The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Chapter XI. Supplying the Needs of the Army
Chapter XI. Supplying the Needs of the Army.
The Germans selecting their time for opening the World War, it was not surprising that Britain was sadly handicapped as regards munitions and material generally. As yet the organization by the Ministry of Munitions was a thing undreamt of, and seeing that the Gallipoli campaign was considered a subsidiary one, and that all supplies available were not sufficient for the needs of the army in France, was it surprising that comparatively little attention was given to our operations in what was assumed to be a minor theatre of war?
[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite, N.Z.E.
The A.S.C. Depot in Monash Gully.
Academic inquiry into our unpreparedness and the causes of the shortage of supplies was of little value to the soldiers trying to defeat the enemy. The men of Anzac had often to procure their stores in a manner not strictly orthodox.
The principal requirements of the army at Anzac were food and water to sustain life; ammunition—big-gun, field-gun, small-arm, and hand-grenades; while to provide some measure of shelter from the adversary and from the weather, timber and sandbags became primal necessaries. There was no hinterland from which these supplies could be drawn. Mudros, the nearest safe anchorage, was fifty miles away; Alexandria, the chief port from which most supplies must come, was distant over 500 miles. The area occupied by the troops produced no food, no timber, and only a very little hardly-won water. Few have any conception of the difficulties that had to be overcome.
The difficulties were chiefly the scarcity of essential articles, but a further obstacle was the matter of transport. It was comparatively easy to get goods as far as Alexandria, to which, situated as it is on the ocean highway to the East, the largest ships brought produce from the ends of the earth. The next stage, to Lemnos, was off the beaten track, and smaller vessels were employed. At Mudros, the goods were transhipped to vessels that again had shrunk in size and were fewer in number. Here the greatest difficulty of all arose, for ships could not come within a mile of the shore. The enemy big guns ranged well out to sea, and at the Anzac piers, nothing as large as even a trawler could lie owing to the shallowness of water. The stores that had started from England or New Zealand in ocean liners, continued their long journey in trawlers manned by hardy North Sea fisherfolk; and made the final stage of all in barges towed by five small picket boats from the ships of His Majesty's Navy.page 154
[Photo by the Author
Drawing the Water Ration at Mule Gully.
This was the principal supply for the Units on Walker's Ridge and Russell's Top. In the picture are Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders, Australianas, Englishmen, and Indians.
Think of it, those five small steam boats, officered by fifteen-year-old boys and manned by half a dozen gallant sailormen, were the slender link connecting the army ashore with the world overseas. All through those strenuous months, during fair weather and foul, splashed with the spindrift of the Ægean gales, drenched with the spray from the hissing shells, the daring crews of those stout trawlers and trim picket boats, from the first tow of the landing to the last of the evacuation, made Anzac possible.
The Utter Dependence on the Imperial Navy.
[Photo by the Author
Ammunition from every Arsenal in India.
The ammunition problem was an acute one. Fortunately for the supply arrangements, the big guns of the Gallipoli armies were on the warships, but the howitzers and the field guns ashore were often sadly supplied. At one time the howitzers were restricted to two shells daily. Everything had to be saved for the days on which the Turk decided to “drive the infidels into the sea.”
Small arm ammunition was always plentiful, and the machine gunners, thanks to the Navy, never had to go short. As far as rifles and machine guns were concerned, many of page 157 the outlying parts of the Empire were called on, and at one time Anzac Cove was inundated with thousands of small arm ammunition cases, on which were inscribed the signs of all the famous arsenals of India.
When “jams”—those bugbears of machine gunners—were at first much too frequent, we overcame these difficulties by using only New Zealand-made ammunition, which proved to be less variable and more reliable than the ordinary issue.
The Bomb Factory.
The hand-grenade position was often desperate. For the first few months no grenades were available, and the supply had to be improvized on shore. A “bomb” factory was instituted, and here, day and night, men toiled to make the weapon so effective in the short-range fights that burst with such fury around the devoted posts of Quinn's and Courtney's. The Turk had a plentiful supply of a round, cricket-ball hand-grenade, with a patent match-head ignition, and these he literally showered on Quinn's.
The Anzac factory retorted with several brands, but the most favoured one was made out of the green fuse tin from the 18-pr. guns. These tins were stout, and of the size of a condensed milk tin. Two holes were punched in the bottom for a wire to go through, and three holes in the lid—two for the wire and a larger one for the fuse. The wire came from hawsers salved from the wreckage of the trawlers off the beach. Into the centre of the tin was placed a dry gun-cotton primer or half a stick of gelignite, the detonator and a five-seconds fuse was fitted, and the remaining space packed with unexploded Turkish cartridges with the bullets cut off to let the lid close, after which the whole was secured across the top by joining the two ends of the wires. So, from the cast-off tins and wires, captured ammunition, and the engineers' stores of explosives, these grenades were manufactured to repel the apparently rejuvenated “Sick Man of Europe.”
The Scarcity of Building Materials.
It is questionable if any army in the field ever had too many sandbags. To keep earth walls standing at as steep a slope as possible is the object of all builders of trenches, for the steeper a wall the safer it is. “It is difficult to make war safe,” says the soldier, who, being wise, does not attempt the page 159 impossible. But the same soldier takes few chances, and wherever he can build a wall or put on a roof that gives him real or fancied protection, nothing will stop him from collecting from somewhere the necessary material.
The scrub did not run to the size of trees, and apart from a little firewood nothing was obtainable on shore. The muchtalked-of “Olive Groves” always seemed to be in the hands of the enemy. All the timber for building purposes, for the timbering of well shafts, and the casing of mining galleries, had to be brought ashore on barges. It was carried to the engineers' store yard on Hell Spit and guarded like the Bank of England, for everybody wanted two or three pieces and a few sheets of corrugated iron for the roof of a dugout. If a staved-in boat or a shattered barge stranded on the beach, it was quickly pounced upon and carried off.
A Maori on Sentry at the Water Tanks in Mule Gully.
One benefactor conceived the idea of tearing timber out of the fittings of the transports, and for some time working parties gathered in much spoil. If these ships had stayed much longer they would have been torn to pieces by the energetic builders of dugouts and “hospitals.” The decree had gone forth that timber and sandbags could only be issued for the front line and hospitals, with the natural result—every requisition was marked “for hospital” and initialled by some page 160 strange hand, the owner of which was most likely of the humble rank of private.
The man who invented barbed wire is as heartily cursed by soldiers as by dairy farmers. The sudden cry of “wire” sends a shiver down the spine of the most seasoned. For wherever wire is, machine guns are placed to enfilade it. The Turk was a great believer in wire. It was of German manufacture, and very skilfully and strongly placed. In order to make it effective, it must be made very secure. Only in positions previously prepared can the requisite work be put in. In preparing for the Gallipoli landings the Turk put it well out in the water, whereby, it being concealed, many casualties occurred.
As our No Man's Land was so narrow, it was difficult to put out the ordinary high wire entanglement, the noise of driving the stakes alone putting it outside the pale of practicability. At the time the new screw-picket wiring system had not been evolved. But as something had to be done, in the workshop on the beach many “knife-rest” obstacles were made by constructing two stout wooden X's about 3 feet high, joining them by 3 × 2 distance pieces of 12 feet long, and wrapping the whole round and round and diagonally with wire. These fearsome arrangements, with much profanity from the unfortunate working party, were carried up the communication trenches—no easy task on a hot day, with a traverse to negotiate every few yards. The front line at last reached, the awkward obstacles were pushed unceremoniously over the parapet and levered out as far as possible by long props under cover of darkness.
The Water Supply.
From a hygienic point of view, the sea was the salvation of the men. Everyone near the beach bathed twice a day even at the risk of “stopping one,” while the men from the hills came down whenever the reliefs took over.
Bully Beef and Biscuits.
Food was always plentiful (except just after the Great Blizzard in November when stocks ran very low). Tinned meat, jam and hard biscuits and a mug of tea provided 99 per cent. of the meals. Thoreau once suggested that we could make ourselves rich by making our wants few. On Gallipoli this did not mean a very great effort on the part of the will, but sore gums and rebellious stomachs were the price of getting wealthy. The army biscuits can never be forgotten—their hardness was beyond belief. When made for long journeys on sailing ships, it probably was necessary page 162 to make them so that they would keep, but surely in war time the soldier could get a softer one? The white ones taken from New Zealand were quite easy and pleasant to eat, while the oatmeal ones, grated on a piece of kerosene tin, made a tolerable porridge for the mornings! But the ordinary white biscuit as supplied by the A.S.C., while it may have been full of nourishment, was so hard that it was nibbled round the edges and then tossed into No Man's Land. After a month or two, a little bread arrived periodically, and many a penitent soldier vowed he would never waste a crust again.
Vegetables were always scarce — here the tinned concoction known as “Julienne” filled a gap. The mixture seemed to be all manner of vegetables flaked and dried so that they resembled multi-coloured shavings. On the principle that what does not fatten will fill, large quantities of this dried vegetable were consumed in the early days when men were strong enough to stand it.
Newcomers from Egypt sometimes brought a little fruit, while scouts were always out among the sailors to induce them to bring back delicacies from the canteens of the warships off the coast. Any excuse was better than none to get alongside a hospital ship, not only for the meal that the insinuating soldier was bound to get, but for the chance of page 164 buying a loaf or a tin of milk from the canteen or the commercial-minded baker! People going to Mudros or Imbros were loaded with commissions and made the Greek traders rich by buying tinned figs, pineapples, and milk at fabulous prices, and paradoxically, fowls eggs' that were fresh and only one shilling a dozen. It was about this time that the soldier, living as frugally as any ascetic, was solemnly warned that “over-ripe fruit, such as bananas, tomatoes, oranges, and grapes should be avoided” as likely to encourage cholera! The army, weakened by dysentery, shrieked with delight!
[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite, N.Z.E.
Mules dug in under the Cliffs in Mule Gully.
This is a long story about food; but it was necessary for a soldier to eat, and most of the sickness can be attributed to the monotony of the food, the flies and the heat. Little wonder that men sickened. Trenches themselves were kept scrupulously clean, but all refuse was thrown into No Man's page 165 Land in which were also innumerable dead bodies that it had been impossible to bury. So in the heat, the front line troops, after making the mess tin of tea, endeavoured to get a meal of meat or bread and jam. Countless hordes of flies settled on everything edible. The soldiers waved them off. The black cloud rose and descended among the filth on the other side of the parapet. Presently they were back again on the food,—and so on, from the jam to the corpse, and back again to the jam, flitted the insect swarm, ensuring that the germs of most things undesirable were conveyed to the soldier's system through his mouth.
Whatever may be the immunity of the transport and supply services in some campaigns, it is right that acknowledgment should be made of the risks run by the carriers of stores to and on the Peninsula. Whether by the trawlers or the picket boats at sea; in the ordnance and supply stores on the beaches; or on the mule tracks of the precipitous ridges and winding valleys—the men of the Navy, the Indian Supply and Transport, the Zion Mule Transport, and of our own Australian and New Zealand Army Service Corps carried their lives in their hands, for the enemy had the range to a yard of every landing stage, dump and roadway.