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The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919

Chapter XI. Struggle on the Crest

page 71

Chapter XI. Struggle on the Crest.

At 2 a.m. the A.M.R. left their crude bivouack, and at 3 a.m. moved off up the ravine, their post being to support the attack. Terrible sights met them. Long lines of stretchers, with their loads of pain, came down the ravine. Stalwarts of the night before, blind with pain and tortured with thirst, were borne seawards, but the beach was to be no haven for them. Owing to the congestion of the wounded, many were to lie on their stretchers until they died; many were to lie until a shell, a kindly shell, put them out of their agony. Who will ever describe the agonies of those days of August? Pushing forward, the Regiment passed the battalions of the dead. At the head of the dere a halt was made about dawn, when the New Zealand Infantry, led by the gallant Colonel Malone, sprang to the attack, followed by the Gloucesters. They quickly gained the crest, the coveted crest, from which men of the New Zealand Infantry were the first to behold the Narrows. It was a tense moment, but how few lived to tell of it! They had penetrated farthest into enemy territory—but to die. As soon as the light was strong enough every Turkish gun concentrated upon the crest, and a battalion advanced from a ridge, 600 yards away, to counter-attack. But between this ridge and Chunuk Bair was a deep ravine, and quickly the advancing Turks were out of sight. Meantime, their artillery and machine-guns swept the crest, and the New Zealanders and Gloucesters were compelled to dig in, a few yards below the crest on their side. Nothing else was page 72possible, but even below the sky-line there was little protection, owing to the hail of shrapnel that came from the guns on Abdel Rahman Bair, to the north. Soon the attacking Turks had climbed the ravine, and so narrow was the crest that they were able to shower bombs into the British line, which was hardly a trench at all, without showing themselves. It was a losing fight, but the infantry, growing less and less every minute, clung to their position. To make matters worse the day became intensely hot, and there was practically no water. This was the state of things when the A.M.R. were summoned to reinforce the line. But in the tremendous fire that the Turks had brought to bear on the slope behind the precarious line, the Regiment had been suffering heavy losses. At 8 a.m. they had crossed, by small rushes, an intervening ravine swept by rifle, machine-gun, and artillery fire from the commanding ground on the flanks. Again they had to run the gauntlet through a deadly barrage, and finally lie ready to advance in a place that offered no cover at all. Here discipline was put to a most severe test. Shells began to fall among them, but they obeyed the order to lie still, and soon the enemy guns turned their attention to another quarter. About noon the A.M.R. were summoned to the line, and in small parties they dashed down a steep slope and up a more gradual slope to the line. They were sent to the left, and started to dig in, but there was little time to dig. Again and again came the Turks, and again and again they were hurled back. Never was there a respite throughout this terrible Sunday. Bombs came over the crest from unseen hands without cessation. Many were caught "on the full" before they burst, and pitched back among the enemy. This was not page break
Anzac Under Snow: Trooper Allison Still Smiling.

Anzac Under Snow: Trooper Allison Still Smiling.

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Winter Scenes On Gallipoli: A.M.R. "Bivvies" In The Vicinity Of Mccarroll's Nest.

Winter Scenes On Gallipoli: A.M.R. "Bivvies" In The Vicinity Of Mccarroll's Nest.

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Main Body Remnant At Zeitoun Camp In November, 1915.

Main Body Remnant At Zeitoun Camp In November, 1915.

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Mounted Brigade Machine Gunners. Among The Very Last To Leave Anzac.

Mounted Brigade Machine Gunners. Among The Very Last To Leave Anzac.

page 73done by one man or two, but by every man who got the opportunity. Mason, of the 3rd squadron, was particularly prominent in this respect. Ken Stevens, of the 11th squadron, on one occasion fumbled one of these live bombs, which fell over his shoulder. Quick as lightning he turned round and dropped his hat over it. He himself was wounded by the bomb when it exploded, but the hat undoubtedly smothered the burst and saved others in the near vicinity.

The day grew hotter, thirst tortured this band of Spartans, fatigue dazed them, but doggedly, blindly, automatically almost, they fought on. All sense of time was lost—it seemed that they had been fighting for an eternity. Then came night, but though it brought a cooler atmosphere, it did not bring water, nor did it bring a respite. But the defenders, now few in numbers, hung to the inferno they had gained. Some time after dark there was a call for the A.M.R. to go out and lie ahead of the shallow ditch that had been scraped in the flinty clay. It was then that the men realised for the first time that the Regiment had practically ceased to exist. This advanced post was a living hell, and soon the remnant was called back to the line.

With dawn came another bombardment, but from British guns. Where they were no one can say with any degree of certainty. The navy perhaps! It was probably believed that the position had been lost. It was a tragic anti-climax, just as it was to the Gurkhas, who after gaining Hill Q, to the north, on the same morning, and were pursuing the Turks down the reverse slope, received a salvo of heavy shella. The fire soon lifted from the Chunuk Bair position, but when it page 74was over the enemy continued with bombs. Our guns now began to do some splendid firing, and the bombing slackened. Fewer Turks were seen, no doubt owing to losses and reinforcements being diverted to Hill Q area, where the advantage was taken of the plight of the attackers to launch a sweeping counter-attack, the success of which, combined with the lamentable failure of the Suvla Bay force to push forward, put the seal of failure upon the whole enterprise. A small outflanking effort was made by the Turks, on the left of the New Zealanders, but the party concerned was annihilated.

The greatest vigilance was kept, however, and exhausted though the men were, many did some excellent sniping, being particularly successful against a spot where Turks attempted to run the gauntlet over a few yards of exposed ground. The day was as hot as the one before, and water was as scarce as ever. The wounded lay exposed to the sun at the rear of the trench, and many there died. One man went raving mad, and ran along an exposed place with a tunic over his head, but he fell into the trench before he was hit. Sleepy, hungry, and thirsty, the forlorn hope clung to their 200 yards of line. Some biscuits were available, but the men hardly dare to eat them for fear of accentuating their thirst. Long before this the remnants of the regiments on the ridge had lost all cohesion. The few remaining officers commanded little groups, composed of men of half-a-dozen units. They had long passed the stage when men are strengthened by the presence of their own comrades, and when the spirit of the regiment counts. They had become individualists, but the strangers around them were not men to be watched and weighed in the balance. Everyone knew that page 75everyone had been tested. Death itself had lost its horror. They were too tired to think, too exhausted to care. A fierce fatalism seemed to possess them. A blind indifference to what fate held for them gave a wonderful quality to their courage. Nothing mattered save the holding of the line. No longer did they have any realisation of the fact that their fight was merely a fraction of a battle, that they were merely a link in the chain, a pawn in the game. That little piece of trench was to them a world, a universe, their task the task of a life-time. Every man had reached the point when self was utterly thrown off, when neither life nor death mattered, so long as the task did not fail. They were souls in torment, but it was the torment which comes from fear of failure.

That evening, when they could strive no more, they were relieved. Their place was taken by two battalions, the 6th Loyal North Lancashires and the 5th Wiltshires. Both battalions were wiped out by a terrific attack the following dawn, and Chunuk Bair was lost for good. The attacking force consisted of one whole division, plus three battalions. At 6 a.m. the enemy attempted to carry the advance down the slopes. Line after line came over the crest, to be mown down by the naval and artillery guns, and particularly by the 10 machine-guns of the New Zealanders. Twenty-two lines of Turks came over the crest, but to die.

While this tragedy was being enacted, the A.M.R. was resting in the vicinity of No. 2 Outpost. Its total strength was 66, this including sick men, who had not been in the advance. Of the 288 officers and men who went into the advance only 22 remained: Captain H. Smith, regimental page 76Q.M., Captain McCormick, medical officer, Lieutenants Herrold, McGregor, and Cobourne, R.S.M. D. Manners, Sergeant Allsop, and 15 rank and file. Worn out as they had been before the fighting, the survivors were now practically shadows or men.

Apart from sheer exhaustion, many of them were suffering from septic sores on their hands, caused by the thorns of the scrub through which they had had to force their way. The sense of tragedy was very near to them—and by a strange irony of fate the place where they bivouacked was known as Eden Gully. The official record in the Regiment diary on August 10 is well worth preserving. All that the acting-adjutant, Lieutenant Herrold, wrote was: "Collected odd men from different parts, and had much-needed rest. Everybody quite knocked up." Major G. A. King, of the brigade staff, took over command of the Regiment, and continued in that position until the return of Major McCarroll, early in September.