The Landing
Eric Wren, Randwick to Hargicourt (pages 44-60).

On Historic April 25th Reveille was set forward for 4 a.m., but there was not the slightest necessity to waken any man of the 3rd Battalion. All ranks had lain down to sleep, or to attempt to sleep, in their clothes the previous evening. The first faint streaks of dawn found the troops climbing to all possible vantage points on the ship and straining their eyes in a vain endeavour to catch a glimpse of the terrain and – the fighting. *
[* footnote: It should be noted at this stage of the narrative that the Turks had received a thorough warning of the pending attack. The warning had begun with the naval attack on March 18, when the fleet vainly endeavoured to force the Narrows. Further warnings were in the form of air reconnaissances by British observers on April 14 and 15. Then again, commanding and staff officers were taken along the coast for observation purposes in patrolling warships under the very eyes of the enemy. The departure of troops from Egypt and the huge gathering of ships in Mudros Harbour could scarcely have escaped the notice of the Turks, who had many active spies on the mainland, and small trading boats were allowed to come in and out of Mudros Harbour at will during the period that the fleet of troopships was anchored there.]

It was a very hurried breakfast at 5 a.m. “The destroyer was to be alongside at 6 a.m.”, wrote Captain Bean, the medical officer, “to take us in as close as possible, and the last 200 yards was to be travelled in open boats. At dawn I was up and saw that we were lying a couple of miles or so off shore, in company with other boats. Closer in were several men-of-war already shelling the indistinct shore hills. You could hear the boom of the guns after the flashes – followed by other little flashes on shore and puffs of smoke, and little scatters of dust where the shells burst. I watched for a minute or two – intensely interested.”

“Punctually to time the destroyer came alongside, and at once the lieutenant in command called to me. He had wounded on board. So I was the first to board her, and immediately went below – though not before I had noticed a tarpaulin spread over something lying very still on the deck, and with little red trickles running away to the waterway along the ship’s side. It was at that moment I fully realized that the war had begun for us. Down below I found a few slight flesh wound cases, and, with my men, attended to them. I just got up again in time to get into a shore-going boat. There were several, and we bundled in anyhow and in no particular order. A couple of sailors rowed and another fine breezy old salt took the helm – grand chaps those tars were – as cheery as if we were setting out on a pleasure cruise. A shell or two whistled by, none very close. There were no bullets. We couldn’t beach right up, we had to wade ashore. I got a wetting up to my hips.”

The other boats did not have such an easy passage. Lieut E. N. Litchfield, then a platoon seargeant, relates his experience: “No. 9 Platoon filled one boat and half-filled another. Lieut O. G. Howell-Price, my officer, told me to fill the second boat with No. 10 Platoon men. The Turks by this time were peppering away at the boats. Two shells hit one of the destroyer’s funnels. At the same moment a little midshipman, facing the bridge beside the funnel, without so much as turning a hair, called out in a drawling voice, ‘You chaps want to keep down there or you will be hit.’ Several more shells hit the destroyer in that few minutes. As we were towed in by a pinnace we had a hot time. When we cast off and rowed from the pinnace, each boat independently, Lieut Howell-Price’s boat was just on the right of mine. He was sitting high up in the stern. The shell that hit our boat under the water line must have just missed his head.”

“My boat started to fill rapidly. Luckily, the lads put their backs into the hole, and we landed on a reef about 20 or 30 feet from the shore, with the boat settling down to the gunwale. Men started to scramble ashore in full kit, and the two Jack Tars [sailors] who were with us to take the boat back were diving about grabbing men heavily loaded with equipment, and helping them into shallow water when they fell into the deep holes of the reef.”

Private C. M. Geddes and his companions had a unique experience. Geddes wrote: “For a while our boat was rowed along safely. Then suddenly there was a crash, and a piece of shell passed through the bottom. Nobody was hit, bu the boat began to fill, and we felt she’d go down. An old sailor, wearing a cap-band H.M.S. Ocean – he had been on that ship when she was sunk in the Narrows – was in charge. He called out ‘Keep on rowing, lads, she can’t sink, she’s a life boat.’ The oars were getting difficult to pull, as the water rose higher and higher in the boat. The old sailor said, ‘Keep on, boys, I can see the bottom.’ I could too, but it was a mighty long way down as the Aegean is nice and clear. He then yelled out, ‘Hi, picket-boat, hi!’ to an empty boat returning from shore. Luckily she saw our plight and steamed towards us.”

“The water in the boat had now risen to the level of that outside, and we all just stepped into the sea. As I left the boat she was three feet under, and I carried my rifle, full pack, three days’ rations, and 120 rounds of ammunition. Down I went, and the thought flashed into my mind, ‘What a rotten way to die in the dark, and, without having fired a shot, too.’ When I came up again, my cap, which had been fixed tightly on my head with the chin strap, was gone, and my beloved rifle, which I had been taught to look after and treat as my best friend, had gone also, to a watery grave in the Aegean. The picket-boat hauled the sailor in with a boat hook, and I tried to reach his legs as they hauled him in, but couldn’t reach him. Finally they threw me a lifebuoy on a line and dragged me in when I was almost done.”

“Soon after we got on the picket-boat, a little pink-faced middy [midshipman] in charge asked us each to move up one place to trim the boat. We moved just as a huge shell threw a column of water in the air, half-way between us and another boat. We felt nothing, but the chap near me, Bill Logan, who was sitting in the place I had just moved from, swooned back and was caught by the sailor who had thrown the lifebouy. A fragment of the shell has entered his side, and he lived only a few minutes.”

“The middy then said, ‘Are we making water?’ and the Jack Tar replied, ‘I think we are sir’; I though ‘Great Scott, we’re out of one shipwrecked boat into another.’ The picket-boat steamed hard for the Galeka and reached the gangway just as she began to sink. We stripped off our wet clothes and were given hot tea, and blankets to wrap in. There were thirteen of us, and poor Bill Logan belonged to No. 13 section.”

Despite the fact that the 1st Brigade landed in full daylight, while the 3rd Brigade – the covering troops – set foot on Gallipoli just before dawn, the battalion had a comparatively easy passage ashore. As the men stepped or jumped from the tows to the beach they were speedily marshalled and formed up in platoons and companies by their officers under the shelter of that great physical prominence which subsequently came to be known as “Plugge’s Plateau.”

The instructions which had been issued to all ranks in the division the night before the Landing were explicit. In them was nothing that could possibly be misunderstood. In effect, they were the orders given to the 3rd Brigade – “push on at all costs”.

The result of the battalion’s strenuous and most effective training at Mena was immediately apparent. Delays and indecisions there were none. Colonel Owen at once found himself supported by an orderly force eager to carry out his first commands. The sound of incessant rifle and machine-gun fire was wafted down from the hills, and it was apparent that there was fierce skirmishing. The covering force had, it was clear, already made considerable headway. Men of the 3rd Battalion were straining to be away.

B Company, under Major M. St. J. Lamb, was first to move. Officers and men scrambles willingly up the steep sea-face of Plugge’s Plateau, and, making their way through the scrub at the summit in orderly military fashion, filed down into Monash Gully. The remaining companies either followed the same route, or proceeded with all haste to the fighting by way of Shrapnel Gully, to become at once absorbed into the struggling firing line that had by this time been formed by widely dispersed unites of the 3rd Brigade.

The platoons which worked along the track in Monash Gully had a particularly strenuous time scrambling up the farther side of that valley, where men of the “dawn” battalions were bravely and frantically endeavouring to establish a line. Unlike those in the first wild rush, the men of the 3rd Battalion carried full packs in addition, each was weighted down with 250 rounds of ammunition, to say nothing of picks and shovels supplementary to the ordinary entrenching equipment.

Among the earliest casualties was Sergeant Walter Cavill, one of the most popular non-commissioned officers in the battalion. He has seen service in the South African War, with the New South Wales Lancers, but his soldiering experience was destined to benefit the men of A Company for very long on that eventful day.

By Approximately 10 a.m. every man of the battalion was in action reinforcing the 3rd Brigade wherever a junction could be effected. Major E. S. Brown with the majority of A Company worked to a position just beyond McLaurin’s Hill, and Lieutenants G. E. McDonald and W. B. Carter began a firece action a little to the right at Wire Gully. On Major Brown’s left, at Courtney’s Post, Captain J. C. Wilson has reinforced the 11th Battalion. Near by were Captain Ronald Burns, Lieutenants L. W. Street, Eric Goldring, and O .G. Howell-Price, Captain D. McF. McConaghy and the major portion of B Company settled down to serious work facing the position afterwards known as German Officer’s Trench.

Perhaps the most vital phase of the early fighting was on the left of the Australian line up near Russell’s Top, directly fronting the Turkish counter-attack which was rapidly developed on Baby 700. There the Turkish position dominated nearly every section of the Australian line, and men began to fall with cruel frequency until the toll was bewildering.

C Company, under Captain C. E. Leer, lost many men before it was able to make any progress in establishing itself at the head of Monash Gully near the Bloody Angle. This company was fortunate to have, in addition to its commanding officer, the services of two very fine leaders in the persons of Lieut R. O. Cowey and Sergeant-Major W. B. Phipps, was the latter an olf African campaigner who had seen long service with a British regiment.

Machine-gun and rifle bullets were now pouring into the Australian line from all directions, and the slaughter was appalling. Turkish machine-guns were operated from the hidden recesses of Baby 700, while snipers carried on their deadly work with ghastly precision from the shelter of innumerable “hide outs” in the scrub. This most spirited opposition, added to the fact that the Turks had all the advantage of position, made it extremely difficult for Captain Leer and his men to come into holts with the enemy.

continued in Part 2…..

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