At the end of the day
NZ troops landed
near Gaba Tepe on April 25
Source: Chris Pugsley, Gallipoli The New Zealand Story
World War I had been raging for seven months but it was not going well for the Allies in early 1915.
On the Western Front, French and British armies had already suffered more than a million casualties. On the Eastern Front, the Imperial Russian Army had been badly beaten in the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes.
Adding to Russian woes, the Germans had extended their influence in the Ottoman Empire and in September 1914 forced the closure of the Dardanelles, the narrow straits linking the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, Russia’s economic lifeline.
The Tsar’s Government pleaded with Britain and France for help.
They responded with a plan to reopen the Dardanelles using the might of the Royal Navy backed up by France. This effort culminated on March 18, 1915 when a fleet of 19 battleships tried to blast their way through.
But they were forced back by mines and shore-based artillery with three capital ships lost and a number of others damaged.
Plan B was a seaborne invasion to establish a foothold on the Gallipoli Peninsula and, from there, open the way for the battleships. The job was to be done by General Sir Ian Hamilton in command of an army 70,000-strong, including about 30,000 Australians and New Zealanders as well as British, Indian and French troops.
Hamilton’s hastily drawn-up plan was for the British 29th Division to land at Cape Helles at the southernmost tip of the peninsula while the Anzacs did the same at a point about 13km north on the western shore. The French would mount a diversionary landing at Kum Kale on the eastern side of the straits.
The general, and many historians and editorial writers since, were excited by the idea that the theatre of war had an ancient pedigree – Homer’s Troy was not far away from Kum Kale and the Dardanelles were crossed by the Persian army on their doomed invasion of the Greek city states in the 5th century BC.
That war was the subject of the great Greek writer Herodotus who became known as the father of history.
The 20th century Anzac battles fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula were documented by the ordinary soldiers in hundreds of letters published in the Herald and other newspapers after being passed on by the families of the men.
The letters appeared weeks and months after the events they described and, of course, they had been censored.
One of the censors was Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick, a senior doctor with the Anzacs.
His aim was not so much to preserve military secrets as to protect the feelings of the people back home who would be horrified if they knew of the horrors and the suffering on Gallipoli.
“Some of the letters I censor describe the shelling and miseries, and I get the men to cut this out as it only adds needlessly to the anxieties and worries of their folk at home and is beastly selfish,” he wrote. “They have enough to bear without reading horrors.”
Judging by the published letters, other censors and the soldiers themselves were not nearly so sensitive.
They describe life in a place they called Hell. They wrote about their feelings as they went into battle. How it felt to be shot. And what it was like to drive a bayonet into a living man.
But they followed the official narrative of the campaign. Victory always seemed to be just around the corner and the men were always cheerful, even as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and summer into winter.
Many of the letters were written by wounded men from hospitals in Egypt or Malta.
They often reassured their folks that they were getting better and eager “to have another crack”.
And they made light of their wounds. Sergeant Charles Nicol of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, for instance, joked that the Turks were most inconsiderate. He had lost his right hand and was now having to learn to write with his left.
But from the uncensored privacy of their diaries it was a different story.
Despondency set in early and many of the men lost faith in the generals. They could see there was no chance of success, even if their commanders could not. And they described life under siege on Gallipoli in all its squalid horror – the bad food, the lice and disease, the terrible wounds and the death which sometimes came suddenly and sometimes lingered.
In private, those who were evacuated because of wounds or sickness, were not so eager to return. What follows are edited extracts from the letters and the uncensored writings of the Anzacs, telling the story in their own words.
But the story did not end with them. The meaning and significance of Anzac Day has been discussed and debated for 100 years.
In conclusion we look back at a century of the Anzac tradition to seek the golden thread that explains why it seems to grow in importance with each passing year.
The Anzac landing on Gallipoli began at dawn on a day which became imprinted on the national consciousness of two countries.
The plan was for the Anzacs to push past the Sari Bair range on the western shores towards a mountain called Mal Tepe on the eastern side, cutting off the Turkish troops fighting against the British and French who were landing at Cape Helles to the south.
They expected to gain control over the high ground that overlooked the Dardanelles within days to allow the Royal Navy to force a passage. But the plan began to unravel at the very beginning.
“Instead of landing on the beaches near the open expanse of Maidos Plain that crossed the peninsula from west to east, the Navy blundered and set them down two kilometres north,” writes Chris Pugsley in Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story.
That 2km made an enormous difference. Instead of coming ashore on relatively flat country, they faced a barrier of steep hills, cliffs and ravines dotted with prickly scrub. The geography and Turkish snipers who picked off the officers as they landed and advanced, fragmented the invading force.
By the time the New Zealanders arrived from the troopship Lutzow at 10am, a Turkish counter-attack was well underway. The Auckland, Canterbury and Waikato units went straight into action, became mixed up with the Australians and they all fought together in a vicious struggle to reach the high ground, notably a hill known as Baby 700 which was the focus of much of the fighting in the first 48 hours.
Among them was a schoolteacher-turned-soldier from Auckland, Private Robert Blackwood Steele, who recorded his impressions of that first day in words and pictures published by the Herald and the Weekly News.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
We had been lying in Port Murdos for a little over a week when on Saturday, April 24, a naval lieutenant steamed alongside and called for the captain of our transport.
Of course all of us on deck listened to what they had to say. The lieutenant asked if we were ready to move, and as the captain said “No!” he was told to get under way at once for he was keeping five transports waiting.
At last we knew that we were off. It was five o’clock when we started down the harbour, threading our way among many ships of all kinds and sizes. We passed Australian transports, French transports, British transports, Russian, French and British warships and with all of them we exchanged cheers.
Our band played airs to suit the case — “Tipperary” to the Australians, “British Grenadiers” to the British, the “Marseillaise” to the French troops and sailors, the Russian anthem to the Russian warships. It was a grand sight, as ship after ship cheered and cheered again. Aeroplanes above us, submarines and torpedo destroyers passing us, gave the finishing touch to the most stirring scenes I have ever witnessed.
From 5am to 7am we steamed slowly up the coast. Warships were inshore firing away, and in the breaking light we could just see the flash and then hear the report of a broadside. As we dropped anchor we could hear the continuous rattle of rifle and machine-gun fire on shore, could see the shrapnel bursting along the beach, while above all boomed shots from “Lizzie” [British battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth].
We were all excited, hurried over breakfast, drank as much as we could, saw our gear was complete, and waited for the order to disembark. In a few minutes lighters and navy cutters, towed by tugs and pinnaces, came alongside, and we clambered down to them by gangways or rope ladders.
When the boats were full, we were towed in a zig-zag course to the shore. Our luck was in, for we got ashore without being hit, although shrapnel burst fairly close. A seaplane flying above and a captive balloon directed the warships’ fire.
Luckily for us the battery that commanded our landing was silenced. We could see a mass of smoke and earth go up as shell after shell destroyed their position.
It was just after 10am when I stepped ashore. A few dead and many wounded men lay on the beach waiting to be attended to by the ambulance. A few of our fellows were hit before they got off the beach.
Colonel Plugge [Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Plugge, commanding officer of the Auckland Infantry Battalion] received a small gash on his wrist before he had been ashore more than a few minutes.
The Auckland machine-gun section was ordered 500yd to the left, and to go up at once to the aid of the Australians. Off came our packs, and each carrying his portion of the machine-gun and its equipment, we started up the hill.
The engineers had cut a path up the face, and were working hard cutting more. We scattered round and lay down in the bushes for a spell, but was it a rest? Shrapnel screamed over our heads, and we would seek cover, lying close to the ground. I did this half a dozen times, until I realised that by the time I had heard the scream the shell had already passed and exploded over the beach. Bullets whistled past or buried themselves in the ground.
Was I frightened? In one way I was, but it was more dazed. For a while I seemed as if I was stunned, but as I watched the shells exploding about me the dazed feeling gradually wore away. Lieutenant [Robert] Frater gave the order for us to advance and collect, as we got the chance, over the ridge in the next gully.
We were under a perfect hail of shrapnel and bullets, fired at those on the ridge in front. I would jump up, run about 10yd, and then dive under a bush, or behind a small ridge. Then the bullets would fly, for some sniper would be busy.
In a few seconds off I’d go again, watching where the shrapnel was bursting, for the shells would generally fall 50yd from the one before. If I judged the next would come too close to me, I got on quick. If I reckoned it would be in front, I would wait until it came. My reasoning used to prove correct, and often I just got out of a place in time.
I got to the side of the flat on top of the ridge, where I found a couple of our machine-gun belts in their boxes. I added one to my load, and started to gallop down the track into the gully below. I slid, jumped, cut off corners - any way at all.
Some fellows in shelter on the opposite side yelled to me to stop, as there was a mine in front. I had a look and sure enough if I had cut off the corner in front there was a pit covered with branches and with spikes and explosives in the bottom for me to fall into. Hundreds of these were about. As I looked I was nearly deafened. Smoke and dust were all around me for a shell had burst a few feet above. Pieces were all about, but not a particle had touched me
I got to the bottom, and waited till the others came over. We went on again, up the bed of a small stream.
On the next ridge I watched about fifty Australians and New Zealanders collect behind a bank, fix bayonets, creep through the scrubs, and then charge. I could hear them yell out “Yallah emshi!”, Egyptian for “Clear out!” The Turks did clear! They ran for their lives for a way and then dropped into trenches. Then the shots belched out, and our fellows had to come back, followed by a strong body of Turks.
As soon as our fellows got out of the way, one of our Auckland machine-guns took a hand and poured 500 rounds a minute into them. I could see Turks along the ridge 350yd in front, and started with my rifle. I fired eight or nine shots, and each Turk I fired at disappeared. Whether he was hit or had only shifted I don’t know but I was steady, so I guess some of them got it.
Others fired at me in return, and a New Zealand colonel dropped alongside me, a bullet in his heart [Lieutenant Colonel Douglas McBean Stewart, commander of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion]. You would just think “Another gone,” and go forward.
The man next to me got one through his leg, just above the ankle. This Australian was bleeding badly. “Oh, mate,” he said, “come back and bandage my leg. I’m bleeding to death.”
I gave them another shot and crawled back after him. Off came his puttee. I put a pad on each side of the wound, bandaged it up, and then put my pull-through round his thigh and twisted it up with a bit of stick.
Just finished, and then I felt as if I had been hit with a brick. I saw a hole in my leg, so I got out my knife, ripped my trousers and underpants right round, and then the Australian fixed me up.
It did not bleed at all. I fastened up my trouser leg with safety pins, lightened myself as much as I could, and started off for the beach.
That was at about 5pm. It was slide and crawl, crawl and slide among the bushes until my hands and knees were sore. Then, when I got out of [the line of] fire, I managed to hobble along, using my rifle as a crutch. I sat down and slid down hills and gullies, until I got to the beach, where a fellow took my rifle and equipment and helped me to the boat.
I sat down among the wounded and waited for a while. It was just getting dark, so we were put in lighters. We got aboard the [hospital ship] Seang Choon about 8pm. After my wound was dressed, I went to sleep.
Wounded men were all around me, and some were in an awful state. I slept well that night, and part of the next day. Hobbled up and watched the warships at work. The troops had dug trenches and fought all night. We left on Tuesday [April 27] and the fight, judging by the row, was still going on. So ended my part … It was an awful day for all, and the toll was heavy.
“I am afraid there will be many suffering hearts, but the men were good. The way they would take a position and hang on to it was glorious. The general opinion expressed has been that the Australian and New Zealand men are the equal of any regular soldiers in the world, and if you ask naval officers they will say ‘better’.”
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Plugge, commander Auckland Infantry Battalion.
NZ troops landed
near Gaba Tepe on April 25
Source: Chris Pugsley, Gallipoli The New Zealand Story
When the news broke in New Zealand, the landing was hailed as a triumph. “Splendid Gallantry, New Zealanders praised, landing in hostile country, formidable defences” said a headline in the Herald. It was an impressive military achievement, all the more so because it was done by a citizen army rather than professional soldiers.
“There has been no finer feat during this war than this sudden landing in the dark and the storming of the heights, and above all, holding on whilst the reinforcements were being landed,” wrote the official British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.
“Raw colonial troops in these desperate hours proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle.”
But the real difficulties the men faced — and the limitations of what they were able to do — were lost in the triumphal tone.
By the end of the first day, the Anzacs had established a foothold on the peninsula but no more. It stretched about 2500 metres along the coast. The most advanced position was 1200 metres inland at a place which became known as Quinn’s Post. Apart from a brief moment in August — when the Wellington Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel William Malone took Chunuk Bair — the Anzacs were never able to break out of what one officer described as a “rat trap”.
In the last days of April and the first days of May all they could do was to hang on against the Ottoman 19th Division commanded by Mustafa Kemal, an unknown figure outside his native land at the time but later to achieve lasting fame as Kemal Ataturk, the founding president of the Turkish republic. Private Edwin James Sherlock of the 6th Hauraki Company — a factory manager in civilian life — had a more realistic opinion of the fighting and how it was being reported.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
“According to the papers here [i.e. in Cairo], we had the best of the fight the whole time,” he wrote in a letter published by the Herald on June 23.
“That was not so, for most of the time on Sunday, April 25, we were just hanging on by the skin of our teeth to the couple of miles of land we took on landing.” Many stories of bravery emerged from those days. None better typified the fighting spirit of the Anzacs than the way Major Thomas Dawson of the 3rd Auckland Company — a solicitor in civilian life — united a mixed band of New Zealanders and Australians to hold Quinn’s Post through the night of April 25-26.
Corporal Fred Hall-Jones — son of Sir William Hall-Jones who was briefly Prime Minister in 1906 — wrote that they were saved by Major Dawson’s leadership.
The two most vivid impressions, are, firstly, fatigue, and, secondly, Major Dawson. As for fatigue, I was so tired that I slept with bullets flying all round, and as for Major Dawson, there is not one of us who would not follow him through Hell itself, after his handling of the situation on Sunday, April 25.
We reinforced on the left, advancing through the scrub on the flat, and among the bullets we crawled out to a sort of cart track. Ignorant of the position of friend or foe, we lined it, and with nothing to shoot at we let the bullets go by.
I took the place of a man with a ghastly wound in his back. I never expected to come out of the inferno, and resigned myself to the inevitable. A bullet passed over my back and hit one of the boys behind me, but I heard later he was brought in safely.
We were futilely wrath at being unable to take our revenge. Presently an Australian officer appeared out of somewhere and ordered us back to the ridge, and passing on the order, [we] followed him.
He fell with a sigh and lay still. We lined the crest, somewhat protected from the hail of lead, and waited grimly with our bayonets. The incredulous amazement of it all was past now, our blood was up, and we had a few scores to settle.
The Turks, ignorant of our weak numbers, did not advance, and at last came the night and a slackening of fire. We advanced over the crest, removed the wounded, and poured volleys into the advancing Turks until they reached our unprotected flanks. We then entrenched strongly beneath the crest, while the Turks, several times our number, took up a position 10 to 20 yards the other side.
Volley after volley we poured into them, and into the bushes where we could hear them trying to get us to charge.
Major Dawson’s leadership here saved us. With nerves strained to the breaking point, we wanted to get at them with our bayonets and end it one way or the other, but, sizing up the situation — that they had not the courage to charge, and that our charging would mean annihilation — he kept us in hand, and used our enthusiasm in other directions.
The night was an inferno. We were cramped up, and wet and cold. We could eat nothing. In fact, although we had food with us, we had eaten nothing since leaving the boat.
Behind rose the cries of the wounded, plaintive, yet unbeaten cries of brave men in mortal agony. The promised reinforcements went away to our flank, yet we clung savagely to our position. At last came the grey dawn. Time after time we repulsed their attacks.
Then “Lizzie” spoke, and the whirr of her shells over our heads harped the blood out of our hearts. Then their machine-gun got chugging like a motorbike on our flank.
Several fell dead, including a friend on my left — poor chap — and in a flash the major told us to get down the hill and come up again where we could command the gun. Getting down, my knee gave way — one I injured 18 months ago — and while I was laboriously climbing up again, with the help of my rifle, the reinforcements came.
The situation was saved, and we were free to sleep the sleep of exhausted, jaded and overwrought soldiers. Looking back I cannot imagine a more desperate defence against overwhelming odds by a handful of men unprotected on their flanks.
The courage of our men was magnificent. They clung like bulldogs to their position, and although they never expected to survive the dawn they never dreamed of giving up the position. When we were free we filed down the gully, clung to a cliff that protected us from stray bullets and slept. We tried to eat, but how can men eat who have come out of the jaws of death?
The news of casualties in the rest of the company came as a heavy blow.
You who are in New Zealand cannot read a list of wounded and killed without emotion. Can you then imagine our feelings, as overwrought and with strained nerves, we learned of the death of our comrades — for we are all comrades and brothers here.
But later, the death of these brave men who had given the last full measure of sacrifice in their country’s cause, came as a noble inspiration to us, to carry on the work they had so fearlessly advanced.
It gave us, too, a score to settle, and our next action will be fought with a personal animosity, which the first one lacked.
“I took the place of a man with a ghastly wound in his back. I never expected to come out of the inferno, and resigned myself to the inevitable.”
Corporal Fred Hall-Jones.
The battle at Anzac Cove had reached a stalemate by the first week of May. Despite their valiant efforts the Australians and New Zealanders could not break out of the rat trap and the Turks, despite their command of the high ground, could not push the invaders back into the sea.
In search of a breakthrough, the Allies planned a major offensive from Cape Helles against the town of Krithia and a hill known as Achi Baba.
British and French troops had failed in an attack on these objectives on April 28. Now they were going to try again with the support of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the 2nd Australian Infantry Brigade who were shipped from Anzac Cove.
The battle began on May 6 and the New Zealanders joined in two days later when they were given orders to advance on the Turks. “The land round about was really beautiful — level paddocks all ablaze with daisies, poppies, and buttercups, so our charge was, and will always be known as the ‘Charge of the Daisy Patch’,” wrote Private Raymond Baker of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion.
The pretty name represented one of the bloodiest episodes in a bloody campaign. The Turkish machine-guns were waiting and, in the words of another soldier, “the bullets and shrapnel came just like hail”. The New Zealanders suffered 835 casualties for no gain on that day.
Among the wounded was teacher-turned-soldier Sergeant Joe Gasparich of the 15th North Auckland Company. His understated description of what it was like to be shot was typical of the casual bravery and optimism in many of the soldiers’ published letters.
But in private, the tone was very different. The uncensored diary of Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick, one of the senior medical staff, showed that the men were already convinced they were in an unwinnable position and were feeling bitter towards the commanders who had put them there.
We are like a rat in a trap,” wrote surgeon Percival Fenwick in his diary four days after the disaster of the Daisy Patch.
“The rat cannot get out and the owner of the trap does not like putting his hand in, and can only annoy the rat by pushing things through the bars.“Unquestionably we are held up. What good we are doing I can’t say; perhaps the War Office can, but NZ is losing good men for some reason or other.”
Despite his rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Dr Fenwick was no soldier but he laid out the military dilemma clearly. They could not advance and they could not withdraw because they would be slaughtered as they retreated and leave the French and British exposed at Cape Helles.
Downhearted comments in uncensored diaries contrasted with the brave cheeriness of the published letters in which soldiers described engagements such as the Daisy Patch as a “fine sight”, made light of their own wounds and glossed over the shocking extent of the casualties.But in private the belief that the campaign was futile set in early and the Anzacs’ morale was not helped when they realised the British officer class regarded them with disdain despite public statements that they were much admired.
Fenwick returned to these themes again and again in his diary.
“The trouble is we have bitten off more than we can chew and we know it,” he wrote. Soon after the Daisy Patch, he claimed that most of the men thought the campaign was already a failure and that Turkey had scored a major success by immobilising a whole army corps in a small bay.
“I simply curse the arrant stupidity of this landing. I am curtly reminded, if I speak, that I am simply a doctor, and don’t understand military tactics.
“Thank Heaven, I don’t. As a mere doctor I do understand that a man foolishly exposed to fire not only is lost to our defences but fills a hospital bed for weeks and costs our Government some hundreds of pounds for nothing...
“If a thousandth part of this carelessness of human life was done in civil life, the Government would foam with indignation. Now all is covered with the glib remark, ‘military expediency’. Damn military expediency, say I.”
Fenwick became angrier when he visited the headquarters ship Aragon, and found a mixture of carelessness, chaos and luxury.“Everybody seems to issue orders, orders, orders. I have not noticed anyone obeying these, as they change so quickly that if you obeyed the first order, you would probably be arrested for disobeying the next.
“No one seems to care a rap whether our men are dying or not. I heard one officer breathe a sigh of thankfulness. ‘That’s good news,’ he said.
“I asked what. ‘Twenty cases of soda water have come safely for the top-dogs,’ and all care seemed to fade away.” Another thing that made Fenwick angry was the British officers’ contempt for colonial troops which contrasted with the praise frequently mentioned in official statements and the published letters of the men.
“I am not exaggerating one iota when I say that our men feel antagonised towards the Imperial officers. I have heard so many express their fierce resentment.”
Sergeant Joe Gasparich.
It was a great run, I can tell you. I had four narrow escapes during that day. My water bottle was pierced, and my entrenching tool was hit twice. Then, during the charge, a bullet hit my bayonet, bent it, and split up and spattered itself over my neck and chest.
We had managed to get into a little wash-out, and I could see the Turks in their trenches by kneeling up.
I peppered away, and then I saw a German officer hop out of the trench waving his sword, evidently trying to get his men to attack us.I stood up and let go at him. Just then I felt a heavy blow on my arm, which made my rifle drop.
I turned to growl at the chap who did it, when I felt the blood flowing, and knew I was hit. I did not have time to see if I got that officer or not, but I hope I did.
A sniper got me from behind. These snipers are an awful nuisance, and are good shots. It is hard to root them out, and they had been worrying us all that day.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
On the night of May 18, Turkish forces attacked all along the Anzac lines in a big push aimed at driving the invaders into the sea. The Anzacs were heavily outnumbered.
Lieutenant General William Birdwood estimated at the time it was 33,000 against 10,000, although the historian Chris Pugsley reckons it was 42,000 against 12,540.
Birdwood described it as “a most violent attack … the biggest which the Turks have so far attempted to launch against our troops anywhere on the peninsula”.
Had they attacked in force at one of the weakest spots they almost certainly would have broken through, he said. As it was, the attacks were disjointed and beaten back with heavy losses.
Turkish troops were caught in the crossfire of 11 machine-guns placed at the top of Monash Gully, protecting Steele’s, Quinn’s and Courtney’s Posts. Birdwood estimated 4000 Turkish dead to 500 Anzacs.
Five days after the battle, with the dead still lying thick on the ground, the Turks sought an armistice to allow burial parties to clear the battlefield. Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick joined a party of Turkish, German and Anzac officers to mark out the burial areas and described the experience in his journal.
May 24, Anzac Cove – The most ghastly day. We were met by some Turkish officers who arrived on horseback followed by 50 very fine looking Turks, carrying Red Crescent and white flags. One of the officers was a German doctor.
We were introduced by our interpreters and moved up the hillside in two long lines.
Every hundred yards or so we stationed a man with a white flag, and opposite to him the Turks posted one of their men. We clambered through dripping bushes, with beautiful poppies and flowers, reaching the top wet-through.
From here we could see, over to our right flank, rough high hills covered with dense, waist-high scrub, and occasional open patches of cultivated land.
At the top of the second hill, we halted for a slight argument as to our route. The Turks wanted to keep up toward our trench, but Col. Skeen refused so we kept straight down a steep narrow cleft between.
Coming over the crest of the hill, I found the first N. Zealander, lying on his face. Poor lad!
A few yards climb brought us on to a plateau, and a most awful sight was here. The Turkish dead lay so thick that it was almost impossible to pass without treading on the bodies.
The awful destructive power of high explosives was very evident. Huge holes surrounded by circles of corpses, blown to pieces. One body was cut clean in half; the upper half I could not see, it was some distance away. One shell had apparently fallen and set fire to a bush, as a dead man lay charred to the bone.
Everywhere one looked lay dead, swollen, black, hideous, and over all, a nauseating stench that nearly made one vomit.
We exchanged cigarettes with the other officers frequently and the senior Turkish medico gave me two pieces of scented wool to put in my nostrils.
Further along the plateau, the distance between the trenches narrowed. We kept very carefully in the centre. The narrowest place was not 17 feet apart. Our men and the Turks peered over the sandbags and all seemed pleased at the chance of seeing each other without the fear of immediate death as the price of curiosity.
At one place a curious sight fascinated me. In one charge five or six Turks had reached our trench and died with their heads on our sandbags. From here a long file of dead reached back to the front of the Turks’ trench. At another place a dead T. officer lay close to our trench face down, grasping his revolver. We passed on until we stood at the head of Monash’s Valley — the Valley of Death. From here we looked down that awful cut between the mountains. We could see the winding road, crossed by sandbag traverses to prevent the snipers killing the men as they marched up.
Here we parted from the Turks. They went to the right and we descended the side of the cliff, and up again.
In this manner neither side had the advantage of seeing the other’s trenches.
We climbed up through deep, narrow, winding trenches, emerged on the plateau again and met the Turks. Again there was a mass of dead Turks. From here the land was flatter and we moved on through a welter of corpses. Behind us, for at least two miles, we could see our burial parties working furiously.
In some cases the dead actually formed part of the trench wall. It was a terrible sight to see arms and legs sticking out of the sand, underneath sandbags. The final stage was opposite the extreme left flank. There was a narrow path, absolutely blocked with dead, also a swathe of men who had fallen face down as if on parade — victims to our machine-guns.
Our journey took from 7.30 to 12.30. Col. Ryan came up here and after superintending the interment, I left, feeling badly ill.
I pray God I may never see such an awful sight again. I got back deadly sick and got phenacetin and brandy and lay down. I shall certainly have eternal nightmares.
If this is war, I trust NZ will never be fool enough to forget that to avoid war one must be too strong to invite war.
“If this is war, I trust NZ will never be fool enough to forget that to avoid war one must be too strong to invite war.”
Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick.
Luck decided whether a man would live, die or be maimed on Gallipoli. “A terrible lot of our boys have been hit by shrapnel at different times, but there is a great deal of luck about it,” wrote Trooper Thomas Garlick of the Auckland Mounted Rifles.
“There were six of us in a group talking one day when a shell burst overhead. Four were hit and two of us got off scot free.”
Men wounded on the front line, like Garlick’s mates, were forced to go on a painful odyssey to find help to heal their shattered bodies. Often they crawled from the battlefield or were carried by mates and stretcher-bearers down to the beach for preliminary treatment.
Surgeons operated on the most urgent cases in the open air. Lesser wounds were dressed and the men had to wait, sometimes for days, to be transferred to hospital ships where doctors worked overtime cutting, stitching and amputating.
From there the wounded men would be taken to Malta, Egypt and Britain to recuperate. Some were returned to New Zealand and were discharged as unfit for medical service.
The unlucky ones would soon be returned to resume the battle.
The nurses and medical staff who treated the men were profoundly impressed by their courage and stoicism despite their shocking injuries. “They bear their wounds, they have never been known to even flinch,” wrote Lottie Le Gallais a nurse on the New Zealand hospital ship Maheno which took the wounded from the beach during the heavy fighting of the August offensive.
Among the hundreds of patients he treated, Lieutenant Colonel Fenwick said only one man complained, and that was because he was hit while lying on a stretcher.
“I just dressed him and he screamed. I found he had got a second wound from a burst of shrapnel. His only complaint was ‘I am in agony’.” Sergeant Charles Nicol of the 3rd Auckland Mounted Rifles, who was wounded on trench duty in mid-July, was one of many soldiers who carried his battlefield bravado into the amputation ward.
“I stopped one, as the boys say,” wrote Nicol, using the soldiers’ phrase that made a serious wound sound like nothing more than a niggle in a sporting contest. “One piece shattered my right wrist, another made a big flesh wound in my right shoulder, and another grazed my left shoulder.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
“I was taken to the hospital ship, where they amputated my right hand, and put 13 stitches in my right shoulder. So I’m a bit of a wreck.” Even so, Nichol, who was a Herald journalist in civilian life, could not resist a joke: “I think that the gentle enemy might have been content to smash my left hand, and thus save me the tedious job of learning to write with it.”
Joking about serious injury was not uncommon in letters written from hospital. Perhaps it was the shock or possibly just a clumsy attempt to reassure the folk back home.
Many letter writers did not seem to understand that their description of horrific injuries must have been anything but reassuring. Another way the men made light of their injuries was to declare their eagerness to rejoin the fray, to have another crack or to “give some change”.
But sometimes, perhaps because the censors were not being as vigilant as usual, a letter slipped through that showed not everyone was so careless about their wounds or so keen to be back in the firing line.
“I don’t want to be in such a hot place again,” wrote Private Edwin Sherlock after he had been evacuated on the day of the landing. In private some men made no attempt to veil bloody reality.
One was John Duder, the young third mate on the Maheno who kept a diary of his experiences as he came down from the bridge off Gallipoli to lend a hand carrying and caring for the wounded as they came on board during the August offensive.
Another was Trooper Frederick Charles Trenue of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Trenue, a carpenter, wrote a moving letter to his mate Harry “Gill” Gillespie describing how he had come to be convalescing in an English country house suffering from typhoid fever and shell shock.
Stretcher-bearers: “All day long the stretcher-bearers toil down the Valley of Death, climb over the steep side of Hell Point, and carry their bloody load into the collecting hospital.”
Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick, June 3, 1915.
On the beach: “The sight was awful, Australians and New Zealanders, wounded, lying on the beach in all directions, and being attended to by our good ambulance boys. Some had arms, others legs, smashed, torn heads, and bodies with bullet and shrapnel wounds.”
Private William Henry Rhodes, 16th Waikato Company, June 21, 1915.
Shore to ship: “The last, and to me the most anxious, phase is the loading of the boats. These lie at a little improvised wharf just under Hell Point, and here the enemy have the exact range and pour shrapnel down.”
– Lt Col Fenwick, June 3, 1915.
August 26, Anzac Cove – We have 50 wounded on board now. The wounds are really shocking. Two poor fellows aged 21 and 26 passed away half an hour after they came on board.
One was shot by shrapnel in the neck and the piece travelled down his body and lodged in his groin. The other poor fellow had his leg blown off at the knee and I never wish to see a sadder sight. He fought hard but we all knew he must die.
Our priest tried to comfort him and his last words were for his girl. He asked the priest to write to her and say that it was the thought of her and her example that had kept him straight and made him play the game.
I have never heard such words from a dying man before and his very last word was his mother and the girl’s name. It absolutely broke us all up. Another awful experience was to help an orderly carry a stretcher bearing a boy of 21 with one leg shot off and now they are taking the other off in the operating theatre. Fancy, both legs off.
We all hope he will pull through, but the horrible part about the poor men is that they are all run down and as soon as they receive a bad wound mortification sets in.
We are all helping in every possible way, ourselves, sailors and firemen working at carrying wounded, feeding them and I have been in the theatre. We are needed everywhere as long as we can lift and assist nurses.
I could not stay and see a man’s leg being taken off but hope to before long as doctors and nurses cannot get too much help.
August 28, Anzac Cove – All the men that we have on board now are, apart from wounds, just wasted away and broken down for the want of food and rest. They never get a spell but go on in the trenches until killed or wounded.
Some are only too glad to receive a wound so as to have a spell. Dysentery and fever play havoc with a lot of them.
August 30, Anzac Cove –This morning we stopped and buried ten, two were so bad that they would not sink. I think I had the worst experience that anyone could have. I had to go away in our gig with four men and tie more weight onto the canvas and then they would sink.
I cannot write what I had to do, it is too awful. I came back and was ill at the thought of it. Also my boat’s crew were upset. They and myself will never forget it as long as we live. We have to do such things and see such awful sights that at night, although tired, I cannot sleep or read. I only hope I shall get used to it.
September 2, Anzac Cove – Last night about 8pm there was heavy fighting on the right flank which lasted about two hours. We are seeing the effects of it today. The wounded are coming off in dozens, some will not live. Others, with care, will pull through.
One man had the whole cap of a shell in his calf. Of course the only way to save the man’s life was to amputate his leg below the knee as septic poisoning had set in.
I saw that operation [and] also another where the bullet had entered a man’s head. They had to take the scalp off and cut a piece of the bone away. I could see the bullet quite plain and fancy it just stopped about one eighth of an inch from the brain.
September 7, Anzac Cove – The wounded are coming aboard pretty fast. It is cruel to see some of the poor fellows, nothing on but shorts and singlet. Fine big men wasted away with sickness and awful wounds.
There are four to my knowledge who are stone blind and numbers with limbs off. I am afraid we are going to lose a lot of these poor fellows.
September 17, Anzac Cove – Our men, especially New Zealanders, are being absolutely murdered and no good is gained by it. The men on the peninsula are brave enough for anything but they are being murdered by a lot of damn fools who are at the head of affairs. Before very long it will come out in the papers.
Dear Old Gill,
No doubt you must have thought that I have forgotten you altogether. If such thoughts have entered your head I hope you will forgive me for I have been very bad. Even now my hand is all in a tremble as I have only been out of bed for about a week and have only been outside in a bath chair.
“My head gets very sore … and I can’t remember some words.”
But I [am] getting on all right now so I hope I will keep on improving as I have had a serious relapse when I got shipped from Malta Hospital to England. If I had not been transferred so soon then I may have been in the fighting line long before now, but fate would have it otherwise.
I have now been in the Hospitals of England since the 17th of October and have been transferred on three different occasions.
This last place is right in the country, this big mansion belongs to Sir Walter Shakerley in which I am at present as this fresh country air is supposed to do me more good, and I am well feeling the results of it.
I suppose you [now] know what has been the case with me, as I have had a letter from Miss Lambourne a few days ago. She said you wrote to her that I have had the enteric [typhoid] and wish that it would have [been] nothing else, but I have had the dysentery very bad in the trenches and followed on with enteric when I was taken away from that infernal place of hell, and I was not a bit sorry.
After I had been in Malta a few weeks and the climate was too hot there, we all got transferred to England.
Well, Gill you should have seen our pleasant smiles when we heard that news. Smiling then was much easier at that moment than bearing the terrific pain, as I was almost a half-dead skeleton for I had been through the Aug 6th big attack and right up to the Aug 16th [nothing] but fighting day and night. Oh my God it was dreadful.
My greatest trouble was I got a relapse on my way to England, with the result that my whole left side from my toes to my fingertips got swollen and powerless with frightful pain.
It is through this that I am suffering most, up to the present time I have had twenty injections of strychnine in all parts of my body and am very pleased to say that I am almost able to use my limbs again, as the doctor says I am getting on beautiful. [Strychnine, a dangerous poison, was used in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an appetite stimulant and tonic.] I think with a bit of luck I will be able of going on my six weeks furlough in England within another month.
As you may understand that we were not allowed to write a letter all the time we were in Anzac as we like to call that never to be forgotten place I have not been able to tell you much about it even now.
I doubt if I could tell you much through writing as it is too much to write about so it is useless to make anything like a job of it. You will have to be contented until I come home.
You know that us mounted troops went there a few days after the landing which was almost as bad as the landing in one way. Of course we did not have the same amount of fighting but the Turks big guns had the proper range of our landing place and a lot of our boys got killed before they could fire a shot or even see a Turk.
Our real heaviest fight with the Auckland boys were [on] the 17th of May. We accounted for over two thousand of the … Turks as we only lost about 150.
Oh what a gruesome sight to see [your] best pals brains get blown out right alongside you, for nearly everyone on that morning got shot through the head. Many a time I quite unconsciously ducked my head as I really believe that bullet was meant for me and often wondered when my turn would be next.
I have had some marvellous escapes. I got wounded in my leg with pieces of shell but only flesh wounds. I have had my hat shot off a couple of times and felt for the blood but the nearest was when I got hit on my cheek with a bullet cutting it with the blood all over my tunic and another bullet took all the hairs of my eyebrow just leaving a little scratch. Very strange it was just then when we see blood, your own blood, when you get right in the thick of it.
Of course I got into some scrapes and thank God that I am alive to tell the tale.
It was simply dreadful at times. Fancy living amongst shell and bullet nights and days without sleep and only bully beef and hard biscuits from one week’s end to another and at the first week with sometimes only half a pint of water in a blazing hot sun.
And still you would not hear a murmur, only “when are we going to have another go at them?”
It used to turn me sick at times to see the dreadful pieces of human bodys lying about, with a head rolling without a body, legs and arms all over the place.
Often I have taken cover behind our own dead. As Mr Turk was having a shot at you, the bullet would plunk in the body in front of you.
Oh Gill, this was hell on earth for if hell can be worse but I really think that it can’t be worse. I stuck to it and through the last fatal Aug 6th, it was here [I] lost all my mates for ten of us in the same tent all through our time in Egypt. Eight are killed and the other alive beside myself had his arm blown off.
Our boys suffered as only New Zealand boys can suffer. We were being slaughtered in thousands, 1200 of us charged Hill 971 and about 300 returned. I could fill a book but I [am] getting sad to think of my poor comrades, and as you will know by now all for nothing as our boys are withdrawn.
[It] is almost a pity that we had to fight the Turks for he is a very fine fellow and a very clean fighter, and I really think at times [he] fought even [fairer] than we did. I always will have a good word for him.
Well Gill old chap, I think you must have read about some of our doings on the dreadful place so I will be glad to let it rest.
So far bar the last few days since I have been out of bed, I have been two months in Manchester and the weather has been something dreadful. Terrible storms hail and snow falls and I am sure that we did [not] have a single hour of fine weather in those two months. [I] did not even see a ray of sun.
Manchester is a big manufacturing town and a very dirty place. With foggy days [and] with the smoke hanging low you were almost suffocated at times. In fact the lamps in the hospital were burning nights and days for weeks as there are only a few lamps in the streets as they are terrible afraid of aeroplanes attacks. The town is almost in darkness.
So I was glad when I got transfered to my present locality as we have had a few days fine weather, as this place is quite in the country it is more pleasant here although it is very lonely.
Well Gill old chap most likely by the time you get this letter I will be thinking of leaving England for the front as I will try to get to France this time. I don’t know what my next address will be.
Remember me to all my friends and don’t forget old Taffy.
I hope you will forgive me for the bad spelling, but really my head at times gets very sore. The effects of the machine [gun] fire and heavy explosions and for world of me I can’t remember [the] words.
Hoping these few lines will find you in the best of health. Farewell old pal.
I remain your old pal
In 29 days under fire from April 25, Corporal Robert Beswick of the 3rd Auckland Infantry Company took part in two battles and two bayonet charges.
“When I mention battles it does not mean that there was no fighting between them,” he wrote in a letter published by the Herald on August 26.
“The fighting was continued all the time, but specific battles mean terrific encounters in which each force is striving for a superiority of fire, and one cannot expose the head but for a second to fire without being hit.”
Between those terrific encounters, life in the trenches had to go on, although death was never very far away.
In a letter published on August 10, Randall Melville, a Herald sub-editor serving as divisional signaller, described the day-to-day routines of living under siege.
Others wrote about the bad food and scarce water, the lice and disease and debated whether the shrapnel or the snipers were more to be feared.
They were grateful for small pleasures: visits from the postman and the occasional swim, albeit in waters peppered by shrapnel.
Approached from the sea, the coastline presents an aspect strikingly reminiscent of parts of New Zealand, particularly on the east coast of the North Island. Tall, scrub-covered cliffs, intersected with deep and narrow gullies, and scarred here and there by small earth‑slides, rise abruptly from a narrow, pebbly beach.
To the north they slope away to a flat grass-covered point; southward the ground is more regular in contour, but the drop to the water’s edge becomes more sheer.
This tangled, precipitous, almost impossible country was the scene of the Australians’ first great rush. Dashing out of their boats they drove the Turks helter skelter up the cliffs at the point of the bayonet, when by all rules of war they ought themselves to have been annihilated.
But a great change has come since the early hours of the action. The whole face of the cliffs, which a few weeks ago were deserted, now swarms and pulsates with restless life.
Roads have come into being, the scrub has begun to disappear, and alongside the landslide scars are long weals in the clay bluffs, scored by the pick and shovel of the toiling sapper.
The principal, though less obtrusive, feature of the scene however, is the ubiquitous “dug-out”. Here, as everywhere in this war, flying shells have driven the soldier to seek the protection of mother earth.
The ground is fairly well adapted for the purpose, though rendered difficult by tangled roots. Still, shrapnel is a wonderful incentive to zealous digging, and the greatest difficulties disappear before the dictates of safety.
The dug-outs are made preferably in the face of a gentle slope. A small open cut is made, in general about 4ft deep. The earth, removed, is packed into sandbags, by which the sides are reinforced, and overhead cover is made.
In these little structures — half burrow, half mudhouse — the soldier lives when not occupied in the firing line, or in the thousand and one duties incumbent upon the feeding and administration of an army in the field.
More elaborate bomb-proof shelters house the headquarters of the various branches of the service.
The chief centre of activity is the small strip of beach. Huge piles of supplies, ammunition, and war material, methodically arranged, almost hide the sand. Day and night long lines of pack mules file up and down the steep tracks, distributing the stores to the men in the trenches. Pontoon jetties have been improvised, and the deepness of the tideless water enables the unloading of further supplies to be accomplished with facility.
Broad-beamed lighters, towed by powerful little steam pinnaces, swing in and out with never a hitch in the system, helping to keep the troops well fed and in good fighting trim.
By night the scene is touched with a weird beauty. As darkness falls, little cooking fires begin to gleam and flicker outside the dugouts, the whole face of the cliffs being starred with their sparkle. Here and there, in the distance, the searchlight of a silent, watching warship swings over section after section of the outlying country, a reminder to the enemy of the never-ending vigilance of the Navy.
Under cover of the darkness work continues unceasingly. The jingling harness of mule teams, the tramp of many feet, and the voices of working parties all help to strike the keynote of restless life.
At times the scene gathers a more sinister significance, when the sky is lighted by the flash of guns, and all other sounds are dominated by the thudding boom of artillery and the roar of bursting shells.
All this, which may be seen from the sea, is, of course, merely the vestibule to the grim theatre of war. Beyond the brow of the cliffs lie line after line of trenches where the unceasing battle has swayed from day to day.
Beyond all is the firing line itself, where our men stand tenaciously holding their ground, at death grips with the enemy, and undismayed by all the horrors of modern war.
The impression which may be gathered from all that is seen, is that our forces are holding the hard-won soil in a grip which will never relax.
What they have won they will hold as long as required and when the day comes for a further advance to be made no one need doubt that they will show the same dash, courage, and devotion as that which they displayed when gaining their first foothold on enemy territory.
It was Napoleon who said that an army marches on its stomach and, judging by the official reports and censored letters about the food on Gallipoli, the Anzacs were well served.
“It is really wonderful to note how well the men are fed. Tea and bacon are brought up into the trenches in the firing-line every morning,” wrote the official correspondent Malcolm Ross in a report published by the Herald on September 3.
“Tea is also brought up at lunch time. For the evening meal the menu is tea and stew. Each man is allowed a quarter of a pound of jam and half a loaf of bread a day.”
In the privacy of uncensored diaries and memoirs, however, the men told a different story.
“15 May – Breakfast – no fires – biscuit and tin meat and little water – stench of dead,” wrote an anonymous soldier in a diary acquired by the Auckland War Memorial Museum only last year.
“16 May – In charge of squad water rations … No wash or shave since Sunday 9th – Only half ration of water. Returned to trench, first firing line 5pm for 24 hours.”
Lieutenant Jim Ferris of the Maori Contingent explained the consequences of the poor diet. His men were troubled with dysentery when they first went to the Dardanelles, on account of the water and food.
He was very ill himself for about a week, and still felt weak. Nearly everyone who landed there was troubled with it, and very many had to leave the peninsula altogether.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
One of the few pleasures on Gallipoli was the chance of having a swim.
Lance-Corporal Francis Tanner wrote that he and his fellow stretcher-bearers went for a swim every day, not just to freshen themselves but to keep fit. Lieutenant General William Birdwood did likewise.
But it was a pleasure that came with a high degree of risk. Many men were killed and wounded when Turkish artillery targeted the beach.
“The shells trouble us a lot down there. Yesterday they knocked out 17 of our men with one shell, two died, they were bathing,” wrote Tanner.
“The sea simply swarms with bathers then you hear boom, bang, splash as the shrapnel falls in the water. Then a rush for the shore.”
They never fired a shot nor struck any kind of blow against the enemy. But they risked their lives almost as much as any frontline soldier.
They were the postmen who brought eagerly awaited letters and news from home.
“The most welcome man among New Zealand troops, both in Egypt and the Dardanelles, was the postman,” Private Charles McConchie told the Herald when he returned from the fighting on the Willochra.
“Though they were non-fighters on that blood-stained Gallipoli Peninsula … they proved themselves brave, for they were exposed continually to the deadly shrapnel while delivering the mails to the men in the trenches.”
One of the big worries that soldiers felt was that people back home would neglect to write.
Trooper William Johns of the Auckland Mounted Rifles explained the feeling in a letter to his niece, Iris Roulston of Pukekohe.
“It is funny that each one thinks that someone else is writing and doesn’t worry. Or if they do write they always supposed that the other are telling all the news and it is useless for them to write some news.
“The result is that no one writes.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
“If only they saw what excitement there was in camp with the arrival of each mail and how the one with the biggest bundle of letters ‘lords’ it over the others and how those others cast jealously envious glances at him, then I’m sure I’d get a big file, even if some were practically empty envelopes.”
The twin threats of snipers and shrapnel played on everyone’s nerves and Private Edwin Sherlock of the 6th Haurakis had no doubt about which was worse.
“I didn't mind the bullets at all, but the shrapnel was awful, for you could hear it coming long before it burst. I expected to catch some of it every minute, but, although the chaps were getting hit all round me, I never stopped a bit,” said Sherlock although he was shot in the right leg on the day of the landing.
One reason for the difference in the way the men felt was that snipers concentrated on certain known hotspots whereas shrapnel could strike anywhere as Herald man Randall Melville found out.
“I was having my breakfast at the mouth of a dug-out, at least three miles behind the firing line, in the alleged safe billet occupied by the general and his staff,” he wrote in a letter to his mother which was published in July.
“I heard a gun go off away, on the left flank — l knew that gun of old — and dropping my breakfast, I made a jump for the shelter of the dug-out.
“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I should have been all right, but … I heard the shell burst, and then felt as if a ton of bricks had hit me on the shoulder.” The worst of the sniping hotspots was formally known as Monash Valley, after an Australian officer, but to the troops it was Death Valley, Dead Man’s Valley or Suicide Valley and within it was the aptly named Sniper’s Gap or Suicide Corner.
Although most men who expressed an opinion thought the shrapnel was worse, they could vent a special fury on a sniper if they caught one.
Private Archibald Hunt of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, told a chilling story of how he and his comrades used bayonets to kill three snipers on the day of the landing.
“We were crawling along on our stomachs, when one of our men saw three snipers hiding behind some bushes. We told the lieutenant, and he ordered four of us to fix bayonets and charge them,” he said.
“We couldn't fire because of our chaps in front, so we crept back, fixed our bayonets, and waited till the shells stopped buzzing a bit, and then we ‘up and at ‘em’.
“We took them by surprise, and when we were on top of them they dropped their rifles and yelled for mercy. They got a lot of it, too. Our bayonets went in up to the hilt about a dozen times.
“Then we took the bolts out of their rifles, threw them away, and left them. They are the biggest cowards. When they see they are caught, they will not make a fight for it; they want mercy. They know that word well enough.”
The Anzacs faced a host of other enemies besides the snipers and the big guns. These began to take their toll within days of the landing.
“We have fleas, lice, and ticks now,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick on May 3, “and Captain Sinclair is fixing tubs of disinfectant on the beach for their men to soak their underclothes in.”
But these enemies, reinforced by swarms of flies, proved to be invincible.
“The flies are a dreadful nuisance. You have to brush them off just as you put each bit of food into your mouth, otherwise you eat flies, because they decline to leave the food, even when inside your mouth. We have no means of killing these pests,” wrote Fenwick.
The conditions favoured these miniature armies. It was either boiling hot or freezing cold. Either way, the lack of water made it impossible to keep clean. This applied even to Fenwick who, as a doctor, had a greater claim than most to an adequate supply of water for washing.
“Water is off. My bucket has lasted three days and is rather thick but it takes off a little dirt,” he wrote. It was not long before these little enemies began taking their toll on the health of the men through typhoid and dysentery. “We have had two months of very hard work and for the last week I’ve been suffering from dysentery, but stuck it out for the sake of the men,” wrote Lieutenant Jim Ferris of the Maori Contingent in a letter to his father.
“Throughout our forces dysentery has taken off a huge number of patients. Every day 300 or 400 men are being sent out to hospital ships, and in most cases suffering from dysentery.
“It pulls you right down until you can’t stand. I am feeling much better now, but am absolutely exhausted, and when I fall off to sleep I begin dreaming of the last week or two we had fighting.” Even the men who did not succumb to bombs and bullets or terrible diseases were affected by lack of sleep and blanketed with weariness and depression.
“Things are bad at present,” wrote Fenwick three days after the armistice. “It may have been the day I spent among the dead on Monday, or some poisoning I got from the foul air, but I am desperately melancholy. I have a desperate desire to get away for a few days’ rest and sleep.
“The sight of so many men being hit is very saddening and I don’t get used to it. It would be a huge relief to get hit oneself. I believe we are all suffering from nerve strain. It is want of sleep that hits myself hardest.”
By the end of July the New Zealand forces on Gallipoli had suffered nearly 4000 casualties – 1354 of them were dead from wounds or disease. Back home, families and friends could not avoid the reminders of the growing toll.
The daily newspapers published long lists of casualties and, every Thursday in Auckland, the Weekly News ran four pages devoted to pictures of the dead, wounded and missing.
Apart from this routine accountancy of death, there were moments when the shock was driven home with extra force.
One such moment occurred at the Auckland railway station when a cheering crowd was silenced by the sight of wounded men, in obvious pain and too weak to stand, being carried on stretchers from a hospital train. Other moments occurred in private when, because of the distance and the erratic mail service, mixed messages arrived on the fate of loved ones in the firing line.
And yet, despite the personal anguish on the home front, there were always more men to fill the gaps in the line. Every two months fresh shiploads of reinforcements were sent, usually numbering about 2000.
But two groups had to argue for the right to take part: Maori and women.
British policy at the time was that “native” troops should not be allowed to fight in wars between Europeans but this did not stop Maori volunteering.
Some tribes were very eager to take part, writes John R Broughton in How We Remember. “Ngati Porou of the East Coast were among the first tribal groups along with Te Arawa, Ngati Kahungunu, Wanganui and Ngati Apa to contact the government to offer Maori assistance in response to the Empire’s call.”
A Parliamentary committee led by Apirana Ngata and Maui Pomare raised a 500-strong Maori contingent which sailed for the Middle East in February, 1915.
The original idea was to use them for garrison duties first in Egypt and then in Malta but the warriors were not content to sit on the sidelines.
“Our ancestors were a warlike people ... the members of this war party would be ashamed to face their people at the conclusion of the war if they were to be confined entirely to garrison duty and not be given the opportunity of proving their mettle at the front,” wrote Dr Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck) who was the contingent’s medical officer.
The mounting casualties, the insistence of the men and the obvious fact that the British Army was using Indian and Gurkha troops eventually broke down this racial policy and Maori warriors landed on Gallipoli on July 3, in time to fight in the August offensive.
Women also had a struggle to be accepted as part of the direct war effort. “The New Zealand Army Nursing Service had to overcome political and bureaucratic obstacles,” writes Peter Rees in Anzac Girls. “The idea of women serving their country in war was one the government of the time found distasteful.”
One argument against their participation was that there was no need for New Zealand nurses because there were plenty in Britain. But the New Zealand Trained Nurses Association pressed their case and, as with the Maori troops, the government relented when it became obvious that they were desperately needed.
Eventually more than 500 New Zealand nurses went to war – about a quarter of all those in the country.
On the home front people did what they could to help. In the spring of 1915 the women of Auckland organised Daffodil Day to raise money to buy leather waistcoats for the troops who were about to face a bitter winter in the trenches. Herald feature writer Elsie K Morton wrote about the day with cheery optimism similar to the tone in many of the letters of the fighting men. But, as always, the tragic reality of war was not far away and it appeared in Morton’s story in the form of a woman dressed in black at one of the flower stalls.
Another Herald reporter described the moment the cheering crowd was silenced on the railway station platform.
The story of Mrs Emily Weir brought home the anguish of a mother getting mixed messages about life and death from the front line and letters from nurse Lottie Le Gallais and Lieutenant Jim Ferris convey how proud women and Maori were to take part, she setting out on a voyage of mercy aboard the hospital ship Maheno and he off to take his place in the firing line.
Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick worried about mixed messages on life and death being sent from the front.
The mail was slow and sometimes did not get through and men would write letters to contacts in Alexandria with messages to be cabled to family in New Zealand. “I think this is dangerous as one might get shot before the cable goes to NZ and the poor relatives might get word of one’s exit before the first cable arrived,” wrote Fenwick.
“A horrid idea. Just imagine one’s people getting a cable, ‘Capt. Jones killed’, and two days later another cable, ‘Quite well; much love, Harry Jones’. Enough to drive the average woman silly.”
Fenwick had good reason to worry and his morbid prediction came true for Mrs Emily Weir of Remuera.
One day in late July she received two letters about her son, Lieutenant Frederick Weir of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. The first, from his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mackesy, said her son had been shot and wounded in action on May 30.
The letter, dated June 2, expressed regrets but reassured Mrs Weir that the doctors’ reports were favourable. But Weir had later died of his wounds on the hospital ship Gascon and, in the same post, was a letter dated June 5 from the chaplain who attended him on his deathbed.
The mix-up had “accentuated” the sadness of the news said a report in the Herald. Slow communications also redoubled the grief of Nurse Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Le Gallais.
Her brother Leddra was a private in the Auckland Infantry Battalion and she wrote numerous letters urging him to write back or to come and see her on the Maheno if he could get away. “If you have not had any of my previous letters, I am on the staff of Maheno, the New Zealand Hospital ship No 1 so that address will get me,” she wrote from Port Said on August 17.
But a month later she had still not heard from him. The reason for the silence was that he had been killed in action on July 23. Lottie’s letters would eventually come back stamped with “Killed Return to Sender”.
Wellington, 7 July – We are now on our way, arrived here on Monday afternoon; yesterday went up and got sworn in.
The ship leaves on Saturday 2pm. We go on board tomorrow I believe, so very soon now we will be out of New Zealand, and I am on the staff of the ship – 10 nurses and I am one of the 10.
The ship is beautiful. “The New Zealand Hospital Ship” it is and has been subscribed to by all the people of New Zealand and she is a great white huge monster – three great red crosses on either side and green stripes – she just looks like what she is, an errand of mercy for all you men.
And very proud I am to be one of the staff.
July 17, Auckland– “Well, I hope these people will cheer today, if they never cheer again in their lives.” “Do you? I hope they don’t. It will be too sad for cheering.”
This scrap of conversation, overheard in the crowd which waited at the Auckland railway station for the coming of the hospital train, may perhaps be taken as an indication of the feelings of those who witnessed the arrival and welcoming back to Auckland of heroes from the Dardanelles.
The people cheered those men who were able to hobble to the motor cars provided for them, but when the sick men on the stretchers were carried past, it was too sad. The cheering broke off suddenly, and in the absolute silence which followed, women sobbed openly, and men’s faces hardened in the effort of self-control. The flag-bedecked engine was almost at the crossing before the people saw her. Then a great cheer went up.
As soon as the train stopped half a dozen of the returned soldiers descended to the platform. One walked straight over to the fence, where a dozen voices called to him. He shook hands with some men and kissed several girls, and there were tears in his eyes, although he was smiling delightedly.
Presently some railway porters ran along the platform calling to the people in the roped-off enclosure to stand back. The engine pushed back and then pulled forward again, leaving one-half of the train some distance down the track.
This was done so that the stretcher-bearers could enter the hospital cars from the end of one of them and carry the crippled men out without shaking them. A sloping gangway was laid from the platform of the end car to the ground. While this was being done the men who could hobble with the aid of crutches and walking sticks were being conducted to the line of motor cars.
Most of these soldiers had friends or relatives with them – women and girls with happy, yet anxious, faces, men, who tried to help the hobblers along. One big handsome youth limped with his right leg held out before him, with the knee bent! On his face was an almost apologetic smile as though he hated to be the least bother to anyone.
As another passed someone whispered. “Look at the bullet-hole in his neck.” One, with a girl walking very slowly alongside him, wore on one foot a strip of felt as a sandal. Every step was fraught with evident pain, yet he smiled in response to the cheers that greeted him.
Almost last among the men who could hobble came a boyish soldier. He was alone. Suddenly from the cluster of women whom the police were courteously moving back from the narrow lane through which the soldiers passed, a voice called in tones of mingled joy and concern “Jack!” In a few quick steps she was at his side, and he was grinning joyfully at her. And the crowd cheered happily.
The St John Ambulance workers had taken stretchers into the hospital cars. They were assisted by a squad of men of the No. 1 Field Ambulance.
Very slowly and carefully, with the hospital train doctors hovering anxiously about him, the first stretcher-borne man was disembarked. No one interfered with the two men who were carrying the stretcher, but a dozen hands were ready, in case of the least slip on the gangway, to save the soldier from the slightest jar.
From the level of the rails he and his stretcher were lifted to the platform level and carried off to the two motor-ambulances which were waiting, one being from the hospital and the other from the waterside workers’ station.
In slow sequence the other serious cases followed and were carried to the ambulances and motor cars. Then it was that the cheering broke down and the crowd looked on in sympathetic silence.
When all had been comfortably bestowed in the cars, the order was given to march. The band struck up “See the Conquering Hero Comes”, the detachment of Coast Defence Infantry, which formed the guard of honour, presented arms, and to the sound of deep-throated ringing cheers, Auckland heroes from the Dardanelles entered their home town.
“Almost last among the men who could hobble came a boyish soldier. He was alone. Suddenly from the cluster of women whom the police were courteously moving back from the narrow lane through which the soldiers passed, a voice called in tones of mingled joy and concern “Jack!” In a few quick steps she was at his side, and he was grinning joyfully at her. And the crowd cheered happily.”
September 4, Auckland – All day Monday the women at the Town Hall worked steadily, while the rain outside swished down in drenching deluge and a hurricane tore at the tiny green shoots on the oak trees and beat to earth the spring blooms in Auckland’s gardens.
They worked with skilful fingers, but heavy hearts; who could even think of a daffodil day with pavements running in water and a wind that blew your umbrella inside out if you so much as ventured across the street?
Yet all day long the daffodils came in in a golden stream, and not daffodils only, but roses, freesias, violets, primroses, all the loveliest of garden blooms, and even the choicest of spring’s wild flowers, golden kowhai and starry clematis. In rows of tubs, in baskets, in boxes, they lay round the big room in exquisite confusion, and the scent of them was the quintessence of all the fragrant loveliness of spring.
At long tables women stood hour after hour, weaving tiny flowers into buttonholes, arranging daffodils and violets into tempting bunches. Only woman optimism could have worked so well in the face of threatening disaster— and once again, woman optimism scored a win.
The clouds rolled by, the stars shone out, and Daffodil Day, the day on which all Auckland was to remember its sick and wounded as well as its fighting soldiers dawned with that clearness and fairness and fragrance which only comes with the morning after the rain.
And so it came about that Queen Street’s early workers saw a sight denied its army of nine-o’clockers, an enthusiastic company of women energetically at work building up the stalls which were to be the base of floral operations.
When businessmen and girls came crowding in from boat and train and tram, they beheld a Queen Street transformed with bowers of trellis-work all cunningly hidden with forest greenery, nikau ponga, lycopodium, clematis, even spreading branches of flowering kowhai.
Very few of these people got past even the first few stations without a reminder that Daffodil Day was inaugurated for a definite purpose quite apart from the merely picturesque, a purpose which included every individual who set foot in Queen Street that day. So never for a moment were they allowed to forget the cause which comes first today in all hearts.
From Ferry Building to Wellesley Street the wayfarer found his path blocked every 20 yards or so by an insistent white-clad damsel with basket beribboned and bedecked, and in the early hours of the morning all were willing purchasers.
The sun shone down brilliantly from blue skies all the morning and befitted the occasion; the gods of wind and weather realised what was their manifest duty, and lent their aid.
But very soon the last available daffodil, the last lone violet had vanished – and therein lay the only disappointment of Daffodil Day; not that there were not sufficient buyers, but that the supply was out of all proportion to the overwhelming and generous demand.
It was inevitable that the purpose of the collection should make direct and personal appeal to the hearts of the people, for the gallant sick and wounded, and the men fighting on Gallipoli and facing its bitter winter, are the men who only one short year ago were in our midst, strong and eager to be up and doing, little knowing the glory and the tragedy mercifully hidden in the year that was to be.
A woman dressed in deepest black drew out her purse and dropped a coin in the box. “No, keep the flowers,” she said quietly. “Get all you can for them. I had two sons out there; I thought one of them might have come back to me, but it was not to be. But, I can’t forget all the others.”
And she passed on—one of the mothers who are showing the world how women can still tread bravely the road to Calvary.
Right on into the brief blue twilight the flower-sellers pursued their campaign till nothing was left to sell.
The city lights gleamed out one after another, and their brightness fell on thronging crowds returning homeward with all the spoils of the day, each with the consciousness of having helped in the great cause in which loyal and loving hearts of the homeland are united in bonds unbreakable.
Early June, Malta – We have just had good news. Lord Methuen is going to wire to Kitchener that we are ready for the front, and from now on we have our instructions to be in readiness to move at eight hours’ notice.
When the men realised that they at last had real hopes of going, “Ka mate, ka mate” rent the air. They cheered and shouted for joy, and a holiday was granted to celebrate the occasion.
Tell everybody that we are going to the front, and that every soul to a man is happy to do so. They must see what a great event it is for the Maori race. No one must worry a bit. We are going and we are coming back — but we are not going to retire, until we’ve slaughtered enough of the enemy to make amends for the friends we’ve lost.
Tom Broughton was killed outright at the Dardanelles. He fought like a real oId Maori warrior. He was, by the way, in the Australian forces. We tried to get him to join us in Egypt, but his officers would not let him.
Do not fear for us. God I know will keep us and bring us safely to you, and we are full of confidence that we will succeed in our task. God bless you all.
Despite the optimism in many of the letters, the soldiers could hardly disguise the hard truth: they were, as Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick put it privately, like rats in a trap.
They had expected to fight across the peninsula to reach their objective of Mal Tepe in about three days. Now, three and a half months later, they had advanced no further than the original perimeter of April 25.
The men were in poor physical shape, malnourished and afflicted by disease. When the Fifth Reinforcements landed on August 8, one veteran could not help but notice how, in contrast to himself, these new men were clean, smart and in good condition.
“The fifth were taking stock of me at the same time as I was weighing them up,” he wrote. “I was wearing a uniform that was torn in all directions. My boots, once black, were a dirty white, owing to the leather getting dry and cracking.
“I had lost my pack, but had a water bottle with a huge dent in it, a haversack with a hole in it, and a few biscuits and a tin of bully beef peeping out. I was as thin as a herring and had not had a wash for 12 days, nor a haircut for two months.”
The commanders planned to use this ragtag army of thin men as the spearhead of a master plan to break the deadlock.
They could see no chance of advancing at Cape Helles so they planned a complicated series of coordinated attacks to capture the high ground of the Sari Bair ranges which overlooked Anzac Cove. The attack would be led by the Anzacs supported by two British divisions landing at Suvla Bay to the north.
The initial objectives were three points on the high ground: Chunuk Bair, Hill Q and Hill 971 or Koja Chemen Tepe. Those objectives would be reached by a series of attacks and feints with each Anzac unit assigned a particular task.
The attack began with an artillery barrage at 4.30pm followed by feints at Lone Pine and Cape Helles. From about 8.30 that night the New Zealand troops began their silent advance to seize their initial objectives and open the way to the heights.
They attacked with bayonets quickly taking the Old No 3 Post, Big Table Top, Destroyer Hill and Little Table Top.
The stiffest opposition came on Bauchop’s Hill where the Otago Mounted Rifles had a hard fight, losing 100 men including their commander, Colonel Arthur Bauchop. It was a promising start but the rough terrain, compounded by the darkness, disrupted the army, as it had done on the day of the landing.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
How the battle unfolded has long been the subject of controversy among military historians but, allowing for the different points of view and the distortion caused by the fog of war, it was broadly as follows.
Whole regiments lost their way and the ravines and gullies – especially Chailak Dere – became jammed with troops trying to move into position on time. At dawn the Wellington Infantry reached the Apex, the point at the head of Chailak Dere where Rhododendron Ridge and Cheshire Ridge intersected just 500m from Chunuk Bair.
Where Anzac units were assigned in the August 6 offensive
Bauchop’s Hill: Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles.
Old No. 3 Post: Auckland Mounted Rifles and Maori Contingent
The Table Top and Destroyer Ridge: Wellington Mounted Rifles.
Rhododendron Ridge: Otago Infantry Battalion
Southern end of Rhododendron Ridge: Canterbury Infantry Battalion
Chunuk Bair: Otago Infantry and Wellington Infantry with Auckland in reserve.
The Nek: Australian Light Horse on Russell’s Top coordinated with the NZ Infantry assault on Chunuk Bair.
Hill Q and Hill 971 (Koja Chemen Tepe): 29th Indian Brigade and 4th Australian Infantry
But they were not ready to launch the planned dawn attack and so were not in position when the time came for a coordinated assault on the Nek. The Australian Light Horse went ahead with that attack anyway and were repulsed by machine-gun fire with heavy casualties.
The first New Zealand attempt on Chunuk Bair was to have a similar outcome. It was mid-morning before the Auckland Infantry Battalion began its advance. The 6th Haurakis of Major Sam Grant, were the leading platoon with the 15th North Aucklanders next and a platoon of Gurkhas.
Machine-guns quickly accounted for 300 killed or wounded, including Major Grant, and the survivors had no choice but to take cover in a shallow trench 400m from their objective. The attack was renewed in the early hours of August 8 with Lieutenant Colonel William Malone’s Wellington Infantry at the spearhead of a force which included regiments from the British Army.
Wellington’s Hawkes Bay Company led the way with the West Coast Company on the left. As they advanced they passed the dead and wounded from the Auckland charge of the morning before.
Fortune smiled on the Wellingtons – for the moment at least. For some reason, possibly to reinforce their line against the Australian feint at Lone Pine – the Turks had withdrawn most of the defenders and the hill was finally taken.
When the dawn rose, the invaders were able to see the straits of the Dardanelles for the first and only time in the campaign.
It did not take long before the Turks realised their mistake in leaving the door open and mounted a series of heavy counter attacks to regain the lost ground.
Three regiments of the British New Army replaced the New Zealanders but in a ferocious counter-attack Turkish forces under Mustafa Kemal recaptured Chunuk Bair on August 10. The attacks on Hill Q and Hill 971 also failed as did another one against Hill 60 three weeks later.
Two New Zealanders were awarded the Victoria Cross during the August offensive. Corporal Cyril Bassett, a signalman, received his VC for his courage in laying a telephone line between Chunuk Bair and headquarters and repeatedly repairing them in the face of heavy enemy fire.
Captain Alfred Shout, a New Zealander serving with the Australian Infantry, was awarded the VC for his valour in capturing two trenches in heavy fighting at Lone Pine.
August offensive were to write about it in letters home, some of them from their hospital beds in Egypt or England.
Captain Henare Wainohu, chaplain of the Maori Contingent, sent to his wife a copy of the moving address he made to the men before they went in to battle, urging them to be of good courage and fearless in the face of the enemy.
Corporal William Johns described how the Waikato section of the Auckland Mounted Rifles captured the Old No 3 Post.
Sergeant Julian Brook was wounded when the Auckland infantry made the first attack on Chunuk Bair.
Lieutenant Jim Ferris wrote a letter to his father saying he had seen his brother Donald killed while manning a machine gun on Rhododendron Ridge on the morning of August 8.
E nga uri toa a te whanau kotahi, whakarongo mai ki a au, ki to koutou tuakana, ki to koutou kaitohutohu i nga mea ki te tinana i nga mea hoki ki te wairua. Ko aku kupu enei ki a koutou ara kia maia kia toa. Kia u kei taea te whakangāueue, kia kotahi te whakaaro ko te whiwhi anake ki te kororia.
Kia mahara he toa ō koutou tūpuna i mua i a koutou, a, ko koutou ā ratou uri. Kei te kapu ringaringa noaiho to koutou tokomaha i waenganui i tenei mano mano hunga whawhai.
Kei te titiro whakatōngātia koutou e te tangata, kei te patai ratou i tenei patai i roto i a ratou na, “He pewhea ra te ahua o tenei iwi i haramai rawa nei i nga topito o te ao? He aha ranei te rawa e pahure i a ratou.”
No reira e aku teina whakakitea te ahua o tatou tupuna-whakaritea e tatou o ratau rongo toa. Ma koutou ka kitea ai i tenei ra, ma koutou ranei ka kino ai te ingoa o tatou tūpuna. I a tatou ka kokiri nei kaua rawa hei tahuri whakamuri, engari ahu whakamua, me te haere tonu kia taea rano te wikitoria.
E mohio ana au ko etahi o tatou e tu nei e kore e tu tahi ano penei me tatou e tu nei inaianei.
Otira, auatu, pai ake to tatou hinga roto i enei awaawa i runga i enei hiwi i te rongo kino ki te ahu whakamuri ki te wa kainga ki te iwi. No reira e aku taina kia maia. Kaua hei wehi hei mataku i te aroaro o te hoariri, puritia te ingoa o to tatou iwi Maori, kaua rawa hei tukuna kia tere i te wai.
Meake nei paku to koutou rongo toa i runga i enei maunga ki nga wahi katoa o te ao, ano he ahi nui e kore rawa e taea te tinei. Kia mahara ki tetahi whakatauki a o tatou tūpuna “Ahakoa iti te kōpara, kai takarikiri ana i runga i te kahikatea.”
No reira e mea ana au ki a koutou kia kaha kia eketia e koutou a runga o nga maunga ra i tenei ata.
Fellow members of a brave family listen unto me, your elder and adviser in things spiritual and corporeal. My words to you are: be brave, he valiant. Be firm and determined in your hearts and in your minds to win success.
Remember you are the descendants of brave and warlike ancestors. You are only a handful of warriors amongst the many thousands of men here.
These people are watching you; they are asking within themselves: What manner of men are these who have come from the ends of the earth? Will they justify their presence?
So therefore, my brothers, do not forget that the name and honour of the Maori people lies in your hands today —to make or to mar. When you charge the enemy, never turn back, but go on, and on, and on to victory.
I know that some of us now here will never again stand together with us. But it would be better for us all to be dead in these hollows and on the tops of these mountains than for a whisper of dishonour to go back to the old people at home.
Therefore, my brothers, be of good courage. Be fearless in the face of the enemy and keep up the prestige and high name of the Maori race. You will by your noble deeds light such a fire on the mountains that it can never be quenched.
Remember that old ancient proverb of our ancestors: “Small and insignificant as is the kopara (native bellbird), yet swings he to and thro on the highest branch of the tallest kahika tree.”
Accordingly, I desire you to reach the top of those mountains this morning
Reproduced with permission from Monty Soutar’s forthcoming book Maori in the First World War.
Evening August 6, Old No 3 Outpost
At 9.30pm the Aucklanders were to attack the old No 3 outpost, further inland — from which the New Zealanders had been driven some time before, with heavy loss to the Wellington Mounted Rifles and this was to be the signal for a general advance along the whole line.
To forestall any attempts at deception by khaki Germans or Turks, each man sewed a white band on his sleeve and a square patch on his back. The men went forward with empty rifles: an accidental shot might have alarmed the Turks.
You can imagine the regiment creeping stealthily up a steep-sided, narrow valley, with Turks watching us for all that we knew.
The password was “Godley” and the counter-sign “success” — good omens.
We waited at the foot of the outpost hill for the signal to scale the hill. This was the turning-off of the gunboat’s searchlight from the outpost. Off it went, and up the hill we scrambled, falling and tripping, but holding our lines tightly and getting up. So completely surprised were the Turks that very few were in the front trenches, and many of these, and those in the rear trenches, were asleep.
There was a short bayonet and bomb struggle and then we had all the front trenches. Before many hours were past, the Turks, who had not cleared out were either prisoner or dead. Lieutenant Mackesy, and others, were killed here.
It had been a complete success, and our losses were slight. About 3am we heard that the English, to the north, had come round and taken those famous guns, the one at Anafarta and the 75 that had been taken from the French.
Nearly all our shrapnel casualties had been due to that accursed former gun.
At 4am, when dawn broke, we were astounded to see the bay chock-a-block with cruisers, torpedo-destroyers, mine-sweepers, etc., while to the north, at the salt lake, were transports galore, which had been and were now landing great numbers of English troops under shell fire.
It was a magnificent sight. Then the cruisers opened a direct fire of big shells on to the Turks’ trenches in front of Walker’s Ridge, which place we had been holding for three months.
We thought that not a Turk could live there, and expected to see the whole face of the hill torn up. Yet, when the English, who had replaced us there, went out to attack, they were simply mown down by machine-guns and bombs, and could not hold even the first trench.
At daybreak, also, we were astounded to see all the gullies around and in front of us full of men with white badges. Those in the rear were taking cover, while part of the way up the hill the battle was raging fiercely.
In taking the outpost we had forced the Turks to concentrate on the next ridge, which runs up to the famous Hill 971.
The battle over there was like a moving picture. Once, with glasses, I could see a German officer on the skyline of that ridge, waving his sword above his head. I could see the Turks massing, then stand up and advance down the hill towards our front line, firing continuously.
Our rifle fire was thinning them out when suddenly a gun got on to them. A shell would burst, and when the smoke cleared there would not be a sign of life.
Too late, they turned, but only a few wounded crawled back over the skyline. It was the first thing of the kind I had seen, and it was thrilling.
The laugh was not always on our side though, as our casualty list will show. That morning we had an interesting time ransacking the Turks’ bivouacs. They lived in luxury and must have had women bringing them baskets of grapes, etc.
Morning August 7, first assault on Chunuk Bair
We were told that evening [Aug 4] that the enemy would be attacked at every point in the line and at Cape Helles. At 10.30pm on August 6 we marched out, still to the left, and at midnight passed our last outpost.
We could hear British cheers ahead. The South Island infantry battalions and mounted infantry, the Maoris, and Gurkhas were ahead of us and it was their cheers we heard as they captured position after position.
Soon we began to meet strings of prisoners coming in and shells from two warships flew over our heads. We went on slowly over the newly conquered ground, and at daybreak found ourselves in a Turkish rest gully. There were a lot of prisoners there, who had been so surprised that our advance guard had captured the stew for their morning’s breakfast.
We went on up the valley, and, after wearisome climbing, halted for breakfast.
We got orders to climb to the left, and finally reached the most advanced position possible under cover.
We were drawn up in platoons, in single line. As the 3rd Auckland Company was away on escort duty, there were 12 lines, each a yard apart, the 6th Haurakis under Major Sinel being the first four lines, then the 15th Company, and then the 16th Waikatos.
Being in the 9th platoon I was thus in the fifth line, and acting as platoon sergeant. A half battalion of Gurkhas was dressed up right against our left. Our Colonel – Colonel Young – addressed us: “The Auckland Battalion and the Gurkhas will charge in five minutes’ time, over this hill into a valley, across which is a hill with two Turkish trenches; the 6th Hauraki will take the first trench and the 15th North Auckland the second, the 16th supporting.”
Really it was quite a dramatic moment. I knew that it would be no child’s play to charge a prepared position that we had never seen, in broad daylight.
A sort of hush fell, and probably some of us were thinking and wondering which of us would not see the sun set that night.
Five minutes up we all stood up, and suddenly the Gurkhas slipped out and got into their favourite diamond formation. They whipped out their kukris, Major Sinel said something, and we all bounded forward.
A few seconds brought us to the top of the rise and the front line began to fall.
“Come on, men,” Major Sinel yelled.
We pulled ourselves together and swept forward over the ridge into a leaden hail. Down the hill we went and across a flat and up a rise.
Going up the rise, I could see the two Turkish trenches 50yds away, and the Turks in the top one blazing away while machine-guns hammered at our flanks. Following old soldiers’ advice, I had my head up, and of my own company no one was ahead of me.
I had done nearly a hundred yards, but felt as if I was running on air, when all at once someone seemed to hit me in the face with a pick, and my head hit the ground.
Morning August 8, Rhododendron Ridge
If there is a thing I want to forget it is the advance of the 8 August, and my poor brother, lying dead by his gun.
But sad as it all is, I cannot recall him without a feeling of honour and pride. He died, as I always knew he would, fighting like a tiger, and with defiance on his face.
I saw the whole, thing. We were up with General Johnson's brigade, and our troops were advancing across some very open country (on the hills).
As they moved off, the enemy entrenched all round and above us, mowed them down with rifle, machine-gun, and shrapnel fire. They just mowed the colonials down at first. Then our machine-guns got to work. Donald, with his officer (Lieut. Walden) and the machine-gun section, moved up into position, the most exposed of all the gun positions.
They got their gun mounted, and Lieut. Walden sat down to take the range, when he was shot through the heart. Don, who, was next in command, immediately took up his position, and let them have it for all he was worth.
Then the gun was silent, and he rolled over dead, like his officer, shot through the heart. Seven more men from his section were shot down I but still they kept their gun going.
We were so proud of our fellows. One gets callous to feeling for those killed around one but I never in all my calculations counted on my brother being killed, and the shock dazed me all day.
We soon got our orders to advance and take up a post on the left. The enemy were only three and four hundred yards away, and for two hundred yards we were under their fire.
Pitt led the way and followed, not far behind, with my men.
The Turks opened fire, and our fellows just ran across that open stretch of country as if they were on the football field. I was crying my heart out all the way over, and never noticed a shot or that five of the men with me had been hit.
We eventually got under cover, and entrenched, and then Wepiha and Dr Buck came over to me. After they left, I felt a lot of comfort and remembered my duties to those, of us yet living.
My word, father, it was hard work, that night and all the next day. Water was very scarce and food hard to get, and sleep impossible. Our fellows hung it out without a murmur, and to-day have proved to the world their coolness and daring.
On the night of the 9th we were relieved, and returned to our rest camp. We were all absolutely exhausted, and fell off to sleep almost immediately. The next day two of our fellows went out to bury Don. They could not get at him till dark.
You will all be cut up I know, and I'm dreading to hear how mother is going to take it. But I am lucky to be alive. Anyone coming out of a fight here is lucky in the extreme.
Through an attack, a man has 1000 chances of being bit, and when he comes through without a scratch he is fortunate. All day long poor fellows are dropping down dead beside you, and we put our teeth together and know there is another life Turkey will have to account for. We started our attack on the night of 6 August. I always call it the silent advance.
Trenches and trenches were taken by the colonial troops without a shot, the bayonet only being used. It was a great time for the Maoris. They simply had the time of their lives, and above everyone else that night you could tell our charges.
A savage burst of a haka, a wild Maori roar, and then their bayonets. All the colonial troops swear by our men and cannot say enough for them. Poor August Paku was blown to pieces by a shell on the 20th.
I do not know how long they are going to keep us in England, but if I ever return to the Dardanelles I'm taking back a stone for my brother's grave. He is buried right on the top of the hill he was killed on.
New Zealand’s role was to be part of a force – including Australians, British and Gurkhas – tasked with taking Hill 60 which lay between the Anzac and Suvla sectors. Battles on August 21 and 27 were to be the last major engagements of the Gallipoli campaign, and like the other major offensives failed at heavy cost after some initial successes.
New Zealand casualties for August were 3375, nearly as many as in the previous three months’ fighting.
To make matters worse winter was coming, the heat and flies of summer were about to give way to storms and blizzards.
The call went out in New Zealand for the fundraisers to raise money for winter gear: sheepskin coats, balaclavas and gloves. But moves were already underway to end the agony of Gallipoli and an important factor in the decision was an 8000-word letter written by journalist Keith Murdoch to Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher.
Murdoch (father of Rupert) was appalled by the conditions he found when he visited Gallipoli in September and even more disgusted by the stories he was told of poor decision-making and confusion among generals who squandered their troops’ lives in futile attacks.
And then there was the disease.
“The flies are spreading dysentery to an alarming extent … we must be evacuating fully 1000 sick and wounded men every day,” he wrote. “When the autumn rains come and unbury our dead, now lying under a light soil in our trenches, sickness must increase. Even now the stench in many of our trenches is sickening.”
The letter, which breached Murdoch’s undertaking to submit anything he wrote to military censorship, sheeted the ultimate blame home to General Hamilton. The men held the general in contempt, he said, and any solution had to begin with his recall.
Hamilton was furious when he heard about it: “No gentleman would have said it, and no gentleman will believe it.”
But many did believe it.
In the same way that soldiers’ private letters and diaries gave a different impression to the cheery optimism of their censored and published words, Murdoch’s work was an antidote to Hamilton’s despatches in which victory was always just around the next corner.
The Murdoch letter was circulated among British cabinet members many of whom were already questioning the Gallipoli campaign and were frustrated by Hamilton’s reports.
In mid-October, Hamilton was replaced by Lieutenant General Sir Charles Monro and planning for the evacuation soon began.
It was a delicate and dangerous operation to withdraw by sea an army which, with reinforcements, now numbered 134,000 in the face of a superior enemy force who would surely have launched an attack had they realised what was happening.
But it went off almost without a hitch. “The only successful British operation on the peninsula – its evacuation,” writes Jock Vennell, biographer of Major-General Andrew Russell who commanded the rearguard.
The evacuation began on the night of December 15, the troops leaving behind booby traps and self-firing guns to deceive the men on the heights into thinking they were still there.
Vennell wrote that if the Turks were to attack, the rearguard were expected to stand and fight like the Spartans at Thermopylae.
After four nights only 10,000 men were left. Of these, 8000 were taken off the beach on the evening of December 19. In the early hours of the following morning the last 2000 men pulled out.
One of the last to leave was Sergeant Joe Gasparich of the 15th North Auckland Company, who had returned to Gallipoli after recovering from the wound he suffered when shot by a sniper during the charge of the Daisy Patch.
For the rest of his life he recalled those last moments on the peninsula as he made his way to the beach from his post on Rhododendron Spur, through the trenches and down Chailak Dere where the troops had been jammed on the night the August offensive began.
“It was 2.30 in the morning and everything was so absolutely, eerily empty,” he told Chris Pugsley and Maurice Shadbolt when they interviewed him in the early 1980s.
“The trenches were solid with ice, and I could hear the sound of my boots echoing right down the trench, down the gully, running ahead of me.
“Talk about empty! I was alone at last, for the first time in the war, absolutely alone; it was quite weird. I heard a rather unnerving wail from the Turk trenches at one stage, which suggested an imminent attack – at least in my nervous and solitary state.
“I didn’t see a soul until I finally made my rendezvous with the chap in charge of the evacuation. Soon after that it was all over. We were all off, still grieving for those we left behind.”
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
Total allied casualties
Source: NZ History online
Flags were everywhere. They flew from every mast on all the ships in the harbour and decorated the main buildings of Queen St where, in the afternoon, 300 veterans marched from Quay St to the Town Hall for a citizens’ memorial service.
Fifty of the men had to travel by car because they were still on crutches.
As they made their way slowly up the street the crowd swelled. Every vantage point was taken and in some places so many spilled onto the road there was hardly any room for the parade to pass by.
When the Gallipoli men entered the Town Hall the capacity audience rose as one and applauded.
The service began with God Save the Queen and the Anglican Bishop of Auckland, Dr Alfred Averill, gave the keynote address in which he declared the Gallipoli campaign a “moral victory” and stressed the importance of Empire and freedom.
“We know enough to refute the foolish idea that our boys died in vain,” he said to applause. “They represented New Zealand’s sense of honour and gratitude, New Zealand’s loyalty to King and Empire, and by giving their lives they have helped to weld the Empire in imperishable bonds.”
To more applause he added: “They have proved the worthiness of the nation to take its place in the great family of free nations in the Empire.”
Bishop Averill’s “imperishable bonds” have long since disappeared but the annual commemoration of Anzac has, if anything, grown in importance.
In the 100 years since that first Anzac Day, the story of what happened on Gallipoli has been told and retold in countless articles, books, plays, films and television programmes.
Every generation reinterprets the story for itself. A number of contradictory themes weave in and out of the discussion: empire, freedom, national identity and pacifism.
These ideas produced different answers to questions about what Anzac Day means.
There were times when it seemed the tradition would wither, especially with the fading of personal grief in the 1930s and the loud protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s.
And yet Anzac Day has lost none of its power to move New Zealanders. It became a commemoration of the sacrifices made in all wars, not just the Gallipoli campaign.
And in time it became a beacon of New Zealand identity. With Waitangi Day, one of the two most important anniversaries on the national calendar. Perhaps the best explanation for its enduring importance despite debates over war and peace, lies in a fifth theme that cuts across all the others: family connections.
The most prominent themes of the first Anzac Days were those identified by Bishop Averill. April 25 was “the day which commemorates our part in the war of freedom”, said a Herald editorial in 1920. .
“It is the day dedicated to our soldiers … a day of solemn memories, but it is also a day of splendid visions and there is no vision more vital and inspiring than this of the whole Empire labouring, without distinction of class, or creed, or race, for the common service of humanity.”
The public rhetoric in speeches and editorials was grandiose. A recurring point was to compare the deeds of the Anzacs to the classical Athenians who had fought in the Persian Wars of the 5th century BC and later, in the Peloponnesian War, against the might of their former allies, the Spartans.
Like the Athenians, the argument ran, the Anzacs were a citizen army fighting for freedom. These imperial and classical ideas were not confined to the pulpit or the printed page, they were also expressed in the neoclassical architecture of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, built in the 1920s with money from a public subscription topped up by government and council grants.
The museum has many references to the Parthenon built at the height of Athenian power in the 5th century BC.
The eight columns at the north entrance replicate the eight Doric columns at each end of the Parthenon. A frieze on the outside showing New Zealanders at war, is a reference to the external frieze of the ancient building with its scenes of mythical battles.
Inscribed on the lintel is a famous quotation from the funeral oration of the Athenian leader Pericles in praise of the citizen soldiers who fell in the war with Sparta: “The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men.”
The British imperial connection is made through the Cenotaph which stands on the court of honour in front of the museum and is a replica of the Cenotaph at Whitehall erected at the end of World War I.
In How We Remember, historian Jock Phillips argues the grand language of the Anzac commemorations and memorials does not reflect the sentiments of the soldiers as recorded in their private diaries and letters.
Certainly there were many – such as the doctor Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick and the Maheno’s third mate John Duder – whose private words burn with anger at the stupidity and horror of war.
But others wrote in terms very close to the high-flying sentiments of the editorials, speeches and inscriptions.
“We are sons of an Empire of which the foundation-stone is liberty, and which is dedicated to the proposition that no man can stand on its shores and be a slave,” wrote Corporal Fred Hall-Jones in a letter to his father after he had been wounded.
The letter, which in part reads like a paraphrase of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, affirms Corporal Hall-Jones’ belief that the Anzacs’ cause was not only just but worth dying for.
At a time when Anzac is so closely connected to the idea of New Zealand identity, it is easy to overlook the great emotional pull of the imperial connection at the time of the fighting.
When Lance Corporal George Tuck was wounded and taken to Malta he was made to feel English.
“We were English soldiers, fighting for our English homes, and one with all the English born,” he wrote to his father in Mt Eden.
The imperial idea connected New Zealanders to Australians as well. Private F E Hutchinson of the No 1 Field Artillery wrote to his wife after attending an Anzac concert on the island of Lemnos saying he felt the Dominions were bound by closer bonds than ever before.
“At the conclusion the National Anthem was sung, and you should have heard it to realise how it should be sung,” he wrote, and he was not referring to either God Defend New Zealand or Advance Australia Fair.
The connected ideas of Empire and fighting for freedom against tyranny remained prominent themes in Anzac Day editorials for years.
When World War II was over, the Herald argued that Britain needed to maintain its imperial connections to preserve its influence over world affairs in the interests of freedom-loving people.
But the sun was already setting on the Empire; it was to be replaced by other arrangements such as the Anzus Treaty, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of the English-speaking nations and commitments to the United Nations. Throughout these changes, the idea of being ready to fight for freedom against tyranny and, later, terrorism endured.
The point was underscored in a Herald editorial supporting the Key Government’s decision – announced two months before the 100th Anzac Day – to send troops to help train the Iraqi army for the fight against Isis.
“They will personify, once more, their country’s willingness to stand up for what is right.”
Ideas of nationhood were part of the discussion about Gallipoli from the beginning but they were qualified by the Empire on one hand and the partnership with Australia on the other.
“New Zealanders are worthy of their country, and of their liberties and of the Empire,” declared the Herald in its editorial marking the first Anzac commemoration in 1916.
Archival audio from the Radio New Zealand collection at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.
Ten years later it stressed the importance of the transtasman connection when it argued that, in this part of the world, April 25 should be the main commemoration of World War I rather than the more generally observed Armistice Day, November 11.
“Under our southern skies no anniversary has at once so general and so local an import as Anzac Day. It belongs to Australia and New Zealand.”
The connection and camaraderie between the transtasman neighbours comes through strongly in the letters written by the troops on Gallipoli, especially those that describe the first day when the Army was fragmented by the terrain and New Zealanders and Australians were all mixed up together.
Private Steele’s account typified the spirit. When an Australian fighting alongside him was shot, it was Steele who went to his aid. Moments later Steele was hit himself and the Australian returned the favour, dressing his wound.
Contemporary newspaper reports, and the soldiers’ letters, often refer to “colonials” or “Australasians” to distinguish them from the other nationalities fighting at Gallipoli.
But that changed after the Empire was gone and Britain turned its back on old loyalties in the early 1970s to pursue a future with Europe.
Instead of being a story of imperial cooperation, Gallipoli was recast as the furnace in which the national identities of two nations were forged. Each had its own version. The popular expression of the Australian story was Peter Weir’s 1981 film Gallipoli, the climax of which was the futile charge on The Nek during the August offensive.
New Zealand’s Gallipoli story was told in Maurice Shadbolt’s play Once on Chunuk Bair in which the lead character stresses to a British general that it is the New Zealanders who are holding the high ground: “Yes, Fernleaves, man. Not Australians. Not Britons. New Zealanders.”
During the 1980s Shadbolt and the military historian Christopher Pugsley were leading figures in retelling the Gallipoli story as a key event in the emergence of national consciousness and the formation of the national character.
As well as Shadbolt’s famous play, they interviewed some of the last surviving veterans for the TVNZ documentary Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story and produced two books – Pugsley’s history with the same name as the documentary and Shadbolt’s Voices of Gallipoli which contains transcripts of the interviews. One of the men they spoke to was Sergeant Joe Gasparich, the Auckland infantry man who was one of the last to leave.
“Indeed, sir. Indeed we’re bloody well holding on. You’ll soon have no colonial louts left to lead. Yes, Fernleaves, man. Not Australians. Not Britons. New Zealanders. ”
Lieutenant Colonel Connolly
“Gallipoli made me more proud of being a New Zealander,” he said.
“The shaping of the New Zealand character had been going on for a long time, but you could say that Gallipoli, terrible though it was, consolidated the character of the New Zealander.”
Shadbolt said the “new and tender nationalism” nourished on Gallipoli became assertive in the 1980s when New Zealand reconsidered traditional connections and defied bullying allies.
But he wanted to remind people that the “rough prospectus of our nationhood” was prepared on Gallipoli.
“The men who sailed off to Gallipoli may have gone as citizens of the Empire; those who voyaged home were unmistakably New Zealanders. For them the mystique of Empire, of Britain as the motherland, had perished on Chunuk Bair.”
An important aspect of this national character was to distinguish New Zealanders from Australians as well as the British. This is the difference proclaimed so emphatically by the hero of Shadbolt’s play.
In Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story, Pugsley writes that the Australians were temperamentally more suited to attack but the New Zealanders distinguished themselves by holding the gains that had been made.
Another difference, even more important, was the role played by Maori troops in the New Zealand story of Gallipoli.
They announced their presence with a haka at Anzac Cove which could be heard in the Turkish trenches on Sari Bair.
It gladdened the hearts of Pakeha soldiers who recorded their pleasure at the sound of it in many diaries and letters.
The camaraderie between them was evident in a story told by a Maori soldier on the docks in Dunedin when he returned to New Zealand on the Tofua in October.
During the fighting near the Old No 3 Post in August, Platoon 4 of the Maori Contingent was preparing to attack a trench in the dark when the occupants called out that they were New Zealanders.
At first the warriors did not believe them, assuming it was the Turks playing a trick. But fortunately an officer with the Auckland Mounted Rifles spoke Maori and was able to defuse what might have become a nasty incident of friendly fire.
“Lucky for you, you didn’t attack that trench,” said an Auckland soldier standing next to the story teller with a laugh.
“Lucky for you we didn’t,” said the warrior. Joking aside, the Gallipoli campaign was just as important for Maori identity as it was for the Pakeha..
“Our people’s voluntary service in the Great War gave a new and glorious tradition to the story of the Maori race,” wrote MP Sir Maui Pomare in his introduction to James Cowan’s 1926 book The Maoris in the Great War.
“It gave the crowning touch to the sense of citizenship in the British Commonwealth; it satisfied in the one fitting fashion the intense desire of the Maori to prove to the world that he was the equal of the pakeha in the fullest sense – physically, mentally and spiritually.”
The idea of war as a shaper of national or community character is a powerful one but it leaves out much. It is a masculine character. Where are the women in the shaping of national identity? And what of those who objected to the war or were left broken and disillusioned by it?
“It satisfied in the one fitting fashion the intense desire of the Maori to prove to the world that he was the equal of the Pakeha. ”
Sir Maui Pomare, preface to James Cowan’s The Maoris in the Great War.
In 1931 there was some concern in Auckland that the number of old soldiers attending Anzac Day ceremonies appeared to be down.
A Herald editorial suggested the reason might be the waning of personal grief but a columnist who went by the pen-name Gunner had his own ideas.
One reason, according to Gunner, was modesty; the feeling among many that to march wearing their medals would be seen as parading their personal service rather than honouring the dead.
Another was that some men could not bear the emotional pain of the ceremony. Yet another was apathy. And some did not turn out because they assumed the day commemorated only the Gallipoli campaign and not the other battles of World War I.
There were plenty of other reasons which Gunner did not mention.
Some of the men – especially those who had lost limbs – were in no physical shape to go marching. They spent years, sometimes the rest of their lives, living in old soldiers’ homes like the Evelyn Firth centre.
They had lost their independence. The lucky ones got around on crutches, the others were confined to wheelchairs pushed by nurses. Instead of their original occupations, they took part in make-work schemes such as the manufacture of party decorations and poppies.
Some of the veterans were disabled in mind and spirit by a condition known as “shell shock” which affected them for years in peculiar and tragic ways. Many reports in the newspapers linked shell shock to suicide and sometimes the men forgot who they were.
In the 1920s the best-known example was George McQuay of Stratford in Taranaki who went to Gallipoli with the Fifth Reinforcements.
He lost his memory when buried in rubble by an artillery barrage in France in 1916 and was mistakenly identified as an Australian.
He was taken to Australia where he was found 12 years later in a Sydney mental hospital and brought back to his family. He was 30 when he went to war and 42 when he came home, still struggling to remember who he was and suffering from terrible headaches.
Shell shock caused great suffering to ex-soldiers’ wives and families as well.
Mrs Eva Jeffries described to an Auckland court in April 1929 what it was like to live with a shell shocked man.
Normally her husband Victor was good to the children and quite all right, she said. But he became violent and verbally aggressive when in his “fits”. He would threaten to cremate her and the children and sometimes he said he could see gun holes in the walls and he believed enemies were peering at him through field glasses.
He practised bayonet charges on her, using a broomstick and he frequently beat her with his fists.
In February 1929 he went to stay at the Evelyn Firth centre but suddenly appeared at home two months later and punched his wife on the mouth drawing blood. The children were terrified.
She was quite prepared to forgive him, if only he would get treatment. The judge remanded him to a mental hospital.
The formal ceremonies and the rhetoric about glorious heroes drew a veil over the real suffering of people like Eva Jeffries and the McQuay family who had to cope with the war’s aftermath.
And yet a Herald reporter observed public hints of that suffering on Anzac Day in 1925.
“Moving as today’s ceremonial was, none of it showed simple human feeling so much as did the little dramas enacted round the Cenotaph before the procession and the service began,” he wrote.
“Here with offerings of flowers, scores of people kept their own soldiers’ memory green. They came, young and old; not a type was missing.
“There were the father and mother, middle-aged, he holding her by the arm, with head bent protectively. Together they laid the wreath down and turned quickly away.
“A grandmother, bent with age, tremblingly laid her small, white wreath face downwards, all unknowing, and covered her face awhile with a black-gloved hand. “A widowed mother, tall daughter, and two little girls with a wreath apiece.”
These were spontaneous gestures and they continued long after the official speeches and ceremonies were over and the profusion of flowers had been cleared away. Next day about a dozen wreaths and posies appeared in the place of those that had been removed.
“They remained a silent tribute to the dead,” wrote the reporter.
Behind the visible and invisible scars of war was a growing sense of disillusionment among some of the veterans about the way they had been treated and about the war itself. Was it all just a waste?
For many the answer was yes.
“Looking back, of course I see war as a waste of men and of time. It didn’t settle anything. Even the First World War hasn’t been settled yet, has it? What did we win? What did we get?” said Sergeant Gasparich when interviewed by Shadbolt in the 1980s.
Disillusionment fed the growing tide of pacifism in New Zealand.
This was the fourth of the important themes woven into the Gallipoli story. It was there from the beginning with about 650 men registering as conscientious objectors in World War I, half of whom served prison sentences.
And it was prominent, too, in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the baby boomers came to adulthood and found their political voice in opposition to the Vietnam War.
In World War I pacifism had been easily drowned out by the call to arms. But in the 1930s it became more influential with the publication of a number of books depicting war as bloody and chaotic rather than glorious.
Ormond Burton’s 1935 book The Silent Division, which told the story of New Zealanders fighting in Gallipoli and France, concluded that war was evil. Burton, a decorated war hero, became a Christian Pacifist and vowed never to fight again. He was true to his word and spent much of World War II in prison because of it.
Historian Jock Phillips argues the anti-war books – Archibald Baxter’s We Will Not Cease and Robin Hyde’s Passport to Hell as well as The Silent Division – were much closer to the attitudes of the men at the front than the pious platitudes of Anzac Day addresses and sermons, not to mention editorials.
“Each undermined the moral pieties of war and showed the front line as a chaotic world of bestiality and ‘sin’; each ended in a pacifist position; and each found the Empire an empty concept,” he writes in How We Remember.
Anti-war sentiment was all the more pointed in the late 1930s when it was apparent to all that the world was drifting into another great conflict.
The Herald Anzac Day editorial in 1936 – just after Hitler occupied the demilitarised Rhineland in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles – acknowledged the anti-war sentiment when it said that war was folly and it spoke of the regret that so many lives had been sacrificed in vain.
And yet it argued the Anzac nations had to be prepared to make the sacrifice once more. “If Anzac Day means anything at all it means that they must be ready to play a part whenever storms gather,” it said.
The point was made more poignantly in a photograph of a disabled veteran at the Evelyn Firth centre, reading a newspaper with a headline about the gathering storm.
“The paradox of war is that great communities endeavouring to enforce their desires against others in the most selfish manner, are, for the attainment of their ends, compelled to challenge their own peoples to most heroic acts of self-giving. The glory of war lies in the fact that masses of ordinary men are prepared to devote themselves to bloody wounds and frightful deaths for the sake of loyalties, which however mistaken, are nevertheless the highest that they know. To go to war is an evil thing, because war is destructive of brotherhood. ”
Ormond Burton: The Silent Division, 1935
One hundred years after the first commemoration, Anzac Day is still one of the most important events on the national calendar of New Zealand. It seems to unite the nation in a way that Waitangi Day cannot while outstanding Maori grievances remain unresolved.
And yet, behind the formal ceremonies and speeches, discussion about the significance of Gallipoli and Anzac continues with so many different perspectives that it is difficult to grasp the basis of this unity.
Many of those different perspectives appear in the book How We Remember, edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts, in which 20 writers, cultural critics, historians and journalists give their takes on New Zealanders and World War I.
Among other things, the book shows that the debates about militarism and pacifism and the role that Gallipoli played in the formation of the New Zealand character are still very much alive.
Ferrall, for instance, questions the way Shadbolt edited the interviews in Voices of Gallipoli to support his birth-of-a-nation narrative of Chunuk Bair. “Shadbolt’s Gallipoli is neither historically accurate nor necessary,” he writes.
“Voices of Gallipoli and Once on Chunuk Bair have a significant place in the history of how Gallipoli has been remembered but should not otherwise influence how we remember that campaign during the Centenary.”
But if some of the individual chapters highlight deep disagreements over the significance of Gallipoli, especially those that contrast pacifism with the glory rhetoric of military patriotism, the book as a whole provides a golden thread which draws all the separate strands together and explains why, 100 years later, Anzac remains such a potent idea.
The golden thread is family history. Half of the chapters in the books mention or deal with how families thought of Gallipoli and how they reacted across the generations. The general point is best made by Wellington playwright Dave Armstrong.
“Almost every single New Zealander (with the exception of non-Commonwealth immigrants) has a family connection to the First World War,” writes Armstrong whose two grandfathers served.
The emotional importance of the family links was brought home to him when he toured with his 2005 play King and Country. People lingered afterwards with tears in their eyes and he received emails from friends and strangers beginning with words such as “my grandfather was killed on the Western Front …”
The theme of family connection comes through strongly in the video diaries being collated by nzherald.co.nz of people travelling to Gallipoli for the centennial commemorations.
“Anzac Day was always a sacred day - and a really sad day. It overwhelmed and devastated my grandmother,” says Syd Hunter, 86, who had two uncles at Gallipoli, one of whom died and the other barely survived.
“She would dress in black and we’d walk to the tree that had my uncle’s plaque and lay a wreath. Later we would go to the parade.
“The feeling about Anzac Day has gathered momentum, there’s more people coming every year. People are really beginning to appreciate what the Anzacs went through.”
Armstrong says New Zealanders still struggle to come to terms with World War I.
“Can you be anti-war and anti-imperialist and yet still acknowledge the brave sacrifice made by our soldiers? Is finding out where and when your relatives fought glorifying war?” he asks.
The answers are yes and no. Yes, it is possible to be against war and yet acknowledge the heavy price the soldiers paid. And no, investigating a family history does not mean you glorify war.
But it is also important to remember that many New Zealanders will commemorate the 100th Anzac Day in the belief that war is sometimes a necessary evil and that, whatever the horrors, later generations must be grateful for what their forebears endured.
Gallipoli was a national disaster and if it at times in the past century it has seemed like an occasion to glorify war or for outbursts of pride, it also has the power to reinforce the invisible ties of community through the shared pain of great tragedy.
The point comes through in the words of Rachael Alp of Auckland whose great-grandfather Acland Thomas served at Gallipoli as an engineer repairing bridges.
“Quite a few of us get together on Anzac Day. We all meet at our place and attend the service at the Centotaph,” she says in her video diary for www.nzherald.co.nz
“It’s about remembering all, not just our own family.”
Alp’s words remind us that it is not only the glorious dead who pay the price for war, as the inscription on the Cenotaph suggests. The survivors also paid a heavy price and went on paying for years and so did their families, wives and children.
You will not find their names engraved on any stone memorial, but their lives and their suffering were no less important even though they appear only fleetingly in stories of Gallipoli. Among them were Emily Weir who received the two contradictory letters about the fate of her son, the woman in black who featured in Elsie Morton’s story about Daffodil Day in 1915, and the thousands who, like Lottie Le Gallais, felt the shock of having their letters sent back to them with the brutal message stamped on the envelopes: “KILLED RETURN TO SENDER”.
Some people, like Eva Jeffries and her children who suffered at the hands of her shell-shocked husband, could never escape the personal consequences of the war.
They too should be in our hearts as we fulfil the promise made four generations ago: we will remember them.
What became of the men and women whose letters and diaries contributed to this version of the Anzac story.
Brook was shot in the face during the Chunuk Bair assault on the morning of August 7. He luckily found cover and was taken to a hospital ship where they treated him for a flesh wound. A year later, when Brook was back in New Zealand, his face began to swell and doctors discovered the bullet had not passed through him as originally thought but was lodged in his jaw. After surgery he returned to battle as a second lieutenant but was wounded again on the Western Front and died on September 2, 1918 aged 28.
Duder came back to Auckland with the Maheno in January 1916. He passed his exams for a foreign going master’s certificate and was promoted to chief officer. He served on several vessels after the Maheno and during the great flu epidemic of 1918 he was move from ship to ship to fill in for officers who had fallen ill. He succumbed to the sickness himself and died on November 13 aged 30.
There were many times in his diary when Dr Fenwick said he thought he would not survive Gallipoli. But he did and went on to serve for the rest of the war in France, Belgium and England. He was mentioned in despatches and, in 1916 was made a CMG (Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George). When he returned to New Zealand he resumed his private practice in Christchurch and, from 1925 to 1930, was honorary surgeon to the governor-general. He died in 1958 at the age of 88.
Ferris was taken out of the front-line after the battle for Sari Bair suffering from dysentery. He travelled to England where he was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He was promoted to captain and was wounded on the Western Front in December 1917. In civilian life Ferris, of Ngati Porou, was a farmer and he returned to Poverty Bay after the war. His letters, published in the Poverty Bay Herald, were important sources in giving a Maori perspective on the Gallipoli campaign and were quoted extensively by Monty Soutar in How We Remember.In World War II he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and, among other things, played a role in recruiting.
After being among the last to leave Gallipoli, Gasparich – a school teacher by profession – went to the Western Front. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and wounded twice more. He was sent home in April 1917 and discharged from the army because of his injuries. He retired to a nursing home in Hawkes Bay and was interviewed by Maurice Shadbolt for his book Voices of Gallipoli. He died in 1985 at the age of 94.
The corporal who described Major Dawson’s stand at Quinn’s Post on April 25-26. He was wounded at Gallipoli and returned to Invercargill in 1916 where he became a prominent solicitor and Rotarian with a keen interest in local history. He wrote nine books, including a biography of his father, Sir William Hall-Jones. He died in 1982 at the age of 90.
Johns was a teacher at Te Awamutu when he enlisted in the Waikato section of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. He was badly wounded two days after the successful assault on the Old No 3 Post in the August offensive. A bullet hit him below the left eye, passed through his mouth and broke his jaw. He was evacuated to Egypt and from there came back to New Zealand to recover. While on leave he was married and, in May 1916, was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He rejoined the AMR in the Middle East and was killed in action at Beersheba on October 31, 1917.
Nurse Le Gallais’ tour of duty on the Maheno took her back and forth between Anzac Cove and Lemnos a number of times during the August offensive. She returned to Auckland in January 1916 with the ship and 320 wounded and sick soldiers. She resumed her pre-war career as a nurse at Auckland Hospital and, in 1918, married Charles Gardner. Her letters to Sonnie, as she called Charles, and to her brother Leddra, are preserved in the archives of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. They were an important source for Peter Rees’ book Anzac Girls about the experiences of Australian and New Zealand nurses in the First World War.
After being wounded Melville was invalided back to New Zealand where he resumed his career at the Herald. He was on the paper’s Parliamentary staff in the last years of the Massey Government and the early years of the Coates government before becoming a leader writer in 1922. In 1933 he was appointed night editor, a position he held until his death in 1944 at the age of 53. He was highly regarded as a mentor of young journalists and was lecturer in journalism at Auckland University College from 1935 until he died. He also served as president of the New Zealand Journalists’ Association from 1928 to 1935.
Morton was a pioneering woman journalist who was a star feature writer on the Herald for more than two decades. She later became a freelance writer and radio broadcaster, travelling widely and producing nine books. She was best known for her 1957 book The Crusoes of Sunday Island about the Bell family who settled on Raoul Island.
Steele was discharged overseas in August 1919, and worked in England and Scotland, before returning to New Zealand with his wife. In the early 1940s, the couple were in Kaikohe where Steele worked as an agricultural instructor. He died in 1976.
The Chaplain with the Maori Contingent continued to serve until the end of the war. His letters, many of which were published in the Maori newspaper Te Kopara, show his deep concern for the moral and spiritual welfare of his men. He was mentioned in despatches. On his return to New Zealand he worked to promote the welfare of Maori soldiers and their families. Sadly, he died of stomach cancer at Wairoa in 1920. He was only 38 years old.
The trooper with the Auckland Mounted Rifles who was evacuated to Britain after the August offensive suffering from typhoid fever, dysentery and shell shock. After the war he took a job as a carpenter in a freezing works at Hicks Bay near the East Cape. He died at the age of 40 in November 1920 after being swept off rocks at Matakaoa Point while on a fishing trip with a group of mates.
David Hastings is a former editor of the Weekend Herald and the author of two books on New Zealand history: Over the Mountains of the Sea (AUP 2006) and Extra! Extra! How the people made the news (AUP 2013).
Author’s acknowledgments: The Auckland War Memorial Museum and its library staff were of great help. Special thanks to Martin Collett, Shaun Higgins, Rebecca Loud, Zoe Richardson, Philippa Robinson, Christina Tuitubou and Marty Jones. We would also like to thank historian Dr Monty Soutar for his guidance and advice on the role of the Maori Contingent at Gallipoli. The address by chaplain Henare Te Wainohu before the August offensive began is drawn from draft chapters of Dr Soutar’s forthcoming book Maori in the First World War. For the Herald: designer, Claudia Ruiz; photo research, Lauri Tapsell; production supervisor, Chris Reed.
Sources and further reading: Archibald Baxter, We Will Not Cease; Ormond Burton, The Silent Division; James Cowan, The Maoris in the Great War; Ashley Ekins, Gallipoli: A ridge too far; Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts, How We Remember; Glyn Harper, Letters from Gallipoli; Robyn Hyde, Passport to Hell; Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, What’s Wrong with Anzac?; Alan Moorehead, Gallipoli; Christopher Pugsley, Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story; Peter Rees, Anzac Girls; Maurice Shadbolt, Voices of Gallipoli; Richard Stowers, Bloody Gallipoli, the New Zealand Story; Jock Vennell, The Forgotten General; Desmond Zwar, In Search of Keith Murdoch.
Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira Library: Author unknown, wartime diary, MS/95/25; Baker, Raymond Danvers MS-2010-20; Duder, John MS 1160; Fenwick, Percival, Anzac Diary, MS 1497; Johns, William Henwood MS 1392; Le Gallais, Charlotte (Lottie) MS 95/11; Thomson, George William 2003/72 includes diary; Trenne, Frederick Charles MS 1570. NZ History online, Nga korero