A 'duty clear before us' – North Beach and the Sari Bair Range

Chapter 4: August - page 2

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Their uniforms were torn, their knees broken

The August Offensive in the Sari Bair Range, 6–10 August 1915

Enlarge Turkish  artillery in action on Gallipoli, 1915.
Turkish artillery in action on Gallipoli, 1915.
[AWM A05287]

At 11.00 am on 7 August, the Auckland Battalion advancing towards Chunuk Bair ran into intense Turkish fire. They advanced only 100 metres and took 300 casualties. For the rest of the day the New Zealand battalions dug in under constant Turkish artillery and rifle fire. They could see far below at Suvla Bay the new British landing force establishing itself. However, the British at Suvla made little effort to advance and throughout the battle Turkish guns, situated near the village of Anafarta, not far from the British lines, were able to fire unimpeded on the New Zealanders and other British units on Chunuk Bair.

At dawn on 8 August men of the Wellington Battalion took Chunuk Bair from the small number of Turks defending the summit. From there they gazed down on the objective of the whole campaign–the straits of the Dardanelles at the Narrows. Sergeant Daniel Curham of the Wellingtons was aware of the significance of this peak on Gallipoli:

Some chaps had a glimpse of the sea and all the country in between and we knew perfectly well that this hill was the key to victory or defeat on the Peninsula.

[Curham, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli – The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.290]

There are some lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem about the death of King Arthur–'The Passing of Arthur’–which well describe the fate of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and Mounted Rifles as they now tried to hold Chunuk Bair:

So all day long the noise of battle rolled
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s Table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their lord …

[From ‘The Passing of Arthur’,
The Idylls of the King,
Alfred Lord Tennyson]

For two days–8 and 9 August 1915–the New Zealanders fought off numerous Turkish counter-attacks. On 8 August it was the Wellington Infantry Battalion that held the two trenches at the summit–one on the reverse and one on the forward slope. British units–the 7th Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment and the 8th Battalion of the Welsh Pioneers–dug in behind and on either side of the New Zealanders. Private Reginald Davis of the Wellingtons, who was taken prisoner that morning, remembered the intensity of the fighting:

Private Surgenor was hit in the head somewhere, but kept on firing with his face streaming with blood, until he got another hit in the head, which dazed him for a while, and knocked him back in the trench. This time I thought he was killed, but he partly came to after, and loaded rifles for me to fire. At that time I was using three rifles and each was burning hot … On the right of my position I was able to see about thirty yards [30 metres] of trench in which all our men were wounded or dead.

[Davis, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli – The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.297]

Enlarge An Australian 5-inch howitzer in position on North Beach
An Australian 5-inch howitzer in position on North Beach. [AWM A14027]

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, the Wellingtons’ commanding officer, fought alongside his men. One man recalled Malone’s leadership that day:

Twice it looked very bad so with Colonel Malone we joined the lads in front. I had my revolver and a handful of cartridges and Colonel Malone seized up a rifle and bayonet. The Wellingtons seemed to rise up each time from nowhere and the Turks were hurled back. In the first of these attacks the bayonet on Colonel Malone’s rifle was twisted by a bullet, so after this he kept it with him; as he said it was lucky.

[Major W H Hastings, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli – The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.302]

As the day wore on, many of the New Zealand and British wounded from the trenches at the summit found their way back to a gully in the rear. Lance Corporal Charles Clark of the Wellingtons wrote:

There were about 300 wounded lying in the gully … we lay there in the sun … each man looked after himself … and you would speak to a man, one of your own men and later on you would get no reply, they were dying, dying out as the day went on.

[Clark, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli – The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.299]

Late in the afternoon Colonel Malone was killed in his headquarters trench by a shell fired from either a British naval vessel or from the Anzac artillery. Beside him that day died many men of the 7th Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment. These Englishmen, and some Welshmen of the 8th Welsh Pioneers, fought beside the New Zealanders throughout that day of battle. Charles Bean recorded that so heavy were the losses of the Gloucesters that eventually they were ‘placed singly among the New Zealanders’. In trying to send reinforcements to the Wellingtons, the Auckland Infantry Battalion also suffered heavy casualties. At 10.30 pm on 8 August what was left of the Wellingtons was relieved. Charles Bean described this moment:

Of the 760 of the Wellington Battalion who had captured the height that morning, there came out only 70 unwounded or slightly wounded men. Throughout that day not one had dreamed of leaving his post. Their uniforms were torn, their knees broken. They had had no water since the morning; they could talk only in whispers; their eyes were sunken; their knees trembled; some broke down and cried.

[C E W Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol II, p.679]

As the New Zealand and British troops fought during 8 August at Chunuk Bair, General Monash’s 4th Australian Brigade met with disaster on the slopes leading to Kocacimentepe. The Australians were never able to find their way onto the correct spur of the range that led up to this peak. Throughout 7 August, in their hastily dug positions, they had been subjected to Turkish artillery fire and had suffered casualties. In the evening, Monash was ordered to send his men forward on 8 August to take Kocacimentepe. In the words of General Alexander Godley, the officer in charge of the Chunuk Bair operation, ‘the assault should be carried out with loud cheering’.