Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919
Next day, for the purpose of renewing the attack—the footing gained on Chunuk Bair being used as a pivot—the troops were rearranged in three columns—
No. 1 was commanded by Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston, its composition being: 26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), the Wellington and Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiments, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, and two battalions of the 13th Division (7th Gloucesters and 8th Welsh Pioneers).
No. 2 Column was commanded by Major-General H. V. Cox, and it comprised: The 21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, 39th Brigade (less the 7th Gloucesters), and the 6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment.
No. 3 Column, commanded by Brigadier-General A. H. Baldwin, comprised: The 6th East Lancashires and the 6th Loyal North Lancashires, 10th Hampshires, 6th Royal Irish Rifles, and the 5th Wiltshires.
No. 1 Column was to hold and consolidate the ground gained on the 6th on the south-western slopes of Chunuk Bair, and, in co-operation with the other columns, to gain the whole of the Chunuk Bair position and extend as far as possible to the south and east.
No. 2 Column was to attack Hill "Q," which was on the Chunuk Hair Ridge to the left of the captured position, and No. 3 Column was to move from the Chailak Dere, also on Hill "Q." This last column was to make the main attack and the others were to co-operate with it.
On the morning of 8th August the W.M.R. (less one squadron, which was still in position on Table Top) received orders to be ready to move at 3 p.m. to report to Brigadier-General Johnston, of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, at the head of Chailak Dere. Before the Regiment left Table Top, heavy enemy rifle and machine-gun fire continued, one other rank being killed and 2nd Lieutenant Cotton and seven other ranks wounded.
At 3 p.m. the W.M.R. (less the 9th Squadron), after having been supplied with its percentage of bombs and sandbags, moved page 52to the head of Chailak Dere, where the C.O. reported to Brigadier-General Johnston with 173 of all ranks, and orders were received that Chunuk Bair was to be held to the last man.
Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum's command was attached to the Otago Infantry Battalion, under Lieut.-Colonel Moore, the W.M.R. to be in support, but on reaching Chunuk Bair its position was changed, for after some difficulty in locating the trenches in the dark without a competent guide the Regiment occupied the central position of the Chunuk Bair trenches—the "cockpit" of the whole position—at 10.30 p.m. These trenches were fifteen yards from the crest, held by the enemy, the latter's trench being ten yards further back. Close by rations and water were issued, the surplus water being stored in kerosene tins.
At this time the remnants of the gallant A.M.R., which had been engaged and almost annihilated during the day—its strength being 22, all told, in the line—were on the left of the Otago trench, and before daylight Lieutenant Herrold, then in charge, withdrew them into the Otago line, owing to their exposed position. This Regiment remained in the Otago line till five o'clock next morning, when it was withdrawn to No. 3 outpost.
The plight of the unrescued wounded adjacent to Chunuk Bair when the W.M.R. entered the position beggars description. Although the stretcher-bearers had performed magnificent work continuously from the time that Chunuk Bair was captured by the Wellington Infantry they were unable to cope with the enormous number of casualties, more especially when the wounded lay in exposed positions. The track to the dressing station was continually raked with machine-gun and rifle fire at short range, and many wounded were killed in attempting, or when being assisted, to cross this deadly zone. The evidence to support this was close at hand, for groups of dead bodies lay scattered along the trail.
The trenches occupied by the W.M.R. were found to be shallow and narrow, but the C.O. made the utmost use of the limited time at his disposal during the night by keeping his command busy digging them deeper and adding new ones till dawn.
In the meantime, under General Johnston's orders, six machine guns were sent up the hill by Captain Wallingford, but as there were no teams sent to work them the guns were never used.
At 11 p.m. Lieut.-Colonel Moore was reported wounded, and he having retired, Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum assumed command of the post, in which there were about 400 Otago Infantry and 173 W.M.R., including fourteen machine-gunners.page break page 53
Whilst the work of improving the defences in the post was being expedited, demonstrations were made by the enemy, and at 1 a.m. on the 9th the telephone wire to Headquarters was found to have been cut, but no serious attack occurred till 4 a.m. By this time the light had improved and a better view of the position could be obtained.
The trenches occupied by our men had been originally sited with others by that skilful soldier, the late Lieut.-Colonel Malone, of the Wellington Infantry Battalion, and much controversy arose afterwards as to the merits or otherwise of his selection. The fact that the lines were marked during the heat of a sanguinary battle should not be lost sight of, and due credit must be given to Colonel Malone for having made the best selection possible under the circumstances.
The trenches lay in a depression and ran parallel with the crest of Chunuk Bair, the reverse slope of which was held by the enemy in entrenched positions. Reports were subsequently made that our trenches had been badly sited, but that was not so. The position was not an ideal one to defend, for the enemy could bomb it at will from behind the cover of the crest line, the height of the latter not only increasing the range of the bombers, but the fall in the ground assisting the bombs to roll into or close to our trenches. The range of bomb-throwers was further increased by an ingenious method of placing bombs in socks, the latter being used as slings, both sock and bomb being hurled against and into the trenches, the time-fuse having been first adjusted to burst about the time of landing. These attacks were difficult to combat. They inflicted heavy losses, to evade which the men in many cases were ordered to leave the trenches and take cover amongst the earthwork behind. Any further advantage was denied the enemy by the rifle fire of our men, which commanded the crest of the ridge facing them, from which any forward movement could be immediately detected against the skyline. Vigilant marksmen were thus enabled readily to pick off any venturesome Turks who risked their heads above it. Strict orders were passed along the line that no advance over the crest was to be made, the reason for this being that the Truks had numerous machine guns in position to sweep the crest immediately targets appeared.
The crest of the ridge was a death-trap for either side to appear on, and for that reason the Turkish machine-gunners could never take positions there, which fact was of inestimable value to our defence.page 54
The adoption of these tactics proved most effective against successive attacks during the day, all of these being shattered by the volume of fire which could be brought to bear on the enemy. The fact that the lie of the trenches enabled the determined defenders practically to pin the enemy down behind the ridge which he held—although only a few yards separated them—is surely sufficient justification for the selection of the position by Colonel Malone. This is substantiated by the opinion of Colonel Meldrum—who held the post for twenty-four hours—that "the trenches at Chunuk Bair could not have been better sited for the purposes of defence."
The contour of the ground favoured transverse fire, the best targets being obtained by the men on the flanks—the left defending the right and the right defending the left. From these positions the flanks of the enemy line were exposed to enfilade fire, and intended attacks from either flank were promptly broken by the fire, which was then brought to bear on them in enfilade.
As previously mentioned, the Turks commenced to attack the position with great vigour at 4 a.m. At this hour General Baldwin's column should have been attacking on the left flank, but unfortunately it had lost its way in the broken country during the night. The non-appearance of this column at this stage greatly handicapped the two columns with which it should have co-operated. Its loss not only denied to us the advantage of taking the initiative early in the morning, but it released, to operate against us, the enemy troops which would otherwise have been engaged by this column. Some time later, however, two companies of the Hampshire Regiment—the leading battalion of General Baldwin's column reached a position immediately below a commanding knoll on Chunuk Bair, but they were driven back to the "Farm," a position some distance to the left rear.
The first attack launched by the enemy was of great intensity, bombs being extensively used and heavy losses resulting. Although every effort had been made by our men to improve the defences of the position, the trenches were still narrow, and as casualties increased the movements of the defenders became more difficult. The track down the hill to the dressing station was enfiladed with rifle and machine-gun fire at short range, and the wounded consequently were compelled to lie in the already overtaxed area of the trenches, the latter being heavily bombarded by artillery from the left and right flanks. About this time the 6th Lancashire Regiment and a detachment of the 6th Gurkhas of No. 2 Column reached a point near the top of page 55 Sari Bair Ridge. A vigorous shelling by our howitzers and the guns of the Navy had commenced, but the proximity of the enemy's line to the New Zealand trenches considerably discounted their efforts to assist the tenacious defenders; in fact, it was a most hazardous undertaking, and the South Lancashires and Gurkhas who were compelled to withdraw to the trenches which they had occupied the previous night attributed their retirement to the effect of the Naval bombardment. The withdrawal of these troops of No. 2 Column, and the retirement of the troops on the left of General Baldwin's No. 3 Column, enabled the Turkish Commander to concentrate the full weight of the forces under him at Chunuk Bair on Colonel Meldrum's little command. The enemy fusillade on the trenches was in itself of terrific intensity, and in spite of the fact that high explosive shells, which appeared to come from the Navy and our howitzers fell on our left and left centre trenches the position was held throughout the day under the blazing sun. Tortured by thirst, in desperate pain from open wounds, the gallant little force refused to be beaten. It was during this momentous phase in the operations that the magnificent morale and inspired example of the officers of the Regiment asserted themselves with splendid results. While the position was exposed to the full force of the attack, and one part of the line appeared to be weakening, Colonel Meldrum, Major Elmslie, and Captain Kelsall sprang from their shallow trenches and hastened to restore the line. Major Elmslie and Captain Kelsall both fell during this critical period. But their example was not lost.
The tenacity and determination of this gallant little force was stiffened to hold the position at all costs, and by 5 a.m. the main attack was broken. Nearly fifty per cent. of the brave defenders had fallen. From that hour till 7 a.m. attacks were threatened and snipers and bombers advanced from time to time but a vigilant rifle fire drove them back.
At 7 am., heavy casualties having been sustained by the New Zealanders reinforcements and ammunition were requisitioned by Colonel Meldrum, and an hour later, as the Turks were observed concentrating in front of the position and shrapnel fire was increasing the casualties, the message to Brigade Head-quarters was repeated The response was forty men of the 6th Loyal Lancashire Regiment, who, however, were unable to reach the trenches till noon. No ammunition arrived, and the round emptied bandoliers of the dead and wounded were passed round.page 56
All kept on the alert, and a prompt and accurate fire met any party of Turks who attempted to move. Our shrapnel was of great assistance at this time, bursting in front of our position and on our right.
By 2 p.m. the accurate fire and determined resistance of the defenders had taken effect, for the Turks appeared to be dominated, confining themselves to sniping and shrapnel fire. Colonel Meldrum accordingly reported to General Johnston that, though casualties had been heavy, he could hold the position without further assistance until relieved (i.e., during the night). Such proved the case, for, apart from demonstrations, nothing of importance occurred, the post being relieved at 10.30 p.m. (after having sustained 63 per cent. of casualties) by the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Battalions and 5th Wiltshire Battalion (900 strong). All the wounded that could be found were collected and sent to the dressing station. The body of Major Elmslie was also brought out for burial.
At this time the general line held by us in this locality ran up Rhododendron Ridge to the forward trenches on Chunuk Bair, thence in a north-westerly direction through "The Farm" and from there northwards to the Asma Dere.
After the heat of the day, and a most strenuous twenty-four hours of digging and fighting, the remnants of the Regiment returned to General Johnston's headquarters, where a good meal had been got ready by the quarter-master and his staff. The majority of them then fell asleep close to where the supplies were issued, exhausted by the strain of the fighting they had gone through.
In his report to Headquarters of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade sub-sequent to the operations, Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum stated:—
I cannot speak too highly of the very spirited and determined conduct of all ranks of the W.M.R. during the twenty-four hours. I have specially recommended in my report as O.C. Chunuk Bair Post, to the O.C. New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the following officers and non-commissioned officers of the W.M.R., viz.:—
For special distinction: Major J. Elmslie, killed.
For special mention: Captain N. F. Hastings (wounded) Lieutenant Jansen, Lieutenant Logan, also Sergeant Ricketts and Corporal Corrie.
I regret that the casualties were very heavy in my Regiment, 110 officers, N.C.O.'s, and men being killed or wounded (out of 173 engaged).
A casualty list issued later was as follows:—
Officers killed: Major Elmslie, Captain Kelsall.
Officers wounded: Captain Hastings, Captain James, and Lieutenant Harris. (These officers died later).
Other ranks: Killed, 38; wounded, 74.
The fact that the small force on Chunuk Bair was the only one which held its ground on 9th August against the enormous weight of the Turkish attacks, unsupported by the two columns (some 10,000 troops), which had been intended to co-operate, speaks volumes for the tenacity and determination of the defenders. Words cannot adequately express the splendid morale maintained by all ranks of the Regiment throughout the fight, but more especially during the early hours of the morning, when the Turks launched their most determined attack. The trenches were narrow and movement in them was restricted, this difficulty becoming more intense as the casualties increased, but the dispositions of the defenders continued uninterruptedly cheery and confident throughout. Friendly rivalry arose among the men as to who were getting the best "bags" of Turks, and good-natured banter floated around the trenches amongst the various claimants to Turks who were seen to fall from time to time. The New Zealanders were unconquerable. No thought of being beaten entered their minds, and it is gratifying to record the fact that this striking characteristic was retained by the Regiment till the end of the campaign, as a review of this History will disclose.
As an instance of the spirit which actuated the men, Colonel Meldrum records that during the heaviest portion of the attack a trooper who had been struck in the forehead by a bullet, which had severed an artery above his right eye, from which the blood was spurting out in front of him, drew back from the trench in a dazed condition. A moment later, recovering himself, he picked up his rifle and bayonet and returned to the trench. As he passed, the Colonel said to him: "Are you able to carry on?" He replied: "Yes, sir, I am going to stick to my mates." The Colonel said: Good man! You're the right mettle," and he tied a handkerchief round his head. This gallant lad fell at his post a few minutes later.
The achievement of the New Zealanders in holding Chunuk Bair was very highly commended by the Headquarters Staff, Major Temperley (G.S.O.I.) stating that the defence maintained during the day was the admiration of not only the land forces on Gallipoli, but of the fleet. And a few days later General Godley visited the Regiment and left a note for Colonel Meldrum, page 58in which he said he had specially called on him "to congratulate you and the Regiment on the splendid work you did on Chunuk Bair."
A brief reference has already been made to the great services rendered by Major Elmslie and Captain Hastings (the latter died of wounds). It should be added that both these officers had previously served with distinction in the South African War.
Captain Kelsall, the Adjutant, was an officer of the permanent staff of the New Zealand Forces. He was also a South African veteran whose mature experience and knowledge in matters of regimental routine provided a ready and reliable source of information from which the best results were invariably attained. His duties throughout were performed with marked ability, and his loss was keenly felt.
Captain James and Lieutenant Harris, both of whom died of wounds, were most courageous and painstaking officers, and had performed splendid work in action.
Throughout these operations Major H. J. McLean and his assistant, Corporal J. Willis, were constantly engaged in attending the wounded—not only of the Regiment, but of other units.
The arduous and dangerous work of the stretcher-bearers during the evacuation of the wounded deserves special mention. The heavy casualties sustained demanded constant attention to relieve the congestion of wounded, and in assisting to accomplish this Troopers Derryman (killed) and Higgie performed their duties cheerfully and thoroughly, quite oblivious to the death-dealing missiles which swept the ground where the wounded lay.
The machine-gun crew of the Regiment fought magnificently, but it suffered heavy losses, only three returning. Of these, the services performed by Trooper W. Cobb are beyond all praise. He was an expert machine-gunner, and when a volunteer was called for to adjust a gun which had been put out of action, Cobb immediately responded and crossed from the left to the right flank, some of the intervening ground not having been trenched.
Corporal Spratt also performed very good work during the whole day—in the midst of the fighting—in rendering first aid to the wounded.
The gallantry of Sergeant Judd in rescuing a wounded man of the Wellington Infantry from "No Man's Land" is also worthy of mention.
The single track which ran from Chunuk Bair to the Beach was crowded with wounded from various units, whose stretcher- page 59 bearers had been unable to cope with the abnormal number of casualties. The more fortunate of these were able to hobble along, some crawled, and some, with assistance, could walk. The majority, however, lay helpless along the route in the burning sun, tormented by bursting shells, which occasionally inflicted farther wounds. Ammunition mules, working parties, and reinforcements hurried to and fro along the congested track, jostling among the prostrate forms, which could scarcely be seen in the clouds of dust and flies which enveloped and settled on them. Under these awful conditions, the fortitude of the wounded was indeed wonderful. They realised the difficulties of the overworked stretcher-bearers, and cheerfully awaited their turn to be carried to the Beach. Close on the top of the Ridge, which overlooked the Chunuk Bair trenches, a distinguished officer of the W.M.R. lay—it was Major Hastings, his leg shattered by a bomb. His condition was desperate, and further prompt treatment for him on the hospital ship was essential to fortify the faint hope of saving his life. Two volunteers promptly offered to assist the stretcher-bearers by carrying the fast-sinking officer to the Beach, and the journey was accomplished with some difficulty through the packed mass of suffering humanity. The admittance of the officer to the clearing station closed a most brilliant career, for nothing further has been heard of him. except that his good work had been rewarded by a D.S.O. and the Legion of Honour.
On the following morning the Force which had relieved the New Zealanders overnight was driven from Chunuk Bair, the loss of the position being keenly felt. It was the furthest point into the enemy position which our troops on Gallipoli had reached, and heavy sacrifices had been made by the New Zealanders in its capture and defence.
On the morning of 10th August the remnants of the Regiment, less the 9th Squadron, moved from Chailak Dere to bivouac at No. 1 Outpost. Of the 9th Squadron, 50 men were on Table Top and 50 at Old No. 3 Post, where two of its officers, Major Spragg, and Lieutenant Beamish, were wounded during the day, the strength of the Regiment, with reinforcements, at that time being 13 officers and 210 other ranks.
In the evening the body of Major Elmslie was buried at Old No. 3 Post, close to Major Chambers, grave.
The N.Z.M.R. Brigade and the Maori Contingent having been detailed to occupy the inner defences of the Anzac System, at 7.30 p.m. on 11th August the W.M.R. (less the 9th Squadron, page 60on Table Top), left No. 1 outpost to occupy Camel's Hump with twelve men, and Destroyer Ridge with twenty-five men, the remainder of the Regiment being in reserve at Sazli Beit Dere. These posts were important converging points which covered the enemy approaches, in the event of his attacking, the instructions given to the Regiment being to hold the positions at any cost. This was accomplished from the 11th to 23rd August, during which the disposition of the Regiment remained unchanged, with the exception that on the 20th the 6th Squadron occupied and entrenched a position half-way up Sazli Beit Dere, the other positions held by the Regiment having been entrenched and strengthened meanwhile.