The Auckland Regiment
V. The Battle of the Landing
V. The Battle of the Landing
"The herdman wandering by the lonely rills,
Marks where they lie on the scarred mountain flanks,
Remembering that mild morning when the hills
Shook to the roar of guns, and those wild Franks
Surged upward from the sea."
The sea was full of ships gliding through the darkness toward the Turkish coast. There was quietness now, after the singing and the jollification of the early part of the evening. Some were playing "two-up," a few were sleeping, but the majority were peering into the darkness for the first sign of land. Two o'clock, three o'clock, half-past three, a quarter to four—it must be very near dawn now! The Lutzow was running dead slow, just making headway. Of a sudden there was a faint crackle of rifle-fire, the blanketed report of a great gun, and the Battle of the Landing had commenced. Dawn came quickly, and with the full light of day the sounds of conflict swelled into a great rattle and roar. In towards Anzac Cove the transports were rapidly disembarking their men, warships were firing broadside after broadside, tugs and launches towing the barges to the shore. Straight ahead was the rugged mass of Sari Bair, Hill 971, brown and green in the morning mist, brown, green and gleaming yellow as the rising sun shone on the bare cliffs, which stood out in vivid contrast to the blue sea lapping on the pebble beach below. Eager eyes strained shoreward, but little could be seen of the conflict raging so fiercely on the slopes and up the gullies, except the fleecy puffs of drifting smoke from the Turkish shrapnel.
Breakfast was a hurried meal. The last details were soon fixed up, and the Battalion waited eagerly for its turn to come. A passing destroyer megaphoned over that there was "no news in particular, but blowing the b—s to hell." An over-page 26turned boat drifted slowly past. The destroyers stood right in and pounded Gaba Tepe Point, smothering it with bursting shell and drifting smoke.
At half-past eight the tows pulled alongside for the Aucklanders, who were to be the first New Zealanders to land. The companies, drawn up on their respective decks, at once commenced to file down the ladders and take their places in the barges. Rifles were loaded. It was the real thing this time; bloody equipment beneath the thwarts of one barge was ample evidence of the fact. Once away from the shelter of the ship, and the danger zone was entered. Bullets wheened overhead, plonked in the water on either side, or struck the boats. Skinner, singer of comic songs, was hit, and so had the honour of being the first battle casualty of the Regiment. There was no excitement. Everyone was cool and quiet, but terribly determined to do his best. There was a thrill of exalted feeling running through the hearts of all. It was an honour to be leading the New Zealanders into battle, and, come whatever chance, New Zealand should be proud of this day's doings. And now the tows were close in-shore! The Colonel leaped into the water, waist deep, and led the way. The men followed across the pebbly beach and the little strip of level ground to the shelter of the hill, and there formed up. Packs were thrown off, and then orders came to move round to the left and reinforce the Australians, who were being hard pushed on top of the great cliff they had won. The Battalion had crossed the spur running down to Ari-Burnu point, and the 3rd Company, crossing Mule Gully, was about to climb the steep hill-side, when fresh orders arrived. It was now the centre which showed signs of breaking, and where help was most urgently needed. There was nothing for it now but to turn about, 16th Waikatos leading, and make by the shortest cut for the threatened point. The Colonel stopped a flying fragment in the wrist; but there was not much harm done, and he carried on. The new route lay over the Plateau, and it was here things started to get busy. Once above the crest-line, across the level, and descending the slope towards Shrapnel page 27Valley, men commenced to fall. "Whizz-bang," and a sergeant-major rolled into the scrub with a bullet in his lung. The shrapnel was taking its toll—and the snipers. The rough ground, the thick growth of stunted ilex, the enemy fire, were all disorganising the line. The natural impetuosity of some, the physical strength of others, carried them on ahead. From this time the Battalion as such ceased to exist. In small groups the men passed German Officers' Tent and the sentry guarding the land-mine, broke into the valley, and pushed eagerly towards the fighting in front.
Shrapnel Valley was the main line of direction along which the advance had taken place. It is one of the most famous of all the Gallipoli names. In few of the highways of war have so many died as in this very terrible one. It was accurately marked on the Turkish artillery maps, and their guns ranged every yard of it. It was open to snipers and machine-gun fire. In places the Turks had contested it desperately, and all the way up the dry water-course there was a tangle of Australian and Turkish dead. From the firing-line the wounded were straggling down, making by the best way to the beach, weary, bloodstained, but very exultant. The stretcher-bearers passed backward and forward, doing all they could for the desperately wounded and dying, who were lying here, there and every-where amongst the tangled scrub and in all the little patches of dead ground.
The Aucklanders streamed upwards, losing men, but nothing daunted. The fire became hotter and hotter. In ones and twos they dodged and ducked forward, and rushed breathless into the firing-line. Generally speaking, the 6th were on the left, towards Walker's, the 16th round Pope's, the 3rd were fighting near Quinn's, and the 15th about Courtenay's and even further to the right. Men of the different companies were, however, scattered everywhere. The advance had reached its furthest limit. The Turks were counter-attacking in overpowering numbers. They were resolute to drive the invaders back into the sea, but the stubborn Australians and the Aucklanders, inextricably mixed together refused page 28to give ground. There was no longer any question of battalion or company command. The natural leaders of men, officers, N.C.O.'s, or privates, took control of whatever men they found to hand, and built up a firing-line for their immediate front. All the valleys and the mountains were full of Turks. Slowly they welled up against the A.N.Z.A.C. lines. The pressure became very intense, but they were held—held by rifle fire and bayonet charge.
Roy Lambert was amongst the foremost. Outdistancing all others, he reached the firing-line in a place swept by enemy fire. Dead and dying were all around, and the living dared not move. He ventured. Three bullets found their mark, and he was dead. Few men were so much beloved, and in a few hours his death was being mourned all through the N.Z.E.F. Donald Lane was wounded in the arm, but pressed on, gathered a little group round him and was hit again in the thigh. The Turks were pressing in. He rose, wounded as he was, to lead a counter-attack with the bayonet, and as he did so received his death-wound. Somewhere over the crest from Quinn's was an old dry water-course full of men, making a desperate stand. Two hundred yards away the Turks were entrenched, and pouring in a very heavy fusillade. Men were going down fast when the enemy field guns picked up the range, and the shrapnel turned the place into a death-trap. There was nothing for it but to get back over the crest. Many fell, but the survivors lined up and shot down all who tried to follow over. At night they brought in their wounded. Major Dawson was a great inspiration to all hereabouts. Lieut. Richardson was dying, shot through and through while tying up a wounded man. Sergt.-Major Rogers went ashore to "win his commission and a Victoria Cross." As he lay dying in the valley, he raised himself on his elbow and spoke to the men passing up: "Don't let them beat you boys! Don't let them beat you!" Bradley was doing splendid work with the Australians. Lawson, the fine scout, was killed. Warden, short, thickset, with clean-cut features, no great soldier on the parade-ground, a quiet and unassuming man, was stalking page 29snipers. That evening he had seven identification discs, and from that time on he was Wallingford's right-hand man. Somewhere up on the right flank of the Sphinx, all was going wrong. An officer, very splendid on the drill-ground, was finding a bloody battlefield not to his liking. There was hesitation, weakness, no fine example, a dribble of men going back with the officer at their head, when Corporal Reid, the machine-gunner, put down his gun, opened fire, and rallied a few men round him. One brave example was enough, and so the position was held. Lieut Frater, terribly wounded, insisted on walking out, and died down by the beach. All through the afternoon the Turks pressed on the thinning line, creeping up through the scrub, cutting off small parties, sniping, machine-gunning, crawling out on the exposed flanks, enfilading the torn ranks, and all the time their terrible shrapnel pelted and tore. Smoke, dust, heat, the air whining, singing, trembling, with the screeching shells and the flying fragments, rifle barrels red hot with constant firing, dead and dying all around—this was war. The silent, crumpled figures were hit time and time again. Men with desperate wounds crawled back towards the valley and the stretcher-bearers. There were cries for doctors, bearers, water; confused orders went up and down the line, and all the time the little pile of cartridge cases beside each man grew larger and larger. Ammunition was taken from the dead—and water. Still the pressure was kept up, and it seemed as though very soon things would be desperate. Officers went down fast. Major Stuckey fell, and Lieutenants Flower, Dodson, and Allen. Major Alderman was wounded, Lieutenants Peake, Woolley, Morpeth, were all down.
Still the line held! Jack, Fordyce, Bridson, Revington-Jones, Gardner, all the picked machine-gunners showed their worth that day holding back the Turk. Lieut. Carpenter, "not quite up to the standard" for Duntroon, was a brave leader of brave men. Captain Bartlett was doing great things on the right, and with him fought Lieut. Steadman, Sergeant-Majors Moncrieff and Fletcher. And now at the hardest pinch, Queen Lizzie was lying off the shore, she and other grey page 30boats, and the thunder of their guns was sweet music to the hard-pressed men. The fifteen-inch shells were crashing into the Turkish positions. Shrubs, earth, men, rifles, went upward in clouds of black smoke. Oh! Queen Lizzie! Queen Lizzie! you were loved that day, idolised that day—a terror to the Turks, but salvation to the reeling line.
Now was the test of manhood! Everywhere the born leaders and the fine fighting men were coming to the front. Tuck and Forrest went side by side up the hill, Fox, McCready, Jock McKenzie, Frank McKenzie, Tilsley, Hall-Jones, Seddon, Tom Gordon, Yorke, Brown, Roberts, Sergt.-Major Partridge, Melville, Tribe, and many other gallant men fought there as staunchly and bravely as they fought again and again on many a stricken field.
Away down in Artillery Lane, Dr. Craig and his devoted little band, Wishart, Shewring, Stacey, and Hill, were doing splendid work. It was a heart-breaking sight; wounded men lying about in hundreds, and no provision made for them. The great-hearted doctor, most unselfish and bravest of men, toiled on without rest or thought of danger, all day and all through the night, and far into the next day. On the beach, Wallingford was sending up new men, collecting stragglers, cursing, threatening, cajoling, encouraging by all means and any means, and bringing order out of chaos. Here was a man who knew his job, who knew his own mind, and could act with decision and determination.
A great horde of Turks hastily marched from Bulair, from Maidos, from Helles, massed on the higher ground and prepared for a counter-attack, that should sweep the attackers back into the sea before darkness gave them an opportunity to consolidate and bring up reinforcements. Nine battleships opened on them with great guns. The heather slopes, purple in the setting sun, were smothered with bursting shell. The vivid flames of the tremendous explosions lit up the dark hill-side. The twilight deepened. Night fell on the battlefield, and the line was safe. The men of Anzac were tired and over-wrought. They were new to scenes of blood, and all grieved page 31for the dear friends who had died that day. There was bitter anger against the Turk, a new sense of brotherhood between Australians and New Zealanders, and something else, also—a thrill of triumphant, exulting feeling—Australia and New Zealand had made good. An order from Sir Ian Hamilton was passed along: "Comrades, I am proud of you; hold on, reinforcements are coming." The words of praise from such a man were as strong wine. All nerved themselves to the task of holding on against every attempt to break through.
For a short while there was quietness and a certain respite. Under cover of the darkness, the work of consolidation went on. Shallow trenches were scraped out, better positions occupied, a certain amount of water and ammunition carried up. The poor wounded, who had lain all day in positions where rescue was impossible, were brought in. Padre Taylor, officially of the Canterbury Regiment, but actually the friend and helper of all who were in trouble, was burying Auckland dead in No-Man's Land, carrying the stricken back to the doctors, passing the ready jest amongst the watchers in the line and those toiling up the steep paths with their heavy loads—"in Christ's name, for Christ's sake."
On the afternoon of the 27th, Wallingford greatly distinguished himself. The position above Walker's was obscure, doubtful and dangerous. Arriving on the scene, he found that the casualties had been very heavy, that the Turks had obtained complete superiority of fire and were apparently massing, ready to storm over the disheartened few who were still holding on. No one was in charge. In perilous times the boldest measures are always the best. Wallingford saw that to attack, to get on the offensive, was the only thing that could save the situation. He told the men around that he was going forward. It seemed certain death, but he made the venture, not knowing whether any would follow. Twenty yards for-ward, thirty yards—and the Turkish fire was very hot for-ward still, and then down in a little patch of partially "dead" page 34ground. Here, between the lines was a machine-gun. It was jammed and out of order; belt and spare parts were lying around in confusion. The crew had been killed, with the exception of Preston, who, wounded as he was, stayed by his gun, although he could not put it to rights. For the master gunner it was but a moment's work, and the gun was rattling away, "Rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat," and the Turks who were a moment ago insolently showing themselves were shot down. For hours Wallingford and Preston held on, despite every effort of the Turks to dislodge them. The deadly rifle of the great marksman, and the still more deadly bursts of machine-gun fire made short work of any venturesome Turks who dared to show themselves. Their fire slackened. Then the worn-out men behind took fresh courage, and came round the machine-gun. The position was once more secure. It was characteristic of Captain Wallingford that his next business was to get the wounded clear. With the exception of Dr. Craig, no man was ever keener on salvaging the poor broken sufferers on the battlefield than this fighting soldier, of whom it is literally true to say that, like Saul of old, "he had slain his thousands." In those early critical days the fiery enthusiasm, the tireless energy, the stark valour of this man were invaluable. It was he "who gave us the courage."
On May 1st the Aucklanders left the Plateau and climbed the steep track to Walker's Ridge. The next day they were to have been in support to an attack, but at the last moment the operation was cancelled. Half the Battalion then moved to Pope's Hill under Colonel Plugge, while the remainder with Major Harrowell stayed on in the support position. Two days afterwards, orders were received by the Battalion to rendezvous at Brighton Pier, prior to embarking for Cape Helles. The New Zealand Infantry, with a brigade of Australians, were to take part in the general assault on the Achi Baba position, which it was hoped would place the southern key of the Dardanelles in our hands. In the movements of these last few days, four men had been killed, and Captain Price, Lieut. Bodley and twenty-eight men wounded.