The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Chapter X. The Arrival of the Mounteds
Chapter X. The Arrival of the Mounteds.
[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite, N.Z.E.
The Tangled Slopes of Mule Gully.
The Anzac position was now reorganized in four defence sections numbered from right to left. General Bridges, with the 1st Australian Division, held Sections 1 and 2—that is, from Chatham's Post on the sea up to, but not including, Courtney's Post. General Godley, with the N.Z. and A. Division, was responsible for the rest of the line. No. 3 Defence Section contained the three famous posts at the head of Monash Gully—Courtney's, Quinn's, and Pope's. Russell's Top, Walker's Ridge, No. 1 and No. 2 Posts made up No. 4 Section. General Birdwood, the Army Corps General, was at his headquarters in Anzac Cove, and each Divisional General was in charge of half the defensive line.
Section (Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan)—3rd Australian Infantry Brigade.
Section (Brigadier-General Walker)—1st Australian Infantry Brigade.
Section (Brigadier-General Trotman, R.M.L.I.)—4th Australian Infantry Brigade; Royal Marine Brigade (Chatham and Portsmouth Battalions); 3 sections No. 1 Field Company, N.Z.E
Section (Brigadier-General Mercer, R.M.L.I.)—Royal Naval Brigade (Nelson and Deal Battalions); 1 section No. 1 Field Company, N.Z.E.
We, as a nation, are prone to underrate our efforts and laud those of our adversaries. Before and during the war it was loudly asserted that the German Secret Service and German diplomacy always outwitted the British. To-day the world knows the truth of the matter. Likewise, it was contended that the Turkish Intelligence Department was superior to ours. “Look how they always know what we are about to do,” said the critics. Truly, anything planned in Egypt was bound to leak out if it had to be printed or circulated, as Egypt was always a cosmopolitan place, where it was unsafe to trust a stranger. But if the Turks knew so much, why did they not attack Walker's Ridge that anxious week in May? Any attack must have succeeded, and the thin line of single trenches once broken, Anzac must have crumpled.page 134
The enemy did nothing serious, and on May 12 the joy at Anzac was unbounded. The Mounteds had arrived! Every face on the beach was wreathed in smiles. Here they all were—without their horses, but keen, and spoiling for a fight—the Australian Light Horse; the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, consisting of the Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury Regiments; the field troop to reinforce the overworked 1st Field Company in its sapping and mining; the signal troop, to help with the telephone and buzzers; and the mounted field ambulance, to assist their overworked confrercs with the wounded.
The Beach sweeping towards Nibrunesi Point.
The same day, Colonel Chauvel, with the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade, took over No. 3 Defence Section from Brigadier-General Trotman, who embarked with the Chatham and Portsmouth Battalions that night for Cape Helles.page 135
Brigadier-General Russell relieved Brigadier-General Mercer on Walker's Ridge. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade took over the line from the Nelson and Deal Battalions, who also left Anzac to rejoin the Royal Naval Division at Cape Helles.
The highest part of Walker's Ridge became known as Russell's Top, because, close at hand, practically in the firing line, the commander of the N.Z. Mounted Rifles Brigade established his headquarters. Hereabouts No Man's Land was very narrow. Away to the right ran the deep gully, which, passing behind the back of Pope's Hill, became Monash Gully. So far, Pope's and Russell's Top were unconnected, the Turks holding the head of this gully, which made their sniping of Monash Gully so effective. It was from here, on May 15, that a Turkish sniper mortally wounded General Bridges, as he was proceeding up Shrapnel Gully. At that time no place in the Anzac area could be considered safe.
To the left was another gully running down and losing itself in the ramifications of the outlying spurs of Walker's Ridge. The little flat watershed separating these two gullies ran like an isthmus across No Man's Land, and connected Russell's Top with that part of the main Turkish position known as “Baby 700” and “The Chessboard.” This con- page 136 necting link was known as “The Nek.” Only a few yards behind our main fire trench were precipitous cliffs, which, running round to the right, culminated in a remarkable knife-edged cliff eventually known as the “Sphinx”; while to the extreme left flank these cliffs, scored with the torrential winter rains, eventually resolved themselves into broken under-features of Walker's Ridge, sprawling out and forming one side of the Sazli Beit Dere. Near the bottom of this dry watercourse was the little Fishermen's Hut, so often used as a landmark. Just south of these huts was No. 1 Post, and a few hundred yards past the valley and on the coast was the little knoll eventually to become famous as No. 2 Post.
This No. 2 Post was the northern extremity of our line. Measured on the map, it was a distance of 3600 yards—just two miles—from Chatham's Post on the extreme right. As Quinn's Post was about 1000 yards from the sea, a rough calculation will show that the area of Anzac was approximately 750 acres. Seven hundred and fifty acres of prickly scrub and yellow clay, stony water-courses, sandy cliffs and rocky hill tops, land that would not support one family in comfort, yet for eight long months, men of divers races lived a Spartan life there, studding the hillsides so thickly with their rude dugouts that a Turkish shell seldom failed to find a victim.
No time was lost after taking over this No. 4 Sector. The engineers had made a track for guns and mules up to Russell's Top. This road was regraded and improved in parts; trenches were deepened and made more habitable: page 137 saps were pushed out wherever the field of fire required improvement. The line from “the Top” to No. 2 Outpost was very broken, with many rough gullies intervening; secret saps were dug, and machine guns placed to cover this “dead” ground, up and down which the scouts of both sides roamed as soon as it was dark.
Later in the month the Otago Mounted Rifles were stationed down at No. 2 Post. Between the post and the sea was a delightful little strip of level ground, ablaze with poppies and other wild flowers, but under the eye, and within the range of the enemy. Near this outpost was discovered an old Turkish well. Elsewhere men searched for water, and sometimes found it, but when pumps were applied the flow page 138 ceased after a day or so. This, on the contrary, was a most reliable well, a godsend to the thirsty men and mules, and a most welcome addition to the scanty supply procured from the barges. Soldiers came from far and near to draw the precious water.
Owing to its visibility to the snipers on the Turkish right flank, the beach between Ari Burnu and Fishermen's Hut could not be used during the day. Almost under the shadow of the Sphinx a group of boats and barges lay stranded on the beach. Late one night a party of mounteds went down and buried the remains of forty Australian infantrymen who had been killed at the April landing.
The Mounted Rifles repulse a determined Attack.
About the middle of May, the Turks decided that one determined effort would drive the men of Anzac into the sea. These people perched on the hillside annoyed him enormously. Never did he make an attack in the southern zone but these Colonials threatened to advance towards Maidos. News was gleaned of the withdrawal of troops from Helles and the arrival of reinforcements from Constantinople.
On May 17, the “Lord Nelson” delighted all beholders by turning her big guns on to the village of Kuchuk Anafarta. All along the coast line the ships joined in, until every village behind the line, and every road running towards Helles and Anzac, was swathed in dust and flame. The Turk retaliated with guns ranging from 11in. down to .77. Their shooting was good—one Australian 18-pr. was put out of action by a direct hit. The enemy reinforcements were delayed, but with the darkness, on they came again.
The machine guns sprayed the front with a shower of lead, and for an interval the attack seemed held up, but in the grey dawn the mass advanced again. Crying on their God—“Allah! Allah! Allah!”—they surged forward in tremendous strength. From their trenches opposite Russell's Top and Turk's Point on Walker's Ridge they sallied forth in thousands. This was the first real test of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. The Turks flung themselves against the trenches held by the Auckland Mounted Regiment; but with rifle and machine-gun fire the troopers beat them off, hardly a Turk reaching the trench.
This was a field day for the machine guns posted in No. 4 Section. Carefully trained by some of the greatest experts in the world, who were not slow to recognize their golden opportunities, these excellently placed weapons carried disaster into the enemy's attacks, enfilading them time and again. To the intense delight of the gunners, the Turks advanced in lines that presented ideal machine-gun targets. As the enemy had treated the Royal Naval Battalions on Dead Man's Ridge, so the Turk was now treated in return.
Again and again the foe came on—by their French-grey overcoats they were identified as new picked troops from Asia. Again and again they advanced, but, caught by the loosely-strewn barb wire, they dropped like flies and were beaten to the earth by the machine guns. The din was indescribable. Above the rattle of the musketry combat and between the boom of the guns could be heard the Turk, crying on his Maker as he advanced, yelling and squealing as he retired to the Colonial shouts of “Imshi Yallah!” and the glorious battle chorus of “Ake, Ake, Kia Kaha!”
[Lent by Capt. Boxer, N.Z.M.C.
On Walker's Ridge.
The Field Troop, N.Z.E., regrading the road to Russell's Top.
Right along the two and a third miles of front the attacks melted away—nowhere was the Anzac line penetrated. The great attempt to drive the infidel into the sea had miserably failed. Everywhere along the line Turks lay dead in heaps. The mounted men—Australians and New Zealanders alike—had demonstrated that southern-bred soldiers were as dogged in defence as they were brilliant in attack.
The night was fairly quiet, but on the 20th the attack was resumed, when the machine gunners had it all their own way. Perhaps the enemy remembered the tragedy of the preceding day, for when the machine guns spluttered, the attackers broke and fled.
In the afternoon a dramatic episode occurred. At different points in the Turkish trenches small white flags appeared. Linguists in the enemy's ranks made known their desire for a truce to bury their dead. At many parts in the line, particularly opposite the Auckland Mounted trenches on Walker's Ridge, some conversation was carried on in German. But observers noticed men crowding in the front line and the communication trenches. It seemed that the white flag incident was a ruse to launch a surprise attack. The white flag parties were given two minutes to get down out of sight. Down they scurried, and once more the musketry battle resumed its violence. As night came the searchlight from the warships played around the Turkish trenches and brilliantly illuminated the gullies on the flanks. Some desultory firing took place, but the Turk had no stomach for more infidel driving.
Burying the Dead on Armistice Day.
The suspension of arms was to be from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., on May 24.
A line was to be pegged out down the centre of No Man's Land—the Turkish burying parties to work their side of the line, while we worked on our side.page 144
Any dead belonging to the Turks on our side of the line were to be carried on stretchers to the centre line. The enemy was to do the same for us, so that each side would bury its own dead, and so identify them.
Rifles found on No Man's Land were to be collected, and immediately placed on stretchers. No man was to carry a rifle in his hand. Each side was to carry off its own rifles found in its burying area. Enemy rifles were to have the bolts removed, and were to be then carried on stretchers, and handed over to the original owners.
The morning of “Armistice Day” broke with a steady drizzle. At the appointed hour fifty Turks, with Red Crescents on their arms, and fifty Australians and New Zealanders with Red Cross armlets, met on the extreme right. Each party had a staff officer and a medical officer. The men carried short stakes with little white strips of calico on the top, and, headed by the staff officers, who each walked near his own front-line trench, the party went right down the centre of No Man's Land, sticking in their little white flags.
By about 10 o'clock the demarcation was complete. As the party had moved down No Man's Land, heads appeared over both parapets, and, cautiously first, and then quite boldly, the soldiers on both sides scrambled up on the parapets and experienced the uncanny sensation of safety.
The burying parties struggled up the greasy clay tracks, marched out with their shovels and their stretchers, and the day's work began in earnest. And what a work! In some sectors the dead lay in heaps. In one area of about an acre, three hundred bodies were tallied—mostly Turks. “They are lying just as thick as sheep in a yard,” said a Hawke's Bay boy in the demarcation party. It was soon realized that proper burials were out of the question, and that it was impossible to carry the enemy's dead to the centre line. A mutual agreement was made to cover up friend and foe, the Turk on his side and we on ours. So the Anzac dead in the Turkish area were not identified by us; these are the men who eventually were described as “Missing, believed killed” by the Court of Enquiry.page 145
Armistice Day, May 24, 1915.
These two pictures were taken by Brig.-General Ryan, of the Australian Medical Corps. The top one shows the Turkish Staff Officer who brought in the flag of truce. While going through our lines he was blindfolded, according to custom, and escorted by a British Staff Officer.
The bottom picture shows the burying parties at work in No Man's Land.
Away in the tangled gullies on our left flank, several wounded Turks were discovered in desperate straits. These men were evidently snipers who had been hit while crawling round in the prickly scrub past Walker's Ridge. One man was picked up, and as he made gestures asking for water, an N.Z.M.C. orderly lifted his head up and discovered that his bottom jaw was almost shot away. Another wounded Turk was carried in a distance of two miles, and most inconsiderately died as the hospital was reached.
Very few New Zealanders were found unburied, but there was evidence that they died game. One Aucklander was found still grasping his rifle, which was—barrel and bayonet—firmly embedded in the body of his dead opponent.
By midday, the heat was tropical, and the Anzac beaches were crowded with the battalions from the trenches. The Turk was wont to boast that he would drive us into the sea. What Enver Pasha failed to do, the lice achieved, and the unique opportunity to get a safe wash was fully appreciated.
Up on the hillsides the burial parties were hard at work. The chaplains never had a busier day, searching for identity discs, and reading the burial service. In some parts of the line the men mingled freely with Johnny Turk. A Melbourne medico was an object of great interest to the Turkish soldiery, as he wore the ribbons of the Medjidie and the Osmanieh, gained in a previous war when the Turk and we were allies. A German doctor in Turkish uniform asked for news of his whilom friends in Sydney. The Turks had a supply of brown bread, and many exchanges were made with the Colonials, who were very pleased to barter their flint-like biscuits for something that would not torture their tender gums.
The afternoon wore on, and as 3 o'clock came, we realized that our work was nearly done—over 3000 Turks buried. By 4 p.m., everybody had returned to the trenches, and for the next half-hour deathly silence reigned. To all appearances the truce had been honourably kept. At 4.30, both sides delivered tremendous volleys at nothing in particular, and settled down quietly for the night. Thus ended one of the strangest days in the history of the campaign.page 147
The Sinking of the “Triumph.”
This disaster cast a gloom over Anzac. To see one's friends in peril and be powerless to help caused the Colonial soldiers more pain than any previous experience. This old page 149 ship had been such a trusty friend, and now, in a short twenty minutes, she was gone! Men sat up on the hill that night, cursing the Hun and all his allies!
The Taking and Losing of “Old No. 3 Post.”
Between the ridge of Chunuk Bair, held by the Turk, and our No. 2 Post, there were three other conspicuous pieces of high ground bounded on the north by Chailak Dere, and on the south by the Sazli Beit Dere. The highest of these was Rhododendron Ridge; the next was a little plateau appropriately named Table Top, and nearest to No. 2, really a higher peak of the same spur, was a Turkish post from which most of the deadliest sniping was carried on. It was thought advisable to occupy this ridge and deny it to the enemy. It was a hopeless position for us—away out in a salient—and should never have been attempted. On the night of May 28, a squadron of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles crept up the dere and took this sniping post by surprise at the point of the bayonet. They, in their turn, handed over to a squadron of the Wellington Mounted Regiment, who proceeded to put the post into a state of defence by entrenching it. The garrison was again relieved by a squadron of the Wellingtons (9th Wellington East Coast) on the night of May 30. Getting in about 8 o'clock at night, the men were hardly distributed along the meagre trenches when sounds of movement were heard. Presently, showers of hand-grenades descended on the post. Calling on “Allah,” the enemy, numbering many hundreds, surrounded the post. The Wellingtons had no hand-grenades (the shortage of these weapons at Anzac was deplorable), so had to depend upon their rifles. Rushing up to the parapet and yelling their eerie cries, but never daring to press the attack home, throwing hand-grenades and then retreating, the Turks let the precious hours of darkness slip by.
The garrison decided to make the Turks pay a big price for the post. The strain of hanging on through that awful night was tremendous. But with the welcome dawn came fresh hope. All that day the garrison lay in their trenches waiting for the final assault.page 150
The guns from the “W” Hills broke in parts of the parapet; the telephone wire to No. 2 Post was cut, and the Turk actually penetrated a section of the trench, but was driven out. Things becoming desperate—water and ammunition both running short—a message was semaphored back to Walker's Ridge, and it was decided to attempt the relief of the post at dusk.
A View from the Left Flank.
On the left is the Sphinx; the next high ground is Plugge's Plateau, which running down to the sea resolves itself into the pint of Ari Burnu.
[Photo by the Author
The Big Sap running past No. 2 Post.
A new No. 3 Post was established by the Otago Mounted Rifles on rising ground about 200 yards north of No. 2 Post. This became the extreme right flank of the Anzac position until the great advance in August.