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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli


Even as the military feat of the landing was unparalleled, so the situation now presenting itself to the staff was unique. Nowhere in history could be found any precedent. This was not an ordinary strategical or tactical retreat. With our farthest post about 3,000 yards from the sea; with a No Man's Land in many places only 20 yards wide; with the opposing trenches held by an unbeaten enemy—we had to disengage ourselves, march down narrow defiles, and embark from flimsy piers, each one of which was liable to be heavily shelled during the operation. This was no time for muddling through. Cool and ingenious brains propounded plan after plan. The orthodox thing would have been to attack everywhere but at Anzac and Suvla, and under cover of these diversions, seek to beat a retreat. But for many reasons this method did not commend itself. Already indiscreet people in high places had openly talked of evacuating the Peninsula. The Press of England had discussed the matter, and the Turk was bound to be suspicious. So it was decided that the enemy must be deceived as much as possbile. A rumour became persistent that Lord Kitchener, with a great new army, would land and make one last grand effort on Christmas Day.

Secret instructions were issued to officers that the evacuation would be accomplished in three distinct phases. First: all surplus men, supplies, and animals were to be sent away. Secondly: during December 13 and 14, a whole battalion and regiment should go out of each brigade—this alone would reduce the force by over a fourth. Thirdly: on the nights of December 19 and 20 there should embark the last rearguard, specially selected men, in numbers just strong enough to hold the line.

With the memory of the blizzard and its accompanying wind—the wrecked piers at Imbros and Anzac were mute evidence of its fury—General Munro decided to accelerate page 279 the evacuation of Anzac and Suvla. On December 8, General Birdwood was ordered to prepare a detailed plan for the daring and perilous enterprise. Almost everything depended on the weather. Unless anything unforseen happened, Rear-Admiral Wemyss undertook to remove all the troops by the night of Sunday, December 19.

Men who had battled on with complaints, only parading sick for treatment, now found that if they complained of the most trivial ailment they were sent away to the hospital ship. It was announced that only the fittest men were to be kept on the Peninsula during the winter. Every night saw the outgoing barges crowded to their fullest capacity; but as it grew light a great show of landing troops would be made—an effort that was not lost upon the Turks, who erected barbed wire more vigorously than ever.

Black and white photograph.

[Lent by Lieut. Moritzson, M.C., M.M., N.Z.E.
Preparing for the Evacuation.
The small trestles prepared by the engineers, ready for the decking. They were only to be used in case of emergency.

The evidence gradually became too strong for most men. Parties visiting the beach found ordnance and supply officers astonishingly openhanded. Tinned fish, condensed milk, different varieties of jam and other rarities could be had for the carrying away. Officers' coats, leather leggings, puttees, and many pairs of boots were appropriated. Men going back to the front line looked like itinerant hawkers. Toiling up one of the deres a trooper called to a friend “How's this for evacuation?” A brigadier overheard the page 280 remark and bounced out of his dugout. “Who's that talking about evacuation? Don't you know there's an order against using the word? Anyway, there is no evacuation!” The trooper, while lugubriously examining his assortment of ordnance stores, preserved a silence so eloquent that even the attendant staff officer had to turn his face away. “What have you got to say for yourself?” said the brigadier, who felt that he was losing ground. “Nothing,” said the quiet trooper, “but I never signed for these,” and he held up a pair of gum boots. The brigadier retired before the evidence of such unparalleled generosity.