Dr Ian McGibbon discusses the landing place.

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When New Zealand soldiers arrived at Gallipoli, the first hurdle they encountered was the difficult terrain.

The hills behind Anzac Cove were steep and rugged. ‘I had more wind than most after climbing Rangitoto for four years,’ wrote Lieutenant Spencer Westmacott of the Auckland Infantry Battalion, about his experiences on 25 April 1915. As the New Zealand soldiers pushed inland up ‘steep and scrubby slopes with no track’, they found it difficult trying to negotiate such terrain under fire from the Ottoman Army. Anzac casualties were heavy on the first day.

At the time of the invasion, Gallipoli was covered with rough scrub and trees, though, according to locals, lower and less dense than today. The vegetation afforded the Ottoman soldiers protection and provided cover for the Anzacs. The Anzac soldiers knew their enemy was there, but often couldn’t see them. Some New Zealanders were killed or wounded without having ever seen a Turk.

The Anzac perimeter – the area occupied by the New Zealanders and Australians – was less than six square kilometres. No place within the tiny perimeter was safe from enemy fire, not even the water where soldiers used to swim. Turkish sniper fire was a constant danger. In places like Quinn’s Post, a moment’s lack of concentration could be fatal. Shells from the enemy could land in many places inside the perimeter. Shrapnel shells, which discharged hundreds of little steel balls, were a threat to men everywhere, even in deep gullies. The New Zealand soldiers built ‘bivvys’ – dugouts in the hillside – in order to protect themselves from shells and shrapnel. 

Zone 1 Fighting Pte Henry Lewis.mp3

Pte Henry Lewis describes being under fire while swimming at Anzac Cove.

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The chance of being hit by a bullet or shell at any time took an enormous physical and psychological toll on Anzac troops at Gallipoli, both in the front line and in support areas. ‘Stray bullets were zipping all around,’ wrote Westmacott, ‘but our real welcome was a field gun shell which screeched from the right just over our heads.’ Towards the end of July, the danger of sniper fire and shrapnel became so serious that many troops abandoned swimming by day and instead bathed at night.

A shell bursting over a valley.
A shell bursting over a valley.

Shell bursting in a valley, Gallipoli. Snapshots in camp and around London album. Ref: PA1-o-471-21-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

At Gallipoli, shrapnel shells were a common weapon. These shells contained about three-hundred metal balls. After being fired, they would explode in mid-air, raining down hundreds of the balls onto the soldiers below. ‘Shrapnel screamed over our head and we would seek cover lying close to our ground,’ wrote Private Robert Steele of the 15th North Auckland Company.

James Jackson, a member of the New Zealand Medical Corps, had a close shave with shrapnel when landing at Gallipoli: ‘This shrapnel is very deadly stuff if it catches anyone in an exposed position and no position is more exposed than an open rowboat out on the water. It was our first experience of it and I can tell you we did not like it.’ 


Inline image: Australian troops are being given climbing instructions on a cliff face in Gallipoli. Gallipoli, Turkey. Read, J C :Images of the Gallipoli campaign. Ref: 1/4-058065-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Audio: Pte Henry Lewis, 1999.2959.1B, National Army Museum, NZ