NZ story - Hill 60
You’re standing in the cemetery at Hill 60 at the memorial plinth. If you look up to the high ground between the trees you can see the New Zealand monument on Chunuk Bair and the Turkish flag flying next to the statue of Mustafa Kemal, later Atatürk.
After the offensive of August 1915 there were no further attempts to seize the high ground from along Rhododendron Spur – there was a stalemate. The Hill 60 attack was mounted to seize this tiny pimple of land which was a junction point between the British at Suvla Bay and the Anzacs around Anzac Cove. There were some British, Indian and Australian troops, involved in the attack and a scratch force of exhausted New Zealanders. If you look at the photos of them before the attack, you’ll see men who were bearded with faces shrunken. Their eyes exhausted slits.
So we had this attack on Hill 60. I was a rake-in for that one. We all were. The left-overs. You just had to do what you were told and follow the leader. The men lined up for the attack were all fairly disgruntled and dejected.
Every man fit enough to carry a rifle had to take part. The attack would be launched on the 21st of August 1915.
In the morning, General Godley came up and told us he wanted to take a Turkish trench out on the left that afternoon. We had to cross two gullies where it was safe to stop for a spell. Then we had to plough through a stretch of scrub, then open going in full view of the Turks.
The New Zealanders attacked from the ridge nearest to where you are standing. There was no artillery support, it was just infantry attacking with rifles and bayonets. The whistle blew and the men charged forward. That brush area to the north behind the cemetery was the Ottoman trench line. The New Zealanders captured the trenches in this area where you stand, and butted up against the Turks. There was only a row of sandbags between the two sides. It was bloody trench fighting with grenade and rifle and bayonet to the point of exhaustion.
We had a roll call the next morning. Our one officer was killed plus the Sergeant Major, and there wasn’t one with a stripe amongst us.
The New Zealanders managed to capture a chunk of the hill but General Hamilton, who was in charge of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, told General Birdwood, who commanded the Anzacs, to have another go. This would coincide with the next major Suvla attack on the 27th of August 1915. Once again, whoever was fit enough had to attack. Trooper Bill East, of the Wellington Mounted Rifles, was on the start line waiting for the attack.
When the word came, Major Bruiser Taylor was right in front of me as he jumped to his feet. He had a sword he wasn’t supposed to have – because of swords drawing Turk fire. And he blew his whistle and pulled his sword out and shouted ‘Charge’. The next thing he was flat on his face, shot through the head.
The death of Taylor typifies this battle for Hill 60. A tiny piece of land was taken but at tremendous cost, and this destroyed most of what was left of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade.
I decided to go forward and all the rest were coming with me across an open piece of ground. We were just anyone’s mutton.
One of the New Zealanders told me that ‘the dead lay like stooks after the harvest.’ If you’ve ever been in a wheat field, you’ll know exactly what he meant. The names of the dead are commemorated on the memorial to the missing and in the headstones to the Mounted Rifles – a handful really – the 27 gravestones and the 180-odd names on the memorial.
Hill 60 was the final offensive effort by New Zealanders at Anzac. It was a pointless attack for a pointless piece of ground. It simply destroyed what was left of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and the top of the hill was never taken.
I never cried, but it was the only time I felt like crying that day. Was Gallipoli worth it? Worth all that suffering?
The New Zealanders were taken off Gallipoli in September to regroup on the Greek island of Lemnos. They received reinforcements from New Zealand but they were still at half strength. They then came back to garrison the Apex area, below the high ground of Chunuk Bair, until the December evacuation. At that time there were rumours, and it was obvious that something was taking place, but the men didn’t want to believe that there was going to be an evacuation because it meant failure and leaving their mates who were buried here behind.
We could not understand two things. One was withdrawing in front of an enemy and the other was leaving our cobbers behind. You don’t know how that hurt the blokes. Only those who were there would know. We belonged to one another.
Almost every diary talks about the fact that they were going, and leaving their mates. It was a brilliantly conducted evacuation, but no satisfaction for a battle lost.
The trenches were solid with ice, and I could hear the sound of my boots echoing down the trench. Talk about empty. I was alone at last. Absolutely alone, for the first time in the war. Soon after that it was all over. We were off, still grieving for those we left behind.