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The Maoris in the Great War


page 34

The beginning of August saw the completion of the commanders' plans of battle for a great general assault on the Turkish positions. The enemy had been sapping forward and gradually establishing themselves in advanced lines, and with the arrival of their reinforcements it was expected that they would launch an attack. A supreme effort was therefore to be made by our combined forces, all along the line. Huge supplies of ammunition had been collected at Anzac Cove, additional guns were landed, fresh British (13th Division) and Indian troops were landed. A great store of water was brought from the ships. The Maoris, with other troops carried out a very large amount of laborious preparation for the big offensive. They made new roads, improved the old ones, dug communication trenches and made terraced bivouacs for the new troops. Practically all this heavy toil had to be done at night. Describing those preparations General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote in his despatch:— The local preparations [Anzac] reflect the greatest credit not only on General Birdwood and his staff but on the troops, who toiled like slaves to accumulate food, drink and munitions. The accommodation of the extra troops to be landed entailed immense work in repairing concealed bivouacs and making interior communications. The Australians and New Zealanders worked entirely at night without complaint. The efforts of these much tried troops are as much to their credit as their heroism in the following battles.

The reinforcing troops, to quote Sir Ian Hamilton's report, were shipped into Anzac Cove very quietly. “They were tucked away from the enemy aeroplanes and observatories in prepared hiding places… I much doubt whether a more difficult enterprise than landing so large a force under the very eyes of the enemy and keeping it concealed for three days is recorded in the annals of war.” General Birdwood's troops at Anzac, 37,000 rifles and 72 guns, were supported by page 35 two cruisers, four monitors (these monitors mounted 14-inch guns) and two destroyers. The enemy's left and centre were slowly bombarded for three days and then the assault on the Lone Pine entrenchment was ordered for August the 6th, with the object of withdrawing the Turkish reserves from the grand attack.

On August 5th orders were issued for the grand attack. The Maori Contingent was in the right covering force under Brigadier-General A. H. Russell, with the N.Z.M.R. Brigade (four regiments), and N.Z. Field Engineers. The duty of this force was to commence the attack and seize the lower slopes, Big Table Top, Old No. 3 Post, and Bauchop's Hill, with the object of covering the initial advance of the assaulting column. The Maori Contingent, which was the strongest and freshest of the five regiments, instead of being given a section of work as the men desired, was broken up to reinforce the four M.R. regiments; these, owing to losses through sickness and casualties in the field, were barely half strength. These regiments were reinforced by platoons from A Company, while B Company was kept in reserve between No. 2 and No. 3 Posts. There were two platoons of Maoris with the Wellington M.R. regiment, one with Otago, one with Auckland, and one with Canterbury. The orders included the following instructions:— By night the bayonet only will be used by troops attacking the enemy. Magazines will not be charged by troops of the assaulting columns, they will only be charged by troops left as pickets and garrisons of posts. As soon as the main objectives are reached troops will dig in. Trenches will be traversed and communication trenches made. Heavy hostile artillery fire is to be expected when it becomes light. No officer, n.c.o. or man is to fall out to rush to the rear to wounded men; to do this is a serious military offence. Stretcher parties will follow all columns and will attend to the wounded.

The terrain which was the scene of the great attack has been described in detail by many writers, but none gives so lucid a picture of Sari Bair as Mr. John Masefield in his epic “Gallipoli.” He explains that Sari Bair begins at Gaba Tepe, page 36 to the south of the Anzac position, and stretches thence northeasterly towards Great Anafarta in a rolling and confused mass of hills, with peaks ranging from about 250ft. to 600ft., its chief peak, Koja Chemen Tepe, is a little more than 900ft. Nearly all of it was trackless, waterless, and confused, with brushwood and forest trees in places, a rough savage country. The south-western part of it made the Anzac position; the north-eastern and higher half was the prize to be fought for. It is the watershed; the deep deres or gullies on its south side go down to the Helles point; those on the north to the flat land south of Suvla Bay. The three northern gullies nearer to the Anzac position were rugged defiles, dry water courses (subject to floods in the rainy seasons) running west or northwest from the hill bottoms. The three gullies, nearest to the northern end of the Anzac positions were Sazlia Beit Dere, Chailak Dere, and Aghyl Dere (the New Zealanders saw much, too much of the ravines of death in the August fighting). They led up into the hills, up to the summits of Sari Bair; and up there it would be possible to look down on the whole Turkish position facing Anzac.

“One can see,” Mr. Masefield wrote, describing the strategic picture from Sari Bari top, “only three miles away, the only road to Constantinople, and, five miles away, the little port of Maidos, near the Narrows. To us the taking of Sari Bair meant the closing of that road to the passing of Turkish reinforcements and the opening of the Narrows to the fleet. It meant victory and the beginning of the end of the Great war, with home and leisure for life again, and all that peace means. Knowing this, our soldiers made a great struggle for Sari Bair, but fate turned the lot against them.”

Of Sari Bair's several peaks and knolls the small plateau of Pine, and Lonesome Pine (400 ft.), were held by the Anzacs. The Turks held the heights called Baby 700 and Battleship Hill, and the difficult peak of Chunuk Bair (about 750ft.).

The plan of the attack was that a strong force at Anzac should attack the right wing of the Turks, seize the heights and drive the enemy south towards Kibr Bahr, so capturing a dominating position on the narrow part of the Peninsula. At the same time there was to be a landing of British troops page break
At Old No. 3 Post, Anzac. Coast view looking towards Suvla. At this post was the only well in the British lines on the Peninsula.

At Old No. 3 Post, Anzac.
Coast view looking towards Suvla. At this post was the only well in the British lines on the Peninsula.

The Battlefield of August, 1915. Scene near Walker's Ridge, Anzac, Gallipoli, during the battle of Sari Bair Shell bursting over the ridge on the right. This photo was taken from the Maori Camp.

The Battlefield of August, 1915.
Scene near Walker's Ridge, Anzac, Gallipoli, during the battle of Sari Bair Shell bursting over the ridge on the right. This photo was taken from the Maori Camp.

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No. 1 Outpost Dressing Station, Anzac, Gallipoli. Medical Officer removing a bullet from a Maori's arm.

No. 1 Outpost Dressing Station, Anzac, Gallipoli.
Medical Officer removing a bullet from a Maori's arm.

One of the Wounded: Private Kainga, Anzac, Gallipoli, August, 1915. [photo by Major Buck.

One of the Wounded: Private Kainga, Anzac, Gallipoli, August, 1915.
[photo by Major Buck.

page 37 in great force at Suvla Bay to attack the Turks on the hills behind Anafarta, and then to go in from the north and west in the great assault on Sari Bair. As we know now, the much-discussed failure of the British troops under General Stopford at Suvla—a failure due to faulty staff work, not to the poor brave Tommies—lost us the key of the position, and lost Gallipoli and the campaign.

The operations began at nine o'clock on the night of Friday, August 6th, with a bombardment of Old No. 3 Post by a destroyer. This shelling lasted for half-an-hour and then the attack began. Some of the Maoris were sent out ahead to destroy barbed-wire entanglements. At 9.30 o'clock the destroyer opened fire on Table Top to prepare the way for the Wellington Mounted Rifles.

When night came on the Maoris, like the old Scottish Covenanters and Cromwell's soldiers, gathered for a religious service on the eve of battle. They mustered silently at the “Maori Pa,” as their camp at No. 2 was called, and there Captain Henare Wainohu, chaplain, addressed them. His brief earnest exhortation breathed the spirit of the warrior chief quite as strongly as that of the spiritual leader.

“Whatever you do,” said the Padre, “remember you have the mana, the honour and the good name of the Maori people in your keeping this night. Remember, our people far away in our native land are watching you, waiting eagerly, anxiously to hear how you have behaved yourselves in battle. In a few minutes perhaps many of us may be dead. But go forward fearlessly, with but one thought. Do your duty to the last, and whatever comes never turn your backs on the enemy. Go through with what you have to do, to the very utmost of your powers. Do your duty, uphold the ancient warrior name of the Maori.”

The reverberating thump and crash of artillery, the noise of shells overhead, the bursting of shrapnel, gave the touch of deadly realism to the Padre's speech. And it was with full hearts, thrilling to the call of imminent action, that the soldiers sang their favourite hymn,

Au, e Ihu, tirohia,
Arohaina iho ra

page 38

(the Maori version of “Jesu, Lover of my Soul”). Many “Tommy” soldiers gathered around to hear the New Zealanders.

Hipokina iho au
Raro i ou parirau.
(“Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.”)

The sweet and solemn beauty of the Maori singing pleased the listening pakehas. They thought it was a native “sing-song,” perhaps, for they applauded when the hymn ended.

The task before the Maoris was to advance with empty rifles against a foe entrenched in seemingly impregnable positions on the grim dark heights above. The work had to be done with the point of the bayonet. The orders were that not a shot was to be fired; the enemy trenches must be taken by surprise attack. Officers as well as men carried rifle and fixed bayonet. They had no steel helmets; those came later, in France. They wore shirt and trousers only; tunics were an encumbrance.

The 1st Australian Infantry Brigade with desperate gallantry captured the Lone Pine entrenchments. The great assault from Anzac Cove by the Anzacs and the 13th Division and the Indian troops, was up the three deres leading to the peak of the Sari Bair.

Sir Ian Hamilton, in his graphic reports of the Gallipoli operations, described succinctly thus the opening of the grand attack:—

“… the real push… was the night attack on the summits of Sari Bair. Our object was to effect a lodgment along the crest of the main ridge with two columns of troops. We planned that two assaulting columns should work up three ravines, to storm the high ridge. These were preceded by two covering columns, of which the first was to capture the enemy's positions covering the foothills, and the other was to strike out northwards, until from Damakjelik Bair it could guard its left flank of the column assaulting Sari Bair from the enemy on Anafarta valley. The whole of this big attack was made under General Godley. A warship had been educating the Turks how to lose a redoubt near Table Top. Every night at 9 o'clock, the warship threw a searchlight and bombarded the redoubt for ten minutes. Then followed a ten minutes interval page 39 and a second illumination, the bombardment concluding precisely at 9.30. The idea was that the enemy should take the searchlight as a hint to clear out until the shelling was ended.

“On the night of the 6th the searchlight was switched off at 9.30, and instantly our men poured out through the scrub and jungle into an empty redoubt at Table Top, a whole series of entanglements being carried by 11 o'clock.

“Simultaneously the attack on the Table Top was launched under cover of the warship's heavy bombardment. The banks are so steep that the Table Top gives the impression of a mushroom summit bulging over the stem, but as faith moves mountains so valour carries them. The Turks fought bravely. The angle of the Table Top's ascent is recognised in the regulations as impracticable for infantry, but neither Turks nor angles of ascent were destined to stop Brigadier-General Russell and his New Zealanders that night. There are moments in battle when men become super-men, and this was one of those moments. The scarped heights were scaled, and the plateau was carried at midnight.

“With this brilliant feat the task of the right covering force ended. The attacks were made with bayonet and bomb only. The magazine being empty by order. No words can do justice to the achievements of General Russell, and the New Zealand Rifles, especially the Otago Rifles, the Maoris, and the New Zealand Field Troop.”

The Maoris indeed went into that splendid attack, their first battle with the bayonet, in a mood of savage determination and delight. This was their chance for fame. They went grimly for those Turks, bayoneted them in their lines, they burst into a tremendous haka when they had cleared the trenches—“Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora!”—then silence as they pressed on to the next point.

At Chailak Dere its attackers had had a very difficult task. They were held up by barbed wire of uncommon height, width, and intricacy, closing up the ravine. “Here, a splendid body of men,” wrote Sir Ian Hamilton, “—the Otago Mounted Rifles—lost some of their bravest and best, but when things were desperate a passage was forced with most conspicuous cool page 40 courage by Captain Shera and a party of New Zealand Engineers, supported by Maoris, who are descendants of the warriors of the ‘Gate Pa.’

When the order to advance was given the Maoris, in their several companies and platoons, some with the various pakeha units, moved silently off towards their objective on the dark ridges above.

A Company's great adventure may be followed in most detail. The Company was not attached to any pakeha body. There were 70 men under Captain Roger Dansey and Captain Pirimi Tahiwi. They started at 9 p.m., with a pakeha captain guiding them. They had not gone far up the gully towards No. 3 Post when they came under Turkish shell fire, and had to return and shelter awhile. After waiting under cover for some time, they went forward again, in single file. The shell fire increased in intensity; the hills shook with it. The Maoris pressed up a steep ridge until they came to the first enemy barbed-wire entanglements at Old No. 3 Post. The wire-cutters sent out in advance had not got through this formidable obstruction, and it held the attackers up for some time. Here one of Tahiwi's lads, Pte. Ropata (of Otaki), batman to Captain Ennis, the Adjutant, was caught in the wire, shot through the body and killed. By this time the Maoris were under a very heavy rifle fire as well as shrapnel shells and machine-guns. Charging on, A Company came to a section of trench and were proceeding to clear out its inmates when they found that it had just been taken by the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Further on the trench was still held by the Turks and Captain Dansey offered to clean up the position if Major Chapman, the officer in command of the Aucklanders, would give him some men. Chapman could not spare him any, so Dansey and Tahiwi pushed on to do the job. About a hundred yards further on up the difficult slope of the ridge they were confronted by a long crescent-shaped trench. Captain Dansey, Captain Tahiwi, Lieut. Hiroti, and one or two men (including the bugler, corporal H. Tahiwi) jumped into this trench and worked down it in advance of their men; it was impossible to keep closely in touch in the darkness. The Turks still held this trench further on, and the Maoris could hear their voices. The advance party worked towards them, page 41 and Captain Dansey said, “Let's charge them!” This the little party did. They yelled as they went, with bayonets at the charge,

Ka mate, ka mate!
Ka ora, ka ora!”

the ancient Maori battle-song. It was taken up with tremendous voice by the men following them. On they went for those Turks; there was no breath to finish the chant; they needed it to push the bayonet home. The lads hurled themselves at the foe like a band of destroying angels; with bayonet and rifle butt they cleared the trench; only the dead and dying remained. Some Maoris fell, but the victory was with them.

Ka mate, ka mate!

the Maoris shouted like mad when the terrible work was done. “Hupane, kaupane! Whiti te ra!” they yelled. And from their unseen comrades away along the range they heard the same war-cry above the crackling of Turkish rifles.

That first dash of Dansey and Tahiwi and their companions into the Turkish nest was a daring bit of work. The enemy fired at them at a distance of only two or three yards but strangely, the only one hit, a Taupo man, Pte. Whatu, was behind the others. Many stories have been told in the kaingas about that famous war-shout on the Gallipoli hills; it was Dansey and Tahiwi who started it, and it was with a fierce wild delight that the New Zealanders, pakeha as well as Maori, heard it taken up all along the line as Turk trench after trench was rushed.

After clearing the Turks out of the trench A Company consolidated the position, sandbagged it wherever needful and held on till the morning. When daylight came they found that from their position they could see the operations at Suvla Bay, and they watched the whole movement of the British troops there, after the tardy landing. It was a beautiful bright morning, and the battle for Chocolate Hill, the hopeless advance of the British under the heaviest of artillery and rifle fire, was clearly visible.

The crash of battle for the Gallipoli summits was now at its terrible zenith. The Maoris, as they crouched in their captured trenches, saw the cruisers all bombarding the ridges, heard British and Turkish shells scream overhead; shrapnel burst page 42 over them; rifles and machine-guns maintained a continuous crackling fire. They had but slight shelter, those Anzacs who held the broken slopes and ridges, for the ultimate summits of Sari Bair and Table Top were still above them.

At 10 o'clock in the morning the Maoris received orders to go on to Table Top. A Company and those near them had to cross an intervening gully and ascend a sharp razorback ridge to gain their objective. Under rifle fire they ran down into the valley, singly, and began to climb to the formidable summit; up the way was very steep over rock and hard clay, with low bushes. Many dead Turks lay in the valley and about the slopes. The Maoris reached this top and lay low hanging on to scrub about the precipitous hill-brow. They watched a new “Tommy” regiment working its way up to Little Table Top under heavy fire.

Presently orders came to return to the foot of the hill and reassemble. The Maoris descended, and found comparative shelter behind a small hill. There the men greeted their comrades, and compared notes of the great night's work. The cover here was scant; the place was under rifle fire, as a remarkable casualty proved. Captain Pirimi Tahiwi was in the act of drinking from his water-bottle when a bullet fired from the hill above went through the upraised bottle, entered his neck, just missing the jugular vein, and passed down through the right side of his body, close to the spine. Tahiwi's brother Henare caught him as he was falling, paralysed with the shock. That ended the young Ngati-Raukawa captain's service on Gallipoli: but he made a good recovery in hospital, and joined his comrades in France.

Captain Buck (later Major, with the decoration of the D.S.O.) had a most strenuous time, in the thick of it as medical officer. The following are extracts from his diary:—

“August 6th (Friday)—The Wellington Mounted Rifles moved in here to Major Todd's old camp to attack Table Top. Happy Valley on our left, is full of troops; and men have been moving all night round to No. 2. Our men are distributed out with other regiments of Russell's brigade—two platoons with Wellington, one with Otago, one with Auckland, and so on. page 43 In the evening at 7 o'clock, we moved round between No. 2 and 3 outposts. Other troops were there thick. Divisional and Brigade Headquarters moved round, also the A.P.M.S.; Major Holmes is using Otago's aid post. Otago and Canterbury moved out, and some of our men with them. A destroyer commenced the bombardment of Old No. 3 Post at 9 p.m. for about 30 minutes, and the general attack commenced then. Lieut. Coupar and No. 1 Platoon were sent out to destroy barb-wire entanglements. At 9.30 the destroyer shelled Table Top to prepare the way for the Wellington Regiment. B Company of the Maori Regiment was held in reserve. News came through that Colonel Findlay, of the Canterbury's, was wounded, I offered for service and went out with my stretcher-bearers. We met Findlay on the way, shot through the thigh. I sent him in and went on to pick up the Canterbury wounded on the left of our position (Walden's Point). Saw the Australian infantry passing through in the valley near Canterbury Ridge. They had captured half-a-dozen Turks who had been left behind and had them ringed round with bayonets. We passed to the foot of Walden's Ridge and picked up several Canterbury wounded. Some were very bad, shot through the lungs, some with broken legs. We did our best for them and sent some in with our stretcher-bearers. Saw five or six dead lying about, including a Turk. We went up the ridge to the Turkish trench captured and saw two wounded and two killed; did what we could. There was a captured machine-gun in the trench. Came down, saw the Canterbury stretcher-bearers, and located Captain Guthrie, who had established an aid post in the same gully but had been working the other ridge. Meanwhile Ghurkas and other troops were passing through the valley and passing inland. We went thoroughly over the ridge that we had partly done, and whilst exploring it for wounded we were nearly shot at by the Ghurkas; the General considered there was nobody on their left.

“Before this we could hear our men doing splendidly. Rattle of musketry, then silence, and the loud English cheer, followed by a Maori haka. Owing to the Maoris being distributed, the hakas came from every ridge. Everybody is pleased with our men.

page 44

“Handed over wounded C.Y.C. to Captain Guthrie and went back to join the Contingent in the early morning of the 7th. All along troops were pushing on, and over to the left the transports were thick landing on the Salt Lake section (Suvla). All along the track the wounded lay thick, and in many places the dead also. I found B Company reduced to two platoons, the rest having gone out to reinforce the other regiments.”

Summarising the results of the first great attack, Captain Buck wrote:—

“The Auckland Mounted Rifles took Old No. 3 but dug-in without cleaning it out. Captain Dansey, with 70 Maoris, asked Major Chapman (Auckland Mounted Rifles) to give him another 50 men and he would clean up the position. This was refused, and Dansey did it with his 70 men, losing only seven killed and several wounded. Major Chapman was killed. The Wellington Mounted Rifles, under Colonel Meldrum, took Big Table Top, but Rhododendron, a little further on, delayed the infantry who were advancing while these operations were going on. The Otago Mounted Rifles, under Colonel Bauchop, with the Canterbury Regiment, under Colonel Findlay, cleared up Bauchop's Hill. Colonel Bauchop was mortally wounded through the chest whilst leading his men; he died the next day. One of the last things he said in the clearing station [to Lieut.-Col. Herbert, O.C. Maori Contingent] was: Herbert, the Maoris have done splendidly.

There were innumerable incidents of daring in that terrible and glorious night's work. Captain Roger Dansey, whose dash has already been mentioned, himself killed three Turks with the bayonet. An anecdote of his alertness and dash in those August days and nights was narrated in New Zealand by one of his men long afterwards. “Captain Dansey,” he said, “is as good a fighter as he was a footballer. Once a big Turk jumps up ahead of him and levels a rifle at his head. But Dansey just ducks and goes for that Turk low down; the bullet goes over his head and the Turk goes to heaven.”

“We got our blood up that night,” said the same soldier, describing the Friday night assault. “We went right up and page break
Major Peter H. Buck (Te Rangihiroa), D.S.O., M.D. Served with the First Maori Contingent, Gallipoli, 1915; Pioneer Battalion, Western Front, 1916-1918; New Zealand Medical Staff, 1918.

Major Peter H. Buck (Te Rangihiroa), D.S.O., M.D.
Served with the First Maori Contingent, Gallipoli, 1915; Pioneer Battalion, Western Front, 1916-1918; New Zealand Medical Staff, 1918.

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Rev. Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu. Chaplain, Maori Battalion. Served on Gallipoli and in France. Died in New Zealand, 1924.

Rev. Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu. Chaplain, Maori Battalion.
Served on Gallipoli and in France. Died in New Zealand, 1924.

page 45 into it with the steel. Hand-to-hand fighting was the thing. It was like the days of our forefathers.”*

August 7th was a day of exhaustion, the troops lying on the hills, in scant cover, under terrible artillery, bomb and rifle-fire, holding on, gratified with their advance and preparing for a still more desperate advance that night. Captain Buck wrote in his diary of his day's work:—

“August 7th (Saturday).—Set to work to help wounded, who were lying thick between Nos. 2 and 3 Posts, and giving the few men under Major Holmes all they could do. Several of our men came in wounded, and I helped to dress some and label them. Could hardly get away from them. Then collected as many as possible of our stretcher-bearers and set off up the gully. Camped in the afternoon under a small spur leading down on the left of Old No. 3. Near us was an old Turkish bivouac. Went up into the trenches and got three of our wounded; buried seven of our dead. One man was wounded badly through the stomach. They had been seen by Dr. McCormac. Five of our men were wounded here, including Captain Tahiwi (in the neck) and my orderly, A. Simeon. Captain Tahiwi was in the act of having a drink out of his water-bottle; the bullet skidded down into the neck, otherwise it would have gone through his head. A lieutenant sent down as guide was also hit before we moved out at 2 a.m. I sent the wounded back to the Australian Light Horse First Aid Post. We were short of stretchers, owing to congestion in the evacuation on the beach, or rather at No. 2. This was due to the fact that the wharf erected in front of No. 2 for the evacuation of wounded had to be abandoned because of Turkish machinegun fire dominating it. The men had to be carried round to Walker's Ridge wharf, and the congestion of wounded led to the stretchers being kept on the beach.”

* “A platoon of Maoris, led by a Wellington officer, also crept quietly up the Chailak Dere in order to get round the back of Table Top to co-operate with the Wellingtons. In the gully between Bauchop's Hill and Old No. 3 a party of Turks fired on the Maoris, who saw red and slew the Turks to a man. Chasing the enemy up the gully the Maoris never stopped until they were round the back of Table Top, and were only with great difficulty restrained from tackling Sari Bair by themselves!”—Major F. Waite, in “The New Zealanders at Gallipoli.”—p. 210.