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

Operations at Helles, May 8th, 9th, 10th

Operations at Helles, May 8th, 9th, 10th.

On the night of 5th May the three New Zealand, bearer subdivisions embarked from a small pier erected close to the Australian C.C.S. and marked at night by a red light. They were to accompany the New Zealand Brigade to Helles for the attack on the 10th. The party boarded the T.B.D. Bulldog at 1.30 a.m. It was a cold and windy night, but the crew took as many of the bearers as they could accommodate below and regaled them with hot cocoa. The officers slept in the ward room, the naval officers making them right welcome. The parties landed at "V" beach and page 54had orders to follow the brigade into rest area about two miles distant along the main road to Krithia. A cobbled road, much wheeled traffic, many canvas camps on either side—all very different to Anzac! The bearers rested in an olive grove near a dry water course, and on the 7th moved off across country behind their brigade. During this movement, Lt.-Col. Peerless, V.D., R.M.O. to the Canterbury Regiment was wounded. He was replaced temporarily by Capt. Mitchell, N.Z.M.C., from the bearer subdivisions. That night they bivouacked at "X" beach and on the 8th an advanced dressing station was formed near "Pink Farm," a house situated on the left of a road leading north from "W" beach, about 3000 yards from the landing place.

After an intense bombardment the New Zealand Brigade advanced in successive waves at 10.30 a.m. on the 8th. They were temporarily cheeked after reaching 250 yards from their jumping off position, but ultimately made about 400 yards of ground at heavy cost, and dug in where they lay, 300 yards south of Krithia, in fields thickly sown with poppies and ox-eye daisies. The ground gained was held and consolidated during the following days until the night of the 11th, when the old "enemy" of long past manoeuvre days in Egypt, the 42nd East Lancashire Territorial Division, relieved. The casualties were heavy: from the 6th to the 10th of May, 128 killed; 653 wounded or missing; total, 781; over 25 per cent. of the effectives.

Major Craig, R.M.O. to the Auckland Battalion was seriously wounded on the 8th, while tending wounded in the open. Capt. Baigent of Otago, and Capt. Mitchell, replacing Lt.-Col. Peerless wounded, established their combined R.A.P. in a building called "White house," a small ruin consisting of three stone walls and a mud floor, it had no roof, it was much exposed to shrapnel and rifle fire hence difficult to clear by daylight. Many wounded, about 40 in all of the 29th Division and the New Zealand Brigade, were sheltered here during the day, one of the chaplains the Revd. Thos. F. Taylor, helping to bring them in. To the left of our line in the Sagali Dere, Capt. Home of Wellington had his R.A.P and from there the bearers had a long carry down the dere to the beach or to the dressing station at Pink farm.

On the 9th the transport of the 87th Field Ambulance was available as far as the collecting post; walking wounded could reach the beach either by the track or down the Sagli Dere on the left; but many stretcher cases had to be carried direct to the beach by hand, and by this means during the night of 8/9th close on 200 cases had been evacuated on both routes. On the 9th the Otago page 55Battalion which had been in reserve was ordered up to connect Wellington's right with Canterbury's left. Capt. Baigent went forward in this movement, reaching a small ruined hut without a roof and on high ground very much exposed about 50 yards behind our front line. It was impossible to evacuate wounded by daylight from this R.A.P., but all were carried away during the night that followed. All through the anxious day in this exposed hut, the Rev. John A. Luxford, a South African veteran, chaplain to the Otagos, was conspicuous in his attentions to the wounded. By midday on the 11th all R.A.P.'s were cleared and the bearer subdivisions marched back to their camping ground, returning to Anzac on the 20th.

During the absence of the brigade many striking events had been recorded in Anzac. The New Zealand Mounted Brigade, 1500 strong, had landed, and with them the bearers of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance. There had been much trench fighting at Quinn's Post at the head of the dere. Major-General Bridges, commanding the 1st Australian Division, had died as the result of a wound of the femoral artery dealt him by a sniper in Shrapnel Gully.

On the 18th of May there was heavy shelling by 8 and 11 inch guns from the direction of the Dardanelles. Part of the works at Quinn's Post were blown in. Information was obtained that there was much movement of Turkish guns and troops in the direction of Anzac. The enemy was reinforced and a determined counter attack by the Turks culminated on the 19th with a general assault on all sectors. The newly arrived 2nd Turkish Division was engaged; their losses must have amounted to 9000 killed and wounded as all attacks were beaten off with heavy slaughter; our artillery and machine guns, wonderfully handled, ploughed bloody furrows in the Turkish massed infantry. The losses of the New Zealand and Australian Division were not heavy; 65 killed, and 237 wounded during the two days, 18th and 19th. The total loss for our division from the 25th of April—the landing—up to the 20th May, the Turkish counter-attack, was 659 killed, 2212 wounded, 594 missing, in all 3465. These losses had been in part made up by the reinforcements and 2000 mounted riflemen.

The dead lay in festering heaps in front of our trenches, and on the 20th, two Turkish medical officers with Red Crescent flags approached Pope's Hill. Two Australian medical officers went out to meet them. The Turks desired an armistice to bury their dead and collect their wounded. The armistice granted on the 24th had good sanitary reasons to justify it, the dead lying in front of our page 56parapets became a nauseating source of discomfort to the defenders and afforded a breeding place for an intolerable plague of blowflies. Several N.Z.M.C. officers went out with the burial parties. Some of our missing were found to be dead and were buried where they lay. A few Turkish wounded who had been lying out in the open for over three days were brought in by us and in several instances their wounds were badly fly-blown, an R.M.O. in his diary says, "crawling with maggots." This condition was not frequently seen, but it is sufficiently known in the East as external myiasis. The Sarcophagides, the "carcass" flies, have a black and white chequered abdomen, they extrude living larvae which are armed with powerful claws capable of tearing and consuming all animal tissue, including soft bone. They burrow deeply and attain full growth in a few days, when they abandon their feeding place to pupate in the ground. Such infection of a wound can only occur under rare conditions. It is stated that over 3000 Turks were buried on armistice day. Capt. Home, N.Z.M.C. had some conversation with a Turkish officer who informed him that the 400 Australian and New Zealand prisoners in Constantinople were safe and well-treated.

During the month of May the extent of the Anzac position had been somewhat enlarged by the establishment of outposts on our left flank. No. 1 outpost was on a detached hill on the left bank of the Sazli Beit Dere, some 500 yards from the extremity of Walker's Ridge; No. 2 outpost and No. 3 outpost were on small under features close to the beach some 1000 yards further on to the north, No. 3 outpost the furthest out on the left bank of the Chailak Dere, No. 2 on the right bank of the Sazli Beit Dere. The water courses or "dere" which were dry at this season of the year, both took their origin on the heights of Sari Bair. A long communicating trench, the "Big Sap," connecting these posts with dead ground at the foot of Walker's Ridge, had been dug and continued round the cape at Ari Burnu so as to give protection against the constant rifle fire directed against this point. The full extent of beach covered by the New Zealand and Australian Division along this line of communication was about 3000 yards, from Shrapnel Gully to No. 3 outpost.

The New Zealand main dressing station on Anzac Beach, now well established at its old site—fairly well dug in and sand-bagged, an operating tent pitched—was receiving many wounded and sick: during the first fortnight of its work, 637 wounded and 177 sick had passed through. There were two advanced dressing stations, one of these was in Shrapnel Gully at the foot of Pope's Hill at the site already used by the bearer sub-page 57divisions during the Otago operations early in May. This station had sandbagged walls and, at first, a canvas roof, one bell tent pitched hard by, and a few small dug outs excavated by the personnel. Evacuations from this A.D.S. had to be carried out at night owing to aimed rifle fire from the Turkish trenches 400 yards away at the head of the gully. The other advanced dressing station was at the foot of Walker's Ridge in the site originally chosen by Major O'Neil. A safe passage for the bearers had now been provided by the "Big Sap" from both the outposts where R.M.O.'s were on duty.

In the later half of May and early June, the sickness rate of the division was noticeably increasing. Cases of gastroenteritis had been common for some time, by the middle of June, in spite of heavy fighting and an increasing severity of shelling on the beach, the sick evacuated were in the proportion of three to two of the wounded; and by the end of June, sickness was assuming alarming proportions, equivalent to 35 per 1000 per week. Owing to incessant shelling of the beach, substantial sandbagged walls and head cover had to be made to protect the main dressing station, and a shelter for wounded accommodating 60 stretchers. By breaking up the shattered boats of the first landing parties, sufficient timber was obtained to form a roof on which 9 inches of earth was heaped. At first, no operations, except those required for the arrest of haemorrhage, were performed at the main dressing station, as expeditious evacuation to hospital ships was possible; but on occasions when the sea was rough, it was necessary to detain the wounded for some time, so that abdominal wounds were subjected to immediate operation, the cases being detained ashore for three to four days after operation. About 25 per cent. of such cases were ultimately evacuated in good condition, the remainder dying after operation. A considerable number of head injuries involving a depressed fracture were also treated by operation at the M.D.S., the immediate results in these cases appeared to be good. Early operation in both conditions, with retention of the patients, was the rule for a time at least, but the increasing accuracy and effectiveness of the enemy shelling, now from two points of the compass, ultimately wrecked even the sandbagged shelters and compelled removal to safer quarters at the foot of Walker's Ridge; but here, operations were quite out of the question owing to dust and flies. The shelling of the dressing station by the Turks was unavoidable owing to the crowded condition of the beach. No red cross flag was flown most of the time.

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In the old main dressing station the wounded frequently arrived on donkey back and were able to ride right up to the dressing table on to which they could be assisted. The famous donkey man "Simpson," possibly apochryphal, who with his little Egyptian donkeys assisted so many wounded down the Shrapnel Gully—"the valley of death" as some diaries name it—was reputed to have been killed in May. Many of the Australian field ambulance bearers and our own made use of these handy little animals for those who were lightly wounded—a novel method of ambulance transport attracting much attention, and a peg for many a pious tale. The donkeys of the New Zealand field ambulances were used also for water transport from the beach to the advanced dressing stations—most units had purchased a few donkeys either in Egypt or at Lemnos—they would have proved more useful if they had been shrapnel proof, or had been blessed with hides as tough as the shagreen skin of the wild ass the "Peau de Chagrin" of Balzac. As water carriers they were, while they lived, invaluable.

No water carts had so far been landed, and no wells of any importance located. In some the water was brackish, others early polluted during the heavy fighting. The main source of supply was from barges arriving daily at the beach, from which the water was pumped into troughs, and later tanks. The water duty men of battalions were mainly used as medical orderlies to the R.M.O., as they had no water-purification duties to perform; some of them were employed as supervisors of sanitary work—in either capacity the N.Z.M.C. details attached to battalions were most useful to the R.M.O.'s One of these, L/Cpl. Singleton, D.C.M., already referred to as doing good work on Walker's Ridge in April, while standing just outside the main dressing station on June 24th sustained a wound in the back, penetrating the abdomen, from which he died on the 25th. Other casualties in the N.Z.M.C. were three killed, and three or four wounded. One of the water duty men met with a strange death—bayonetted by our sentries who mistook him for a Turk as he was returning to our lines from a burial party at night.

This concludes what may be described as the first phase of the Anzac Campaign. The landing; the consolidation of the position; the repulse of the counter attack. The military situation was now one of stalemate, stationary warfare, and the minor enterprises of trench fighting.