MMay 7 marks the 100th Anniversary of the death at Gallipoli of Arthur Walderne St. Clair Tisdall V.C.
Tisdall was born on July 21, 1890 at Bombay, India where his father Rev Dr William Tisdall, an expert in Eastern religions, was running the Church Missionary Society Mission in the city.
Following a brief stay in England in 1891 the whole family embarked again in 1892 for Persia where Dr Tisdall had been appointed Head of the Church Missionary Society, Persian Section.
At that time Tisdall and his brothers were home educated by their father, and a Governess and it is said that by the age of 10, Arthur could speak Latin fluently.
In order to place him and his two brothers at Bedford School the family returned to England in 1900 (travelling via the Dardanelles – which sadly 15 years later was to be the place of his death). They settled first in Geary Street (now Waterloo Road), then Newnham Street and finally at 32, Kimbolton Road.
At school Tisdall, who was over 6ft in height, broad chested and with dark brown wavy hair, was a brilliant scholar and a good sportsman, enjoying both rowing and rugby. He was a popular figure and was known affectionately as either ‘’Wally’’ or by the family nickname ‘’Pog.’’ In his last year at the school he was head boy and also loved a daily swim at Newnham Pool.
From Kimbolton Road, Arthur went off to Cambridge where he won more academic prizes culminating in the award of a Double First Honours Degree from Trinity College. His interests at University were the
growth of socialism, women’s suffrage, economics and literature, especially poetry. He had a couple of books published and was a friend of Rupert Brooke. He regularly returned to the home of his parents and is even recorded as having walked the whole way on a couple of occasions.
In 1913 he took up a post with the Civil Service in London but when war broke out in August the following year, he immediately joined the Royal Naval Division and on August 14 reported to Walmer Camp for training. By October 4 he was in Belgium defending the city of Antwerp and although more than£1,000 men were captured after the fall of the city, Tisdall managed to escape back to England where he was subsequently commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant.
Before he was rushed off to Walmer with only three days notice he hastily composed his Will which concludes: “Finally to my father and mother, brothers, sisters and friends, best love and good success.
I ask them each and all to forgive my faults towards them.’’
On February 27, 1915 Tisdall’s unit left Bristol bound for the Dardanelles and after further training in Eqypt and on the island of Lemnos, he led his platoon in brief incursions against the Turks before their own landing proper on May 7 on V beach, Cape Helles.
On one of the earlier raids leading his men in an advance towards an enemy held position, they were heavily bombarded and while sheltering from fire Tisdall witnessed an adjacent French gunnery section under extreme pressure. A horse pulling a gun was wounded and others ran away. Tisdall intervened and got the horse onto its feet, removed the harness and made the French soldiers return to their work.
On April 27 he wrote home to his parents saying: “Have been under fire and are now ashore, all day spent burying soldiers. Some of my men were killed. We are all happy and fit. Plenty of hard work and enemy shells and a smell of dead men. Will tell you more when possible. Love Pog.’’
History records the suicidal nature of all of these landings and by May 10 Tisdall was dead leaving no diary, letters or record of his courageous part in the landings. This was all to emerge later!
Despite being under serious attack his whole unit landed on the beach near Achi Baba on May 7, from a converted collier, the SS River Clyde. However, seeing and hearing the suffering of so many men under fire and unable to get out of the sea, Tisdall yelled “I can’t stand it,’’ jumped into the water and then mounted a number of rescue missions described in the Victoria Cross Citation. Finally gaining the beach himself he rushed several hundred yards inland before encountering a Turkish held trench which he endeavored to capture but was shot through the chest at point blank range. He was buried the next night where he had fallen. News of his death reached his father, who by then had left Bedford to become Vicar of St George’s Church, Deal, around May 10 or 11..
Letters were sent to Churchill and the military leaders by many men in Tisdall’s platoon and other witnesses, describing his valour and bravery and as a result in late 1915, he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross with the Conspicious Gallantry Medal also being given to a three further men in his unit. “He was one of England’s bravest men,’’ wrote one man in his platoon.
The Victoria Cross citation reads “During the landing from the SS River Clyde at V Beach in the Gallipoli Peninsular, Sub Lieutenant Tisdall hearing wounded men on the beach calling for assistance,
jumped into the water and pushing a boat in front of him went to their rescue. He was however obliged to obtain help and took with him on two trips Leading Seaman Malia and on other trips Chief Petty Officer Perring and Leading Seamen Curtiss and Parkinson. In all Sub Lieutenant Tisdall made four or five trips between the ship and the shore and was then responsible for rescuing many wounded men under severe and accurate fire.’’
His Victoria Cross which was presented to his parents at Buckingham Palace by King George V is currently deposited with the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth, with a permanent memorial in the Churchyard in Deal and also on buildings named after him, at Bedford School.
His brother John Theodore Tisdall was also killed at the Battle of the Somme on August 8 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. His younger brother Edward Gordon Tisdall was severly wounded at the St Quentin Canal, France in 1918 and invalided out of the army.
The Bedford School must rightly be proud of this former pupil and his brothers, as now perhaps should also be the town that nurtured them !