Wellington-born Charles Powles was a farmer and a veteran of the South African War. When the First World War broke out he was a professional officer in the New Zealand Staff Corps. He left New Zealand with the Expeditionary Force in October 1914, as part of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade.
Powles landed at Gallipoli in May 1915. In late November, following the failed August Offensive and the onset of the bitterly cold winter, the Allies decided to evacuate from Suvla and Anzac. On 9 December, shortly before the evacuation was to begin, Powles was given temporary command of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment.
Though the idea of evacuation had been spoken of for some time, the decision came as a great shock to most of the Anzac garrison. To give up the attempt, after so great an effort and at such a great cost of lives, seemed unthinkable. And then there was the abandonment of all our brave comrades who had lost their lives. The idea was heartbreaking.
The evacuation of Anzac and Suvla began on 15 December, with 36,000 Allied troops shipped out over four nights. The support troops and reserves were shipped first then the fighting units were thinned out. By 19 December only 10,000 soldiers remained. The regiments of the Mounted Rifles were reduced to 172 men. They moved around and fired from trenches high in the hills, to create the impression that there were many more men on the peninsula than the few that actually remained.
The three officers and thirty-one other ranks of C party, with one machine gun, kept up the deception, firing from the usual places and carrying the maxim gun to the various machine gun emplacements in turn. It was a time of anxiety and suspense.
Powles and his regiment were some of the last to leave Gallipoli and became known as the ‘diehards’.
Down the deres we went carrying the machine gun, our rifles and small packs of intimate belongings. Away up in the front line, the Turkish machine guns barked away and we heard our good friends the automatic rifles firing their last shots. The deres were so strangely silent and deserted.
Many men, including Powles, felt a great deal of sadness leaving Gallipoli after sacrificing so much and leaving behind so many fallen comrades.
At the bottom of the Aghyl Dere we passed close to the cemetery where so many of our gallant comrades who fell in the August fighting were laid to rest, and we felt as if we were deserting them as we crept past in silence.
The evacuation of Gallipoli was one of the most successful operations of the campaign. Around four in the morning on 20 December 1915, Powles and his men were the last to leave Anzac Cove.
When the Anzacs first landed on Gallipoli there was much disputing as to who was the first man to place the invading foot on this part of Turkish soil. When the time came for departure there was a keen contest for the honour of being the last to leave.
Powles received the Distinguished Service Order for his service at Gallipoli. He went on to serve with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. There he rode his mare, Bess – one of only four horses to return home to New Zealand after the war.