Major John JD Sillery – Hero of Gallipoli

Memorial windows for Lt Col C Sillery and Major J D Sillery, St Laurence's Church

Memorial windows for Lt Col C Sillery and Major J D Sillery, St Laurence’s Church




BORN:            5 November 1866 in Hobart, Tasmania

FAMILY:        Second son of Major General Charles Jocelyn Cecil Sillery and Christiana Smith.  Elder brother Charles was killed in action on 1 July 1916 leading 20th (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers into action on the Somme.  John had two sisters, Christina and Fanny, and a younger brother, Arthur who died aged 2.

The 1871 Census shows the family were living in the Isle of Man.  John was commissioned into the army on 5 February 1887 and served in the 76th Punjabis.  The 1911 Census reveals he was a single man, living in army quarters in Hong Kong but the following year he was back in India, in Calcutta.  When the First World War broke out John, an experienced army officer, transferred to the Manchester Regiment.

In 1915 the 11Bn Manchester Regiment was part of the 34th Infantry Brigade.  On August 6th it embarked on lighters and was towed by destroyers to Suvla Bay, on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  They grounded 200 – 300 yards north of Lala Baba, a fortified post held by the Turks at the south of the bay.  The landing was extremely difficult since they were in about six feet of water, and every man had to be got ashore by means of a rope held by two officers, one on the lighter and one in the water.  The Manchester Regiment website reveals, “Major Sillery landed first in order to collect the men as they came ashore, and other officers were landed at intervals. The landing was carried out under heavy rifle fire from Lala Baba and shrapnel fire from further inland.  When the disembarkation had been completed the C.O. found the Battalion resting on the beach with bayonets fixed, and ready to move against the ridges to the north of the bay ….. The trenches were reached without serious opposition, and were carried at the point of the bayonet, the Turks retiring on Karakol Dagh followed up by the battalion. The ground traversed was very rough and difficult, and several men, including the medical officer and stretcher-bearers, lost touch with their comrades, and were either killed or fell into the hands of the enemy.

When day broke on the 7th August the Battalion was astride the ridge, about half a mile inland, faced by the Turks in considerable numbers. About three hundred rifles were out of action for several hours owing to their having become clogged with sand and salt water. The British attack was begun, and was strenuously opposed by the enemy, but the battalion succeeded in taking the ridge for about three miles inland, and was then brought to a standstill owing to heavy opposition in front and to being enfiladed on both sides. There was no means of communicating with Brigade Headquarters, and no other unit was at hand, but about noon a message was sent by flag signal to a destroyer and shortly before darkness fell the battalion was reinforced by two battalions of the 10th Division, but even this support did not enable a further advance to be made, and, after dark, the force prepared “sangars” to enable them to hold on during the night.”

Some further light is thrown on the individual work of the officers and men of the 11th Manchester’s in a letter from a Sergeant Major of the battalion which appeared in “The Ashton Herald” (11th September, 1915)

“Our division,” he says, “made a new landing. We came in the night, and as soon as we ran the lighters in shore they gave us hell, many men being killed and wounded in the boats. We stuck on a sand-bank, and the bullets rained upon us all round. The Colonel called ‘Tallest men first’ I slipped on board, and half-swam and half-waded ashore- a distance or about 200 yards – and was accompanied by the Adjutant and Major Sillery. I was the first man ashore with a rifle. We lay down on the beach, and then started to collect men together as they struggled ashore, and then formed them up.”

“After a while, and under heavy fire, we managed to get some formation, and fixed bayonets. We then moved off, while bullets still whizzed and shells boomed and burst around us. Slowly we advanced, wondering how long we could last. After about a mile we got to work, and then the boys proceeded to get their own back, clearing the trenches of Turks with the bayonet. Orders had been given that no shots were to be fired – it was to be all bayonet work…”

Major Sillery was never seen alive again and he has no known grave.  He was mentioned in despatches and is remembered with honour on the Helles Memorial at the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula.  It takes the form of an obelisk over 30 metres high that can be seen by ships passing through the Dardanelles.

He is also remembered in a window on the south wall of St Laurence’s Church, Scalby, the left-hand side of which commemorates his older brother Charles whose wife went to live in Scalby with her father, William Tingle Brown and step-mother Clara Sayer Cox of Yew Court, during WW1.  Those familiar with the church will know that there is a memorial window to William Tingle Brown beside the pulpit and a brass plaque below it, informing the reader that Clara Sayer Brown gave the vicarage to the parish in 1923 in memory of her mother.

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One thought on “Major John JD Sillery – Hero of Gallipoli

  1. The Helles Memorial serves the dual function of Commonwealth battle memorial for the whole Gallipoli campaign and place of commemoration for many of those Commonwealth servicemen who died there and have no known grave. The United Kingdom and Indian forces named on the memorial died in operations throughout the peninsula, the Australians at Helles. There are also panels for those who died or were buried at sea in Gallipoli waters. The memorial bears more than 21,000 names.

    The main inscription on the memorial reads:

    “The Helles Memorial is both the memorial to the Gallipoli Campaign and to the 20,763 men who fell in that campaign and whose graves are unknown or who were lost or buried at sea in Gallipoli waters. Inscribed on it are the names of all the ships that took part in the campaign and the titles of the army formations and units which served on the Peninsula together with the names of 18,985 sailors, soldiers and marines from the United Kingdom, 248 soldiers from Australia, and 1,530 soldiers of the Indian Army.”

    Designed by Sir John Burnet, the Helles Memorial was completed in 1924 and is built of rough stone from Ilgardere. The largest number of names are from the Lancashire Fusiliers (1,357 commemorations) on Panels 58-72, and the Manchester Regiment (1,215 commemorations) on Panels 158-170.

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