The History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919
Chapter V. — Of the Final Days at Anzac and How the Regiment came away
Of the Final Days at Anzac and How the Regiment came away.
The new camp was a bad place for stray bullets, especially during the evening "hate," but it was subject to little shell fire. During the Regiment's absence the Turks had brought up some heavy artillery and a great supply of ammunition. The Otago Regiment, over the ridge and below the Canterburys, was kept busy dodging 8in. shells fired at a neighbouring battery, but the Canterbury Regiment lucidly had no battery near it. Building winter quarters kept everyone fully employed. Long terraces were dug on the hillsides and roofed over with iron, and inside these shelters short tunnels were bored into the hill, to be used when the bivouac area was shelled. Besides this work, the Regiment being in reserve had to find its quota of working parties to dig tunnels at No. 2 Outpost for Divisional Headquarters. No. 2 Outpost was an unhealthy place. Apparently the Turks had accurate knowledge that it was a headquarters, for whenever they shelled they always remembered it. The weather now became very cold, with heavy winds and frequent rain storms.
On 27th November the Regiment relieved the Suffolk Yeomanry and a portion of the 162nd Brigade of the 54th Infantry Division, in the trenches at "King's Own Avenue," off "Hampshire Lane," which was an off-shoot of the Aghyl Dere on the northern side. It was bitterly cold and raining as the men left the shelter of their bivouac in the darkness, and all were thoroughly wet and caked with mud by the time the trenches were reached. These were found to be in a very bad state. Originally a portion of an old Turkish trench system, they were very badly sited from the Regiment's point of view, the field of fire in places being not more than two or three yards. The bivouac area immediately in rear of the trenches, was a bare hillside. Baggage had not come up, and there was very little chance of improving page 70matters till tools were available. All day the storm continued, and at night it came on to snow. The Regiment passed a miserable night. In the morning the ground was covered by a white mantle to the depth of three or four inches. The work of improving the trenches was begun; being on the hill, draining away the water was an easy matter. The bivouac areas were improved, and in a very few hours some degree of comfort was available.
This blizzard of snow was followed by two days and two nights of bitter cold, intensified by an icy wind. But this was partly a blessing in disguise for all mud and standing water froze hard, making the carriage of rations, stores and baggage into the new trenches an easier matter. Every effort was made to keep the men in the trenches warm. Hot tea and coffee were sent up to them at night and rum when they came off duty in the morning. This care and the fact that owing to the move into new trenches everyone was hard at work improving the fire-trenches, digging dug-outs and making tracks, undoubtedly had much to do with the freedom from frost bite enjoyed by the Brigade. Casualties from frost bite and exposure ran into many thousands in the Suvla Bay force.
The trench line held by the Brigade ran from a strong point called Warwick Castle, where lay the left of the 4th Australian Brigade, across the north branch of the Aghyl Dere, up a spur towards the Abd el Rahman Bair until it almost touched a strong Turkish position known as Sand Bag Ridge. The line then bent abruptly west and continued across several ridges to Hill 60, where the Wellington Regiment joined with the Welsh Horse.
The Regiment's portion consisted of the spur which ran from the north branch of the Aghyl Dere to the Turkish position of Sand Bag Ridge. On its right were the Auckland Mounted Rifles, and on the left across Warley Gap the Otagos. Along the front of the position lay a valley, and across this valley the lower slopes of Chunuk Bair. Here the Turkish trenches were some distance away, though at the extreme left the Regiment's line joined the Turks at Sand Bag Ridge. The gully was patrolled every night, and the left of the line was specially protected by hidden machine guns.page 71
On November 24th began what was known as the "silent battle." All firing was ordered to cease until midnight on November 27th.
These orders caused much speculation and rumours of evacuation even were heard.
On December 9th Major C. G. Powles, the Brigade Major of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, took over command of the Regiment, and Major J. Studholme became second in command. Trench page 72routine, varied by patrolling in the valley and the digging of deep dug-outs for the winter, occupied the days; and the weather becoming warmer again the troops looked forward with very little misgiving to a winter on Gallipoli. There was much jaundice among the men at this time, and the M.O., who promptly sent the sufferers off to the Hospital ships, was remonstrated with by a senior officer who did not know that every opportunity was being taken to evacuate unfit men. Later on, when he himself became as yellow as the proverbial guinea, he strenuously resisted imperative orders to go, and managed to hang on to the end.
Stories were, however, current of winter quarters at Mudros, at which units were to stay in turn. Then on December 12th came definite news of the evacuation and of the preliminary steps to be taken.
Though the idea of evacuation had been spoken of for some time the decision came as a great shock to most of the Anzac garrison. To give up the attempt, after so great an effort and at such a great cost of lives, seemed unthinkable; and then there was the abandonment of all our brave comrades who had lost their lives. The idea was heartbreaking.
But definite movement soon became apparent. All men with the slightest symptoms of sickness were sent away. Then one regiment or one battalion in each brigade disappeared, the Aucklanders going from the N.Z.M.R., "for a spell in a rest camp on Lemnos." This meant a greatly extended line for the C.M.R. to hold; so long was it that "strong points" only were regularly garrisoned, the intervals being patrolled.
As soon as definite orders giving the scheme of the evacuation were received all ranks devoted their whole energy to make the withdrawal a success. Spare stores were gradually burnt in the incinerators and spare bombs and S.A.A. were buried. Many ruses were resorted to in order to deceive the enemy. Parties of men were sent in the dark to the beach and marched back in daylight in full view of the Turks. Fires were lighted in those gullies used by reinforcements and kept burning daily until the end.page 73
To the Regimental Quartermaster fell the task of destroying the surplus rum. He caused a hole to be dug in the ground and the jars carried there. His intention was to take the jars two by two and, breaking them together, consign the liquor to Mother Earth. It is said that three times did he repair to the hole to begin this pitiful task, and that three times his courage failed before he nerved himself to the dreadful deed.
Many ingenious devices were made for the firing of rifles, so that when the trenches were left these rifles would go off at various intervals up to one hour.
Finally there was the dividing of each unit into parties for the final evacuation, which it had been decided was to take place on the night of December 19th-20th. Orders were received to reduce each regiment in the Brigade to nine officers and one hundred and sixty-three other ranks, so the Regiment sent off five officers and one hundred and seventy-seven other ranks during the night of December 18th.
Those remaining in the Regiment were divided into A, B and C parties, the final or C party to be of- "active gallant men," as the orders said—the diehards of the Regiment.
The greatest competition was shown for places in the C party, and the Commanding Officer was besieged with requests from all ranks to be allowed to stay.
At last the personnel required for each party were allotted. It was arranged that "A" party of three officers and ninety others from each of the three regiments, should leave the trenches at 1730 hours, and "B" party of three officers and forty-two others at 2135 hours, all marching down to the pier at North Beach. This would leave for the " C " parties three officers and thirty-one others each, who would leave the trenches each in three detachments to assemble in the Aghyl Dere, and then to march independently to the beach.
The day was fine and clear, and after dark a full moon shone. The "A" and "B" parties got off to time and the Turk kept firing away in his usual style. "Everything normal," as the War Diary said. From 9 p.m. began the most anxious time. The three officers and thirty-one other ranks, with one machine gun, kept up the deception, firing from the usual places and carrying the maxim gun to the various machine gun emplacements in turn. It was a time of anxiety and suspense, but though every man fully realised that in a serious attack they would be overwhelmed, all were too busy to worry. At 0145 hours on the morning of December 20th the first portion of the Regiment's "C" party left the trenches and walked quietly down King's Own Avenue to the Aghyl Dere, where they waited. They were followed by the second portion at 0155 hours, and at 0205 the final lot of the " C " party filed out of the trenches (Sergeant H. Benson, the regimental signaller, finally cutting the telephone wires that led to Brigade Headquarters), and reached their comrades in the Aghyl at 0220 hours. Carrying their rifles, the machine gun and a few personal belongings, "C" party now set out on their last long journey to the beach. Through the silent deres they marched, and past the silent dead, over whom loving comrades had set up crosses of remembrance in those last days. "I wonder if they hear, us" passed through many a mind, and a great regret came welling up—a regret that they were being abandoned and the task not done. Not a soul was seen, for all other " C " parties, having a shorter journey to go, had reached the beach. But away up in the first line the dummy rifles were manfully simulating the normal state of affairs, and the old Turk was as manfully firing back again at the now vacant trenches. Anzac Cove was reached at 0330 hours, and half an hour later the lighter was on its way to the S.S. Osmanieh, and Mudros was reached at 9 o'clock. Here the final parties found the rest of the Regiment in camp. On December 22nd the Regiment embarked on H.M.T. Hororata and sailed to Egypt. Christmas Day was spent quietly on board, and reaching Alexandria on the 26th, the Regiment disembarked and went by train to its old camp at Zeitoun.page 76
The following Special Order of the Day was issued to all units:—
General Headquarters, 21st December, 1915.
The Commander-in-Chief desires to express to all ranks in the Dardanelles Army Ms unreserved appreciation of the way in which the recent operations, ending in the evacuation of the Anzac and Suvla positions, have been carried to an issue successful beyond his hopes. The arrangements made for withdrawal, and for keeping the enemy in ignorance of the operation which was taking place, could not have been improved. The General Officer Commanding Dardanelles Army, and the General Ofiicers Commanding the Australian and New Zealand and 9th Army Corps, may pride themselves on an achievement without parallel in the annals of war. The Army and Corps Staffs, Divisional and subordinate Commanders and their Staffs, and the Naval and Military Beach Staffs, proved themselves more than equal to the most difficult task which could have been thrown upon them. Regimental officers, non-commissioned officers and men carried out, without a hitch, the most trying operation which soldiers can be called upon to undertake—a withdrawal in the face of the enemy—in a manner reflecting the highest credit on the discipline and soldierly qualities of the troops.
It is no exaggeration to call this achievement one without parallel. To disengage and to withdraw from a bold and active enemy is the most difficult of all military operations; and in this case the withdrawal was effected by surprise, with the opposing forces at close grips—in many cases within a few yards of each other. Such an operation, when succeeded by a re-embarkation from an open beach, is one for which military history contains no precedent.
During the past months the troops of Great Britain and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, Newfoundland and India, lighting side by side, have invariably proved their superiority over the enemy, have contained the best fighting troops in the Ottoman Army in their front, and have prevented the Germans from employing their Turkish allies against us elsewhere.page 77
No soldier relishes undertaking a withdrawal from before the enemy. It is hard to leave behind the graves of good comrades, and to relinquish positions so hardly won and so gallantly maintained as those we have left. But all ranks in the Dardanelles Army will realize that in this matter they were but carrying out the orders of His Majesty's Government, so that they might in due course be more usefully employed in fighting elsewhere for their King, their Country, and the Empire.
There is only one consideration—what is best for the futherance of the common cause. In that spirit the withdrawal was carried out, and in that spirit the Australian and New Zealand and the 9th Army Corps have proved, and will continue to prove, themselves second to none as soldiers of the Empire.
A. Lynden Bell, Major-General,
Chief of the General Staff,
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
The following telegram was received from His Majesty the king:—
"It gives me the greatest satisfaction to hear of the successful evacuation of Suvla and Anzac without loss of troops or guns. Please convey to General Birdwood and those under his command my congratulations upon the able manner in which they have carried out so difficult an operation."20-12-15.
John Masefield in his "Gallipoli" says:—
"Still," our enemies say, "you did not win the Peninsula." We did not; and some day, when truth will walk clear-eyed, it will be known why we did not. Until then, let our enemies say this: "They did not win, but they came across three thousand miles of sea, a little army without reserves and short of munitions, a band of brothers, not half of them half-trained, and nearly all of them new to war. They came to what we said was an impregnable fort, on which our veterans of war and massacre had laboured for two months, and by sheer naked manhood they beat us, and drove us out of it. Then rallying, but without reserves, they beat us again, and drove us farther. Then rallying once more, but still without reserves, they beat us again, this time to our page 78knees. Then, had they had reserves, they would have conquered, but by God's pity they had none. Then, after a lapse of time when we were men again, they had reserves. and they hit us a staggering blow, which needed but a push to end us, but God again had pity. After that our God was indeed pitiful, for England made no further thrust, and they went away."