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The Maoris in the Great War

Chapter V. — The Last Weeks at Gallipoli

Chapter V.
The Last Weeks at Gallipoli.

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The crucial battle of the Gallipoli—Dardanelles campaign was over; the grand effort had failed—a glorious effort which would have been crowned with success had not the new English troops at Suvla Bay disappointed their comrades desperately holding the right of the line. After the Sari Bair fighting the Maoris spent about another eight weeks at Anzac and early in October were sent across to the island of Lemnos for a rest, anticipating the final evacuation of Gallipoli by eleven weeks. During the further fighting in August, when Sir Ian Hamilton made a final great effort with his reorganised troops, the Maoris shared with the pakeha troops, Imperial and Colonial, the attack on the hill of Kaiajik Aghala (Hill 60), and suffered heavy losses, in company with the Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles.

On August 20th, Captain Buck and the Padre, Captain Wainohu, saw General Godley, who congratulated the Maoris on their conduct in the operations of the 6th-9th. He said also that the Colonel of the Ghurkas and British officers, had spoken highly of them. The General said that, in order to give them better opportunities, the Maoris would be distributed and attached to the four infantry battalions, but that they would not lose their identity as they would be kept as distinct platoons. This temporary eclipse of the battalion as a body was not at all to the liking of the Maoris' officers; still there was some comfort in the knowledge that the platoons would remain distinct in each pakeha battalion. The breaking-up of the Battalion in this way brought strong protests from its members, and later on, as the result of united action by Sir Maui Pomare, Sir James Carroll and the other members of the Maori Recruiting Committee in New Zealand, the whole body was again united, and was in the end reconstructed as a Pioneer Battalion.*

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The Doctor and the Padre were ordered to report to the Infantry Brigade Headquarters. Brigadier-General Johnston told them that he had watched the Maoris go into action on the Monday. There was no hesitation about them and they did splendidly. He was very pleased with them and considered that the Ghurkas “were children compared with them.” He was very pleased to have them in his command.

In the evening of the 20th the O.C., Lieut.-Col. Herbert (who had been warmly praised by the G.O.C. for his services in command of the Contingent) mustered the Maoris and bade them farewell. He said he was going as Colonel to the Worcesters and Captain Ennis was going with him as his adjutant. Captain Buck gave the men the General's message.

On August 21st orders were received for 100 men to report to the Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles, for an attack on the left front. Capt. Buck went with them with one hospital orderly and four stretcher-bearers. At 2.30 that afternoon the warships began a heavy bombardment of the Turkish trenches, and the shore howitzer batteries joined in. Our men were waiting behind the South Wales Borderers' trenches. Captain Buck, describing the operations, wrote in his diary:—

“At the end I was on, there were about 25 Maoris. They were to form part of the third line, and were put under Lieut. Blackett. Lieuts. Walker and Stainton of the Maoris were further up. Our attack was launched as the bombardment ceased. Looking over the trenches I could see our men running across the ridges like deer, then resting in a slight gully, and on again. Our men soon caught up to the others. On the flat on our left Australians and Tommies were advancing line on line under a hail of shrapnel. It was like a picture battle. Afterwards I learned that all the hills and ridges near Walker's and stretching back were crowded with our men watching the battle. The firing slackened, and I slipped over the trench and dropped into an oblique little gully running down into the main one. Here I was almost on top of a wounded Canterbury man. I lay beside him and put on his first field dressing. He was wounded in the muscles of his back, not badly. He kept saying, ‘I'd be much happier if page 61 you would keep your head down a little; I've been watching the bullets pitch alongside.’

“A little lower was young Warakihi lying on his face stone dead. I took his identity disc and passed on down to three wounded. Called for my orderly who hopped over the trench with haversack. Fixed up the wounded and carried one—a sergeant—down into the gully, where we found Captain Guthrie and others. Captain Guthrie himself had a wound through the fleshy part of the back of the neck. I went on and could see wounded men able to walk getting over the trenches into the South Wales lines. The firing was fairly frequent on the table lands, so I worked down the gully and struck a sap in a gully running towards the trenches taken by our people. The Connaught Rangers were widening the sap. Met several of our men (wounded) coming down, and labelled them, including Sergeant Ngamoko Kingi and others. Went on and came to a raised bank behind the trenches, where several wounded were lying, also some of our men in reserve (under Sergeant Te Hau), as the trenches were too crowded. I fixed up the wounded, including Sergeant Wihapi, fractured femur, and Skipper, shot through the hip. Skipper apologized for not securing me a pair of Turkish field-glasses. He said, ‘I get hit too — quick.’ Guthrie turned up and carried on, in spite of his wound, until we got most away. Captain Cave, of the Australian Field Ambulance (Light Horse) came and helped get the remaining ones out. Got Corporal Paraone out of the trenches, badly wounded. The Connaught Rangers were digging a communication trench. The Padre and I dug a bivvy in the bank, where we stayed all night. The Turks seemed to make a counter attack every two hours, when there would be a heavy fusilade, with bombs exploding, and the Rangers stood to arms. Once we heard loud cries from the Turks and then a desperate fusilade.

“The trench which our men helped to take is called Kaiajik Aghala, and the gully with the sap running up to the right is Kaiajik Dere. Our men were praised by the General for the good work done in these trenches.

“Lieut. Walker was struck in the side of the face and neck by a splashed bullet from the edge of a machine-gun loop-hole. page 62 This was a Turkish machine-gun captured in the trenches, which Walker fixed up and turned on the enemy. I sent him back to No. 1 Post. Walker was pleased with his men in the charge across the table lands. As he found they were getting too low down to the left he gave them ‘Half right form.’ They did it perfectly, under rifle, machine-gun and big gun fire.”

On August 23rd, Dr. Buck and Padre Wainohu took a party of six men and a sergeant to bury the Maori dead, but were told by Brigadier-General Russell not to attempt it, as the table lands traversed by the forces in the attack were swept by machine-gun and rifle fire. The officers were told that most of the dead had been buried by a party the previous night. The total Maori casualties were believed to be 48 or 49.

The remainder of our men in the Kaiajik Aghala trenches only got out on the 24th. On that day the Maori Contingent paraded for the last time as a separate unit. The men left camp and joined the various battalions of the infantry brigade. Dr. Buck and Padre Wainohu joined the Auckland Regiment (Major Alderman in command) on Rhododendron Spur as the most central. Sergeant-Major Tingey received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant, and joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles as machine-gun officer.

On the afternoon of August 27th, the bombardment of the Turkish positions was renewed by the warships and land batteries. Huge columns of dust rose at Kaiajik Aghala where the shells struck. When the big guns ceased firing machine-gun and rifle fire commenced and continued till early next morning. It was learned in the morning that the infantry in the night attack, had taken two lines of trenches but failed to take the third. The greater part of Hill 60 was now held by our men. The Connaught Rangers did well but had to give up one trench. Next night the attack was renewed, and the hills rattled with heavy rifle fire and bombing.

On August 29th, General Russell delivered another attack on the Kaiajik Aghala trenches. The 10th Australian Light Horse took the third line of trenches and held it against bombs and rifle fire. Our men had now complete possession of Hill page 63 60 and consolidated the position and also established communications across Kaiajik Dere with the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade.

An entry, in a Maori officer's diary, on September 9th read: “Life here is very quiet and there is no excitement.” What the humorist implied, no doubt, was that no shell dropped into his bivouac that day.

The British now held the line from Anzac to Suvla securely, but neither side was in a position to launch another great attack. There was considerable shelling on both sides daily, but the hostilities on shore were restricted to trench warfare, with its intermittent machine-gun and rifle firing and bombing. There was much sickness; dysentry was very prevalent.

On September 14th, Captain Buck, noting in his diary the progress of events, wrote that he went up to the Apex to report to Major Alderman, who was in command of the Maoris, and of various New Zealand Details, with Captain Ennis as his adjutant. All the lower slopes of the hills were occupied by Australians; and the Apex by the 28th Australian Infantry. There was intermittent shelling on both sides daily. On the 18th, the Turks started shelling the Apex with 75's, and made it very hot. Then they started to fire on our trenches. The firing spread along to the left, where the flat was under heavy shell bombardment. All hands stood to arms and there was great excitement, for it was thought that another strong Turkish attack was impending. However, it fizzled out; only two of our men were wounded. The warships and our howitzers replied to the enemy fire for some hours. The 19th—Sunday—was “a quiet peaceful day”; just a few shells in the morning, and the Turks “plunked in a few in the afternoon.” One Australian at the Apex was killed. The Maoris held a church service in the evening, and the Australians was interested listeners because of the novelty of it.

On September 20th, a burst of shrapnel caught one of the Maoris (Pte. Herewini) in the chest. The enemy still shelled the Apex, sending in single shots at irregular intervals. A warship shelled the enemy trenches at 6 p.m. and put two shots into a blockhouse. The batteries on the beach also sent over several rounds.

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On September 21st, in the afternoon, after a quiet morning, the Turks threw some bombs fairly close to the Maoris but fortunately on the uninhabited slopes of their gully. Some of the Maoris gave the alarm when they saw a bomb with a long tail coming down, and everybody dived into the dugouts. Later, the Turks sprayed shrapnel on the slope below, half-way down the sap. There was an immediate call for stretcher-bearers and Captain Buck went down and found three Australians hit. He went into a dug-out to attend to them, and while there shrapnel frequently burst close by. This slope was in full view of the enemy and there was no protection whatever except in the dug-outs. Thus, when cooking or other work was going on and a few men were collected together, the Turks burst shrapnel over the spot, having the range exactly. More men had been wounded in this place—bad wounds, too, in chest and abdomen, often mortal—than anywhere else about. Five Australians were wounded here this day.

Early in the morning of September 22nd, the Turks started shelling with a seventy-five from the west hills, firing shrapnel accurately on “Mafish Slope,” as the Australians' exposed position was christened. Five men were wounded in the early morning bombardment. After breakfast, Captain Buck was half-way through his sick parade when the gun started again. The cries from below for stretcher-bearers, then for another stretcher, and next for a doctor. On going down he found a case at the end of the sap on the exposed slope facing the west hills. Seeing a strecther-bearer near, he called to him to take cover. An Australian was lying in the open shot through the back of the neck, dead. Buck dived into a shallow bivouac near, but as it already had three occupants he got out and ran to another dug-out. He had only just got down into cover when a shrapnel shell burst over the shelter. Hearing a groan next door, he looked over and saw a stretcher-bearer lying in the dug-out bleeding. The man had been looking out to see what he could do and a shrapnel bullet penetrated the top of his head. His condition was hopeless; he was just breathing when Buck put a dressing on, and left. Immediately afterwards there was another burst of shrapnel. Going down the road the surgeon came on two more wounded men, hit in page 65 the legs. He carried one out to a safer place. A breathing spell and a smoke with the Australians, the cool and plucky doctor clambered back to the top of the hill. He stopped to pass the word to the Padre about the wounded men below, and dropped down into his dug-out just as another burst of shrapnel swished along outside the shelter. Again the cry came from below for a doctor. Descending the hill again he found a man dying with a wound in the throat. That made three killed and six wounded to be chalked up against that gun for the morning. Later in the day the ‘75’ got some more Australians, including one mortally wounded in the head. So the wastage tally of these people, the 28th Australian Infantry Brigade, was fairly heavy.

About 11 o'clock that morning, some 40 Maoris and some 60 New Zealand Details were sent down the gully to the Canterburys' old camp; the rest were to follow next day. The Turks sent over this day, among other souvenirs, a bomb at the end of a stick about six feet long, fired out of some gun or other. They were also firing rifle grenades.

The Australians on “Mafish Slope” shifted out of it this day, and the sap was deepened.

On the 23rd, in the evening, the Turks shelled the Canterbury Ridge, and then vigorously bombarded the flat towards Suvla Bay. The flashes of the guns could be seen on the far range of hills. The enemy sent some shells close to the warships at Suvla, and the cruiser there shifted out further. A mortar was used in the Anzac trenches, throwing bombs at the Turk blockhouse. The enemy sent another stick bomb over. It could be seen whirling through the air as it came and landed in our trenches;—nobody was in its way.

Occasional night “demonstrations,” with rifle fire and machine-guns, and daytime intermittent shelling, went on for some weeks. This was the entry in Captain Buck's diary for Sunday, September 26th:—

“Another beautiful day; the sea looked very calm and placid from here [the Apex]. The cruiser which lies nearly opposite, always looks lazy, and the only active things are the destroyers, which kept up their endless patrol. For morning page 66 service, the Turks sent us some bombs, and one caught the end of the sap near the latrines below us. One poor man [Australian] had his leg blown off, the other leg shattered, his bowels were fully exposed, and both arms were broken. Yet his voice was quite strong when he asked for assistance. Another had several wounds, including an abdomenal, and he died on the stretcher. Two others were wounded; a facial artery spouted away. Later we put the howitzers on to the Turks and there were some terrible explosions. Had sick parade below this afternoon. My cold fairly tight; have now given up shorts—too cold…. Vague rumors that the Balkan States are in the war, also the inevitable prognostication that the campaign will end in days now. Meanwhile the New Zealanders and Maoris continue to supply men for trenches, and can only supply the numbers by sending in sick men. These men should be away now. Another bomb went off to-night below us, and we heard a call for stretcher-bearers—but don't know what happened, as the Australian medical officer went down there.

“September 27th.—One man last night slightly concussioned by a bomb. The Australian Army Medical Corps decided to shift half-way down the hill to the water-tanks; I went with them. Had both sick parades in the morning. The A.A.M.C. dug in a dressing station at the bottom of the sap near the tanks in a good place. Captain Kenny and I got a fine dug-out on the side of the hill, just below the fire trenches. We can make it into a real good place. Last night, about 7 o'clock, word came to stand to arms, so I went up the hill. There was a strong attack on the left. The warships, were firing their big guns incessantly. Fires broke out on the lower slopes of the west hills and the far hills. There was also brisk rifle fire, and rockets and star-shells were going. A warship in the Gulf of Saros was using a searchlight well in advance of our position, on the far hills. The firing lasted about an hour and fizzled out… A bomb went off in the afternoon near the dug-outs at the Apex, wounded a Maori (Pirika) in the thigh and a New Zealander in the arm.”

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Departure from Gallipoli. A Rest on Lemnos.

On Sunday evening, October 3rd, the Maoris broke up camp at their various posts and went aboard the mine-sweeper “Partridge,” which left next morning for Mudros, the famous haven of Lemnos Island. The British cruiser “Endymion,” was passed on the way. On landing at Mudros, the Maoris were broken up in platoons and located with their previous regiments. The camp, at Sarpi, was 3½ miles out from the port. For an account of this camp and the doings of the Maoris there, I give extracts from Captain Buck's diary, in the absence of official regimental diaries for this period:—

“October 5th—We had a good rest; missed the sound of bullets. The Maoris are with various battalions; a good many have been sent to hospital. Went for a walk this afternoon with Major Alderman, Captain Ennis and the Padre to the nearest village, Sarpi. Went to see Lieut.-Col. O'Neill (Major previously) who now commands the New Zealand Medical Corps.

“October 6th.—Review of troops to-day by General Godley. It was a pathetic sight to see the Main Body men, few in number, battered in appearance, with faded uniforms and weary step, as compared with the 6th Reinforcements. They are a likely looking lot. The infantry number about 1000 and the mounteds about 1100… More of our boys sent to hospital.”

A change of food, plenty of rest, cricket and football matches for those well enough to play, and camp-fire concerts, were some of the things that compensated the war-worn soldiers in Sarpi Camp. British officers of high degree came and had a look at the Maoris.

(A Maori diary entry: “A general wearing a monocle rode over; also saw an admiral wearing one. The Padre wanted to know how it is the English get weak in only one eye.”)

One or two of the Maori officers were anxiously awaiting word from the steamer “Aragon,” lying in Mudros Harbour, as to when they would get the long-expected leave for a run to Alexandria and Cairo. Their impatience found vent in this diary entry, “writ sarcastic,” out of a full heart:—

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“The ‘Aragon’ is a vessel that is anchored in Mudros Harbour. The Navy moves in spheres remote and no man knows what they are doing or what they have done, or when or where they may break out in a fresh place. But with regard to the Army, they revolve round the ‘Aragon.’ All things Military going and coming have to report to the ‘Aragon.’ The subaltern going away on sick leave or the General coming in with an Army Corps has to report to the ‘Aragon.’ In fact, reporting to the ‘Aragon’ is the one thing that is absolutely necessary towards winning the war.”

The M.O. and Padre Wainohu went to Alexandria on leave, and looked up several Maoris in hospital. At Suez they found invalided Maoris in camp, waiting to be sent back to New Zealand—A. Simeon, Te Toa, Mason and Woods. Simeon had been the Doctor's orderly; he was disabled by a bullet which lodged behind the knee cap.

Te Toa—right well named!—was a man who had displayed remarkable stoicism after being wounded in the head in the attack on Chunuk Bair (August 8th). He had lost the sight of one eye, and the other was threatened.

On October 26th, the troopship “Waitemata” (Captain Nicholson) arrived at Suez from New Zealand, bringing 300 Maori reinforcements. The officers of the reinforcements were: Captain Rice, Lieut. Ashton, 2nd Lieuts. H. Kohere, H. Dansey, O'Neill, Kepa Ehau, Hall, McGregor, Bush, and Pekama Kaa; Chaplain-Major Hawkins, Captain Duncan, N.Z.M.C. Major McKenzie was in charge of the ship. The Maoris went into camp at Zeitoun.

Captain Buck wrote from Egypt to the New Zealand members of Parliament representing the Maori race:—

“All who have come through the Gallipoli campaign, where pakeha and Maori have shared the fatigue, danger, and incessant vigil of the trenches, side by side, recognise that the Maori is a better man than they gave him credit for, and have admitted him to full fellowship and equality. With a separate unit occupying its own trenches, these friendships which will cement mutual respect and esteem between the two races, do not have the same opportunities of being made as where they are working and fighting side by side. One of page 69 the finest incidents in the history of the two races took place when the Maoris left the trenches during the Anzac vacation. Their pakeha comrades who were remaining behind for a later shipment, carried their packs down into the gullies, and many stood clasping hands when the moment of separation came, with their hearts too full of aroha to express themselves in words.”

* For correspondence on the subject of the splitting-up of the Contingent and the Maori protests, see Appendices.