It may feel bitterly cold right now, with snow and ice covering our homes, roads, pavements and fields.
But spare a thought for Frank Roberts who lived through a devastating storm and blizzard in war-torn Gallipoli just over a century ago.
Frank was a private in the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry when the peninsula was hit by the worst weather it had ever experienced in the winter of 1915.
Two hundred British soldiers died from frostbite and exposure – and floods and freezing conditions left 10,000 others ‘unfit for service’.
Torrential rain lasting for 24 hours was followed by a hard frost and a blizzard that had to be seen to be believed.
Trenches were flooded and turned into raging torrents, and many were later filled with snow.
Frank and soldiers serving with him were forced to move to open ground in ever-worsening conditions
Many suffered from severe frostbite after being ‘half drowned’ in the downpours.
They had to endure the snow and bitter cold without warm clothing, kit, waterproof sheets and equipment which had been washed away in the floods.
Jack Strong, a corporal in Frank’s regiment, recorded in a diary that, in a ‘terrific thunder storm’ on November 26, ‘we found it very difficult in finding our way owing to the intense darkness.
‘On several occasions we were up to our waists in water.’
Two mules and a cart were lost when they fell into a deep trench and ‘we were unable to get them out’.
He wrote that, on arriving back at the trenches, ‘we found that the regiment had been completely washed out of their front-line trenches, and some of the boys were walking about without any boots or stockings on’.
All were ‘absolutely drenched to the skin’. He found his own dug-out ‘half full of water’ with his under-clothes ‘floating on the top’.
As ‘very heavy frost and snow’ set in the following day, dozens of troops were ‘going to hospital with frozen feet’ and suffering from exposure.
Jack spent his 21st birthday on November 29 in his dug-out, ‘wet through and shivering from the intense cold’, and watching more than 200 ‘tremendous great shells passing overhead and exploding on the hill opposite’.
Frank – one of 30 grandsons of John Roberts (my great-great grandfather) who served in the Great War – and Jack survived the storm and blizzard.
Frank later served in Palestine – and survived being shot in the head in a battle near Jerusalem on December 3, 1917.
- See more on his remarkable escape from death (Eight went into battle – only five came home) in the Latest section on my website.
Private Frank Roberts, of Witheridge, Devon.