The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Chapter XVI. Preparing for the End
Chapter XVI. Preparing for the End.
Resting at Sarpi.
A Sketch Map of the New Anzac Line.
Chatham's Post to No. 3 Post were the original Anzac boundaries. The dotted line at Lone Pine, and from the Apex to Jephson's Post indicates the territory gained in August. The Anzac area went as far as Hill 60.
The N.Z.M.R. Brigade at Cheshire Ridge handed over to some recently arrived Australians, leaving only a few officers and men as machine gun crews. The remainder of the brigade—20 officers and 229 other ranks—were accommodated in one small barge! It was only on occasions such as this that we could comprehend our losses. The old “Osmanieh” sailed for Lemnos, and the brigade disembarked at Mudros early on September 14, and marched by road to Sarpi Camp, about three miles from the pier. This road connected Mudros with the chief town of the island, Castro. Tents were scarce, and during the night a torrential rain made everybody most unhappy. The ground was very soft, but a hot sun made things more bearable during the day. A few tents were erected for the Infantry Brigade which was expected during the day.
The infantry battalions were in the same plight as the mounted regiments. Although having absorbed the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Reinforcements, these one-thousand-strong battalions of the landing were now pathetically weak—the strongest not totally more than 300 men. Four months of living on monotonous food, of constant hammering at the Turk, of thirst and danger and fatigue, had left its mark on the hollow-cheeked, sunken-eyed, but dauntless-spirited soldiers of Anzac. Arriving at night, the men of the N.Z. Infantry Brigade stumbled along the dark and dirty highway. Many of the troops slept by the wayside rather than struggle on and further weaken themselves. As there were few tents at the camping place, it turned out that the ones who did struggle on were in no sense rewarded, and to make matters worse, a real Mediterranean downpour set in. Daily more “Indian pattern” tents arrived, into which as many as forty men crept at night. Gradually the number of tents increased, the weather cleared, and the men made an effort to extract a little pleasure out of life.
A gift particularly touching was a large consignment of sweets packed in tins by the school children of the Dominion. Some of the cases had evidently been stowed too near the ship's boilers, as, on being opened, there was discovered a con-glomerate mass of molten sugar, tin, and little notes from the various packers. Weird mixture though it was, the sweets were most acceptable, and appreciated not only for their value, but for the kindly solicitude that prompted the service.
The camp was thrilled when Canadian nurses were discovered on the island. With their wonderful ways, their delightful accents, and their cute little naval capes, the memory of those nurses working away in that hell-hole of Mudros should never be forgotten. On the road from Anzac, Suvla and Helles; on this dusty, rocky island; surrounded by that atmosphere of desolation and suffering caused by an aggregation of wounded and broken men—these girls, with no halfpenny illustrated paper to print their pictures and sing their praises, page 263 slaved away in the Mudros hospitals and saved the lives of many New Zealanders who must have perished had it not been for the devotion of the nurses. The soldiers of New Zealand can never adequately express their thanks for the magnificent work of those Canadian and Australian women at Lemnos, and the British, Australian and New Zealand nurses who toiled so heroically on those awful journeys in the hospital ships from Anzac to Mudros, Alexandria and Malta.
War has some compensations, after all. One begins to realize that we are so dependent on our fellows for most of the happiness and joys of life. Between the sailormen and the Colonials, too, there was a strong bond of friendship. This became very manifest after the landings, and further intimate acquaintance strengthened those early ties. The latest expression of these feelings came from the cruisers and destroyers in the bay. The crews had a “tarpaulin muster,” the result of which was a present for every man in the division of half a pound of tobacco, at a time when it was specially acceptable.
Hot Baths at Thermos.
Most welcome news was that, at Thermos, about three miles away, hot baths could be had. From the day when the baths were built, they could not have been more crowded. Since leaving Egypt, five months before, hot baths were unknown, unless one was lucky and sufficiently hurt to be put aboard a hospital ship. So out to Thermos hurried the men, to whom a hot bath was a boon beyond price. The little stone building was below ground level, the inside lined with marble, and with marble basins full and overflowing in each corner so that the marble floor was also awash. The procedure was to strip off and with a little dipper pour the water over oneself. Thermos became the most popular resort on the island.
The Problem of a Mixed Coinage.
The troops certainly had plenty of money to spend, and indulged in orgies of tinned fish, tinned fruit, and tinned sausages from the naval canteens, supplemented by melons, grapes, figs and eggs bought from the villagers. The Mudros shopkeeper made a small fortune out of the exchange of English money. Generally we had English treasury notes for one pound and ten shillings. These were over-printed in Turkish, so that their value might be comprehended in captured villages, but so far Kuchuk Anafarta and Krithia had resisted our efforts to make them legal tender!page 265
Perhaps the strangest thing of all was the readiness with which Australian silver was accepted. A few years ago it was not legal tender in New Zealand, but away up here in the Levant, and all over Egypt, it was not questioned. The emu and kangaroo signified nothing to these simple folk, but did not the other side picture King George of England?
The change given for an English pound was enough to make the soldier join the scientists in praying for the early adoption of a universal coinage. French Colonials from Senegal and Tunis brought their own money with them; French territorials contributed francs and centimes to the medley; Egyptian labourers tendered their piastres and millemes; Greek, Turkish and Italian money circulated freely; English and Australian was as good as the best—so, when a man got his change, the silver would be Australian, the nickels would be endorsed with an inscription which was Greek in more ways than one, while the coppers bore on one side a meaningless Arabic scrawl and “Tunis” on the other!
The arrival of the 6th Reinforcements gave a tremendous fillip to the sadly depleted brigades. To the 20 officers and page 266 200 other ranks of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade were added a draft of 30 officers and 1060 men of eager volunteers. The Infantry Brigade was reinforced in a like manner. The new men were so fresh and fit, rosy-cheeked and cheery. “Just like a lot of young schoolboys,” said an officer. “I never realized before how different the newcomer was to the sundried, war-stained, weather-beaten Anzac.”
[Lent by Lieut Carr, A.M.R.
Auckland Mounted Rifles at Lemnos.
With mixed feelings the units learned that they were to return to Anzac. This rest at Sarpi had been a great relief. Strengthened by the fresh blood of the reinforcements, strong in the veteran's knowledge of warfare, the troops once again embarked. “I'm glad we're going home,” said one boy. Strange what we can get accustomed to call “Home”! Farewells were exchanged with the nurses, the sailormen and the Greek ladies gathered round the village pump. Lemnos was once again lost to view and the pleasant sojourn at Sarpi became only a memory.
The Seething Pot of Balkan Politics.
During the months of midsummer the political situation in Europe gave the staffs and soldiers of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force something to think about. We studied the Balkan situation and knew of the different candidates and parties struggling for dominance in Greece. The boy page 267 from Awarua waited anxiously for the latest election return from the islands of the Cyclades!
And now the Russian armies on which we had so much depended were being hurled from line to line by the Austro-Germans. Warsaw and Brest-Litovsk fell in August; Grodno and Vilna in September. It was reluctantly admitted that no help could be expected from Russia.
Meanwhile the Green Premier, Venizelos, who had been returned to office with an overwhelming majority in June, experienced opposition from King Constantine. It was understood that the Greeks would always help the Serbians if attacked by an outside power, but to the disgust of all true lovers of freedom, the Greeks refused to move. Serbia's cup of bitterness was filled to overflowing on September 19, when a powerful Austro-German force struck again at that gallant army which but a few months before so decisively punished the Austrians. The next day Bulgaria made public a treaty (secretly signed two months before) throwing in her lot with Germany, Austria and Turkey!
King Constantine, convinced that Germany must win the war on land, prevented the Greeks coming to the assistance of their traditional friends. So it was that Serbia found herself assailed on one side by the Austro-Germans, and threatened by the Bulgarians on the other.
The French and British wished to help their ally, Serbia, but once again the old complaint was evident—a shortage of trained available men. See how this re-acted on the Gallipoli compaign: Sir Ian Hamilton was asked if he could now spare three Divisions! With the consent of the French, the 53rd (Welsh) Division, the 10th (Irish) Division from Suvla, and the 2nd (French) Division from Helles were sent to Salonika. Thus was the Gallipoli army despoiled to provide troops for the new venture at Salonika, whence with other allied troops, it was thought an effort could be made to save Serbia. But once again the allied help arrived in time only to fight a rearguard action, and Serbia shared the fate of Belgium.
Salonika absorbed more and more British troops—troops which might have made all the difference if they had been page 268 ready and released a little earlier for the attacks on Sari Bair. On the Western Front a great effort was being made to concentrate men, ammunition, and guns, for the coming great offensive, which culminated in Neuve Chapelle, Loos, and the French attacks in Champagne.
[Photo by Col. Falla, C.M.G., D.S.O.
Water carriers of the 4th Howitzer Battery.
These small donkeys were purchasable in the Ægean Islands at about two pounds each.
So it was that while the troops were resting at Sarpi, the fate of the Gallipoli adventure was being decided elsewhere. All the gallantry, heroism, and sacrifice of the British, Indian, French and Colonial troops were to be sacrificed because the Allies, caught unprepared by the Central Powers, had no well-defined plan of action. Nations unprepared must always pay the price in flesh and blood.
The Responsibility of Australia and New Zealand.
In this matter the people of New Zealand are not one whit better than their kinsfolk of the Old Land, of Canada, of South Africa, of Australia. The people of New Zealand cannot preen themselves in the knowledge that they were prepared for war. The advocates of preparedness had been for years voices crying in the wilderness. A little reasoning here may be of value. For of what use is experience and history if we do not measure our shortcomings?
Ultimately New Zealand maintained a Division in the Field. At the end of the war—in that we had twelve, instead of nine battalions of infantry—we had the strongest division in all the Allied Armies.
Australia maintained five, and always four, divisions in France. Now the August offensive in Gallipoli took place just one year after war had been declared between Great Britain and Germany. Yet New Zealand—because, before the war, the people refused to comprehend the German challenge for world dominion—could not put into the field more than two brigades. It was not that the public was not warned, but the English-speaking peoples will not see that if we must do the world's work we must use worldly tools. We are men in a world of men, and despite the visionaries and the dreamers, the last appeal is to force. This may be regrettable, but unfortunately it is true!
If the Australians could have placed their four magnificent divisions at Anzac and Suvla; if New Zealand could have loosed a full division at Chunuk Bair, while the Australians went for Hill 971 and Suvla—there perhaps would be no talk of “the Gallipoli failure.” Admitting that the New Army divisions were not of a calibre required for desperate fighting in rough country, they were certainly better from a soldier's point of view than the excellent material not yet available from Australia and New Zealand.
General Hamilton is Recalled.
The story of Sir Ian Hamilton's recall is best told in his own words. After describing the battle for Kaiajik Aghala, page 270 he says: “From this date onwards up to the date of my departure on 17th October, the flow of munitions and drafts fell away. Sickness, the legacy of a desperate trying summer, took heavy toll of the survivors of so many arduous conflicts. No longer was there any question of operations on the grand scale, but with such troops it was difficult to be downhearted. All ranks were cheerful; all remained confident that so long as they stuck to their guns, their country would stick to them, and see them through the last and greatest of the crusades.”
The reasons for Sir Ian Hamilton's recall were not promulgated to the men on the Peninsula, but his departure was made known to the troops through a manly farewell order. The Colonial divisions were very sorry to see him go. His commanding figure, his charming personality, his page 271 warm and expressed admiration for the “ever-victorious Australians and New Zealanders” endeared him to the soldiers, who like himself, were high-spirited, brave, optimistic, and warm-hearted. “Our progress was constant, and if it was painfully slow—they know the truth.” And knowing the truth we grieved to see him go. We knew that the age of miracles had passed, and that improvized machines could not stand the rough tests of war.
The new “responsible Commander” proved to be General Sir Charles Munro, K.C.B., a soldier of much experience in former wars, and a fine record of service on the Western Front. Until General Munro's arrival on the Peninsula at the end of October, General Birdwood acted as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. No movement was attempted during this period. There seemed nothing to do but strengthen the line and prepare for the bad weather everyone anticipated.
General Munro arrived on the Peninsula at the end of October. His duty was:
To report on the military situation on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
To express an opinion whether, on purely military grounds, the Peninsula should be evacuated, or whether another attempt should be made to carry it.
The number of troops that would be required—
It was not long before the General was able to report that “the positions occupied by our troops presented a military situation unique in history. The mere fringe of the coast line had been secured. The beaches and piers . . were exposed to registered and observed military fire; our entrenchments were dominated almost throughout by the Turks. The possible artillery positions were insufficient and defective. The force, in short, held a line possessing every possible military defect. The position was without depth, page 272 the communications were insecure and dependent on the weather.” After reviewing the conditions of the troops—they could not get the necessary rest from shellfire as in France; they were much enervated from the diseases in that part of Europe in the summer; through their tremendous losses there was a great dearth of officers competent to lead—these and other considerations forced the General to the conclusion that the troops available on the spot could not achieve or attempt anything decisive.
A Unique Pier at Imbos.
Ships sunk to make a pier at Kephalos. A close examination of this large vessel will reveal the deception—she is a merchant steamer with enough fake super-structure to make her look like a British dreadnought. Observe her own funnel with the outer imitation funnel removed. A fleet of these dummy warships often masqueraded in the North Sea as the British Fleet.
On considering the possibilities of an early success by the provision of reinforcements, he came to the conclusion that “an advance from the positions we held could not be regarded as a reasonable military operation to expect;” and “even had we been able to make an advance on the Peninsula, our position would not have been ameliorated to any marked degree, and an advance to Constantinople was quite out of the question.” Which brought the General to the point: “Since we could not hope to achieve any purpose by remaining on the Peninsula, the appalling cost to the nation involved in consequence of embarking on an Overseas page 273 Expedition with no base available for the rapid transit of stores, supplies, and personnel, made it [an evacuation] urgent.”
It must be remembered that the soldiers were not informed of these important decisions. It was essential to the plan that absolute secrecy should be observed, and that the enemy should be led to believe that an attack might take place at any time. It was now announced that the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force would consist of two distinct and separate parts—the “Salonika Army” under Lieut.-General Sir B. Mahon; and the “Dardanelles Army” under Lieut.-General Sir W. Birdwood.
The Great Blizzard.
The blizzard was almost the fiercest enemy encountered on the Peninsula. We could fight with, and often outwit, the Turk, but against snow and slush we had very little defence.page 274
[Photo by Col. Falla, C.M.G., D.S.O.
Rough Weather at Anzac: A Storm in Anzac Cove.
The most popular place after the blizzard broke out was the ordnance stores, as everyone was in want of extra clothing—and, thank goodness, it was available. It was amusing to see sentries on duty after their experience of the first night. It would have needed a very energetic bullet to penetrate the amount of clothing worn! This is a fair sample:—Hat, balaclava cap, (two if procurable) water-proof cape, greatcoat, tunic, cardigan jacket, shirt, two singlets, two pair of underpants, trousers, puttees, two pair of sox, straw or paper round the feet, and a pair of trench boots! After each tour of duty a compulsory tot of rum was issued. Fortunately for all concerned perfect weather set in about December 4.
This blizzard set all thinking. The chief topic of conversation was “How will we fare, supposing the bitter weather holds out for a couple of months?” as nothing in the way of stores or provisions could be landed other than in perfectly fine weather. Units who had sited their homes near the deres carved out neat villas on higher ground. Hospitals evacuated their sick as quickly as possible, and men not employed making high level roads, were busily engaged in making winter dugouts, well beneath Mother Earth—well beneath advisedly, as about this time we were almost daily informed that our airmen were locating concrete emplacements for heavy howitzers. The Turkish prisoners were also kind enough to say that a large number of heavy guns were being placed in position to blow us into the Mediterranean, which was understood to be very cold in winter.
The Visit of Lord Kitchener.
We did not get many callers, so the visit of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum to the Anzac battlefields started us speculating afresh and making wild conjectures. His visit, needless to say, was very secret. On landing he went straight to Russell's Top and right through the trenches on the Nek. Indians passed by the way were overawed and simply went down on their knees. Needless to say there were wonderful rumours as to what he did and said, but it was generally understood that the decision to evacuate the Peninsula was confirmed there and then. Viewing the country from the observing station of the 2nd Battery, N.Z.F.A., he was much impressed by the rough country. His time at Anzac was chiefly spent at that portion of the line held by the Australians, and it was impossible to suppress the outburst of enthusiam when they recognized Lord Kitchener. The men cheered and he made short speeches, but did not tarry. Soon he stepped aboard the waiting motor launch and sped away north to Suvla.
The Hours of Silence.
A mysterious order for forty-eight hours' silence was hailed with delight by the men. No work was to be attempted, not a shot was to be fired. It was well to let the Turk believe that we could stay silent if we wanted to. If he had come on to investigate, our machine guns would have punished him severely. But he was too wary, and not prepared to put his head into our noose. He made no move. Perhaps he had a hearty laugh at our tempting him, so the ruse certainly prepared him for an occasional silence that might be priceless later on. Presently he became bolder and put out a good deal of wire. The silent period was lengthened and eventually ended at midnight of November 27/28, having lasted seventy-two hours.