D' Company "Pals" - Royal Dublin Fusiliers
Back row left - Douglas Gunning
Front row left - Cecil Gunning
Almost 200 men enlisted at Lansdowne Road, in D company of the 7th Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, those older or "unfit" were sent to Dublin to establish a "home guard". Both groups would come to a unhappy end. For those who were declared "fit" and enlisted ended up in the "hell" that was Gallipoli and those that remained behind, literally walked into the Easter Rising. Francis "Chicken" Henry Browning had been President of the Irish Rugby Football Union clubs since 1912 and became the The Irish Rugby Union Football Corps Lieutenant-Col. Frank Henry Browning, had been born in Dublin on 23rd June 1868. He had been a first class cricket player, having played for Marlborough, Ireland and he was also a member of MCC, In 1889 according to Wisden he made over 2000 runs. Browning had also been a keen rugby player, playing half back for Trinity, Wanderers and Ireland. The Irish Rugby Union Football Corps, Commander was H.J. Miller, Second in Command R. McDillion, Platoon Commanders E.A. MacNair, W.G.F Allen, A.S.M. Imrie and J.W. Frith.On the day of the rising 24th April 1916, the Irish Rugby Union Football Corps headed by Browning had returned to Dublin from a route march and drill practice with drums beating and standards held a loft and marched straight into the Rising, totally unaware of the events that were unfurling around them. The Corps in civilian clothes with arm-bands were carrying rifles but not ammunition; in the ensuing encounter with the "Rebels" seven members of the Corps were wounded, four fatally. Browning was shot in Haddington Road, (Beggars Bush) and died of his wounds two days later 26th April 1916. . Francis Henry Browning is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, South Dublin. A headstone was erected by the Irish Rugby Football Union Volunteer Corps in memory of "an honourable comrade and true and distinguished sportsman."
There were many graduates and undergraduates from Trinity College who refused to take an officer's commission because they wanted to be equal with their peers. Ernest Julian, from Drumbane, Birr, Co. Offaly, was Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College when he enlisted. This elite group of men formed what was known as "D" Company, the Pals. They were soon to be known as ‘the Toff’s among the Toughs,’ a reference to the nickname of the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers who were known as ‘the Old Toughs.’
They were not all Toffs, there were men like Private John Boyd. John played rugby football for Clontarf and worked as a Clerk in the Dept. of Agriculture before he enlisted. Harry Boyd worked with his father in the well known pharmacists, Boileau and Boyd. William Boyd, no relation to the other men, was a Commercial Traveller who lived in Rathmines in Dublin and played rugby for Bective Rangers R.F.C. Charles F. Ball, Assistant Keeper in the Botanic Gardens and editor of the magazine 'Irish Gardening,' added a bit of social balance to the Company. Hugh Pollock, who was an Assistant Manager in a Tea Company in Sumatra, Indonesia, travelled all the way to Dublin to enlist as a private in the 7th Battalion. He was educated at St. Andrew’s College and played rugby for the Dublin club, Wanderers.
Cecil and Douglas Gunning , then aged 21 and 19 left jobs in the bank to join up. Douglas, then working in Sligo, cycled fifty miles on an old pushbike to be in time to join up with his elder brother in ’D’ Company, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The two Enniskillen brothers set sail with the 7th Batallion the Royal Dublin Fusiliers for Gallipoli. They kept a diary of their experiences, part 1 written day-about by Cecil and Douglas on the month long outward voyage, part 2 by Douglas after being invalided home. Fused with excitement, the outward journal reads like a Boys Own adventure.
The 7th Batallion landed at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915. Provided neither with maps nor clear orders, their artillery guns sent to France by mistake, they arrived to a barrage of Turkish fire from the towering heights above the bay. On those slopes, ‘D’ Company - the ‘Pals’- would earn a lasting reputation for bravery, but at a terrible cost: of its 239 men who landed, only 79 remained after 8 weeks.
An extract from a letter written by Private W.V, Gray, a lad of 18 years of age, who joined up after the outbreak of war, writing to his mother on 14th August, from the address "D" Company 7th R.D.F., 30th Infantry Brigade, British Mediterranean Force, Private Grey says:- "I am glad to be able to write to you to give you an address at least. On Saturday, 7th of this month, we were in our first action. By kindness and mercy of God I am alive after a week of it. When you get this letter you will probably have seen our casualty list in the papers. We took hill 53 in our first rush. The first experience of being under fire is awful. Dick (his cousin) is all right so far. I was speaking to him this afternoon. We got a mail from home today. I got two copies of the "Kildare Observer" and some letters. As soon as you receive this letter you will please forward me some cigarettes....... We left the ship with six of the section for the firing line. Three of them were wounded by shrapnel on the way across an open plain, but the injuries of two were not very serious. I have not seen very much of the Turks since I landed I have seen a couple of dead ones, but as a rule they try to bury their dead before we come up to them. We have passed a few wounded, but only two or three. Since we have landed we have made good progress. A part of the place we are fighting in is all rushes and gorse dried by the sun. On Sunday last this caught fire and we were burst out........ Please excuse the notepaper, but it is just a bit I had in my pocket."
Douglas Gunning who kept his diary described the scene: At 4 a.m. I awoke off the Gallipoli coast. We could hear the boom boom and see the flash from Turkish guns coming from the big ridge of mountains, shells bursting, our men landing from the lighters and stretcher bearers bringing down and collecting wounded on the beach. The whole bay was quivering with the vibration. Mind you, just before this, Gertie and Mollie had been up playing a little tune on the small piano in the saloon - I’m sure that was quite a unique event to have occurred in the Gallipoli campaign. Somehow, we got on to the beach safely. It was remarkable how quickly you got used to it and soon we never bothered ducking unless the shell was quite close. I must say the discipline stood to us marvellously.. for we were more or less stupefied. We got on past stretcher bearers, wounded, dying and dead ..and arrived at a long strand, shells dropping, men groaning and the medical corps bandaging like fury. We lay like sardines under the cliff. The Inniskillings were there also and who was with them only our uncle Captain Bob Stevenson from Moygashel!
We were so tired, some of us didn’t eat as much as a biscuit or take a sup of water . It was absolutely miserable in the dark to hear the moaning of the wounded and dying, both of our own brave men and the Turks. I slept for an hour and woke, my teeth and knees shivering cold. Despite the efforts of a human chain passing buckets up and down the mountain side, thirst soon became a torture. Nearby was a big lake of dry salt for all the world like frozen snow. The hot air rises off it in the day time and you could see a rim of white scum formed on our lips by it. In this state, you could drink anything and it was a maddening thirst, I’m sure, that helped me to get dysentery. After a few days, the wells dried up we were drinking mud and gravel as well; our teeth used to be black with the dirty water.
Reunited during a lull in the battle, the trio, Golly and Mollie and Gertie exchanged experiences and shared a ‘gloriously sweet’ tin of condensed milk. Someone had found the body of a young Turkish girl sniper with fourteen chilling trophies round her neck - identification tags mostly from the Munster Fusiliers. Another find was a bag of clothes: they all bagged a Turkish waistcoat and one joker put on a Fez and peeped into the next trench for a bit of crack! Anything that brought a bit of cheer helped to alleviate the sense of horror: Responding to the constant call for stretcher bearers, there to the fore would come their good-humoured friend Fatty Clements, a clergyman’s son from Moira, leading the way with a broad grin on his face.Day after night passed in a blur of exhaustion: Just when they thought they were going to base for a rest, they were ordered to undertake a five hour hike to reach the beach where they had landed. Stumbling over make-shift burial mounds in the dark, the two brothers found each other again and slept for two hours under a rock. Rubbing sand over their bodies to remove the dirt, they surveyed the scene: shells bursting, mules shifting supplies, a steamer condensing sea water into fresh. Then, off up the slopes again. It was exhausting carrying dixies of water, then having to dig themselves in.
A mail bag from home brought a letter that made them terribly home sick. Also enclosed was the Punch Summer Annual :
I thought it awfully tragic for people at home to be laughing over such silly things while we were in a game of life and death. Sunday. Our hope of sharing divine service with our Catholic friends and good old Father Murphy, vanished before dawn as we came under Turkish shell fire that lasted all day. At one point, a cheer went up in front - the gallant Munsters had taken a ridge of trenches at bayonet point and were yelling like madmen.
Often, the men in the front line were to be seen catching the bombs and throwing them back but their heroism was never recorded because their officers were practically all killed. The brothers witnessed terrible woundings, but actually only a third of casualties at Gallipoli were due to injuries: the rest contracted illnesses caused by extremes of heat and cold, plagues of flies and lack of clean water.
By roll call on 17th August, over 100 of ‘D’ company were absent.
That evening we sat looking at the sun setting in the west and thinking of home. Although we couldn’t, I’m sure a ‘blub’ would have made us feel better.’
Next day, Douglas felt the symptoms of dysentery and joined the line of men being sent down to the field hospital. - a rough and rocky journey. In daylight, they were brought down to the beach and labelled like parcels. They lay under a shelter until put on board the Alaunia - now refitted as a hospital ship accommodating 2,000 cases. The attention of nurses and luxuries like hot milk brought comfort and as he improved, Douglas helped the hard-pressed medics. There were 68 burials at sea.
Back in London, Douglas spent a week in hospital, but, determined to get back to Ireland, he discharged himself. I was up since dawn for a first glimpse of Ireland, then to Enniskillen to my dear, dear Father and Mother who met me at the station with open arms.
Just weeks later, Douglas helped shoulder the coffin at his father’s funeral. Cecil was still far from home, by then invalided to a hospital in Alexandria. To the distress of the family and against medical advice - for he was still traumatised - Douglas answered the appeal for trainee officers and took a commission as a sub lieutenant in the 6th Inniskillings. They left for France on 16th June 1916.
On the 11th of May 1931, Captain R.G. Kelly, a H.Q. Lieutenant with the 7th Dublins, wrote from his home in Rathmines, Dublin, to General Aspinall-Oglander, the official historian of the Great War, about the events on Kiretch Tepe Sirt on the 15th and 16th of August 1915. Captain Kelly referred to the Turks lobbing bombs over the trench at the 7th Dublins. Turkish bombs were caught and thrown back again. One private (Wilkin by name) caught four but the fifth unfortunately blew him to pieces. PS. I hold a copy of recommendation for this particular Private to whom no recognition was ever given, which of course was nothing out of the ordinary on Gallipoli.