The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Chapter XII. Midsummer at Anzac
Chapter XII. Midsummer at Anzac.
The most debated area in Anzac was that narrow strip of No Man's Land opposite Quinn's and Courtney's Posts, at the head of Monash Gully. The post on the other side of Courtney's was Steel's Post, just opposite which was the Turkish work known as German Officers' Trench. Hereabouts the front lines were a little farther apart. The Turk took advantage of this by bringing artillery fire to bear on Steel's and sometimes on Courtney's. Many were the anxious moments when the firing persisted a little longer than usual, as the garrisons could not help being a little apprehensive for the safety of their posts perched so perilously on the crest line.
The lines were so close together opposite Quinn's Post that neither side could afford to try the effect of artillery on the front-line trenches. This was fortunate, for a few well-aimed high explosive shells might have tumbled the whole page 167 structure into Monash Gully. But what Quinn's lacked in artillery duels, it more than made up for with its handgrenade fights. Here, in common with the rest of No. 3 and No. 4 Sections, the enemy held the higher ground. Every day and every night a hail of cricket-ball bombs descended on the fire trenches, those falling in the communication trenches bounding merrily down hill until brought to rest by a traverse. Aeroplanes came over now and again, ineffectually dropping bombs and little steel darts. Whatever their lying propaganda boasted, their airmen never registered a hit on post or pier.
Mining at Quinn's Post.
Quinn's had a fatal fascination for the Turk. During May the enemy commenced mining in earnest, and this was a serious menace to the safety of the Anzac area. Successful underground operations by the enemy would mean that Quinn's might slide down into Monash Gully, so vigorous counter-mining was resorted to. Galleries were driven out under the front-line trenches; T-heads were put on to each gallery—these heads connected up made a continuous underground gallery right round the front of the post. Using this as a base, protective galleries were driven out in the direction of the advancing tunnels of the Turk. The object of this counter-mining was to get under or near the opponent's drives, and destroy them by means of small charges, calculated to break in their tunnels, but not to make a crater in No Man's Land above.
[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite, N.Z.E.
In Monash Gully: The Headquarters of No. 3 Defence Section.
Twice Turkish tunnels had been detected nearing our lines. These were destroyed by small charges sufficient to break them down, for we could not afford to use a heavy charge, as it might threaten the stability of the hillside.
The Death of Major Quinn.
But at 3.20 on the morning of May 29, an ear-splitting explosion brought everyone in Monash Gully to his feet. A mine had wrecked No. 3 Subsection in Quinn's Post. Instantly, the musketry and bomb duel burst into life. Flashes of flame ran round the enemy's trenches and ours. The bursting of enemy shells fitfully illuminated Monash Gully. The detonations of hand-grenades, the bursts of machine-gun fire, the spluttering of musketry, the crashes of shrapnel and high explosive thundered round and round the head of Monash Gully, echoing and re-echoing in the myriad cliffs and valleys. In the confusion, a party of about twenty Turks rushed our front trenches. At last an effort was being made to break the Anzac line. As No. 3 Subsection was blown in, the men in No. 4 Subsection were cut off from Subsections 1 and 2, but all held stubbornly on. Reinforcements hurrying up to the stricken post could see, by the light of the bursting shells, the garrison clinging doggedly to the hillside. Some of the men off duty quickly clambered up the break-neck tracks. Led by the gallant Major Quinn, the defenders pushed forward in short rushes until they were once again sheltering in the broken front-line trench of Subsection 3. The party of Turks were now isolated within the post; barricading both ends of their little section of trench, they clung page 170 to the shelter of the traverse and recess. It was now breaking dawn. The machine guns on Russell's Top and Pope's Hill swept the region in the front of Quinn's with a devastating enfilade fire; but showers of bombs indicated that the Turk was still close up to the post. Major Quinn, realizing what his post meant to Anzac, warned his men for a counterattack. Presently, the observers on Pope's and Plugge's Plateau saw the little band clamber on to the parapet, and with bayonet and bomb hurl themselves into the enemy's ranks, which momentarily wavered, then broke and fled. Back filtered the garrison, to realize that their beloved leader was mortally wounded, killed in the defence of the post that bore his immortal name.
The Turks did not attack again. Anzac was still intact. But imprisoned in our lines were sixteen brave Turks, who, in the confusion after the explosion, had stormed our frontline trench. They could not be reached by bombs, but an enterprising soldier persuaded them to surrender. Hesitatingly, out they came. They had been taught to distrust “these cannibals from the South Seas,” even as we had been warned against falling into Turkish hands. With many salaams and ingratiating bows they filed down the pathway, somewhat disconcerting an R.E. officer by solemnly kissing his hand.
The Turks opposite Quinn's never neglected their opportunities. Their mine explosion made a fair-sized crater between the two front-line trenches. Next morning the periscope revealed a blockhouse built of solid timbers planted in the crater. This, being a direct threat to Quinn's, was too much for the section of New Zealand Engineers, who, with the men of the 4th Australian Brigade, had held the post from the first week. Two adventurous sappers volunteered to creep out across the debris of No Man's Land and demolish the menace by means of gun-cotton. This they accomplished with great skill, destroying the blockhouse and killing the occupants. The Turk, however, was persistent. Time and again he roofed over the crater; but with hairbrush bombs—two pounds of gun-cotton tied on to a wooden handle—with kerosene, benzine, and other gentle agents in the art of persuasion, page 171 the Turkish garrison were kept most unhappy, even though they were all promoted to the rank of corporal. About this time it was learned that the Ottoman soldiers had christened this set of trenches “the Slaughterhouse,” but it must be said that the Turks operating in No. 3 Section, especially opposite Quinn's, earned the respect of all who fought against them.
Early in June the New Zealand Infantry Brigade took over this No. 3 Defence Section. The posts once held by General Monash's famous 4th Brigade were now garrisoned by men from Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago. The New Zealand Engineers still kept up their sapping and mining. The No. 1 Company had been on duty without relief from the landing, until relieved by the No. 2 Company, which arrived on June 3, and took over the sapper work within the section.
“The Agony of Anzac.”
A periscopic view of No Man's Land was a terrible sight—littered with jam tins, meat tins, broken rifles and discarded equipment — every few yards a dead body and hosts of buzzing flies. Chloride of lime, with its hateful associations, was scattered thickly on all decaying matter, and the scent of Anzac drifted ten miles out to sea. In this fœtid atmosphere, with the miners on both sides burrowing under the posts like furtive rabbits, hand-grenade throwers carrying on their nerve-racking duels, stretcher bearers constantly carrying out the unfortunate ones, digging and improving the trenches under a scorching sun—is it any wonder that the men of Anzac were looked at almost pityingly by the reinforcements and the rare visitors from Helles and the warships? Let one of these visitors speak:—
“The soul of Anzac is something apart and distinct from any feeling one gets elsewhere. It is hard to write of its most distressing feature, which is the agony it endures. But it is quite necessary, in justice to the men, that this should be said. There is an undercurrent of agony in the whole place. The trace of it is on every face—the agony of page 172 danger, of having seen good men and great friends die or suffer, of being away from home, of seeing nothing ahead, of sweating and working under hot suns or under stars that mock. Let there be a distinct understanding that the agony is not misery. The strong man bears his agony without misery; and those at Anzac are strong. What the men endure should be known at home.”
It is true that the Australians and New Zealanders did not altogether realize how badly off they were. The Turk had said a landing was impossible—yet a landing had been forced. The Turk had boasted he would drive the infidel into the sea—the perspiring daredevils refused to be driven. Lack of water, lack of ammunition, monotony of food, rebellious stomachs, the loss of brothers and friends—all these things the men of Anzac triumphed over. The two young nations had found their manhood on these barren Turkish hillsides. Whatever our enemies and the benevolent neutrals thought, the Australian and New Zealand Army was confident in itself, confident in its leaders, confident in the wisdom of the High Command that deemed it necessary to prosecute the enterprise.
A Sortie from Quinn's Post.
Lying along the flank of the Turkish communications, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was a constant thorn in the side of the enemy troops journeying to reinforce the Ottoman army in the Krithia zone. The enemy kept a large general reserve with which he could reinforce his troops at either Krithia or Anzac. When the British attacked on the southern sector it was the duty of the Anzac troops to simulate an attack in force, so preventing Turkish reinforcements being sent from opposite Anzac to the south, and by making frequent sallies causing the Turkish commander to become uncertain in his mind as to the real attack. But always, in the first few months, Anzac was “playing second fiddle to Helles.”
[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite, N.Z.E.
A Scene in Monash Gully.
As the Turkish snipers at the head of Monash Gully could enfilade stretches of the road, snadbag traverses were built at the most dangerous points.
At first it was the custom to capture the first-line trench and to endeavour to keep it. In practice this was rarely successful. The front line of a trench system is generally lightly held; a surprise attack by determined troops can almost rely on being successful if the element of surprise is availed of. But to take a trench is one thing; to hold it another. Remember that the rest of the front line is still held by the enemy, who, working from traverse to traverse, can bomb down it. The second and third lines are also intact, with good communication trenches leading from them to the broken firing line. Bombers can also work down these communication trenches; ammunition, food and water, and (most important of all) hand-grenades, can arrive in unlimited numbers and in comparative safety. All of these things required by the attackers lodged in the enemy's trenches must come over the bullet-swept, shrapnel-torn surface of No Man's Land. By the end of a day, unless reasonable communications can be provided, the troops who so easily captured the hotlycontested position find that they must choose between annihilation or retreat. So it was raiding grew up. This appealed more to the primitive instincts of man—the sudden dash into the enemy, the attempt to achieve the maximum amount of damage in the minimum time, and to get to the home trench again before the enemy reinforcements could arrive. This method was particularly valuable when it was considered necessary to destroy the entrances to enemy galleries, to interfere with the progress of enemy saps, and to obtain prisoners for identification by the Intelligence Department.
The sortie from Quinn's Post on June 4 was a typical example of the early method. If ever an attack was organized to succeed this one was. Eager volunteers from the Auckland and Canterbury Battalions were selected to carry out the work, and at 11 p.m. a heavy artillery fire was to be directed on the surrounding communication trenches. An assaulting party of sixty men was to dash across the thirty yards of No Man's Land, take the opposing trench and transpose the page 175 Turkish parapet. Two working parties were detailed to follow the first line. These men carried filled sandbags with which to build a loopholed traverse at each end of the captured trench; other parties were to commence two communication trenches from the new work to the old. The 4th Australian Infantry Brigade was held in reserve.
The Bomb-proof Shelters at Quinn's Post.
The hillsides were so steep that a sufficient number of men could not be accommodated near the front line. Round cricket-ball hand grenades would bound downhill and annoy the troops, so these bomb-proofs were built. The high ground on the left of the picture is Pope's Hill.
Eventually Quinn's became the stronghold of the line. This was not accomplished in a day or without enormous labour. But, inspired by their officers—particularly the new commander of the post, Lieut.-Colonel Malone, of the Wellingtons—the men of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the New Zealand Engineers made Quinn's Post comparatively safe. Iron loopholes were put in, bombing pits constructed, and wonderful bomb-proof shelters built in terraces on the hillside. It was a tremendous work. Because of the pitiless heat and the incessant sniping, the troops watched and waited during the day; but as soon as it was dark the working parties, on their backs, carried the sandbags, timber, iron, ammunition, hand-grenades, water and food, up that shrapnelswept Valley of Death in order that Quinn's Post might be safe.
The Last Attack on Anzac.
Day by day the soldiers clinging to their posts at Anzac were filled with speculations as to the progress made at Helles. Great bombardments seemed to be of daily occurrence. Sometimes we could fancy that the great clouds of dust and smoke were rolling appreciably nearer. On June 27/28 the masses of smoke and flame seemed greater than ever. Then we learned that Helles was being attacked, page 178 and we were asked to take off a little of the strain. The extreme right of our line was now held by the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade, supported on the right by the veterans of the heroic early-morning landing—Maclagan's 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade. These units carried out dashing attacks on the extreme right. The diversion was entirely successful, and drew formidable Turkish reserves towards Anzac.
Indeed, as the hours slipped by, it seemed that the object of the Light Horse and Infantry was more than achieved, for it was reported that more and more of the finest Turkish regulars were being concentrated opposite Anzac.
On the night of June 29, about 9.10, the enemy expended thousands of rounds ineffectually against our extreme right—evidently firing at nothing in particular, as most of the bullets sailed aimlessly out to sea. This was the Turk's usual method of advertising an attack somewhere else. Sure enough, during the night that attack developed opposite Pope's and Russell's Top. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade (consisting of the 8th, 9th, and 10th Regiments) were now taking turns with the New Zealand Mounted Brigade in No. 4 Defence Section. The machine guns were never taken out of the line, Australian and New Zealand guns staying in even when their respective brigades were withdrawn to “rest.”
In the moonlight, about an hour after midnight, the Turk, calling on his God, surged forward to the attack on No. 4 Section. In the half light the machine gunners found the range, and mercilessly cut up the attacking waves. But they were not to be denied. On and on they pressed, right up to the parapets. Several Turks bravely jumped into our trenches and were killed. They certainly were game. Around Pope's, too, they threw wave after wave, which faded away under the hail of lead.
On the Nek we had constructed several trenches, which were not yet joined up. Down between these new trenches came the enemy, only to be assailed with a cross-fire which almost annihilated the attack. Further to the left, General Russell had an excellent secret sap—a trench with no parapet to advertise its existence. Working round our left flank, the page 179 enemy blundered into this concealed tench, and lost over 250 men. Nowhere was the line broken, and the attack melted away.
This was the last attempt the enemy made to break the Anzac line.
The Soldier and His Clothes.
Two factors worked a change in the Army's clothing. The first was the Turk. His snipers picked out anyone wearing distinctions, with the result that officers cut off their conspicuous badges of rank and sewed small worsted stars or crowns on the shoulder-straps; otherwise, ranks were indicated page 180 on the shoulders of the shirts by indelible ink pencil. The N.C.O.'s and men took off their metal badges, the ink pencil being again in request to draw the badge and unit indications on the cap.
Dugouts on Wellington Terrace.
For some unknown reason, slouch hats, which would have been invaluable were left behind at the base. Many of the Mounted Rifles arrived with the brims of their felt hats cut off, leaving only a little peak fore and aft, like the old-time policeman's shako. New Zealanders were forbidden to wear helmets in Egypt, but the soldier of understanding smuggled his away with him, and a very proud man he was who sported one on the Peninsula. The sailor men were very keen on getting slouch hats; many a bearded face was shaded by the broad brim of a Colonial hat.page 181
If three was one thing the soldier had enough of, and to spare, it was socks. The good people at home put a pair into every parcel. The Ordnance issued them as well. It is hard to say what socks were not used for. The soldier who wrote, “Thanks for the socks—they will come in useful,” doubtless spoke the truth.
Some things the men always craved for. Good Virginian tobacco and cigarettes were always welcome—the ration was of very inferior quality; sweets were always in great demand; owing to living under such primitive conditions, most watches went wrong, and were very difficult to replace; a “salt water soap” that would lather in salt water was looked for almost in vain; while tinned milk was worth any trouble and risk to procure. These were the days before the Y.M.C.A. made its welcome appearance.
About this time the Intelligence Department discovered that the Turk might use gas, so primitive gas helmets were procured from England. Woe betide any luckless soldier caught without his respirator. It is not suggested that the Turk was too humane to use gas, but luckily the masks were never needed, principally because the ground was so broken, and the “prevailing” winds could not be depended on. As our front line was so closely involved with that of the enemy, the enemy certainly would have received a fair share of the poisonous fumes intended for the infidels.