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Private Richard ‘Dick’ Barron, 2nd County of London Yeomanry
The Last Survivor of London Yeomantry’s assault across Suvla Bay, Gallipoli
Dick Barron was born in October 1895 in Lewisham, London, the son of a Scottish father who had moved from Glasgow to work as a dresser in the Capital. Dick was the eldest of three siblings, and left school aged fifteen to begin work as a clerk. A fiercely patriotic boy, raised on stories of Waterloo and the Thin Red Line, Dick joined the Boys’ Brigade and enlisted in the army just three weeks after war broke out.
Having enjoyed First Aid training in the Brigade, he elected to join the Royal Army Medical Corps and was sent to join the 2nd London Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance that was preparing to embark for Egypt. Just ten days after joining up, Dick Barron was sent overseas.
After ten months’ training near Alexandria and then Cairo, his unit was suddenly warned to pack up and prepare to move. Dick was destined for Gallipoli and landed in August 1915 at Suvla Bay. Two weeks later, he was sent to join the advance of the London Yeomanry across a salt lake plain.
Caught out in the open, and bombarded by high explosive and by shrapnel, Dick’s job was to try to help the wounded, a harrowing job that remained in his memory always. Soon after, like many in Gallipoli, Dick succumbed to dysentery, an illness that almost cost him his life.
He was evacuated back to England, arrived in a terrible state, and took months to recover. He never saw active service again.
Dick died in Bury St Edmunds in February 1999, aged 103.
We were in field exercises when one night, practically with no warning, we were entrained with all our equipment. We found ourselves next morning in a drizzling rain at Southampton Docks and there looming above us was the Aragon, a Royal Mail Steam Packet Liner which had been converted into a troop ship.
Just before we were about to start, something happened which I will never forget. The whole of the ship’s company from the top deck right down, including ourselves, suddenly burst into song:
‘Homeland, homeland, when shall I see you again, land of my birth, dearest place on earth, I’m leaving you, oh it may be for years and it may be forever. Homeland, homeland.’
Up to then the whole thing had been most enjoyable, but my heart stood still. I suddenly realized that this was warfare – I might not return.
Arriving on Gallipoli
We knew nothing at all about what was going on. We had spoken to the wounded coming from Gallipoli, but we still had romantic notions until we got to see the place for ourselves. When we landed at Suvla Bay, I was in a state of nervousness, I had too much imagination, and I could imagine myself all lacerated.
However, I saw a couple of old sweats who had served in the Boer War and they were sitting down smoking, as calm as anything, and I took strength from them.
Looking after the wounded
The London Yeomanry was to assault in waves across the salt lake at Suvla Bay. I was attached to a medical officer and more or less followed him. We were attacked by shrapnel that was bursting all over the place. Casualties were falling, and I was staggering forward, bewildered more than anything else.
The first casualty I dealt with was my old friend ‘Gally’ Lee; he got hit right next to me. We didn’t have steel helmets then and I was shaken by the burst that caught my friend; he was hit in the head and his brains were more or less hanging out.
He was unconscious and I looked at him and I could see his brains on the top of his skull and all I could do was to push them back and put a bandage on, a first field dressing. I knew he’d had it but you can’t imagine seeing your mate like that, I don’t think you’re in a normal state.
That evening the shrub on the dry salt lake caught fire and there were wounded out there, so we had to try and rescue those we could. You get into a state of mind where you just behave like an automaton.
It’s bloody awful trying to carry a chap on a stretcher – I felt my arms were coming out of their sockets. A chap gets very heavy you know. You have straps over your shoulder, but I was only a lad and when you go over rough terrain where it’s all bumpy, it’s very exhausting.
Our job was to try and stop the bleeding. A lot of wounds didn’t haemorrhage a lot, it depends where it was. On the extremes, toes for example, there wasn’t much blood but anywhere near the aorta, the blood was flowing. If blood was pulsing from a wound you knew he’d had it, all you could do was put a dressing on the wound and send him back.
We were carrying a man down and could not get him round a trench as it was too narrow, and after a while I said:
“I must have a rest”.
There were a few spent bullets buzzing around but not many. Anyway, we lay down under some cover when all of a sudden a bit of shrapnel flew past us and this man leapt off the stretcher and ran down and lay beside us. I looked at him in amazement.
“You can bloody well walk the rest of the way”, I told him. I saw the Medical Officer and said he was as fit as we were.
I caught dysentery, but didn’t report if for ages. I thought I could out-last it, shake it off, silly kid really. Dysentery is very lowering, your guts are terrible the whole time and you pass blood, you always want to be in the field loo. One morning I found I could not stand up.
I was taken down to a hospital ship in the bay and then taken over to Malta. There were so many men like me suffering dysentery at various stages. I was dangerously ill and I thought and I hoped I was going to die.
If the pearly gates haven’t opened for you, you have no idea, but I was in such a state that I just wanted to give in. The medical officer, I am sure, never thought I would recover until one morning when he said to me:
“Barron, when you’re a bit stronger we’re going to send you back to England”.
Well, that sparked something in me. England meant something, to see mum and dad and all the family again.