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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

Unparalleled Suffering

Unparalleled Suffering.

In no other theatre of war in which our infantry afterwards served did the conditions under which they lived and fought ever approach those which prevailed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. From the moment of landing they had lived in a narrow strip of country with the sea at their backs and surrounded on all other sides by the enemy. At the most it was only a mile in depth; and whether in "rest" or in the line the men were always within rifle shot of the enemy, and nowhere were they free from the harassing attentions of his guns. The landing had been effected in the face of an enemy superior in numbers and gun power, and securely established in positions which in peace-time manoeuvres would havepage 44 been regarded as impossible for infantry attack. Their superb physique, iron endurance, and perfectly trained condition were the prime factors that enabled them not only to distinguish themselves by their prowess in battle, but to withstand the strain of the incessant and heavy fatigues, the constant exposure to heat by day and cold by night, the unchanging monotony of the diet and the lack of water. At the outset they had landed with light packs, but these had been discarded on the beach in order to enable them more easily to scale the hills and spurs which rose abruptly almost from the water's edge. Many were thus left without change of underwear or without greatcoats; and at that season of the year, although the days were agreeably warm, the nights were very cold.

Over the first few days there had been no organised line, units were inextricably mixed, and it was only in the intervals of fighting and repelling the violent counter-attacks with which the enemy sought to eject them from their precarious tenure on the hill-tops that trenches were dug and units were gradually sorted out and resumed their identity. And all this while parties from the reduced ranks had to be provided for the arduous work of carrying stores, ammunition and water from the beach to the line, and of transporting by some means or other for there were many casualties and few stretchers—the wounded to the dressing stations on the beach. Until the arrival from Malta of the Pioneers, fatigue parties were drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the infantry; and so when men were withdrawn from the line it was never in any sense a rest. All the stores had to be carried ashore from the lighters which came in under cover of night, and the water, which was brought overseas, had to be pumped ashore from the great iron barges. The arrival of the Indian Mule Corps made it possible to ease considerably the burden of the carrying parties; but the muleteers could not go everywhere, nor could they cope with it all.

While they remained in the line the infantry were obliged to work incessantly in order to strengthen their positions and increase such protection as they afforded. Interior communications had to be extended and covered ways provided where necessary. Out of the line they were little better off.page 45 They were not permitted to enjoy the doubtful comfort of the bivouacs and shelters they dug for themselves on the sides of the gullies where they rested. By day, and more frequently by night, they were called out to carry, to dig, or to labour at one or other of the heavy fatigues. As the season advanced and the weather became warmer, the place swarmed with myriads of flies, which found a congenial breeding ground in the primitive sanitary arrangements provided, particularly in the crowded bivouac areas near the beaches. Dysentery became rife; in a mild form it was almost universal, and its effect on men already fighting and toiling may be imagined. But the hardest tasks of all were yet to come.