The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter XIII. The Last Effort
Chapter XIII. The Last Effort.
The objective was again Hill 60, and for the attack only 1, 100 men were available. It was the last forlorn hope, probably the most forlorn of all. Such was the condition of the sick and wasted battalions that their strength was gauged solely by numbers, not by units. For instance, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade could muster only 300 men, and all the survivors of the previous three weeks were sick men. It was a sad, but glorious, spectacle to see the chosen of the various battered brigades moving into position. If ever there is a singer who would compose an epic, let him choose as his subject the last effort of the Anzacs and their brethren at Anzac. If he would "glory in daring that dies or prevails," let him sing of the last dauntless few of the weary veterans who sprang from their trench at 5 p.m. on August 27 into the shrieking field of death, and led the charge. On the right were 350 Australians, in the centre were 300 New Zealand mounted riflemen and 100 Australians, and on the left 250 of the Connaught Rangers. This was Brigadier-General Russell's force. The first line of the attack, in the centre, was led by 100 men of the C.M.R., with 65 of the A.M.R., under Major Mackesy, the second line was composed of the W.M.R. and the O.M.R., and the third of the 100 men of the 18th Australian Battalion.
After a short bombardment, described by the Commander-in-Chief as "the heaviest we could afford," the first line jumped to the attack. In a moment they were under heavy machine-gun page 82fire, and men were dropping on every hand, but there was never a falter nor a stop. The line swept upward and into the first Turkish line, where the defending Turks died or were captured or fled. No force of Turks has ever stood up to British bayonets, and on this occasion the British had bombs as well as steel. Within a few minutes the stalwarts, with all their old-time dash, were pushing on to the next line amid a gale of shrapnel. Many fell, but the remnants of the remnants moved on, and the artillery was able to help them, seeing that guiding flags were carried on the flanks. As darkness fell the machine-guns were rushed forward and got in position. So also was a Turkish machine-gun that the A.M.R. men captured with ammunition, and this gun proved of great assistance during the night. The Australians on the right had not been able to make progress owing to the fire of a battery of machine-guns. The Connaughts, on the left, gained their objective, the northern Turkish communications, in brilliant style, but before midnight they had been out-bombed. Two hundred Light Horse men, the survivors of the great charge across the Nek on the morning of August 7, attempted to recapture the section, but they were driven back to the barricade. Thus, only the 150 yards taken by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles was held.
In this little line, which contained the last of the New Zealanders, a furious bombing duel raged all night, but the men hung on. In his despatches Sir Ian Hamilton said: "Luckily the New Zealand Mounted Rifles refused to recognise that they were worsted. Nothing would shift them. All that night and all the next day, page 83through bombing, bayonet charges, musketry, shrapnel, and heavy shells, they hung on to their 150 yards of trench." The recording officer of the Regiment did not bother about details. He simply said, "A portion of our men still hold part of the trenches at Kaiajik Aghala. They are very tired, and are badly in need of a spell."
At 1 o'clock the next night the 10th Light Horse, who had been brought over from Walker's Ridge—where, by the way, the Nek was still the bone of contention—attacked the lost northern communication trenches on the left, and gained and held them. The hold on this part of the crest was consolidated and held until evacuation. Its possession gave an outlook over the Anafarta-Sagir Valley to the north, and safer lateral communications between Anzac and Suvla Bay. It might have been a tremendous lever had another attempt been made to drive through to the narrows, but that attempt was never made. Instead, Sir Ian Hamilton was recalled, and eventually the evacuation was ordered.
On August 22nd, the Rev. Father Dore, Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Brigade, who was attached to the A.M.R., was wounded. The beloved padre had gone with Captain Jory, the new medical officer of the Regiment, and four stretcher-bearers, to assist with the wounded in Aghyl Dere—wounded of other regiments of course. He was struck in the region of the spine, and would speedily have succumbed if he had been left at any of the dressing stations, but through the devotion of Trooper Foley and others of the stretcher-bearers, he was conveyed to the beach in spite of the system which required the wounded to go from one party to another. The padre page 84returned to New Zealand, but there had to undergo an operation in connection with his wound, under which he died. Few men of the N.Z.E.F. had the wide popularity of Father Dore. Denominational distinctions carried little weight in the Regiment, especially in those days of grim realities, and least of all did they weigh with Father Dore. He was the friend and counsellor of everyone. Wherever he went he took cheer, and raised a laugh when a laugh was badly needed. During the long days of defensive war he made it his business to visit parties in the worst and most dangerous saps, and his magnetic personality always helped to ease the load for over-burdened men. His presence was a better tonic than any the doctor could give, and he will always be kept in affectionate remembrance by Gallipoli veterans.
Another padre who endeared himself to everyone was Chaplain Grant, the Presbyterian Chaplain to the Brigade, who was attached to the Wellington Mounted Rifles. A fine, courageous gentleman, he set a splendid example by his disregard of danger and his devotion to the wounded, and the force lost a true friend when he was shot down in a recently taken trench on Hill 60, while bandaging friends and foes.
On August 29, the remnant of the Mounted Rifles were relieved from the trenches on Hill 60, and moved slightly to the north of The Farm, to Cheshire Ridge, where they lay in reserve until September 4. By this time the only original officers left were Lieutenant Haeata, who had been acting as adjutant since his return in August from duty on Sir Ian Hamilton's bodyguard, and page 85Lieutenant E. McGregor, who was appointed brigade machine-gun officer. Both officers were invalided sick within a few days. On September 6, Major McCarroll returned to duty, and took over command of the Regiment from Major King, who left for Lemnos to prepare a camp for the Regiment. Lieutenant T. McCarroll, who had won his commission on Gallipoli, became adjutant.
On September 13, after experiencing some cold wet weather, the bulk of what was left of the Regiment left for Mudros, and went into camp at Sarpi. About a dozen men, left behind under Major McCarroll, arrived on September 29. The first parades of the Regiment at Sarpi made pathetic sights. The whole Brigade when it left the Peninsula numbered only 20 officers and 229 other ranks, or about the strength of one squadron and a-half. The A.M.R. Band had arrived, and at one of the first parades of the handful of survivors it played, "Where are the Boys of the Old Brigade." The regiments within a few short weeks had practically vanished, and it can be readily understood that the few who had escaped without wounds had difficulty in controlling their emotions. To honour the veterans it was the custom to parade them in a file by themselves in front of the reinforcements which now were coming in. Words can hardly describe the feelings which the sight of the short lines in front of each squadron produced. In front of one squadron would be four men; before another seven, and so on. The pathetic, nay, tragic sight, made men of our own race silent, but upon a French general it had a contrary effect. This soldier knew little English, but he page 86tried to give expression to the emotions that filled his breast. "It ees—it ees—beautiful," he exclaimed, and his interpretation was really the truest one. In picturing that parade at Sarpi, let us see it as the French general saw it. Let us remember that if the brigade was practically annihilated in a struggle that failed, it was a glorious failure. Let us remember that the men who died on those bullet-swept ridges in a vain effort did not die in vain. They passed in their greatest hour, and they left an example that will never die. For many a hearth-side there was no consolation at the time; sorrow and a bitter sense of loss shrouded the view. But for the nation, and afterwards for the kin of the men who died, there was the goodly gift of a noble example, an inspiration which may be a moving power to generations yet unborn.
At Lemos, the Regiment, with the rest of the brigade, remained until November 10, the days being spent in fairly vigorous training. On the date mentioned the Regiment returned to Anzac. The arrival of reinforcements, and of men who had recovered from wounds and sickness, had improved the strength to 10 officers and 286 other ranks, or slightly over half the establishment. Major McCarroll was in command.
Disembarking at Walker's Ridge pier, the Regiment proceeded to Waterfall Gully. The weather was still fine, although a good deal colder than it was during August, but active preparations were being made against the deluges of winter. For some weeks the chief occupation of the A.M.R. was that of digging shelters, terraces, and what were called "funk holes."page 87
Actually, however, the work of the troops was no longer the point of chief consequence in this campaign. The real front was in London. The prejudices and convictions of London need not be considered here, but the fact is that the forces of evacuation on the home front won the day. Not only could fresh troops not be provided for another attempt against the Turks on Gallipoli, but no less than three divisions of the Gallipoli Army—the 53rd Welsh Division, the 10th Irish Division, and the 2nd French Division —were sent to Salonika to aid the Serbians. So was the seal of final failure placed on the Gallipoli venture.
But the digging went on, and every indication was given to the Turks that they might expect a renewal of aggressive hostilities at any moment. The end was perhaps hastened by the weather breaking on November 27, at which time the A.M.R. was at Gloucester Hill. The intention had been to relieve the 5th Norfolks, but the move of that battalion was cancelled. The result was that when the snow fell on the night of November 27-28, the troops in this sector did not have sufficient dug-outs, and many suffered far more than they otherwise would have done. The snow and cold made life just about as wretched as it could be for men living underground, but these troubles were nothing to those of the following two days, when a fierce blizzard swept over the Peninsula. The heavy seas that arose played havoc at the piers and among the small craft, the trenches became watercourses, many of the deres, once dusty tracks, became impassable for transport, long icicles formed along the parapets, and men page 88became casualties through frozen feet. The sufferings of these days were as intense as those of summer. During the succeeding days the Regiment lived as well as it could in a spot known as "McCarroll's Nest," but they were cold birds, though not in such dire straits as the men further north. There cases of drowning occurred, owing to dammed up water breaking into the trenches. Fine weather set in on December 4, but the losses through frost bite and sickness, incidental to the cold and exposure, had reduced the strength of the Gallipoli army tremendously.page break