Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

The Evacuation

The Evacuation.

On December 8th Lieut-.General Sir W. Birdwood, Commanding the Dardanelles Army, was ordered to proceed immediately with the evacuation of Suvla and Anzac. It had been previously determined that the evacuation must be conducted by stages, which would contribute to the secrecy so vital to success. Under this arrangement, the withdrawal of a certain proportion of guns and troops, surplus to the requirements of an ostensibly passive winter campaign, was gradually effected. In view of the extraordinary situation of the Army at Anzac it was imperative that nothing should be done which would arouse the suspicions of the enemy. Bearing in mind also how entirely dependent the success of the operation was on fine weather conditions, and in view of the gales and storms which might be expected at any moment in the Ægean Sea, its rapid accomplishment was of main importance. Thus, with profound secrecy and rapidity as the essential elements of the undertaking, there was presented a military problem which at first sight appeared so complex and so improbable of success that, were it not attended by extraordinary good fortune, to embark upon it was merely to invite disaster. But in so thorough and comprehensive a manner was the scheme for evacuation drawn up, and so expeditiously was it given effect to, that even before the date set down for the final and complete withdrawal a very considerable proportion of men, guns and animals had left the Peninsula, with the enemy apparently quite unconscious of the fact. Though a gradual reduction of the garrison was being effected, there was no departure from the normal life previously pursued both on land and sea. On December 12th 19 guns of various calibres belonging to or attached to the New Zealand and Australian Division were withdrawn.

page 76

A memorandum was issued on December 13th authorising the formation of a rest camp at Mudros, where, it was intimated, approximately half the forces of Anzac would rest during the winter months. It was on this day the Regiment moved from its area of bivouac to North Beach preparatory to embarking for Mudros. Owing to the shortage of water transport, however, the Battalion was required to march back to Waterfall Gully. At 5.30 p.m. on the following day, December 14th, the Battalion again moved to North Beach via the Main Sap, and under cover of darkness stepped into the waiting barges and silently moved out to the vessel which was to convey them to Mudros and away from the Peninsula for the last time. The official explanation was that the Regiment, in company with other units, was proceeding to the Rest Camp at Lemnos; but there was more than a suspicion that the move was one of deep significance.

The evacuation was to be concluded to the last man on the night of December 19th-20th. The withdrawal of men, guns and animals, begun after dusk and continued throughout the night, was now in full swing. Everything was proceeding under conditions which promised success. As far as the enemy was concerned nothing had apparently occurred to arouse his suspicions. The remaining artillery was very much in action; the normal rate of rifle and machine gun fire was being maintained; tile movement of troops along the deres and recognised routes showed no diminution in numbers; and fires were kept going in deserted bivouacs. The whole area of Anzac bore the appearance of normal occupation. But under cover of darkness, and concealed from the Turks, the machinery of evacuation was silently and effectively working.

On the last night but one the troops of the New Zealand arid Australian Division detailed for withdrawal moved down to the rendezvous at KO. 2 Post as soon as darkness set in, and were there formed into groups of approximately 400, which was the capacity of the motor lighters employed to convey them to the troopships. Embarkation proceeded with the utmost smoothness, and by 4.45 a.m. the night's quota of 3,490 men had embarked, leaving 3,000 men to guard the lines of the Division. The day of the 19th passed without incident, except that the enemy shelled the Apexpage 77 with heavy howitzers during the morning and repeated the bombardment during the afternoon. The last 3,000 men of the Division were now divided into three parties, termed A, B, and C. At dusk those of A party marched down to their rendezvous, boarded the lighters, and moved out into the darkness. The B parties followed in their turn, and had completed embarkation shortly after 11 p.m. The C parties were now in sole occupation.

Weak in numbers but strong in resolution, it had fallen to the lot of these men to hold for a few brief hours and then to silently leave and hand over to the enemy what thousands of their comrades had toiled and sweated and died for during a period of eight months of unexampled hardship and suffering. With the last moments inevitably given over to reflection, what wonder if there passed before them the fleeting vision of long lines of gallant souls who, at the price of a shattered body or in the certainty of immediate death, stormed the rugged slopes of Anzac; of those who by heroism and enduring fortitude immortalized the names of Courtney's, Quinn's, Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair, the Apex, and Hill 60, and above all else, of those thousands who were to be left behind in their last lonely resting places scattered over the hills and through the gullies of Gallipoli. With these thoughts running through their minds, what wonder if the going was harder than the coming.

By 1.30 a.m. the last of the garrison had commenced to withdraw. Men moved rapidly and quietly up and down the trenches and fired shots from the various points from which fire was usually delivered. To give an appearance of occupation even after the last man had left, rifles were adjusted in such a manner as to be subsequently discharged. Barricades had been erected in the main deres and communication trenches, and a final covering position established and manned to protect the points of embarkation should the Turks be suddenly apprised of the situation. Everything that could be of use to the enemy bad been either removed, buried or destroyed; and at the last moment huge piles of stores and clothing, soaked in oil, were ready for destruction by fire. The New Zealand and Australian Division had accomplished the withdrawal of 53 guns, of which 12 had been removed during the two final nights. Only two attached guns were destroyed.

page 78

At 2.25 a.m. on December 20th, the barricade erected in the Chailak Dere was closed, and the last of the garrison filed down to the beach. Without interruption or hindrance they stepped into the lighters and moved silently out to the covering ships ready to receive them; the piles of stores burst into flames—and Anzac was of the past.