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Soldiers' heroism recalled in a 'forgotten' campaign; A new account has been penned detailing the South Wales Borderers' largely unheard-of role in World War One's bloody Gallipoli campaign, in which hundreds of Welsh soldiers were killed. Tom Houghton reports.

Byline: Tom Houghton

Anew book has described the "great stoicism, courage and determination" shown by Welsh soldiers during the infamous Gallipoli campaign.

Rodney Ashwood's new account, Duty Nobly Done - The South Wales Borderers at Gallipoli 1915, recounts how the Welsh were among the last soldiers to leave the Turkish peninsula during the final evacuation of the campaign in January 1916.

It tells the story through diary extracts, showing how thousands of soldiers were faced with gruesome conditions in one of the forgotten campaigns of the First World War.

With the war having been won largely on the Western Front, there is some - but by no means a great deal of - literature relating to the campaign.

The Gallipoli campaign saw the largest amphibious assault ever attempted in an effort to defeat the Ottoman Empire, Germany's ally, and knock them out of the war.

Thought up once the Western Front became hopelessly deadlocked, the plan called for British troops to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, before joining up with their Russian allies.

If successful, the British hoped neutral countries would join their cause and Germany would be squeezed on all sides. But Gallipoli turned out to be a huge disaster, as thousands of men were killed - 58,000 Allied soldiers - including 700 from Welsh battalions, and 500 more wounded.

Mr Ashwood, a former curator at the Royal Welch Fusiliers' military museum in Caernarfon and a former army officer himself, explained: "Inspired by the illustrious history of my regimental predecessors, I experienced a growing feeling that I should do something to express my admiration and respect for all that these men from Wales achieved - and died for - during the First World War.

"The 2nd Battalion, the South Wales Borderers, was present throughout the whole Gallipoli campaign and was the only Welsh battalion to take part in the first amphibious assault, planned by Winston Churchill, on April 25, 1915."

He added: "Other historians give little credence to the success of the battalion on that day, but my book sets out to redress the balance."

Pressing forward with the plan to take Germany's ally Turkey out of the war, the 4th Battalion, South Wales Borderers landed at Gallipoli a few months later in July 1915 - ready to take part in the second main offensive at Suvla Bay.

"The men faced the most appalling conditions: the unrelenting heat of a Mediterranean summer, which is bad enough when you're on holiday, let alone having to fight a war. There was also a lack of water, poor food, inadequate equipment and no proper sanitation.

"Sickness and disease were rife, and at the height of the war there were up to 5,000 cases of dysentery a week, however, it was a duty not just endured, but nobly done. As always, the good British soldiers were as courageous and heroic as you can imagine."

Mr Ashwood, a graduate of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and a former army officer who saw active service in Northern Ireland, added: "Some of the best, toughest and most generous soldiers in the British Army come from Wales; this book serves as a tribute to those magnificent soldiers."

Speaking about where the bravery shown by soldiers in Gallipoli rates among the greatest contribution by the Welsh during the First World War, he said: "I would say it rates highly because sometimes in defeat, some of the strongest things come out in people, like in Dunkirk - the bravery there was amazing.

"In Gallipoli we were staring defeat in the face all of the time and the things they had to endure were terrible.

"The odds were totally against them in every single way. They could hardly stand up, but stand up they did.

"All of the plans that had been made - none of them really came to anything. I try to explain to the general reader that this did happen and how it happened.

"Hopefully people will come away understanding what it was like to be on that service.

"Those soldiers also had lots of things to do when they weren't actually firing bullets day in, day out.

"Carrying water, food and ammunition. If they weren't actually fighting, they were always very busy." Mr Ashwood's book weaves together official records and personal anecdotes - many of which have never been published before.

It is not a First World War campaign that has been particularly well documented, in comparison to the volume of work produced about other theatres of that conflict. He explained: "The main brunt of war was on the Western Front, where most of the troops were committed and where the war was won.

"Gallipoli was an alternative strategy. It was also a defeat, and we don't tend to publicise defeats and bad news so much. It was not hidden away, but all the emphasis was on the Western Front."

The book is centred around the diary of Lieutenant Ernest Kirkland-Laman, who would later move to Dinas Powys after the war. Many more of the soldiers in the Borderers were also from Cardiff and its surrounding areas.

A lecturer on military subjects and a member of the Gallipoli Association, Mr Ashwood toured the battlefields at Gallipoli in preparation for writing his book.

He now lives in Brecon, where he and his wife, Jackie, run a bed-andbreakfast business.

He added: "It was a very enjoyable process and has taken about three or four years to actually do. I'd like to thank my wife for all of her help."

Duncan Rogers, publisher at Helion & Company Ltd, said: "Rodney takes the reader on a journey of highs and lows - depicting the reality of life on active service.

"This is a personal account of the South Wales Borderers at Gallipoli, which adds an important social dimension to the traditional style of books already written on one of the most dramatic campaigns in British military history."

| Duty Nobly Done - The South Wales Borderers at Gallipoli 1915 (RRP PS29.95), by Rodney Ashwood, is available direct from the publishers at www.helion.co.uk as well as from Amazon and other bookshops.

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The 5th Battalion Welsh Regiment at Suvla Bay in August 1915
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 15, 2017
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