Y Beach, the Scottish borderer cried,
While panting up the steep hillside,
To this thing a beach is stiff,
Its nothing but a bloody cliff,
Y Beach was one of three allocated to 29th Division on 25th April 1915, and was the most northern landing site on Cape Helles. The beach here had been spotted by Sir Ian Hamilton during the naval operations on 18th March, and earmarked as a possible landing zone. Given the narrow beach and high cliffs, Hamilton presumed rightly it would only be lightly defended by the Turks.
The landing was part of a diversion to confuse the Turks, and hopefully draw them away from the main operations further south. The task was to be undertaken by Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Koe’s 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB). They were supported by a company from 2nd South Wales Borderers, and Lieutenant Colonel Godfrey Matthew’s Plymouth Battalion of the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), then attached to 29th Division.
The pre-landing briefing by Major General A.Hunter-Weston, commander of the 29th Division, had resulted in some confusion regarding the orders and command structure of the landings at Y Beach. Matthews of the RMLI had presumed he was in charge, despite the fact that his inexperienced battalion had been relegated to a support role and would land later. Koe, although not present at the briefing, thought he was in command. Things did not bode well.
The actual landings were trouble free. Only four Turks were encountered, and the entire force was on the beach by 5.45am with no casualties. Matthews had perceived their orders to involve a push inland, capture a Turkish gun thought to be nearby and link up with 2nd Royal Fusiliers near X Beach. Pushing inland they crossed Gully Ravine to the outskirts of Krithia. Orders had come from Hamilton for a push inland, but Hunter-Weston failed to inform him he already had troops ashore at Y Beach and these were unopposed. The true picture did not reach the commander, and on the ground while Matthews made contact with 2nd Royal Fusiliers it was to ask them about placing a guard on his ammo dump! Fatally he withdrew his men from beyond Gully Ravine back to the cliff edge above the beach and told them to dig in. This proved difficult with the tools available, and only a few scrape-holes were completed by the time the Turkish 9th Division attacked in strength that afternoon.
Lt-Col A.S.Koe, 1st KOSB.
Died of wounds at Sea 26th April 1915
The line held, however, but on the morning of 26th April conflicting orders and lack of a clear command – Koe had now died of wounds (1) – resulted in an evacuation of the positions. Signallers sent back messages asking for boats, and these arrived. Within twenty-nine hours of arriving, Y Beach had been left behind.
It was not reached again until July 1915, when the advance along Gully Ravine finally swept up this ground. The beach was reopened, and the Y Ravine used to bring up supplies and men. Wounded from the advance posts nearby were also evacuated down it to the beach, and the waiting boats.
Y Beach Today
I never made Y Beach when I went to Gallipoli in May 2000, as it is so difficult to get to. There are two main routes, both of which are long, tiring and potentially dangerous. The first involves walking along Gully Ravine to where the barricade crosses it (this is about three and a half kilometres from Gully Beach), and here climb the less step part of the ravine on the left. This will bring you out to some cultivated ground. Go across this in the direction of the sea. Trees border the cliff, and across to your left is Y Ravine. You can follow the side of this down towards the beach, but due to conditions within the ravine it is impossible to walk through it. At the end you have to go down an often slippery and loose cliff face to reach the beach; and then walk back again, of course! The other way is to start at Gully Beach, and follow the beach to Y Beach itself. Sounds easy, but there is no sand to walk along and it means hopping from bolder to bolder! Apparently this can be done, but with care I suspect! When you get there the beach itself is very narrow, and the Y Ravine overgrown, and there is little to see. Obviously if you attempt either of these journeys, then NEVER do it alone or without sufficient water. Any sort of accident in this terrain is going to cause you major problems, so bear this in mind. Hopefully one day, considering the whole peninsula is now a National Park, there might be a marked trail from Gully Ravine to Y Beach. For the moment is remains elusive!
(1) Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Stephen Koe, 1st KOSB, died of wounds 26th April 1915 on his fiftieth birthday. No known grave, commemorated on the Helles Memorial. Koe had entered the army in 1886, and served in numerous small campaigns during the late Victorian period. He was commanding the battalion by 1913. Wounded during the defence of Y Beach, Koe died on board ship and was buried at sea.
©PAUL REED 2001-2006