THEY DID NOT GROW OLD
The fifth Earl of Longford died at Gallipoli
85 years ago. His great-grandson, Harry Mount,
describes that terrible campaign
EIGHTY-FIVE years ago, my great- grandfather, the fifth Earl of Longford, died at Gallipoli. His last words to his second-in-command, who was crouching down to avoid the shells flying overhead, were, 'Please don't duck, Fred. It won't help you and it's no good for the men's morale.'
Soon after, Thomas Longford, advancing at the head of his Yeomanry Brigade troops with a map in one hand and a walk- ing-stick in the other, fell in a hail of rifle fire. 'Fred' — Fred Cripps, brother of Sir Stafford, the future Chancellor of the Exchequer — survived for another 60 years. He was one of the lucky few: 21 of the 28 officers and all Longford's staff were killed. So heavy was the fire that bullet met bullet in mid-air — several of the squashed cross- es of lead that were formed by these colli- sions are now in the Gallipoli museum.
Anzac Day, 25 April, marks the anniver- sary of the beginning of the Gallipoli cam- paign, when 1,500 Australians landed on the Turkish coast 200 miles south of Istan- bul. These were the first of some 500,000 men who poured on to the Gallipoli penin- sula over the next four months as part of Winston Churchill's ill-fated scheme to spring the deadlock of the Western Front with a push into Europe from the east. Of these men, 250,000 were wounded or killed.
This year, for the first time, there will be no British Gallipoli veterans to witness the passing of Anzac Day. The last British sur- vivor, Darcy Jones, a member of Long- ford's brigade, died in January at the age of 103. Across the world, the generation that fought in the first world war is disap- pearing. The last French veteran of Gal- lipoli died in December. Of the three surviving Australian Anzacs commemorat- ed earlier this year by the issue of stamps bearing their portraits, two are left; one died in January, aged 105.
While the last soldiers may be dying, the memory of Gallipoli in Australasia remains strong: Anzac Day is a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, will be at Gallipoli for the 85th anniversary, attending the dawn service at Anzac Cove, where a new memorial to the Australian dead will be inaugurated. Although 27 church services will take place in Britain on the day, the response of the British government has not been exem- plary. Only recently have any plans been made for an official British presence at Gallipoli: the British government and the national assemblies of Scotland and Wales will be represented by John Spellar, minis- ter for the armed forces.
After Longford's death, it was not possi- ble to collect his body; it was lying too close to the Turkish guns. The survivors retreated and the corpses remained where they fell for three years, until the Armistice.
`My father had had his coat of arms tat- tooed on his chest in blue,' recalls Lady Violet Powell, Longford's youngest surviv- ing daughter and wife of the novelist, the late Anthony Powell. 'Because he knew how difficult it would be to tell the bodies apart.'
The family crest, an eagle displayed gules coming out of a mural crown or, and the accompanying motto — 'Gloria Virtutis Umbra' — punctured on to Longford's chest, were not spotted by the men of the Allied War Graves Commission when they arrived in 1918 to bury the dead. The battle- fields which had been craters and mud and dust were now covered with camel thorn, wild thyme, saltbush and myrtle, and it was difficult to find the bodies. All that remained of those that were found were bones. Of the 3,000 tombstones in the cemetery where Longford lies, 2,400 of them, including Longford's, are topped with the words, 'Believed to be buried in this cemetery'.
For a year after his death, he was listed as missing in action. His wife persisted in thinking that he might have been taken prisoner. 'She once called me to her room to write a letter to him because she had an idea that a child's letter might get through,' says Lady Mary Clive, Longford's other surviving daughter. 'It didn't get through; it was sent back and the following July she gathered us all together and said that he was dead. And then it was never mentioned by my mother for about 20 years.'
Longford, who was 50 at the time of his death, was a career soldier who had served and been wounded in the Boer War. When not on duty, he returned to his houses in Oxfordshire and Ireland, where he was Lord Lieutenant of County Longford and a keen hunter. According to Fred Cripps, Longford 'was never happier than when he came home after a day's hunting, with his face covered with blood from swinging through an impenetrable "bull-finch" [a high hedge]'.
`He was also a literary man,' Lady Violet says. 'He built up a large collection of books, as did my mother, who thought old books were unhygienic and so she always bought new ones.'
This literary streak was passed on to his children and grandchildren — the Pakenham clan of writers, among them the present Lord Longford, Thomas Pak- enham, Rachel Billington and Lady Antonia Fraser. Thomas Longford pub- lished nothing, but he was a prolific let- ter-writer. On leaving for Gallipoli, he wrote a short card to Lady Violet: `Goodbye till we meet again. Do be a good girl.
Your loving dada, Longford.'
`I just remember him visiting us in the nursery to say goodbye,' says Lady Violet, who was three at the time. 'Turning his back and going out of the door.'
The ship sailed for Gallipoli via Egypt. Longford's 2nd South Midland Mounted Brigade awaited the call to action in Cairo for four months. While they were there the Waza — Cairo's red-light district — was burnt down by Australian troops in revenge for the venereal disease they had contracted in its brothels.
Even before the brigade left Cairo, it became clear that all was not going accord- ing to plan in Gallipoli. The first front, carved out by the Australians and New Zealanders at Anzac Cove, had not shifted for some weeks. The troops were securely dug into the Tee of the slopes leading up from the coast, but they could progress no further without being fired upon by the Turks entrenched in the hills above them. It was decided that a second front would be opened up to the north. The 10,000 horses that had been shipped from England would not be needed, so they were left in Egypt. Trained as cavalrymen, the men of the Mounted Brigade had less than a fortnight to turn themselves into infantry.
They sailed on towards Gallipoli, disem- barking at the mouth of the Dardanelles, just south of the stretch of water that Byron had swum across a century before. On the far side lay Asia and, just visible as a small mound commanding the flat plains of lion, the ancient site of Troy. Uncovered only 40 years before by Heinrich Schliemann, the German archaeologist, Troy had already reverted to its martial role: the Turks had dug a trench and set up a machine-gun post on top of Priam's citadel. `My father read Classics at Oxford and was still keen on it,' Lady Violet says. 'He wrote how he looked across to Troy from the ship and longed to visit it.' The brigade headed north towards the second front. Their route took them across a salt lake, dried in the August sun, leaving a great white bed of crystals. Before set- ting off across the lake, Longford beck- oned to Cripps and said, 'I wanted to say goodbye to you, as we shall both inevitably be killed this afternoon.'
Walking across the stark, white salt-bed, Longford and his men presented easy tar- gets to the riflemen ensconced in the hills ahead of them. Shells burst in the sky above, showering the British with shrapnel. The men hurried towards the shelter of a bluff known as Chocolate Hill: even today, a few minutes' walk through this fertile wine-growing region clogs the shoes with heavy, cocoa-coloured mud. From this refuge, the survivors turned round to look at the dead and the wounded. Among the casualties was Cripps, who had been hit in the leg and was unable to move. As the Westminster Dragoons came by, a Lieutenant Ferguson handed over his troop to his sergeant and went to Cripps's aid. Arm-in-arm, the two figures could just be picked out against the dust and the smoke. Bullets and shrapnel fell around the limping pair. When they at last reached the safety of Chocolate Hill, Cripps produced a cigar case from his pocket and lit an outsized Corona. A cheer went up from the spectators. Longford took his brigade on towards the next significant Turkish outpost, the cres- cent-shaped Scimitar Hill. A thick mist, unusual for the time of year, had settled on the battlefield and dusk was gathering. Sir John Milbanke VC, a colleague of Long- ford, was ordered `to take a redoubt, but I don't know where it is and don't think any- one else knows either, but in any case we are to go ahead and attack any Turks we meet'. In this confusion and the now almost complete darkness, Longford was killed. So ended the action of Scimitar Hill according to the regimental history, 'the most costly, in proportion to its size, and the least successful of all the Gallipoli battles'.
`The British losses, particularly of the Yeomanry and the 29th Division, were heavy and fruitless,' Churchill later wrote of the battle. 'On this dark battlefield of fog and flame, Brigadier-General Lord Longford, Brigadier-General Kenna VC, Colonel Sir John Milbanke VC, and other paladins fell.'
These words of praise were not enough to absolve Churchill from his part in the conception of the Gallipoli campaign. For a decade afterwards hecklers shouted `What about the Dardanelles?' whenever he stood for election. And Lady Longford never forgave him.
`It was the custom then,' says Lady Vio- let, `to invite the parents of your children's friends to their coming-out parties, although very few of them ever came. I remember my mother being horrified at the thought that Churchill might turn up with his daughter at one of her parties. It was rather lucky my mother didn't live to see him become saviour of the world.'
For a decade Lady Longford could not bear to visit the supposed site of her hus- band's grave. She tried once, got as far as Istanbul, and then turned back, unable to face the ordeal. The next year, in 1926, she did get to the cemetery, accompanied by her daughter, Lady Mary Clive.
The man in charge of the whole cam- paign, General Ian Hamilton, later wrote a tribute to the men of Gallipoli.
You will hardly fade away until the sun fades out of the sky and the earth sinks into the universal blackness. For already you form part of that great tradition of the Dard- anelles which began with Hector and Achilles. In another few thousand years the two stories will have blended into one, and whether when 'the iron roaring went up to the vault of heaven through the unharvested sky', as Homer tells us, it was the spear of Achilles or whether it was a 100lb shell from Asiatic Annie won't make much odds to the Almighty.
It does, though, make a difference to today's tourists. The site of Troy is filled with coaches and parties of schoolchildren. A caf6 and playground — its main feature a large wooden horse — have been provided for the visitors. The cemeteries of Gallipoli are immaculately kept. Each of them is sur- rounded by a bank of pines and planted with arbutus, rosemary, junipers, cypresses and Judas trees. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after the ceme- teries in perpetuity. But the cemeteries are empty of visitors. In the day I spent wander- ing around the graveyards I saw nobody
The photograph of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild that appeared on page 24 of the 8 April issue of The Spectator was by Gemma Levine.
except for the commission gardeners, assid- uously weeding and pruning away.
A year after Longford's death, a memo- rial service was held in St Mary's, Bryanston Square in London. Lady Violet Powell remembers wearing a posy of for- get-me-nots. An extra verse was added by Lady Longford to one of the hymns that were sung — 'Within the churchyard':
And those who die away from home Their graves we may not see But we believe God keeps their souls Where'er their bodies be.