Wearside soldier Gilbert Rennison was blinded by smoke and targeted by enemy fire as he marched across a dry salt lake as part of the Battle of Scimitar Hill in World War One.
One in three of his comrades would perish in the last offensive mounted by the British at Sulva during the Battle of Gallipoli on August 21, 1915. Gilbert survived just one extra day.
“The membership book for Ashbrooke Sports Club shows he was a member in the year before the war, then solemnly notes ‘dead’,” said club historian and archivist Keith Gregson.
“I am writing up the history of all the members who gave their lives during the Great War, and he was one of the few who served in the eastern conflict, rather than in France.
“Unfortunately, although I have found out quite a bit about his background, I have so far been unable to track down a photo. I’m therefore hoping an Echo reader might be able to help out.”
Gilbert, son of optician, jeweller and silversmith Robert Rennison and his wife Mary, was born in 1890. He had an older sister, Winifred, and a younger brother, Donald.
It is important we continue to remember the sacrifice Gilbert - and his comrades - made for us.Keith Gregson, historian and archivist at Ashbrooke Sports Club.
Number 3 The Esplanade West was Gilbert’s lifelong home. The family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle thanks to Robert’s business acumen, employing servants to cook and care for them.
“Robert ran a very successful shop at 29 Bridge Street, selling gold, silver and jewels to the people of Sunderland’s high society,” said Keith. “Gilbert joined the business as an assistant after leaving school.
“But, soon after the outbreak of World War One he signed up as a motorcyclist in the Berkshire Yeomanry, quickly winning promotion to lance-corporal. The majority of his Ashbrooke army colleagues served in France, but he landed in Egypt in April 1915.”
Gilbert was posted to Cairo at first, where his regiment was dismounted in preparation for Gallipoli. On August 18 he landed at A Beach on Suvla Bay and, just four days later, the order was given to attack Scimitar Hill via a dried up salt lake.
“The purpose behind the attack was to remove the immediate Ottoman threat from the exposed Suvla landing, and to then link with the Anzac sectors to the south,” said Keith.
“But it was to prove a costly failure. In just one day of fighting the British suffered 5,300 casualties out of 14,300 participating soldiers. Gilbert’s death was recorded the day after, on August 22.
“The attack at Scimitar Hill ended up being the last attempt by the British to advance at Suvla. The front line remained between Green Hill and Scimitar Hill for the remainder of the campaign, until the evacuation on December 20. Sadly, Gilbert was long dead by then.”
Gilbert, who was just 25, was buried at Gallipoli and is today remembered on the Helles Memorial. He was posthumously awarded the Victory, British and 15 Star medals and his name also appears on the Christ Church Memorial Plaque in Sunderland.
“Robert Rennison continued trading at Bridge Street until his death in 1933, when the shop closed down. The Rennison house is no longer there either, and the site is now part of the Gorse Road carpark,” said Keith.
“It would seem that it had to be dismantled as a result of damage caused by a parachute mine during the Second World War. The site was used for emergency housing after the war was over, before being made into a carpark.
“But, although almost all evidence of the Rennison family has now gone, it is important we continue to remember the sacrifice Gilbert - and his comrades - made for us. That is why I would like to add his photos to the Ashbrooke files.”
* Keith is to give an illustrated talk on the Ashbrooke Sports Club members who fought on the Western Front as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days event.
The talk, entitled Ashbrooke and the 50th Division on the Western Front 1915, will be held at the West Lawn club on September 10 at 7pm. Admission free.
“I am now well on with my four-year project to monitor the 250 Ashbrooke members who served in World War One. The club lost many members in some of the bloodiest battles of the war - from Ypres to the Somme - and we want to remember them all,” said Keith.
•Further details on Sunderland soldiers can be found at keithgregson.com