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The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914 - 1919

Chapter VI. — Gallipoli

page 27

Chapter VI.

The Landing—Days of Strenuous Fighting —Walker's Ridge.

At Lemnos the final details of the part the Regiment was to play in Sir Ian Hamilton's plan to take the Gallipoli Peninsula were given out to all officer. Sir Ian Hamilton had decided to divide his forces, and to land and attack the Turks on Gallipoli at two places, while the French were to land on the Asiatic shore by way of a demonstration, and to keep busy as many Turks as possible on that side to prevent their reinforcing the Peninsula. The southernmost landing was to be effected near Helles, with the idea of capturing the southern foot of the Peninsula, where suitable landing places were numerous, and from there pushing on to the commanding heights known as Achi Baba. To assist the progress of the southern force, and for the purpose of outflanking the Turks on the southernmost end and making the capture of Achi Baba easier, a force, consisting of the A. and N.Z. Army Corps, under General Birdwood, was to land in the vicinity of Gaba Tepe and push its way across to Maidos. The actual landing at Gaba Tepe was entrusted to the 1st Australian Division, the 3rd Australian Brigade being given the task of landing first and acting as a covering force to ensure the disembarkation of the rest of the corps.

The "Lutzow" with Battalion Headquarters and Tara- naki and Ruahine Companies on board arrived off the Cove at Gaba Tepe about midday on Sunday, 25th April, and by 6 p.m. all had got ashore. In the actual process of landing, one officer, Captain M. McDonnell, the Battalion Adjutant, and four men were slightly wounded. The two companies were assembled under the shelter of the cliffs just above the beach and, about 7 p.m., two platoons of Taranaki Company, under Major J. W. Brunt, were sent to the assistance of the page 2816th Australian Battalion under Colonel Pope, fighting hard at the head of Monash Gully. These two platoons soon found themselves in a warm corner, but, by using their entrenching tools, they soon got some cover, and rendered some support to their hard-pressed Australian comrades. The two Taranaki platoons remained in line with the Australians in the vicinity of what was afterwards known as Courtney's Post, at the head of Monash Gully, until 2.30 a.m. on the 27th, when they were relieved by troops of the Otago Battalion and made their way to the beach. During the fighting, Private H. E. Hayden, Curporal W. G. Looney and C.S.M. A. J. M. Bonar were conspicuous for their gallantry. Unfortunately all three were killed. The death of C.S.M. A. J. M. Bonar was a big blow to Taranaki Company.

At 2 a.m. on the 26th, the two other platoons of Taranaki Company, under Captain E. D. Cox, and Ruahine Company, under Major E. H. Saunders, proceeded to relieve some troops in the trenches on Plugge's Plateau, but returned to the battalion nest day after suffering several casualties.

The "Achaia," with West Coast and Hawke's Bay Companies, arrived opposite Gaba Tepe about 1 p.m. on the 25th and lay well out all the afternoon. No information could be gleaned as to the probable time of landing. In fact, one rumour gained currency that the troops on shore were to be withdrawn and the landing at Anzae abandoned. However, about 3.30 a.m. on the morning of the 26th, a destroyer arrived alongside the "Achaia" with instructions to take off both companies, and, by 5 a.m., both companies and the machine guns were ashore and were gladdened by the sight of the C.O. on the beach as cheery as ever, but growling at the disorder that prevailed. Probably nothing would have pleased him better than to have been detailed with his battalion to tidy up the beach. The two companies and the machine guns were assembled in a small scrub-covered gully just off the beach, and spent the clay of the 26th in comparative quiet. Several of the senior officers made a reconnaissance of the ground between the beach and the firing line, and, about 6 p.m., West Coast Company was ordered to page 29Plugge's Plateau where it made itself comfortable for the night. At midnight the company was ordered back to the Gully.

The morning of the 27th April dawned bright and warm. Breakfast over, the battalion received orders to assemble in Howitzer dolly. Alter resting there for about an hour, at 9.45 a.m. orders wore for the battalion to proeeed to the left flank, where a strong Turkish counter attack had developed against the Walker's Ridge position held by the Australian Brigade. The move to Walker's Ridge was made in single file, West Coast Company leading, followed by Hawke's Bay, Taranaki and Ruahine, in that order. Whilst proceeding along the beach, the battalion was subjected to a considerable amount of shrapnel fire. The shells passed just overhead, bursting at the edge of the water, and very little damage was done. At the foot of Walker's Ridge the C.O., Lieut.-Col. Malone, held a consultation with Brigadier General Walker of the A.I.F., who was temporarily commanding the brigade in the absence of Brigadier General F. E. Johnston, who was unable to land owing to illness. As a result, West Coast and Hawke's Bay Companies were ordered to proeeed up Walker's Ridge, leave their packs half-way, and reinforce the Australian troops holding the Ridge wherever help was most needed.

The track up Walker's Ridge was extremely precipitous: the sun poured down with its midday heat, and, after dumping their packs half-way, the two companies in single file made their way, hot and breathless, to the summit of the Ridge. As they arrived near the top, sections were hurried into the firing line by Australian officers, eager to thicken up their own part of the line. The bulk of West Coast Company made its way round to the right into the position subsequently known as Russell's Top, while Hawkes Bay Company took up position on West Coast's left, nearer the position subse- quently known as the Neek. West Coast and Hawke's Bay Companies soon found themselves in the middle of heavy and severe fighting. Bullets whipped through the scrub from an invisible enemy. The Australian troops who had been fighting continuously for forty-eight hours without rest were page 30physically exhausted, and it was very difficult to grasp the position. Practically no trenches existed, and, after the arrival of West Coast and Hawke's Bay Companies, far more men were crowded into the firing line than could comfortably be accommodated. Unnecessarily heavy casualties were the result. As soon as his company was absorbed in the line, the commander of West Coast Company, Major W. H. Cunning- ham, reconnoitred the position and found a deep Turkish trench about twenty yards in rear of the firing line in the scrub and on the reverse or seaward slope, in which were a number of picks and shovels. He thereupon withdrew a number of men from the over-crowded firing line and set them to work to dig a gap from this trench to the firing line. About 3 p.m. an alarm was given that the Turks were coming and the order was passed along to fix bayonets and for the whole line to charge. Unhesitatingly, the order was obeyed, with the result that a good many men charged down the forward slope of the ridge, where, being fully exposed to the Turkish trenches opposite, they fell an easy prey to the Turkish riflemen and machine guns. The charge, however, cleared the front of immediate danger. Hawke's Bay Company on the left of West Coast Company ultimately took up a position on an angle of the line which they found was being hotly contested and which was a very important point in the defence. The bayonet charge had carried the line forward a considerable distance, but it was soon realised that the best line to hold was the original one from which the charge had started, and an ordered retirement by sections to the original line took place. The digging of the sap from the Turkish trench behind West Coast Company to the firing line on the crest was completed before dark, and greatly assisted the organisation of the section occupied by this company. As soon as it was dusk, a trench line was sighted on the forward slope of the hill, and every man set to work to dig in. A second sap was dug to the old Turkish trench, and, when day dawned, everyone was under cover: machine guns were in position in the front line in well-protected emplacements, and a platoon was withdrawn into reserve in the old Turkish trench. The night of the 27th-28th for West Coast Company page 31was a strenuous digging one, but, except for the blowing of the Turkish bugles and shouts of "Allah Mahommed" from the slopes opposite, that company was undisturbed by any Turkish attack.

Further down to the left and near the Neck, Major R. Young, with Hawke's Bay Company, was holding the angle in the line where it turned from Russell's Top down Walker's Ridge. This position was being continuously assailed by the enemy who several times approached within a few yards of it. A few well-directed volleys were sufficient to beat off these attacks; but the continuous pressure made organised entrenching out of the question. Major Young's men, in the intervals between the Turkish attacks, did their best to deepen the shallow rifle pits they had scratched during the afternoon. When morning came they managed to secure a fair amount of individual cover; but there was no continuous trench and communication was difficult, any movement through the scrub bringing immediate fire from the Turkish trenches.

During the afternoon of the 27th, Ruahine Company, under Major E. H. Saunders, was sent forward from the foot of "Walker's Ridge to strengthen the firing line, and arrived at a very opportune moment when a backward movement of the line had started, about the head of Malone's Gully. On the arrival of Ruahine Company, the situation was immediately taken in hand by Major H. E. Hart, who had been sent forward with the leading companies. He rallied the retiring troops and re-established the firing line. After dusk, Major Hart, while going round the firing line to see that the line was intact and to ascertain the situation of various companies, was seriously wounded in the leg. With great fortitude, he persisted in completing his return to Battalion Headquarters on foot and on making his report before consenting to go to the dressing station. As a result of his wound, he was unable to rejoin his Battalion until September, and his untimely departure was a distinct loss to the fighting strength of the battalion. For his services that day Major Hart was awarded the D.S.O.

page 32

When the battalion advanced to Walker's Ridge, the machine guns of the battalion were sent forward and came into action on Russell's Top, where they came under the direction of Capt. J. A. Wallingford. He was able to place the guns in very good positions, and they were fought with great gallantry and good effect by their gun crews. When the line advanced with fixed bayonets about 3 p.m., the guns moved forward as well. As it eventually turned out, it was a disastrous thing to have done, as both the machine-gun officer, Lt. E. R. Wilson, and the machine-gun sergeant were immediately picked off by the Turkish snipers, and the entire crew of one gun was killed or wounded and the gun abandoned in the scrub. The other gun was kept in action and, later, was moved back to its original position. The abandoned gun was recovered by a special patrol sent out at night from the machine-gun section a few nights later.

The action at Walker's Ridge viewed as the Regiment's first engagement as a complete unit was, from the point of view of the task it was asked to perform, a distinct disappointment. The work the Regiment did was magnificently done. It stiffened the Australian line at a critical period of the Turkish counter-attack, and soon dug an organised defensive position, and, within a few hours of its arrival, had taken over the whole Walker's Ridge position. Instead of the Regiment going into action for the first time with a well-defined task assigned to it, to his profound disappointment, our Commanding Officer saw companies, one after the other, straggling in single file up a steep line into a confused fight of other units, and being mopped up in sections and groups to fill weak places in the existing line. Casualties were numerous; but the great day of action had arrived and the supreme test was not to be long delayed, and our gallant Colonel lived long enough to see his beloved battalion emerge triumphant from such an ordeal as few battalions anywhere in the Great War were called upon to face.

At 6 a.m. on the 28th, the remnants of the Australian troops were entirely withdrawn from the Walker's Ridge position and the Wellington Regiment was left in complete page 33control. Lieut.-Col. Malone set to work in his usual manner to make the position ship-shape. Digging went on apace. Communications, which were here entirely non-existent, were organised between Battalion Headquarters and front line companies, and the battalion settled down to trench routine. By dint of vigorous digging, a connected front line along the whole battalion front was soon established and communication trenches were next undertaken. West Coast Company, whose position overlooked, at the seaward side, a very steep ravine, constructed a good platform along this cliff face, which made an excellent company rest and reserve position, secure from all enemy fire and commanding a splendid view of the sea and portion of the beach. Between the right of the battalion front on Walker's Ridge and the left of the nearest flank unit at Pope's Hill, there existed a gap which, up to the 27th, had been unoccupied. Rumours were always busy about Turkish snipers who penetrated through this gap and attained positions from which they sniped our men from inside our own lines, but it is doubtful whether the Turks knew that this stretch was unoccupied. In any case, to gain access to it meant that the Turks would have to leave their trenches and cross a deep gully which ran from Walker's Ridge down in front of the Turks' position to Pope's Hill with every risk of being shot by cross fire from their own trenches, not to mention the fire from our own side. The gap was finally closed during the night of the 27th/28th by the arrival of the Otago Battalion. During the action on the 27th and 28th April, the Regiment lost 2 officers killed and 6 wounded. Lieut. E. R. Wilson, the battalion machine-gun officer, was killed when the line charged on the afternoon of the 27th, while Lieut. L. W. Hugo was killed gallantly leading his platoon. Lieuts. D. I. C. Bryan and F. K. Turnbull were among the first of the West Coast Company to go into action but did not last more than an hour before each received a severe wound. Lieut. Bryan had his right arm permanently disabled, and was rendered unfit for further service; but Lieut. Turnbull was able to return to duty some 6 weeks later. Lieuts. L. H. Jardine and A. B. McColl were also wounded, but rejoined some weeks later, the former being wounded on page 34the 28th by a piece of shrapnel from one of our own naval guns.

After the first two days the battalion had a quiet time in the Walker's Ridge position. One of the greatest difficulties was in bringing up ammunition, water and food. The track up to the hill, 500 feet above the beach, was very narrow and steep, and exposed to sniping fire from the Turkish trenches; only small loads could be carried by each man, and each trip took a long time. The days were excessively hot, and the long toil up Walker's Ridge with the ration parties was not a job to be sought after. When our front line was complete and we were congratulating ourselves on being well under cover, we were to be instructed by the Turk in the use of machine-guns for night firing. Night after night, he would skin the parapet of our front line with unexpected bursts of fire, and several men were shot through the head whilst on sentry, peering into the dark mass of tangled scrub in front of our trenches. The accuracy of his machine-gun fire was most uncanny.

On the 2nd May the Otago Battalion which had been occupying trenches on the right of the battalion from Russell's Top towards Pope's Hill, received orders that it was to form part of the attacking force in a night attack which was to be made for the purpose of improving our position by capturing a line from Baby 700 to Quinn's Post. The 4th Australian Brigade was to attack on the right and the Otago Battalion on the left. The attack was timed to commence at 7.15 on the night of the 2nd May. The Otago Battallion was to advance from the foot of Pope's Hill, and left Walker's Ridge at 5 p.m.; but, owing to the distance and the many obstructions along the beach and Monash Gully, it did not reach its assembly point till 8.45 p.m. The attack was preceded by a heavy bombardment. The Australian attack commenced on time; but the late arrival of the Otago Battalion spoilt the co-ordination of the attack. Otago attacked most gallantly when it arrived, but the Turkish fire was deadly, and, despite magnificent courage on the part of both New Zealanders and Australians, the whole operation was a failure, and nothing page 35was gained. The Wellington Regiment gave what assistance it could in the way of covering fire both on the night of the 2nd May and during daylight on the 3rd, when small parties of the Otago Regiment and the Australians could be seen hanging on in advance positions in short lengths of trench they had managed to dig overnight. In conjunction with the Otago Battalion's attack, an attempt was made by a company of the Canterbury Regiment to advance on Baby 700 from the Walker's Ridge position, but the accurate fire of the Turks prevented the company from emerging from its trenches.