Topic: BatzG - Anzac
The Battle of Anzac Cove
Gallipoli, 25 April 1915
Fred Waite Account, Part 2
New Zealand and Australian Division Headquarters
[From: Waite, p. 90.]
In 1919, Fred Waite, a Gallipoli veteran and hero with a DSO [Citation: "For gallantry and devotion to duty in connection with the operations at the Darddanelles (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force). On the night of 2-3 May 1915 during the operations in the neighbourhood of Gape Tepe for gallantry and resource in rallying his men, and leading them forward at critical moments."] finished his work on the Gallipoli Campaign called The New Zealanders at Gallipoli, which was published by Whitcombe and Tombs Limited in Christchurch. This forms part of the New Zealand Official War history series. It is from this work this extract derives.
Fred Waite, The New Zealanders at Gallipoli, Christchurch , 1919, pp. 86 - 101
The First Week.
No one had slept during the night. Re-embarkation was suggested, but a conference was held and the Generals decided to hold on. The men made strenuous efforts. Those not actually fighting were employed making roads up Maclagan's Ridge in the centre, and up Walker's Ridge on the left, in order that the guns might be man-handled up to the positions selected by the artillery commanders.
The stern of the horse boats dropped in the water makes an inclined plane down which the gun is manhandled. The country was too rough for horses, but fifty men on a rope can overcome most obstacles.
About midnight, three companies of the 15th Battalion, 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, arrived and were sent up to reinforce the 1st Australian Division away on the right. They had been hardly pressed just before sunset, and orders were given that all available troops were to support the covering force (the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade) as they arrived, and to connect up with the New Zealand Infantry Brigade on the left. During the remainder of the night, platoons and companies of the Wellington Battalion of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, and of the 13th, 15th, and 16th Battalions of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, were brought ashore.
The troops arrived in very irregular order—some from one ship and some from another. As each platoon or company came ashore, it was immediately despatched, under the senior officer present, to support the right flank, where the 1st Australian Division was most hotly engaged. The result was that units of both divisions became hopelessly mixed up, and it was several days before they could be disentangled.
By 3 a.m., the whole of the Australian 13th Battalion had arrived. The bulk of it was held temporarily in reserve. One and a half more companies of the Wellington Battalion now occupied Plugge's Plateau, above the beach, and half a company had been sent off to join the 1st Australian Division on the right. By 5 a.m., the remaining company of the Wellington Battalion had arrived, and by 6 a.m., a section of the New Zealand Howitzer Battery was brought ashore, and gladdened the heart of every infantryman as it came into action at the foot of Howitzer Gully. “Boom!” went the howitzer. “The guns, thank God! the guns!” murmured the tired soldiers.
The Turk quickly realized that the valley running from behind Hell Spit deep into the centre of Anzac must be the channel of communication. His gunners were so assiduous that it was quickly christened Shrapnel Valley. The top of this valley was afterwards known as Monash Gully.
The glory of the spring was still on the Peninsula. Birds sang in the bushes and the fragrance of crushed wild thyme perfumed the morning air. Patches of red poppies glowed in the sheltered open places. Draped around the prickly scrub were festoons of wild honeysuckle. But down in the bottom of Shrapnel Valley was a dreadful sight. The moist earth in the old creek bed had been ploughed into mud by thousands of hurrying feet. Soldiers, in their eagerness to get forward, had thrown off their kits and equipment, and there the debris lay, punched and trampled into the mess. Dead mules were scattered about in helpless attitudes. Every few yards one met soldiers—their clothes torn by rock and scrub, their bodies mangled by bullet and bomb—stumbling down that Valley of Death to have their wounds dressed at the casualty clearing stations. A steady stream of stretcher bearers carried back limp forms; shrapnel burst high in the air; machine guns spluttered; mountain guns barked; the crash and rattle of musketry never ceased as the echoes rolled round the myriad hillsides. High over all, black specks up in the sky, but watchful as of old, the vultures gathered together, knowing full well that blood was being spilt.
The drumfire down at Helles boomed all day. The old battleships, with their big guns, raked the Turkish positions, while the big 15-inchers of the “Queen Elizabeth” roared loudly above the great roll of gunfire. The moral support afforded by this ship was incalculable. “Good old Lizzie,” the soldiers shouted, as her great guns spoke. Optimistic always, the men looked continually for signs of the British and French advancing from Cape Helles. When the second day's battle was at its height, the cry was raised, “Cease fire! the English troops are here,” but it was only a ruse of the Turks—and the musketry battle resumed its violence. Cries of “Cease fire” and “Retreat” shouted in English, caused at first a momentary wavering, but soon the Colonial soldiers realized the deceptions, and the would-be deceivers shouted commands in vain.
The End of the Second Day.
The second day crept to a close, and our lines were hourly being made secure. Units were inextricably mixed, but, roughly, the Australian Division held the line south of Courtney's Post, while the N.Z. and A. Division held Courtney's and all northwards of it.
No man thought of rest: to work was salvation.
On top of a big yellow mound at the head of Monash Gully there was a rough cross, inscribed, “Here lie buried twenty-nine soldiers of the King.” Two of these men—one an Australian of the 14th Infantry Battalion, the other a sapper of the New Zealand Engineers—had been found just below the fatal crest of Courtney's Post, with their arms still clasped around each other's waists. As they lay among the scrub, those poor lifeless bodies seemed symbolical of the new spirit that had grown up on the Peninsula. While in Egypt, the Commonwealth and Dominion soldiers had their little differences; but the first two days on the Peninsula swept away all the little jealousies and the petty meannesses. Every man helped his neighbour. There was no question of corps, or rank, or colour. By common trials, a common suffering, and a common interest, Australian, Indian, and New Zealander realized they were brothers in fact, as in arms. These first two days made great things possible within the Empire. The experience of those sweet sensations of brotherhood will be cherished and handed down as one of the priceless gifts of Anzac.
The New Zealand machine gun sections experienced a particularly trying time. They were attached to individual battalions and were not fought as a unit. The Auckland guns were pushed forward with their battalion, and somewhere at the head of Monash Gully were so hard pressed that they had to abandon one gun, which was retrieved from its hiding place two days after. The Otagos also came under a very hot fire. They, too, abandoned a gun, but never regained it, as an Australian party found it and consistently refused to give it up! Right through the campaign the Otago Regiment were one gun short, fighting only three guns.
The Wellington gunners were heavily punished on April 27. They evidently pushed too far forward in their eagerness to get at the Turks, but snipers picked them off one by one, until the officer was killed and the whole of the personnel disabled, except one lad who was acting as ammunition carrier.
Gradually the field artillery got their guns from the barges, and with long ropes manhandled them to their almost inaccessible positions. Tracks were cut on the hillsides, rough jetties were improvised, and dugouts were constructed. Mostly these were holes in the ground big enough for a man and his mate to get nearly into. A waterproof sheet served as roof, and when it rained, as it did nearly every night, the waterproof sheet collected and deposited on the occupants whatever water had fallen in the catchment area.
Washing became a lost art. Mirrors were converted into periscopes. The previously spic-and-span New Zealand Army grew dirty-faced, unshaven, and ragged looking.
The rum ration was a boon at this time, as it engendered a little warmth, and enabled one, if off duty, to get a little sleep. “Stand-to” was at 4 o'clock, half an hour before dawn, when the entire force in the trenches and on the beach stood to arms in readiness for an attack.
The First Landing at Suvla.
The front line having been made fairly secure, attention had to be turned to the flanks. A glance at the map will show Nibrunesi Point, near Suvla Bay, about four miles to the north of Ari Burnu, and Gaba Tepe about two miles south. On both these promontories the Turks had look-outs, from which their observers spotted the effect of artillery fire. As with glasses they could see all that occurred in Anzac Cove, it was considered necessary to destroy both look-outs.
For the Gaba Tepe cutting-out expedition Australians were detailed. Nibrunesi Point was assigned to the New Zealanders. Three officers and fifty men of the Canterbury Battalion (13th Westland Company) and an officer and two N.C.O.'s of the N.Z.E. were employed.
The party left Anzac Cove in the dark early one morning and steamed up the coast in a torpedo-boat destroyer. The plan was to land on the northern side of the Peninsula and work upwards to the highest point—Lala Baba. Two destroyers came close in and commanded each side of the Peninsula, whilst the old “Canopus” stood further out to sea and supported the whole. If the Turks at Anafarta behaved badly they would receive chastisement by the guns of His Majesty's Navy.
The observation post itself had some attention from the big ship the day before; but it was not known whether opposition would now be met with. The instructions were to destroy the station, get any prisoners for the Intelligence Officers, and to seek for and destroy a gun that the naval airmen had reason to suspect was being placed there.
The party got ashore without mishap. Day had now broken, and in three groups the attackers crept up the gullies towards the crest. It was a dewy morning, and the fresh, clean smell of the Turkish meadow flowers mingled with the scent of the wild thyme crushed with the soldiers' hobnailed boots.
The place seemed deserted. There was a traversed trench just below the crest. Most of the troops had jumped it, when—crack! crack! crack! broke on the morning silence. Down dropped the Westlanders; then rushed back to the trench, and there, in the sunlight, was the picture—the trench full of squirming Turks, and standing over them with threatening bayonets the gallant boys from Greymouth. Johnny Turk had been caught napping, and the initiative of the New Zealand private soldier had sealed his fate. It was then realized that the few Turkish phrases laboriously learned did not convey much to the terrified prisoners. They quickly decided that the proper thing to do was to throw all their arms out of the trench—and out they came, rifles, knives, and even safety razors. The poor Turkish wounded lay groaning in the bottom of the trench, while the unwounded, on their knees, murmured “Allah! Allah!” and passed their hands mechanically from their foreheads to their breasts and back again. A few men were left to get the wounded and prisoners down to the boat; the remainder scoured the Suvla flats in full view of the Turks on the Anafarta hills.
Three small houses proved to be empty, but in them were found the kits of the guard; in one, the cells of a telephone instrument, with which the garrison communicated with their headquarters at Anafarta. The wire was cut, and a slab of guncotton placed in each of the houses to demolish them.
The gun position was located, but there was no gun mounted. The dead Turks were covered over in their own trench, the charges in the houses were fired, and the party, with captured papers and prisoners, re-embarked without mishap and returned at noon to Anzac.
Thus was the first landing at Suvla carried out successfully by New Zealanders without a single casualty.
The Australian attempt on Gaba Tepe was most unfortunate. The Turks at this place were not caught napping. As at Helles, barbed wire ran down into the water and machine guns enfiladed the landing place. After sustaining many casualties, the party withdrew, and the Turkish post on Gaba Tepe remained a thorn in the side of Anzac until the evacuation.
The Nerve-Centre of Anzac.
A walk along Anzac Cove was full of interest and incident. The little landing beach—a shelving strip of shingle, only twenty-five yards wide—was never safe, but in a measure it was protected from shrapnel by the height of Plugge's Plateau and the two ridges running down towards Hell Spit and Ari Burnu. The Cove became the nerve-centre of Anzac: nestling under the low cliffs on the beach were the Headquarters of the Army Corps, the hospital of the Field Ambulance, the Ordnance and Supply Depots.
General Birdwood had located his Army Corps Headquarters in the little gully debouching on to the centre of the beach. Close by were the naval shore parties with their wireless plant for maintaining communication with the fleet; the Headquarters of the Australian Division were tucked away a little further up the gully.
The southern extremity of Anzac Cove was christened Hell Spit. Jutting out into the water, this point got the benefit of fire from both of the flanks. Here were situated the engineers' stores of explosives and materials; working parties sent for wire, sandbags or timber, did not dwell too long in the vicinity. Close by, under the sandy cliff, the mule drivers of the Indian Supply and Transport had made their little dugouts—the waves of the Ægean lapping their very thresholds. At the foot of the track leading over the spur to Shrapnel Valley were the dressing stations of the Australian Ambulance, with their little Red Cross wharf from which the wounded were evacuated. Just opposite Army Headquarters some of the many stranded barges were made to serve as landing stages for great quantities of bully beef, jam and biscuits, which, placed in high stacks, gave some protection from the shells constantly arriving from the Olive Grove and Anafarta. Hereabout the water barge was also moored; the water being pumped ashore into tanks.
The New Zealand Sector.
The beach north of these stores was allotted to our Division. A little gully running up to the foot of Plugge's Plateau gave excellent cover for the New Zealand battery of 4.5 howitzers—the first New Zealand guns to get ashore, and the only howitzers at that time on the Peninsula. In those early days, infantry carrying parties were constrained to rest awhile in order to observe the shell pursue its lobbing course over Maclagan's Ridge towards the distant target.
At the foot of Howitzer Gully were the New Zealand Ordnance Stores—for a time the most frequented place in Anzac. Fresh water was unobtainable for washing purposes. Continual washing of clothes in salt water made all undergarments very hard, so down to the Ordnance would the soldier go to procure new shirts and socks. Here, also, were piles of captured rifles and ammunition, and a pathetic heap of kits which had been thrown away during the first advance and since collected. A one-time famous old wrestler stood guard over these kits, and one had to establish an undeniable claim before the property was handed over. Very many of the kits were never claimed, being stained with the life-blood of those impetuous spirits who had established the Anzac line.
The mule lines of the Indian Transport Corps ran along the beach in front of Divisional Headquarters. Close by, the dressing station of the New Zealand No. 1 Field Ambulance caught the streams of wounded that flowed down Howitzer Gully and from Walker's Ridge. Out in front of the hospital squatted an Indian mule driver, who spent most of his time clipping mules. Between his bursts of singing in a minor key he would cry, “Hair cut, sixpence!” The soldier, who by this time realized that more than snipers took advantage of cover, would sit on the sandy bank and have his hair cut short by the mule clippers.
The northern extremity of Anzac Cove never received an English name, but was always known as Ari Burnu. The beach north of this point was unsafe for traffic in the daytime, as it was within easy range of Turkish snipers. A few hundred yards along this stretch of white sand were two or three stranded boats—boats that had run in there on the day of the landing, but were stove in and their crews killed by hostile fire. There they lay, a pitiful sight, out in the glare of the noonday sun. To avoid this piece of dangerous beach by day, a communication trench commenced in Anzac Cove along by the wireless station near Ari Burnu. This trench doubled back across the point, running out towards Mule Gully and Walker's Ridge, eventually becoming part of the “Big Sap” that led towards the extreme left flank.
Land was valuable at Anzac, particularly land that was safe. The parts that were exposed could not be used for dugouts or stores, so were set apart as cemeteries. Here, on the point of Ari Burnu, between the Big Sap and the sea, New Zealanders who were killed near Anzac Cove were carefully carried after dark and buried by loving comrades.
The Tragic Lack of Hospital Ships.
If there was one thing that showed our unpreparedness for war on a large scale, it was the neglect to anticipate accommodation for wounded. This did not apply only to the New Zealanders—British, French, Colonial and Indian suffered alike. The regimental medical officers and stretcher bearers did more than mortal men could be expected to do. But a man hit up on Walker's Ridge or at the head of Monash Gully, after receiving his field dressing at a sheltered corner of a trench or in the regimental aid post, had to be carried in the heat, down bullet-swept valleys and along the dangerous beach. Here the surgeons and orderlies of the Field Ambulances redressed the wounds, gave the men something to eat and drink, and placed them out of the sun, away from the torturing flies. Even in these Field Ambulance dressing stations men were not immune from the shrapnel which swept the beach. The Turk could not be blamed for this, as we had, of necessity, to place our hospitals wherever there was room. Streams of men constantly arrived, some walking, many on stretchers—Zionists with tears streaming down their faces, determined Colonials and pathetic-looking Indians—wounded in our cause, now separated from their fellows, and miserable because they could not understand the sahibs' language.
When night came, the picket boats would move into the little Red Cross wharves, and the wounded men were carried to the barges. When a tow was ready, the picket boat started on its journey for the hospital ship or transport. The high ground surrounding Anzac Cove ensured that bullets clearing the crest went many hundred yards out to sea. Some days, when Turkish firing was brisk, the sea was whipped into a white foaming line where the bullets splashed angrily into the water. Through this barrage of singing bullets the Red Cross barge must go. Picket boats or trawlers could not dodge from place to place like soldiers in Monash Gully, so they had to risk it, and take it in their course.
Outside the range of these “overs” were the waiting ships. The hospital ships proper had good appliances for handling wounded. A long box would be lowered over the side, the man and the stretcher placed bodily into it, and hauled up on to the deck, where he was seized by waiting orderlies and whisked away to wards for a diagnosis, a hot bath, some very necessary insecticide, and a meal to suit his particular needs. But the hospital ships soon became overcrowded. Hundreds of men were accommodated on the decks without cots. They did not complain. They came to the war voluntarily, and took what was coming to them as a matter of course. Ask a sorely wounded man if he wanted anything, and if it was not a drink of water, it would be a laconic “Have you got a green?” He seemed more annoyed with the ration cigarettes than he was with the Turk.
Presently the cry would be, “Ship full!” and the next load would be taken to an ordinary transport, dirty, full of vermin, and entirely unsuited for handling wounded. But it had to be. Nothing better was offering. So the wounded men—tossing about on the barge, seasick, with their clothes stiff with blood and their heads burning with the fever resulting from wounds—were hauled up with the improvised tackle to the dirty decks of the transport. There were few medical officers. Some came from the overworked and understaffed field ambulances ashore, and laboured like galley slaves against the tremendous inrush of broken men. Naval surgeons and dressers left their battleships and toiled heroically among the wounded Colonials. But there were not enough doctors to do a tenth of the work. In the old British way, we were paying for unpreparedness with the flesh and blood of our willing young men. On one ship, the only man with any knowledge of medicine was the veterinary officer, who, assisted by clerks and grooms of the waiting Echelon B, saved dozens of lives by prompt and careful attention. So, with a score of men dying on each ship every night, the transports crept with their cargoes of human wreckage to the port of Alexandria—the hospital ships going on to Malta, Gibraltar, or even England. In Egypt, great emergency hospitals were opened, and everything possible was done to alleviate the dreadful suffering of the heroic and uncomplaining soldiers of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
Citation: The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, Fred Waite Account, Part 2