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On the Anzac Trail

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On the Anzac Trail
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Author(s): “Anzac”
Date Published: 2010/08
Page Count: 112
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-263-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-264-2

The hard end of war in the Gallipoli trenches

The anonymous author of this Great War memoir was already an experienced soldier at the outbreak of the Great War. He had been a long term 'Old Colonial' in New Zealand and had fought with the 'Maori-landers' throughout the Boer War. Now living in Ireland he answered the call for colonial men to rally to colours and joined his countrymen in London. A draft took them to Egypt where they expected to join the N. Z. Mounted Rifles regiments, but much against his will he found himself instead recruited into the ranks of the Engineers. The Dardanelle's initiative put an end to many soldiers’ preconceptions as to the manner in which their war would be fought. The author and his comrades soon found themselves fighting the Turks as infantry in the closely contested battles of the trenches of the Gallipoli peninsular. His descriptions of combat make immediate and gripping reading and predictably the spirit of 'Anzac' is written large in these pages. The book is based on the author’s journal written as momentous events unfolded and concludes as he recovers from wounds having been declared unfit for further service. Available in softcover and hardcover for collectors.

We had no field artillery to cover our advance, and the consequence was we suffered heavily, our guns not coming into action till the evening, and then only one or two had been landed. Add to this the natural difficulties of a broken and rugged country which we had never seen before, and the reader will have some conception of the task that faced the Dominion troops. It was next to impossible to keep in touch with each other, let alone preserve something approaching an unbroken line. Thus the fight resolved itself largely into one of units. Here and there isolated bodies of infantry pushed far ahead, then lying down they held on grimly until the main force came up and eased the pressure.<br>
One or two lots got caught in the beds of deep gullies, were opened on by concealed enfilade fire from machine-guns and rifles, and died to a man. But they died fighting. One party at least fought its way almost to the Narrows, and then disappeared: not a single man returned. The rest pushed on and on, trusting to the reserves coming up and enabling them to hold the captured ground—those reserves that came in driblets only. The fact was that the men could not be thrown ashore quickly enough to reinforce in the strength required. Where battalions landed there should have been brigades; where brigades, divisions. It was just sheer bad luck. No blame attached to the fleet—every man worked like a Trojan, worked on without paying the slightest attention to the hail of projectiles falling around.<br>
They were white right through, those boys from the warships, from the plucky little middies and the jolly “Jacks” right up to the senior officers. I pity the chap who ever says a word against them if any of the Anzacs happen to be within coo-ee of him! Come to think it over, I don’t see that blame could be fixed on any one. The country was just made for defensive purposes; it would have required division after division to have been thrown in on each other’s heels in order to reduce it, or to seize the ground to the Narrows and hang on. We simply hadn’t the men. And the natural difficulties in the way of getting up such reinforcements as we had, not to speak of supplies, ammunition, etc., were nigh insurmountable. There were no tracks, much less roads; the guns that were landed that first evening had to be pulled by hand through the standing scrub; the landing parties on the beach were open to continuous shell fire, not to mention snipers?altogether I don’t think there was ever such a daring or hazardous enterprise attempted in the world’s history.<br>
And now strong Turkish reinforcements appeared on the scene. Battalion after battalion of fresh troops joined the enemy firing line. It stiffened up: we failed to break it. Our men were falling fast; half our strength seemed to be down, killed or wounded, while the remainder were beginning to feel the effects of their tremendous gruelling in the fierce heat of a sub-tropic sun. Still on came the masses of Turkish reserves. The naval guns, especially those of the Lizzie, cut them up, but didn’t stagger them. They took the offensive. For a time it was charge and counter-charge, give and take.<br>
But it couldn’t last; the odds were too great. We retired fighting—and in that retirement our losses were something cruel. Machine-guns and shrapnel did the damage mostly, but the Mausers took their share. Only in one thing had we the advantage—the bayonet. When we got to hand grips with them the Turks couldn’t stand up to our chaps, who went for them with the cold steel like devils red-hot from hell.<br>
No man who took part in that retirement will ever forget it. Overhead burst the shells, underfoot the dust rose and the twigs snapped as the unending rain of rifle, machine-gun, and shrapnel bullets zipped! and spattered around. Men fell fast, killed and wounded; every temporary stand we made was marked by little groups of grotesquely postured khaki-clad forms still with the stillness of death. Here and there one saw a sorely wounded man feebly raise his head and gaze pathetically after the retiring line of hard-pressed men; others (and these were many) limped and hobbled painfully along in the wake of the retreating infantry, till in many cases another bullet laid them low. Most of our wounded fell into the hands of the enemy. It was hard to leave them, but what could we do?<br>
Time after time we tried to dig ourselves in. In vain! The line had to be shortened, else we should be outflanked by the enormously superior forces opposed to us. There was nothing for it but to retire right back to the ridge and hold the crest—or try to! Back then we went, retiring by companies and half-companies. There was no running, no panic at any time. When the Turks pressed us too closely we gave them a shake-up with the bayonet. In many cases men had to rely on the steel alone, their ammunition giving out.. Time after time the enemy drew back while his big guns and maxims wrought their will on us. He didn’t half like the steel.<br>
We reached the ridge, and, exhausted as we were, started to dig ourselves in. Our throats were parched, for we dare not broach our water-bottles lest we should be tempted to finish them straight away. Once a man begins to drink he will keep on. In many cases bottles had been shot through and the contents drained away. Others had left them with wounded comrades. For food we munched a biscuit—when we had time! There weren’t many biscuits eaten until after nightfall.<br>
We dug a line of holes, scratching fiercely with our trenching tools, all the while subjected to a withering shrapnel fire. The naval gunners seemed quite unable to locate and silence the Turkish artillery, so cleverly was it concealed. Lying down as flat as possible we scraped away, working frantically for the much-needed cover that should enable us to hold the position, if it were possible to hold it. At times we dropped the trenching tools—to lift our rifles and beat back the oncoming enemy. Yet it was evident that the Turks were beginning to feel the strain too. Perhaps they thought they had us anyhow, for their assaults began to lose a lot of their sting, and we were enabled to get a half chance to dig.<br>
As the day waned and nightfall approached they came again, and we were hard put to it for a time to hang on. Charge and counter-charge followed rapidly on each other’s heels, and all the time a deafening fire was kept up along the whole position. Then the brief twilight changed into night; the fire slackened off; the moon rose, and for the first time since early morning we were enabled to obtain a few minutes’ rest before going on digging again in the attempt to connect up and deepen the shallow holes we had scratched into one continuous trench.<br>
We stuck to it hard all through the night, grafting away for all we were worth. It was our only chance. Yet at times we were absolutely forced by sheer fatigue to drop our tools and stretch out for a spell. Sixteen hours of hard, solid fighting through a broken and hilly country, followed by a whole night’s digging; then stand-to before daybreak, and all the succeeding hours of the second day hold the trenches against intermittent attacks. At night go on working at strengthening the trenches; stand-to again before daylight the third day—and from before dawn till well on in the evening of that day do your bit at beating off the enemy’s attack in force with a fresh army that outnumbers you by five to one—the attack by which he means to seize your position at all costs! Just do the foregoing, dear reader, and you will realise what those Australasian troops endured. And do it (as they did) on a pint and a half of water and a few biscuits.