The History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919
Chapter III. — Of the Voyage to and Arrival at Anzac and of Life in the Trenches
Of the Voyage to and Arrival at Anzac and of Life in the Trenches.
The time was passed in various ways. Some sewed socks on the shoulders of their tunics in an endeavour to ease the weight of their equipment. Others packed and re-packed their kits, and made sundry visits to the canteen, laying in a store of what they considered necessary. After a calm passage Cape Helles was reached on the morning of the 12th. Rain was falling steadily, but gradually cleared off. Boats of all sizes and descriptions were busily moving about the anchorage, but all attention was given to the land from which the mist was slowly lifting.
There came to the eager ears of those young soldiers the sound of artillery fire, and at times the faint indistinct rattle of musketry. Gradually the artillery fire became more intense. Shells could be seen bursting along every ridge and valley. A warship in the Straits at times joined in, her huge shells bursting far inland on the slopes of a rounded hill. Cape Helles did not look an inviting spot, and no one seemed sorry when the ship steamed up the western coast.
The visibility was now good, and though the ship's course lay 4 to 5 miles out, every hill and hollow could be seen, and Achi Baba was recognised—the rounded hill wreathed in the smoke of bursting shells. Several warships were passed, among them the great Queen Elizabeth, whose shells were throwing up columns of earth and dust like so many whirlwinds in a desert place.
The ship headed for some high yellow bluffs over which hung more smoke, and at 4 p.m. the anchor was dropped four miles out from what all were to know so well as "Anzac."
A continuous roll and rumble could be heard, and now and again, as the breeze came from the land, the sharp crackling of rifle fire used in earnest, a sound new to the ears of so many of those eager boys.
There was little time to look about, for two destroyers at once came alongside and disembarkation began. In a moment all hands were staggering down the companion way and rope ladders, loaded to the point of endurance. A man with two hundred rounds of ammunition, rifle, pack and haversack stuffed to bursting point, with mess tin, bayonet and entrenching tool hanging from his belt, has quite enough to do to stand upright. page 26Imagine his feelings on finding himself on a rope ladder, dangling twenty feet above a dancing torpedo boat. But all were soon safely embarked and on the way to the shore, where shells could now be seen and heard bursting on the hills and close to the beach; but whether they were our shells or the Turks there was no means of telling.
"Within a mile of the shore the Regiment was transferred to barges towed by picket boats, in which the trip was completed. Bullets were plopping in the water around, and as the shore was approached the sharp crackle of rifle fire grew to be continuous.
Running alongside a heap of stones built out into the water, the barges were unloaded as quickly as possible, helped by a naval officer who caustically commented on the slowness of the new arrivals and the certain chance there was of being shelled if every man did not "get a move on."
Once on shore there was at last time to look about. The Regiment had landed in Anzac Cove, even in those early days a busy crowded place. There was a narrow beach of fine shingle piled with stores, backed by a steep hillside honeycombed with dug-outs, from which here and there a gaunt half naked man looked out to ask who had arrived; and the word being passed that the "Mounteds" had come, men ran up from all directions with welcoming cries and many a jest as to what had become of the horses.
Along the beach many barges were being unloaded, every two or three with an attendant picket-boat ready to remove each one as soon as empty.
The Regiment having landed marched north along the shore, past the Ari Burnu Point and up a steep dry scrubcovered water course. Everywhere grew a thick prickly scrub that caught and tore the clothing. The leading parties climbed to within a few feet of the top of this wild ravine, and the whole Brigade settled down for its first night on Anzac. A few, more energetic than the rest, scooped out narrow beds in the cliffs; but others simply lay down where they were and tried to sleep as best they could, in what came to be called "Reserve Gully."page 27
All night the rifle fire continued, sometimes dying down to a few straggling shots, then increasing again till it became a shrill continuous crackle. To most of those newly landed who had not previously been under fire, it seemed as though violent attacks were being made. Experience soon showed that this was nearly all Turkish fire, and that it went on for every hour of the twenty-four; and so adaptable is human nature that, in the course of a day or so, these men were to become completely unmoved by it. The sharp crack that at first thought seemed to be fire from the Anzac lines was but the noise made by the enemy bullets striking the earth of the parapets or flying harmlessly overhead far out to sea.
Next morning, amid the same indescribable din, a hasty breakfast of biscuits and bully beef, accompanied by a precious drop from the water bottles, was the preparation for what the day might bring forth.
Speculation was rife as to what part of the line the Regiment would take over, and many men had begun to clear away a few of the stones that had marred their rest during the night, when orders came that the Brigade was to relieve the Naval Brigade in the trenches running from the sea up Walker's Ridge, and including the trenches on the plateau on top, which was afterwards called Russell's Top. Beyond this trench line, further up the beach, were two outposts known as No. 1 Outpost and No. 2 Outpost, forming with the trench line, the Northern defences of the Anzac position.
The situation on Gallipoli on May 12th, the day the Regiment landed, was as follows:—The terrible struggle to maintain a footing at Helles and at Anzac had now been going on for a fortnight. At Helles the great attack of 6th-8th May had failed to capture Achi Baba, but the ground held by the Allies had been considerably enlarged and there was room to manoeuvre and space for dumps and hospitals. At Anzac the situation remained as it was immediately after the landing, our troops holding a small semi-circular position with the sea at their backs. Says Waite, in the "New Zealanders at Gallipoli": "the total length of coast line measured on the map, held by the Australians and New Zealanders was 3,600 yards, just two miles, and the distance from the front lines at page 28Quinn's Post, the centre of the Anzae line, to the sea was about 1,000 yards, a total area of 750 acres. Seven hundred and fifty acres of prickly scrub and yellow clay, stoney water courses, sandy cliffs and rocky hill tops, land that would not support one family in comfort, yet for eight long months men of divers races led a Spartan life there, studding the hill sides so thickly with their rude dug-outs that a Turkish shell seldom failed to find a victim."
The Anzae position was at this time organised in four defence sections, numbered from right to left. General Bridges, with the first Australian Division held sections No. 1 and No. 2 from the sea up to but not including Courtney's Post. General Godley, with the N.Z. and A. Division, was responsible for the remainder of the line to the sea on the north, consisting of Nos. 3 and 4 sections, of which No. 3 comprised Courtney's, Quinn's and Pope's Posts, and No. 4 the table land between Monash Gully (wherein lay the three Posts just mentioned), and Walker's Ridge, thence down this ridge to the sea, with No. 1 and No. 2 Outposts in front on the extreme left flank.
On May 12th these sections were held as follows*:—
- No. 1 Section—3rd A.I.F. Brigade.
- No. 2 Section—1st A.I.F. Brigade.
- No. 3 Section—4th A.I.F. Brigade. Chatham and Portsmouth Bns. (Royal Marine Brigade).
- No. 4 Section—Nelson and Deal Bns. (Royal Naval Brigade).
The N.Z.M.R. Brigade took over No. 4 Section from the Nelson and Deal Battalions and the 1st Light Horse Brigade No. 3 Section, thus relieving the four Naval Battalions, who were transferred to Helles.
"Taking over" the trenches on Walker's Ridge, the sector allotted to the Canterbury Regiment, was soon accomplished—the line running from the sea almost straight up Walker's Ridge to the top where was situated General Russell's headquarters. Beyond this on Russell's Top, as the plateau came to be called, was the Auckland Regiment's line, including the famous Nek, and on their right, facing the Turkish position called The Chessboard and overlooking Monash Gully, was the Wellington Regiment.page 29
But the two Outposts which formed part of the Canterburys' section were not taken over until after dark, as it was possible to travel between them and the trenches only during the night. Even then it was not a pleasant job. The Turks had machine guns ranged on the beach, and at odd moments during the night would open fire. It was simply a matter of trusting to luck.
The first work to be done was obviously to deepen the trenches and to improve the bivouac area at the back of the trenches. Shrapnel and stray bullets had to be guarded against. No material was available, and it was simply a case of digging, either into a bank or into the ground on the flat by the sea. Digging with picks and shovels may be hard work, but try a small entrenching tool, a terrace of hard clay with odd stones through it, and dig a hole big enough to contain a man. There was of course the driving power of self-protection. For the benefit of readers who do not know, an entrenching tool is made up of the following: —a short wooden handle, about sixteen inches long, and a pieee of steel. The steel is flattened out and forms a scraper about five inches broad. The blunt unflattened end serves as a miniature pick.
Overhead cover was little thought of at first, but a few shells soon showed the necessity. An area being shelled is not amusing to the occupants, though often humorous to an on-looker. A popular N.C.O. once took refuge from shrapnel under a blanket stretched between two poles. At the time the hilarity with whieh this performance was greeted by those safe in dugouts was entirely lost upon him. Perhaps it seems cold-blooded to see humour in what is probably costing men their lives, but without humour war would be unbearable, and all concerned would soon be raving lunatics.
Our first casualty occurred on the night of May 14th. The bodies of Australians, killed in their boat at the landing, had drifted ashore between No. 1 and No. 2 Outposts. A party from the Regiment went out. to bury them. This was successfully accomplished, but one man was killed.
A useful piece of work was done also by Sergt. Fox and Trooper Archer, who went out in front of No. 2 Outpost and "lay low" for Turkish snipers.
On this evening also a small party embarked on a destroyer under Major Hutton, and after dark were landed on the point forming the southern horn of Suvla Bay, on which is a small hill called Lala Baba. The intention was to kill or capture a Turkish observation post, but by the time the party arrived the post had vanished. However, three sheep were captured and made a welcome addition to army rations.
At midnight on May 18th-19th the greatest volume of rifle and machine gun fire yet heard on Anzac broke from the Turkish lines. Warning had already been received by all units of an impending attack and all were prepared. In the No. 4 Sector the main blow fell upon the Nek, and on Pope's and Quinn's in No. 3 Sector, and was completely defeated by the Auckland Regiment and the First Light Horse Brigade. The Aucklanders fought magnificently, and, after stopping the page 32enemy's rushes by rifle and machine gun fire, emerged from their trenches and drove the Turks back with the bayonet. Two troops of the C.Y.C. Squadron, one troop of the 8th and two troops of the 10th were sent by the Regiment to act as a reserve to Auckland. About daylight the Canterbury men on No. 1 Outpost saw the Turks assembling in front of the Nek, and poured such a fusilade of machine gun fire into the rear of this mass that it broke and fled. During the forenoon the attack died away. The Regiment sent out a half squadron between the lines on Walker's Ridge and No. 1 Outpost, the object being to find out if the Turks were watching their flank. They certainly were, as the troops found it impossible to get very far.
This great Turkish attack, in which some forty-two thousand troops were engaged, and which enveloped the whole Anzac line, had been completely shattered mainly by rifle and machine gun fire and by noon some ten thousand turks had been killed or wounded, covering no-man's land with their dead.
In the afternoon occurred a peculiar incident. White flags were suddenly observed, being waved all along the Turkish lines and firing at once stopped. Some time passed, while interpreters vainly tried to find out what was wanted. At length the Turks began to come out in front of their lines in many places in order to remove rifles and ammunition from the dead, and it was observed that fresh troops were filing into the enemy's rear trenches. He was therefore given ten minutes to get back to his line, and the fighting began again.
But on May 24th an armistice was arranged, from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., for the purpose of burying the dead that lay thickly between the opposing lines. The absolute silence and stillness, after the rumble and crackle of continuous artillery and rifle fire, was strangely unnatural. Up till a few seconds before the time arranged, there had been the steady cracking of rifle fire, and the bursting of shells; then sudden quiet reigned over the whole scene. White flags were hoisted by both sides, while the men in the opposing trenches, for the first time, had a clear view of the scene between them. The burial parties were all ready, and both sides went about their gruesome task. At 4.25 p.m. the parties separated, and page 33returned to their respective trenches. A minute or two of silence was broken at last by single rifle shot far to the right; then a gradual ripple of musketry along the whole line, increasing till it swelled to a roar, ushered in the old pandemonium again.
The following Articles of an Agreement for the suspension of arms are reproduced, with instructions for giving them effect:—
A suspension of arms for the space of 9 hours beginning at 7.50 o'clock on May 24th and ending at 4.50 o'clock on same day of May 24th, is agreed to for the purpose of burying the dead and removing the wounded between the opposing trenches.
Two Staff Officers, two interpreters, two Medical Officers, one hundred men with one hundred white flags, of each force, will meet at a point on the beach two kilometres North of Kaba Tepe, at 7.45 a.m. Dress, Officers—Belts and water bottles; men—water bottles.
On account of the broken ground and the nearness of the trenches to each other, the area to be cleared is to be divided up as may be decided on by the Senior Staff Officers into areas of 1,000 metres long (approximately), in each of which parties of not more than 200 men of either side are to be employed, to avoid a crowd of men working between the trenches. These parties to be without equipment except water bottles, stretchers, and a proportion of picks and shovels.
At 8 a.m. the work of clearing will be commenced and will cease at 4 p.m. or earlier if the work is completed.
If there is a likelihood of another day being required, the Staff Officers will meet at 5 p.m. and refer to their Commanders for orders as to continuing next day.
The following procedure will be adopted:—
The delimitation party will move along the position starting from the sea, leaving a man of each nationality with a white flag at suitable intervals as nearly as possible half-way between the opposing trenches.
As the Staff Officers send orders to advance to the stretcher bearer parties allotted to each zone, these parties will move out from their own trenches and clear the zone up to the line of white flags, taking all enemy dead or wounded up to the central line for removal by the other side, with the exception of corpses which cannot be moved, which will be interred where found.
Arms and equipment will be disposed of as follows:—
After the dead and wounded have been removed, the Turkish bearer squads can take away all arms and equipment found in the area on their side as far as the dividing line; all arms and equipment found on the British side will be collected and taken page 34to this line where they will be handed over to the Turkish officers after removing the bolts of rifles in their presence.
Similarly, all the British rifles which are found on the Turkish side of the dividing line, will be brought and handed over without bolts to the Officers who are superintending the evacuation on the British side of the zone. The bolts thus removed will be taken away. Arms and equipment of dead or wounded officers will be returned to their own side without restriction.
During the suspension of arms, all movements of troops except the bearer and delimitation parties between the lines of trenches is forbidden, and hostile massing of troops behind those trenches will be a sufficient reason for breaking off the suspension of arms.
It is understood that no embarkation or disembarkation of troops will take place during the suspension of arms between Kaba Tepe and Suvla Bay, on the other side the Turkish forces actually engaged in the neighbourhood of Kaba Tepe will not be reinforced during the suspension of arms.
No works on the trenches, saps, communication trenches, or gun emplacements is to be carried out during the duration of the suspension of arms.
Should any incident give rise to the suspicion that the above conditions are not being adhered to, either Senior Staff Officer may break off the suspension, giving a period of half-an-hour in which to warn both sides of the cessation; provided always that the troops of both sides may be kept in a state of readiness for defence, without accusation of breach of the suspension; and in the case of unforeseen attack, either party is free to take action as the situation demands.
The Staff Officers will fix on a place to which they will arrange for reports to be sent and for communications to go from to their Commanders. The site will be notified to their own troops when decided on.
Except through the Staff Officers, no one can give an order for the cessation of the suspension of arms, except in the ease of an unexpected attack.
x x x x regarding aeroplane reconnaissance.
All delimitation parties, and bearer parties, in case of an unexpected outbreak of hostilities are to be free to withdraw to their own lines, and are as far as possible not to be fired on.
x x x x Powers of Staff Officers.
Instructions as to manner of giving above Articles effect.
The hour referred to is "Alla Franca" which is 8 minutes ahead of Army Corps time.
Firing is to cease at 7.30 a.m. all along the line, but none of the usual daily precautions or lookout arrangements page 35are to be relaxed, nor is any reduction in the garrison to be made.
All ranks are to be warned not to show themselves and thus disclose the position of the occupied trenches or saps.
For the clearing up of the area between the opposing trenches and for the collection and burial of the dead a bearer party 200 strong (or less in front of sections where corpses are not very numerous), with a full allowance of stretchers and 8 picks and 8 shovels for interring much decomposed corpses, is to be held ready at 8 a.m. in each section of the defence.
It is not necessary that all should be ambulance personnel, but a white arm band (cloth or paper) with or without red cross, is to be worn on the left arm. Red cross flags, up to 6 per section, are to be taken.
Attention is drawn to the order of dress.
Dead and wounded are to be cleared from the vicinity of our trenches first, gradually working out towards the dividing line.The delimitation parties will be as follows:—
- Staff Officers—Lt.-Col. Skeen, G.S.O. 1. Army Corps. Major Blarney, G.S.O. 3. Australian Division.
- Interpreters—One from Australian Division. One from New Zealand and Australian Division.
- Medical Officers—One from Australian Division. One from New Zealand and Australian Division.
- 50 men, each with a white flag, from Australian Division.
- 50 men, each with a white flag, from New Zealand and Australian Division.
The flag need only be a small white cloth, or even a sheet of paper, but should be fixed to a stake or branch over 4 feet long, sharpened at the end to plant in the ground.
These parties will meet Lt.-Col. Skeen on the beach by Sapper Post at 6.45 a.m. They should have water bottles filled and food for the day in their pockets. The men will receive instructions there as to their actions in carrying out the procedure laid down in the above paragraphs.
All bodies or wounded taken to the dividing line marked by the white flag bearers will be laid out in rows and not in heaps, and treated with every respect due to the dead.
Rifles taken up are to be carried in stretchers—at the particular request of the Turkish representative so as to avoid suspicions that they are to be carried away, which might arise if the men handled them in the usual way.
Mauser bolts are removeable by drawing back the bolt, pushing out the left charger guide and withdrawing the bolt. Bolts should then be collected on the stretcher and removed to our lines along with any L.E. rifles handed back by the Turks as they are collected.page 36
Care should be taken to send these rifles forward at intervals and not all at once.
Articles 5 and 6.
Special instructions are being issued on this point.
Care should be taken to repair or complete any defensive works before 7.30 a.m. to-morrow. Article 8. Any suspected breach of the conditions is to be reported at once to Headquarters of the Section for transmission to Divisions and Army Corps Headquarters.
Any report of enemy's action which appears to be contrary to the conditions of the suspension should be verified before report and a careful record kept of the hour and circumstances.
In case of an obvious intention on the part of the enemy to attack, each Commander of a post or section of the defence is responsible for reporting at once and for taking immediate measures to meet it.
Here also, though if possible the notice of cessation of the suspension should be formal, post and Section commanders are responsible for taking immediate measures to meet it.
Special care should be taken, if the bearer parties and white flag parties have to retire, not to fire at them, or even in their direction unless the military situation demands it.
23rd May, 1915."
So far the fighting of our troops had been greatly handicapped by an entire lack of bombs, possessed by the Turks in abundance. To remedy this, a factory was started, each unit supplying a man or two to assist. There was no modern machinery. Into a bully-beef tin a portion of gun cotton was placed with a fuse attached. The tin was then filled with old cartridge cases and bullets and wound round with a piece of wire. To fire the bomb a match had to be used to light the fuse, and the bomb was then thrown, after being held to the extreme limit of safety; otherwise if thrown with a long fuse the Turk might throw it back, as was done so often by our men when bombed by the Turks. Later small Japanese stick bombs were issued. These burst on concussion, but as they were liable to explode if they accidentally touched the side of the trench, no regret was felt when the supply ran out.
Following upon his signal defeat on May 19th, the Turk was observed to be greatly improving his trenches at the Nek and on Baby 700 (the rounded end to the hill overlooking the Nek). New trenches also appeared on Battleship Hill, further north along the main Sari Bair range towards Chunuk Bair. A further disquieting thing happened during the night of May 26th. Soon after daylight on the 27th a new Turkish post was observed on the ridge leading down to No. 2 Outpost, and some 450 yards only from it. It was decided that the page 37enemy must be ejected from his close proximity to this isolated post. So after dark on May 28th Major Acton-Adams led the C.Y.C. Squadron from No. 2 and rushed the trench. The garrison fled.
The retirement was carried out in excellent order, though counter-attacks by the enemy had to be driven off several times. This action cost the Wellington Regiment many casualties.
On May 27th Major Overton led out three parties to explore the country to the north-east. The first, under Lieutenant A. C. M. Finlayson, of the Auckland Regiment, turned up the Sazli Beit Dere, but found their way blocked by the enemy, who appeared to have a well-manned trench across the narrow valley. The second party, under Captain N. F. Hastings, of the Wellington Regiment, worked up the bottom of the Chailak Dere, and, slipping between Turkish posts, reached the point where that valley begins to ascend steeply to the head of Rhododendron Spur. Daylight showed him a strong party of Turks ahead, so he had to return. The third party, under Major Overton, followed along the flat and turned up the Aghyl Dere. His notes showed that the entrance to the dere appeared to be entrenched, but to be occupied by sentries during the day only. He watched a party of 150 Turks come down the dere to occupy these positions and thence, slipping by them along the hillside, he followed the southern branch until he came to a sheepfold, around which there was a bivouac of Turks. After remaining out two nights, and making invaluable notes of the Aghyl Dere country, he returned at daylight on the 29th.
As things went at Anzac, the Regiment's main trenches from the sea to the top of Walker's ridge was a fairly quiet sector. But the holding of the two isolated outposts and the patrolling of the flat and the hills to the north and east gave the restless spirits of the Regiment there their fill of fighting.
Rations and water had to be carried from the beach to the trenches, where there was always work to do in improvements and additions, during every hour of the twentyfour. Periods of duty were 24 hours as garrison to Nos. 1 and 2 Outposts, 24 hours in the main line trenches and 24 hours in support, and so back to the Outposts again. The supporting troops did the work in the communication trenches, on the track up the hill and on the beach, those in the trenches and on outpost deepened and extended their own positions. The heat was terrific, and the narrow trenches by day were like a furnace. Water was scarce, the allowance at this time being two pints a day per man. Hard biscuits, salt bacon and bully beef all tended to increase our thirst. One shaved on order but grudged the water used for that purpose. Sea bathing by day, one of the few pleasures, was greatly page 39interfered with by Turkish shell fire. But as soon as the shelling stopped, even if only for a few moments, the water would be alive again with swimmers, though there were many who bathed only after dark. Indeed this bathing was the men's salvation, for a daily ration of two pints of water for a man exposed to the sun's full heat throughout the day's length was scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, let alone the cleansing of the former.
On May 28 Otago Mounted Rifles took over the outpost, and the Regiment vent into reserve, which meant not rest but digging trenches and saps and making roads. Work on these was never finished. Day and night it went on. No sooner was one task finished than another, equally necessary, was found waiting to be done. Sweltering in the heat, parched with thirst and dead tired from lack of sleep as they were, the men toiled on even with happiness, preparing for that day as yet unknown, when they would take part in the oft-discussed advance.
A note in the Regimental war diary of this date says, "the men are all in good heart and good fighting trim."
The Regiment moved back to its old line on June 4th and held 800 yards of trenches from the 6in. Howitzer, "the glass case gun," near the top of Walker's Ridge, to the sea, and on the 11th took over No. 1 Outpost from Otago M.R. This was now a strong point, garrisoned by 50 men and two machine guns.
At the end of June the Turks again attacked the Walker's Ridge section. The Regiment's only interest in this arose from the fact of our having a working party in the trenches at the time. The 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade were holding this line, and promptly ordered us all away. As one Australian laughingly put it, "'this is our show, you New Zealanders just leave it to us." Later the Regiment relieved this brigade, and for the month of July dirt turn about in these trenches with the Australians. Keen on their job and always smiling, what good fellows they were! Here was born that great friendship between the N.Z.M.R. and the Light Horse men which was brought to such a happy maturity in later days at Hill 60, on the desert sands of Sinai and among the mountains of Judea.
About the middle of May the enemy had begun to shell the lines and the gullies in rear of the Regiment, and also the beach. The gun position was in what were called the "W" hills, away across the flat to the north near Anafarta, and came to be called the Anafarta gun. By the end of June it had inflicted some seven hundred and fifty casualties on the Anzac force. The gun's exact position could not be observed, and though our artillery, especially the N.Z. Battery of 18-pounders, on Russell Top, tried to silence it, no harm seemed to be done, for it fired again day after day. On June 20th Lieutenant G. R. Blackett, of the 10th Squadron, with a guide and an interpreter, was taken on a trawler and landed by night at a quiet point on the coast immediately to the north of Suvla Bay. The party made its way inland and lay up all day in the scrub, watching for the gun to fire. However, it probably had several prepared positions, for it was never silenced but for a few hours immediately after being shelled by our guns.page 41
On July 2nd, Major P. J. Wain, O.C. 8th Squadron, and Lieut. T. L. Gibbs, the Regiment's popular signalling officer, were wounded by a shell from this gun.
At the end of June the first reinforcements to reach the Regiment on Gallipoli arrived. These were the 4th Reinforcements, consisting of 3 officers and 44 other ranks. They were received joyfully.
The first day on Russell Top seemed to be the signal for a fairly heavy bombardment. The Turks possessed plenty of artillery and ammunition. Retaliation was a farce. With all the will in the world, how could the Anzac artillery "retaliate" with two rounds a day per gun, which was the limit imposed? But we had at last a fairly liberal supply of bombs, and the men took part in the new game of "two for one" with great zest, and as the trenches at the Nek were only some twenty yards apart good practice was made.
There was an Indian battery of mountain guns in these page 42trenches and the Turk's artillery was continually after them. One enemy gun in particular fired high explosive. In position on the Chunuk Bair ridge, this gun, a high velocity 18-pounder, was very annoying. Usually when it started there was a sudden lack of interest in anything but the nearest dug-outs.
Gas helmets were issued with many warnings. No man was allowed to move about without his helmet, but the general feeling was that gas helmets were just so much extra to carry.
Flies had now become a perfect pest, and one could hardly eat anything that was not contaminated by them. Since the attack in June the dead Turks had been lying between the trenches. Such as could be safely got at were dragged into the trenches and buried, but many remained. Round No. 2 Sap, known to many, was a sight one wishes to forget. Fourteen dead Turks were lying in a space of probably six square yards. The sap was crawling with maggots, and the stench was abominable. Yet this sap had to be held day and night. In addition the front line trench had been extended and had now reached the grave-yard of those buried during the armistice. Some men wore inhalers made of lint soaked in lysol, but they were not effective. Is it any wonder that sickness increased rapidly? The regimental roll about the middle of July showed three hundred and twenty of all ranks; and of these one-fourth were unfit for duty. A note by Major Overton in the official diary says, "men very weak," while a Medical officer reports, "men are debilitated and weak, unfit for any sustained effort." And the Regiment was no worse than any other unit. As a matter of fact it was fitter than most as shown by the record of evacuations to hospital. The food was unsuitable for men suffering from stomach troubles, and such surplus stores as were begged, borrowed or stolen did not go far. Many men exchanged sugar and jam with the Indian gunners, receiving flour or chupattis in return, and a small supply of fresh stores had been procured by Major Overton, who had made a special trip to Alexandria for them on June 22nd; but these did not go far among so many.
The turn in the trenches over, the Regiment went into bivouac near the top of Walker's Ridge, to a place known as Wellington Terrace, after the Wellington M.R. As a trooper pithily put it, "it was a rotten spot." All the shells fired at Brigade Headquarters seemed to burst over this place. Every night about half the Regiment went up the trenches in support." The remainder carried water and rations to a dump half way up the hill.
It was now realised that something was brewing. Reserves of water and rations were being stored up. New bivouac areas were being dug in every hillside and terrace, with nobody to page 43occupy them, and officers commanding regiments were being taken out on destroyers to view the country beyond our left flank. An attack was pending by the Turks according to deserters, so the beach yarn said, and everybody knew of our counter-attack that was to clear the enemy off the hills before us. Indian mule transport and mountain carts had arrived, and by day were concealed in a gully below us. By night they carted stores and ammunition from the landing stage to the various dumps scattered along the foot of the cliffs.
Towards the end of the month the Regiment again handed over the Outposts to Otago. The Maoris, who had just arrived, were digging a sunken road from the beach trenches to both Nos. 1 and 2 Outposts, so that traffic could be carried on by day as well as by night. Within the lines all communication, no matter where, was now below the surface of the ground.
On relieving the Australians again on Russell Top, on what proved to be the Regiment's last spell there, a platoon of Maoris came each night to the trenches, for the purpose of getting used to trench work. They thoroughly enjoyed it, and celebrated the first night by firing all the reserve ammunition into the opposing trenches.
The work of the destroyers, the only ships of the British Navy to be seen on the seas since the sinking of the Triumph was always of interest. At intervals they would run in close to shore, fire a few rounds, and dash out again; while the Turks tried in vain to shell them. But it was at night that their worth was fully realised. They would creep close in and page 44throw their searchlights over the ground in front of the trenehes. One cannot describe the relief of a sentry looking anxiously out to his front, on a pitch dark night, his imagination making every scrubby bush a moving enemy, suddenly finding everything flooded by an intense white light. Good little Chelmer, Colne and Rattlesnake, you will never be forgotten!
Every night or two during this period constant demonstrations were made by throwing bombs, bursts of rapid fire, coloured lights and the showing on our parapets of dummy figures, in order to draw the enemy's fire and make him waste his ammunition, and to keep him in a constant state of uncertainty as to whether we were going to attack or not. These demonstrations also served to prevent the Turk from sending to Helles reinforcements which would interfere with the attacks now being made in that sector by the British and French.
* Note.—The N.Z. Infantry Brigade did not return from Helles until May 20th.