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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1917

Anzac, Gallipoli

page 34

Anzac, Gallipoli.

"I am going to try to give you my impression of three days and nights fighting against the Turks. On the afternoon of Thursdays , August 5th. we sorted and packed our belongings and tidied the bivouac in Monash Valley which had been more of a home to us than any other place in the nine weeks since we had landed.

Night came, beautifully clear, rifle fire grew brisker, and we marched off down the winding sap past the shadowy water-tanks to the beach, then north among the stacks of stores and ammunition, into the sap again, Towards dawn we camped in a little valley full of scrub, where we spent all Friday hiding, while twice a German taube flew over us, but we lay still under the scrub and they did not see us. In the morning I went up with the water-bottles of our section to the tanks on Walker's Ridge—a terrible climb in the heat. I filled our bottles and went back, passing a new five-inch howitzer hidden by branches beside the track. How they had dragged it up the razor track I do not know. I went down and got such sleep as I could in the scanty shade. After dark we fell in in the dry creek bed and scrambled into the sap. As we approached our outposts the rifle-fire increased and bombs came from the hill on our right. The sap ended and we lay down on the flat at the foot of the hills. Two search-lights were playing from the destroyers off Suvla Bay. We moved off in a file, stumbling over tussocks and stones and slid down into a nullah and wheeled to the right. We had been under desultory fire since leaving the sap. Our work was to advance up a long valley and to hold the shoulders of Hill "971" by dawn. The mounteds were to sweep up the spur on our right and another detachment to do the same on our left.

We crept through a gap cut by our engineers in the barded wire entanglement and stood confused in the dark amongst the stubble of a little field, the Turkish trench spitting fire at us less than a hundred yards ahead. Someone shouted "Charge !" and we rushed forward yelling. I was about the middle of the line, but the fellows bunched away from us to each flank and I was page 35 charging by myself. The Turks blazed at us till we were right on top of them. Then my legs suddenly melted and I was thrown on my face. I had been tripped by the soft earth thrown up out of the trench. I got up, jumped into the trench and ran down with others towards the right. Those on the left shouted that there were Turks in the river bed and there was much rushing about and stumbling.

A party of bomb-throwers ran forward and took the second trench without opposition—and then came a wait. We had lost our platoon-sergeant and no one took charge—At last we moved off up the valley, and pushed up a well made track, sniped occasionally out of the dark, the ring on either flank falling well behind. Then came a burst of firing in our rear and we wound slowly back to where our flank guard, some 50 yards off in the scrub, were hotly engaged with a party of Turks. I do not know how things went, but the firing died down and we advanced again.

A back sugar-loaf hill disentangled itself from the black mass on our right, and from about half way up it came a burst of firing. We were halted, right turned and ordered to take the hill. I made a mighty effort to be first at the top. The scrub was like a barbed entanglement, then came a steep, bare slope and beyond it a good road up which some of our fellows, luckier than I in finding a path, were streaming to the summit. On the flat top within the trenches were a crowd of Turks guarded by part of the mounteds, who had apparently taken the hill before us, attacking the N.W. face. I lost my company and acted on the hurried orders of an official to dig in before dawn. Then I heard Major Statham shouting orders to Otago, so plunged down into a deep gully in the half light and got in touch again. It was daylight when we came out on the upper slopes and surged forward any how, over the Turkish trench—Our part of it was quite empty. Then we stumbled up the steep slope of Rhododendron Hill to the summit and began to dig in. Bullets whisked in a continuous shower—the wonder is than anyone lived at all. Shrapnel opened up from our left rear; we went into some scrub, dug a shallow bed and lay down, till word came for us to go back into reserve while Canterbury took over the firing line. I page 36 looked down from the scrub and found Otago already moving. A whole army of Turks must have been firing into the hollow that had to be crossed. The dust was leaping in a hundred jests like frying pan fat. Another group streamed down and I took my chance and managed to reach comparative peace, and went down into the gully up which we came originally.

After a rest we slung rifles and clambered up the gully, which is in a spur of Hill 971. While we were having tea in the scrub a taube appeared above us, apparently directing the enemy artillery. Then out of the blue swooped an Allied aeroplane and the German fled downward with smoke pouring from its exhaust till lost behind the hill. Night came and we dozed off, rifle in hand. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(The next extracts deal with the carrying of a message for help).

The captain came up and said that the Colonel wanted a letter taken back asking for help as we were cut off. I did not feel fit for bayonet word after the wound on my head, so volunteered. "Can you run fast?" "Yes" "How about your leg?" "That doesn't affect me in the least." "Right, tell the commander of the reinforcements in the hollow there, to get them into the gull where they will be safe. Get the letter about help from the Colonel and take it to the Headquarters in Reserve Gully." Then I showed him who I proposed to cross the ground where three Tommies lay and I started off. I crawled to Local Headquarters, got the letter and crawled into a little water-course, whence I bolted like a rabbit over the rise and into safety. I judged from the sound that the snipers got in couple of shots. In the gully, matters were very quiet. An occasional bullet spattered in and further down I found the artillery attempting to fire on it from the left I passed a wounded New Zealander, leg broken, a crutch improvised from a cross-handled spade. I did not recognize the grimed white face, but he knew me after five years and we shook hands. It was Robinson, a law student of Victoria College and a great footballer. I told him to keep moving towards the rear.

Further on were more wounded and I stopped to tell them that we were holding on and that help would come after dark. They told me there were snipers on the ridge page 37 picking off all who tried to cross through the hollow and pass round the knoll to Reserve Gully. The slope from the bottom to the hollow was high and steep and rocky. I ran up it fast and when at about half way, the snipers opened on me, I dew. In a twinkling I was in the little hollow and there, in a pile, lay the bodies of our reinforcements—all dead. So the Captain's message was not delivered . I lay flat and got my breath Then I discovered a man still living and to all appearances unwounded. "Where's the track?" I asked. "It leads away from my feet," he replied. He was in fact lying in it, apparently not daring to move. I knew that the next patch of track would be the warmest part of my travels, and I lay quiet. There was a terrific bang as a shrapnel shell exploded not more than six feet overhead. It was the signal and I sprang out on to the slope.

I was not out three seconds before the machine gun got going, tracing patterns on the track and pattering about above and behind me. Never in the world's history has a hundred yards been covered in such time There was bang under my very heels—an explosive bullet, I suppose. I gave one heave and bound and dived on my chest over the crest and into Reserve Gully. I got to my feet and found the valley swarming like an angry ant-hill. The Fifth Reinforcements, very chubby, clean and peach-blossomy by comparison with our worn and battered scare crows, were slogging in with pick and shovel at the new track. Mules laden with water, fatigues with ammunition, Indians, Australians, New Zealanders, Maoris and Englishmen climbed the banks on either side, while up the middle streamed hundreds upon hundreds of the New Army, their equipment and machine guns all complete and the men themselves a fine-looking lot. I have a confused impression of a crowd, and mugs of water and countless enquiries about the firing line. One man has since given me an account of my coming. He was looking down the slope along which I ran for the last part of my dash. There was I, my head tied up, my face half black, streaking by—no hat, no coat, no equipment, and my puttees round my ankles, while all about me, phit, phit, phit, the jets of dust traced a moving ware-pattern, till at he bend I gage one convulsive spring, and vanished.

page 38

I wasn't in the least hungry, but drank a great deal of water and went at once to an officer from headquarters. After the inevitable question about the line holding he hurried to say that at dusk two whole English regiments would go up to take over the firingline. The officer cross-examined me and took my answers down in writing, I signing them. Then I was sent to the dressing station where Baigent labelled me and detailed a man to help me to the beach. There I sat down among the human wreckage on the sand and after a while was taken into one of string boats and put on the deck of a trawler where I fell asleep—the first sleep for eighty-four hours and when I awoke we were tossing in Imbros Bay.