Friday, 21 August 2015

The Worcestershire Yeomanry and Chocolate Hill, 21 August 1915

The Worcestershire Yeomanry took part in one of the final major British offensives of the Gallipoli campaign on 21 August 1915.  They were at Suvla  Bay, initially in reserve, but were then called upon to advance across a dry salt lake to Chocolate Hill and then to push on to take part in an attack on Scimitar Hill.  Marching across fairly open country they and their fellow yeomen were easy targets and there were many casualties. The attack was ultimately unsuccessful and Worcestershire Yeomanry were recalled to their original positions.  They spent a further three months on the Gallipoli peninsula with spells on the front line and in reserve before being withdrawn back to Egypt.


Jack Lyttelton


Into active service

One of the soldiers who took part in the actions on 21 August 1915 was Jack Lyttelton, eldest son of the then 8th Viscount Cobham of Hagley Hall.  Jack had been with the Worcestershire Yeomanry since before the outbreak of the First World War and had previous experience as a soldier with the Rifle Brigade in the Boer War.  Jack wrote home regularly to his family and in particular to his wife Violet.  His surviving letters in the Lyttelton collection provide a very personal account of the actions in which he was involved at Gallipoli.









After initial training at home the Worcestershire Yeomanry were sent to Egypt in April 1915.  They did not see active service immediately, but did assist in unloading the wounded and dead from the ships returning from Gallipoli.  Jack did not mention this task in his letters home (it is recorded in the regimental history), perhaps to shield his family from the darker side of his situation as his letters to his family were usually very positive and upbeat.  Finally in August  the Worcestershire Yeomanry were ordered on active service to fight dismounted as infantry.  On board the Ascania and bound for Gallipoli, Jack immediately wrote a letter to Violet and tried to reassure her that everything would be alright.  He attempted to keep things light, sending her a picture of him playing polo and telling her how they'd won the Inter-regimental polo cup.




Letter to Violet from Jack Lyttelton onboard the Ascania,14 August 1915


Photo of Jack playing polo enclosed with the letter


After the fighting on 21 August Jack quickly penned a letter to his wife so that, if and when news of the offensive reached Britain, she would know he had survived it.  He did not go into much detail at this point, though he hinted that the Division had been 'knocked about rather severely' and he praised the men for having 'stood a real dusting under shrapnel'. 


Letter to Violet from Jack in the aftermath of battle, 22 August 1915



Time for reflection
Shortly afterwards Jack became second in command of the Regiment.  As part of the reorganisation of his Division following their losses and the desire to have a reserve of officers, he was sent to Lemnos.  The posting offered Jack some time for reflection on events in Gallipoli and he wrote several letters home during this period about the actions in which he had been engaged.  This included a detailed one to Violet dated 23 September 1915.  In it he recapped events over the last few weeks, described life before going into action, the polo tournament and their embarkation for Gallipoli.



Part of Jack's long letter to Violet detailing the change to infantry and initial arrival on Gallipoli


He then went on to describe the Regiment's march to Chocolate Hill, how they were caught under shrapnel fire and the battle itself.  The Yeomanry's march was made famous by the commander of the Gallipoli forces, Sir Ian Hamilton, who called it ‘a sight calculated to send a thrill of pride through anyone with a drop of English blood in their veins’.  Fellow Worcestershire yeoman Victor Godrich also recorded the event, but his description was perhaps much more down to earth.  He recollected  'Shrapnel fell like hail, rifle fire like rain, made gaps in our ranks.  It was not a pleasant feeling to see a man dropping ahead of you knowing that you would soon be amongst it.  The two miles or so that we marched seemed the longest that I have ever travelled.'




Part of Jack's long letter to Violet describing their move off into battle 


Jack finished the letter off by talking about more personal things such as sending him photos, how he mistook a framed photo in his pack for a bar of chocolate and reassuring his wife that he was well and safe.  His final verdict on the campaign so far was that he doubted 'whether the difficulties were properly appreciated when we started in on it, but that's a thoroughly English way of butting in'.


 Part of Jack's long letter to Violet describing his posting to Lemnos  and his attempts to keep her informed of his movements


For other Worcestershire Yeomanry First World War accounts see:
  • C[Cobham], Yeomanry Cavalry of Worcestershire, 1914-1922 (1926)
  • V Godrich, Mountains of Moab, The Diary of a Yeoman 1908-1919 (2011)
  • Arthur Valentine Holyoake, The Road to Yozgad My war 1914-19  (2013)
  • Oscar Teichman, Diary of a Yeomanry MO (1921)


For more about The Worcestershire Yeomanry see:


By M. Tohill

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