Helen, my wife, had died on Christmas Day 2016. The late winter and early spring of 2017 were real hard days for me but by April the corona of light that signifies the end of the tunnel, the dispenser of gloom and despair was growing larger by the week. Helen was still there and I suppose it will be ever thus but the pain was gone. There was still a little emptiness but the emptiness that was once 24/7 is now only there for an hour or so a day. Travel plans were made and three of us military history mates went off to the Med in search of graves of long gone soldiers. Possibly a strange thing to do with death still raw but at least these brave lads had gone 100 years ago.
Malta was a strategic spot. He who owned Malta owned the western Mediterranean and since 1814, after the Treaty of Paris and the demise of Napoleon, the British fleet asked the French navy to disperse and Britain had run the rule on who should and should not pass by, ably backed up by that steady rock where sea meets ocean at Gibraltar. Certainly since 1879 when the Suez Canal was opened, Malta’s position in world affairs strengthened. All oriental traffic on the way to Europe passed its gates.
Churchill’s expansionist policies in that historic sea in 1915 meant that many wounded soldiers were sent home from Gallipoli, some wounded so badly that Malta, the first stop on the way home, was their last stop. This theatre of war was followed in 1916 with the mission of the 10th Irish Division to help the Serbians, who were being badly battered by the new found bravado of Bulgaria, who had unwisely entered the war in late 1915 as an ally to the Central Powers of Germany and Austria. The 10th Irish Division included the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers who had just escaped wipe out on Gallipoli having lost 645 men out of 780 who had landed after 54 days on the peninsula. The 135 Ranger survivors had been withdrawn to Lemnos, an island in the Aegean 60 miles from Gallipoli which had been the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force’s HQ. There they were re-upholstered by drafts from Britain and within two weeks had sailed for Salonika, in northern Greece, to meet another Gallipoli at Kosterino, which is in modern day Macedonia. Where on 12th December 1915 they faced three brigades of Bulgarian infantry with associated artillery. All the Rangers had was a few machine guns and their Lee-Enfield rifles. 12,000 men against 1000, poor paddy did not stand a chance and must have wondered what the hell he was doing there stuck on this freezing cold mountain slope when a year before he had enlisted to help poor little Catholic Belgium and not the semi-christian bluffers of Serbia in their fight against muslim/orthodox Bulgaria.
The remnants of the 5th Battalion were again withdrawn and re-re-upholstered and moved eastward to a quiet place, the Struma Valley where mosquito and not bullet was the main enemy and very shortly the battalion of 980 men were reduced to 250 as malaria took its toll on the bemused soldiers. Most were treated in Thessalonika but the worst cases were sent to Britain, however a few cases worsened on their Blighty trip and were off-loaded in Malta where some of them died..
So we were there to find these men, we knew who they were and where they were buried, some in Pieta Cemetery on the outskirts of Valetta, the others in Malta’s main cemetery, Adolorata, some 10 miles south west of Valetta, an enormous graveyard covering a vast extent of hillside. The climb from the gates at the bottom to its summit, on a slope littered with chapels must have been all of 130 metres in height.
In Pieta Cemeterywe found:-
- Major Noel Campbell Kyrle Money aged 36, formerly of the 22nd Punjabi Regiment who had been on home leave in England when war broke out and he became attached to the 5th Battalion on 24th August 1914 at Richmond Barracks in Dublin and made CO of B Company. He landed on Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and was effectively second in command to Lt Col Jourdain for most of that campaign. He did sterling work at the Farm, the retreat from Chunuk Bair, where he personally rescued lots of wounded soldiers, and on Hill 60 on 20th/21st August at the capture of Kabak Kuyu wells for which he was awarded the DSO posthumously. On 2nd September a Turkish shell exploded over Battalion HQ wounding 13 soldiers and a shrapnel bullet entered his head. He was immediately taken to a hospital ship but died at sea on 6th/7th September off Malta without regaining consciousness. Lt Col Jourdain commented afterwards that “his work had been an unbroken spell of hard and good work for the regiment which he loved so well. No words can express the value of the work he had done and the standard of excellence to which he had brought his B Company. The loss of this officer to the Battalion was irreparable”. He is buried in Grave B.IX.1
- Capt Archibald Swinton Hog aged 47 of Newliston, Linlithgowshire, Scotland who died on 20th August 1915 of wounds received at the Farm on Anzac on 12th August. He had taken a bullet in the neck taking out his bottom jaw. He was immediately put on board a hospital ship which had to re-coal in Malta. Whilst on board ship in Valetta harbour and whilst watching a game of chess between two fellow officers he was amused by the lack of skill displayed by one of them and burst out laughing. The laughing unfortunately disturbed an artery in his neck which had been scratched by thje bullet, the artery haemorrhaged and he died in minutes. He had joined the 5th Battalion at Richmond Barracks in Dublin from the Reserve of Officers on 28th August 1914. Left Devonport on SS Bornu on 9th July 1915 and landed at Gallipoli on 6th August. He had been commissioned 2nd Lt in the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers on 29th November 1890, Lt on 21st April 1893, Capt on 29th November 1896 and had retired from the army on 5th June 1907. He had served with the 1st Battalion in South Africa 1899-1900 was present at operations at Colenso, Spion Kop, Tugela Heights and Pieters Hill (Harts Hill), also at operations in Orange Free State, Transvaal. Natal aand Cape Colony. He had received the Queen’s South African Medal and five clasps, the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He is buried in Grave A.XI.6
- 2969 Pte A Knowles who was born in Doncaster where he lived but he had enlisted at Pontefract. He had died on 28th April 1917 in hospital in Valetta of malaria he had contacted in the Struma Valley in Salonika. He had fought throughout the Gallipoli campaign and survived Kosturino. He was one of 250 men from the York and Lancaster Regiment made up mainly of men from the mining industry who had become attached to the Connaught Rangers in September 1914. He is buried in Grave C.XIII.4.
In Adolorata Cemetery we found:-
- 4/5063 Pte Peter Brady who was born in Nenagh, Tipperary but he had enlisted in Boyle where he lived and had joined the 4th Battalion whose HQ was at King House pre-war. He had arrived in Gallipoli as part of the first draft on 8th September 1915 but was wounded by shell fire on 10th September and shipped out to Malta where he died in hospital on 22nd September 1915. He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 655.
- 4822 Pte James Callaghan who was born, lived and enlisted in Sligo . He was 18 and the son of Mrs Ann Callaghan of Lower Barrack Street, Sligo. He died of wounds received in Salonika whilst being treated in hospital in Malta on 19th November 1916. He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 695.
- 4/6105 Pte P Connor who was born in Ochilbeg, Co Galway but lived in Balinasloe in Galway. He died on 31st March 1917 of malaria contacted in Salonika whilst in hospital in Malta. He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 700
- 629 Pte Peter Magan who was born and lived in Killashee, Co Longford but he was one of the first to enlist in the Connaught Rangers when war broke out in August 1914. He was the son of Manten Magan of Killashee. He had landed in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and was wounded by shell fire on 10th September and was shipped out to Malta where he died from his wounds on 22nd September whilst on board ship in Valetta Harbour. He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 655
- 575 Pte John McSherry of O’Hamlish Co Sligo but enlisted in Govan in Scotland in August 1914 again one of the early enlistees. He had landed in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and was wounded on 21st August 1915 on Hill 60 defending the wells at Kabak Kuyu and shipped out to Malta where he died of his wounds on 3rd September. He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 655.
- 3878 Pte John Quaile was born at Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim where he lived but he enlisted at Oranmore, Co Galway. He was 26 years old and the son of James and Annie Quaile of Cloonshebane, Carrick on Shannon. He had come out in a draft to Thessalonika but died on 5th August 1916 of malaria contacted in the Struma Valley whilst being treated in hospital in Malta. He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 689.
The bedrock at the top of the hill in Adolorata was only about two feet below the surface so the graves were very shallow and three men at a time who had died at the same time were put into the graves.
We found them all, photographed their graves for our data base and remembered them all in our own little way, so that after over 100 years they were not forgotten.
Malta itself did not impress me. I christened iy Blackpool on Med. Costa Coffee, McDonalds and quasi-Irish themed pubs proliferated, selling a brand of Guiness that a self-respecting Irish man would throw down the sink. However the small island of Gozo, six miles off the northern end of Malta was a different country with different people and I could happily spend a week there even without its main attraction the Azure Window which had collapsed into the sea the week before our arrival.
I was still morose, I had not shaken off Helen’s death and I must have given my companions a hard time but again like the scattering of Helen’s ashes, it was a necessary thing to do. A reinvention, a catharcism but a not pleasant exercise. I came home re-entered my burrow and eventually shook off the cloying feeling of deadness that had surrounded me for 83 days having celebrated my 44th wedding anniversary on the island on 17th March which had been been ridiculously celebrated having been sponsored by brewers to sell more beer.
Next step Morocco on this long journey of renewal and re-invention of a life once lived but lost some months back. I am getting there, but slowly.