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

Chapter VIII

page 75

Chapter VIII.

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 On December 12th 19 guns of various calibres belonging to or attached to the New Zealand and Australian Division were withdrawn.

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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.

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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.

Return to Egypt.

With the Gallipoli Campaign so unexpectedly closed, the Regiment, after resting and recuperating at Mudros, embarked on the old German Derfflinger on December 24th and sailed for Alexandria. On arrival the journey was continued by rail to Moascar Camp, Ismailia.

On January 25th, 250 rifles and two machine guns of the Regiment, under Major D. Colquhoun, were ordered to proceed to Bench Mark and Ridge Posts, on the east bank of the Suez Canal, where the duties were of the lightest order and every facility was afforded for healthful bathing in the waters of the Canal. Two days later the 7th Reinforcements arrived from New Zealand, and the Regiment received an additional strength of six officers and 230 other ranks. Reorganisation of companies followed this absorption of strength, and on January 10th a programme of training was commenced. On the 16th the New Zealand and Australian Division was inspected by General Sir A. J. Murray, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Egypt. On the 26th the Otago detachment in occupation of the two posts on the east bank of the Canal was relieved and returned to Moascar.

Formation of the 2nd Battalion.

With the arrival of reinforcement drafts and the return of men who had been evacuated through wounds or sickness, the strength of forces was steadily growing, and on February 11th orders were received which led to the formation of new and distinct units. This embraced the establishment of an additional infantry brigade. As evidence of the further expansion of Colonial forces, connection with the Australian formation was severed, and on March 1st the New Zealand Division, which now included the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades, and the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, with a correspondingpage 79 increase in artillery, officially came into being as a distinct and separate unit in the Field. On February 26th the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade had commenced to move out to Tel-el-Kebir at the rate of one battalion daily, thus severing its long association with the New Zealanders. The 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade was now comprised of the 1st Battalions of Otago, Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland Regiments, and was commanded by Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston, C.B. The 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade embraced the newly formed battalions of the same Regiments, Brigadier-General W. G. Braithwaite, D.S.O., being appointed to the Brigade Command. It had been notified that 50 per cent of officers and from 15 to 25 per cent of non-commissioned officers from available forces were to be drawn upon for the new Brigade; but there was considerable readjustment of personnel before appointments to the different battalions were finally made. The postings which were now made in respect of Otago Regiment, and which included a number of officers from the Otago Mounted Rifles, were as follows:—

To 1st Battalion.—Lieut.-Colonel A. B. Charters; Captain (temporary Major) D. Colquhoun, Captain D. White, Captain S. Rice, Captain W. D. Jolly; Lieuts. D. H. S. Buddle, W. G. A. Bishop, R. H. Nicholson, P. Mackenzie, W. Ward, W. J. Bevis, G. L. McClure; 2nd.-Lieuts. W. F. Tracy, T. Gillman, J. E. Cuthill, J. P. Hewat, M. J. White, J. G. Johnston, N. Hall, W. H. S. Widdowson, C. H. Clark, A. P. McCormack, A. G. Brockett, R. R. Gow, A. R. Sutherland, W. D. Stewart.

To 2nd Battalion.—Major D. B. McKenzie, Major J. A. Mackenzie, Captain W. Domigan, Captain W. G. Wray, Captain D. Thomson, Captain W. T. Joll; Lieuts. G. H. Ferguson, C. St. C. Hamilton, E. B. Alley, A. H. Wright, L. S. Jennings, H. Salmon, H. R. Ker, L. G. Wilson, L. M. Scott, J. H. Barr, P. W. G. Spiers, J. B. Struthers, F. T. Christian; 2nd-Lieuts. W. K. Dougall, T. Fitzpatrick, M. McP. Watt, J. R. Patterson, J. F. M. Fleming, J. Robertson, A. R. T. McDougall, H. G. Brodie, P. Pile, P. A. Spurdle, A. Craig, C. Barry.

Still further changes were made in commands and appointments in respect of both Battalions; in some instances due to the posting of additional senior officers to the Regiment.page 80 However, Lieut.-Colonel Charters, who had taken over the 1st Battalion on February 24th (on the occasion of Lieut-Colonel Moore's departure on account of ill-health) continued in command without interruption; while the posting of Major C. E. Andrews, Auckland Regiment, to the Otago Regiment, determined the appointment of Second-in-Command of the 1st Battalion. With the arrival of Major G. F. Hutton, of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, and his appointment to the command of the 2nd Battalion, with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel, Major J. A. Mackenzie relinquished his temporary appointment as Officer Commanding, and filled the position of Second-in-Command. The establishment of Infantry Training Battalions, one for each Brigade of the Division, towards the close of March was responsible for the transfer, though in some instances merely of a temporary nature, of several officers and n.c.o.'s of the Regiment. Lieut.-Colonel Moore, now returned, commanded all New Zealand Training Units and Depots, but later, interchanging with Major Hutton, assumed command of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment. On April 6th Major G. Mitchell and Major G. S. Smith, both of whom had been evacuated wounded from the Peninsula, returned to the Regiment; among later postings there was on April 12th recorded the transfer of 2nd-Lieut. J. Hargest from the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment to the Otago Regiment.

All troops of the Training Units were finally transferred to England under the command of Major G. Mitchell.

On March 5th orders were received that the New Zealand Division was to move to Ferry Post Camp, on the east bank of the Suez Canal; replacing the 2nd Australian Division, which was ordered to Moascar. This move commenced forthwith, and on completion the dispositions were as follows: 1st Infantry Brigade, Ferry Post; 2nd Infantry Brigade, half-mile west of Allbury Hill. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade occupied the front line of defences. The 1st Battalion of the Regiment had remained at Moascar until March 8th, when it marched out and relieved the 28th Australian Battalion at Ferry Post East and Bench Mark Post. On March 20th the Division commenced its return to Moascar, where by the close of the month the whole of its strength was concentrated.

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Cemetery on Plugge's Plateau.

Cemetery on Plugge's Plateau.

Anzac Cove to-day.

Anzac Cove to-day.

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Ordered to France.

At the beginning of March it had been made known that the New Zealand Division would at an early date be transferred to France. This, it was realised, meant that the Regiment would sooner or later be thrown into the vortex of the main struggle on the Western Front. Viewed in the light of the immediate prospects which it offered of change of conditions and environment, the announcement was received with general, if subdued, enthusiasm. An exchange of eternal sand for green fields was alluring enough in itself, quite apart from other considerations, real or imagined, Mobilkation parades became the order of the closing days of March; the thousand and one details of equipment, of fitness, of personnel, of stores, and finally of movement and embarkation now received attention.

Appointments to the principal commands in the Regiment were made as follows:—

1st Battalion.—Officer Commanding, Lieut.-Colonel Charters; Second-in-Command, Major C. E. Andrews; Adjutant, Lieut. W. F. Tracy; 4th (Otago) Company, Captain D. White; 8th (Southland) Company, Captain S. Rice; 10th (North Otago) Company, Captain D. H. S. Buddle; 14th (South Otago) Company, Major D. Colquhoun; Battalion Quartermaster, Lieut. A. P. McCormack.

2nd Battalion.—Officer Commanding, Lieut.-Colonel A, Moore, D.S.O.; Second-in-Command, Major J. A. Mackenzie; Adjutant, Captain D. E. Bremner; 4th (Otago) Company, Major G. S. Smith, D.S.O.; 8th (Southland) Company, Captain W. G. Wray; 10th (North Otago) Company, Major D. B. McKenzie; 14th (South Otago) Company, Captain L. S. Jennings; Battalion Quartermaster, Captain H. R. Ker.

On the night of April 5th the Regiment took the first step in the direction of severing its connection with the land of the Pharaohs. This was the entraining of the 1st Battalion at Ismailia for Port Said, where, on the following day, the greater part of its strength stepped aboard the Franconia, a small proportion being allotted to the Ingomia. The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment entrained at Moascar on April 8th, arriving at Alexandria on the following morning andpage 82 embarking on the Llandovery Castle. The 1st Battalion arrived at Marseilles on April 13th; three days later the 2nd Battalion had also reached its destination in France.

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