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A Courageous Scot


At twenty years of age Richard Smith GEEKIE married twenty-one year old Jane WEBSTER. The ceremony took place on 25 July 1902 in San Salvador’s Church, Dundee, Scotland. San Salvador means Holy Saviour and the church was built in the Victorian era with a mission to the jute mill workers  who lived in tenements in the Hilltown area of Dundee. Jane worked at a mill as a jute batcher while Richard worked as a gas work labourer.

On the night of the 1911 census they lived at 84 Rosebank Street, Dundee with their five children, Richard’s sister and Jane’s mother. Richard’s sister, 28, also worked in a jute mill as a weaver. It could reasonably be assumed Richard had shifted occupations in the gas company , for he was now employed as a street lamplighter . It was from this address that Richard enlisted in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to fight in World War 1.

The Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) came about on 4 August 1914 with Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. The men reporting for duty in the British Navy far exceeded the number required to man the ships of the Fleet. This manpower surplus was sufficient to form one Brigade of Marines and two Naval Brigades (Royal Naval Division). The Naval Brigades took the names of famous ships or admirals: Benbow, Collingwood, Hawke, Drake, Howe, Hood, Anson, and Nelson . These Naval men were trained to fight side-by-side with Army members. They had the rank structure of the Royal Navy and navy uniforms, though eventually British Army uniforms. Army instructors and Army officers commanded them.

Richard’s service file obtained from the National Archives  (UK) gives his date of entry into the service as 27 September 1914 and service number as Clyde Z/326 with the rank of Able Seaman (A.B.). On the 30 April 1915 his service record shows him to be in the Collingwood Battalion, B Company and although his record has no details of his training it was probably done at Crystal Palace in London  and later at Blandford in Dorset .

By early June 1915 Richard was in the Mediterranean waiting to go into battle with his battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula .
Map 1 Key location of the Gallipoli Campaign, Livesey 1989 p54

The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) was an ally of Germany. The British and French embarked upon an attack on Turkey for a variety of reasons, chief among them the need to keep the Dardanelles free for Allied shipping. This strait was the only naval route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea and Russia (an ally of Britain and France).

At first (in February 1915) this attack consisted of solely naval operations with ships bombarding the outer forts. Then the Marines landed on the southern tip of the Peninsula and succeeded in demolishing Turkish guns. However the inner guns were not so easy and it was eventually decided to bring in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) from Egypt to land on the Peninsula.

The terrain of the Gallipoli Peninsula is rocky and scrub-covered, with narrow valleys and steep-sided hills. From London Lord Kitchener  ordered two landings on the 25 April 1915: Australian and New Zealand troops at Gaba Tepe (renamed Anzac Cove); and British troops (29th Division) at beaches near and around Cape Helles.  The aim of the British operation on the first day was to capture the hill Achi Baba (709 feet)  and the neighbouring village of Krithia. As a diversion French troops landed at Kum Kale (on the southern side of the entrance to the Dardanelles). Despite the fighting capacity of the troops there were many casualties, due largely to poor leadership and ambitious goals.

The First Battle of Krithia in the last days of April and Second Battle commencing 6 May ended in disappointment for the British and French commanders. Casualties in all ranks were very heavy with no prospect of reinforcements; guns and ammunition of all types was in short supply; men were weary of fighting with no obvious gain.

By the end of May the Allied and Turkish trenches were within fighting distance of each other. The Allies had intelligence that reinforcements for the Turks was imminent and, day by day, could see their enemies’ fortifications becoming stronger. To do nothing was suicidal. General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the MEF, urged on by his British and French corps commanders locally and Lord Kitchener in London decided to fight a general action in the Helles zone on the morning of 4 June 1915. This Third Battle of Krithia was the first with definite trench warfare.

In contrast to the other two the Third Battle was meticulously planned and objectives much more reasonable. Nowhere entailed an advance of more than 800 yards; first and second waves and reserve battalions were proposed. The Collingwoods were in the last group. See Map 2.
Map 2.  Third Battle of Krithia. Situation, 8am 4 June 1914.

The Collingwood Battalion fought at the southern extremity of the British attack.

The 4th of June was a brilliant summer’s day with a strong breeze from the north-east. At 8am the British and French bombarded the strong points in the Turkish defences. That lasted two hours and was followed by a bombardment of their front line for a quarter of an hour. Once the bombs had ceased the overall the result was disappointing – the damage to the Turkish trenches in many parts was negligible.

Next stage in the plan was to feign an assault with bayonets to encourage the Turks to man their parapets.  Accordingly the British and French infantry cheered, showed fixed bayonets above their trenches and made like a charge was imminent. A hell broke loose – the Turks fired rifles and machine guns and their artillery batteries went into action. But the NE breeze was blowing smoke and dust over the Allied trenches so that when they recommenced artillery firing at the Turks it was impossible to judge the accuracy.

That was about the time Richard Geekie in the Collingwood Battalion began to advance from their position in reserve, in preparation to mount the second wave. According to plan the first wave captured the enemy front line of trenches. However the Collingwoods were delayed in reaching these trenches by stretcher bearers carrying wounded men from the first wave clogging the communication trenches. The attack finally went ahead with the Collingswoods in the captured Turkish front-line trenches aiming to advance to assault the second objective 400 – 500 yards ahead.

Richard Smith Geekie was shot in the head while getting over a parapet; the smoke and dust blowing in the NE breeze did not conceal him from a Turkish sniper. He didn’t live to see his comrades advance in a long line, as if on parade, towards the second line of Turkish trenches 400 yards further on  only to be mown down by machine gun and rifle fire on their right flank. “Practically the whole battalion was annihilated.”

Across the entire operation 250-500 yards had been gained for a loss of 4,500 officers and men out of 16,000 by nightfall. French losses were 2,000. On the front where the Collingwoods were savaged the few of Richard’s comrades that survived, along with parties of Hood and Anson succeeded in taking the second objective. But not for long. Continued fire from their right flank forced them back to their original lines of that morning.

“Missing , Dardanelles” was entered on Richard’s service record on the 18th of June, 1915. It is doubtful if Jane was advised personally, especially so soon after the massacre and with so many wounded and dead. The administrative section just couldn’t keep up.

However Jane and her family weren’t without news. The Dundee Courier published lists of the Navy, Army and Air Corps casualties. On 4 June 1915 Dundee Courier  ran a story entitled Dundee Navyman at the Dardanelles Tells How Landing Was Forced Under Heavy Fire. The first paragraph reads:
"The following graphic account of the fighting in the Dardanelles is given by O. S. William l. Burnett, a Dundee member of the Naval Brigade who is at present lying wounded in Malta..."
He was writing about the landings at Anzac Cove and the beaches around Helles on 25 April 1915 and his words contained enough details for Jane and her family to gain a realistic picture (if tame) of what Richard had encountered.

Jane received a letter from one of Richard’s comrades informing her that her husband had been killed in an attack. She forwarded it to Royal Naval Division (RND), the letter reaching them on the 29 June. On receiving Jane’s letter RND the cabled MEF General Headquarters but they could not add anything further and Jane was advised .

It appears that many, many people were searching for some word of their loved ones fighting overseas. The Dundee Courier ran a service Missing Soldiers Column where loved ones were seeking news of men listed as missing ; people were told, via newspapers that the Foreign Office could do nothing about tracing missing men. Enquiries had to be made to the War Office or Admiralty .  In November The Courier printed an article - THE ROYAL NAVAL DIVISION/And what it has done at Gallipoli/Terrible Losses in 4th of June Advance. The article covered two-thirds of a column on page three, along with all the other war news . By now Jane and family would have been certain Richard had died in that advance. Now it had to be officially acknowledged.

Near Christmas 1915 the Royal Navy received another letter from Jane, one they had to act on in a timely manner. Reverend Frank Cairns from the RNVR stated in a letter that Richard Geekie had been shot in the head when getting over a parapet. By mid-January the authorities had advised Jane that “Missing Dardanelles on 4.6.15” was now “Dead” . “The story of the Dardanelles expedition will form one of the greatest and saddest chapters in the history of the war.”

Jane was left with six children aged from twelve to one. Her only brother, James had enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry in June 1915. He was widowed in 1912 and it appears that Jane assumed responsibility for the care of his youngest daughter aged seven (if not immediately then within the next few years). 
From: Mary Jane LEAFE nee WEBSTER Collection, taken about 1916.
Back:  John GEEKIE; Richard Smith GEEKIE (dec); Mary GEEKIE
Centre: Marion WEBSTER; Jane GEEKIE holding hands with Isabella GEEKIE; Thomas GEEKIE
Front: Richard GEEKIE; Arthur GEEKIE

No official records are available until 1921 but much can be surmised of this difficult time. Before the War, the Dundee Jute Barons had set up mills in India because of cheap labour, thus putting severe strain on Dundee’s working classes. Servicemen returned home wounded physically and mentally, to no jobs and tenement living in many cases. People had lost faith in their politicians over the terrible wartime losses and could see no hope. 

Jane received a pension from the Navy and one by one the oldest children went to work. The Geekie family was surrounded by good friends and relatives and probably San Salvador’s Church offered support also. Jane’s brother James contracted malaria from his Army service and at the end of 1921 finally finished with the Army with a part-pension. By now Jane and James and their respective children (Jane’s six and James’ four ) resided in another tenement at 38 Jamaica Street, Dundee.

One of their good friends was William Murray and his wife Mary.  William, Richard’s half-brother, had failed the medical for overseas service in the British Army but served his country as a Specialist Military Aircraft hand in the Royal Air Force . That service qualified William and his family for free passage to settle in one of the Dominions.  Australia and Canada pushed their cases in the early years of the scheme (1919 – 1921) and William Murray and his family came to Beerburrum, Queensland in 1921.
James’ eldest daughter, Mary Jane Webster travelled to Queensland under the Salvation Army scheme for domestics  on the P&O Steam Ship Benalla which departed London on 22 February 192. San Salvador’s Church figures largely in her application. William Murray, as her ‘brother’ nominated Jane and her six children and niece and they arrived in Brisbane on the Aberdeen Line’s S.S. Euripedes on the 26 December 1923.

They travelled directly to Beerburrum, to William Murray’s farm then rented a house on an abandoned farm (Portion 461) in the Soldier Settlement area . Jane, never one to let an opportunity pass to better her family, made an application to the Department of Public Lands for her own farm in the form of a Perpetual Lease on 5 March 1923 .

That started a series of letters and interdepartmental memos, the majority of which survived in the Queensland State Archives Dead Farm Files and the historical Land Files kept by the Dept of Natural Resources and Mines. They show an increasingly frustrated Jane. In her original letter she asked for a ‘decision as soon as possible’. It came in her favour not even two weeks after and requested her to call on the local supervisor to tell him which portion she wanted.

In this letter she signed herself ‘Yours hopefully’, exhibiting a sense of humour under difficult conditions (‘hard struggle to bring up my family’, ‘and since then [their arrival at Beerburrum] things have been going from bad to worse’, ‘practically no demand for labour up here’ and ‘I often find it difficult to muster the 5/- weekly rent that I am charged by the lands office here’).

Sometime between early July and early September the Geekies moved to Portion 387, the block which Jane had chosen. In the interim Jane twice pleaded with the officials to let them move: her farm was ‘rapidly becoming a wilderness of weeds’  and ‘...the block is going to ruin and I don’t see why I should be paying rent here while I am quite prepared to move...’ . The Dept originally refused her request for a horse and cart and farming implements. On Jane’s emigration application for Queensland she stated she would have £40 when she arrived  and in her appeal on the decision she reminded the decision-maker that she was unable to buy farming implements ‘out of my small capital.’

Apparently she had been ‘loaned’ a horse, cart and bridle and farming implements because, on 30 Oct 1924 the local Supervisor wrote a memo to his superiors in Brisbane that they were ‘returned to stock’ . Jane and her family of seven, through no fault of their own, failed in their first venture in a new country.

The family seems to have recovered well. The eldest daughter, Mary Ann married James Sharpe in January 1924. James was the son of John William Sharpe, another fruit farmer at Beerburrum who served in the Australian Army.  In December that year Jane nominated her brother James Webster and he arrived in Queensland on the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line’s S.S. Hobsons Bay at the end of March 1925. The last of James’ unmarried daughters, Elizabeth followed her family to Queensland in early 1926 .

Elizabeth’s daughter has fond memories of Sunday lunches after church, with her aunts and uncles and cousins at Granma Jean’s  house. After the meal they would have sing-along around the piano. A photo of Richard in his Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve uniform presided over the piano; one of Jane’s daughter-in-laws entered radio talent quests impersonating Gracie Fields and she would play and sing.

That was after WW2 when Jane and her family lived at Ryans Road, St Lucia, Brisbane.  The Ancestry Electoral Rolls reveal Jane’s children and their families frequently lived with her. William Murray, his wife and children also lived in Ryans Road, St Lucia. The friendship that had begun in Scotland near the turn of the century between the Geekies, Websters and Murrays expanded in Beerburrum, Queensland to cover the Sharpes and Wilkinsons  and their extended families.

Richard’s remains were never found and his death is remembered at the Helles Memorial, Panel 8 – 15. Jane never remarried and passed away in 1964, aged 84.
The British Newspaper Archive (BNA), brightsolid in partnership with British Library. © brightsolid Newspaper Archive Limited.
Education Scotland, Foghlan Alba.
Find A Grave. Viewed 1 January 2011.
Naval Historical Collector’s and Research Association (NHC&RA), Royal Naval Division 1914-1919. Viewed 23 July 2013.
Official History of the Great War DVD Rom
Saint Salvador's Episcopal Church Dundee. Viewed 1 February 2013.
ScotlandPeople (SP) Statutory Births, Marriages and Deaths, and 1911 Census.
Sutton P 2012 Queensland State Archives Beerburrum Soldier Settlement. Viewed 24 April 2013.
Queensland Dept of Natural Resources and Mines (QDNRM), Townsville Service Centre.
Queensland State Archives (QSA) (1) Assisted Immigration Files.
Queensland State Archives (QSA) (2) Dead Farm Files.
1. Livesey A, 1989 The Great Battles of World War 1 Field Marshall Editions Limited, London
2. The Keep Military Museum 1914 – 18 World War I, 1915 The Gallipoli Campaign. Viewed 11 June 2013. © 2005 - 2013 Regional Webs Ltd & The Keep Military Museum  (0.001s).