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

Chapter Seven — Back to the Trenches on Walker's Ridge

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Chapter Seven
Back to the Trenches on Walker's Ridge

On 7th June the Wellington Mounted Rifles relieved the 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment on Walker's Ridge, the 2nd and 9th Squadrons being placed in the trenches with the 6th Squadron in support, but owing to casualties and sickness the numerical strength of the Regiment was weak, and a squadron of the 8th A.L.H. Regiment reinforced it. About this time Regimental-Sergt.-Major Nicholls, Squadron-Sergt.-Major Cotton, Sergeant Beatham and Trooper Herrick were appointed second lieutenants.

Trench warfare continued and on 9th June Sergeant Robertson, the Regiment's most venturesome sniper, was killed. Robertson was one of the most noticeable characters in the Brigade, and his stories of "lone hand" stunts in "No Man's Land" were relished by his comrades. As a wrestler, he had few peers.

At this stage of the operations it became apparent that in the absence of reinforcements neither side could make headway—a stalemate existed. Trench warfare became monotonous, and anything in the way of variation was welcomed. News from home and other fronts was eagerly sought, and this did much to distract the attention of the troops; but the latter crazed for something sensational—official or otherwise—and wags were ever ready to manufacture yarns on the spot to suit requirements. In this manner many absurd rumours were circulated which were readily listened to for the sake of amusement. The enemy were also having their little "side-shows," for they sang at times, to the accompaniment of a mouth-organ, and enlivened the trench life with various well-known tunes, including the "Marseillaise" and "Tipperary." A gramophone in the Turkish trenches could also be plainly heard. Then there was a paper called The Peninsula Press, issued periodically by General Headquarters, but the details which it contained were scanty and not very interesting.

Towards the end of June parties from the Regiment were practiced in bomb-throwing on the beach, the bombs being "home-made"—an ordinary jam tin filled with iron slugs, the explosive being a small charge of black powder in the centre, with a piece of blasting fuse attached. The primitive nature of these bombs made them compare very badly with the then modern page 37cricket-ball bomb used by the enemy, and our men were greatly handicapped by them.

About this time an enemy aeroplane dropped propaganda circulars into our trenches. The papers, which greatly amused our troops, stated mat the Turks had no grievance against the Colonials, and that England was using them only for her own ends; also, that communication by sea would be cut off by German submarines, and that we would be compelled by hunger and thirst to surrender or be driven into the sea. They had plenty of provisions, and would treat us well. That was the soft side of the Turk, but two days later came a different message—an intense bombardment of shells of various sizes, including eight-inch—which levelled parapets and filled our communication trenches in all directions. These were soon restored, however, and in order to induce the enemy to expend more ammunition a demonstration was made against him by placing dummy figures over the parapets, burning red signal lights and blowing whistles, to bluff him into the belief that an attack was to be made. A Maori platoon which had been brought forward to gain experience in trench fighting joined heartily in these manœuvres, and some of the Maoris supplemented the din by shouting war cries. The demonstration was most successful. It drew heavy fire from the enemy who was "jumpy" for some time after, bursts of fire coming from his trenches during the remainder of the night

On 1st July the long-expected and most welcome reinforcements arrived, consisting of Lieutenants Beamish, Mayo, Harris, Neillson, and ninety-seven other ranks, who were absorbed into the regiment.

Heavy shelling, hot weather, and myriads of flies still prevailed at Anzac, but the high spirits of all ranks remained unimpaired. The majority of the men were almost naked, a pair of shorts and boots and a hat completing their wearing apparel. The exposed parts of their bodies became almost black, and this became known as the "Anzac uniform." The evenings were wonderfully fine, sunsets over the Island of Samothrace presenting a magnificent sight, which, with the usual night bathe in the Ægem Sea compensated somewhat for the discomforts borne during the day.

On the night of 17th July the W.M.R. held a most successful concert on Wellington Ridge, and some latent talent came to light. Apart from the rattle of rifle fire and the boom of guns, mere were no accompaniments.

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Next day the Regiment relieved the C.M.R. in the trenches, each squadron placing two troops in the firing line and two in reserve. The offensive smell and swarms of flies which infested the left flank were very trying. Dead bodies which lay close to the parapets were the cause of the nuisances.

On the approach of Ramadan, one of the most important religious periods of the Mahommedan year (during which the Turk is charged with religious fervour and aggressiveness), preparations were made by Headquarters, in anticipation of attack, to give the enemy a warm welcome.

The 30th was a quiet day generally, but at 5 p.m. a ruse to draw the enemy fire proved successful. Three cheers were given all along our trenches, together with a "Feu de Joie," the latter beginning at the extreme right of the Anzae position. Hardly had this begun, when the Turks replied with heavy machine-gun and rifle fire all along their line, thus showing that the trenches were fully manned.

On the 31st the Regiment was relieved from the trenches by the 10th A.L.H. Regiment and bivouacked on the southern slopes of Walker's Ridge, the 9th Squadron being placed in the No. 1 outpost trenches, the remainder of the Regiment extending from the vicinity of Wellington Terrace to the sea beach.

The Regiment at this stage was still very weak numerically, the parade state being 24 officers and 338 other ranks fit for duty—nearly 200 short of full strength. The causes of this—apart from casualties—were probably heat and flies during the day and loss of sleep at night, occasioned by the numerous calls which were made on the men to "stand to arms." All ranks were fully dressed at these times, and the supports and reserves were in close proximity to the fire trenches. The men in the latter were ever on the look-out for surprise attacks, and the supports and reserves could have been brought forward in a few moments. By interchanging the men in the fire trench frequently, and relying on the vigilance of the men on duty there to detect enemy movements, the supports and reserves could have had the benefit of many nights of undisturbed sleep, instead of being worried several times nightly to stand to arms. The loss of sleep thus occasioned could not be regained during the day, for the reason that myriads of flies, and in some cases lice, worried the troops, the combination of disabilities having the effect of sapping the vitality of the men, and thereby lessening their powers of resistance against prevailing maladies. Words cannot adequately describe the hell of life on Anzac. Not only page 39loss of sleep and constant nerve strain, but the partaking of a meal—simply a race with loathsome flies,—the constant breathing of a fœtid atmosphere, the monotony of digging under a blazing sun, the noise of shells and bullets—all were enough to wear down the strongest nerves. But the indomitable spirit of the men rose triumphant over all—the spirit that

"Holds on when there is nothing in you.
Except the will that says to you, 'Hold on.'"

The thin, ragged, nerve-racked but cheery men had an extraordinary grim humour, and of them it might be asked:

"What dam of lances brought thee forth to
jest at the dawn with death?"