PATRICK J. McAULEY

Private | Royal Marine Light Infantry

While the entire world was at war since 1914, many men saw only a glimpse of a foreign land, much of which was limited to their narrow view of the front from miserable trenches.  For a seagoing private of the Royal Marines, the war was a much different experience that could take one from the North Sea across the Atlantic and around the horn of Africa into exotic seas.  Patrick McAuley spent fifteen months at the China Station, so a world tour was a familiar and welcome experience despite the looming tide of war.

 

After Britain’s commitment to war, the H.M.S. Exmouth joined the Grand Fleet to work in the Northern Patrol and later joined the Channel Fleet, participating in bombardment of Zeebrugge in late November 1914 and ultimately on to the Dardanelles in mid-1915 as flagship of Admiral Nicholson.  As she had been fitted with heavy anti-torpedo nets, she was the only ship to remain off the coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula after three others – the Goliath, Triumph and Majestic – had been torpedoed.

 

While this was thrilling duty frequently filled with work and drill, McAuley was most engaged in his life as a Marine when the detachment went ashore.  At Milo the landing was uneventful, but on December 1, 1916 the scheduled landing at Athens deteriorated from a simple operation to a rout that took the lives of six fellow Marines.  In the pre-dawn light between three and five, the shore party of three battalions of French and British seamen and Marines marched from Piraeus to the hills overlooking Athens.  In the British company of the third battalion, McAuley arrived at the Zappeion theater by nine.  The Zappeion was a gorgeous, sprawling building of the expected classic Greek style with beautiful gardens and tiled atriums and even from a distance on the hills on which the detachment was posted, it was magnificent.

It was also among the points that the angry Greeks were determined to defend as monuments of their country.  The French and British invasion, though small, had been enough to fuel the Greek forces and they refused to withdraw unless the allies did first and negotiations ensued.  For an hour, nothing occurred but the massing of more Greek troops and at eleven that morning they opened fire at once.  In moments the battle raged and all signs of diplomacy had faded with the rising commotion.   The staunch Greek resistance and feint of surrender forced the Marines from the Zappeion and they retreated to the Phalerum, an ancient port of Athens.  To be fighting on such historical ground was something McAuley only considered in retrospect, for in the moment he and his fellow infantrymen were only trying to stay alive and keep cool for the sake of each other.  As dead and wounded fell, those who were able retrieved the casualties and carried them on to the Phalerum which they held until eleven that night.

 

The exhausting battle was the most notable shore duty for McAuley during his four years on the Exmouth.  They sailed from the Mediterranean to Aden, Bombay, Colombo and Seychelles, the latter a collection of mere pinpoints on a map off the coast of East Africa.  In July 1917 they set sail back for Plymouth by route of Zanzibar, a decision which is lost to time but a welcome voyage for McAuley as he saw Durban, Capetown and Sierra Leone before the long trip north.

Sources:

“The Landing Parties at Athens.” HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR: Naval Operations, by Henry Newbolt, IV, DIRECTION OF THE HISTORICAL SECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF IMPERIAL DEFENCE, 1928.

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