Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919
Chapter Six — Operations prior to and including the Fight at Old No. 3 Post
Operations prior to and including the Fight at Old No. 3 Post
To the north-east of No. 2 Post and five hundred yards from it was a Turkish post in which snipers had been active. The position was exposed and easy to approach, and on the afternoon of 28th May orders were received by the W.M.R. that a C.M.R. Squadron would capture it that night and that a W.M.R. Squadron would relieve the Canterbury men and occupy the post.
At 10 p.m. the Canterbury Squadron left No. 2 outpost and, advancing along a ridge leading towards their objective, they captured the Turkish trenches at about 11.30 p.m. with slight resistance, the Turks retiring owing to the insecurity of the position.
The 6th W.M.R. Squadron thereupon relieved the C.M.R. and the former immediately commenced to improve the defences by "digging in," their orders being to hold the post till relieved.
Sandbags had been requisitioned earlier in the evening, as it was recognised that the position, when captured, would form a salient in the enemy's line, which could be dominated from three sides. The sandbags could not be obtained, however, and cumbersome tibbin sacks, which were practically useless for defensive purposes, were issued in lieu thereof.
By daylight on the 29th (3.30 a.m.) the 6th Squadron, notwithstanding incessant digging, had found that the position was so much exposed to artillery and rifle and machine-gun fire that it was unable to do any further digging in daylight. Heavy fire prevented the work throughout the day, during which investigations of the post and its surroundings strengthened the opinion already formed that the position was practically untenable, and that an attempt to hold it further would involve heavy losses. These facts having been disclosed, and the military value of the position not being of sufficient importance to justify the expenditure of valuable lives in defending it the post should have been abandoned during the night, which movement could have been easily accomplished without loss before the enemy page 28could prepare to attack it in force. This course was not adopted, however. At 9 p.m. the 6th Squadron was relieved by the 9th (less one troop), under Major Chambers (five officers and ninety-three other ranks).
The new garrison promptly proceeded to improve its defences by digging, Major Chambers and Captain Spragg marking a trench-line across the position and strengthening the post in other directions, but the Turks adjacent were busy also. The formation of the country around the post was favourable for its envelopment, and the enemy—about 1,000 strong—proceeded forthwith to accomplish this.
By 10 p.m. the Turks had seized the advantage which the configuration of the ground presented, and Major Chambers reported that the post was surrounded by a large force which was attacking, and some time later—11.35—telephone communication with the post was cut by the Turks.
The enemy's sudden attack was promptly and vigorously replied to by the defenders, who, in order to overcome the dead ground in front, were compelled to expose themselves high in the trenches or on the parapets to sight the enemy. From these positions a withering fire was brought to bear which for a time broke the attack, the enemy losing heavily. Their numerical strength was such, however, that they quickly recovered, and, taking advantage of the contours of the intervening ground, pressed forward with great boldness right up to the edge of the trenches, where they could be heard jabbering all night, during which the vigilance of the defenders with ready rifles denied any further advantage to them. By using the Arabic phrase, Taala hinne, the Turks were invited to advance further, but a bullet rapidly followed in the direction of probable acceptors or any inquisitive heads which appeared above the parapets.
The proximity of the enemy to our trenches enabled them to bomb the latter continually from comparatively safe positions, whilst rifle fire from other directions enfiladed the post. On the other hand, bombs were not available at that time for our troops, who were compelled in retaliation to expose themselves over their trenches to fire at the Turks. Under the circumstances, digging was difficult, and any attempt to improve the defences was the signal for a shower of bombs from the enemy. A supporting troop of the 2nd W.M.R. Squadron having been unable to reach the 9th Squadron, around which the enemy swarmed, the remainder of the 2nd Squadron, under Major Elmslie, was sent forward at midnight to relieve the post, but this page 29squadron was heavily outnumbered, and, although determined attempts were made to press forward, strong parties of Turks were encountered in all directions, No. 3 post being practically surrounded; and ultimately the squadron was compelled to take cover and act on the defensive on the southern slopes of the ridges between Nos. 2 and 3 posts.
In the darkness, many exciting incidents happened when the 2nd Squadron was advancing through the thick scrub, in which the enemy were encountered in all directions at very short range, shots being exchanged at distances of a few feet. In one case Sergeant Con. McDonald quickly grasped the muzzle of a rifle which was pointed at him, in time to divert the bullet from his body, but it struck his right hand and traversed upwards to the elbow, shattering the bones en rôute. McDonald was a stouthearted man, however, and he walked back to the dressing station without assistance.
Meanwhile the enemy continued to press the isolated post, but the stout resistance encountered restricted his movements and compelled him to exercise caution at a stage when his greater numerical strength and superior position might have been utilised to better advantage by the adoption of more aggressive measures. No attempt was made to attack with the bayonet, and the failure of the enemy in this respect must lead one to suppose that the stiffness of the defence bluffed the Turkish commander to believe that the garrison in the post was much stronger than it actually was. Alertness and foresight in forestalling enemy movement were also contributing factors in keeping the enemy in check, an instance of this occurring at three o'clock in the morning, when Captain Spragg took charge of a trench on the southern side of the hill against which the Turks were massing, anticipating an attack at dawn. Captain Spragg arranged his defences to meet it, and with a few well-placed rifle shots broke the attack before it could properly develop.
At 3.30 a.m. the post was being strongly attacked with bombs and rifle fire. The 2nd Squadron was still held up between Nos. 2 and 3 outposts by a large body of Turks, who had entrenched themselves across a narrow ridge, they having communication with another body of Turks in the gully on the northern side of the post, who were strongly attacking the post itself. The presence of the 2nd Squadron on the ridge referred to, however, considerably strengthened the position of the 9th Squadron by maintaining a steady and well-directed fire on the Turks, thereby decreasing the activities of the enemy.page 30
At daylight Major Elmslie, ever on the alert to improve the situation, led one of his troops and dislodged a party of Turks from trenches on the left of No. 2 post.
Soon after daylight Captain Hardham. V.C., was severely wounded, and when he was being attended by Lieutenant Duncan McDonald the latter was shot through the stomach, the wound proving fatal some days later.
At 6.30 a.m. flag communication was established between No. 3 post and Headquarters. At this hour our mountain guns shelled the Turkish communication trench with good effect.
At 7 a.m. the defective nature of the post for defensive purposes was most apparent. Clouds of dust raised by bullets, bombs, and shells over the area of the position testified to its vulnerability to attack. But the men fought back desperately, their lines becoming thinner and their bandoliers emptier. To conserve ammunition and defend at the same time was a difficult problem, but "every bullet found a billet" and weakened the enemy pressure. The wounded had to take care of themselves, and many of them continued to fight when suffering from grievous injuries. The situation was indeed a desperate one, and reinforcements were urgently required to relieve the pressure.
The 6th W.M.R. Squadron, under Major Dick, was therefore sent forward to join with the 2nd to accomplish this. The 6th Squadron connected with the 2nd at the head of a wide gully, after having advanced along the ridge from No. 2 post, and obtained a footing on a plateau whereon No. 3 post stood, but some distance from it, to the north. In spite of all efforts, these two squadrons were unable to make further advances, owing to the number of Turks between them and No. 3 post, and also to the heavy fire that was brought to bear on them by the enemy occupying the higher ground to the east and north.
About mid-day Lieutenant Cameron's trench, which had been undermined, was blown up, the enemy occupying the post. The Turks were closing in and ammunition was running short when, providentially, Captain Spragg unearthed some thousands of rounds of our own ammunition, which appeared like a gift of the gods.
The enemy's attacks continued throughout the day, aided by a mountain gun on Point 971 ridge, and they were greatly intensified by hand grenades which the Turkish force, now 3,000 strong, used freely, owing to the enemy being able to approach closely to the post on its northern side.page 31
As the day wore on the magnitude of the folly of ordering a small force to hold this isolated and badly-sited salient became more apparent, but our men continued to defend in magnificent style, cramped as they were in shallow trenches against tremendous odds and better-equipped troops. Grim determination and bulldog tenacity alone enabled them to hold against the shock of bombs and bullets which were showered on the position. Had our men been equipped with bombs, their fighting chances would have been greatly enhanced; but they made the utmost use of the weapons at their disposal, and further stiffened their defence by boldly catching and throwing back live Turkish bombs, which in many cases exploded in the ranks of the enemy. This game of intercepting and returning the deadly bomb was a gamble, with life as the stake. A miscalculation in taking a bomb, or the more probable contingency of a premature burst, penalised the plucky defender with death; but the sporting instinct of the men rose to the occasion, and in this respect Sergeant McMillan, Corporal Christie, Trooper Rouse, and others performed meritorious services and, without doubt, saved many casualties in the squadron and simultaneously inflicted substantial losses on the closely-packed enemy.
The morale of all ranks was magnificent. Deeds of individual heroism followed one another in quick succession. Unbounded confidence in themselves and the will to win fortified the little force in maintaining its stout resistance. Constant attacks had taken a heavy toll of its effectives, and some vital points of the post were of necessity held by few men against heavy odds. In such cases the confidence and determination of all ranks overcame all obstacles in the unequal contest, and it is recorded that in one instance Lieutenant Mansell, commanding a party of three men who were holding the end of a trench against a number of Turks, cheerfully reported that he had established superiority of fire over the enemy in that quarter.
As the relieving squadrons could make little progress in daylight, it was decided to effect the relief after dark, and at 6 p.m. a message was received by the Officer Commanding the W.M.R. that two squadrons of the C.M.R. would report at 8 p.m. for the purpose of relieving the 9th Squadron, and that after the relief was effected the W.M.R. would withdraw to camp.
Meantime the Turkish attacks had increased in intensity, and at 7 p.m. Major Chambers signalled to Brigade Headquarters that the repeated bombing of the trenches on the northern side of the post had resulted in a portion of the trenches being page 32damaged, to such an extent that he could no longer prevent the enemy from getting in. Ten minutes later a further message stated that the Turks had actually occupied the northern end of his trenches.
Meanwhile the 6th Squadron had gradually worked round the southern slopes of the hill on which it had been held up, and its line advanced to within one hundred yards of the defenders, but on account of the heavy fine across the plateau it could advance no further. Some assistance was given, however, by our Mountain Battery and the guns of a destroyer.
Meantime arrangements had been made to evacuate the wounded. Apart from the casualties inflicted on the 2nd and 6th W.M.R. Squadrons during their advance, it was manifest that the 9th had suffered severely. The New Zealand and Australian
Field Ambulance had intimated that they would despatch stretcher-bearers after dark, but a number of stretchers were required immediately to evacuate wounded lying in the vicinity of No. 2 post.
As evening approached, the Turkish attacks on No. 3 diminished and the relief of the 9th Squadron was effected at about 10.30 p.m., a Canterbury Squadron having arrived at that hour under cover of the 2nd and 6th W.M.R. Squadrons, the position being finally handed over to the C.M.R. Squadron (Major Overton) at 11 p.m., whereupon the 9th Squadron returned to Fisherman's Hut. Major Overton then went back to Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum to report the situation, leaving Major Hutton in command of the relieving squadron. The evacuation of the wounded had commenced shortly after dusk, and it was continued most carefully until completed at about 11 p.m. From the post itself the wounded were carried out in overcoats, as stretchers were too unwieldly to handle in the rough country.
1. Some W.M.R. Officers at Zeitoun, near Cairo, prior to Gallipoli. Standing (left to right). Lieutenants Janson, James, Maunsell, J. Sommerville, Nelson, Captain Hastings, Lieutenant Batchelar, Captain Wilkie, Lieutenant Mayo Chaplain-Major Grant, Lieutenant Wilder, Captain Spragg, Lieutenant Taylor. Front cow: Lieutenants Emerson and Risk, Major Elmslie, Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum. Majors Chambers and Dick.
W.M.R. Casualties.—On the 29th: Nine other ranks wounded. On the 30th: Officers killed, Lieutenants P. T. Emerson, V. D. Cameron, C. Watt; officer died of wounds, Lieutenant D. McDonald; officer wounded, Captain W. Hardham, V.C.; other ranks killed, 14; other ranks wounded, 42. Died of wounds 30th May: Sergeant Kebbell John Randall - St. John.
Brigade Casualties (W.M.R. and C.M.R. only) in this action were:—Officers: Three killed and three wounded. Other ranks: 20 killed and 54 wounded.
In face of the stupendous disadvantages which confronted them, the officers and other ranks of the 9th W.M.R. Squadron overcame all obstacles in the defence of No. 3 post, and their country has every reason to be proud of them. Even after they had handed over the position to the Canterbury Squadron, weary after twenty-eight hours of heavy fighting, their thoughts turned to the welfare of the wounded, who were evacuated with great care under the difficult circumstances which existed. The successful carrying out of this noble work was aptly described later by Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum as "one of the brightest events in a day of many brilliant episodes." In this eulogy the name of Major H. J. McLean, the Doctor who superintended the evacuations and himself performed great services, must be included. He toiled unremittingly over the bullet-swept hills and gullies in daylight and dark for forty-eight hours to succour the wounded of the three squadrons, who were scattered over a large area. On 29th May the Doctor accomplished a most hazardous journey tram Fisherman's Hut to No. 3 post, during which he was continually under fire, to attend Sergeant Kebbell, who had been seriously wounded.
The determination and self-possession of Major Selwyn Chambers, who commanded the post, are beyond all praise and it is safe to say that his confident and inspiring manner throughout the operations greatly influenced his men and contributed largely to the successful defence. Captain Spragg also performed meritorious service.page 34
Another officer whose sterling qualities and unassuming manner added greatly to his already high reputation for coolness and fearlessness during these operations was Major James Elmslie, who commanded the 2nd W.M.R. Squadron. The men's confidence in him was unbounded. One of the many gallant deeds which he performed during the day will suffice to illustrate his kindly nature. One of his men—Trooper James Moore—was severely wounded. The injuries were such that the trooper could not move. Bullets continued to tear up the ground around the prostrate man, but Major Elmslie hastened to his assistance. He quietly applied a field dressing to Moore's wounds, during which operation both were targets for the Turks at comparatively short range. The enemy succeeded in shooting Major Elmslie's cap off, another bullet drilled a hole in his pocket-book, and three others penetrated the loose folds of his tunic. Quite un-purturbed, however, he continued till the task was completed, when he shouldered the helpless man and carried him to safety. As one would naturally expect, this self-sacrificing officer was killed later during a most critical moment at Chunuk Bair.
Another officer who performed most useful and hazardous work during these operations was Captain Hastings, who had closely reconnoitred the enemy's position and furnished a most accurate report on the situation, which proved of great value. He, also, was mortally wounded in August at Chunuk Bair.
Lieutenant P. T. Emerson, who was killed early in the morning of the 30th May, was a most popular officer and a good soldier. He had previously fought throughout the South African War, wherein his brilliant work gained for him quick promotion. Lieutenants N. D. Cameron and C. Watt, who also fell during the defence, were most promising officers, cool and courageous.
In this action Sergeant "Tassy" Smith, the champion heavy-weight boxer of the brigade, and one of its best horsemen, was killed by a bomb whilst picking up a second one.
The stretcher-bearers were most attentive and painstaking with their charges. Notwithstanding the difficulties and dangers of the rough and broken country, and of the scrub-covered hills, where falls were unavoidable, they succeeded in winding their way with heavily-laden stretchers till the dressing station was reached.
Trooper Frederick Coates, who was killed when assisting Major Elmslie to reconnoitre the rough country during the advance of the 2nd Squadron, was a most daring scout. Special reference is due to Trooper Dyer, who, though wounded himself, attended the other wounded at great personal risk.page 35
On the morning of the 31st May the Turks had re-established themselves in the trenches on No. 3 post, evidences of their activities there being quite distinct from other points.
The Regiment was again shelled and casualties were inflicted on it in Shrapnel Gully on 1st June, and on the following day a new bivouac area was selected on the southern side of a ridge which ran down from Walker's Ridge to Mule Gully, just north of and below the "Sphinx," a prominent sharp-edged hill which jutted out westward towards the sea. The position was protected from artillery fire by cliffs, and it was possibly one of the safest spots on Gallipoli. Terraces and "dug-outs" were excavated around it, the Regiment occupied them on the 3rd, and the position became known as "Wellington Terrace."
During the last three days and nights of the Regiment's period of rest the men continued their activities with the familiar shovel, or "banjo," driving saps through the front lines and making new trenches farther north, where Turks were similarly employed a few yards from them. In daylight, digging was rather interesting when Johnny Turk was near, for the reason that the "look-out" men on either side usually introduced the element of sport into it by taking pot-shots across "No Man's Land" at the shovels as they bobbed up here and there along the respective lines. This form of amusement became very popular, both sides entering into it with great enthusiasm, and marking with a wave of a shovel the shots that had missed. But digging by night, confined in a deep, narrow trench with bombs lobbing around and nothing to distract one's attention, was quite a different proposition. Only two men at a time could work in the forward saps, and these were changed frequently owing to the nerve-racking experiences which they encountered.