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

Chapter XIV. Evacuation

page 89

Chapter XIV. Evacuation.

On December 8, Sir Charles Munro, now Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, ordered General Birdwood, who had assumed command on Gallipoli, to proceed with the evacuation of Anzac and Suvla positions. Of all the hazards of the campaign, the evacuation was probably the greatest. Sir Ian himself had estimated that the operation could not be carried out with less than a 50 per cent, loss, and many officers in high positions were of the same opinion. The only hope of escaping without disaster was to "fool" the Turk. Already he had been "fooled" on several occasions, the habitual shelling of Old No. 3 Outpost, under the destroyer's searchlight, through which the A.M.R. was able to rush the position without heavy loss, being one of the notable examples. But this was a very different matter. Its magnitude would have made the greatest "butcher" in the army shudder. At Anzac and Suvla no less than 83,000 men and their guns and transport had to be taken off, and how could this be accomplished when the position was nowhere deeper than 3,000 yards? At Walker's Ridge the Turkish line was barely 400 yards from the water, and here and at many other places No Man's Land was only 10 and 12 yards wide. This was the task to be accomplished. But once again the seemingly impossible task was accomplished. All sorts of means were used to this end. Days before the actual evacuation was to begin every man who reported sick was sent away, but always at night. In the morning, page 90men who had been taken out the previous night were landed. The greatest activity was kept up by the transport ashore. Men who had gone down the tracks at night were marched back again after daybreak. There is no question that the enemy, despite the mention of evacuation in the House of Commons, believed that another onslaught was in the course of preparation, and their counter-preparations were pushed on with the greatest energy. Daily our aeroplanes reported the construction of concrete emplacements for the guns, which, through the success of the Germans in the Balkans, could now be sent by rail to Constantinople, and right up to the last, new trench works were appearing. The most extraordinary ruse practised by the British Force was that of making the Turks accustomed to long and complete silences. One of these silences lasted for 72 hours.

During these last days the A.M.R. had very few casualties. One of the duties was to send out a patrol each night from the Barricade to Aghyl Dere to patrol the country in the direction of Hackney Wick. This was the last of the Regiment to enter Turkish territory until the Egyptian Expeditionary Force invaded Palestine.

The story of how the entire force was evacuated without the loss of a single life has been fully described in the official history of the New Zealanders at Gallipoli, therefore there is no need again to detail the wonderful feat. On December 14 part of the A.M.R. left Williams' Pier on the Princess Ena, transhipped to the Knight of the Garter, and proceeded to Lemnos. Up till this time the official order had been that the Regiment and other units should go to Imbros for rest, but few who embarked expected to see Gallipoli again. A day or two later, the balance of the page 91Regiment came away, the last to embark being Captain Smith, Regimental Quarter-master, who had had one of the longest records of continuous service on the Peninsula, and Lieutenant Finlayson. The Regiment went into camp at Mudros East, where the mounted brigade concentrated, and on December 22 embarked on the Hororata for Alexandria.

So ended Anzac. They left it and its graves. They left the trenches, which represented so much physical effort, and the crests, which had been "salted down with the bones" of thousands. They left the little smoking fires beside the "bivvies" that men, with the domestic instincts firmly implanted in their breasts, once called home. They left the place of memories, and can it be doubted that the imaginative thought they saw dead comrades stretch out appealing arms from the slopes? They knew that the campaign had destroyed the flower of the Turkish Army, but that gave no satisfaction at the time. To those who thought, it all seemed wasted effort, wasted lives. Men who had flung themselves time and time again against the enemy with a will that rose above bodily weakness, could not easily reconcile themselves to giving up all they had gained. They could rejoice over the wonderful success of the evacuation when the Turk had been so thoroughly hoodwinked, but deep down they felt the bitterness of failure. Especially was this true of the men who had survived the longest. Now we can view the Gallipoli failure with complacency. We can glory in such a failure, but the remnants of regiments were too close to the thing to see it, and, it must not be forgotten, they did not know how great a thing they had done. Time was necessary to give the true perspective.

page 92

How did Gallipoli succeed as far as it did? Because of a qualify in the men that would not admit the possibility of defeat; an attitude of mind which seemed to lock their grip; because of an initiative and resource, and a sense of responsibility in the rank and file which made it possible for officers, from generals to lieutenants, to take what otherwise would have been serious risks; and, finally, because of what Major Waite, in the official history of the whole New Zealand Force, has called "a sense of personal superiority over the enemy," because of a cheerful fatalism and an infinite trust in comrades and other units. That, to my mind, sums up the Spirit of Anzac.

Of the causes of failure, history will have much debate. This record is not for the purpose of considering the question, but it is to be hoped that the historians will not overlook the all important fact that on Gallipoli men had to be used instead of shells. Never once did a regiment advance with the help of a real bombardment. Units were practically annihilated in doing the work that in France would have been done by guns. It is a fact that the Turks were not well equipped with artillery and munitions, but they held positions that were fortresses. The greater part of their ground was hidden from the sea, and, therefore, could not be "searched" by the naval guns, owing to their inability to get the required elevation. If the British had had adequate howitzers and munitions, who knows what would have been accomplished?