18 May 1915
Prison or otherwise
Dear Mrs. Fox & all at “Trevallyn”
Imagine me being in England. Don’t you wish you were here? I’m not feeling over anxious to get back to the discomforts of active service again. My wound has healed externally tho’ my arm is far from being right. I can write with difficulty, but can’t raise my arm sideways to save my life.
I suppose that you have had detailed accounts of the fighting in the papers, but all the same I’ll burden you with details as I saw them _ _ _.
Very early in the morning, Sunday 25/4/15 the warships began shelling the beach & neighbouring hills where we intended to land. The shelling had been in progress some time when our ship the “Derfflinger” arrived on the scene at daybreak. When we heard the shooting we rushed on deck. We’d see the bright flash of the gun & about 5 seconds later we’d hear the report & then we’d see the dirt & rocks fly up where the shell struck. The “Queen Elizabeth” better known as the “Lizzie” was dosing them with extra special shrapnel with 300 bullets. At its most effective spread the bullets cover an area of 500 yds square. An ord shrapnel with 300 bullets spreads over 25 by 200 yds. The 3rd Brigade (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th Bns) were given preference & landed first & got a mighty hot reception, but hot as it was, it was nothing to what they would have got if they’d landed where the Turks expected us to. There they had entrenched themselves very strongly & had the beach covered with plenty of Artillery & Machine guns. & on top of that they had barbed wire entanglements & mines in the water. It came as a surprise to them we landing where we did as it was not a good landing place, & we had established ourselves before they could bring sufficient troops up to prevent us. The landing was effected by the troops being conveyed fairly close to the shore in destroyers & the rest of the way being got over in boats. Some distance from the shore the shrapnel & machine guns opened fire followed by rifles, & many a poor chap never even got off the destroyers alive. Many more were killed in the open boats & one boat was sunk by a shrapnel striking the waterline. [footnote] Two pontoons loaded with troops broke loose from the tow & drifted off. The Turks turned their M. Guns on to them & killed every man. Once on the shore our boys soon shifted the Turks, some of whom showed considerable bravery & rushed forward to meet them, but the cold steel was too much for them & they were soon in retreat, but not before they had inflicted considerable loss. One Bn lost both their Col & Sen Major as they were getting out of the boats, both being shot down. When they got the Turks on the run they followed up very vigorously & lost heavily – very heavily. The Turks would entice them on & then let an inferno of shrapnel & M Gun fire on to them, with the result that they had suffered very severely before they were reinforced.
Our turn came about 8 am & A (Coy) was the first. My nerves were completely broken after I’d seen 4 poor beggars under a tarpaulin. The blood was running out from underneath & the sight sickened me. However as soon as we came under fire after getting out from the destroyer into the open boats was OK again. Luckily our boat landed its load without any casualties. We came into 3 ft of water & then waded ashore. One chap stood on a stone & it rolled & he went right under _ _ _. There were a few bodies on the beach but they didn‘t affect me in the least thank goodness. After a short rest in a defile waiting till all A (Coy) were assembled we pushed on. Hills. You ought to have seen them. They were awful & we were very heavily loaded. We had to fairly pull ourselves up by the bushes & had to take frequent rests. During one of these rests we had our first casualty. Sgt Cavill being killed by a bullet in the neck. I didn’t see him as I was a bit away trying to get in touch with a platoon that had strayed. There were plenty of bullets flying round from the fighting in front, making a sort of crackling noise. We came to a hill with a nice deep trench that the Turks had kindly dug for us, which we promptly occupied, but as it had no field of fire we had to leave it & line the top as the beggars were now potting at us. But we couldn’t see a sign of the beggars anywhere tho their bullets were flying pretty thickly & their machine guns bullets were going ssssssssssss ever so quickly sometimes so close that we instinctively flattened out, at other times further off as they moved the gun about playing it like a hose on the crest of the hill. The whole country was covered with shrub about 3 feet high, ideal country for snipers & machines guns, & it was impossible to see them over 25 yds unless they moved. We dug ourselves in as well as we could whilst lying down, tho it was awfully awkward & tiresome. I contented myself with a hole I could curl up in & when cramped I poked my legs out _ _ _. A bit after noon they turned the shrapnel on to us, & as our guns had not been landed their innings lasted till dark. It’s very demoralising lying down under shrapnel fire. You can hear the shell coming with half hiss half scream culminating in a deafening report as it bursts in the air & hurls its 300 bullets to earth with great velocity. Sometimes they burst quite close, other times a good way off. Shrapnel bursting looks very pretty, especially if there are three or four together. It makes such a pretty cloud of white smoke. Near dark we got word to fix bayonets as a charge was likely. A little later we got back into the trench, & just afterward Sgt Major MacGregor of A (Coy), a fine old chap & a school teacher in private life, was shot dead by a sniper. He was standing up in the trench & it got him between his eyes. I saw his body in the trench late on Tuesday, 2 days after he was killed. Just after dark I was taking some ammunition to the right. They warned me not to go to sleep crossing a white patch of ground 20 yds wide. I went at it like a bull at a red gate _ _ _. & luckily he missed me. On the way back I fell over half way but got up mighty quick & finished in record time _ _ _. He couldn’t have been ready as he didn’t pot at me. All the nights were lovely & moonlight & the beggars used to get up to within 50 yds of us but we could never see them. They continued to fire at us all night & threatened us with bayonet charges but nothing more. I was put on observing & was at it nearly all night & got no sleep. Next morning & all day they kept at us giving us not a moments peace. We got a good view of some Turks crossing a hill 600 yards off but before we found out definitely that they were Turks, they were disappearing down a defile. I got one shot at them but didn’t score a “bull”. Got hit by a spent bullet during the morning. After getting through the parapet it hit Major Brown on the shoulder cannoned on to the side of the trench & from there on to my foot _ _ _. Picked it up & dropped it quickly, it was as hot as anything. When it cooled put it in the first shell that I fired, intending to keep it as a memento. Lost it when I got shot. Capt Burns our Adjutant who was in charge of us in Kenso when we were in the old “F”(Coy) was shot throu the heart Sunday. Major Lear O.C. “C” Coy & Meakins his head Signaller were both killed by the one shrapnel as the Major was reading a message Meakins had given him. Major Lear lost his wife just before the war. Our Medical Officer, Capt Bean was wounded dangerously while attending to the wounded. Several of our officers were wounded, some of them seriously. Our Brigadier & Brigadier Major were both killed, & the Brigadier of the 2nd Brigade was either killed or wounded as our Colonel, Col Owen was in charge of both 1st & 2nd Brigades when I left. The snipers were so effective in picking out officers & N.C.Os that the officers wore coats exactly like the men & a lot of the N.C.Os took their stripes off. On Monday night had my first narrow squeak. About an hour before sundown they started to give us H with their shrapnel, & Major Brown went to the outpost trench to lead a bayonet charge, but the shrapnel was so bad that both he & I had to seek shelter in the outpost trench. I was crouching behind a chap, but after a while crammed in alongside of him. Shortly afterwards two concussion shrapnel, one on top of the other, landed plunk into the earth just behind my mate, tearing pieces out of his haversack which was on his back as they passed. I thought he was killed. He fell on me with a horrible groan, but was OK in a few minutes. The explosion injured Major Brown’s face rendering him almost blind for quite a long time. I had to lead him back after dark. He was fully 5 yds to the side, whilst we whom they almost hit were not marked. If I had remained where I was at first it would have caught me fair in the chest & – well I always did have a weak chest _ _ _. The Turks again gave us no respite all night so didn’t get a wink of sleep. Next morning Major Brown was in hospital so I reported to the next in charge & observed for him. Aroused the ire of a sniper somewhere & he kept potting at me all morning. Saw a party of Turks get across to the hill on the right so I signalled it over to the men there to put them on their guard. Next day these Turks had a good trench put up. Whilst scanning the bushes with the glasses, picked up two Turks crawling away. Put up 500 & knocked the dust up right under one. Then I gave them both 3 for luck. They were still there sometime later in the day. Vainly tried to pick up a M. Gun that was worrying us. Major Brown came back during the morning, so after dinner I ducked back to him. Earlier in the day got hit in the leg but on examination found it was a spent bullet & only bruised the skin without going through my trousers. When I picked it up was surprised to see that it was one of our own bullets. The beggars used our rifles & ammunition that they had captured.
19/5/15. During the fighting the Turks used all sorts of tricks, most of them dishonorable. Several were shot wearing the N.Z. uniform, & others were discovered in our trenches with our men wearing our uniform. Some of their officers got into our uniforms & got amongst our men & coolly started giving orders. This was easier then you might suppose cos the men were all mixed up & they all took orders from any officer or N.C.O. that was handy. One night the Turks had got up pretty close in large numbers & it was suicide to show yourself it was so moonlight. An officer coolly ordered the men to stand up on top of the trenches & then charge against greatly superior numbers. It was so ridiculous that they got suspicious & one of our own officers came up. He turned out to be a German & didn’t even get a trial. We had two interpreters with us but they got shot fairly early in the game – leading the Turks to us_ _ _.
Our Artillery was got ashore & into position on Monday, tho one to see the country would think it was utterly impossible to get heavy guns into the hills. They blasted half a hill away, built a road up it & then man-handled the guns into position. Besides the ordinary artillery, they got a howitzer battery up & it was of great assistance to us. Whenever the Turkish guns got bad, our “Bird” would go up & locate their position & then our guns would open on to them, & it was sweet music to our ears to hear the earsplitting crash as the shells passed over us. Several Turkish batteries were silenced, but they were very clever. As soon as the “Bird” had gone down, they shift their battery to another position & this was very easy for them as they had light railways constructed for the purpose. When the Turkish guns were quiet, pending their opening up in a new position, our guns amused themselves shelling the Turkish Inf positions. The warships too proved very useful & must have given the Turks an awful time. The day I was taken away a village some distance off was on fire. It was spared until Turkish troops were discovered in it, & then the warships got on to it & soon fixed it up. On Tuesday afternoon the Turks were giving us a very hot time with shrapnel & again had a very narrow shave. They were giving us three or 4 concussion shrapnel, which don’t explode till they strike, followed by 3 or 4 time shrapnel which explode in the air. It got so bad that Major Brown would not let me observe, so I got down in a little dugout alongside him & a Sgt Maj of the 11th. After a while a concussion one landed fair onto my observation post & shifted it to Kingdom Come. That was about 5 yds off. I thort to myself “Now the next will be right on to us” & I was right. It landed fair in the trench right opp the 3 of us & buried up to our necks in dirt, but luckily we all escaped unscathed except Maj Brown, who again had his face cut a bit. He did look a sight. One eye was bandaged from the day before & all of his face that was visible was one mass of blood from small cuts & where there was no blood there were spots of earth. He didn’t mind but kept on & stuck to it. Tuesday night was our worst night. They continued to shell us a good while after dark. Just as I was having tea had to leave it to take an officer to a trench. Thort I’d be back in 10 mins so I left my haversack, water bottle & rifle behind me. But while I was away the situation developed a lot & every man was rushed to the front with fixed bayonets. The only rifle that I could find was broken but I had to take it. Got the bayonet on it & rushed on with the others to the line of trenches which were not half finished. 3 of us were crammed into a hole too small for one man’s comfort. One chap was lying in one end, one in the other & I was lying along the top with my head behind the parapet & my feet in the trench. Had to pass the night that way. The Turks I think intended to attack with the bayonet along the whole of the line, but they got such an awful cutting up on the left where they attacked first that they abandoned the scheme. We heard that they were all raw troops, undisciplined, & afraid, but they showed rare discipline & pluck that night under a fair inferno of fire. Three times in absolute silence & with great steadiness they formed up in line to charge & each time our rifle fire fairly mowed them down. They were quite close & the bright moonlight rendered it an easy matter to shoot accurately. After the third attempt, seeing the uselessness of their tactics, they retired leaving the ground strewn with dead & dying. They didn’t attempt any more charges that night but kept up a heavy fire on us & again there was no sleep for us. During the night a chap in the outpost trench tried to reach us by rushing back, but they got him low down in the stomach making a ghastly wound. He reached us groaning horribly. He was still alive next night, but there was no hope for him. Another chap in our trench tried to rush back for something but he’d hardly started before he fell moaning in a heart-rending voice “I’m badly wounded” “Oh I’m badly wounded”. He died in about 10 minutes. A chap named Cox, A coys cook, & a L.C. in private life was in a hole between us & the advanced outpost trench for the purpose of repeating verbal orders. After a while they couldn’t raise him so a man was sent to wake him, but he was past all earthly awakening. A sniper got him in the head. The Turks have a Battalion of sharpshooters, & I think they had them spread all along our front to snipe anyone showing himself. Our men found one of these gentlemen in a trench behind & half under a bush, all the fresh earth had been carefully covered & he had bushes over him & shot throu a loophole & throu the bush. He had a weeks rations & 1000 rounds of ammunition with him, so he was pretty snug.
On Wed mng found that the bayonet had been shot off the rifle next to mine during the night. We joined all the trenches together as soon as possible & I did a bit of observing but not too much as just at my position there were two bushes growing in front & the Turks evidently thort it was a M. Gun position for they gave it more than a fair share of M. Gun & rifle fire. However, had the luck to discover a M. Gun that had been worrying us a lot. Picked it up by the thin column of steam rising from the cooler. There were none of our M. Guns handy so I got a doz men & we gave it 5 rounds rapid. Don’t know if we killed the crew, put the gun out of action or merely compelled them to shift. Anyway the dust flew up right on it & it was silent afterwards. We had a bad time all day throu no water. I had left my bottle behind the night before. There was no water till near dark so we had to alleviate our thirst by keeping a pebble in our mouths. A chap near me had a very narrow squeak a bullet went throu his cap & took a lump of scalp off. He was O.K. except for a headache after lying down for a while. After dark made my way back to Maj Brown & finding he’d been wounded during the day I stayed with Capt Douglas next in charge. We were relieved next morning by the Tommies for a days spell, & as we were getting over the crest of a hill on the way to the rear I got a knock in the shoulder like a kick from a 12 inch gun. It entered in my armpit at the rear & came out near the top of my shoulder in front, so the beggar must have been almost under me. When I got to the beach found Vernie there & he made me a lovely drink of tea. I had to report to the Ambulance & I’d hardly got there before they shoved me in a boat & took me to the hospital ship & I haven’t seen or heard a word of him since & it’s nearly a month ago now. The English papers don’t publish full casualty list of the Austns except the officers, so we’ve no idea how our mates are faring. The Turks used dum dum bullets & explosive bullets & they made ghastly wounds when they struck. Dum dums are made by either reversing the bullet in the case, or by sawing the point off. A corporal in A (coy) had half his head blown off by either a dum dum or explosive. Saw two chaps on the boat with awful wounds in their mouths. One of them had all his front teeth knocked out & his cheek split right open for 3 inches back. We had 3 wounded Turks on board, but one disappeared during the voyage. We stayed in Alexandria a day & then transferred onto the “Ghoorka” an Indian hospital ship. On the way over got fever & it pulled me down a lot, was like a rake when I landed but have picked up lots since. Arrived at Southampton on May 16th – Viola’s birthday – & got put on a lovely hospital train & taken to Birmingham. There was a long string of motors waiting to take us to the hospital – all private ones too – & a great crowd of people who cheered us a treat. All the way to the hospital we were welcomed on every side. But the hospital. It takes the bun. There are 44 patients in this ward - B4. Bed at 8 p.m. & get up at 5. The first two days we had to get back to bed again as soon as the bed was made _ _ _. But the nurses are very nice only they don’t smile often enough for my liking. They get about as if they were responsible for the Kaisers misdeeds. I’ve been making a point of coaxing smiles out of them whenever they come near & I can manage it now, but I nearly gave up in despair at first.
You ought to see the English scenery. It’s simply lovely. Everything is so beautiful & green. Of course it’s Spring here now. And complexions. Everyone – man & woman, boy & girl, all have the rosiest cheeks & lips that you can imagine. You’d think they were eternally blushing. I believe they intend to shift us to someplace where all the Austns will be together. That would be very nice. I see by the papers that there is only one officer left of the 6 in A coy & he is the junior of the lot. Capt Douglas the 2nd in command who I was with when I got hit, has died of wounds. He must have been hit after I left. He was a bonza chap. He’d talk & yarn with any of the men anywhere – not a bit stuck up. Capt Smith, another fine chap has also been killed.
Yesterday three of us took a stroll round. It didn’t take us long to get out of bounds, & continuing, we went throu the Benevolent & Lunatic Asylum’s grounds & finally got round to the front of our hospital near the entrance gates. There was a crowd there, mostly girls of an attractive age, so we steered towards them for the purpose of intellectual conversation, but an officious corporal saw us from afar off & promptly got insane, moving rapidly towards us with his arms going like a windmill. Not caring to hurt his feelings by chastising him in front of all the lovely maidens, we beat a dignified retreat, meeting him half way. On seeing that we meant business, he quickly regained his senses & fully appreciated his position cos he apologised for his unseemly conduct. We then investigated a laundry (also out of bounds) & were quite interested watching the process of dirt extraction from clothing. The attendants were very nice & obliging & we enjoyed the visit. All the attendants at this laundry are girls _ _ _. What do you think? I had a shave today. The first for nearly a month. The sister didn’t know me when I had removed all the capillary growth from my shining dial. I had quite a beard _ _ _. You ought to see us decked out in our hospital clothes. We have a pyjama suit of grey flannel & an ordinary suit of blue fleece lined material which is nice & warm. The worst of it is the trousers. They were all made for 8ft men & of course the legs are slightly too long. You see gaunt 6 footers getting about with their pants turned up 6 or 7 feet. The lining is white & the effect is very striking when you see a lot of men dressed in blue & all white below the knees. Yesterday we discovered a gate & on climbing it found we could converse with a street full of people – mostly female, & of course the gate was in great demand, & space on it very scarce. Well today the narks have actually forbidden us under dire penalties to cross a path 8 yds this side of the gate. Such is life. Ah me. Well I’ll have to close now. We will get a weeks furlough before we are sent back so will have a high old time. Goodbye for the present & heaps of love & good wishes from yours sincerely. Bert