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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Chapter Eleven — Evacuation

page 72

Chapter Eleven

Meanwhile, General Sir Ian Hamilton had been recalled and General Sir Charles Murray had assumed command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

Then, on 17th December, came orders for the evacuation, the plan to carry out this great operation having been most skilfully prepared, down to the minutest detail.

To break off active operations when in close contact with the enemy is one of the most difficult military operations that can be attempted, but in this case it was also necessary to withdraw and embark not only the troops, but guns and ammunition, under his very eyes—a feat which might appear almost impossible.

The withdrawal of the W.M.R. (Major Samuel in command) commenced on the night of the 18th, when six officers and 155 other ranks—about fifty per cent. of its strength—quietly moved away, and were all aboard a transport and on the way to Lemnos before daylight, the remainder of the Regiment—divided next day into parties "A," "B," and "C"—remaining in the trenches without reserves of any kind.

On these devolved the great responsibility of maintaining activity in the trenches, and of keeping fires burning for the next twenty-four hours till they could finally withdraw themselves. It was a nerve-racking period, but faithfully did the little force fulfil its mission.

Next night the withdrawal was resumed, and by 9.30 "A" and "B" parties had left the line, which was then held by the small "C" party, under Major Samuel, till 1.40 next morning, when the C.O. and a few men withdrew with machine guns to take up a position lower down to give support in the event of an attack. Another small party left at 1.50, leaving the "last ditchers"—Captain J. B. Davis and eleven other ranks—to take the place of the whole regiment holding the extreme left of Anzac for the next fifteen minutes. During this period incessant rifle fire was maintained, and then "silence," the little party quietly departing by way of Aghyl Dere, past No. 2 Post and page 73Maori Pa—a long march before joining the other "C" parties—leaving Gallipoli to darkness and the Turks.

On boarding the steamer for Lemnos all were busy with their thoughts—not pleasant ones—for the men were leaving old Anzac, where they had lost so many friends and gallant comrades, but they were hopeful of yet reclaiming, in answer to the call of the dead, the land where they lay—

Follow after!—We are waiting by the trails that we lost
For the sound of many footsteps, for the tread of a host.
Follow after! Follow after!—for the harvest is sown:
By the bones about the wayside ye shall come to your own.

Next morning those who had been the last to leave Gallipoli arrived at Lemnos, where they were given a rousing reception by the Anzacs and Tommies assembled there. Lieut-Colonel Meldrum resumed command of the Regiment on the 21st, with Major A. Samuel as second in command, and on the following day it re-embarked for Alexandria.

Thus closed the Gallipoli campaign—a glorious failure in effect, but a mighty victory over apparently unsurmountable difficulties—the graves of our men remaining as monuments of great deeds done, and marking the line far into the enemy position, where victory was snatched from their shell-torn ranks through lack of reserves—

"Waiting … for the sound of many footsteps, for the tread of a host …"

Which came three years later in the form of a force, in which the C.M.R. represented New Zealand's Mounted men, to occupy Gallipoli.

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