Joseph Gasparich was born in Northland to an English mother and a Dalmation father. He was working as a teacher when the war broke out in August 1914. Filled with patriotism, he enlisted in the Auckland Infantry Battalion.
I loved old England and everything that England had done. Where others criticised, I found excuses for her. I gloried in Britain, the British people, and the British Empire. New Zealand’s being part of the British Empire meant a great deal to me.
Gasparich was one of the first New Zealanders ashore on 25 April 1915 and was one of thirty men selected to form Major-General Sir Alexander Godley’s bodyguard. Soon after the landing, he was recalled to the Auckland Battalion and took part in the disastrous attack across the ‘Daisy Patch’ at Cape Helles on 8 May.
Why we were there no one knew. The next day, in what has become known as the second battle for Krithia, I was moving forward to the left all day under fire, taking thirty men with me, not knowing where we were going, across a big open grassy area. We had a large number of casualties. “Where are we going?” men asked. “Follow me,” was all I could tell them.
There was a great deal of confusion about orders, with men charging across the Daisy Patch and waves of New Zealanders being mown down by Turkish fire.
The point is that here I was, a sergeant, in charge of a lot of these fellows, and I didn’t know what the objective was. There was this hill in the distance, Achi Baba, quite a mound, and we knew the general idea was to capture that. Otherwise we were never told where the enemy was, or what we were supposed to do. We were greenhorns in this war, in any war, and had nothing but guts going for us. The marvellous thing was that we stuck at it.
The men were in an open area that was covered with daisies. They were ordered to dig in, but each time they threw dirt into the air, they were strafed with Turkish fire. Word was then given that the whole front was going to advance at 5.30 p.m.
A mob of Aucklanders jumped up to my right and yelled their heads off. They hadn’t understood the order; they didn’t know the time. Isolated in our holes, none of us knew the time. Watches were all awry; they hadn’t been checked. And here were these men scampering across open ground and calling out to us to follow. What were we to do?
The Ottoman forces were entrenched right along the ridge ahead, about a hundred metres away. They were in underground trenches protected with timber and sandbags, and could see and shoot through small holes without any risk from return fire.
More and more New Zealanders were ordered to follow us, and the grassy daisy-covered space soon became a pathetic field of dead. I was aghast at the utterly wanton waste of valuable lives.
Gasparich was wounded – shot twice in the arm – and crawled into a gully to find safety.
I found myself sitting useless alongside Captain Bartlett, second in command of the 15th North Auckland Company. He was wounded too. I said to him, “Sir, this is a sheer waste of good men. I’m going back. I’m going to risk going back to see if I can stop this madness.” He didn’t argue with me.
Gasparich left the shelter in the gully and ran back across the Daisy Patch to try and get the attack halted but by the time he made it across, it was too late.
The bloodied Daisy Patch itself, strewn with New Zealand men, so many of whom I knew, had its own message.
After recovering from his wounds in Egypt, Gasparich returned to Gallipoli and served until the evacuation in December 1915. He was one of the last to leave the peninsula. He then fought on the Western Front where he was wounded twice more. Joseph Gasparich returned to New Zealand in early 1917 and died in 1985 aged 94.