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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

Chapter V. The Rendezvous at Mudros

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Chapter V. The Rendezvous at Mudros.

Alexandria Harbour was alive with shipping — British, French, Greek, Italian and many captured vessels. Some of the latter—the “Lutzow,” the “Annaberg,” the “Haidar Pasha,” and the “Goslar”—were requisitioned to make up the fleet of thirteen ships necessary to carry our Division. They ranged from liners like the “Lutzow,” down to dirty, lice-infested tramps like the “Goslar,” and had mostly lain in Alexandria Harbour for about eight months, tended only by a few Greeks, who, scrupulously observing the regulations, had thrown nothing overboard, but dumped the galley ashes
Black and white photograph of supplies sitting on the quay at Alexandria.

On the Quay at alexandria
Vehicles, Stores, and a mountain of Hay for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

and refuse on the once immaculate decks. The carpenters were still in possession of some of them, improvising horse boxes and fitting the tramps to carry more passengers than they had previously been accustomed to. As the journey took only about three days, a little congestion was not of great moment.
Going out to take over one of the transports, two New Zealand officers had an amusing illustration of patriotism not page 65 peculiar to Egypt. The usual picket boat of the Ports and Lighthouses Administration not being available, recourse was made to one of the bumboats selling Turkish Delight and other delicacies. The two boatmen—a stolid Nubian at the bow oar, and a flashy Arab at the other—were both quite sure of one thing: “German, no good—English, very good.” The Arab was a fascinating person, who gripped the thwart with his big toe at every stroke. Listening to the eloquent and reiterated denunciation of the Hun, one officer noticed that part of the stock-in-trade was brown boot polish with a German label, and drew the attention of his companion to the
Black and white photograph of horses being put on board at Alexandria.

Embarking Horses.
The Otago Mounted Rifles putting horses on board at Alexandria.

fact. The Arab overheard the conversation. “What!” he said, pointing to the offending polish, “that German?” “Yes,” said the New Zealander. Without more ado, the Arab scooped the lot into the harbour. “That's true patriotism,” the officers agreed, but were puzzled by the grinning of the suppositions patriot. “What are you laughing at, you fool? That must have cost you a lot of money!” “Aha!” came the answer, and pointing to the black man in the bows, who seemed a trifle angry, the Arab said, “It is not mine, it's hees!”

Lying at anchor was the United States cruiser “Tennessee,” with her huge “paper-basket” masts. For some time page 66 she had been employed around the coast of Asia Minor safeguarding American interests. Greek and Italian ships were busy bringing refugees—English, French, Jews and Armenians—fleeing from their homes in Palestine and Syria. Just outside Alexandria these unfortunates were housed in concentration camps, at one of which many Jews, mostly Russian subjects, enlisted in a transport corps styled “the Zion Mule Transport Corps,” the members of which certainly looked most unhappy with their big, rough, North American pack mules.

Through the Ægean Sea.

On April 10, our first ships got away—the “Achaia,” “Katuna,” and “Itonus.” The headquarters transport “Lutzow” sailed on the evening of the 12th, while the “Goslar,” the lame duck of the fleet, after many vexatious troubles with her internal fittings, her messing, and her crew, finally cleared Alexandria at sunset on April 17, with the New Zealand Infantry Brigade Headquarters on board.

During the three days of the voyage the troops had many experiences. Every day fire and boat drill was practised. This required a good deal of ingenuity, because on none of the transports was there much deck room. On some of the ships there were lifeboats to hold only about 20 per cent. of the troops, to say nothing of the crews. One ship had not enough lifebelts to go round. So an order was given that any man drawing a seat in a boat could not have a lifebelt as well! Yet some Germans insist that we, not they, prepared unceasingly for war!

The journey was through a sea full of islands of classic interest. Some of the islands set in the clear Ægean blue were startlingly beautiful. Passing Patmos, the old monastery on the top of the rocky height stood out, clear cut, white and gleaming in the morning light. The padres were quite interested, for it was here, tradition says, that the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelations. Past island after island rich in mythological lore, the smoking transports laboured; now and then British and French destroyers mysteriously appeared from behind a barren islet; and interesting beyond measure, page 67 we saw a good example of maritime camouflage—a townclass cruiser painted grey and black and white to resemble a storm-tossed sea. Ceaseless vigilance was imperative, as Turkish torpedo boats were wont to issue from harbours in the Asiatic coast and threaten the safety of transports. The “Manitou,” carrying British troops, lost a good many killed and drowned in the confusion ensuing on the sudden appearance of a Turkish destroyer.

Parading by echelon, boat and fire drill, slinging of horses and waggons—all things tending to ensure a rapid disembarkation in the face of the enemy—were assiduously practised on the voyage. Past the fertile island of Nikaria the transports picked their way and anchored one by one in the spacious outer harbour of Mudros.

Mudros Harbour.

Mudros is a land-locked harbour, the entrance easily controlled by a boom and a minefield. Here were gathered merchantmen from the ends of the earth—conveying the five
Black and white photograph of battleships.

[Photo by the Author
Battleships in Mudros Harbour.

divisions of French and British soldiers that comprised the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Here, too, were ancient and modern battleships, every pattern of torpedo boat, cruisers protected and unprotected, submarines and trawlers from the far North Sea.
It was the flush of the Ægean spring, and the shore parties cutting grass for the horses revelled in meadows that reminded them of home. But the gaunt grey battleships and black destroyers in the bay struck a vastly different note. page 68 From one side of the ship could be seen cows and sheep and stacks of hay; from the other, the grim realities of war. Overhead the engines droned incessantly as the seaplanes circled the harbour preparatory to a reconnaissance of the Peninsula. The tents of the French gleamed white on the hillside below the group of ancient windmills, and floating
Black and white photograph of corn grinding windmills at Mudros.

[Photo by Sister M. Jeffery, N.Z.A.N.S.
Mills for Grinding Corn at Mudros.

across the rippling water came the stirring notes of the trumpets calling the French Territorials and Senegalese to their frequent battle practice.

Daily the mosquito fleet steamed out to gather information of the Turk, and returned to find more and more transports anchored in the stream. The representative of the young Australian Navy, AE2, passed down one afternoon, amid tumultuous cheering, she being recognised as the convoy to one of the early reinforcement drafts. She went out through the minefields, and in running the gauntlet of the Dardanelles, died fighting. Whenever a French ship passed, the New Zealanders lined the rails, the bands played the “Marseillaise,” cheers and counter-cheers were given.

The Attack on the Dardanelles.

The newcomers were at once informed of the present situation and the intention of the High Command. It is not advisable here to discuss the political and strategical considerations that determined an attack on the Dardanelles—whether the campaign failed because of faulty strategy, staff page 69
Black and white map.

Map of Gallipoli and Surrounding Islands.
From Bulair to Cape Helles is about 50 miles; from Anzac to Kephalos 15 miles; from Anzac to Helles 14 miles.

page 70 work, or tactics, or because the whole conception of the operation was unsound. This is simply a soldier's narrative of events, and not a detailed and critical examination of a political and military effort. This much, however, is known: that in order to help Russia, to relieve the attacks on the Suez Canal, and to influence the wavering Balkan States, some action was imperative.

It had been laid down in England that the British commander should not land his army until a naval attack had been attempted and failed. Further, he was not to commit himself to any adventurous undertakings on the Asiatic shore.

On February 19 the outer defences of Sedd-el-Bahr and Kum Kale were demolished by the fleet. For a time success seemed within our grasp, but the flat trajectory of the naval guns availed them little against the forts and land defences situated inside the Straits, and on March 18, the carefully laid minefields and mobile field guns gave the coup-de-grace to the naval plan by destroying in one day the “Irresistible,” the “Inflexible,” and the “Ocean,” together with the French battleships “Bouvet” and “Gaulois.”

Begotten of vacillation and hesitancy at Home, a period of local inactivity ensued. It was finally decided that a combined land and sea attack should be attempted. It was known that early in the year the Turk had six divisions distributed between Bulair, Gaba Tepe, Helles, and Kum Kale. Since then reinforcements had been constantly arriving and the fortifications greatly strengthened. The situation in France was serious—men and more men, guns and more guns, were being clamoured for. After some delay the last division of British Regulars—the 29th—were detailed for the service, and now in Mudros Harbour they were waiting in their transports.

The Allied troops composing the M.E.F. were five divisions, as follows:—

A French Division (Territorials and coloured troops).
The 29th Division (British Regulars).
The Royal Naval Division.
The 1st Australian Division.
The N.Z. and A. Division (two brigades only).

Of these it may be said that as seasoned soldiers the 29th page 71 Division had no superiors on earth, being of the same calibre as the famous “First Seven Divisions” of the early days in France. The remainder of the British troops were practically untried, but keen, and volunteers to a man. For heavy artillery, reliance had to be placed on the Allied Navies. For the first time in history a British army was to be supported by 12-inch and 15-inch naval guns, the latter carried by the “Queen Elizabeth.”

Preparing for the Attack.

The troops were organised into three groups, labelled Echelon A, B, and C. Echelon A was composed of the portion first to land—men who carried three days rations and water, 200 rounds of ammunition, their packs and entrenching
Black and white photograph of a French Senegalese with Greek children.

A French Senegalese at Mudros.
The children, of course, are Greek.

tools—whose orders were to secure enough territory to enable the other troops to disembark with their horses, guns and heavy vehicles. The 18-pounders and 4.5 howitzers were also in Echelon A. Echelon B consisted of first-line transport, hold parties, and officers' horses. They would be brought ashore as the situation developed. In Echelon C were the pontoons of the Engineers, the waggons of the Field Ambulance, motor cars, cycles, and supply trains.
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Day by day the soldiers in Echelon A assembled on the troop deck for disembarkation practice. The men with their loads seemed bulky enough, but the officers looked even worse. When trussed up with bulging haversacks, two full water bottles, a heavy Webley and ammunition, a big mapcase, field glasses, prismatic compass, a note book and message forms—not to mention the dozen and one small articles that they, in their innocence, considered necessary—is it any wonder that they stepped gingerly? For, once having fallen, they would have found it difficult, as did the knights of old, to rise again.

About four times a day the soldier crept into his Webb equipment, struggled over the side, swayed violently on the frail rope ladder, tumbled into the waiting boat, and pulled slowly to the shore.

Black and white photograph of the "Queen Elizabeth".

[Photo by the Author
The “Queen Elizabeth.”
The warships and transports leaving Mudros Harbour for the attack on the Peninsula.

The days passed all too quickly. Conference upon conference was held on the flagship; much interest was awakened by the issue of maps; and the thrill of intense anticipation was quickened by Sir Ian Hamilton's famous Force Order:—

“Soldiers of France and the King— Before us lies an adventure unprecedented in modern war. Together with our comrades of the fleet we are about to force a landing upon an open beach in face of positions vaunted by our enemy as impregnable.

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The landing will be made good by the help of God and the Navy, the positions will be stormed, and the war brought one step nearer to a glorious close.

‘Remember,’ said Lord Kitchener, when bidding adieu to your commander, ‘remember, once you set foot upon the Gallipoli Peninsula, you must fight the thing through to a finish.’ The whole world will be watching your progress. Let us prove ourselves worthy of the great feat of arms entrusted to us.”

Ian Hamilton, General.

Let it never be said that the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force held its opponent cheaply. The seriousness of the situation was obvious, but the troops were imbued with the fact that with proper backing they could not fail, and whatever sacrifice should be demanded, that sacrifice would be gladly made.

At 2 o'clock on the afternoon of April 24, there steamed from Mudros Harbour that great armada, led by the “Queen Elizabeth,” with Sir Ian Hamilton on board. As the New Zealand transports rode at anchor near the entrance, ship after ship passed out at a few cable lengths' distance. The destroyers fussed and fumed about, while the battleships steamed steadily on to take up their position for the early morning bombardment. As each battleship, cruiser, transport and trawler slipped past, great cheers were exchanged; then night came quietly on; lights blinked and twinkled over the expanse of the great harbour; and a great hush fell on the place until about midnight, when the New Zealand ships lifted their anchors and picked their way through the minefields towards the open sea.