Official History of the New Zealand Engineers During the Great War 1914-1919.
Chapter I. — Formation and Training
Formation and Training.
On August 6th, 1914, two days after the outbreak of the Great War, the following message from the Secretary of State for War in London was received by His Excellency the Governor-General of New Zealand:—"If your Ministers desire and feel themselves able to seize the German wireless station at Samoa, we should feel that this was a great and urgent Imperial service…" By August 15th, a force of some 1400 men, volunteers from territorial units in Auckland and Wellington, was already on its way to strike an early blow for the cause of the Homeland. With this force there sailed from Wellington two sections of an Engineer Field Company under Captain D. J. Gibbs, and, with the entry of those few sappers into the crowded lists, commences the story of the Field Companies of the New Zealand Engineers as set out in these pages.
Convoyed by three aged cruisers, strengthened later by warships of the Australian Squadron, the transports sailed by way of New Caledonia and Fiji, and on August 29th took possession of German Samoa without firing a shot.
From the moment of landing the sappers were actively employed on the many and varied jobs that fall to the lot of a Field Company. Defensive lines were put in hand about the town of Apia, while the wireless station was organised as a defensive post, and adequately protected by the erection of stone sangars and wire entanglements. On the score of organisation and supply, numerous works required attention. Adequate water supplies for the various units were arranged by pumping from springs and wells into water carts, a bridge was built across the Vaisingano River, and a road was cut through the forest to provide an alternative line of communication with the defences. The lighthouse and beacon destroyed by the enemy were rebuilt and maintained; a signal station was erected; barracks to accommodate 250 men each were built with stores and bakehouses in close proximity; and the wireless station, which the enemy had attempted to put out of action, was again placed in commission after much difficulty in the improvisation of missing parts. Sapper Maynard, who took a prominent part in this latter enterprise, was mentioned in orders, and received monetary recognition later from the Government. Other especially valuable men in the sappers' ranks were four trained ship's officers, who took charge of four page 2motor patrol launches, and were particularly useful in landing stores and so on through the surf. On one occasion a mounted patrol of Engineers was sent inland to quell a disturbance, but on arrival the expected trouble faded away.
Seven months after the landing, all New Zealand Engineers were relieved, and returned home preparatory to enlisting for further service on more distant fields.
On August 7th, the services of a New Zealand Expeditionary Force were offered to the Imperial Government, and immediately accepted. Men poured into the district concentration camps from all parts of the country and from every walk of life. The much debated territorial system of compulsory training at once showed its value, in that it supplied a basis of organisation and equipment for this emergency, and the majority of the men chosen for the. Main Body were from the Territorial ranks, with at least some degree of military knowledge and training. No Field Companies were sent with this first Force, but the men required for a Field Troop to complete the establishment of a full mounted brigade were chosen from volunteers from the Territorial Field Companies, which also supplied the engineering equipment required by the Troop.
Mobilised at Awapuni Racecourse near Palmerston North, under command of Captain L. M. Shera, of No. 3 Field Company (Territorial) Auckland, the Field Troop had little time for training. In any case the men all had knowledge of field works, and the period immediately preceding embarkation was generally utilised in acquiring knowledge of horse management, and in enduring the good humoured though sadly time-worn jokes and jibes of the Sergeant Instructors. A large number of these Instructors, both now and later on, were old Imperial soldiers, and a chance of having a share in the real thing once more was the wine of life to them. New Zealand owes a great deal to the Sergeant Instructors of the training camps, and no victim of their heavy shafts of wit really grudged them their brief strut in the centre of the stage.
Apart from the small trials of training and military discipline, the troops thoroughly enjoyed the camp life, To be in khaki in those early days ensured recognition as the hero of the hour and the centre of all attraction. The general public could not do enough to show its appreciation of its citizen soldiers, and gifts of every description immediately inundated the camps in a continual stream. Originally it had been intended that the Force should embark at the end of August, but the presence of German raiders in the Pacific delayed matters, and it was not till September 24th that the page 3Field Troop, along with other Wellington detachments, was finally inspected on Newtown Park, Wellington, and marched through the cheering crowds to the waiting transports, which immediately pulled out into the stream.
But next morning, acting on further information as to the German raiders, they all came quietly back to the wharves once more, there to await the arrival of a more powerful naval escort. It was the troops' first experience of the delays and disappointments inseparable from the complicated arrangements of a nation at war. In later years, on sandy deserts and in Continental troop trains, they were to become painfully familiar with the process of possessing their souls in patience, but on this first occasion they found it very hard. However, all things come to an end at last, even in the Army, and on the afternoon of Thursday, October 15th, all hands were again aboard, and at 6 a.m. next morning, with the "Minotaur" and "Ibuki" leading, the ten transports weighed anchor and passed out into the Straits. 9,000 chosen men sailed away from New Zealand that day, the first fruits of a young country laid willingly on the altar of duty and Empire, but long ere the grey line of ships had risen to the first swell of the open sea, they were but a confused blur to many a silent watcher on the crowded heights about the harbour. The troops themselves, most of whom knew no other land than their own, now watched her shores recede with mingled feelings. But youth and the spirit of adventure never marched long with sadness or repining, and the cares and details of immediate duties soon banished melancholy reflections.
The Field Troop, comprising 3 officers and 80 other ranks, were on the "Maunganui" along with their horses and transport and equipment. After six days at sea the coast of Tasmania loomed up ahead, and within a few hours the fleet was anchored at Hobart, where every possible kindness was received from the enthusiastic residents. Thence across the Great Australian Bight to Albany, with men and horses daily becoming more at home in their strange quarters, despite the long rolling swell peculiar to those distressing waters. At Albany the New Zealanders fell in with the troopships of the First Australian Division; an occasion memorable as the first meeting of the young untried forces so soon to be known by an imperishable name born of association in a desperate and glorious enterprise as yet hidden in the lap of the gods. As the united convoy put to, sea again, some 40 ships in all, it presented a spectacle never before seen in southern seas, and probably never to be seen again, if. only from the stand-page 4point of the submarine menace existing in these later degenerate days. The German Pacific Fleet was still employed on its nefarious expeditions, and every care was taken to avoid accident. At Albany the fleet of protecting warships had been joined by the "Sydney" and "Melbourne." On the morning of Sunday, November 8th, the "Minotaur" signalled to the "Maunganui":—"I am ordered on another service; wish you the very best of success when you land in France. Give the Germans a good shake up. It has been a great pleasure to escort such a well disciplined force and convoy.— Good-bye."
The Cocos Islands were to be passed that night, and special precautions were taken. Early next morning the "Sydney" was ordered away on unknown service, though sufficient had been picked up from the welter of wireless messages in the air to know that mischief was afoot not far away. Later in the day came the welcome news that the "Sydney" had engaged the "Emden" off Keeling Island in the Cocos Group, and had forced her ashore in a sinking condition. As evidence that the precautions against raiders had not been arbitrarily imposed, the news required no enlargement, and this early success of the Australian Navy was taken as a happy augury for the future achievements of the Colonial Forces.
Colombo was the next break in the monotony of the long voyage, which had already been somewhat relieved by the visit of Neptune, and by sports and concerts on board each ship. Ceylon was, to the great majority, their first experience of a tropical island, the calm blue coastal waters and graceful palm-clad hill slopes proving especially attractive after the long spell of unrelieved ocean. A brief spell of shore leave did nothing to dispel the favourable impressions of this beautiful land, and if the thousands of diseased beggars all over Colombo were a shock to the unsophisticated New Zealanders, that introduction to the seamy side of Eastern life was some preparation for the experiences awaiting them in Egypt. On November 17th, the New Zealand transports continued their journey, heading for Aden and the Bed Sea.
By this time the delights of existence on a crowded troopship had completely palled on the travellers, and the warm weather and slow rate of steam made all hands extremely impatient. At Aden, rumours of Turkish hostilities against the Suez Canal prepared the way for the announcement, which was made in the Red Sea, that the troops would disembark in Egypt, though all ranks were disappointed at not being allowed to go straight on to service in France.page 5
On November 30th, at 5 o'clock in the evening, the "Maunganui" entered the Suez Canal, and every eye on board was immediately trained eastward in vain expectation of seeing Turks, but no life was visible save the stately Indian sentries pacing their beats along the shore. On the African side the gorgeous tints of an Egyptian sunset, far more varied and beautiful than anything seen at sea during the long voyage, passed almost unnoticed. Nothing would have satisfied the eager fire-eaters that evening but the sight of an enemy; though as far as Turks were concerned, they were to see enough and to spare before many more months had passed. As the transports steamed slowly up the Canal, the troops were greatly interested in the various Indian units all along the banks, and in the numerous fortified posts they were to know so well for themselves later on. Anchor was dropped off Port Said. No shore leave was allowed, but crowds of Gyppos—as the natives were universally known then and for ever after, no matter what their particular gradations of breed—came down upon the ships like a flock of vultures, their lateen-sailed craft laden with atrocious cigarettes, fairly good fruit and a sticky conglomeration bearing a faint resemblance to turkish delight. Some of the bolder pirates managed to board the "Maunganui," and eventually penetrated to the deck where the Field Troop men were cleaning their harness. Here the leader of the band was invited to try some of the dubbin. He required some coaxing, though the dubbin certainly looked quite as attractive as did his turkish delight, but finally he ventured on a mouthful, and in a trice the whole gang were jabbering and falling over one another in their efforts to secure a share of the new delicacy.
No long stay was made at Port Said, and early on the 3rd of December the minarets of Alexandria were clearly discernible through the cold mists of the dawn. By breakfast time several transports were alongside the crowded wharves, and shortly afterwards advanced guards were on their way to the railway station, en route for Zeitoun, where camp was to be established on the desert outside Heliopolis, a wealthy suburb of Cairo. Despite the excellence of the Egyptian railways, some days elapsed before all the Colonial Forces were finally transported to Zeitoun. Those men who remained longest on the transports fared the best, since the camp, when first occupied, consisted of a bare desert unadorned by tent or blanket, and the winter nights proved bitterly cold to troops who had just come through the tropics. Before long, however, the newcomers were all comfortably settled, and training began in earnest. Morning after morning the bat-page 6talions paraded in full marching order, and trudged for hours across the hot and weary sands, till every man was either fit and hard enough to go for his life, or else had been weeded out as unable to stand the strain.
The horses of the Field Troop, as of all other mounted units, required special attention for some time after landing, though on the whole they had stood their trials very well. Careful exercise and plenty of green food were the specifics employed to bring them up to normal form again, fit to take their share of the general training. A type of lucerne known as berseem was to be had in unlimited quantities from that most fertile of all agricultural regions—the Nile Delta, where three crops are gathered in a year—and long lines of camels or small donkeys wended their way daily to the stores, piled so high with enormous loads of the succulent feed, that, in the case of the donkeys at least, nothing could be seen but a pair of long ears and a pair of shining black eyes. The bandits in charge of these pack animals lost no chance of increasing the weight of their loads by a judicious use of stones or sticks, but even under the Southern Cross such little pleasantries are not unknown, and no one bore them any ill-will for their up-to-date trading methods.
For training in Engineering work, no ground could have been more suitable than the desert, which stretched away for illimitable miles, a waste of yellow sand. Circumstances were almost too ideal, since nowhere again were bridges erected with the ease and speed possible on the regular waterways of the Nile irrigation canals, nor were trenches dug under conditions comparable with the easy handling of this loose, convenient sand. Desert trenches we were certainly to know later, but the sand-storms which then filled them in and caused great labour and inconvenience, were matters of small moment during these early weeks, when demonstration of principles of, construction was more important than the use of the finished article.
Some slight diversion from the attractions of the des6rt was furnished when a demonstration of armed force was made by the British military authorities to impress the native mind with the futility of any attempt at serious disturbances. This took place on December 23rd, three days after the coronation of His Highness Prince Hussein Kamel Pasha, who was proclaimed Sultan of Egypt under the protection of His Majesty the King, owing to the ill-advised action of the former Khedive in casting in his lot with Turkey and the Central Powers. Leaving camp in the early morning, the New Zea-page 7landers marched into the centre of Cairo, to the Opera Square, and out again through wide avenues and crowded bazaars, where the populace gave no sign of any ill-feeling, and appeared entirely unconcerned. The parade furnished some opportunity of gauging the appearance and organisation of the New Zealand troops, who unquestionably made a fine show. Horse, foot, and artillery, everything was there down to the collapsible boats of the Field Troop, and every man enjoyed the day's outing, whatever the effect on the poor Egyptians.
Meanwhile, in England, a small force was being organised and trained whose ultimate destinies were to be so closely connected with the New Zealand Engineers that its origin and composition must be investigated. On the outbreak of war, many New Zealanders either residing or visiting at Home, were in the first rush to join the forces. In spite of many enlistments in British regiments, there was a natural preference shown for such units as King Edward's Horse, and a Colonial battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, which already had definite colonial associations to commend them to the out-landers.
To Captain Lampen of the New Zealand Staff, who happened to be in London on furlough, fell the distinction of originating a scheme to raise a British Section of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, an idea which at once received the approval of the New Zealand Government, and was supported in London by the authority and influence of its High Commissioner, the Hon. Sir Thomas Mackenzie. Men who responded to the advertisements placed in the London papers were sworn in at the High Commissioner's Office on September 28th, and went into training on the following day on Wandsworth Common, London, S.W. Captain Lampen was assisted in his task of breaking in the raw material by Captains Simpson, May and Wright, and by Messrs. Lucina, Skelsey, and Stocker, acting officers. Many New Zealanders who had already enlisted in other regiments now obtained transfers to this British Section, which ere long numbered 150 rank and file, all as good as the best so far as physical fitness and a keen desire to have a crack at the enemy might avail them.
Early in October, the Section moved into camp at Bulford on Salisbury Plain, which had been the original destination of the New Zealand Main Body and was yet to become familiar with them or their successors as time rolled on. A week later a further move was made into huts at Sling. Many ex-New Zealanders were still arriving in England from page 8various parts of the world, all anxious to bear their share of the national burden, and on hearing of the Section, these men were naturally drawn to their own people, with the result that by mid-November more than 200 names appeared upon the roll. Vigorous training went on daily with a view to joining up with the Main Body known to be then on the water. In further anticipation of its arrival, stores and gear were prepared ready for use, and if the force had reached England at that time, it would have entered a well-equipped camp.
The usual concerts and entertainments broke the monotony of drill and long winter evenings. On two occasions the members of the New Zealand War Contingent Association, formed under the Presidency of Lord Plunket, a former Governor of the Dominion, visited Sling and did much to increase the comfort of the men in camp. Platoon competitions with members of Canadian battalions now camped alongside the New Zealanders also added interest and zest to the day's proceedings.
Within a few days of the landing of the Main Body in Egypt, the British Section had received its marching orders, enjoyed a short period of final leave, and re-assembled for embarkation, 240 men of all ranks. On December 12th they marched out of camp to Bulford Station, escorted by a band and two battalions of Canadians, who did their best to make up for the absence of friends and relatives at the farewell ceremonies. At Southampton the men embarked on the transport "Dunera" along with Hants Territorials and a battalion of Wilts Artillery. In company with four other transports, escorted by H.M.S. "Talbot," the "Dunera" reached Alexandria without incident, and on Christmas Eve the members of the British Section found themselves in Zeitoun Camp, among the slouched hats, with the different coloured puggarees and well-known Territorial badges, of their fellow countrymen.
But not for long was the British Section to be known as such, or even to remain as an undivided unit. On parade next morning the men were informed by General Godley, commanding the New Zealand forces, that they would be disbanded forthwith, and used as the nucleus of an Engineer Field Company and for the Army Service Corps. Two days later the Section fell in for the last time, but already in two groups, one consisting of volunteers for the Engineers, the other for the Army Service Corps. Thus was the 1st Field Company launched on its honourable career. Full establishment was brought up by volunteer artisans and tradesmen from the page 9ranks of the 2nd Reinforcements, who reached Egypt about the end of January; Command of the new Company was given to Captain S. A. Ferguson, R.E., of the Army of Occupation in Egypt.
In the intervals of military fatigues and duties, there was no lack of opportunity to visit the cities of Cairo or Heliopolis, or to make closer acquaintance with the historic monuments and agricultural curiosities of the surrounding country. The whole atmosphere of Egypt, from the ultra-modern life of the gayer quarters of Cairo to the ancient records of bygone kings and dynasties, and the realisation that the countryside and the great River and even the peasantry themselves were much as they had been thousands of years ago, were peculiarly romantic to these sons of a country not yet passed its centenary; and exercised a charm whose memories can never wholly fade, despite the less favourable associations soon to make their appearance. Heliopolis was but a short walk from the camp and was a pleasure ground in itself, peaceful and restrained by day, but bursting into vivid life as soon as darkness settled down. Dozens of cafes were flung open, pictures were screened in the open air to attract the crowds, acrobats and conjurors aired their accomplishments on the street corners, and representatives of a hundred nationalities thronged the brilliantly lighted sidewalks. In Cairo, which could be reached by electric trams and trains leaving every few minutes, the same scenes were enacted on a more expansive scale. On Saturdays and Sundays more extended expeditions were undertaken—to the Zoo, to the ancient mosques, to the Egyptian Museum (where the captains and the kings of battles long ago were sleeping in their polished cases), or to the Pyramids of Ghizeh, there to marvel afresh at the achievements of an engineering knowledge long since lost in the mists of antiquity. A recreational institute was opened by the Y.M.C.A. in the Esbekieh Gardens in the heart of Cairo, where all kinds of concerts and other amusements were available daily. But most of the men's spare time was naturally spent in the streets watching the extraordinarily variegated life of the great Eastern city, or in the places of amusement which combined refreshment and entertainment under one roof. The desire to see life in as many new forms as possible, and a certain lack of restraint due to the restrictions and uncertainties of a soldier's existence, combined to tempt some men into undue familiarity with dancing halls and saloons not all above suspicion, but the keener wish to keep fit for the stern work ahead was a sufficient deterrent in the case of the great majority.page 10
It had already been decided to use the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as the basis of a Division, the additional units of which would be the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade and the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, now on the water en route to Egypt. Of the Divisional troops required (under direct control of Divisional Headquarters, as distinct from those under Brigade or other control), one Field Company was already in existence, A cable was now sent to New Zealand asking for another, and Lieutenant-Colonel G. R. Pridham, R.E., of the Army of Occupation, was appointed to the position of C.R.E. to the new composite New Zealand and Australian Division. In the meantime, the 1st Field Company was expected to function in whatever areas might be allotted to the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, while the Field Troop filled the same position with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade.
The matter of extra Engineer equipment for the 1st Field Company immediately became one of pressing moment. Ultimately waggons, tool carts, and pontoons were built at the Egyptian State Railway Workshops, while the harness was made at the Model Workshops in Cairo—tools, bicycles, and other gear had to be purchased in the local shops, since the Ordnance Stores at that stage contained nothing but the most ordinary articles of usual military equipment.
In the midst of training and preparation, Headquarters were hurriedly notified on January 25th, 1915, that the Infantry Brigade was urgently required on the Canal to assist in repelling a Turkish attack believed to be imminent. Amidst great excitement, next day was given up to entrainment, and the last of the infantrymen cleared Helmieh Siding before night. The 1st Field Company, owing to the incomplete state of its equipment and organisation, was not allowed to accompany the infantry battalions, and as the mounted men, to whom the Field Troop was attached, were not included in the New Zealand troops engaged either, the New Zealand Engineers were not represented in this first clash of arms. The Turks finally made a very half-hearted attempt to cross the Canal on the night of 2nd-3rd February, being easily repulsed and suffering some 3000 casualties. Among our trophies of war were several pontoons made in Germany.
Following this little skirmish with the enemy the New Zealanders resumed their training, which now began to take the form of Divisional manoeuvres. The desert was a wonderful stamping ground for the young battalions; hundreds of square miles were available without interference with valuable land or crops of any description, and the numerous deep hol-page 11lows and steep little sandhills, varied by rough precipitous wadis, and dotted here and there with palms and mud huts, made up an unexpected diversity of landscape which afforded ample scope for variety of scheme. One "attack" in particular is still held in affectionate remembrance by the gallant sappers engaged. Of this battle, the share allotted to the Engineers was to prepare a defensive position through which the attacking infantry had to break before they could engage the mass of the defending enemy behind. Nothing loath, the 1st Field Company and Field Troop loaded their pontoon waggons with wire and stakes, and sundry other weapons of their gruesome calling, and repaired to the scene of the projected operations. Here they erected a. really fine entanglement Plain wire only was the instruction, but a few strands of the barbed article were weaved in with loving care, for the sake of the more complete education of their infantry comrades. A complex system of trip wires, attached, to old tins, and so arranged as to light flares and fire a few small and harmless mines on removal, were further expedients suggested by military science, and a desire to make a success of their minor part in the grand enterprise. With rifles loaded with blank ammunition, the sappers then took shelter behind their barrier, and awaited the onslaught with philosophic calm. Soon after dark a rattle among the tins proclaimed the usefulness of those munitions of war. Then a flare went up, and rapid fire opened all along the line. The oncoming patrols retired for private consultation, and apparently reached the decision to carry the position by frontal attack, for the whole force came on in serried ranks full of valour and determination. Up went the flares, bang went the mines, to the temporary discomfiture of the attackers, who had not anticipated those unfamiliar "extras."
However, by this time the attack was being unduly held up, and peremptory orders from the rear forced another onslaught. On came the faithful warriors again, and tried to haul away the entanglement by main force. In vain the Engineers shot them dead and told them so to avoid any misapprehension; the dead men still hauled on the wire, the flares and mines and rifle shots still filled the air, and the leaders of the thwarted assailants grew more and more annoyed. Eventually force of numbers prevailed, and the position fell. The sappers had thoroughly enjoyed their evening's work, and their opponents no less in reality, though the unexpected opposition met with was reputed to have lost them the honours of the sham fight.
As March drew on, the weather became so warm that page 12parades were held only in the early mornings and evenings, and the Division, now thoroughly on its feet, began to pine for some chance of active service. There still seemed a prospect of going on to France, and all news from that quarter was eagerly sought for and discussed unceasingly. Then came rumours of a Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and though no definite information was available to the troops now straining at the leash in Zeitoun, it soon became apparent that the two Colonial Divisions—the 1st Australian, and the New Zealand and Australian Divisions would soon be called upon to engage in whatever enterprise was afoot.
Towards the end of the month, the Division was inspected by the High Commissioner for Egypt, Sir H. McMahon, and a week later a final review was held in the desert before Sir Ian Hamilton. There was a general feeling in the air that this was in the nature of a final test as to the fitness of the troops to be sent on service, and every man did his utmost to prove that he had attained the requisite high standard. Sir Ian Hamilton was fully satisfied with his inspection, and has many times recorded in generous terms how little he ever had cause to regret his decision.
The training of the Engineers had necessarily been somewhat scanty, though considerable experience had been gained in the more general branches of field work, and all ranks had spared neither time nor effort to acquire knowledge of the main outlines of the full training laid down for sappers of the Royal Engineers. The rest was left perforce to luck, and to reliance on the essential grit and intelligence of the rank and file, who justified that faith full many a time in the days to come.
The closing days of our occupation of Egyptian camps were marked by a certain absence of that order and decorum for which all Colonial troops are justly celebrated. General physical fitness and suppressed excitement were the causes of any harmless fallings from grace; in the case of the more serious outburst resulting in the burning of one or two of the less desirable residences in a disreputable quarter, the troops concerned were under the impression that some of their fellows had been robbed or worse, and were in no mood for cold enquiry. In any case, had the whole street been destroyed, it would have been no miscarriage of justice. The authorities never wearied of impressing upon the men the evil results of undue freedom with the cosmopolitan crowd of harpies who thronged the city, but no serious effort was ever made to regulate or abate the nuisance. Everyone knew that in many parts page 13of Cairo there was nothing to be expected save dishonest dealing, bad liquor and disease, and as a simple matter of military expediency and conservation of man-power, those areas should have been controlled or abolished.
On 10th April, Headquarters of the Divisional Engineers, and the 1st Field Company entrained at Cairo for Alexandria, where the transports were already waiting in the harbour. The Field Troop, to its intense disgust, was left in the desert along with the mounted men. On arrival at Alexandria, the Engineers detrained at the coal wharf, where the transport "Goslar" immediately came alongside. This vessel was a German prize, and had never been much more than a dirty ocean tramp; now after some eight months in Alexandria Harbour she was even less than that. However, the journey was only to occupy three or four days, and a certain lack of cleanliness and comfort was not considered of great account. Eventually a short experience on board proved that alterations to the hull of the vessel were essential to the health of the troops, and three days were spent on arranging that matter. On the first day at Alexandria, the Engineers' stores and waggons were got aboard, but the men bivouacked in the coal yard for the night. Next day horses and men were embarked, and the night was spent out in the stream, close enough to the United States cruiser "Tennessee" for the "Goslar's" troops to enjoy the cinema show with which Yankee sailors afloat are instructed and amused. Finally at sunset on the 17th the old tub moved out of Alexandria Harbour, and followed in the wake of the numerous vessels that had already cleared the ancient port during the previous fortnight. Fire and boat drill, practice parades by echelons—each echelon representing a group of units which were all to land at the same time—and the rapid slinging of horses and waggons, were carried on assiduously; sufficient in themselves to show that the contemplated operations involved disembarkation in the face of the enemy. No perfection of boat drill could have greatly availed in the case of any disaster, since there were only sufficient boats to carry about 30 per cent of the men afloat; similarly there was some scarcity of life-belts. However, the beautiful islands of the Aegean Sea were left one by one astern, and no Turkish torpedo disturbed the argonauts. The ancient monastery, clearly seen on the heights of Patmos, was an item of special interest to those conversant with Biblical history.
As regards personal comfort, the appointments of the "Goslar" were somewhat scanty. Every movement of the page 14transport animals resounded through her iron decks, which in themselves furnished a poor bed after the sands of Egypt; the food was mostly bully beef and biscuit; while countless swarms of little brown insects, fortunately of vegetarian persuasion, explored the forms of the crowded sleepers.
On the morning of 20th April the "Goslar" steamed through the narrow entrance to Mudros Bay, Lemnos Island, and dropped anchor among the great fleet of vessels already assembled in that safe shelter, ranging from the "Queen Elizabeth" down to humble trawlers from the North Sea. Here for three days echelon parades and disembarkation in full marching order were practised until the troops would almost have preferred a real landing to any more of the climbing with heavy packs, clinging to slender ropes, and hopping on to the deck of a small tumbling boat at the psychological moment to avoid a watery grave, which made up the daily round. However, the proficiency acquired made for safety and despatch in the very near future.
Sir Ian Hamilton's famous Order, beginning:—
Soldiers of France and the King—Before us lies an adventure unprecedented in modern war, Together with our comrades of the Fleet we are about to force a landing upon an open beach in face of positions vaunted by our enemy as impregnable.…
was still the only official intimation to the troops of the nature of their coming trial, but it was now well understood by all that a landing was to be effected on Gallipoli Peninsula.