Thomas Eyles, originally from Blenheim, was working as a motor mechanic for E.H.Best at the outbreak of WWI. Thomas had prior service with the Blenheim Rifle Volunteers and enlisted age 23 with the 12th (Nelson) Company, Canterbury Infantry Battalion on 14 August 1914. Thomas embarked from Lyttleton on 16 October 1914 aboard the Athenic, bound for Suez, Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 4 December 1914.
The battalion then entrained to Zeitoun Camp and began the arduous training regime of route marches, musketry drill and bayonet practice. The weather was hot and the food passable and in January, the battalion was sent to guard the Suez Canal against potential attacks from Turkish troops. The men of the Canterbury Battalion were based at Ismailia and in February, during a major Turkish Assault whereby Thomas and his fellow soldiers of the 12th (Nelson) Company came under fire near Serapeum, Private William “Bill” Ham, a 22 year old Irish-born farm labourer from Motueka died from his wounds in hospital, and in doing so, became the first soldier of the NZEF to die as a result of enemy fire.
In April, the men disembarked for the Gallipoli peninsula and around midday on 25 April 1915, the men of the Canterbury Battalion landed at what would become ANZAC Cove. It was chaos; the men of the Canterbury and Auckland Battalions headed up the scrubby cliffs and then dug in. Over the next few days, the men, mixed in with Australian troops, repelled Turkish attacks as best they could. Machine gun, rifle fire and shrapnel were a constant presence over the next few days.
Within a week, the battle was a stalemate, so in early May, General Sir Ian Hamilton (Dardenelles Commander-in-Chief) switched his focus back to the Helles sector and after a failed attack at the village of Krithia, decided to have another crack at the village and the hill known as Achi Baba. This would be known as the Second Battle of Krithia or ‘The Daisy Patch’ due to the long-stemmed daisies that covered the open ground.
On 5 May, the men, including Thomas Eyles, were shipped down to Cape Helles to prepare for the attack. On Saturday the 8th of May, the New Zealanders and the Australians attacked Krithia. It was a disaster. At 10.30am, the whole line moved forward, only to be hit by lethal machine gun fire. Men dropped along the length of the line as bullets ripped into them. Those that weren’t hit tried to dig for cover in the hard ground, while others just lay there. Those that tried to return to the start-point were inevitably hit in the back.
After three days of fighting, the Allies lost 6,500 men and advanced a paltry 500 metres. For the New Zealanders, there were 850 casualties on the 8th; 170 killed and more would die later of their wounds. Private Thomas Eyles was one of those killed on the 8th. His body was never recovered and he was initially listed as “Missing” but following a Court of Enquiry held at the NZ Infantry Brigade HQ, Moascar Camp, Ismailia on 16 January 1916, Thomas Eyles was declared “Now Believed Killed”.
Today, he is commemorated on the Twelve Tree Copse (NZ) Memorial, Gallipoli, Turkey. The National Army Museum holds his KGV Memorial Plaque on display in our Medal Repository.