9 May 1915
May 9th 15
Dear Mum & Dad & Brothers & Sisters.
The wound in my arm is nearly healed but my arm is still practically useless. I can only just raise it – very slowly. I suppose that the papers told you all about the fighting but all the same I spose you’d like to hear it again. The landing was commenced very early in the morning Sunday 25/4/15 the 3rd BDE going first & that BDE had the most landing casualties. The Turks were right on the beach, despite the fact that the warships had shelled the place very thoroughly & the first few boat loads of our boys lost heavily but as soon as they got ashore they dug them out with the bayonet. During the whole of the landing the Turks were giving our boys schrapnel a treat & one boat was sunk by a shell exploding on her water line. I heard also that two pontoons broke away from the tow & the Turks got their machine guns on to them & wiped out everybody on them. Our turn came about 8 o’clock & A Co was the first to go. We got on a destroyer & she took us pretty close in, & then we got into rowing boats & thus got on shore. When I first got on the destroyer I was as right as rain until I saw my first sight of the harvest of war. I saw blood oozing from beneath a tarpaulin & a sailor told me there were 4 dead men under it – killed by shrapnel on the destroyer before they even landed.
When the boats got into 3 feet of water we all jumped out & waded ashore feeling mighty thankful that we’d got so far. The 3rd Battery formed up in a deep gully near by safe from shrapnel for a few moments rest. After a short spell we marched off. Hills. They were awful. We simply had to pull ourselves up hand by hand. And to improve matters we had 50 rds of extra ammunition, three days rations, & some firewood.
Whilst having one of the many rests we were compelled to take, an unaimed bullet got Sgt Cavill in the neck & I believe he has gone under to it. Presently we got on to a plateau with a lovely trench in it that the Turks, with commendable foresight had provided for us. The bullets from a fight somewhere handy were flying about pretty thick making that sharp crack you hear when marking. We couldn’t get a field of fire from the trench, so we all got up on the level ground, but nary a turk could we see & as they started potting at us from somewhere we started to dig ourselves in. Shortly afterwards there came a long drawn hissing scream followed by an explosion, & a pretty cloud of smoke up in the air. Shrapnel. There are only two things that ought to be barred in war & they are Artillery & machine guns they are both fiendish. They shelled us all that day & searched all over the ground with their machine guns & we couldn’t do a thing. The whole country is covered with short scrub about 3 feet high & its almost impossible to see a man lying down at 20yds. Of course that style of country just suits the Turks & their snipers & machine guns can work without any fear of being discovered. About 4pm we got word to fix bayonets & be ready for a charge but it never came off. Shortly afterwards we got into the trench & just after I got in A co’s Sgt Major MacGregor was shot dead by a sniper as he was standing in the trench. Capt Burns[?] who was in charge of old F co was also killed shot throu the heart, also Lt Evans the machine gun officer – he was riddled by one of the enemys machine guns. Dr Bean our medical officer was wounded also Lt Carter of A Co. Major Lear of C Co & Lcpl Meakins signaler were both killed by the one shrapnel as the Major was reading a message Meakins brought him. I heard that the 2nd & 4th Battns had lost their Colonels. Col Owen of the 3rd is Brigadier of the 1st & 2nd Brigade. By nightfall we were all dug in as soon as the darkness allowed we improved our trenches. Just at dark I took some ammunition out on to the Right. I had to cross an open bit of white ground. Luckily the beggars missed me. When I was coming back stood under cover for a few mins before crossing the open & then when I did rush I fell head over heels right in the centre _ _ _. but got back O.K. All night both sides kept up a heavy rifle fire – the Turks firing where they knew our trenches were & our boys firing wherever they saw flame. I was watching nearly all night – I got the job of observer for Maj Brown. Had to keep closely scanning the country for M Guns, movements of the enemy etc. When things got extra warm Major Brown used to make me come down. Its very interesting observing, the only thing I had to be extra careful of was one or more snipers on the right front. All day Monday things were very hot indeed. The rifle fire was very heavy from the Turks, but not from us – its no use firing at nothing & they didn’t let us forget that they had Artillery. It was on Monday night I had my first narrow escape. Just near dark Maj Brown went down to the outpost trench to lead a bayonet charge but things were so hot that he got down into the trench & I did so also, crouching behind Elbel. Well shrapnel began to come our way so I squeezed in alongside Elbel instead of behind him. A little after a concussion shrapnel tore bits out of Elbels haversack which was on his back & exploded in the ground 3 feet behind us & right on top of it another one landed in the same place & the only damage both of them did was to cut Maj Browns face a little. Elbel was a bit dazed for a few seconds. If I had remained where I was I would have got it fair in the chest which would have made an awful mess to say the least of it. All Monday night was incessant firing by the Turks with threatened bayonet charges that never came off. Maj Brown went off for a few hours Monday night as his face was rather cut about by the shell that nearly laid Elbel out, so I reported to Capt Douglas & was with him all Tuesday morning trying to pick out m guns & whilst doing so picked up a couple of Turks crawling away. Got my rifle & then couldn’t see them for awhile & when I did one was lying in the open & the other was half behind a little bush. Got the range lovely first shot & gave them three each for luck. While on this post I aroused the fire of a sniper & he made me feel uncomfortable all morning. Things were pretty comfortable at this post. Just below us out of sight of the “Terrrrrrible Turrrrrrk” was a little deep gully in which there was a nice spring & we used to slip down & make ourselves some tea or beef tea or both according to fancy. There were 4 beef tea squares in our rations. The only thing about it we had to get down like a streak of lightning & back the same way or else have a dozen snipers on to you. On the Wednesday the Turks must have taken a tumble as they made it impossible for us to stay in the gully at all so the tea making had to be abandoned but during the Monday & Tuesday there was quite a quantity of tea made. After dinner hearing Major Brown was back I returned to his trench & remained with him. About 3pm the Turks began to give us particular __ with their shrapnel & our big guns didn’t seem to be able to get on to them. They were making a point of sending 3 concussion ones at a time followed by three or 4 timed ones. After a while they gave us nothing but concussion ones & I had narrow squeak No 2. They began to drop pretty close to where we were & presently one landed plunk fair into my observation post & blew it into __ the air. Maj Brown & a Sergt Maj of the 11th & myself were all sitting huddled in a tiny dugout & when I saw my lookout go I thort to myself that the next would just about land right on us & sure enough it did. It landed fair into the trench right opposite the three of us & buried us up to our necks in dirt. I scrambled up to see if I was hurt & finding I wasn’t I inspected the seniors. As before Maj Brown was the only one touched, & as before he got it in the face, but though unpleasant his wounds were not dangerous. I picked up 5 of the shrapnel bullets out of the dirt as momentos. A rifle that happened to be where the shell landed was in a sad mess. That night when half way throu my tea I was told to take an officer around to a certain trench. As I expected to be back in a few mins I left all my things behind. Whilst I was waiting to bring the officer back things developed with great rapidity and everybody was rushed into the firing line with fixed bayonets. I had left my rifle behind so I looked round & got another. Three of us were crammed into a trench made for one. One chap was lying in one end, another in the other end & I was sitting on the side with my body closer to the ground than a snakes stomach. Bullets were flying very thick – the air was simply cracking with them. I think that the Turks intended there to be a general bayonet attack that night, but owing to the awful reception they got on the left it was abandoned. They formed a charging line three times on the left & did it in silence & with great courage & discipline but each time it was formed our boys blew them to pieces with their rifle fire & after the third attempt they gave it best & retreated leaving hundreds of dead behind them. I spent an awful night – daren’t sit up & it was agony the way I was. One poor beggar near us decided to rush back for something & he’d barely started before he fell crying out “I’m badly wounded” time after time for about 10 mins & then he ceased. Shortly after a chap from the out post trench in front tried to rush back to us & reached us moaning horribly with an awful hole in his stomach. You see it was bright moonlight the whole night long. A chap named Cox – a Letter Carrier & also A co’s head cook was the connecting file between the outpost & the main body. He was in a deep dugout & had to pass orders back & forward. The outpost couldn’t raise him after awhile so a man sent to waken him but it was no use he’d died at his post – a sniper got him in the head. All night there alarms so we didn’t get any sleep. In the morning all the trenches were connected. It was slow & dangerous work but we got it done at last. We were all suffering terribly from want of water & at last several bottles came along but they were for some men further along that had none since Sunday. We did without water till late in the afternoon. During the afternoon a M. Gun on our front was giving us a lot of trouble – every few mins the snake like hissing of its stream of bullets would come unpleasantly close so being an observer I tried to pick it out. My possy was a rotten one too. There were two small bushes just in front & the enemy thort it was a M. Gun position so you can imagine the result every min or so the dirt in front would be knocked over us & we’d often get quite a shower. About quarter of an hour watching rewarded me. I picked out the thin wreath of steam rising from the cooler, so I got about a doz men & went to each & had to sight their rifles on to it before they could see it. When they were all ready we gave it 5 rounds rapid. I don’t know whether we put it out of action, or killed the crew or merely compelled them to shift, anyway the bullets landed right on to it by the dust & it was quiet afterwards. Just at dusk I crawled along our trench to get back to Maj Brown but when I reached Capt Douglas he told me Maj Brown was wounded in the arm & that he was in charge so I stayed with him. Wed night was comparatively quiet & a little wet. Tho I’d had practically no sleep since Saty night I couldn’t sleep. The strain & worry was awful & my head was singing & buzzing awfully. Before I went to bed got a hint that the 3rd were going to be relieved in the morning so I gathered all my things together. Couldn’t find my water bottle but got another easy enough. Lost my haversack but that was also easily replaced, but the worst of it was that the compass Clytie gave me was in it & so I’ve lost it. We were relieved by the “Tommies” at daybreak on Thursday morning. We had to cross about 100 yds of fire swept ground & we rushed it. Just near the safety trench I stopped to walk & got a knock in the shoulder like a kick from a horse. I tumbled into the trench pretty slick & Sgt Harris dressed my wound & then Sgt Button came along & he took me to the Field dressing base & the Dr there dressed it & I got a lovely drink of tea. Then Sgt Button took me to the beach & I met Vernie there. He’s O.K. He made both of us a cup of tea & then I went to Field Ambulance to report & I got another hot drink there _ _ _. There were three wounded Turks there & you ought to have seen the looks our boys gave them. I didn’t get a chance to see Vernie again as all the wounded were hustled into boats & taken to a hospital ship & that night we sailed for Alexandria. The 3rd Bn have lost heavily in officers as have most of the other Bn’s. N.C.O’s too have been in high percentage. All the 3rd BDE N.C.O’s had to take their stripes off & put them in their pockets to prevent being picked out. The Turks have all sorts of ruses probably copied from the Germans. Quite a lot were killed in N.Z. uniforms. One night they blew the “Charge” several times on the bugle to coax us out but it wouldn’t work. OK I forgot to say when I got hit I lost every bit of my equipment including a lot of private things I had in my pack, the most important of which was my diary & all I have is what I stand up in & my overcoat. To get back to the Turks. On two or three occasions they got throu our line & at a critical moment would shout out “retire” or if the Turks were in force they yell out to us to charge. Several were shot at dodges like that. Then they use “dum dum” & explosive bullets. The “dum dums” are made by sawing the point off or by turning the bullet back to front. In either case the result is the same. One of Kiplings poems describes the work of a “dum-dum” perfectly “A small blue hole in his forehead & the back blown out of his head”. Cpl Watson one of A co’s reinforcements had half his head blown away with one bullet. It was awful. The wounds these bullets make are terrible. They are enough to unnerve a man. I only saw Vernie for about a minute the whole of the time we were fighting & that was when I took a message to Maj Bennett. He was on a telephone line. He told me that a man above him on the bank had been shot & had fell on his leg & hurt it considerably. The unfortunate cause of it was shot dead. Everybody spoke very highly of Maj Brown & he got to be well known not only in the 1st Bde but in the others as well. He got so well known that a German officer ordered us to retire & the men wanted to know whose orders & he said Major Browns orders. He was then asked what Regt Maj Brown belonged to and made a guess & said 34th & his days work was done. Everybody was sincerely sorry when he was wounded in the arm & forced to relinquish his command. Well I’ve only seen 4 days fighting but I’ve seen enough to convince me that it’s a horrible ghastly business & all the glamour leaves it when you look over the sights with the bullets from the enemy cracking all around & you see your dead & dying mates near & hear the wounded moaning. I’ve come throu the first chapter O.K. for I consider my shoulder wound nothing. Give the news in this to Mrs Fox & McPhee’s. Will write again soon your loving son & brother Bert.