History | Culture | Ancestry
One of the earliest memories I have of my Grandfather is walking with him through the small lane in the West-end of Greenock known as ‘the Dardanelles’. I can still remember him explaining to me that the Dardanelles was where a great battle took place against the Turks. He was of course referring to the Battle of Gallipoli, which took place on a small Turkish peninsula next to the Dardanelles Strait. I nodded along in curious agreement but his explanation raised a great many confusing questions in my young mind. Why were birds, specifically turkeys, here in this lane-way and what were they fighting over?
Misinterpreting nearly everything that I was told, I had visions of turkeys flying over the crumbling Victorian brick walls of the Dardanelles, awkwardly falling upon some unseen foe making their way through the lane. I dutifully returned to the house and told my Aunt and Gran that Grandpa had told me all about the turkeys. I think they were as confused as I was.
Twenty-five years later I live just a few metres from the very spot where my Grandfather told me those stories. It’s fair to say that I’ve developed a slightly better understanding of what he was talking about, why it had significance for my extended family and the eerie coincidence surrounding the lane’s name.
On the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, I discovered that my Great Grand-Uncle, Neil McDonald of Springburn, participated in the campaign with the 8th Battalion Scottish Rifles (Cameronians).
He was one of the very few of his battalion who survived the Battle of Gully Ravine unscathed and he was also present at the Battle of Achi Baba. Before the end of the Gallipoli campaign he received a minor wound to the ear, most likely as a result of artillery shrapnel. He was then transferred to the Royal Engineers and as part of the 52nd Lowland Division he participated in the advance through Egypt and Palestine. He missed the First Battle of Gaza after breaking his leg while playing football with his comrades at Sheikh Zowaid, a small village about 45km from Gaza City. He recovered and was present when the allies captured Jerusalem. The 52nd Lowland Division was then sent to the Western Front, where Neil McDonald was wounded in a gas attack just weeks before the armistice. He survived the war and emigrated to Australia, where he died in 1963.
Fighting alongside Neil McDonald in Turkey, Egypt and Palestine was the the 5th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a unit mobilised in Greenock. The 5th Argylls also fought at the Battle of Achi Baba and by the end of the campaign they had experienced heavy casualties.
The headquarters of the 5th Argylls was located at Academy Park, Finnart Street, at what is now the Greenock campus of West College Scotland. Running next to that headquarters was the Dardanelles Lane.
The normal assumption is that the Dardanelles Lane was named after the 5th Argylls because they were headquartered next to it at the time of the Battle of Gallipoli. The eerie coincidence is that the Dardanelles Lane received its unusual name decades before the men of the 5th Argylls fought at Gallipoli.
It’s most likely that the Dardanelles Lane was created during the 1880s. The 1881 town map of Greenock does not include the lane but by 1887 the Dardanelles appears as a thin lane close to Ford Cottage.
Almost immediately after the lane was created it became a hot spot for crime and anti-social behaviour. By 1888 the Dardanelles already had a reputation as an unsafe place for women walking through the area. In 1891 the Greenock Telegraph reported on a gang of thieves, or ‘child-strippers’, who used the Dardanelles as a location in which to steal clothing from children. The situation hadn’t improved by 1893, when the local paper again reported on ‘respectable people’ being insulted in the lane by men of ‘low type’. A correspondent to the Greenock Telegraph suggested in 1899 that the lane was very dark at night, and this may go some way to explaining why it attracted crime.
In more recent years it’s been good to see a greater awareness of the Dardanelles and its association with the 5th Argylls during the First World War. A special project established by the McLean Museum called Inverclyde’s Great War has been an excellent source of information on the 5th Argylls and the men from Greenock who fought at Gallipoli. On the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Achi Baba a small plaque was unveiled at the Finnart Street entrance to the Dardanelles in memory of the 5th Argylls and hopefully this will prompt more people to learn about this important piece of local history.