continued from Part 1….
Eric Wren, Randwick to Hargicourt (pages 44-60).
” No. 9 Platoon maneuvered to a point about in rear of Bloody Angle, ” wrote Lieut R. O. Cowey. “The platoon was skirmished for perhaps 300 to 400 yards towards Baby 700. with the right flank just touching Mule Valley. On the way over, some tents came into view at the head of Mule Valley, and some anxious moments were experienced, while rifle fire was poured into this locality in case the tents and environs were being used as an ambush. “
“On attaining the advanced position, it was considered advisable to take stock of the country in front and to the flanks before moving forward, because we did not know where any other troops were. Sergeant Palmer was instructed to fire at bare patches of ground while I observed with field-glasses, endeavouring to pick up the ranges of various positions. I did not observe any hits, as the sergeant’s shots were, apparently, masked by bushes. So we charged over, and in this way established the fact that the Turkish tranches near Scrubby Knoll were between 900 and 1200 yards distant, and that a concealed enemy trench, at about the junction of Owen’s Gully and Mule Valley was about 600 yards distant.”
“Turks cuold be seen advancing in open order from Scrubby Knoll towards the 400 Plateau. A few shots were fired at them, but the range was too great to be effective. It was considered, too, to be bad tactics to cause the enemy to be put to much on their guard before they approached our troops who, we believed, were waiting for them at 400 Plateau.”
“As we watched, about half a battalion of Turks were skirmished to a trench near Owen’s Gully, and others were moved similarly to the valley on the far side of Mortar Ridge, from No. 9 Platoon, and up re-entrants giving covered approaches to the Battleship Hill locality. Capitan Leer, about this time, brought up men who extended our line towards Baby 700. I asked him for covering fire while No. 9 Platoon raced the Turks for possession of Mortar Ridge, but the request was not granted. The Turks finally occupied Mortar Ridge, and commenced to pour a deadly fire upon us, from there as well as from the east of Baby 700. Many of our men were killed. The wounded, as well as some others towards Baby 700, commenced retiring. Captain Leer ordered them back to the line, but the majority retired. A steady retirement of individuals from the locality meant that at the end of an hour no men were left on Captain Leer’s extreme left.”
“Captain Leer was sitting down smoking a pipe in full view of my position, where I was among my men who were lying down. Once he stood up in full view of Mortar Ridge, during a burst of heavy firing, and gazed towards it. A bullet struck his cap and twisted it round so that the peak was at the back of his head. He put up his hand to touch the right-hand side of his head, as if he were feeling for blood. Then he sat down again.”
At the end of an hour’s fighting Captain Leer was shot through the neck and chest, and died almost immediately. Lieut Cowey, who was about ten yards away, took charge. While in command Leer had displayed the utmost disregard for his own safety, and shown the greatest coolness. He was a fine example to his men.
“Private Glasgow just previously was shot dead within a yard of me,” continues Lieut Cowey, “and on the other side Private Carr was killed by a bullet which must have only just missed me. I now made a sketch of the locality, addressed it to Colonel Owen, wrapped it round a stone, and threw it to the rear. This sketch was subsequently delivered to Major A. J. Bennett. It was made with a view to showing Colonel Owen how advantageous a machine-gun would have been in firing at moving Turkish troops from where I was.”
“Ammunition commenced to run short. I tried to get word to the rear, but could not. I turned Private Carr’s dead body over, and distributed his unused ammunition. My men cried out that they were being fired on from the rear, and asked what they should do. I told them to hang on and continue firing. Several times they called to me that our reinforcements were firing upon them, and we endeavoured to make those to the rear understand that we were not Turks.”
“Late in the afternoon, about 5 p.m., several men rushed to the rear. They had not previously been able to move, owing to the intensity of the Turkish fire. As these men were not immediately shot down, I ordered the survivors to retire, and followed as soon as I saw them on their way.”
“The reverse fire alone was what made me decide to retire, as it appeared that reinforcements had mistaken us for Turks, and could not be convinced by our shouting that we were not.When I had gone back about 100 yards, I found all my men rallied under a slight eminence by Lieut Heugh, of the 2nd Battalion A.I.F. Lieut Heugh and I then held a consultation, with the result that I gave him covering fire while he took half my men back to the empty Turkish trnech at the Bloody Angle. He then covered my retirement.”
[Lieut Cowey also writes about this episode in a letter to his father which was published in ‘The Advertiser’, Adelaide, 15 June 1915]
Some hours after this retirement, under cover of darkness, Company Quarter-Master-Sergeant Dargin went out alone in search of Captain Leer’s body. He was never seen or head of again. On Tuesday [27th April] a similar attempt was made by Private Aubrey Farmer. He, too, was never heard of again. [The circumstances of these three men will be reviewed in a future post as they among the many men who have no known grave and are listed on the Lone Pine Memorial.]
Farmer was one of the most extraordinary men in the battalion. He made no secret of the fact at Mena, when the battalion was training, that everything that savoured of war was abhorrent to him, and he elected to remain in the Q.M.’s store during that period. But during those first days on the Peninsula he proved himself to be a man of quite unexpected calibre – the great crisis developed another man, and Farmer’s work throughout those first three days was of such a nature that he was awarded a posthumous D.C.M. – an honour probably unique in A.I.F. history.
As the darkness and rain set in on the Sunday night (April 25th), Lieut Cowey set his men to digging trenches. The work was not only difficult but dangerous, as, by this time, the Turks had concentrated a continuous rifle and machine-gun fire along the edge of the cliffs to which Cowey’s men were clinging. This fire in some instances was at ranges as as 100-125 yards. Actually the Turkish infantry frequently came much closer, but always they were thrust back by the sheer ferocity of Cowey’s defence. At about 10 p.m. a company of the 15 Battalion reinforced Cowey’s right. The newcomers were placed on neighbouring high ground, thus prolonging the line thereabouts and helping to give Cowey’s flank an urgently-needed greater measure of security. Lieut Heugh, of the 2nd Battalion, joined Cowey in strengthening the position, and splendid use was made of the packs and shovels the men had carried with them from the beach in the early morning.
But the trench-digging was rudely interrupted. The greater portion of Sunday night till dawn was spent in meeting a rapid succession of Turkish attacks, which aimed at dislodging the defending troops from the position they so precariously occupied. There was fierce hand-to-hand fighting during the awful night watches. At times the Turks approached so closely and so boldly that it was impossible to distinguish friend from foe. There were occasions when the defenders were actually firing at each other. Such was the nature of the greatly confused and uncertain conflict on the left flank.
While Captain Leer and Lieut Cowey were in the thick of it there, the remainder of the battalion were experiencing very severe trails and having a most hazardous time generally in other parts of the line. Early on the Sunday morning, Captain Ronald Burns, adjutant of the battalion, hearing that the 10th Battalion badly needed reinforcements, took a party of men across MacLaurin’s Hill to Courtney’s Post. Here they occupied a shallow trench which had been hastily scooped out by the Turks.
Captain Burns had just settled down to the task of directing the fire of the men about him, when a Turkish bullet ended his life. The loss to the 3rd Battalion was a severe one. Burns had many special qualifications, and , in addition to his knowledge of infantry work, he was one of the select few who then held an air pilot’s certificate.
Captain J. C. Wilson now assumed command at Courtney’s, and Lieut O. G. Howell-Price took over the duties of adjutant. Howell-Price was a brilliant young subaltern who afterwards commanded the battalion. The enemy fire in this particular locality was most deadly, and there were many casualties. Next day, Captain Wilson was wounded in the head; subsequently he died in hospital at Alexandria. Lieut C. E. M. Brodziak was badly shot while in the same trench.
Two 3rd Battalion men, Private A. Mullins and H.W. Minter, who helped to garrison this post, must be specially mentioned for their gallantry in carrying messages under heavy fire to and from headquarters. For several days they kept Colonel Owen posted with news from Courtney’s. Rather than return empty-handed, each man regularly carried back supplies of ammunition and water.
On MacLaurin’s Hill, early on Sunday morning, Sergeant-Major D. N. McGregor of A Company, formerly a master at Newington College and a splendid athlete, lost his life while attempting to get his men safely under cover. About the same time Lieut G. E. McDonald, who had taken most of his platoon (No. 3) down to Wire Gully, returned to an old Turkish trench behind the same hill to pick up a section of this men who had lost touch. Crossing the hill he was greeted with a terrif burst of fire, and the section he led back passed through a regular hail of bullets. A sergeant was shot in the neck, the man on one side of him had his water-bottle pierced, while another on the other side had his puttees riddled. It is on record that shortly afterwards the same section burst into loud spontaneous laughter when a young lance-corporal, receiving the full impact of a spent bullet on his shin, exploded in a series of shrieks. “Listen to him, ” said one man, “yelling like a stick pig.”
But such humours were few and short lived. The crescendo of rifle and machine-gun fire, the moan and sharp crack or thud of Turkish bullets as they struck the ground or human flesh, the screen and crash of Turkish shrapnel, the back and whip of spiteful machine-guns, and the whine and roar of the heavy shells from the battleships – all this made it a nerve -and soul-racking ordeal for new and till then unblooded troops. The earsplitting detonations of great guns and huge shells were echoed and re-echoed from cliff to cliff, until they seemed to shake the whole countryside. The only cover available, in the main, was low scrub and slight folds in the ground; real shelter there was none. Throughout the whole of that fateful Sunday the troops sniped whenever a target offered, and scraped anxiously with their entrenching tools the protection for their aching bodies that even shallow holes offered.
continued in Part 3…..