Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

Part V. After the Battle

page 237

Part V. After the Battle.

The Trenches on the Crest of Chunuk.

There has been placed on record a statement that the trenches on the crest of Chunuk were badly sited. No soldier of experience would have made such a criticism if he understood the facts. Bare justice is due to Colonel Malone and those New Zealanders who took Chunuk and held it. It has been said that the trench line was the wrong side of the crest, and that there was not a good field of fire.

What would anyone else have done?

We all know that a trench should have the best field of fire. But one can easily get in a training manual what one seeks for in vain during a pitched battle! In the carefully prepared treatise, principles are laid down and their application is expounded. But the enemy is not firing bullets and hand grenades in the book. The ground in the book, too, is easy to dig.

Look for a moment at this sketch of a typical crest.

Black and white sketch of a typical crest.

It is obvious that the trenchline we have gained is the best possible one under the circumstances. No one contends that it is the best one theoretically, but at least one has a certain amount of protection. Anyone who goes forward on to the crest itself is killed by bomb or rifle fire; anyone who goes over the enemy's side of the crest to dig posts that have page 238 a good field of fire is also sure to be killed. This, however, does not deter determined soldiers from trying. The men who did try on Chunuk were buried long after by the Turks, and cannot reply to criticism—criticism which is cheap, and, in this case, futile.

The only thing to do is to dig deep zig-zag saps through the crest line, put T heads on each sap, and so get posts with a field of fire—posts that can be connected by sapping. A determined enemy—and the Turk was very determined—will not let attacking troops do exactly what they wish, otherwise war might be made safe, and the front line become more popular than it is!

The fact remains that the trenches on Chunuk Bair were the only possible ones for such a situation. Those of us who have found it necessary to entrench on a crest line in close proximity to a determined foe, know that what was done on Chunuk could not have been done any better by anybody else; and there, for the present, the matter must stand.

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.

The Fifth Reinforcements.

If ever mortals were projected into a hell of torture and suffering it was the men of the 5th Reinforcements. Coming straight from the transports, they arrived at No. 2 Post on August 8, and were summarily introduced to modern war. Hundreds of wounded had been carried down from the bloody slopes of Chunuk and were laid in rows in the neighbourhood of No. 2 Post, in readiness to be carried along the Big Sap, and so to the piers as soon as it was dark. These men of the 5th Reinforcements had served little apprenticeship to active service; but they had heard of the casualties of the landing at Anzac and Helles, and some have written that at first they were of the impression that these rows of wounded men were an everyday occurrence! In a sort of nightmare, not knowing whither they were going, or even page 241 the name of the dere they traversed, these men dived into the trenches on Chunuk Bair and found themselves among Wellington and Otago Infantry, Auckland and Wellington Mounteds—the heroic band of brothers clinging to Chunuk and prepared to die there. A great proportion did die there; but they held Chunuk! Into this company of heroes stumbled the men of the Fifths.

They were greeted with “dig for your lives for dawn is not far away, and if you haven't got cover by then, you're dead men!” All through the night the digging, the bombing, and the shooting continued. Rifle barrels got so hot they had to be discarded, and a rifle from a dead man used. Ammunition and water were collected. Some men used three rifles, turn and turn about.

Black and white photograph.

Carrying wounded to the Picket Boats.

With dawn came the lyddite shells from the Navy. Dense rolls of yellow smoke curled round the hills. Small coloured flags were waved to indicate our position to the Navy.

The suffering from thirst was terrible. When relief did come, men crowded round the wells at No. 2 and drank tin after tin of the precious water.

The Valleys of Torment.

During the nights of August 7, 8, 9, and 10, the wounded men of Anzac seemed to encompass the sum total of human suffering. Travelling light to avoid the heat of the day, a badly wounded man who could not walk had to lie out all through the long cold night. To men without blankets and tunics, and often without a shirt because of the noonday heat, those nights were excruciating cold. Those who could walk were in fairly good stead. They could reach page 242
Black and white photograph.

[Photo by Capt. Boxer, N.Z.M.C.
A Trawler Alongside A Hospital Ship.
Under the big Union Jack are six bodies; and one under the small flag. The trawler made a trip every morning out to the three mile limit, where a solemn burial service was held—the only mourners being the padre and the seven men of the trawler.

page 243 the dressing stations near the beach, and get near the piers when the Red Cross barge came alongside. So it happened that the least wounded were always ready to be evacuated; the others had to lie in those stricken gullies until the few overworked stretcher-bearers could carry them down. The lack of facilities for evacuating wounded was as pronounced as at the landing. Of course, in war it must always happen that during big battles things will go wrong. That seems unavoidable, and conditions generally adjust themselves after a few days. But to get a parallel to the sufferings at Anzac one must go back to the days of the Crimea.
The Sazli Beit Dere and the Chailak Dere were crowded with walking cases; those who could not walk, waited in vain for stretcher-bearers, then born of desperation, crawled, crept,
Black and white photograph.

In Egypt: The Red Cross Cars and the Red Crescent Train.
The Christian Cross and the Mahommedan Crescent—for perhaps the first time in history—working together in the interests of humanity.

and rolled down the slopes into the gullies. Here there was a certain amount of protection against Turkish fire. Ghurkas, New Army men, and New Zealanders painfully crept towards the low ground. Perhaps the gully would lead too far away from the direction of No. 2 Post; men at the last stages of exhaustion would give up here and wait for the stretcher-bearers who could not come, for they were overwhelmed with cases nearer home. Medical officers, padres, dentists and stretcher-bearers toiled against one of the most heartbreaking experiences of the war. Up in these gullies of torment men died by the hundred—died of thirst, of awful bomb wounds and of exposure.

Down near No. 2 Post was an awful sight—a thousand wounded men lying in rows and in heaps. Crash would page 244 come a Turkish shell and the already wounded would be wounded once again. Mule trains moving up and down to the Big Sap raised great clouds of fine dust that settled on everything, increasing the discomfort already caused by wounds, fever, flies and the alternating heat and cold.

Barges full of mules would pull in to be disembarked. The stretcher bearers would help with the unloading, and without any cleaning, for there was no time to worry about the niceties, the serious cases would be placed on the bottom of the barge and towed out to the hospital ship or carrier.

When a string of Red Cross barges would come in, the walking cases would naturally crowd up to the pier in anticipation of getting off; there was a tendency to leave the helpless man on the beach, but the medical officers and orderlies watched as well as they were able, and sent the serious cases to the hospital ships as soon as possible, the less serious ones going to Lemnos by the hospital carrier.

It is difficult to conceive what clean sheets, soft food, the sight of the army nurses, and the sound of their English voices, meant to the tired men of Anzac. Worn to shadows by hardships and suffering, these men could not understand the present situation. For if their experiences had been awful, they expected little else. As pioneers in a desperate enterprise they knew the path would not be strewn with ease and comfort, but rather with danger and pain—and their expectations were realized at Anzac; but here on the hospital ships where there were warm baths, clean underclothing, and the tender ministrations of the army nurses, the suffering New Zealander was literally overwhelmed with his good fortune.