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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.
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.
First Glimpse of Fighting
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.
Dead on Beach
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.
An Australasian Charge
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.