The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter VIII. Life at Anzac
Chapter VIII. Life at Anzac.
At this time the A.M.R. did not occupy the trenches on Walker's Ridge, the Regiment having been relieved by the 9th A.L.H. The A.M.R. was nominally resting in dug-outs on the beach side of Plugge's Plateau, but in actual fact there was no rest on Anzac. There was no rest from shell fire, and no rest from toil. When a Regiment was sent to a beach gully for "rest" it meant that it was treated to a more liberal allowance of shrapnel, and more work than usual. When the A.M.R., in these periods of rest, was not carrying water and rations, it was reducing grades on the track to Walker's, or driving new saps or underground galleries in the most advanced positions on the ridge. The men became inured to the experience of digging at new saps a considerable distance from the main line, with parties of the enemy similarly engaged, a matter of 20 or 30 yards away. In the friendly daylight the work in these places was not disturbing, the chief diverting circumstance being when Turkish sentries took flying shots at the shovels when they showed over the top. This amusement became quite popular with both sides, and it was the custom to wave the shovels to signal that the marksman had missed. Those sapping on both sides seemed to think that this little acknowledgement was due to the diligent sentry. During the lonesome night, however, the forward sapping had nothing to relieve the nerves. Frequently men had to work in narrow grave-like places from which a sentry could not be seen, and then the strain was worse than it was under any page 55other circumstance. The Regiment was very emphatic on this point, particularly because they felt that little account was taken in certain quarters of the immense physical and nervous strain imposed by this work. "It's not so bad to go out in a scrap," exclaimed one trooper, "but I object to being speared like a flounder in this ditch. A'course I could chuck a pick, or a spade, or a lump of rock for that matter at a prowling Turk, damn him, but what's he likely to be doin' in the meantime. S'no good me tellin' him that I'm only an amateur sapper, and much too young to die. I don't hold with this dig, dig, digging, and arguin' in point. Why don't we fight the damned thing out." From which, of course, it will be seen that the trooper's nerves were not benefiting much by the "rest." A philosopher, who at the moment was wielding the pick, found some consolation in his firm belief that "the gentlemen engaged in a similar capacity opposite were probably just as funked as he was. He really thought they might heave them over a tin of bully as a sign of sympathy." And then the corporal suggested that if they didn't stop the debate, Abdul would achieve the same result by a sanguinary bomb. Trooper No. 1, having remarked somewhat bitterly that it wouldn't be so bad if the sentry guarding him would sometimes not go to sleep, the operations against terra firma proceeded. The relating of this midnight conversation not only shows the rest-time employments of the troopers, but also indicates the kind of humour that was the law of Anzac—the unwritten law, which ordained everything must be made the subject of mirth, even if it were bitter mirth. Who can say how much of the strength of Anzac had its being in this page 56strange attitude of mind, this determination to jest at hunger and thirst and flies and at death itself? Was it Nature's compensation? Was it the sure and certain consequence of over-taxed bodies and nerves? Was it the outward and visible sign of that strange peace, bred of self-sacrifice, that comes to a good soldier in the struggle and shines brightest when the agony is greatest and death nearest? Was it that of which the greathearted Grenfell sang in his poem, "Into Battle."
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.
While in this gully the Turks were regular with their morning and evening "hate" from the guns on Anafarta, to the north, but the dug-outs were all on the "safe" side, and damage was only suffered when men were caught out of their dug-outs. To give more warning than the shriek the shells gave, it was decided to post a man on a pinnacle on the top of the cliff whence he could see the flash of the gun as it fired. His duty was then to blow a whistle. For a time the plan worked well, and it was the best possible plan, seeing that the annoying gun was in a tunnel beyond the reach of the shells of the battleships that had searched for it, only coming to the tunnel mouth to fire. By and bye, the look-out man got tired of looking for the gun to fire, and finally he started to read a newspaper. After that his whistle was rarely before the whistle of the coming shell and he had to be supplanted.
During this period of most laborious inactivity, the Royal Navy, which has been described as "the father and the mother of the Gallipoli forces," kept constant watch and ward. The whole campaign of course depended upon the Navy holding the lines of communication, which were the sea, but in connection with offensive aid, the New Zealanders hold in most affectionate regard the destroyers which night and day patrolled the coast line. What a naval pageant it would have been from the cliff tops had it not been war! Sometimes in the periods of strange page 58stillness that came over the little span of tumbled earth that was Anzac, men would drink in the beauty of the seascape—the blue Ægean glistening in the sun, the Island peak of Samothrace glowing purple through the distant haze, in the middle distance the white sail of some small Greek craft, which gave men visions of the ancient days when the Greeks sailed down that same blue waterway to the classic plains of Troy; and in the foreground the black swift wonderful destroyers of the 20th century, turning in their own length like greyhounds in the chase, and suddenly sending a savage flash of flame from guns that had seen the smoke of an unwary Turkish gun on the distant frowning slopes, for possession of which men toiled and suffered and died.
On May 31, the Wellington Mounted Rifles in No. 3 Outpost, an eminence in the gorge on the left, met serious trouble. In this advanced position, which was really a triangle formed by the junction of Sazli Beit Dere and Chailak Dere, the Wellingtons were suddenly attacked by very large numbers, and although they held on in the shallow trenches against a withering fire and bomb-throwing at close range, they were almost surrounded. During the afternoon they signalled for immediate reinforcements, and the A.M.R., then in the gully below Plugge's, was ordered to prepare for the task. In the early evening the Regiment moved along the beach and got in position at the bottom end of the wide dere. Their aid was not required, however, for after dark the Wellingtons were able to retire out of the untenable position which thereafter was held by the enemy until the great advance of August.page 59
On June 10, a party of scouts, which included a number of A.M.R. men, had an exciting brush with the Turks on the flat which stretched from behind the north outposts to Suvla Bay. This party had gone out on a reconnoitring expedition during the night, and were returning along the sand hills of the beach in the morning when they were observed by the enemy, who despatched a strong party down a water-course that ran right to the beach, with the evident object of intercepting them. From the top of Walker's Ridge the A.M.R. saw the Turkish move, but the scouts did not, and for a few moments the men on the hill felt that the party would be cut off. The scouts, however, saw their danger, and leaving the cover of the sand mounds they took to the hard wet sand at the water's edge and set off at a run. In breathless excitement the troopers on the hill watched the race. Then, just at the critical moment, one of the Indian mountain guns on Walker's Ridge opened fire on the Turks. The shooting was perfect. The shells burst right among the enemy in the narrow water-course, and stopped them just in time to allow the scouts to pass the end and into the outer end of our territory. Then a destroyer, the always faithful destroyer, swept close into the shore opposite the water-course and shelled the Turks in it while the scouts made good their retreat. It was a dramatic incident in which the wonderful luck followed our men.