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

Chapter 4: August - page 3

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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 A05290]

In the early hours of 8 August, three battalions of the 4th Brigade–the 14th, 15th and 16th–set out. Dawn found them nowhere near the approach to Kocacimentepe. As the Australian battalions advanced over an exposed slope, Turkish machine guns opened up. Against this concentrated Turkish fire little progress was made. In the words of the Australian official history, the 15th Battalion, with most of its officers dead or wounded, ‘broke southwards’ for cover. One Australian who disappeared on 8 August as the 15th came under attack was Sergeant Joseph McKinley of Yass, New South Wales. A comrade wrote:

The men fell under furious fire. It was terrible; the men were falling like rabbits. Many were calling for mothers and sisters. They fell a good way, in many cases, from the Turkish lines. Sgt McKinley … did very good work on the Peninsula. It was commonly believed that he was killed on that morning during the advance. He was never seen again.

[Account from Red Cross file, Sergeant Joseph McKinley, AWM IDRL 428]

A Turkish attack, which then threatened the whole left flank of the 4th Brigade, was held off by half of the 16th Battalion. Meanwhile, more Turkish units began to appear and the position of the 14th and 15th Battalions looked increasingly hopeless. At 7.00 am Monash was told that the three battalions had suffered heavy casualties and that there was no hope of an attack on Kocacimentepe. Indeed, the 15th Battalion, which on 6 August had left North Beach 850 strong, had been reduced to 280 men. Fortunately for the Australians in their exposed positions, the machine gun sections of the 4th Brigade now appeared and covered the retreat. Thus ended the 4th Brigade’s attempt to capture Kocacimentepe, the highest vantage point of the Sari Bair Range.

During the period 7–10 August, what would have struck any observer looking along the great sweep of North Beach and Ocean Beach and up into the ranges, would have been the sight of thousands of wounded men. Many lay in pain on the heights and died before help could reach them. Those capable of walking or crawling made their way back down to aid posts and assembly points at the end of the valleys near the beach. Sergeant H M Jackson, 13th Battalion, AIF, described the scene:

Enlarge An Australian soldier carries a wounded comrade to a dressing station near North Beach.
An Australian soldier carries a wounded comrade down from the ranges to a dressing station near North Beach. [AWM H10363]

From the trench down to the beach, about 4 miles, is one long line of grey stiff bodies of men who have died trying to get down to the beach unassisted.

[Sergeant Harold Jackson, 13th Battalion, AIF, Diary, 26 August 1915, AWM, IDRL/0592]

At the beach below Chunuk Bair a small jetty had been built–Embarkation Pier–to take off the wounded to the hospital ships but because boats bringing in supplies also used the pier, it was shelled by the Turks. From the pier, hundreds of walking wounded struggled down the ‘long sap’ to Ari Burnu point and on to Anzac Cove. As had happened at Anzac Cove during the landing of 25 April, the sheer numbers of wounded overwhelmed the medical services.

Throughout the battle the men of the Australian, New Zealand and British Army Medical Corps, along with the battalion stretcher-bearers, worked night and day to the point of personal collapse. Some died as they tried to carry the wounded down from the heights. Corporal William Rusden saw two lots of stretcher-bearers shot within minutes as they worked their way down a valley. In one of these valleys Private Ormond Burton, New Zealand Medical Corps, witnessed the plight of some 300 wounded:

No-one appeared to be responsible for them. Their wounds were uncared for and in the heat some were in a shocking state. They had no food and no water .... Many were hit a second and third time as they lay helplessly … Many died there–some able to see the hospital ships with their green bands and red crosses no distance out to sea. On one trip I gave my water bottle to a Turkish officer with four or five of his men about him. He gave every drop to his men and took not a mouthful himself. I saw nothing more dreadful during the whole war than the suffering of those forgotten men.

[Burton, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli – The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.308]

Enlarge Stretcher-bearers at work during the August offensive.
Stretcher-bearers at work during the August offensive in the Sari Bair Range. They are probably members of the 4th Australian Field Ambulance at Walden Grove.
[AWM P1116/69/20]

On 9 August, the New Zealanders clung to Chunuk Bair. A mixed garrison of the Wellington Mounted Rifles and Otago Infantry Battalion manned the trenches at the summit and were subjected to the same fierce Turkish counter-attacks that had befallen the Wellington Infantry Battalion on the previous day. Below them, on the seaward side of the range, British and Indian reinforcements struggled in vain through the valleys to reach the New Zealanders but the only unit to gain the summit was the 6th Gurkha Battalion. At 5.23 am the Nepalese burst over a crest to the left of the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair and saw the Dardanelles in the distance. Their commander, Major C J L Allanson, described the moment:

Then off we dashed, all hand in hand, most perfect and a wonderful sight. At the top we met the Turks … [and for] ten minutes we fought hand to hand, we hit and fisted, and used rifles and pistols as clubs and then the Turks turned and fled, and I felt a very proud man: the key to the whole peninsula was ours… . We dashed about 200 feet [61 metres] down towards Maidos [a Turkish village on the Dardanelles] but only got about 200 feet when suddenly our Navy put twelve-inch monitor shells into us and all was terrible confusion. It was a deplorable disaster … and we had to go back.

[Allanson, quoted in B Farwell, The Gurkhas, Penguin Books, 1924, p.10]