The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
The Order to Evacuate
The Order to Evacuate.
On December 8 it was decided to withdraw those guns that were not required for a passive defence. On December 12, 19 guns of varying calibre, belonging to the N.Z. and A. Division, were embarked. On the same day it was announced that a Rest Camp had been formed at Imbros to which units would go in turn during the winter. Some men still thought it was all a big bluff, but were inclined to be convinced upon the departure of the 3rd and 10th Australian Light Horse Regiments, the Auckland Mounted Rifles, the Otago Infantry Battalion, the Maori Contingent, the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion and other details from the New Zealand and Australian Division.
But the decision could not be concealed indefinitely, and the following order was issued on December 16:
“The Army Corps Commander wishes all ranks of your Division to be now informed of the operations that are about to take place, and a message conveyed to them from him, to say that he deliberately takes them into his confidence, trusting to their discretion and high soldiery qualities to carry out a task, the success of which will largely depend on their individual efforts.
If every man makes up his mind that he will leave the trenches quietly when his turn comes, and sees that everybody else does the same, and that up to that time he will carry on as usual, there will be no difficulty of any kind, and the Army Corps Commander relies on the page 281 good sense and proved trustworthiness of every man of the Corps to ensure that this is done.
In case by any chance we are attacked on either days, the Army Corps Commander is confident that the men who have to their credit such deeds as the original landing at Anzac, the repulse of the big Turkish attack on May 18, the capture of Lone Pine, the Apex and Hill 60, will hold their ground with the same valour and steadfastness as heretofore, however small in numbers they may be; and he wishes all men to understand that it is impossible for the Turk to know or tell what our numbers are, even up to the last portion of “C” party on the last night, as long as we stand our ground.”
Officers who knew the state of affairs were greatly relieved at the decision, but sick at heart now that the blow had fallen. To give up Anzac and all that it meant! To leave the place where our brothers and friends were lying! Out there in No Man's Land graves were marked where men had fallen, but no cross had been erected, and now the chance was slipping away. Men crept out at night to pay their last visits to those lonely graves. One soldier writing home voiced the undisguised emotion of many:
“My goodness, Mother, how it did go to our hearts—after all we had gone through—how we had slaved and fought—fought and slaved again—and then to think that we had been sizzled in the heat, tortured by flies and thirst, and later nearly frozen to death. It was hard to be told we must give it up. But it was not our wasted energy and sweat that really grieved us. In our hearts it was to know we were leaving our dead comrades behind. That was what every man had in his mind. We thought, too, of you people in New Zealand and what you might think of us. Believe me, it is far harder to screw one's courage up for running away than it is to screw it up for an attack!”
But now that the decision had been made, everyone worked with a will. The horses and mules, valuable vehicles and guns were mostly embarked before the last two nights. The Division withdrew 53 guns in all, only 12 being page 282 left for the last night. The batteries were ordered to continue firing in “an extraordinary erratic manner” in order to mystify the enemy. The gunners were busy burying and otherwise destroying surplus stores. The enemy gunners were very energetic during the last three days. Round Russell's Top their shells arrived in myriads, and quite noticeably of better quality. Each battery was reduced until only one gun remained. The New Zealand gunners were determined that they would get all their horses away, and every gun. In order to facilitate an uninterrupted passage for the last night, resourceful and hard-working artillerymen prepared bridges and cuttings to get their beloved pieces away. The last gun from Russell's Top had to cross a perfect maze of communication trenches, but the men refused to rest until the ten improvized bridges were ready for the eventful night.