From Gallipoli to the Western Front - the story of Scottish War Blinded member Private Robert Steele

Posted: 12/01/2016 | Scottish War Blinded

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh attended a commemorative service held on 9 January 2016 which marked one hundred years since the evacuation of the last Allied troops from the Gallipoli peninsula, a campaign which resulted in the loss of 46,000 British, New Zealand, Australian and French colonial troops.

Private Steele experienced combat for the first time during the Gallipoli campaign whose subsequent tour of duty would lead to experiencing sight loss and becoming a member of Scottish War Blinded.

The Gallipoli campaign was launched by the British to counter the Ottoman Empire’s advances in the Caucasus region in 1915 and began in February with a naval expedition tasked with securing the Dardanelles Straits.

The Naval expedition failed, and amphibious landings were launched in April at Helle and Gaba Tepe. The landings would ultimately fail too as a result of fierce Ottoman resistance as well as poor intelligence and knowledge of terrain.

Private Robert Steele landed in September 1915 with the 1/1st Ayrshire (Earl of Carrick’s Own) Yeomanry. His regiment were tasked with reinforcing existing troops on the ground in the hope of gaining further territory inland.

The regiment fought as a dismounted infantry force and were pinned down on the beach for several days as a result of Ottoman troops holding the high ground. High levels of casualties were suffered as a result, Private Steele received a rifle shot wound to his arm.

Despite the resilience and bravery demonstrated by the troops, very little ground was gained and all momentum, if any, was lost. An evacuation plan was hastily prepared and executed in December and completed on 9 January 1916.

Private Steele was deployed to Egypt following the evacuation to defend strategic Allied strongholds against Ottoman aggression. He would later participate in the successful Palestine campaign in Gaza, Jerusalem and Tell’Asur.

In May 1918, the regiment deployed to the Western front who fought at the Battles of Ypres and Flanders. His company were attacked whilst defending a sector at Ypres; the Germans fired mustard gas shells on the allied line leaving only he and one other comrade remained alive.

Private Steele sustained internal and external blisters, respiratory complications and blindness. Fortunately, he regained some vision and was able to continue in service.

Private Steele found work driving a horse and cart shifting coal in the years following World War One later working on the Ayrshire railways. It was working on the railways that he disturbed the existing damage to his eyes from the war reducing his vision considerably. He then worked as a grave digger and lost complete vision following another accident.

He received support from Scottish War Blinded in terms of aftercare workers visiting him at home and providing a wide range of audio books he enjoyed listening using his machine by the bed. He liked Westerns or Mysteries but would never listen to anything about the war.

Private Steele died a few days short of his 82nd birthday on 18 April 1974. 

Today, Scottish War Blinded provides free support to veterans of the armed forces who have a visual impairment sustained either in conflict or subsequently to their service. We support ex-service men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, including Reserves, Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps and National Service.

If you or someone you know could benefit from Scottish War Blinded’s activities, call us free today on 0800 035 6409 or visit www.guidethem.org

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