book ‘Victoria Cross at Sea’ by John Winton refers: ‘Midshipman George Leslie
The important Great War Gallipoli Landings 25th April 1915 River Clyde V Beach Victoria Cross winners Great War Memorial Plaque, issued in memory of George Leslie Drewry, Sub Lieutenant with the Royal Naval Reserve, and formerly the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, who as part of the crew of the minesweeper Hussar, then along with his commanding officer, Commander Edward Unwin, boarded the River Clyde to take her in to V Beach on 25th April 1915. As the book ‘Victoria Cross at Sea’ by John Winton refers: ‘Midshipman George Leslie Drewry, R.N.R., commanded the hopper when it drove ashore on “River Clyde’s” port bow. When he saw Unwin hauling in on the line to bring the nearest lighter to shore, Drewry jumped in the water to help him. He came across a wounded soldier, picked him up and tried to drag him ashore, but the man was hit again and died in his arms. While standing on one of the lighters, Drewry was hit by shrapnel in the head which knocked him to the ground. His face covered in blood, he bound up the wound with a soldier’s scarf and went on with his work.’ His award of the Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette for 13th August 1915 and the citation reads as follows: ‘Midshipman George L. Drewry, R.N.R., assisted Commander Unwin at the work of securing the lighters under heavy rifle and Maxim fire. He was wounded in the head, but continued his work and twice subsequently attempted to swim from lighter to lighter with a line.’ Drewry became the first officer of both the Royal Naval Reserve and the Merchant Service to win the Victoria Cross, and was also present with a Sword of Honour by The Imperial Merchant Service Guild. Somewhat accident prone, he had once been knocked over by a car in the street, fallen from the mast into the sea and nearly drowned, and shipwrecked whilst rounding Cape Horn, having then miraculously survived the act of winning his Victoria Cross, Drewry sadly did not survive the war, when in command of the trawler ‘William Jackson’ he was struck on the head by a falling block on 2nd August 1918, dying shortly afterwards.
Great War Memorial Plaque named to; (GEORGE LESLIE DREWRY)
Condition: Extremely Fine.
George Leslie Drewry was born on 3rd November 1894 at Forest Gate, Essex, the son of Thomas Drewry, works manager of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and his wife, Mary, nee Kendall. Educated at the Merchant Taylor’s School in Blackheath, as a boy he seems to have been somewhat accident prone, and as a young boy was once knock down in the street by a car, and then when an apprentice aboard the sailing ship ‘Indian Empire’, he fell from a mast into the sea and was nearly drowned. Then on rounding Cape Horn, his ship was wrecked on the remote Hermit Island. The crew managed to get ashore but their lifeboat was smashed by heavy seas. Stranded, they lived for a fortnight on roots and shellfish until rescued by a Chilean gunboat.
Then in 1912 he followed in his fathers footsteps and joined the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company and travelled the world. Drewry was also commissioned as a probationary Midshipman into the Royal Naval Reserve on 1st July 1913, and was mobilised on the outbreak of the Great War with Egmont, the shore base at Malta, on 7th August 1914. Drewry then joined the minesweeper Hussar from September 1914, for service in the Mediterranean. In February 1915 a new man took command, Commander Edward Unwin, and shortly afterwards both men would attain the highest distinction for their services during the Gallipoli landings on 25th April 1915.
In 1915, when planning began for the amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula, Unwin proposed beaching the 4,000 ton collier SS River Clyde on the narrow beach beneath Sedd el Bahr at Cape Helles, known as V Beach, thereby allowing 2,000 troops to be landed together. At the age of 51, Unwin was promoted to acting Captain and given command of the River Clyde for the operation, and Midshipman Drewry accompanied him to this temporary posting.
The reason behind the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 conducted by the British and the French, using British, French and Australian warships and British, French, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops, was to take the Gallipoli Peninsular, penetrate the Dardanelles waterway and capture Constantinople, thereby knocking the Ottoman Turkish Empire out of the First World War.
The Gallipoli Peninsular forms the northern shore of the Dardanelles, the narrow waterway leading from the north east corner of the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmora, the city of Constantinople, then the capital of Ottoman Turkey, and then to the Black Sea. The Gallipoli landings occurred on 25th April 1915. While the ANZAC Corps attacked north of Gaba Tepe with the aim of cutting across the Gallipoli Peninsular half way up its length, the two British divisions would attack at Cape Helles. Cape Helles is the main promontory in the centre of the two mile wide southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsular.
It was decided to make a further landing at what was expected to be a deserted beach further north and level with Krithia, ‘Y’ beach. The French division would carry out a diversionary attack on the Asiatic shore. The main force for the initial British landings was the 29th Division formed almost entirely of regular British infantry battalions brought back from colonial postings following the declaration of war on 3rd August 1914. Two Royal Naval Division battalions were attached to the 29th Division for the initial landings; Plymouth Battalion RMLI and Anson Battalion.
Five beaches around Cape Helles were to be attacked: X Beach situated on the north west coast of the Cape Helles promontory: W Beach on the western section of the southern coast between Tekke Burnu and Cape Helles: V Beach at the eastern end of the cove lying between Cape Helles and Sedd el Bahr: Camber Beach lying round the south-eastern promontory of Sedd el Bahr and S Beach at De Totts Battery at the eastern end of the sweep of Morto Bay. General Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan for Cape Helles followed the form of the ANZAC landing: a covering force landing first, followed by the main body once circumstances permitted the disembarkation of more troops. The size of the covering force was governed by the naval resources available to put it ashore and the amount of space on-shore in which the troops could operate.
The force landing on X, W, V and Camber beaches was the 86th Fusilier Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Hare comprising 2nd Royal Fusiliers (to land on X Beach), 1st Lancashire Fusiliers (to land on W Beach), 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers (to land on V Beach from the River Clyde) and 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers (to land on V Beach) with an additional two companies from 2nd Hampshires (to land on V Beach from the River Clyde) and four platoons from the Anson Battalion split between the various units. 2nd South Wales Borderers was to land on S Beach. Signallers, engineers and medical personnel were attached to the detachments.
1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Plymouth Battalion Royal Marine Light Infantry with one company of 2nd South Wales Borders was to land on Y Beach. The covering force (X, W, V, Camber and S Beaches) was to approach the Gallipoli coast in naval warships and then transfer to tows for the final passage to land. The warships carrying the covering force to its disembarkation point were HMS Implacable (X and part of W Beaches), HMS Euryalus (W Beach), Fleet Sweeper No 1 and the River Clyde (V and Camber Beaches) and HMS Cornwallis (S Beach). Supporting units with two companies of 2nd Royal Fusiliers were to come up in other craft.
The expectation was that once ashore the various units would link up and form a complete brigade line. As at Anzac it was the intention of the army command to make the landing at night. In the case of Cape Helles the naval commanders refused, siting the strong currents and the difficulty of manoeuvring ships in such a confined space, and the landing was fixed for daylight. The operation would begin with a naval bombardment of the shore defences at 5am: HMS Albion on V Beach, HMS Swiftsure and Euryalus on W Beach and HMS Implacable on X Beach. At 5.30am the bombardment would end and the troops set off for the beaches in tows, each comprising a steamboat pulling a string of four ship’s boats. The ship’s boats would be cast adrift and rowed the final section to shore. These boats were wooden and provided no protection for the troops aboard even against rifle fire. The three companies of 2nd South Wales Borderers were to transfer from HMS Cornwallis to three trawlers and enter Morto Bay ready to land on S Beach as the tows set off for the other beaches. It was planned that the covering force would be ashore by 7am, the landing of the main force would begin by 8.30am and the whole of the 29th Division infantry with much of its artillery be ashore by midday. W Beach was to be reserved for the landing of guns, horses, transports and stores due to its ease of access to the hinterland and its reduced vulnerability to gunfire from the Turkish positions on the Asiatic shore.
As the landing proceeded a substantial naval force was to bombard identified Turkish infantry and gun positions further inland. This naval force was commanded by Rear Admiral Nicholson and comprised the ships conducting the initial bombardment with the addition of HMS Queen Elizabeth (once it returned from the Anzac landing), Vengeance, Lord Nelson, Prince George, Albion, Swiftsure, Dublin, Goliath, all battleships, and the cruisers Sapphire, Amethyst, Talbot and Minerva. Once the groups at the beaches had linked up the 86th Brigade was to establish a line across the isthmus from X Beach to Sedd el Bahr to cover the landing of the main force. On landing Major General Hunter-Weston, the commander of 29th Division, would take command of all the troops ashore and press on to take the final objective for the day, the Achi Baba Ridge and the ground running down to the Dardanelles coast line.
As at Anzac the objectives set for the first day of the landing demonstrate the extent to which the British commanders underestimated the difficulties of the ground, the strength of the defences and the competence of the German trained Turkish infantry and artillery. The lack of trained air observers for the British aircraft meant that there was no proper assessment from the air of the nature of the countryside which proved to be more broken and difficult than was reported. Achi Baba was not taken by the British and French troops at any time in the eight month Gallipoli campaign. The British over-estimated the strength of the Turkish forces at Cape Helles. It was believed that the whole of the Turkish 9th Division was positioned in the area. In fact only two battalions and one company of engineers were south of Achi Baba. Actually on the beaches there were two companies covering W and V Beaches. At S Beach there was one platoon. At X Beach there were twelve Turkish infantrymen. Only W and V Beaches were protected by barbed wire and machine guns.
The ships carrying the covering force left the island of Tenedos at 10pm on 24th April 1915, timed to arrive off Cape Helles an hour before daylight. At 3.30am the warships were in place off each beach and at 4 am the troops transferred from the ships to the tows. The first wave was in eighteen tows, each comprising a steam launch pulling four wooden boats. Brigadier General Hare determined to land at the earliest opportunity travelled in the first wave for W Beach. To the south HMS Cornwallis was heading for Morto Bay with the troops for S Beach in four trawlers. A mile behind were the transports carrying the troops of the covering force second trip, including the River Clyde. Further south were the eleven transports carrying the remainder of the 29th Division. The 29th Division commander General Hunter-Weston was on board the British frigate HMS Euryalus, to ensure the best of communications with Rear-Admiral Wemyss.
At 5am the warships began the bombardment of the beach areas. While bringing a substantial number of guns to bear the naval gunfire had significant limitations. Naval guns have a flat trajectory, not appropriate for engaging land targets where a lobbing trajectory is needed to put the shell into the position under fire. The warships were equipped with the standard ship to ship ammunition which was armour piercing. High explosive shells were needed to destroy field fortifications. A direct hit with armour piercing shot was required to destroy a field gun. Half an hour later the troops were to land on each of the four beaches simultaneously. The flotilla of four trawlers heading for S Beach encountered unexpectedly strong currents and were delayed.
V Beach occupied the eastern half of the bay that lies between Cape Helles, the headland to the south of Hill 138, and the old fort and hamlet of Sedd el Bahr at the eastern end of the bay. In the western half of the bay precipitous cliffs come down to the waterline restricting access from the sea. Overlooking the western end of the beach was the old Fort No 1 on the cliff. The ground behind V Beach slopes inland. The beach itself is 300 yards long and10 yards wide backed by a bank about 5 feet high. In spite of the ambitious plans of the higher command the troops of the covering force were to get no further than the 5 foot bank and were thankful that it was there to provide them with cover.
Fort No. 1 at the western end of V Beach and the fort and buildings of Sedd el Bahr had been bombarded by the British and French warships during the March 1915 naval attack on the Dardanelles and again on the morning of the landings. The bombardments had left the buildings severely battered and without any of the guns originally emplaced there but, if anything, the damage to the walls made them a stronger field fortification for infantry overlooking the landing beach.
The Turkish army had reinforced these fortifications with trenches and a barbed wire entanglement along the top of the beach from Sedd el Bahr to Fort No.1. There was a further wire entanglement halfway up the slope behind the beach and a third along the western side of Sedd el Bahr village.
Machine guns were positioned in the forts at each end of the beach and others in the more central trenches. On the left end of the ridge there were two Pom Pom quick firing guns. So strong were the Turkish defences at V Beach that the official historian states that the senior British officers, who were aware of the work the Turks were carrying out, must have assumed that they would be destroyed by the naval bombardment on 25th April 1915 before the landings.
HMS Albion fired on the shore defences for half an hour doing considerable damage to the buildings. The Turkish trenches were not damaged. Again the limitations on naval ammunition will have been a factor as will the flat trajectory of the naval guns eliminating the ‘howitzer’ effect essential effectively to shell field fortifications. It was expected that the Sedd el Bahr position would be eliminated by the half company landing on the far side of the point and attacking the position in the rear.
As at all the beaches the naval bombardment ceased once the landing boats neared the shore leaving a period of around ten minutes for the Turkish troops to re-occupy their positions, abandoned to take cover from the shell-fire. The five tows for V Beach and the one for Camber around the point set off from the ships just before 6am with 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the platoon of the Anson Battalion. The plan was that the River Clyde would be grounded near the shore shortly after the rowed barges reached the beach.
As at several other locations in the Gallipoli landings the tows encountered an unexpected current and were delayed, falling behind the more powerful River Clyde. As the River Clyde was required to ground after the tows had landed she was forced to change course to give the tows time to catch up. There was at this stage no fire from the shore. The growing expectation was that the Turks had decided not to oppose the landing and had gone.
The River Clyde ran ashore at the point planned. Lieutenant Colonel Williams on the River Clyde recorded in the log he was jotting down as the operation progressed: “6.22am Ran smoothly ashore without a tremor. No opposition. We shall land unopposed.” Three minutes later Colonel Williams wrote: “6.25am. Tows within a few yards of shore. Hell burst loose on them. One boat drifting to north, all killed. Others almost equally helpless. Our hopper gone away.”
The Official History states: “Up to the last moment it seemed that the Turkish defences had been abandoned; but just as the River Clyde grounded, and when the boats were only a few yards from the shore, Hell was suddenly let loose. A tornado of fire swept over the incoming boats, lashing the calm waters of the bay as with a thousand whips. Devastating casualties were suffered in the first few seconds. Some of the boats drifted helplessly away with every man in them killed. Many more of the Dublins were killed as they waded ashore. Others, badly wounded, stumbling in the water, were drowned. Those who succeeded in crossing the strip of sand, managed to gain a precarious shelter under the bank on the further side.”
It was intended that the boats that had landed the covering party on V Beach would return to the transports and convey the main body to the shore. The boats were almost entirely destroyed and their naval crews killed. The two platoons landed at Camber around the point from the main V Beach landing, but all the officers were killed and the troops pinned down, the few men who got into the village being captured by the Turks.
As previously mentioned, during the planning for the landings on Gallipoli in April 1915 Commander Unwin, captain of the destroyer HMS Hussar, put forward a plan for landing a significant number of soldiers with cover provided right up to the beach. A collier would be filled with around 2,000 troops and run ashore immediately after the first wave of troops landed.
Unwin’s plan was adopted and Unwin was given command of the selected collier, the River Clyde. Unwin spent the short period left in adapting the River Clyde for her role. Holes were cut in the collier’s sides and gangways attached so that the troops could remain in cover until the last moment and then emerge from the ship and run down the gangways to a platform under the bows. Unwin arranged a system of lighters which would be towed to the shore and then swung round to the front of the collier to provide a bridge to the shore. A battery of machine guns was placed in the bow of the collier, protected by sandbag walls, to provide covering fire for the landing troops. On 25th April 1915 the River Clyde carried 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, 2nd Hampshire Regiment (less two companies), one company of Royal Dublin Fusiliers and other sub-units of signallers and engineers. Several senior staff officers were on the collier including Lieutenant Colonel Williams.
When the River Clyde grounded one of the craft intended for the bridge became stuck in the wrong place. Unwin, accompanied by Able Seaman Williams, plunged into the sea and hauled the lighters into place between the collier and the shore providing the bridge needed for the heavily encumbered infantrymen to disembark. All the while the machine guns in the bows of the River Clyde provided a heavy covering fire for the landing.
The Munster Fusiliers poured down the two gangplanks to cross the lighters to the shore. Virtually all of the first companies were shot down by the murderous Turkish fire from the shore. Able Seaman Williams was killed by a shell burst fired by a Turkish gun on the Asiatic coast and, Unwin being unable to hold the lighter in position on his own, it drifted out of place. The Munsters continued trying to reach the shore struggling through the intervening water. Many were shot and others dragged down by their heavy equipment and drowned. As they scrambled ashore the surviving Munsters and Dubliners gathered at the five foot bank. Some soldiers went on and attempted to cut their way through the wire entanglement but were shot. Lieutenant Colonel Williams on the River Clyde noted that the Turkish rifle fire was “extraordinarily well handled ….. very heavy and accurate.”
The decision was taken that no further troops, in particular the two companies of 2nd Hampshires, would attempt to land from the River Clyde until after dark. By 9am the survivors of the 1sr Royal Dublin Fusiliers and 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers lay in cover under the bank at the top of the beach unable to move in the face of the heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the defending Turkish troops, albeit only one company.
Whilst Unwin and Williams were performing the feat with the lighter, Midshipman Drewry who had command of the hopper when it drove ashore on the River Clyde’s post bow, witness Unwin struggling to control the ligher in the moments after Able Seaman Williams had been killed by the shell burst.
As the book ‘Victoria Cross at Sea’ by John Winton refers: ‘Midshipman George Leslie Drewry, R.N.R., commanded the hopper when it drove ashore on “River Clyde’s” port bow. When he saw Unwin hauling in on the line to bring the nearest lighter to shore, Drewry jumped in the water to help him. He came across a wounded soldier, picked him up and tried to drag him ashore, but the man was hit again and died in his arms. While standing on one of the lighters, Drewry was hit by shrapnel in the head which knocked him to the ground. His face covered in blood, he bound up the wound with a soldier’s scarf and went on with his work. He was presented with his Cross by King George V at the Palace on 22nd November 1916.’
Drewry’s award of the Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette for 13th August 1915 and the citation reads as follows: ‘Midshipman George L. Drewry, R.N.R., assisted Commander Unwin at the work of securing the lighters under heavy rifle and Maxim fire. He was wounded in the head, but continued his work and twice subsequently attempted to swim from lighter to lighter with a line.’
John Winton further details: That anybody got ashore at all was almost entirely due to the great gallantry and physical stamina of River Clyde's officers and men. At one point, because of the current setting round the Cape and the difficulties of securing the bridge, the lighters began to drift away from the beach. Commander Edward Unwin, in command of River Clyde, himself swam ashore with a line, secured the first lighter and towed it to shore. There was nothing suitable to secure the lighter to, so he stood in the water himself, like a human ballard, with the line wrapped around his waist, while the first parties of Munster Fusiliers rushed over his head. The men who assisted Unwin had to swim from lighter to lighter, under very heavy fire. Midshipman Drewry, of River Clyde, was wounded in the head but still took lines from one lighter to another until he was exhausted. A sailor from River Clyde, Able Seaman Williams, stood neck-deep in the water for over an hour, under murderous fire, but he held on to his line until he was killed where he stood. Another seaman, George Samson, worked in the lighters all day, under constant fire, eventually he was very badly wounded by Maxim machine-gun fire. He carried thirteen pieces of bullet shrapnel in his body to the day of his death. Another Midshipman, Wilfred Malleson, took over from Drewry, and swam with lines from the hopper to the lighters and succeeded in securing the nearest lighter. When the line broke he made two more attempts to secure it.
Unwin was in his fifties and the cold and immersion were too much for him. Numbed and helpless he was obliged to return to his ship, where the doctor wrapped him up in blankets. But as soon as his circulation had returned he ignored the doctor's advice and went back to the lighters, where he was wounded three times. Later in the morning he decided that something must be done for the wounded, lying in the shallow water by the beach. He commandeered a launch, secured her stern to River Clyde and punted her to the shore. He rescued seven or eight wounded men, manhandled them into his boat and hauled them back to River Clyde. He was in the end forced to stop through sheer physical exhaustion.’
Of the Royal Navy personnel on the River Clyde Commander Unwin, Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall of Anson Battalion, Midshipmen Malleson and Drewry, Able Seamen Williams and Samson were awarded the Victoria Cross for their conduct in maintaining the landing facilities of the collier under the heaviest of rifle and machine gun fire at close range, while around them hundreds of soldiers were being hit, and assisting the wounded. This amounted an incredible 6 awards of the Victoria Cross to the Royal Navy, a feat unprecedented in naval history.
Having been wounded in the head on 25th April 1915, Drewry was most probably treated in hospital before rejoining Hussar and was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant on 3rd November 1915. Continuing to serve aboard Hussar, he was promoted to Sub Lieutenant on 2nd September 1916 and was then posted to Excellent at Portsmouth on 17th October 1916, his award of the Victoria Cross being presented to him at Buckingham Palace on 22nd November 1916. In addition, The Imperial Merchant Service Guild presented him with a Sword of Honour, he being the first Royal Naval Reserve officer and officer of the Merchant Service to win the Victoria Cross.
Drewry then joined the battleship Conqueror from 23rd December 1916, and saw service aboard her as part of the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow. Having then joined the survey vessel and base ship Research from 31st January 1918, and was given command of the trawler H.M.T William Jackson on 4th March 1918, seeing service on minesweeping duties in home waters. As mentioned, Drewry had been accident prone, and sadly this was to prove fatal finally when on 2nd August 1918 a block fell from the end of a derrick and struck him on the head, injuring his skull, and breaking his left arm. He died a short time later, aged 24, and is buried in All Saints Churchyard at Forest Gate. His brother officers also erected a window in his memory at the All Saints Church, and in April 1940, his brother, Mr. H.P. Drewry, donated £10,000 to fund scholarships for the sons of Merchant Navy officers killed in action. Drewry’s Victoria Cross group is now on display in the Imperial War Museum.