Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919
Chapter Ten — The Battle of Chunuk Bair
The Battle of Chunuk Bair
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.
Operations Prior to and Including the Second Attack on Hill 60 (Kaiajik Aghala).
On the 21st August, Colonel Meldrum took charge of the line of defences in the vicinity of Table Top, Brigadier-General Russell having been placed in command of a force which was to attack Hill 60 at 3.30 on that day. The absence of the W.M.R. and A.M.R. in this attack was due to the heavy casualties which they had previously sustained, but the C.M.R. and O.M.R. participated in the operations, in which they captured and consolidated about two hundred yards of enemy trenches. On this date the ill-fated attack on Scimiter Hill was made by the Suvla Bay Force. From the height of Table Top—from which the movements of the troops could be seen—the advance gave promise of success, a considerable force pressing forward most doggedly in extended order towards their objective, from which the enemy was shelling. The progress made before night-fall was very encouraging to the diminished number of troops which then occupied Anzac, but disappointment awaited them, for during the night the Suvla Force was driven back to their original line.
On the afternoon of 23rd August the Regiment was relieved from its posts by the Canterbury Battalion, and they rejoined the Brigade at Kabak Kuyu at 5.15 p.m., where they bivouacked, and at 7.30 p.m. five officers and 125 other ranks relieved the C.M.R. in trenches on the western slopes of Hill 60. The Gurkhas were on their left and the 13th Battalion A.I.F. on their right. Our men were alert, and during the night a party, under Lieutenant Maunsell, captured twenty yards of Turkish trench on the left.
On this date Captain Clifton, 2nd-Lieutenants Kettle and Caute, and seventy-seven other ranks reinforced the Regiment.page 61
The trenches occupied were narrow, but the work of improving them continued daily, the communication trench also being improved. During the day Major H. J. McLean, of the N.Z.M.C.—attached to the Regiment—was severely wounded by shell fire.
The loss of Major McLean was much regretted. He had proved himself a most capable, painstaking, and fearless medical officer.
On the 25th our troops in the trenches were relieved by the C.M.R. and O.M.R., and at that time preparations were made for a further attack on Hill 60, for which every fit officer and man in the Brigade was in readiness. It was intended to make a night surprise attack with bombs and bayonets only, but owing to insufficient support being available on the left, the operation was deferred till the 27th.
For some considerable time a great number of the men had been suffering from septic sores, their arms and legs being bandaged to enable them to "carry on." These men not only required a change from the strenuous work which they had been called upon to perform, but they required a change of diet as well.
At 2 a.m. on the 26th three officers and 100 other ranks relieved the same number of C.M.R. and O.M.R. in the trenches. In view of the attack to be made on the 27th, the troops were rested as much as possible.
On August 27th all preparations had been made by Brigadier General Russel for the attack, the troops available for which were as follows:—
- For the right objectives: 300 Australian Infantry.
- For the centre objectives: 300 men N.Z.M.R. and 100 men 18th Battalion, 5th Brigade, A.I.F.
- For the left objective: 250 Connaught Rangers.
Major Whyte, of the W.M.R., was given command of the Centre Force, in which were included five officers and 100 other ranks of the Regiment.
The three forces were to co-operate; bombs and bayonets only were to be used during the attack, and red and pink flags were to be carried to mark the flanks of the foremost line in the advance from time to time for the guidance of the artillery; the advance to be preceded by an artillery bombardment for an hour, the gunners having promised to distribute 500 shells over an area of 500 yards in that time.
At 4 p.m. all the available guns commenced to shell the objectives, and half an hour later the Centre Force was in position in readiness to attack in three lines—the first comprising page 62160 men of the Auckland and Canterbury Mounted Rifles, the second line of the Wellington and Otago Mounted Rifles being in die trenches, the third line comprising the Australians in reserve.
The first line was ordered to capture the first enemy trench, the second line to follow on, jump over the first trench and capture the second.
Punctually at 5 p.m. the bombardment ceased and the attack commenced, the two lines of the Centre Force dashing "over the top" with great vigour, their combination and speed presenting a magnificent sight. Intense rifle and machine-gun fire was immediately encountered, for notwithstanding the effect of the bombardment the enemy trenches were found to be fully manned, and our men met with very strong opposition. The intervening ground was much exposed, the casualties in consequence being very heavy. The sight of comrades falling in all directions intensified the determination of the men, and they pressed forward in magnificent style. Nothing could stop them, and the front line entered the first Turkish trench a few minutes after the charge commenced. The Turk is a first-rate and skilful trench fighter, but is no match for the New Zealander at close quarters, and immediately our front-line men reached the first enemy trench they sprang into it and quickly proved their superiority with the bayonet amongst the hive of Turks, the second line continuing its advance whilst their comrades completed the destruction of the enemy in the first trench. The Connaughts had meanwhile captured part of the line on the left.
At this stage a very hot fire was encountered on the right flank, the troops there being held up by machine-gun fire, but a party of thirty men from the Centre Force overcame the obstruction, and the advance continued.
Meanwhile the Turkish gunners had ranged on the Centre Force, and their deadly shrapnel reinforced the fusillade of rifle and machine-gun fire, which continued to concentrate on the advancing line. The casualties of the latter steadily increased, but the enthusiasm of the survivors was undiminished, and they pressed forward most resolutely. The dauntless courage of these men in face of the enormous weight of the enemy and of death-dealing missiles was indeed inspiring. Their penetration of the enemy position was almost unbelievable, but all doubt as to their success was dispelled when the pink flags carried to show the progress made were seen fluttering on the flanks of the attackers from time to time in the midst of the enemy.page break page 63
At this stage large bodies of enemy reinforcements were observed advancing towards Hill 60, in spite of continuous shell-fire from our guns and of Australian machine-gun fire. Orders were therefore sent by General Russell to the force on the right to press forward, and to the Centre Force to call up the reserve, whilst our Artillery shelled the crest of the Hill. Meanwhile, the Centre Force was working forward along the trenches, its casualties increasing en rôute. Turks were encountered in all directions, but the fury of the onslaught against them was irresistible. With increasing boldness and desperate determination, the New Zealanders bombed and bayoneted the more obstinate Turks and captured the second trench.
By this time the ranks of the Centre Force had been grievously reduced. The Turks were in great strength in the immediate vicinity, and some time later the Connaughts withdrew from the line they had taken on the left. With the Australian advance held up on the right, the New Zealanders were in a precarious position in a narrow salient, against which the Turks were pressing. It was therefore decided to discontinue the advance and to hold the second trench.
Arrangements were then made to strengthen the defences to repel counter-attacks, a captured machine gun being used with great effect, whilst our own machine guns were hurried to forward positions, a bomb duel continuing meanwhile. Staff-Captain King had been wounded, and was still remaining on duty, doing wonderfully good work, when Captain Blair, of the C.M.R., was sent forward to relieve him. At this time Captain R. Logan, of the W.M.R., and forty men of the Mounted Brigade were holding the forward trench, and Captain Blair took command of the trench which ran at right angles from it. These trenches were in the midst of the enemy position, and special praise is due to the defenders for the determination and tenacity which characterised the stout defence maintained in positions which were practically "in the air."
On account of the narrow trenches being almost filled with dead—principally Turks—great difficulty was experienced in evacuating the wounded other than those who could crawl, as stretchers were too cumbersome to use there. In order to relieve the congestion, dead bodies were thrown over the parapets and the wounded were extricated by passing them along the bottom of the trenches—as low as possible—till all sharp angles and obstacles were overcome and stretchers could be used. The dressing stations were kept very busy. Bombing and rifle fire page 64 continued, and at 10 p.m. Captain Logan's party was reinforced by fifty men of the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion.
The Turks were in great strength on our left flank, and it became necessary to erect six sandbag barricades to keep enemy bombers at safe distance, and these proved effective. In this locality our men and the enemy again occupied the same trenches, the two parties being separated by barricades previously referred to, the length of the intervening or unoccupied trench being ten yards.
At 10 p.m. Lieut.-Colonel Renell and 250 stalwart men of the 9th A.L.H. Regiment arrived to reinforce the New Zealanders. These splendid fellows were heartily welcomed. They were tried and trusted comrades from Walker's Ridge, and we knew they could and would fight. What an exhilarating effect is produced by such confidence, the feeling of which must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
As previously mentioned, the enemy was in considerable strength on the left of No. 2 Trench, and Colonel Renell's party was directed to join up with the New Zealanders there. A further reinforcement of fifty men of the 9th L.H. having arrived, they were directed on the same objective as their comrades, but by a different route, some distance to the right.
Colonel Renell advanced with his party, but the strength of the enemy on the line taken appears to have been very great, for the party was practically annihilated. In consequence of these losses, it was decided to hold the positions we had taken, and to await the arrivals of further reinforcements.
The work of consolidating this salient continued all night, notwithstanding repeated bomb attacks, and by morning the position was considerably strengthened.
The Turkish machine gun captured by the New Zealanders was then in position with one of ours at the top of the Hill, a third machine gun being in one of the captured trenches, further back.
The W.M.R. casualties were:—Officers killed: Captain H. P. Taylor and Lieutenant W. Risk. Officers wounded: Captain E. C. Clifton and A. Batchelar, Lieutenants A. S. Wilder, H. B. Maunsell, and F. V. Kettle. Other ranks killed, 48 (including 32 first reported wounded, since reported killed) and 54 wounded.
Captain Taylor—affectionately known as "Bruiser" by his brother officers—was most popular with all ranks. He fell in the charge, and, although mortally wounded, his voice was heard cheering his men forward.page break
1. Firing a periscopic rifle from the trenches on Gallipoli. 2. W.M.R. trooper firing a periscopic rifle at Gallipoli. 3. Some valiant Main Body Officers of the 2nd Squadron bathing at Gallipoli. Left to right: Lieutenants James (killed), Risk (killed), Major Elmslie (killed). Captain Hardham, V.C., (wounded), and Lieutenant Janson.
Lieutenant Risk, a promising officer, was first reported as wounded.
Very good work was performed by the following of the Regiment:—Captain Logan, Captain A. Batchelar (who, although wounded, remained at his post for some time), Sergeant B. Ronaldson and J. Wilder (the two latter being killed).
Captain "Gus" King (later killed in France) was in command of the A.M.R., which formed a part of the Centre Force, and his great services among the troops during the fight are worthy of special mention. He was wounded early in the attack, but, notwithstanding this disability, his cheery optimism, fearlessness, and bulldog tenacity did much to inspire the men during the most critical stages of the operation.
During the night of 27/28th, the remainder of the Regiment in bivouac moved into the trenches to support those already there. Meanwhile, the work of deepening the trenches and consolidating the position was continued under difficulties owing to the bursting of shrapnel and bombs from trench mortars. Counter-attacks were beaten off, our artillery assisting to accomplish this by concentrating their fire on the north-eastern slopes of Hill 60, and thus preventing the enemy from massing there. Our bombers also did very good work. The enemy guns on the left became most active, enfilading the position, causing numerous casualties and damaging the trenches, in which the Regiment remained all night. During this period Senior Sergeant-Major Pye-Smith, of the 2nd Squadron, was killed whilst on reconnaissance.
At noon on the 28th Colonel Meldrum relieved Major Whyte. The enemy artillery bombarded our positions with great fury, shells and bombs playing havoc with the trenches throughout the day. Machine-gun and rifle fire was also intense, but the work of strengthening the defences and clearing the trenches of dead bodies continued, whilst a stout defence was maintained with bombs, machine-gun and rifle fire. Preparations were also made for the capture of the line running at a right angle from the junction of "B" and "C" on the left of the Centre Force, for which purpose 180 men of the 10th A.L.H. had arrived, they surveying the position later in the day.
About Chaplain-Major J. Grant, of the Regiment. was killed when attempting to attend a wounded man who had fallen beyond a barricade which our troops had erected against the Turkish position. The ground in the vicinity was covered with dead bodies, and Major Grant, who was accompanied by page 66another clergyman, remarked, "We are now most assuredly in the Valley of the Shadow of Death," and immediately afterwards he was killed. In his sermons, Major Grant had frequently exhorted his congregation to "play the game," and it is safe to say that no better example could be shown of what he intended to convey than when he "played the game" so heroically himself by sacrificing his life in attempting to save others.
The attack of the 10th Lighthorsemen was timed to take place at 11 p.m. in two parties of ninety men each. One party from the first captured trench and the other from the second trench, both of which were still held by the New Zealanders. The Australians' objective ran at right angles to and on the left of the New Zealand trenches, the intention of the attack being to dislodge the enemy there, to link up the trenches already captured, and to extend the line to the right and left.
Fifteen minutes before the appointed time the Australians were in position at the heads of the "jumping-off" trenches, and punctually at 11 p.m. the New Zealanders assisted them over the parapets. They rushed the surprised enemy with bayonets and bombs, no firing being allowed. The Turks were routed, and by midnight the Australians had linked up the position. The latter was then consolidated and firmly established, and although the Turks continued to bomb and shell, our men outbombed them, the trenches taken during the two previous days, as shown on the sketch, being held till the evacuation. We had captured a part of the top of Hill 60, but we never gained the whole of the crest.
In referring in his despatches to the tenacity of the New Zealand Mounted troops, General Sir Ian Hamilton stated:—"Luckily, the N.Z. Mounted Rifles refused to recognise that they were worsted. Nothing would shift them. All that night and all next day, through bombing, bayonet charges, musketry, shrapnel, and heavy shell, they hung on to their 150 yards of trench."
Throughout the operations, in spite of enemy attacks with artillery, bombs, and rifle fire, Lieutenant McGregor, of the A.M.R., held a machine-gun position which he had taken up on the right flank of one of the captured trenches. There McGregor displayed great coolness, determination, and judgment.
The success of the Australians' attack on the night of the 28th had been most gratifying to the mounted New Zealanders, with whom the Lighthorsemen had always been united by the strongest ties of friendship, which had been welded on the heights page 67of Walker's Ridge. The New Zealanders appreciated the good, soldierly qualities of the Australians and their self-sacrificing spirit under the most trying circumstances. Apropos of this, a story is told of a Lighthorseman whose right arm had been blown off at Hill 60 during a bombing attack. On emerging from the trenches en rôute to the dressing station, the Australian refused all offers of assistance on the grounds mat others required it more than he. When the dressing station was reached the doctor in charge tenderly referred to the loss of the arm, to which the Lighthorseman replied: "It's not me arm I'm concerned about; it's me sleeve. I spent two hours patching the b——thing last night!"
In addition to Major Chaplain Grant, killed, eleven other ranks of the W.M.R. were wounded during the day.
At four o'clock next morning Major Whyte replaced Colonel Meldrum in charge of the Centre Force.
The loss of the popular padrè was keenly felt by all with whom he had been associated. During his period of service with the regiment his constant care for the welfare of the troops and his denunciation of all things unclean strengthened the link of comradeship which his noble character had formed with all ranks early in the campaign. During the heavy fighting which occurred at old No. 3 post and at Chunuk Bair Major Grant had, at great risk, succoured the dying and wounded with wine and water. His activities, however, had not been confined to the ordinary routine of a chaplain. He loved to assist in any capacity where help was most needed, and it is gratefully spoken of him by the men concerned that when a large percentage of them were seasick on the Main Body transport Orari Major Grant voluntarily worked amongst the horses when stable parades were held.
On the night of the 29th the New Zealanders, who had been constantly engaged in bombing, repelling counter-attacks, and, clearing the trenches of dead since the capture of the position, were relieved, the trenches being taken over by 1000 men of the 163rd Infantry Brigade. The Regiment remained in close proximity to Hill 60 during the next three days part of it being in reserve, its numbers dwindling daily, and by 2nd September there were only six officers and ninety-nine other ranks left—about a fifth of its full strength. Of these, five officers and thirty-nine other ranks were sent to occupy a position on Cheshire Ridge, just below the "Apex," overlooking the "Farm," whilst Major Whyte and sixty other ranks remained page 68to strengthen the Infantry at Hill 60, rejoining their comrades at the Apex some days later.
During the Hill 60 operations the New Zealand hospital ship Maheno lay off the Coast of Anzac, and many of our wounded men were lucky enough to be evacuated from the grime and stench of the blood-stained trenches direct to the tender care of New Zealand doctors and nurses, whose cheery "Kia Ora" acted as a tonic on the war-worn and stricken men and did more to heal their ghastly wounds than the best medical skill.
Reorganisation at Lemnos, and Return to Gallipoli.
After the withdrawal of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade from Hill 60 the situation on Gallipoli remained practically unchanged for some days, and with the arrival of reinforcements it became possible to relieve the few remaining officers and other ranks of the regiments which had arrived at the commencement of the campaign, with the exception of the artillery men, machine-gunners, engineers, A.S.C. and ambulance personnel, who remained unrelieved till the evacuation. On 13th September the W.M.R.—less Lieutenant Tingey and thirteen other ranks of the machine-gun section—embarked on a barge with the other remnants of the Mounted Brigade to join the troopship Osmanieh, en route for the Island of Lemnos to rest and reorganise, the strength, including reinforcements, being three officers and sixty-seven other ranks. Of the original five hundred stalwarts who landed on Gallipoli, only twenty-four were left. Arriving at Lemnos next morning, the Brigade camped at Sarpi, where tents were issued, these proving of great service, for rain fell heavily during the night.
Reinforcements soon commenced to pour in, and on the afternoon of the 16th a French admiral inspected the Brigade. At the parade the few veterans from the Peninsula were paraded by themselves in front of the new reinforcments, and it was a tragic sight to see the thin lines of worn, sun-burnt men in front of the fresh troops. Two days later Colonel Meldrum left for Egypt, Lieutenant Strang, of the O.M.R., taking command of the W.M.R. till Major A. Samuel arrived shortly afterwards.
A strenuous course of general training was carried out during the whole of the month of October and till the 10th November, on which date the Regiment, then comprising only page 69nine officers and 363 other ranks, returned with the Brigade to Anzac, where it bivouacked in Waterfall Gully for some days.
Winter was then approaching rapidly, and to prepare for the blizzards which were known to sweep Gallipoli during that season, the work of "terracing" and constructing winter quarters commenced immediately. In doing this our men were well advised, for the threatened blizzard commenced a few days later. It raged with unmerciful severity for four days towards the end of November, numbers of men in other sectors being drowned and many others frozen to death.
Preparing to Evacuate
To the soldier, as apart from the politician, the return of our troops to Gallipoli looked as though the campaign there was to be proceded with, but that was not so. Unexpected developments in other theatres of war, and a lack of trained men to fill the ever-increasing demand for reinforcements on other fronts, were soon to affect the Gallipoli situation. The Russians, from whom so much was expected, had collapsed; the attitude of Greece was uncertain; troops were required in France; and, to crown all, three divisions were sent from Gallipoli to Salonika to assist the Serbians, who, however, were ultimately crushed by an overwhelming German and Austrian force, thus enabling the Central Powers to join up with and assist the Turks.
With these facte before it, the War Council at Home had something to think about. Some of its members favoured evacuating the Peninsula, while others opposed that course, for the reason that British prestige in the East would be jeopardised. The problem was a knotty one, and to solve its many intricacies Lord Kitchener visited the Dardanelles early in November to size up the situation, his subsequent report of it being briefly as follows:
"The country is much more difficult than I imagined. The Turkish positions are natural fortresses of the most formidable nature. The want of proper lines of communication is the main difficulty in carrying out successful operations. The landings are in the field."
Although he favoured evacuation, Lord Kitchener thought that another force should be landed further south to protect Egypt.
The War Council then decided that Gallipoli was to be evacuated and, whilst the troops there shivered in the trenches, careful and secret preparations were being made to carry out that most difficult and dangerous operation.page 70
General Russell having taken command of the Anzac Infantry Division on 26th November, the Mounted Brigade then came under the orders of Colonel Meldrum, who had returned to Anzac some time previously, and on the 27th it relieved the 54th Division near Hill 60. The W.M.R., under the temporary command of Major Samuel, were on the extreme left of the Anzac position, in touch with the Ghurkas, and their line was divided into three portions—the 6th Squadron being placed on the right, the 9th in the centre, and the 2nd on the left. That night the blizzard made its appearance, and, owing to previous wet weather, the trenches and bivouacs were in a deplorable condition, although the general line had a good fall and was easily drained.
The whole place was a sea of mud, but hard work with picks and shovels soon changed its whole appearance and made the quarters and trenches habitable. At this point in the line the opposing trenches were about one hundred and fifty to two hundred yards apart, and were situated on opposite sides of the deep gully called Kaiajik Aghala. The sector was quiet, and very little sniping had been indulged in prior to our arrival. This fact was very evident, as on the first morning a Jacko went for a stroll over his front parapet, much to the amazement of our fellows, who promptly shot him down. After this, the Turks were not so casual.
At the beginning of December the Brigade found that, owing to the length of the line—about 1800 yards—it was impossible to man the trenches as fully as the 54th Division had done. To overcome the difficulty, however, an "outpost system" was adopted whereby each regiment divided its sector into "posts" of six or more men, each of these during the day maintaining only two men on duty as observers and snipers. At night, however, the posts were fully manned and the lengths of trench between posts were patrolled. In addition, moving patrols were sent out in front of each regimental sector.
Rain and snow continued to fall and icicles formed in the trenches. The enemy shelled our positions, but digging continued, and every indication was given that a further advance was contemplated, although the force as a whole was being reduced daily by sickness and frostbite.
In other parts of Gallipoli and on the sea the big bluff was also having the desired effect on the enemy, who constructed concrete emplacements for big guns to blow us into the sea and dug entrenchments to repel the threatened attack.page 71
Then there was another ruse—periods of silence, when not a shot was fired—so that the enemy would notice no change when the evacuation began. One of these "silences" lasted for seventy-two hours.