Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918

The Landing at Anzac, April 25th

The Landing at Anzac, April 25th.

The Gosler with the New Zealand Field Ambulance aboard sailed for Kaba Tepe at 9 a.m., preceded by the majority of the transports, passed the mouth of the Dardanelles where the 29th Division was landing under the cover of the guns of the Fleet, and anchored off Kaba Tepe at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Both A.D.'sM.S. had landed early on Anzac beach, both still in ignorance of the final medical arrangements, both most grievously employed. On the deck of the Gosler the bearers were standing to, medical equipment in readiness. The beach landing places were being shelled; the great war ships in rear of the Gosler were pounding the distant hills; a few shells were falling into the sea amongst the transports. Presently the destroyer Foxhound came alongside—she could take 500 men on her decks easily—Major O'Neil and his bearers scrambled down on board her. Each man had three days rations and a ground sheet to carry besides his usual equipment; number fours of squads carried extra water bottles; each bearer carried firewood and some extra dressings. The bearers and the tent subdivision men parted with careless greetings; things did not appear to be going well on the beach—the situation was obscure—the landing places and the slopes above under heavy shell fire.

From the Foxhound, carrying ambulance bearers, New Zealand Engineers and A.S.C., when close in shore the parties transhipped to barges each capable of holding 20 to 30 men. In the tow there were several boat loads, each with an N.C.O. in charge whose duty it was to rally his bearers on disembarkation after parting from the small steamboats. When they parted from the tow the boats became strung out as they rowed towards the beach; there was a strong current running; spent bullets were plopping in the water, there were bursts of shrapnel near the beach; no one was hit. Owing to the set of the current the bearer squads were distributed along the beach where they landed; it took some time for them to collect and reform. There was much to be seen on the beach. New Zealand and Australian dead—many wounded—down the beach to the right the Australian C.C.S. at work in a haze of dust near an opening into a gully—the wounded silently taking the places of those landing from the barges. A small pebbly beach and very crowded, only a cricket pitch in depth, the steep face of the shrub covered hills springing up straight from its landward edge. Above was incessant rifle fire and the smoke of shrapnel bursts; noises, dust, and strange page 39foreign odours—there was wonderment—there was confusion. The Otagos and two companies of Canterbury were landing, simultaneously in scattered platoons, all up and down the beach.

Major O'Neill was in the first boat to land, with him was Capt. A. V. Short, and part of the bearers of "C" section; as his bearers were not all landed, he left an officer on the beach to collect them, and soon located Col. Manders near Divisional Headquarters, who at once despatched him and all available bearers up the hill to what was later known as Plugge's Plateau. The bearers moved in squads; it was a steep ascent; wounded were dribbling down the slopes under shrapnel and rifle fire. On the way up one of our corporals was hit. Major O'Neil, finding it impossible to establish himself on the plateau where there was heavy rifle fire and no shelter, formed his wounded collecting post in some dead ground at the edge of the plateau at the seaward and N.W. extremity, while the bearers went out in parties of two to search for wounded. Here O'Neil met Bgr.-General Walker, D.S.O., an officer of General Birdwood's staff, now temporarily in charge of the New Zealand Brigade, replacing Bgr.-General Johnson, disembarked sick with measles at Lemnos. It was now six o'clock. There were three battalions of the New Zealand Brigade ashore: part of Canterbury, on the left, badly mixed up with Auckland; Otago had just come into position on the right, feeling for touch with the 3rd Australian Brigade, the advanced party of the Corps which had first cleared the beach before sunrise. They were in desperate straits at the head of a steep gully, to which they had been driven back fighting. The New Zealanders were protecting their left flank and attempting to link up with them, but a deep ravine lay in front of the plateau. Canterbury and Auckland had many casualties; Otago 30 by 6 p.m.

The A.D.M.S. had landed from the Lutzow at 10 o'clock with Divisional Headquarters, which were established in a small gully leading up to the plateau, afterwards known as Headquarters Gully. The fighting troops had landed irregularly, now from one transport, now from another. As each platoon or company came ashore it was rushed into the firing line in support of the First Australian Division on the ridges S.E. of a long gully, afterwards known as Shrapnel Gully, which divided the position by its rugged steep-sided cleft running in a north easterly direction. The result of this confused landing was that the units became hopelessly mixed up; the wounded of both divisions, commingled, streaming down mainly in the centre and left flank of the position.

Col. Manders had made two attempts to get a signal through to the D.M.S. on the Arcadian. His first message despatched at page 402 p.m. reads: "Wounded arriving rapidly, about five hundred. Probably require another hospital ship. Request ships make nominal roll wounded, impossible here." To this there was no reply. There could be no reply. The D.M.S. was isolated. He had sailed in the Arcadian at 5 a.m. for the Dardanelles. He found no means of communicating with the shore during the forenoon; the Arcadian was shunted to Tenedos in the afternoon. All signals from the shore were conveyed by the wireless station close to Ari Burnu Point direct to| Queen Elizabeth, where Sir Ian Hamilton had part of his headquarters. There was no means of communication. There was no D.D.M.S. at Corps Headquarters in the Minnewaska—General Birdwood's Headquarters—and had there been it is doubtful if in the heat of a confused and desperate amphibious battle, with its appalling difficulties of inter-communication, whether A.D.M.S. and D.D.M.S. could have had personal touch by signal. Fighting had to come first; the collection and evacuation of wounded would proceed according to plan. No D.D.M.S. had been appointed to fill Col. Mander's place.

With the approval of the Beach Master, a senior naval officer, acting on the D.M.S.'s medical arrangements, wounded after 2 p.m. were permitted to re-embark on the barges bringing fighting men. The launches for cot cases were plying to and from the hospital ship embarking wounded at a point close to the station of the 1st Australian C.C.S.—Lt.-Col. Giblin, A.M.C. commanding—who had wrought manfully in blood and sweat from an early hour, but were now dangerously congested. In the afternoon all the wounded were not passing through this station; evacuations were taking place in barges at the northern end of the beach, consequently all classes of wounded from the most severe to the insignificantly trivial were boarding the transports irregularly and untallied. The Seeang Chun, the headquarters of the 4th Australian Brigade, and one battalion still on board in reserve and not yet ordered into action, was taking in wounded at 6 p.m. The R.A.M.C. and the N.Z.M.C. officers set to work with a will. The heavily equipped fighting men cleared the decks as best they could to allow the stretcher cases to come aboard "painfully and slow." No stretchers were returned to the shore, the wounded lay and were dressed on the decks, not moved from their stretchers as they came aboard. The Lutzou also had a considerable number of wounded by 6 p.m. and, as we have seen, was as yet without medical personnel or stores. Here the Chief Veterinary Officer and one N.Z.M.C orderly did all that they could right willingly: Major Young with his morphia and hypodermic syringe; the orderly with the water bottles—two men, amongst many wounded, who tried to help as best they might.

page 41

But to return to the shore. The remaining parties of bearers of the New Zealand Field Ambulance soon got into touch with Capt. Craig, R.M.O. to the Auckland Battalion, close to the wireless station at the northern end of the beach, near Ari Burnu Point. This hardworked officer had established his R.A.P. earlier in the day, near Walker's Ridge, but was ordered to form a collecting post on the beach by the A.D.M.S. and to evacuate his wounded to the First Australian C.C.S. near "Hell Spit." After 2 p.m. he got several tows of wounded away from a point opposite his Post, with the approval of the A.D.M.S., as the C.C.S. was overcrowded, and the carry was long—about half a mile—the beach very congested at the southern end. At dusk, the anxieties of the AD.M.S. increased; he set the remaining field ambulance bearers under Captain Tewsley to work clearing the beach from the north end and despatched another message to the D.M.S. timed 6.45 p.m.: "To which ship shall now send further lightly wounded?" At Capt. Craig's post there were many wounded lying on stretchers. They had received attention, were dressed and ready for evacuation. One of them, an officer of the Auckland battalion, greeted the bearers:—"My God we are glad to see you fellows—there are hundreds of wounded chaps up on the hills." Barges were being towed in by naval launches, by the A.D.M.S.'s orders. Our bearers loaded these barges which were ill adapted to taking stretchers; as fast as the barges came they were filled up; but it was soon noticed that no stretchers were returning; the bearers bringing down wounded from the hills required to be supplied with stretchers in return. A corporal and an orderly were sent out with one barge to bring back the stretchers. Neither stretchers nor men returned: the men had been seized for duty on some ship lacking medical personnel. The A.D.M.S. personally controlled this embarkation, knowing that by now the C.C.S. was hopelessly overcrowded and overworked.

Through the early hours of the night, Major O'Neil, now reinforced by his bearer officers and men, worked his parties to right and left of the plateau, some reaching Walker's Ridge where the Canterbury companies were, others, Shrapnel Gully to the right; many wounded were found and brought in, most of them in their shirts and trousers only, as during the warm day they had fought without their coats or packs, which had been thrown off on the beach. It was found impossible to make out tallies for many of these men, as the bearers could not use the bull's eye lanterns—which they carried for this very purpose—without drawing fire; and snipers were everywhere, even within our lines. Morphia was given page 42by the mouth, improvised splints made of the rifle and bayonet were adjusted with triangular bandages. Water was scarce, especially in Shrapnel Chilly, the large water bottles were soon exhausted; the wounded were thirsty. The canvas troughs brought ashore earlier by the troops were useless, they were most of them riddled with bullets. Our bearers led by Capt A. V. Short, Capt. Mitchell, and Capt. Boxer, did good work that night on Plugge's Hill, and in the gully; the bearers worked hard, many on their own initiative. But the carry from the head of Shrapnel Gully to the beach was difficult on account of steep ground and as yet untrodden ways closely cropped with thick set scrub, where it was hard to see a wounded man lying down. It was a cold night and dark, a little rain fell at intervals. It took two hours to get down from the hill sides to the C.C.S. Major O'Neil, at his collecting post, was able to tally most of his cases; water was carried up from the beach in kerosene tins which had been landed earlier for the use of the infantry.

There was terrific rifle and machine gun fire all night. All was confused. There was deep anxiety amongst the senior officers; the military situation was dangerous, uncertain. Evil rumours filled the gullies and the beach; some men whispered: "Failure"; others talked of evacuation! As yet there was no artillery to support us beyond one Indian mountain battery and one field gun, while the Turks had the best of the position, and dominated ours. Their artillery, posted out of reach of the naval guns, was well manned well served with an abundance of ammunition and doing deadly execution on our exposed positions. There had been some delay in getting troops ashore, a strange hiatus in the landings between 12.30 and 4 p.m.—precious hours wasted. The Itonus carrying the Wellington Battalion under Col. W. Malone left Lemnos two hours late, the battalion did not land until nightfall and was not engaged that day as they were in reserve.

There were estimated to be 1,500 casualties from the Corps at midnight, most of them taken off by 11.30 p.m.; the prepared ships were full; the hospital ship Gascon sailed at midnight with 500 wounded aboard.

At midnight was held a momentous conference of leaders: the question of reembarkation was under discussion; the Admiral, the G.O.C. Sir Ian Hamilton himself, were consulted; the position of the Anzacs was very precarious indeed; but it was finally determined that Anzac should stick it out and dig in for dear life. This uncertainty, this doubt—well founded—as to the security of the position, shared by the highest command, was in itself one of the page 43causes that led to the hasty and somewhat haphazard evacuation of wounded; the thought of leaving helpless men behind if the Force re-embarked in a swirl of murderous fire was hateful to those who by their profession were bound to do all they could for the wounded.

In the early hours of the 26th reinforcements were landing: the 4th Australian Brigade had one battalion, the 15th, ashore by midnight, and fresh eager men were hurrying up to the dangerous posts at the head of Shrapnel Gully. Wellington and Otago had not as yet been seriously engaged—Auckland and Canterbury had borne the brunt of it—so everybody fell to accordingly, even the field ambulance bearers found themselves entrenching tools, and they dug, dug, dug as Sir Ian Hamilton advised them against the shrapnel in the morning. Before the dawn, there was a lull in the fight; and if our morale was shaken, if our men were exhausted, so clearly was the Turk, possibly, as history suggests, more so. A few of the bearers on the beach snatched a little sleep, only to be wakened as daylight was breaking by the landing of two New Zealand howitzers. A sergeant of the Medical Corps on rising found that he had shared the blanket of a dead man; the latter part of the night was bitterly cold.