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The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919

Chapter X. The Attack Begins

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Chapter X. The Attack Begins.

At the appointed hour the Regiment, under the command of Major Chapman, mustering only 381 men, notwithstanding the fact that two drafts of reinforcements had arrived since the Main Body, moved to the attack, taking a winding track through a watercourse until near Fisherman's Hut, thence, in single file, up an extremely narrow and rugged donga to a forward position of assembly, where, with quietness and difficulty, it formed line of squadron column. The men were keyed up to concert pitch and eager for their first offensive action. During the long and arduous period of defensive fighting many had lost vitality and strength, and not a few would have been regarded as sick if they had still been training, but in the excitement weakness was forgotten, and sick men became stalwarts. The hazardous nature of the enterprise was emphasised by the fact that not a cartridge was allowed in breech or magazine. One shot fired accidentally, a light from a slow-burning match which the bombers carried to light the fuses of their primitive bombs, or even a word of command, would have placed the whole scheme in jeopardy. The bombers had to keep their smouldering lights covered, but they also had to keep them in a sufficiently live state to ignite the fuses, and veterans still chuckle over the acrobatic feats of the bombers to achieve both ends. While waiting for the destroyer to commence operations, the silence in that dark ravine was uncanny, and "time was measured by heart beats."

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Promptly at 9 p.m. the beam of the destroyer's searchlight cut a bright path through the darkness and her guns began. The Regiment, in formation, slowly crept forward, the 3rd squadron, led by Captain Wyman (Major Schofield having become second in command of the Regiment), being on the right, and the 11th squadron, led by Lieutenant Herrold, on the left, with the 4th squadron in support, finally reaching the outer ray of the searchlight, which was some 25 yards from the trench. Punctually at 9.30 p.m. the second bombardment ceased and the searchlight switched off. Instantly the Aucklanders, spreading fanwise, rushed up the slope. Eight Turks, in a detached post, were bayonetted almost before they were aware of the presence of danger, and the troopers, without the slightest hesitation, dropped down through openings in the overhead cover into the absolute blackness of the trench. The destroyer's bombardment may have had the effect of driving some of the garrison into back saps, but the trench was far from being empty, and some desperate hand-to-hand fighting took place in the dark. The Turks had little stomach for this sort of visitation, however, and those who could, fled. The troopers pressed through the works. One man, in turning the corner of a traverse, found a Turk in a corner, but he had not sufficient room to make a proper thrust, and the unfortunate Turk died slowly. A second later, a Turk fired round a traverse, and two troopers dropped. One Aucklander, in dashing down the trench, bayoneted in fine style a roll of blankets and two or three sacks. Almost before the front line was properly occupied, the troopers were in the second line. So stubborn were some of the

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Turks in their defence, that many were concealed feet foremost in holes in the trench walls, from which they fired until the steel did its work.

Very soon the whole position was cleared, and the troopers then set to work to fill the sandbags they had brought, and with them built barriers at various places in the trenches, from which the bombers effectively held off the Turkish counterattacks during the night. By morning the place was consolidated. The action was a smart, finished piece of work, and the Regiment is very much indebted to the destroyer Colne for its effective co-operation. The Regiment had only 20 casualties this night, while the Turks left 100 dead in the trenches and near vicinity. Unfortunately, among the killed was Lieutenant Harry Mackesy, the Colonel's son, a gallant soldier, who had been commissioned from the ranks and was the brigade's bombing officer.

One of the humorous incidents of the night was supplied by a section of the Maori Contingent, operating in conjunction with the W.M.R. This party lost direction slightly, and they were actually charging a piece of the line taken by the A.M.R., lifting their voices the while in battle cries that had not been heard in war since the pakeha and Maori buried the hatchet. Major Schofield shouted to them in their own tongue, however, and the Maoris grinned, and went to search for Turks somewhere else.

While the A.M.R. were engaged on Old No. 3 Outpost, part of the W.M.R. gallantly attacked Destroyer Hill, on the right, and captured it, and part scaled the precipitous approaches to Big Table Top beyond the A.M.R. objective, and carried it at the point of the bayonet. On the left, page 69the Otago and Canterbury Mounted Rifles were just as successful on Baucop, s Hill, the cheers that came through the night gladdening the hearts of the Aucklanders. This series of successes meant that the Sazli Beit and the Chailak Deres and the right branch of the Aghyl Dere were gained. In his despatches General Sir Ian Hamilton said: "Neither Turks nor angles of ascent were destined to stop Russell or his New Zealanders that night. There are moments during battle when life becomes intensified, when men become supermen, when the impossible becomes simple—and this was one of these moments. No words can do justice to the achievement of Brigadier-General Russell and his men. There are exploits which must be seen to be realised."

In a regimental history, space does not permit of the achievements of other units being recorded —that may be safely left in the hands of their own historians—and the advances made by the two assaulting and the left covering columns on the night of August 6 and the following day, cannot, therefore, be described. Suffice it to say that by nightfall on August 7 the left covering force held Damakjelik Bair, where it was hoped to get into touch with the right of the Suvla Bay Division, landed on the night of August 6; the two assaulting columns were on a rough line from Asma Dere to the Farm, to the Apex, which lay beyond Rhododendron Spur, immediately below the south-west shoulder of Chunuk Bair, to the nearest, if the lowest, part of the backbone of the Peninsula. The line formed at the top of the Rhododendron Spur was but a-quarter of a mile from Chunuk Bair, and on it was the New Zealand Infantry.

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On the 7th, the A.M.R. was rested in Overton Gully, below the position they had taken. Worn out with their night's fighting, they were able to get some sleep, but they were not immune from shell fire, and 10 men became casualties. On the night of the 7th, the whole attacking force was reorganised in three columns, and the A.M.R. was placed in the right column, under Brigadier-General Johnston. This comprised the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the Maori Contingent, the 8th Welsh Pioneers, the 7th Gloucesters, the 26th Indian Mountain Battery, and the Auckland Mounted Rifles. This column was ordered to assault Chunuk Bair at dawn on the 8th.