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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

The Water Problem

The Water Problem.

The question of water was perhaps our most terrible problem during the week-end battle. It had always been one of the problems of Anzac, but that awful week in August was the culmination.

In anticipation of the offensive, great efforts were made to overcome the shortage. It was known that good wells existed on the other side of the watershed where the Turkish armies bivouacked, and in the neighbourhood of Kabak Kuyu on the Suvla Plain. Until we could get these wells, we had to make extraordinary provision. From Egypt, India and England, every class of water receptacle was procured. Milk cans came from England; fantassahs from the caravans of Egypt; pakhals from India; sealed petrol tins by the thousand, filled with water from the Nile, arrived and were stacked ready for the advance. Water from a petrol tin looks rusty and tastes abominably, but it is water, and men count themselves fortunate to get it.

The value of water in the campaign can be realized from one illustration. Success seemed within our grasp when we page 239 got a foothold on the crest of Chunuk. Tacticians of the Army consider that from there success should have been exploited—that all available reserves should have been thrown in there and so distributed along Hill Q to Koja Chemen Tepe. General Sir Ian Hamilton has put it on record that he was tempted to throw his reserves into the balance at Chunuk Bair, but each time the problem of the water supply dissuaded him from putting any more thirsty men at Anzac. That they were ultimately more thirsty at Suvla is
Black and white photograph.

[Lent by Capt. Boxer, N.Z.M C.
A Dressing Station in the Chailak Dere.

part of the tragedy, which is easy to point out now, but difficult then to foresee.

All through the fight on Chunuk Bair men's throats were parched for the want of water. Intense thirst is one of the cruellest torments man can suffer. Hot weather, hill climbing, and the excitement of fighting combine to accentuate the desire to drink. On occasions like this, the contents of two water bottles do not last long. When the New Zealand infantry went out on to Chunuk Bair, they had marched all the night before and lain out on the hillside during the torrid day. Their water was soon consumed. Water bottles were carefully collected from the dead, more carefully even than ammunition. The short supply gallantly carried up by the page 240 Indian transport service did not go far, but it saved the situation.

Perhaps the success of the Australian and New Zealand divisions in this war was due to having in their ranks skilled and resourceful men who had spent most of their lives solving problems for themselves. In any case the New Zealand Engineers took advantage of the well near No. 2 and developed it to the full. Not that there were no difficulties. On one occasion the bearings got heated, metal ran out of the couplings, and the engine broke down. Spare parts could be made on the warships, but that meant delay. We were getting 1,000 gallons per hour, and pumping 20 hours a day. This meant keeping 2 divisions supplied; so one old sapper filed up a new bearing out of the gun-metal coupling off a service pump! Again, owing to the lubricating oil being so poor, the cylinder rings used to burn on to the piston, and had to be forced off. First one was broken, and then another. New rings were made by cutting up a Turkish 4.5 shell with a hack-saw! The job was a lengthy one, but as the shell was the right thickness, they proved to be A1. After that a few were always kept on hand. Not without ingenuity and knowledge born of experience did the troops at Anzac get the water denied their unfortunate comrades at Suvla.