The following information has been kindly supplied by Harry's Grandson Peter Biles. Harry's diary and personal letters may be found at Gallipoli Dispatches 1915
|Harry Biles was born 28th March 1879 in Portsmouth. His father George was a navy diver and died in 1885 as the result of an accident. In April 1894 Harry began his naval career and enlisted as a boy writer in the Royal Navy. In 1907 he married Elizabeth (Queenie) Winter.
At the outbreak of war Harry transferred to the RND, entering the Nelson Battalion with the rating of Chief Writer. After serving with the Division at Antwerp he was recommended and promoted to temporary Assistant Paymaster of the 2nd Naval Brigade. Harry sailed with the Division for The Dardanelles as part of Commodore Backhouse's Brigade HQ staff and attended the funeral of Rupert Brooke who died in transit to Gallipoli. Once on the Peninsula he took on the role of Commander of the Brigade Reserve Ammunition Column.
On 13th July Harry was shot by a Turkish sniper near Backhouse Post and died later that day. He was buried on the fourteenth by Rev. H.C. Foster with Commodore Backhouse and his staff attending the service. Harry's body was initially buried at the 3rd Field Ambulance cemetery but was later moved to the Skew Bridge Cemetery near Sedd el Bah.
The last letter of Harry Biles, July 1915
I have been rather a long time answering your letter of 22nd May, but things have been pretty warm out this way lately in the way of fighting; we have lost such a lot of our men, especially in our last attack on 4th June.Our men behaved splendidly during that charge and I was in the firing trench when they jumped out to make the charge, so was able, with a periscope, to witness the whole thing.
Our officers and men went down like ninepins and the poor old "Collingwood" Battalion who had only landed about 3 days previous, lost 16 officers killed and about 15 wounded, and about 350 men killed. At the roll call of the Collingwood, there were only 4 officers left - of those, one was the doctor, one a Transport Officer (who did not take part in it), the other two managed to get back safely.
I am not particularly anxious to watch another battle - the poor beggars who were wounded between the Turks' trench and ours were calling for help all night and next day, but our people dared not venture out for them, and so they were left; some managed to crawl to our trenches in the dark and the other poor chaps I'm afraid, died of exposure and loss of blood, and we have not been able to get them in yet. Only yesterday I was in the firing line and with a periscope could see numbers of them.
There was some big misunderstanding in the programme on that day, the scheduled time for our lines to jump out of the trenches was 12 noon, but for some reason, never explained, the French were all behind so that by the time our fellows had reached the Turks, they were enfiladed by the Turks whom the French ought to have driven out, and so the thing was a failure, and our men had to return to their own trench again, and in doing so, were again mowed down by the enemy's maxims. But still the Turks suffered far more than we did - as we had been bombarding them with high explosives since 8.30am till noon when all the Allies guns on the peninsula dropped it into them. Had the French only gone forward with our men, we should probably have had the famous "Achi Baba" hill by now and should then have had a place to go to out of range of their guns, whereas they are still in possession of the hill and there is not a place in the peninsula we can fall back on for a rest without getting shelled by them.
They are shelling us now and we are supposed to be in a place called "The Rest Camp" where they generally manage to bag on the average 5 a day. I am well underground and fairly well protected, but I must not boast, indeed I received my 3rd narrow shave only a week ago. I was returning to Camp after paying a visit to the General Headquarters. The Turks were giving us a little "HATE" but were not dropping them particularly near where I was, but suddenly a piece of shell plomped into the earth close by my left foot and tore a lump out of my puttie without so much as marking my leg - I kept the piece of shell - an ugly piece at that. Fairly lucky that time, don't you think? My first squeak was a bullet through the helmet and the second was from the damned sniper who shot the Indian by my side. But still one gets used to them and can generally tell by the scream of the shell where they are going to pitch and then one has to dodge. Four out of six of their shrapnel burst after hitting the ground so they do very little damage other than making a hole in the ground, which is better than one in the Cranium.
Constantinople is a long way off yet and I am not particularly anxious to see it and shall feel quite satisfied to get away with a whole skin. The weather is terribly hot here and the flies buzz around by the billions. To get any degree of comfort at all I have to wear a veil right over my head and shoulders, and at this minute I could kill as many as 200 flies on this sheet of paper, but I won't spoil the paper. A shell (shrapnel) has just dropped over the Camp as I am writing, killing three and wounding 18. I thought as the shell was coming that one was coming fairly close, so I got into my "junk hole". They usually give us 2 or 3 "good night" shots and then with the darkness they quieten down. The Turks never or hardly ever fire their guns at night, afraid that our guns will spot their whereabouts. Our fellows are ever on the watch and the enemy knows it - hence their quietness during the night.
I took a walk around the French trenches yesterday with the camera; they have an excellent mortar gun; it fires a mortar bomb 120 lbs, and it has wings something like this:-
** Drawing of the mortar bomb **
It makes a deafening roar and must do any amount of damage - The French simply lob it into the Turks' trench which is only 30 yards away. I threw a jam tin bomb into their trench yesterday and also had a shot at what I thought was a Turk's head, with my revolver.
You say you wish you were around this quarter of the globe - personally I am glad you are not as there are a few submarines dodging about and very few of our ships anchor off here unless there is an attack when they shell the Turks' trenches - otherwise they anchor off Tenedos.
Only 4 mornings ago, a submarine sank a French liner lying off the shore, but they were not early enough - the liner had landed all her stores which included troops and aeroplane bombs, so that she sank practically empty. We get a Taube over us occasionally and drop a bomb or two, and they do some damage if they do hit man or beast; they dropped one the other morning and blew eight horses to shreds almost - one could see they had been horses and that was about all; they were French gee gees.
The French have a lot of these 75 centimetre guns here and they play havoc with the Turks who don't care for them at all, in consequence the French get a good peppering in the daytime in the Turks' endeavours to find the batteries, but they never succeed, in fact I have not heard of one French gun being put out of action yet.
Phyllis has started school and seems to like it alright, but poor little Harold, he seems lost without her, and sometimes wanders round the school to see them drill. The little chap went off to the school one morning and the teacher sent him home again - he arrived crying enough to break his little heart. He is fond of "Sis" as he calls her. I wish to goodness I was home again with them, I am longing for the day.
I was on the point of going to England about a week ago with the Commodore - had everything packed up and at the last moment, owing to an attack coming off, it was cancelled. We were to take a sea trip to Alexandria for the sake of the Commodore's health, and we should have gone from there to England. Had everything fixed up for a job at the Crystal Palace and letters of introduction to several posts at the Admiralty.
I feel very sorry for George, because he is between two fires - one, he feels that he is a so called "slacker" by not joining up somewhere and secondly - mother doesn't want him to go. Personally I don't want to see him join up - let the lazy _____ that can well spare themselves - such as ______ and a few others do their bit - you and I are doing George's share. Patriotism is all very well, but heaps of men who are spouting about it, could do their bit by joining, and the reason they spout is to make a cover for themselves to remain at home while others do the graft. Even then George gave 8 or 9 good years of his life for his country and would have been serving now but for the damned rotten pay they were giving.
My whiskers are still growing. What about you - are you growing. I am getting some developing materials from Alexandria - I can then develop my snapshots and will send you or two. I am not struck on 'skers but I have no shaving materials with me so must keep them on. Queen is very keen to see them and I am keen on walking home with them on to see the surprise on the face of the youngsters.
Well Arth: I hope you won't get tired of reading so many pages of scribble.
Give my Chin Chin to Harry Abbott - hope you are all well.
From your affectionate brother.