Ted Smith’s WarApril 23rd, 2018
I did not meet my Dad’s father, Ted: he died a few years before I was born. I knew that he fought in WWI, overcame adversity during the Depression, grew enough food in his garden to feed his family, and was a good husband and father. When Dad and I learned from an older cousin that Ted had suffered shell shock and ‘was not the same after the war’ we wished we knew more about what he had been through.
Ted in uniform, ca 1916-1917
Ted rarely spoke about the war to his family. He left no war diary or letters. The postcards he sent home to his mother and sister offer little information. This is why, 100 years after Ted left New Zealand for Gallipoli, I set out to discover, through the official records and personal memoirs left by others, what my grandfather experienced in the first few months of what was to be almost 4 ½ years of service.
Ted’s life begins in Yorkshire
Edward Smith, known as Ted, was born in Horsforth, a village in Yorkshire, on 29 September 1889. Ted was the youngest son of William Smith, head gardener at Horsforth Hall, and Martha Rhodes, a woman known for her intelligence and sense of humour. He grew up with an older sister, Emily, and two brothers, Frederick and Harry. When Ted was eleven his brother Harry died of rheumatic fever, aged thirteen. Annie, another sister, had died before Ted was born.
Horsforth School, with Ted (4th from right, 2nd row) and brother Harry (centre, 2nd row)
A new life in Karori
In 1905 Fred and Emily, with her husband, Hugh Claughton and baby daughter, immigrated to New Zealand. Ted, aged 16, and his mother followed them on board the Rimutaka arriving in Wellington in August 1906. You can view the passenger list on Family Search (registration is free). William, who had promised his employer, Sir William Duncan, that he would stay with him until he died, did not reach New Zealand until 1910. Fred, like his father, became a highly sought-after gardener in Wellington.
Ted, ca 1906, before leaving Horsforth
Ted became a carpenter and joiner by trade. In 1911, when he was 21, he built a house at 33 Johnston St (now named Nottingham St), in Karori, for himself and his family. The beautiful house still stands, perched on the hillside, a lasting testament to his skill, determination and youthful enthusiasm.
Ted, 6th from left at back, with builders at a worksite
When the war began on 4 August 1914, New Zealand, which had had a Territorial Force since 1910, was able to offer Britain an expeditionary force immediately. In just the first week of recruitment over 14,000 teenage boys and men signed up for service. More than 78,000 would volunteer before the end of the war. They were strongly motivated to go. Many had been born in the United Kingdom, like Ted, or had parents who were, and there was a sense of belonging to, and duty to, the British Empire. Many New Zealanders still called Britain ‘Home’.
Ted, 2nd on left, with builders
There was also a strong romanticism about death in battle, fueled in part by the tales of heroism in war that boys grew up reading. The truth about the war was purposely obscured, both by military censorship and by soldiers wanting to avoid causing distress to their families. Letters from soldiers were censored and newspapers gave a false picture of the reality of war. As Charles Morse said, when interviewed in 1988 (Ref: OHInt-0006/59): ‘Nobody realised how bad it was until they got there. People had no idea’.
Ted at Whakarewarewa, Dec 1914
Boys who had grown up in New Zealand had trained as cadets while at primary school and, from 1910, military training was compulsory for 14-21 year olds. Ted, growing up in England, did not have any early military training and he was not in the Territorials. Three months before he enlisted, Ted joined the Karori Rifle Club to prepare himself for war.
When Ted enlisted for service in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 15 February 1915 he was 25 years old. His enlistment form describes him as having a dark complexion, grey eyes and black hair. He was 5ft 8 ½ inches (1.73 metres) and weighed 156 pounds (70kg). He stated that he was a Baptist, as his family had been for generations. He was declared fit for service, given the rank of Private, and began four months training at Trentham Camp.
Leaving Wellington with the 5th Reinforcements
On Saturday 12 June 1915 Ted traveled by train to Wellington with the 5th Reinforcements. People lined the streets to see the men in uniform march through the streets of Wellington. The Dominion newspaper (Dominion, 14 June 1915) was full of praise for the well-trained men, especially B Company (the Wellington Reinforcements):
The Fifth Reinforcements do credit to themselves, and to everybody who has been associated with them in their training period. In their march through the city on Saturday they were cheered and cheered again along most of their route. Never has a Wellington crowd been so demonstrative. The heartiest cheers came from the crowd collected near the Government Buildings. As they swung along to the music of the Fifth Regiment Band these onlookers were at times wildly enthusiastic, waving hats and generally forgetting themselves in their admiration for the soldiers. In Cuba Street, where the troops were marching at ease, people on the balconies threw flowers and fruit to the men, and people in the roadway bestowed little gifts on friends in the ranks. But there was no disorder. The soldiers have learned their lessons too well to forget them on occasion.
Crowd at a farewell procession for World War 1 troops, Manners Street, Wellington, 1915. Original photographic prints and postcards from the file print collection, Box 18. Ref: PAColl-7581-71. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Families and friends crowded onto the wharf to farewell their loved ones on board the Maunganui, Tahiti and Aparima. It was raining slightly as Ted left on board HMNZT No 24 Maunganui late that afternoon. The three ships anchored in the harbour overnight and left Wellington at 7.30 on a dull, wet, Sunday morning.
The sea was rough as they entered Cook’s Strait and soon the majority of the men were seasick. The weather improved on Tuesday but by evening the sea became very rough again. It was not only seasickness that ailed the men. Measles and influenza were a problem and one man died of meningitis on board the Aparima after a week at sea.
HMNZT 24 Maunganui out from Albany, Australia with 5th Reinforcements aboard, taken from the HMNZT 26 Aparima. Photograph Album of 8/2013 Brigadier Frank Leslie Hunt, Otago Infantry Battalion. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
The Maunganui reached Albany, Western Australia, early in the morning of 26 June, where they went ashore for a route march in wet weather and were given leave for the rest of the day. On Tuesday 29th June they headed out to sea again and parted company with the Aparima and Tahiti. Only the Maunganui was going directly to the Suez.
Postcard from Ted, sent from Albany, Australia, 27 June 1915
July saw the weather improve and the men enjoyed a sports competition over two afternoons. However, once the Maunganui crossed the Equator, at about midnight on 12 July, the weather became extremely hot and seasickness continued to plague many.
Cape Guardafui, Somalia, was sighted on 16 July. Several native villages and towns could be seen from the ship. This was a part of the world that the men had never seen before, or perhaps had glimpsed only in books.
Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand: Union Line. Dinner [menu and] Wine list [on board] H.M.N.Z.T. No 24. July 7th 1915. Ref: Eph-A-SHIP-1915-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
On the night of 18 July the ship passed about 20 miles from Aden and entered the Red Sea. They sailed north, between the coastlines of Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On the 21st they passed the Brothers Islands (also known as Al Akhawein), where the British built a lighthouse in 1883: a little reminder of Home in this strange land. That night they saw the lights of Shadwan, a barren, rocky island in the mouth of the Gulf of Suez.
Zeitoun Camp, Egypt
On 22 July they arrived off Suez a little after midday and anchored in the stream. The following day they disembarked at Port Suez (then called Port Tewfik). From there they took a train to Zeitoun Camp, near Cairo, Egypt, arriving at 2am, on 24 July. With orders to be ready to leave for the front at any time, the men took part in inspection parades, formation drills, target shooting and large-scale field exercises in the desert during their nine days at Zeitoun Camp. As their training grounds were 5-6 kilometres from Zeitoun Camp they had a long march there and back each day they trained. The weather was very hot and many fell ill with diarrhoea.
Soldiers gathering around to hear an announcement in the tent lines, Zeitoun Camp, 1915. Photograph Album of 10/663 Lieutenant Bruce Haultain Morison, Hawkes Bay Company, Wellington Infantry Regiment. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
When they had leave the men were able to visit Cairo. Few of the men had travelled overseas or mixed with people from other cultures before the war and cosmopolitan Cairo was a real eye-opener for them. Cairo offered amazing sights such as the pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza, museums, theatres, gardens and zoos, while brothel districts such as Wasa’a, known to the troops as the ‘Wazza’, with their easy access to prostitutes and alcohol, shocked some and lured others. Ted and the other Wellington Reinforcements, however, were not at Zeitoun Camp long enough to see the sights of Cairo.
On the morning of 3rd August, the Reinforcements were rushed off to Alexandria, arriving about 3pm in fine weather. At Alexandria 2300 men of various units boarded Transport B21 Sahurmia, of the Donaldson Line of Glasgow. Formerly an emigrant ship on the Canadian run, she was regarded by Lieutenant McComish as a ‘very unsatisfactory transport’. At 5am the following morning they sailed from Alexandria.
Early in the morning of 7th August the Sahurmia reached Mudros, a small Greek port on Lemnos Island. Only 50km from the Dardanelles Straits, the harbour was full of British and French warships and transports. The largest of the estimated 100 ships in the harbour at the time was the British troopship Aquitania, with 6000 troops on board. Such was the urgency for more troops to enter the fray on Gallipoli that the 5th Reinforcements left Mudros the same evening on steamboats.
The Reinforcements arrive at Anzac Cove
The men were not at sea long before the heavy fighting at Cape Helles became evident. Bursts of light from the artillery were frequent and flashes from rifles burned a continuous line of fire through the darkness. Star shells lit up the scene, giving a preview of the war they were entering. The boats followed the coast north, arriving just off Anzac Cove at midnight.
Barges full of troops being towed a shore by a lighter, Gallipoli, 1915. Photograph Album of 8/2013 Brigadier Frank Leslie Hunt, Otago Infantry Battalion. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
The men were transferred from the boats onto barges and then towed to the shore by launches. The hills above them were lit up with gunfire and a few stray bullets fell around them. In half an hour they were at the shore. Guides met them on the landing and led them past the wounded and dressing stations on the beach. They followed the Big Sap, a trench which ran from Anzac Cove, along the foothills, to the divisional headquarters at Outpost No.2. The trench was about 3.5 metres deep and 1.5 metres wide. In addition to the 28kgs of equipment they all carried, each pair hauled a case of .303 ammunition between them.
Moore-Jones, Horace Millichamp 1878-1922: Anzac Cove; the historic landing-place / from a sketch made by Sapper H. Moore-Jones . [London? ; Hugh Rees? 1916?]. Ref: A-184-058. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
At dawn on 8 August they arrived at the New Zealand base at Outpost No.2, at the mouth of Chailak Dere. Sniper fire stopped them from moving on for two hours. At the base hundreds of wounded men, covered in blood, dirt and flies, lay waiting to be taken to a hospital ship. For the Reinforcements this horrific scene was their first real experience of war. Some fell under the terrifying impression that this was an everyday occurrence here.
“Into a torture of hell and suffering”
We now know that this day, 8 August 1915, was no ordinary day on Gallipoli. It was the day that the Wellington Battalion, under Colonel Malone, captured Chunuk Bair. As Maurice Shadbolt explained in Voices of Gallipoli taking the summit was vital because ‘from here the Narrows could certainly be seen, and possibly the Dardanelles commanded. Then the British navy could be free to push through to Constantinople and relieve tottering Tsarist Russia. The campaign might be over in weeks, the entire war in months’. The New Zealanders were the first to see the Narrows - and they took the first significant high ground in the campaign.
It was also New Zealand’s costliest day on Gallipoli. The British troops who had landed at Suvla Bay failed to support the New Zealanders as planned. The Wellington Battalion were stranded on the hilltop, battling relentless waves of Turkish infantry, with dwindling supplies of water, food and munitions. Fighting in such tight quarters meant that some of the Wellingtons, including Malone, were killed by friendly fire from supporting British warships and New Zealand artillery. Few of the Wellingtons survived: of the 760 who had stormed up the hill that morning, less than 70 would walk away. Fred Waite wrote in his New Zealanders at Gallipoli ‘If ever mortals were projected into a hell of torture and suffering it was the men of the 5th Reinforcements’.
Some of the Reinforcements become stretcher bearers
About 50 of the Wellington Reinforcements were given the task of burying the dead and carrying the wounded. Ormond Burton, one of the stretcher bearers taking wounded men from the Apex, later wrote of his experience in his book The silent division :
In the darkness we reached the Regimental Aid Post. Bullets were smashing into the stiff scrub everywhere like the heavy rain drops of a thunder shower. Heavy and continuous firing went on all night… We took up the stretchers that were waiting and went down the dere. For the next few days we were up and down with little rest. Chailak Dere was a dangerous highway and sometimes a desperately crowded one. On the high slopes it took six men to get a stretcher down. Four men were needed for the long hard carry to the Casualty Clearing Station near the beach but usually only two were available. Turkish shrapnel searched the ravine and the bullets fell everywhere. Snipers were busy at every exposed bend. As we went there was an unending line of mules laden with water and ammunition going up – and every kind of carrying party.
For every man the stretcher bearers could help there were hundreds more that they could not reach and had to leave to die. Burton ‘saw nothing more dreadful during the whole war than the suffering of those forgotten men’.
The others head up to Chunuk Bair
As the Reinforcements moved up Chailak Dere towards Rhododendron Spur and the Apex they could see the hillsides covered with dead and wounded. They began to be hit by shrapnel – the Otago, Wellington and Auckland companies all suffered losses. Lt Reginald Gambrill, of the Hawke’s Bay Company, Wellington Battalion, recalled a ‘barrage of machine gun fire’ and a Turkish aeroplane dropping steel drills on them as they lay underneath rhododendron bushes. They found shelter on the final slope of the hill, at a point high up on the Rhododendron Ridge, which became known as the Apex. It was here that the Wellington Reinforcements left the Otago, Canterbury and Auckland companies behind.
Sari Bair offensive, August 1915 map by Geographx with research assistance from Damien Fenton and Caroline Lord. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/sari-bair-offensive-map
When darkness fell three officers and 175 other ranks of the Wellington Reinforcements continued on up the hill with orders to reinforce the Wellington Battalion at Chunuk Bair. They walked in single file, led by guides. On the way an English regiment, pushed back by the Turkish, broke through their line, leaving those at the back of the column with no idea how to get to the Wellington Headquarters. Lt Gambrill fell down in the darkness and, by a stroke of luck, found a signals wire that they were able to follow. Careful not to break the precious communications wire, the men crawled to the Battalion Headquarters, below the crest of Chunuk Bair. When they arrived they found that the Otago Battalion had relieved the Wellington Battalion at the front line.
The Wellington Reinforcements went into action with the Otago Battalion that night, taking part in a bayonet charge, then using their picks and shovels to dig a shallow trench in the hard clay. Some of them withdrew to bivouac on the hillside early in the morning and the remainder fought with the Otago Battalion and Wellington Mounted Rifles to hold Chunuk Bair on 9 August. The battle on the 9th was just as intense as the fighting had been the previous day; however, because more wounded men received the medical attention they needed, fewer died.
That night the exhausted New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair were relieved by two British battalions. Gambrill recorded that, of the Reinforcements, two officers and ‘about 105 men, of whom 44 were wounded, came out of the action… all were fearfully tired and the nerves of many were completely shattered’. In their first 24 hours of action about half of the Wellington Reinforcements had been killed or wounded.
The Reinforcements join the Wellington Battalion
At about 2am on Tuesday 10 August they reached the Apex again. They found Wellington Headquarters and the remnants of the Wellington Battalion but ‘there was no water, only rum for 880’. Congestion in Chailak Dere and on Rhododendron Ridge was preventing water from getting through to the men who, in the searing heat, were in desperate need of it. Gambrill recorded that there were only about 120 of the Wellington Regiment left, including reinforcements. Ted joined the Ruahine Company, one of the four companies of the Wellington Battalion.
Meanwhile, on Chunuk Bair, the British officers, who were critical of what the New Zealanders had achieved, ignored Meldrum’s advice to dig more trenches overnight in preparation for a Turkish counterattack. The inevitable eventuated just a few hours later and the inexperienced British battalions were swiftly driven from Chunuk Bair. The seaward side of Chunuk Bair was now strewn with dead bodies. Even the bodies that could be recovered could not be buried properly: the ground was too hard to dig.
When the August fighting settled down, the soldiers had to contend with the realisation that they had given so much, only to lose the ground they had won. They mourned their dead friends and their revered Colonel Malone. They were bitter that their divisional commander Major-General Godley appeared to blame the dead for the failure of the operation and undervalue the efforts of his men.
Rhododendron Ridge and the Apex
In the following days and weeks the Wellington Battalion spent periods at the front line on Rhododendron Ridge and at the Apex while bivouacked on the side of Cheshire Ridge. The air was thick with the stench of rotting corpses and the flies bred quickly in the heat, spreading disease. Flies swarmed around the living too, flying or crawling into mouths whenever they tried to eat, drink or sleep. Lice and fleas also tormented the men: any spare time was devoted to ridding their clothes and bodies of the vermin.
Signallers searching for lice on Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915. Photograph Album of 9/803 Corporal Curll Alexander Gordon Catto, Signals Section, Otago Mounted Rifles. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
When Lt Col Herbert Hart took command of the Wellington Battalion in the first week of September he found the men all suffering from dysentery, malnutrition and mental and physical exhaustion. Some left Gallipoli, not because they were wounded, but because they just couldn’t walk anymore. Hart wrote in his diary:
The battalion is 254 strong, one fourth its correct strength, and of these there were only two officers and 48 men of the original force; both these officers McKinnon and McColl and nearly all the men have been wounded, recovered, and returned to duty, like myself. I found everyone very bronzed, thin and most of them have a listless, weary, strained look in their eyes. 50% of the men are suffering from diarrhoea and are being sent away in bunches of 7 to 10 everyday, mainly from this cause.
The flies are perfectly appalling. Immediately food is placed on the plates at mealtimes it is black with flies and one has to rush through the meal to save as much as possible from being polluted and eaten by the flies. One hand must be waved continuously to prevent them being carried into ones mouth, and in any case this does happen sometimes each day to everyone when talking, or puffing as one climbs the hills. At lunchtime I took a drink when the tea was brought in, and when I required the next swig I had first to rescue seventeen flies from the mug, and water is too precious for one to have been able to throw it away.
Day and night the troops are subjected to intermittent rifle and gunfire and to bombing, but no one seems to be at all concerned thereby, and all are extraordinarily cool and casual about it. The utmost vigilance is exercised in the trenches, as the Turks are only about fifty yards distant at this point. The trenches are manned night and day and all ranks stand to arms at 4am. During the night all available men are engaged making wire entanglements, saps and improving head cover, and at daytime the communication, fire, and support trenches are steadily improved, so the men have very little rest. In addition to this all water and food supplies have to be brought up from the beach on donkeys and mules. The men live in dugouts, which are practically a series of ledges made in the side of the hill.
Sarpi Rest Camp, Lemnos
On the evening of 15 September 1915 the 900 exhausted survivors of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade hauled their heavy packs down to Anzac Cove. Barges took them offshore and they boarded the Osmaniah about midnight. After an uncomfortable night lying on the crowded iron decks, with no shelter from the rain, they set sail at 8am for a rest camp at Sarpi on Lemnos. The Wellington Battalion, including the five reinforcements, should have numbered over 1000. When they left Gallipoli the Battalion had been reduced to 11 Officers and 188 rank and file.
View of the Sarpi Rest Camp in Moudros, Lemnos, Greece, where the majority of New Zealand and Australian soldiers rested, between September and November 1915, before returning to Gallipoli. Photographed by James C Read in 1915. Ref: 1/4-058163-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
They reached Mudros harbour at noon on 16 September. They disembarked at 5pm and marched over the hills, wading across an inlet to cut down the distance, to the camp site at Sarpi. Many, too weak to complete the 4km walk, fell by the wayside and slept there for the night. Those who managed to reach the camp site were not much better off: a couple of marquees were the only shelter that had been provided and the men had to stand, holding their belongings, for hours, waiting for the heavy rain to stop. Tents arrived the next day and for the next few days they did little but eat and sleep. The food on offer was real food, not the bully beef and hard biscuits they had subsisted on for months, but fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, milk, meat and eggs.
With this dramatic change in diet, and the sudden release from intense mental and physical stress, the men actually became sicker. On Saturday 18 September George Bollinger, of the Hawke’s Bay Company, wrote in his diary that ‘Over 25 percent of the men are parading sick – Mostly suffered from terrific pains in the stomach. They seem to have broken up completely. Lemnos is now a great big hospital’. Alexander Aitken, renowned New Zealand mathematician and author of Gallipoli to the Somme , wrote that the camp had ‘not a trace of animation’:
These men, who had gone to bed so early the night before, were seen by daylight to be listless, weak, emaciated by dysentery, prematurely aged. They had suffered also in nerves. The pastoral silence of the ancient island was felt to be deceptive and sinister; it was unnatural to walk abroad at large without the fear of sudden death.
Aitken, who arrived with the Sixth Reinforcements, observed that the men who had been on Gallipoli startled easily and suffered terrifying nightmares. They did not talk about what they had experienced at all: ‘Gallipoli was under a taboo and barely mentioned’. It was a silence that many would keep forever.
Return to Gallipoli
Toward the end of October the health of the troops improved and they were issued with new equipment and clothing. They trained every day in the expectation that they would be returning to Gallipoli at any time. Bolstered by the arrival of more reinforcements and the return of the sick and wounded, the New Zealanders boarded the Osmaniah at 1.30pm on 8 November. The waters were calm as they anchored off Anzac at 6.30pm. Lt Col Herbert Hart recorded in his diary that they disembarked in darkness and ‘marched a couple of miles along the beach sap and bivouacked the remainder of the night in Watercourse Gully’. On 10 November they ‘set out at 8am, heavily laden, for the weary, trying, climb up Chanak [Chailak] Dere to the Apex’. Machine guns fired at them repeatedly on the way up.
While the New Zealanders were away some things changed on Gallipoli. The quarters had improved, there was a better supply of food and water, and the saps and trenches were deeper and stretched up the ridges they had won in August.
At the Apex
The Apex, where the Wellingtons were stationed for six weeks, was considered the ‘most important and most dangerous position in the Anzac’. It was now a maze of trenches, with no movement above ground. The routine in the trenches was eight hours in the firing line and 16 hours off. While in the support and reserve trenches the men carried food and water and made dugouts, saps and tunnels. All day and night the sound of rifle fire, shelling and bombing filled the air but there were few casualties. In spite of the improvements that had been made, Lt Col Hart wrote of living conditions at the Apex that were still far from comfortable:
Most of the men are accommodated in dugouts or recesses, undercut at the bottom of saps or communication trenches usually 8 or 9 feet below the surface. Each dugout is 10 feet long with two side recesses on each side [… ] this holds 8 men; 2 in each side recess. Each recess is 3’6” high and 3’6” wide, 6’ long, so the men have to lie down always. The food and water supply is most difficult. It is all packed on mules along the beach at night, and up the Dere to a point about 250 yards below the summit of the Apex, this last part being too steep for the mules. The cook houses are located there, and at each meal men are detailed to carry the dixies of stew, tea, etc, up the steep saps to the trenches, and it [is] very heavy and tiring work.
New Zealand soldiers at the Apex, Gallipoli, 1915. Shows New Zealand soldiers at the Apex near Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, in late 1915. It is thought the hatless officer holding a cigarette in the foreground is Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Hart. Bicknell, Cyril Alfred, 1889-1916. Ref: 08-165/1. Wairarapa Archive.
The seasons change
On 18 November the Wellington Infantry Battalion Diary records that it was ‘very much colder’. Initially the cooler weather was welcomed, as flies were less of a problem and there was less sickness. Then, very quickly, the weather deteriorated. Gale force winds whirled dust around the men in the trenches. Torrential rain drenched them. Dust turned to mud. Shorts were swapped for greatcoats and balaclavas and soon the men shivered in sleet and snow. On 26 November a fierce sou’wester and thunderstorm marked the beginning of a terrible blizzard which lasted three days. The dugouts flooded and the men were wet through. By 28 November a thick layer of snow blanketed everything, right down to the shore. The Battalion Diary states that ‘the day was wretchedly cold and it was found most difficult to keep the arms clean and free from snow and mud’. Many suffered from frostbite and exposure.
Rows of dugouts (around No 1 Outpost) on Gallipoli under the winter snow November/December 1915. Photograph Album of 21/10 Lieutenant Cecil Stuart Robertson, Army Pay Department - 1 NZEF. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
News of the blunders that had been made and the hopelessness of the situation at Gallipoli had got back to Britain’s politicians and, in October, General Hamilton, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, was relieved of his post. When, in mid-November, Lord Kitchener finally visited Gallipoli to see things for himself, the war-hardened Field Marshal was shocked.
The Ottoman Fifth Army of 315,000 was continuing to grow and could now receive heavy artillery from Germany and Austria via occupied Serbia. The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, numbering 134,000, faced a grim winter. General Munro, who had been sent to replace General Hamilton, soon confirmed that the evacuation of Anzac and Suvla was necessary.
Ted’s final days on Gallipoli
On 10 and 11 December sick, wounded and surplus men were taken down to the beach at night, ferried out to waiting ships and taken to Lemnos. On 11 December Ted’s Ruahine Company relieved the 14th Otago Company in No 3 Post. It was not until 15 December that they would learn officially of the plan to leave Gallipoli; however, on 14 December George Bollinger wrote in his diary:
Everyone has fully got it into [his] head that we are about to evacuate Gallipoli. These times it does not pay to think. One would get despondent. The old hands are the heart and soul of the place. We are in best of spirits and make light of all rumours. Today we got our handicaps for the “Gallipoli Runaway Stakes”’, ie Turks 30 yds behind scratch, Wellington Battn scratch, Canterbury Battn 10 yds, Auckland Battn ½ acre, Otago Battn 2 days. This caused a terrible lot of merriment.
On the 17th any surplus ammunition, bombs and stores not held in the trenches were buried and a small advance party left Gallipoli. The two companies in reserve, the Hawke’s Bay and Wellington-West Coast, left Gallipoli early in the morning of 19 December.
18 December 1915, Gallipoli below the Apex, destroying biscuit tins prior to the evacuation. Photograph Album of 12/17 Quarter Master Sergeant (and later 2nd Lieutenant) Augustus George Baddiley, Auckland Infantry Battalion. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
The Ruahine and Taranaki companies were left to hold the line. So that the reduced numbers would not be obvious to the enemy, the men walked quickly through the trenches, firing rifles and throwing bombs from different positions. Then, at 5.30pm and 9.15pm, two groups from the Ruahine and Taranaki companies left the Apex. Before they left they rigged up self-firing rifles, triggered by dripping water, to make it seem as though the trenches were still manned. The last of the Wellington Battalion left at 2.10am. Before dawn on 20 December 1915 the silent evacuation of the New Zealanders and Australians from Anzac Cove to Mudros was complete.
William's Pier, Walker's Ridge. It was from this jetty that the majority of men embarked at the evacuation. Photograph Albums relating (possibly) to 3/125A Private Robert Arthur Kerr, New Zealand Medical Corps. National Army Museum of New Zealand.
Of the nearly 10,000 New Zealanders sent to Gallipoli, 2779 died and another 5212 were wounded, some of whom would later die of their injuries. Ted was not one of those statistics: Gallipoli was just the beginning of his war.
Being a survivor was not easy. It was hard for men to leave their dead friends on Gallipoli and carry on living. It was hard to confront the reality, expressed by Herbert Hart in his diary that all they ‘suffered here has been in vain, a most glorious chance in the history of this war, absolutely foiled and lost by the most absurd and ridiculous manner the scheme was commenced’.
We buried them on the battleground below the Apex, where they gave their lives for their honour and their country. Photograph album of Major J.M. Rose, 1st NZEF. Registration Number O.040638. Museum of New Zealand. Te Papa Tongarewa.
It was hard to carry on living, helpless in the knowledge that they were about to be shipped somewhere else to fight another battle. George Bollinger, who was to die at Messines in 1917, expressed a sense of helplessness in his diary on 15 December that cannot have been uncommon: ‘We have not yet thought of our future destination. Will it be Egypt, Salonika, or England?... We will not be terribly proud of our Gallipoli “Bar”. Ours is not to reason why, but just to do and die.’
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- Tolerton, Jane. An awfully big adventure: New Zealand World War One veterans tell their stories. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books, 2013.
- Bollinger, George Wallace, 1890-1917: Diary. MS-Papers-1419. Alexander Turnbull Library.
- Gambrill, Reginald Frank: Papers. MS-Papers-6137. From Gambrill, Reginald Frank: Papers. MS-Group-0672. Alexander Turnbull Library.
- Hart, Herbert Ernest (Sir): Diaries. Micro-MS-0552. Alexander Turnbull Library.
- Album relating to Melville Arthur White. 20 Oct 1914-23 Apr 1917. MSY-7036. From Heathcote White, Alan, 1908-1986: Papers. MS-Group-0603. Alexander Turnbull Library.
- National Army Museum website. http://nam.recollect.co.nz
- Wellington Battalion Diary, Archives New Zealand