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

Operations at Hill 60. August 21st to 31st

Operations at Hill 60. August 21st to 31st.

The Kaiajik Aghala, known to us by its contour as Hill 60 was held by the Turks and endangered communications between Suvla and Anzac besides dominating important wells as Susak Kuyu. It was determined to attack along an extensive front with this hill as the right pivot on which the Anzac left was to be directed while the 29th Division attacked the "W" Hills, the chief thorn in the side of Anzac. New troops were landed at Suvla including the 29th Division brought up from Helles. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles the New Zealand Engineers and the 3rd Australian Light Horse Ambulance were to be part of the Force under General Cox who had two infantry Brigades including the 4th Australian and his own Indian Brigade, all very much below strength of course. The O.C. 4th Australian Field Ambulance was to detail 2 bearer sub-divisions to clear their own Brigade, and the 3rd Australian Light Horse Ambulance was ordered to use their bearers in clearing one of the British Battalions of the 13th Division. Both ambulance parties assembled in Australia Gully and had orders to evacuate wounded to a newly erected pier opposite Waldren's point. Australia Gully, a tributary of the Aghyl Dere, lay to the west of the Damakjelik Bair and led up to the water shed of the Kaiajik Dere across which, to the north, lay Hill 60. The distance to Waldren's point would be over a mile, the open ground closely searched by rifle fire and shrapnel.

3 p.m. After a heavy bombardment of "W" Hills and neighbourhood, very little of it falling on Hill 60, General Russell's mounted men moved out to the attack descending into the deep gully to assault several parallel trenches on the hillside opposite. The 4th Australian Brigade were on their right, the Indian Brigade on their left. The N.Z.M.R. captured and held two lines of trenches; the 4th Brigade held a precarious footing on the same side of the dere. The Suvla Force had no luck—the 29th Division suffering heavily. Secure touch on our left was not yet established.

At 6.45 p.m. the O.C. No. 4 Australian Field Ambulance reported that as two of our guns were in action near the new pier opposite his M.D.S. at "Waldren's point, the pier had become inoperable for the evacuation of wounded. He protested against using a red cross flag in such close proximity to the guns. The A.D.M.S. instructed him to evacuate to the 16th C.C.S. at No. 3 page 103outpost. Casualties were heavy during the Turkish counter attack and at 9 p.m. there was a call to reinforce the bearers. General Monash could not afford one man, his much overworked and overfought brigade numbered at this time only 1,500 men, and every man was wanted in the firing line. Fortunately the 5th Australian Field Ambulance, newly arrived at Waldren point, were able to send 40 bearers. The 3rd Australian Light Horse Ambulance bearers who had been instructed to clear the wounded of the South Wales Borderers reported to them in due course only to find that this Battalion had instructions to clear to the 39th Field Ambulance. Captain Cave, A.M.C., O.C. 3rd Australian Light Horse Bearers, finding that no special bearers had been detailed to the N.Z.M.R. Brigade promptly decided to clear their wounded. The line of evacuation now being—A.D.S. in Australia Gully to M.D.S. at Waldren Point—4th Australian Field Ambulance—to 16th C.C.S. at No. 3 Outpost or the pier—which became operable at night—carry say 3000 yards. 662 casualties were cleared by midday on the 22nd. A vivid pen picture of a regimental medical officer in action is given in a contemporary diary of one of the R.M.O.'s of the N.Z.M.R, Brigade, in which the fighting of the 21st and 22nd is in part described, and for the use of which I am much indebted. I quote the entry of 21st August, 1915.

"My regiment was detailed in conjunction with another regiment to take a sector of trenches on a hill to the north about 500 yards away as the crow flies. There was a preliminary bombardment of the trenches which was supposed to demoralise the enemy. The 4th Australian Brigade were on our right, the Connaught Rangers on our left, the latter had to take a well 200 yards away from our trenches. After the bombardment the men jumped out of the trenches, casualties commencing right away. Fire was coming in pretty hot on the parapets. Waiting for a comparative lull I took my chance, the S.B.s [regimental stretcher bearers] followed on my heels. We had to get down the hill 30 or 40 yards to get any material cover. Behind a bank 10 yards from the trench we got a man hit below the clavicle, he was not bleeding and was under cover. A S.B. was detailed to put on a dressing. Remainder made another bolt, Smith got winged in the leg, died afterwards, poor fellow—compound fracture. I was down in the scrub just getting below cover when I got hit—absolutely fatal luck. I knew I was hit in the back of the neck. I retained consciousness but my legs and arms were not under control, they were moving in vermiform page 104fashion a la Maude Allen, I could see my fingers and hands working, and I had a sensation as though I were a glove being vacuumised. I tried to move myself to better cover, but could not do so, so I resigned myself and lay down to it. In a few minutes life came back into my limbs and I tried my legs and arms, and found I could move them. I then realised that the temporary paralysis was due to spinal concussion." [He was wounded in the occipital region through and through below the Ligamentum nuchœ.] "A stretcher bearer crept down to me and fixed me up with a field dressing. I sent the S.B.'s on and later got down the gully into cover. The S.B.'s had selected a good place and I got into it and fixed up a fellow with a shattered shoulder. I decided to make this place the regimental aid post and eventually got together about 25 cases. Captain X… made along about this time; he gave an anaesthetic whilst I reduced a large portion of eviscerated gut and plugged the wound. At dusk we sent some slightly wounded men to get into touch with the Ambulance. Captain Cave, A.M.C. came over himself, went back and brought his bearers, my own regimental stretcher bearers were away to the front by this time, having cleared the ground in the vicinity of the post. Got the post evacuated by 8 o'clock. I then borrowed two squads [3rd Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance bearers] and went forward. Came on another batch, about 20, which the S.B.'s had got together; got them away quickly, mostly walking, then made forward with two of my own squads up to within 20 yards of the trench we had taken and found a good protecting bank under which Norris was lying in charge of some wounded Maoris. Here I got into touch with trooper White who had gone away back for stretchers. He had localised about 15 stretcher cases and was working anywhere and everywhere regardless of fire and risk. S.B. Parker had collected nearly 30 cases and set up an aid post of his own; he had all his walking cases away and was left with 11 stretcher cases and there were 4 cases in the trench. I had arranged for a rendezvous of Australian bearers and sent back a man to hurry them up. All cases, as far as we knew, were localised, and evacuation was proceeding as satisfactory as possible. There was a large percentage of compound fracture of thigh, and many of them were terrible smashes. Small entrance holes, bone in splinters and large exit, the bullet had stripped nearly all the muscles on the opposite side of the limb right away. Holes you could put your two fists into. Explosive bullets I am sure."

page 105

The diarist corrects this statement by saying that the Turks turn their bullets the wrong way round. All this very interesting as exemplifying current opinion. The Germans said the same thing of us in 1915. It was clearly shown that the modern "humane" pointed projectile is at moderate ranges infinitely more destructive on account of its momentum due to high velocity and its shape and composition that the larger, more slowly moving projectile of earlier wars (see Delorme War Surgery. 1915, for a full discussion.) The diarist was relieved by another medical officer and got away safely to a hospital ship, his concluding remarks deal with the Light Horse Field Ambulance. "The 3rd Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance were splendid fellows, Captain Cave and his bearers coming up at the critical time."

We have seen that both the Australian Light Horse Ambulances played a valuable part in the August medical operations. In this engagement the N.Z.M.B.F.A. sent up a party on the 22nd clearing to their M.D.S. at Chalk Hill. On the 22nd further heavy fighting took place at Hill 60 during which the R.M.O. Wellington Mounted Rifles Captain H. J. McLean, N.Z.M.C. was severely wounded. The 15th Battalion A.I.F. also lost their R.M.O., Captain Luther, A.M.C., killed in action; a very valued officer.

The final assault on Hill 60 took place on the 27th: the N.Z.M.R., the 10th Australian Light Horse and 2 Australian Infantry Brigades, the 4th and 13th co-operated. The fighting throughout was of a hand to hand nature with bayonets and bomb and lasted two days: there were heavy casualties. The net result was an almost complete occupation of the disputed hill trenches and a firm conjunction with the Suvla force.

The A.D.M.S., Lieut.-Col. Beeston, V.D., A.A.M.C., late O.C. 4th Australian Field Ambulance who succeeded Lieut.-Col. Begg, N.Z.M.C. evacuated wounded 16th August, 1915, issued medical operation orders for the engagement of this date. In anticipation of the attack, O.C. 16th C.C.S., who had relieved the 13th C.C.S., had established an advanced evacuation station at the pier opposite Waldren's point. Severe lying cases were to be carried to the C.C.S. at No. 3 outpost in view of surgical treatment. The N.Z.M.B.F.A., the 3rd A.L.H.F.A., and the 4th Australian Field Ambulance now had posts at the head of Australia Gully, and as the attacking force from the Australian and New Zealand Division was only 1000 strong it is seen that a sufficient number of bearers was available.

Some time after the attack Lieut.-Col. Thomas, N.Z.M.C. commanding the N.Z.M.B.F.A. was killed while leading page 106stretcher parties to the vicinity of Hill 60. He had entered the sap leading to the fire trenches, the shell fire at this point was heavy, eventually a shell burst immediately over the party, the leader was killed instantly by concussion, and four of his bearers were wounded by the same explosion. Lieut.-Col. Thomas had been in Anzac about a fortnight. His body was buried in front of the main dressing station of his ambulance at Chalk Hill. Later on in the evening there was a call for extra bearers from Australia Gully, which a bearer subdivision of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance was ordered to reinforce. During the night wounded in large numbers were carried down to the pier at Waldren's point, where evacuations proceeded normally. The clearing of the wounded in the open and disputed trenches was at times almost impossible owing to machine gun fire and bombing. The scrub on Hill 60 was four feet high, serving alike to conceal friend in need and foe in arms; because of this, one of our chaplains, the Rev. W. Grant, C.F., attached to Wellington M.R., was killed while tending wounded of both sides. In all, these minor operations cost the New Zealand and Australian Division about 2000 casualties, the medical troops having two officers killed and four wounded.

The capture of Hill 60 concluded the offensive operations at Gallipoli; the remaining period was one of defensive operations, and ultimately, preparation for evacuation.