We had been at the Pink Farm not quite five days, when orders came at half- past six in the afternoon that the battalion would move to the firing-line that night at eight viâ the Gurkha Bluff, the large, deep nullah that was rendered famous by the Indian Highlanders.
If every fight I saw in Gallipoli defies and baffes all description, the thrice-bloody battle of Krithia beggars every other. It was hell heaped up, running over, multiplied a thousandfold. We went through it only, I think, because the intensest human sense of suffering and sensibility to torture are reached in a comparatively mild stage of battle. Men suffer all they can suffer in battles many times less ardent, less concentrated of agony, than was Krithia. And when men have reached their acme of pain and of horror, the piling up of more does not affect their sense of woe, even if it be heaped higher than ‘old Pelion, or the skyish head of blue Olympus’.
Modern war is a mosaic of tiny fragments, cemented together by human blood, hammered together by ten thousand individual energies. Each man does his bit. Few men see or know much of the whole. Only a soldier of the Higher Command could have known much at the time of our war at the Dardanelles. I was a very small piece in that hideous mosaic. Even of the battle of Krithia, though I was in it for two days and nights, I saw but my own minute part. I could describe comprehensively the Dardanelles campaign, or Krithia, only by borrowing from reports that for the most part are as accessible to all as they are to me. Incomparably more competent pens can do that bigger task. I think it more useful to attempt a plain, unvarnished record of what I saw and of what I tried to help to do.
We left the rest-camp precisely at eight, and as we crested the rise the nightly fusillade began, and almost at once the bullets were spitting about and among us, not single spies, but whole battalions.
It was my third spell of going up, through fire, to the front line, and I began to feel the continued strain.
Only two of us – the original officers – had not been touched up to now. And I admit that I was beginning to imagine that my turn must be coming soon. Partly this was nerves ; a little, I fancy, it was mathematical ; and to some extent it came from seeing the casualties we had before getting into the Gurkha Bluff. One fellow got it when he was just beside me, and it made me feel jumpy – a sensation I had not had before. However, there was nothing for it but to carry on, and we plodded and scrambled on to the point where we went up the cliff into the support-trenches. I certainly felt ‘fey’ that night. I am not boasting of my second-sight, for it proved entirely false, unless the feeling merely presaged break down. My first wound has not found me yet, and my sleeve has no right to wear the little strip of gold which the boys coveted, and which we older men as ardently hoped to escape.
We had been just an hour and a half grilling through the bullets and the dark when we were abruptly halted by a sudden block in front of us. We could not wedge into it, try as we would, so the men lay down. There we stayed until after one, when the block gave way a bit, and we succeeded in pushing past the Indian Brigade, and moving up till we reached our sector. By the time we had settled down it was feeding-time, but there were no mess orderlies on view – and so, no breakfast.
Orders came in the morning that the regiment would remain in their trench, and hold it at all cost, if the attacking troops (who would arrive an hour before their time for advancing to the attack) were forced back.
Whether or not this would be pleasanter for us than advancing ourselves remained to be seen.
I established my ‘phone at about the centre of the position, and then I arranged the companies.
This was the programme : There was to be bombardment for three-quarters of an hour. Then the men were to show their bayonets over the top and cheer. Then – another bombardment for fifteen minutes, and over you go.
Armoured cars were to be used for the first time, and the Royal Engineers were putting planks of wood over our trenches so that the cars could go across that way. There was a flagman to show the driver the way, and where the place was. But the flagman đidn’t waggle his flag properly, and that led to my undoing.
Besides keeping communication up in my own unit, we had orders to render an hourly report on the battle, which meant a lot of running about and interrogating the wounded as they came back. For even the wounded must help, if they can, and they are always eager to do so.
The programme began at the scheduled moment. It was the stiffest time I had seen since the hideous struggle of the first landing. After a short while it got too warm even for Anzacs and Twenty-ninthers, not from the fire of the foe, but from the well-meant (if not well-aimed) guns of our own navy. `Their heavies began to fall perilously near our trench ; and when one landed just behind it, I got on the ‘phone and harangued headquarters earnestly. And the range of the navy’s guns. soon increased.
I am trying to tell, from the personal point of view, a little of what the 29th Division of our army did in Gallipoli but it should always be borne in mind that the Dardanelles campaign was a naval enterprise, and that we were there for a sub-navy purpose to assist our ships to force a passage through the straits, and to win the enormous all that that would entail and secure. It was a naval venture, and in the battle of Krithia, as in all the engagements, our ships were of constant and great assistance. We were fighting their battle ; naturally they threw their might in with ours.
The bombardment ceased as sharply as it had begun. The men rattled their bayonets and cheered. A yell for victory and for home went up from every throat there. Then the second spasm commenced. It was fast. It was furious. Words pale before it. Memory sickens at it.
It stopped, and up over the top went the first line. Evidently the Turk had been lying low, for now his machine-guns grew very active and a terrible stream of wounded came flowing back to us.
But now the supports came pouring through us like good wine – or liquid iron – through tired veins. That steadied things up a bit. An armoured car came with them, spitting and puffing and lumbering along. Nothing so ugly or so awkward ever was seen outside of a Zoo. The very amateur bridge that the Engineers had tossed up for them was just beside my ‘phone. The flagman waved a bit of rag about three inches square, and the car made for it. She got on to the planks all right ; then! – her off hind-wheel slipped over the side, and down she came on to the axle, and (incidentally) pretty well on to my head. Nothing could be done, So the naval officer in charge and the gunner climbed out. In getting out the naval petty officer was seriously wounded.
The attack was not progressing quite up to time, but we were getting on in patches. Unfortunately the Turks were getting on in patches too. Ăt this point my position was about four hundred yards from a nasty-looking trench of the enemy’s, and they soon spotted our broken-down car.
Then the fun began. A battery started to try to blow the car to blazes. They made a good start. What with this and machine-gun bullets jumping off the car at all angles, I was having a thin time. I cannot recall ever having had a thinner. To add to my trouble, my wire was in too constant requisition. It was the only one working, and officers from other units were finding me out and wanting to use it every few minutes.
I had just written out two messages and given them to two orderlies. I felt restless, and got up, turned about aimlessly, and moved away some ten yards. That restlessness saved my life. At that moment a shell crashed into the trench and exploded precisely where I had been sitting. Frankly, it made me feel peculiar. I remember that I stumbled a bit as I walked on, thinking that if I had stayed where I was, or gone the other way, I should, by now, have been blown to little bits. I finished what I wanted to do (for my aimlessness had been but an instant’s – we had no time for aimlessness then) and went back to the trench. I met one of my orderlies, who, fortunately for him, had left immediately with the first message I had written. He had bits of shrapnel in his jaw, in his elbow, and in his I bound him up and packed him off. I got back into the trench, and saw what I had not seen before, for the smoke had cleared now. My other orderly lay dead, with my message still in his hand. His body and his head lay four or five feet apart. Two of my signallers were killed also, and mutilated so horribly that to describe their condition would be inexcusable. I stood for a moment and gazed at the wreckage – wreck of trench, wreck of ‘phone, wreck of men, and then I sat dully down on the mud floor of the trench.