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Writing Wellington: Twenty Years of Victoria University Writing Fellows

Night Attack (from Anzac: The New Zealanders at Gallipoli, 1998)

Night Attack (from Anzac: The New Zealanders at Gallipoli, 1998)

The assault began at 9.30 pm, 6 August 1915. The Auckland Mounteds seized Old No 3 Outpost, the Otago Mounteds and the Canterbury Mounteds took Bauchop Hill, and the Wellington Mounteds stormed Table Top. Reinforced by the Maori Contingent, they attacked with rifle and bayonet. The flash of rifles and the Maori war cry indicated progress. At 11 am on page 77 7 August, the Auckland Infantry Battalion attacked and lost 300 men in twenty minutes for a gain of 100 metres. The Wellington Infantry Battalion were ordered to continue the attack but Malone refused to send his men 'to commit suicide'. In the early morning of 8 August, Malone's battalion occupied the Turkish trench on the crest of Chunuk Bair, and dug a supporting trench behind it. The Turks' dawn counter-attack saw the British battalions, with the Wellingtons, break and run. The trench on the crest was lost and the fight continued on the seaward slopes. Men dug trenches behind the original support line as it filled with dead and wounded. Turkish grenades were hurled back, and even stones were thrown. All day the Wellingtons, reinforced by the Auckland Mounted Rifles, fought off Turkish attacks that were announced with a shower of grenades.

By nightfall Malone was dead, killed by New Zealand artillery fire. The Otago Infantry Battalion and the Wellington Mounted Rifles, led by Lieutenant Colonel Meldrum, replaced the Wellingtons. Throughout

9 August, the Wellington Mounted Rifles desperately held on to a line just below the crest of Chunuk Bair. But by evening they had no more to give. Out of 3000 men, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade had 1700 casualties; both New Zealand brigades were exhausted. The position on Chunuk Bair was taken over by two British battalions, with Meldrum leaving the best of his scouts. On the morning of 10 August, a Turkish counter-attack panicked the raw British infantry, and the New Zealanders were recalled. But the effort required was too much for exhausted men and the Turks regained the slopes, so determining the fate of the Gallipoli Campaign.

If New Zealanders have a day that is uniquely ours, it is 8 August 1915. For thirty-six hours, the New Zealanders at Chunuk Bair on the Gallipoli Peninsula held an opportunity to directly influence the course of world events. Had they held on to the crest of Chunuk Bair, the First World War may have ended some two years before it finally did. But the heights seized by the New Zealand battalions were surrendered by those who relieved them, and a priceless opportunity lost. No country went so far to fight in this campaign, nor suffered as much, for the size of its force. But the real casualties were those who lived. Racked with guilt at having survived when their mates had died, they returned to an uncomprehending New Zealand and had to fit back in as if they had never been away.