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Harold Cawley (1878–1915)

Harold Cawley was the son of Frederick Cawley, MP for Prestwich in Lancashire, a wealthy cotton manufacturer. Harold trained as a barrister, holding unpaid PPS posts. He won the Heywood seat in Lancashire in January 1910 for the Liberals and held the seat until his death in 1915.

As a territorial officer in the Manchesters, he volunteered for active service on the outbreak of war and went as Aide deCamp to Major General K Douglas in Egypt. He was involved in the disastrous Dardenelles campaign as a staff officer and after watching his battalion suffer heavy losses in May 1915, he volunteered for active duty, and was sadly killed on 23 September 1915.

The House of Commons Book of Remembrance records that he was buried in the Lancashire Landings Cemetery in Helles, Gallipoli. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintain several cemeteries in the peninsular and their summary of events gives background to the experiences of Harold Cawley.

"The eight month campaign in Gallipoli was fought by Commonwealth and French forces in an attempt to force Turkey out of the war, to relieve the deadlock of the Western Front in France and Belgium, and to open a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. The Allies landed on the peninsula on 25–26 April 1915; the 29th Division at Cape Helles in the south and the Australian and New Zealand Corps north of Gaba Tepe on the west coast, an area soon known as Anzac. On 6 August, further landings were made at Suvla, just north of Anzac, and the climax of the campaign came in early August when simultaneous assaults were launched on all three fronts."

The aim of the Suvla force had been to quickly secure the sparsely held high ground surrounding the bay and salt lake, but confused landings and indecision caused fatal delays allowing the Turks to reinforce and only a few of the objectives were taken with difficulty. Unable to break the deadlock, Allied forces had evacuated the peninsula by early 1916, leaving their fallen comrades behind Harold wrote to his father in 1915 shortly before his death. His letter is held at Kings College London. He was aware as a Member of Parliament that his correspondence would not be subject to military censorship and so wrote frankly about the poor planning and leadership of the Dardenelles campaign. He was particularly critical of General Douglas, describing him as the most contemptible man he had ever met, always thinking of himself, his food, his promotion and his health.

"My own general is disliked by all his troops, particularly his officers. He has a third rate brain, no capacity to grasp the lie of the land and no originality or ingenuity. He has been in the trenches three times since he landed, hurried visits on which he saw next to nothing and he hardly ever goes to an observation point with his field glasses. The result is that he does not understand the lie of the land on his own front. When there is an attack, he works out all the details and leaves nothing to the Brigadiers and commanding officers who know the ground. The result last time was that the best Manchester battalions were sent to an impossible place which every colonel and adjutant regarded as only to be taken after some other commanding trenches had been cleared. My Battalion lost every officer who charged, I believe, except Geoff Kershaw who was hit early and got back in the trench.The curse of the whole show has been the absurd optimism of the chief generals…and the way they have underrated their opponents...the attacks were often badly reconnoitred and ill conceived."

Cawley complained that there had not been enough troops to follow up the initial landings that land gained was not held due to confusion and lack of clear orders. Four of his schoolfriends from Rugby public school had been killed at Gallipoli in June and he was anxious to do his bit in the front line. He was involved in the fighting for less than a fortnight before he was killed.

His father Frederick Cawley MP served on the Dardenelles Commission, established to inquire into the reason for the disaster. This was set up under the Special Commissions (Dardenelles and Mesopotamia) Act 1916, which was enacted as an alternative to an inquiry by a select committee. The Dardenelles Commission was composed of four MPs, two peers, a general and was chaired by an admiral. it met in secret and heard evidence from serving officers, including from two who were also MPs, Aubrey Herbert and George Lloyd. Both were scathing about disastrous frontal attacks and shortcomings in transport and medicine.

The final report of the Commission was published in 1919 and concluded that expedition had been poorly planned and executed and that difficulties had been underestimated, problems which were exacerbated by supply shortages and by personality clashes and procrastination at high levels. Doubtless Lord Cawley could use Harold's experiences as evidence, but he had resigned from the Commission when appointed as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in December 1916. He was made a peer in January 1918.

Tragically Lord Cawley lost two other sons. Harold's younger brother Oswald, who had become MP, for Prestwich, when his father was raised to the peerage, was killed in France on 22 August 1918, when his battalion was advancing into enemy held territory. Another brother Major John S Cawley was also killed on 1 September 1914 on the initial retreat from Mons at the beginning of the conflict. In their memory Lord Cawley endowed a ward at Ancoats Hospital Manchester in 1919. There is a memorial chapel to the Cawley brothers in the Church of St Peter and St Paul, in Eye, Herefordshire. Only his eldest son, Robert remained, inheriting the title in 1937.

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