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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Preparing to Evacuate

Preparing to Evacuate

To the soldier, as apart from the politician, the return of our troops to Gallipoli looked as though the campaign there was to be proceded with, but that was not so. Unexpected developments in other theatres of war, and a lack of trained men to fill the ever-increasing demand for reinforcements on other fronts, were soon to affect the Gallipoli situation. The Russians, from whom so much was expected, had collapsed; the attitude of Greece was uncertain; troops were required in France; and, to crown all, three divisions were sent from Gallipoli to Salonika to assist the Serbians, who, however, were ultimately crushed by an overwhelming German and Austrian force, thus enabling the Central Powers to join up with and assist the Turks.

With these facte before it, the War Council at Home had something to think about. Some of its members favoured evacuating the Peninsula, while others opposed that course, for the reason that British prestige in the East would be jeopardised. The problem was a knotty one, and to solve its many intricacies Lord Kitchener visited the Dardanelles early in November to size up the situation, his subsequent report of it being briefly as follows:

"The country is much more difficult than I imagined. The Turkish positions are natural fortresses of the most formidable nature. The want of proper lines of communication is the main difficulty in carrying out successful operations. The landings are in the field."

Although he favoured evacuation, Lord Kitchener thought that another force should be landed further south to protect Egypt.

The War Council then decided that Gallipoli was to be evacuated and, whilst the troops there shivered in the trenches, careful and secret preparations were being made to carry out that most difficult and dangerous operation.

page 70

General Russell having taken command of the Anzac Infantry Division on 26th November, the Mounted Brigade then came under the orders of Colonel Meldrum, who had returned to Anzac some time previously, and on the 27th it relieved the 54th Division near Hill 60. The W.M.R., under the temporary command of Major Samuel, were on the extreme left of the Anzac position, in touch with the Ghurkas, and their line was divided into three portions—the 6th Squadron being placed on the right, the 9th in the centre, and the 2nd on the left. That night the blizzard made its appearance, and, owing to previous wet weather, the trenches and bivouacs were in a deplorable condition, although the general line had a good fall and was easily drained.

The whole place was a sea of mud, but hard work with picks and shovels soon changed its whole appearance and made the quarters and trenches habitable. At this point in the line the opposing trenches were about one hundred and fifty to two hundred yards apart, and were situated on opposite sides of the deep gully called Kaiajik Aghala. The sector was quiet, and very little sniping had been indulged in prior to our arrival. This fact was very evident, as on the first morning a Jacko went for a stroll over his front parapet, much to the amazement of our fellows, who promptly shot him down. After this, the Turks were not so casual.

At the beginning of December the Brigade found that, owing to the length of the line—about 1800 yards—it was impossible to man the trenches as fully as the 54th Division had done. To overcome the difficulty, however, an "outpost system" was adopted whereby each regiment divided its sector into "posts" of six or more men, each of these during the day maintaining only two men on duty as observers and snipers. At night, however, the posts were fully manned and the lengths of trench between posts were patrolled. In addition, moving patrols were sent out in front of each regimental sector.

Rain and snow continued to fall and icicles formed in the trenches. The enemy shelled our positions, but digging continued, and every indication was given that a further advance was contemplated, although the force as a whole was being reduced daily by sickness and frostbite.

In other parts of Gallipoli and on the sea the big bluff was also having the desired effect on the enemy, who constructed concrete emplacements for big guns to blow us into the sea and dug entrenchments to repel the threatened attack.

page 71

Then there was another ruse—periods of silence, when not a shot was fired—so that the enemy would notice no change when the evacuation began. One of these "silences" lasted for seventy-two hours.