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Care and casualties in WWI

In the end, only five remained. Once they finally get on board the HMS Letitia, cigarettes are lit and inhaled with much relief. A photograph is taken to mark the occasion. Their expressions do not convey the ordeal they had just lived through, but a defiant satisfaction is evident. Unlike so many others, they had survived.

The campaign had been a disaster. The plan was to open up another front in the east due, in part, to the stalemate in France. But what happened in Gallipoli was one of the worst examples of military incompetence in recent history. The Allied forces were ill-prepared, and the High Command had grossly underestimated the capability of the Turks.

Although estimates vary significantly, over 180,000 troops were killed or wounded on the Allied side during the conflict, according to certain sources. Many more died through illness, while Turkish forces are believed by some to have suffered even greater casualties. It was one of the biggest massacres of World War I.

Although Gallipoli is associated, in particular, with the deaths of Australian and New Zealand troops, it was also devastating for the Irish. It is estimated that almost 4,000 Irish soldiers were killed during the conflict. The 1st Battalions of the Royal Dublin, Munster and Inniskilling Fusiliers were involved in the landing on 25 April at Cape Helles. According to figures on the Department of the Taoiseach’s website, The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers were the first to disembark from the SS River Clyde. The figures show that 149 were killed and 30 wounded among the first 200 men to leave the ship, and that there were 637 casualties in the first 36 hours alone.

Of the survivors, he writes: ‘Nobody can believe that we had such a tie and come through it alive…’

Such were the casualties that the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers joined together to form the ‘Dubsters’.

The only part of the campaign that can be deemed a success was the evacuation. Once it became clear that the initial aim of securing the Dardanelles was impossible, military leaders instigated a covert plan to leave Gallipoli without arousing the suspicion of the Turks. Unlike the disastrous invasion, the evacuation was so well organised that there were barely any casualties. This is not to say that the plan was not dangerous in the extreme. This danger is evocatively expressed in a letter written by the Irish physician Dr Andrew Horne, reportedly one of the last five officers to leave the peninsula, along with about 50 other Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) men.

Distinguished family

Dr Horne came from distinguished medical stock.

His father, also named Andrew, was the first co-Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles St, and was eventually knighted for his services to medicine. He is even referred to in Ulysses, with Holles Street being described in the novel as the “House of Horne”. On the side of his mother, Margaret Norman, Dr Horne junior was a descendent of Dr John Adrien, who was one of the founding members of the RCSI and was the first physician to tend to revolutionary leader and United Irishman Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1798 when he was mortally wounded after being shot by Major Henry Sirr. Dr Adrien’s son, who was also named John, later became the first Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the RCSI.

Dr Horne, who was born in Harcourt Street in Dublin in 1891, was studying medicine in Trinity when war broke out. He qualified early as a result of the outbreak. He enlisted in the RAMC in July 1915 and served as medical officer in the 17th Stationary Field Hospital at Cape Helles in Gallipoli.

The letter, which was sent to his mother, describes the evacuation of the last 3,000 troops in the early morning of January 9, 1916, amid the terrifyingly routine shelling of the camp. As a member of the Medical Corps, it was part of Dr Horne’s responsibility to ensure the wounded and ill boarded the escape vessels, which was executed with smooth precision. Waiting at the pier for an hour for further details from the RAMC, Dr Horne watched as the remaining troops boarded the ships. Even after he eventually embarked the ‘lighter’, a kind of flat-bottomed barge, with the last of the men, the danger had not passed as the shelling lit-up the early morning sky with savage bursts of fire and turned the calm sea tumultuous. At this stage, most of the ships were well out at sea, yet his group was still vulnerable. As their lighter left the pier, the men were dwarfed by flames from exploding shells, with wood, stone and rock falling upon them.

””
Dr Andrew Horne

“We had just cast off our ropes, such an explosion, flames which people on ships estimated mounted up 300 feet in [the] air and there we were, helpless,” according to the letter.

But they escaped, somehow with minimum casualties. The last sight he saw of Helles was the Allied ships pumping shells into the hospital and the Turks bombing W Beach, where they still believed troops remained. Of the survivors, he writes that: “Nobody can believe that we had such a time and come through it alive… ”

A photograph of Dr Horne and the other four last officers to leave Gallipoli, as well as a copy of the letter, are now part of an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland as part of a commemoration of the Irish who fought in World War I. The exhibition is called ‘Recovered Voices — the Stories of the Irish at War, 1914-15’. It is aptly named, as for years Irish people who fought in the war rarely, if ever, spoke about their experience because of the political situation in the country. They were seen as traitors to the nationalist cause for joining the British and taking part in an imperial war. Dr Horne’s daughter Margaret, now in her 80s, says her father, like many others, did not often speak of what he went through during the conflict.

“You had a total silence here in this country, what I call ‘Ireland’s amnesia’,” Margaret, who was a medical social worker for years in the Rotunda Hospital, tells the Medical Independent (MI).

“Nobody dared talk. They were absolutely ostracised. It was terrible here. It really was very tough for anyone who fought.”

What her father did, however, was keep a meticulously-compiled photographic journal of his wartime experiences, which along with copies of letters, Margaret, and her twin sister Patricia, who was a psychiatrist, have now donated to the museum. His hat and ashtray, sculpted from the remnants of a bombed lighthouse, are also part of the exhibit.

Exhibition

The curator of the exhibition Lar Joye says the album is a valuable addition to the exhibition because it is annotated. Frequently, he says, the museum receives photos from families, but without any idea of who the subjects of the photos are, or exactly when and where they were taken.

“The significance is that he’s annotated it,” he explains.

“We get photographic albums in and the families don’t know what’s in it. ‘That’s granddad’ and no other information. But what he did was, he actually went and wrote down captions for each photograph. That rarely happens because they just don’t get time.”

His favourite photograph in the collection is that of the five officers. To contemporary eyes, they look like the epitome of early 20th Century military men — dapper, moustached, cigarettes dangling nonchalantly from their mouths. Underneath the photo the names and nationalities of the men are listed: Lieutenant Horne (Irish), Captain Angus (Scotch); Lieutenant Allison (Canadian); Captain Rees-Thomas (Welsh) and Lieutenant Leeson (Canadian), all members of the medical corps. Margaret remembers Rees-Thomas, whose first name was William, visiting their home in Merrion Square in the 1940s. After the war, he became Medical Senior Commissioner for the Border of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency in the UK.

Yet beyond their names, rank and nationality, no other information is provided about these men. Like many old photos, a sense of loss pervades. Although they are taken to preserve and fortify memory, this is ultimately an impossible act as no matter how meticulous the photographer, these memories will eventually fade away with the passing of their participants. As such, despite the annotations, there is still an inevitable aura of mystery to these photographs. This, however, is a limitation of the medium and does not deny the value of the collection.

Although he said little of his wartime exploits, Patricia says her father expressed some admiration fo the Turkish troops

For Lar Joye, they succeed in terms of capturing the feeling of being in Gallipoli in 1915.

“What I like is that you get an idea of what Gallipoli looks like at the time,” he says.

“They really never get off the beaches; they are always in these little coves and gullies, which is part of the problem.”

Photos he highlights include one which shows the British and Turkish lines only about 200 metres apart (“very, very powerful”) and another showing the early use of gas masks (“It shows they are panicking in Gallipoli that gas is going to be used”).

Also, Lar points to a linked series of photos, which provide a panoramic view of the peninsula, a difficult effect to achieve at the time, and which give an indication of Dr Horne’s skill and diligence as a photographer.

The majority of the photos are of ordinary camp life, and also the life of a member of the RAMC.

A Red Cross flag is photographed, which was taken on Dr Horne’s first day in Gallipoli. It was erected to see whether the Turks would allow for the establishment of a hospital for injured and ill troops.

A later photograph revealed a row of modest-looking tents erected to be the 17th Stationary Hospital on Cape Helles, while another shows a small hut designed to be the operating theatre.

One photo shows a man standing merrily outside a tent. The caption reads: “One of our hospital tents struck by a shell. The orderly standing outside was asleep in the tent and was unharmed.” Another one shows a confused-looking, bearded man with a bandage wrapped around his head. The caption reveals him to be a Turkish prisoner, who was obviously wounded, in the hospital. Another photo shows a smiling officer with his hands in his pockets standing beside the prisoner. The precise nature of their interaction is intriguing to imagine, but, like the relationships among the rest of the cast of characters photographed by Dr Horne, are destined to remain unknown.

The conflict usually occurs off-camera, but there are exceptions.

Shells are occasionally photographed exploding nearby. One image, which has been enlarged and colourised for the exhibition, shows a large plume of water rising near the landing on W Beach due to an exploding shell. It is one of the only photographs that Dr Horne had felt the need to annotate in detail. He writes that the furthest pier, which can only faintly be discerned, was mainly composed of sunken ships, and that the nearest pier, known as the French pier, was where the last lighter left on the night of the evacuation. The photo provides a suitable accompaniment to the letter to his mother, and together they give a powerful impression of what occurred on that last night.

After the evacuation, Dr Horne and the rest of his regiment were sent to Alexandria in Egypt, and from there Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq. He was also stationed in India for a period, where he contracted malaria, which caused him to lose a kidney. The rest of the photographs in the collections chronicle these experiences.

Although he said little of his wartime exploits, Patricia says her father expressed some admiration for the Turkish troops.

“He said very little apart from that the Turks were clean fighters — he was impressed by them, that they used to stop the battle and collect their wounded,” she explains.

She says that her father never forgave Winston Churchill, who as First Lord of the Admiralty conceived of the Gallipoli campaign, and the High Command, for the manner in which the soldiers were “mown down” during the conflict.

Margaret adds that he was also very disappointed about how the returning veterans were treated after the war “because they found it almost impossible to get a living,” she says.

“If they were healthy, they were able, but many were disabled.”

Dr Horne suffered his own disappointment and grief after his return to Ireland, though they were unrelated to the war.

Initially, he returned to Trinity College in 1920, where he completed a postgraduate MD. He then went to England to work at a military hospital for women and children of army men, but returned to Dublin in 1924 at the prompting of his father and retired from the RAMC with the rank of Captain.

Dr Horne was elected Assistant Master of Holles St shortly after his arrival back home, while his father was still Joint Master of the Hospital. His father died shortly afterwards, although it was in Holles St that he met his future wife, Dr Bridget Moclair, who was the first woman to hold the position of Assistant Master. They married in 1926 and had three children — Margaret, Patricia and Andrew Patrick. Following the departure of the Master in Holles Street, Dr Patrick McArdle, in 1931, Dr Horne sought to follow in his father’s footsteps and succeed him. However, he was blocked in his efforts by the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Edward Byrne, who was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Hospital. The Archbishop wrote to the President of University College Dublin, Dr Denis Coffey, who chaired a sub-committee responsible for defining the terms and conditions of the Mastership, stating that he could not lend his support to a graduate from Trinity College Dublin.

As a result of the opposition, Dr Horne withdrew his application for the post, simply stating that “the ship is bigger than the crew”.

Dr Horne then went into private practice in obstetrics from his residence in Merrion Square. Working in a private capacity was not easy in that era, with Margaret remembering Sunday trips being frequently abandoned as a result of phone calls from patients.

The Archbishop wrote to the President of University College Dublin, stating that he could not lend his support to a graduate from Trinity College Dublin

Tragedy struck the family in 1946 with the death of Patrick, at the age of 14, due to complications arising from diabetes. Patrick’s death hit Dr Horne particularly hard. It was one of the reasons his daughters rarely questioned him about his wartime experiences, according to Margaret.

“We didn’t want to bring up things that saddened him,” she says.

Margaret remembers her mother saying passengers from a tram that Patrick used to frequent to attend school in Belvedere turned up at the house to express their condolence after he died.

“If the tram was full, he would give up his seat for somebody. That was instilled by my father. These people came in to my parents said that they had known him from the tram and they had missed him… and it was the conductor of the tram that told them that the young lad had died.”

Dr Horne himself died 17 years later in 1963 at the age of 72. Margaret says that he had many great male friends throughout his life who were very emotional at his funeral.

“One of the things that affected me greatly when he died, after his mass, there were some of his men friends and they were wiping tears from their eyes,” she says.

“It shows how close he was to them. We also received lovely letters from his former patients too. His gentleness and courtesy imprinted itself on them, his kindness in times of trouble.”

His thoroughness again was remarked upon when his medical notes were passed onto the Master of Holles Street, Dr Arthur Barry, who used them as an example to students on how take patient details in a proper manner.

Despite the album currently showing as part of the exhibition, Margaret does not count photography as one of Dr Horne’s hobbies, though he did have a friendship with Fr Frank Browne, who took famous photographs of the Titanic, from their time together in Belvedere.

He did have a love of poetry, which Margaret remembers him being able to recite at length and he was a keen sportsman, excelling at rugby, cricket and golf. As a young man, he played rugby for Lansdowne’s first XV, while in later life he became Captain and then President of Foxrock Golf Club (“he had a four handicap,” Margaret adds). He was also a member and trustee of the prestigious St Stephen’s Green Club in Dublin.

Dr Horne’s Catholic faith was very important to him, though Margaret remarks he was not “holy-holy”. He was diligent about saying his prayers every day, she remembers.

Letters to Dr Horne from his mother when he was at war urge him not to forget his prayers.

“He had a huge, quiet devotion to our Blessed Lady,” Margaret says.

“About three years before he died, I was talking to him here and can’t remember what was said; he said ‘I never missed a day since I became a child of Mary in Belvedere that I didn’t say my act of consecration to our Blessed Lady’. And I said to him, ‘Daddy did you do that in Gallipoli?’ and he said ‘always’.”

Margaret finds it amazing that her father could have been so devoted, with the devastation that was going on around him during the conflict.

Both Margaret and Patricia made the trip to Gallipoli around 2008 to get a further sense of what their father had gone through. Until that point, their sole knowledge of what the evacuation must have been like came from Dr Horne’s letter. They re-read it before the trip and made copies of it for other members of the group who were travelling with them. Margaret says it was an extraordinary experience, standing on W beach, where her father battled through exploding shells to make the escape. Yet, at the same time, she found it difficult to conceive that such a scenario was possible, looking out into the peaceful sea. It was a quiet, pleasant day, the same that might be experienced on any seafront across the world. Any waves that occurred now were natural in origin and not the result of shellfire.

“We could see only a vague outline of one of the piers. But as we stood there looking at it, it was quite emotional because we had only just re-read our father’s letter. It was hard to imagine that the whole of that calm scene could have once been a terrible battlefield. It is just the same when you go to France, particularly northern France.

“While the scenery is beautiful, you are really travelling through devastated country.”

  1. Margaret Mary (Leeson) Cochrane on April 21, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    My father was Lieut Lavell Hall Leeson, one of the last to depart in Jan 1916.
    Amongst his souvenirs, there were many Gallipoli-themed ornaments made from the remnants of the shelling. Also, during the final, delayed evacuation, LHL used a Red Cross flag to wrap around an injured soldier; I still have that flag with LHL’s handwritten note attached to it. I should like to see more photographs of that time in Gallipoli, please. This is a memorable discovery today, & I’m most grateful.
    Margaret Mary L Cochrane

  2. Margaret Mary (Leeson) Cochrane on April 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    My father was Lieut Lavell Hall Leeson, one of the last to depart in Jan 1916.
    Amongst his souvenirs, there were many Gallipoli-themed ornaments made from the remnants of the shelling. Also, during the final, delayed evacuation, LHL used a Red Cross flag to wrap around an injured soldier; I still have that flag with LHL’s handwritten note attached to it. I should like to see more photographs of that time in Gallipoli, please. This is a memorable discovery today, & I’m most grateful.
    Margaret Mary L Cochrane

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