The proud son of a World War One hero has shared his father and uncle’s amazing escape from death as the Derbyshire Times prepares to commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of this horrific global conflict.
As the Great War unfolded from August 4, 1914, Britain and the Allied powers aimed to secure a sea route by attempting to take the Dardanelles, in Turkey, between April 1915 and January 1916 with hopes of taking Constantinople.
But the naval attack was turned away and failed land campaign forces were eventually withdrawn and this campaign including the Battle of Gallipoli was regarded as an unmitigated and notorious failure with many lives lost.
However, Robert Taylor, of Hathern Close, Brimington Common, Chesterfield, has found a Derbyshire Times news cutting which tells how his father Pte George Taylor and his uncle Bert Taylor, both of Spa Terrace, Chesterfield, and the Sherwood Foresters, narrowly escaped the carnage with their lives.
Robert said: “They were remarkable and funny fellas who very rarely talked about their experiences but both their stories are incredible.”
George was shot to pieces and had been laid with the deceased until a nurse saw him twitch and stated: “Get that lad out. There’s life in that body.” He was sent to the General Hospital Alexandria.
His brother Bert fought at Gallipoli and was saved from a shell which pierced the prayer book, pay book and letters that had been placed in his breast pocket.
The Derbyshire Times printed a report with the headlines “Soldier brothers’ escape, Chesterfield man saved by prayer book, and Landing difficulties at Gallipoli”. The story included a letter from Bert to their mother, stating: “You are lucky to have your sons alive. No one in England knows what a soldier goes through out here. I can only thank God that I’m alive to write to you.
“I was hit by a piece of shell which went through everything inside my pocket and I have got the piece of shell and I’m sorry I cannot put it in the letter. I’m a lucky man. My prayer book, pay book, letters etc saved my life.”
He added: “I had two of my section killed, all lads. It was terrible. Dead everywhere. I did think that piece (of shell) would count me out but the shell only bruised my chest. I’m still going strong and hope to be at them again before long.”
Younger brother George, who was struck by a bullet in his left temple, another through his left cheek, one in a wrist and the other in a hand at the Dardanelles, also wrote home.
He stated: “The one in the cheek took away my top jaw and cut my tongue almost in two and it has made a mess of me but don’t be alarmed I’m still in the pink.”
He added: “We were making a new landing when I got wounded and I can tell you it was murder. There were thousands of Turks and they didn’t half put the lead into us.
“Some of the lighters (boats) were landed on a good stretch about 50yards from the shore and the poor fellows were up to their armpits in the water. Consequently, the rifles got full of water and they had nothing but their bayonets to defend themselves. It was hell.”
He added: “As soon as we charged with the bread knives (bayonets), up went the hands of the Turks shouting Allah, Allah but it did them no good because we were just getting interested by that time.
“I got hit the second we landed. By that time we gained three miles of ground but at a terrible price.”
He added: “If I keep telling you this, you will think there is a war on, so I will change the subject.”
George, who worked for Staveley Works and Bert, who worked at Grassmoor Colliery after the war, both raised families and their relatives have always been proud of the stoicism shown by both men.
Bert lost an eye during continued fighting in the First World War only to return home and lose his only good eye in a mining accident.
Proud Robert said: “After Bert was blinded he had to be assessed by an officer before he could go to St Dunston’s for care. The officer noticed Bert had fought at the Battle of the Somme but said he’d never heard of the Battle of Grassmoor. Bert told him that was because ‘there was only me in that one’.”
lThose with family links, stories, pictures and artefacts are urged to call Jon Cooper on (01246) 504578 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the Derbyshire Times, Spire Walk, off Derby Road, Chesterfield S40 2WG.