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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

The Scarcity of Building Materials

The Scarcity of Building Materials.

It is questionable if any army in the field ever had too many sandbags. To keep earth walls standing at as steep a slope as possible is the object of all builders of trenches, for the steeper a wall the safer it is. “It is difficult to make war safe,” says the soldier, who, being wise, does not attempt the page 159 impossible. But the same soldier takes few chances, and wherever he can build a wall or put on a roof that gives him real or fancied protection, nothing will stop him from collecting from somewhere the necessary material.

The scrub did not run to the size of trees, and apart from a little firewood nothing was obtainable on shore. The muchtalked-of “Olive Groves” always seemed to be in the hands of the enemy. All the timber for building purposes, for the timbering of well shafts, and the casing of mining galleries, had to be brought ashore on barges. It was carried to the engineers' store yard on Hell Spit and guarded like the Bank of England, for everybody wanted two or three pieces and a few sheets of corrugated iron for the roof of a dugout. If a staved-in boat or a shattered barge stranded on the beach, it was quickly pounced upon and carried off.

Black and white photograph of a Maori soldier on sentry.

A Maori on Sentry at the Water Tanks in Mule Gully.

One benefactor conceived the idea of tearing timber out of the fittings of the transports, and for some time working parties gathered in much spoil. If these ships had stayed much longer they would have been torn to pieces by the energetic builders of dugouts and “hospitals.” The decree had gone forth that timber and sandbags could only be issued for the front line and hospitals, with the natural result—every requisition was marked “for hospital” and initialled by some page 160 strange hand, the owner of which was most likely of the humble rank of private.

The man who invented barbed wire is as heartily cursed by soldiers as by dairy farmers. The sudden cry of “wire” sends a shiver down the spine of the most seasoned. For wherever wire is, machine guns are placed to enfilade it. The Turk was a great believer in wire. It was of German manufacture, and very skilfully and strongly placed. In order to make it effective, it must be made very secure. Only in positions previously prepared can the requisite work be put in. In preparing for the Gallipoli landings the Turk put it well out in the water, whereby, it being concealed, many casualties occurred.

As our No Man's Land was so narrow, it was difficult to put out the ordinary high wire entanglement, the noise of driving the stakes alone putting it outside the pale of practicability. At the time the new screw-picket wiring system had not been evolved. But as something had to be done, in the workshop on the beach many “knife-rest” obstacles were made by constructing two stout wooden X's about 3 feet high, joining them by 3 × 2 distance pieces of 12 feet long, and wrapping the whole round and round and diagonally with wire. These fearsome arrangements, with much profanity from the unfortunate working party, were carried up the communication trenches—no easy task on a hot day, with a traverse to negotiate every few yards. The front line at last reached, the awkward obstacles were pushed unceremoniously over the parapet and levered out as far as possible by long props under cover of darkness.