Five Men, Five Medals and a Gun,
In the small town of Chepstow where I grew up there is of course a cenotaph, it’s fairly typical, a large obelisk on a square granite plinth bearing the names, listed in alphabetical order with rank and service identified.
What is unusual and perhaps unique is that next to the monument and forming part of the tableau is a gun, it’s a Great War German submarine 105 mm gun from, I believe, the submarine U-91 which cruised the Bristol Channel during 1914 to 1918 causing some damage and destruction.
The Five Men
The first man was Edward Unwin acting Captain RN, he had proposed using an old collier, the SS River Clyde to land troops on V beach at Gallipoli, Turkey during the Dardanelle’s offensive of April 1915.
The ship grounded at 6:22 am on the 25th April, 1915 at a narrow beach below the castle of Sedd el Bahr.
In order to discharge the 2,000 troops, predominantly from the Royal Munster and Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a chain of lighters had to be secured between the ship and the shore providing a floating bridge.
Captain Unwin took charge of this operation diving into the sea with a small team of four men while under continuous fire from the shore.
His Victoria Cross citation for that day reads as follows:
While in SS River Clyde, observing that the lighters which were to form the bridge to the shore had broken adrift, Commander Unwin left the ship, and under a murderous fire attempted to get the lighters into position. He worked on, until suffering from the effects of cold and immersion, he was obliged to return to the ship, where he was wrapped up in blankets. Having in some degree recovered, he returned to his work against the doctor’s order and completed it. He was later attended by the doctor for three abrasions caused by bullets, after which he once more left the ship, this time in a lifeboat, to save some wounded men who were lying in shallow water near the beach. He continued at this heroic labour under continuous fire, until forced to stop through physical exhaustion.
—the London Gazette, 16 August 1915
The second man was Able Seaman William Charles Williams VC, a name from the Chepstow cenotaph
He accompanied Unwin with orders not to leave the old man’s side and he did not despite being badly wounded several times. He stood, for almost four hours, on a spit of rock, chest deep and bleeding into the freezing water, holding a rope securing the shoremost of a line of lighters. Finally struck again and mortally wounded he died and his body floated away and was lost in the sea.
Unwin later said of him “He was the bravest man I ever met”.
The other men in the water,
Midshipman George Leslie Drewry VC
Midshipman Wilfred St. Aubyn Malleson VC
Seaman George McKenzie Samson VC
All for the same action.
And the gun? The plaque says it all.
Lest we forget.
(originally posted on the other place 11 November 2009)
3 thoughts on “On This Day 100 Years Ago”
War seems far away these days. This story brings it home again. Thank you.
Makes you wonder how many other tales of courage occurred but didn’t get recorded, doesn’t it?
Of course, it was not the way to talk about such events among our parents’ generation.