"J" Ward, Horton Hospital
EPSOM

11/12/15.

 
Dear Mother,

 
           I will at last start and try to give you some account of the last [few months.
On August 5th 1915 we moved from Walkers Ridge out to No.1. outpost and bivouched there for the night. We had all left our tunics behind (orders) at W. Ridge, but we had our oil sheets
with us so we put in a fairly good night. During the day of August 6th we piled all our oil sheets and generally put in time cleaning rifles and sewing on white patches on to the sleeves and backs of shirts. Towards evening we got in a good meal and a very good lot of rum, and at dusk we moved out along the main sap towards No.2 outpost. When we had gone some distance we found that they bad cut away the side of the sap and we filed out into a gully that led up towards Table Top. Here we had a short halt. I must explain that the W.M.Rifles had to take Table Top. The Sixth to go first and seize a communication trench leading to it, and clear that, the Second to take Table Top, and the Ninth to hold it afterwards.

 

We soon got under way again and presently came across some of our Infantry who had lost their track. They were to take a hill on our right. We were advancing in sections along this gully and presently we started to get near the enemy. It being almost quite dark, we could not see very far ahead. After just a momentary halt to see that the telephone connections were alright and coming along behind, we went round a corner and bullets started to phizz and ping round us in all directions. I was in the front four and we got word to double. The front line was Major Dick, Crpl. Meads, Ian Cruichshank, Joker smith and myself and Dick Smith. Now we could see the flashes about 20 yards ahead and we made for them, Meads was the first man down and very suddenly (shot through the head) Joker fell next and Dick Smith fell over him, but got up again. Meanwhile Ian threw three bombs (concussion) one of which went off a good explosion, but I never noticed any damage done by it. We were just about on them when Major Dick fell, but managed to get out a "Go on boys" when he was down. Next thing what I thought was a very large bomb hit me a biff on the shoulder and down I went - "All up now", I wonder when it is going off but to my surprise it did not go off. It turned out to be a huge stone. After discovering that I was not blown to bits, I wasted no time about getting up. By this time it was a general mix up and a few shouts and yells etc. I jumped and rushed in to Dick and where some others were after some Turks in a little side trench. When I got there, there were two Turks left and one of our men wounded on the ground, and about five of us. The Turks were soon despatched with the bayonet, not a pleasant job, but a necessary one. On looking round we found there were about a dozen men of No.1 Troop, and no officers to be found, also no Turks in the immediate vicinity. We had had orders to advance with empty rifles, using the bayonet, but by now most of us had got our magazines full, we found it was G. Chamberlain who was wounded, poor fellow shot through both wrists and the stomach, conequent1y suffering a great deal. He had turned into the side trench by himself, and had found three Turks against him, he got one, and they got him. He had a very miserable time as the ambulance did not come along till dawn next day. He died soon after they got him. Of course we had nothing we could give him and he was calling out for morphia, and evidently in terrible pain, he bore it all very pluckily. Meanwhile a very fair enemy fire was being kept up from the ridge above us on our left, and, also a good deal of fire from a nob on our right which No.2 Troop, under Lieut. Cotton, were to take. After a little look around, we found a very well cut track leading from the left ridge up to the nob on our right, so we took up a position commanding this track. Here we accounted for several Turks coming along the track, this time we were used to bullets as there was a good hot fire all round us.

 

After some time S.M. Levein came along and we tried to find out where the 2nd and 9th were and also the rest of the 6th, but we did not know at all, so we just held our position. After another wait Lieut. Mayo came along with some of No.4 Troop and he started to lead us up to Table Top, which was supposed to be occupied by our men. We followed the telephone wire (they must have laid it while we were clearing the trench) and after a very slow zig-zaging walk we got to the foot of Table Top. Here came a stop, the telephone wire went up an apparent precipice. After trying for a while in vain, Mayo went to see if he could find a track by himself, and give us a signal when he was up. No sooner had he gone, than from the ridge where all the fire was coming we saw a line of men coming. Were they ours or were they Turks? Their track as leading along a very narrow ridge, so that they would have to pass directly above us. They threw several bombs into the bushes at the side of the track, and still came on, but just anyhow. By their jabber we soon learnt that they were Turks and there we were, about forty of us all down in a very narrow defile, with our only retreat back as we had come, and very exposed, all of us with big white patches on. Luckily for us they were on surrender bent, and had no arms. About four hundred of them filed past, They were talking, laughing and joking away and a lot of them would look over and point at us, and then go on. One picket up a stone and heaved it, and well, it nearly skinned my cheek but just missed me, it would have just about settled me. We lay there like glue and if ever I was thankful it was after the last of them had passed above us. We should have been annihilated if they had been armed or had bombed us. After they had passed we got a whistle from Mr. Mayo, who had somehow not been seen by the Turks and had got up. It took us about half an hours hard climbing to get up using our bayonets to dig into the bank. All the time there was a constant flash coming from some bushes quite close, but they must have been firing in the other direction as they did not trouble us. We found the 9th Squadron in the trenches at the top and also a fair number of prisoners. (I have somehow got muddled up in my diary, I think I must have left out a day by mistake, I wrote it all up after I had been in Malta some time) I cannot quite remember how we put in the rest of the night, but any way there as not much of it left. In the morning we got the prisoners together (some of them were still coming in and giving themselves up voluntary) and marched them off down to the base at the beach. We went along the ridge where all the fire had been coming from the night before. The Turks from here had all given themselves up. There were dead Turks at various intervals along the ridge and also some of our own dead at the far end. We had to go past a lot of enemy bivouacs and they were very interesting. All sorts of things in them, a lot of Turkish tobacco among them. When we had handed over the prisoners, we had a bit to eat and also went to the tank and got a drink. Odd bullets were flying about all the time and the man standing beside me at the tank received one in the foot. You very soon get casual to one or two bullets and don't take much notice till same one is hit. After some bully and biscuits and a little chocolate brought over from Lemnos we went back to Table Top. Nothing particular doing during day. Everyone was very weary and glad of a spell. Shortly after we got back some Turks came out with a white flag from quite close to the scene of the previous night’s fight. They had been hiding in some undergrowth.


Just before lunch Dick, Ian and myself got a stretcher and carried Joker down to the beach and buried him there. There was no clergyman but we did our best, a very sad job
-
especially for Dick. He (Joker) was hit in the cheek and the bullet came out by the temple, don’t think he suffered at all, he fell very suddenly and I should say was killed instantly. Before going back to Table Top, we tried to get a bathe and wash, we carefully tried to get a place that was not open to snipers but no sooner had we sat down and started to undress than about five bullets landed all round us, and we had to make a hasty retirement. The only thing to do was to go back without a wash, although we were jut about dead beat, and badly needed a bathe. Then we got back we found that George Mayo had just been hit in the stomach while crossing between the trenches on either side of Table Top. Major Chambera was also shot through the mouth about the same time. He was dead in a few minutes. Men were continually getting hit, bullets seemed to be coming from everywhere. The afternoon passed off uneventfully, and we put in half the next night improving to trenches. At midnight we got a tot of rum, and another troop took on the trenches, I swallowed the rum and curled up in a kind of dug-out and slept for about one hour (then woke up absolutely frozen, only shirts on, no tunic), till dawn I freezed, then got up and managed to get a turkish teapot from another man and made some hot tea. It was good, very good. Breakfast of bully beef and biscuits and as soon as the sun rose I got in a sunny position and had a sleep.


During the morning Lieut. Cotton was hit through right arm and into chest (still in hospital in London). He was just sitting in a dug out when he got it. It was phizz-phizz-phizz everywhere on Tab1e Top. About 2.3O p.m. we got word that we were to go up and re-enforced Otago in the firing line. The 2nd and 6th went up leaving the 9th to hold Table Top. We had a long weary march up along a gully, occasional shrapnel tried to find us but did no harm, About 5 p.m. we halted
for about an hour and had tea - bully beef, biscuits and water no fires allowed. We moved on again up hill and soon came to a dressing station about 7.30 p.m., with wounded by the hundred, and also various lots of Tommies returning. Here we had a short halt and formed up in Troops and advanced by short laps taking our direction from a star.

 

Soon we were near the line and met some other Otago reinforcements, who had lost themselves temporarily. Next we could see the spurts of flame from the rifles, and apparently there was rather a mix up as every now and again there were cries of "Don’t fire, we are your own men". Anyway we got right up to our part of the line and found a lot of our infantry absolutely done, lying down anywhere getting rest and sleep in spite of the fact that every now and again huge shrapnel shells broke just over us. We found a very poor trench only half dug, a support trench and no communication trench, No.1 Troop went straight into the firing line, our section going into the end of the trench about ten yards from brow of the hill. e were kept very busy as Turks were just over the brow, we had to clear dead men out of the trench (saved their ammunition) and at the same time keep a constant fire on anything that showed up and also into any cover such as bushes etc. Now and again a bomb would come up and over, and then someone would generally retire hors-de-combat./ One landed next to Dick and we all crowded out of the way as much as possible and bang. "Has it got you Dick?" "Yes in the foot" - He retired as he felt his boot filling with blood. Another one just on parapet at the end and Cateur and Jolly retired hit in the neck. We would throw one and you could hear the Turks stampede, unfortunately we did not have very many. We took it in turns to fill sand bags and deepen the trench and form a parapet. During the night we got an issue of water sent up, it was very badly needed, at times we threatened to run short of ammunition, but managed to get a good deal off the dead. My barrel at times got so hot I could scarcely hold it. At last dawn came, and we immediately started waving flags from various points to show our position to the Navy. Boom - phizz - phizz-phipp- bang. The first shells burst all right and prospects looked better. The Lyddits smoke floated back to us and things were all right, shells supporting us thickly. Just about now Ian got a scalp wound towards the back of his head which started bleeding copiously and so he retired safely. I was just watching an apparently whole Turk (complete in all details) ascending about 30 feet into the air and was thinking "that'll shake ‘em up" when bang and a smack in the face like a ton weight (drew blood on my cheek) and a big shell (concussion) burst just about in our trench, killing several and wounding others and smashing trench. Then several landed on our right and our men there had to retire in consequence.

 

Next I seem to have forgotten the shell and remember the bombs which started to come over at the rate of about six a minute, landing everywhere, and thank goodness we had the sand bags in front of trench, as several landed short and would have rolled in but stopped at sand bag. About three seconds, and bang - sand bag blown to smithereens - and it feels as if you had a smack on your head. Presently one landed between me and next man. I huddled up to man next man and impolitely turned my back to Mr. Bomb. - "Was it going off, surely the dam thing had been there about two hours! I’ll have a look at it. No! Look out there is the fuse fizzing, just about off. Where will it hit me, what will it feel like, Ugh! and I screwed up my face and all possible portions of my anatomy. Why does it not go off? When the deu- - - Bang - biff, something hit me a whack on the side, and along my leg, "I’m done! No I’m not! Lets have a look." All my pants torn and bloody and I think I had better get out while I can. I suppose the bomb only took about a second to explode, but during my wait for it I went through all those thoughts and a good many more. I don’t think I shall ever forget those seconds. - (I have missed out something) -
          C
lutha McKenzie had taken Joker’s place in our section, and was just about next me. A moment after the concussion shell had exploded in our trench I heard him say something and looked down, and there he was trying to get past me. Both his eyes were blown out by the concussion. He was crawling along the trench and crawled out. Apparently he did not have much pain but it was a the most pitiful sight I have seen. Luckily the bombs had not started to come.


I scrambled to the end of the trench and hopped out (other way blocked with men) and crawled over some scores of dead ones, and so
into the communication trench. Why I was not shot doing so I cannot say, but I think I must have been in view to a lot of Turks on our left who were enfilading our trench. Once in the communication trench I suddenly thought I was not so very badly hit after all, and perhaps ought to be still in the front part. While trying to think how to get back, a bomb landed just beside me. Luckily I managed to get round a corner, and so it exploded harmlessly. Next moment another landed just beside me and I could get no further and so a repetition of before - with a bang and a smack on the knee. I could see a piece in it and my knee began to bleed and swell. I decided to be off, and so out of the trench again, crawl over dead men and took a spell in a little hollow where I found Glen McLean also bombed and having a spell. Across another trench where I took off all my gear including my haversack with all my rations in it and so I made off towards the rear, hobbling along as best I could. About 300 yards behind I saw Clutha McKenzie, but he had another man with him so I went on. This was about 5 a.m. in the morning. Apparently the enemy snipers were busy with other prey as I was not worried at all with them. All this occurred on top of 971, here the country was quite different to the usual hills, it was more undulating and level on top. I was making for a gully next to the one we had come up the day before, I thought it might lead down to the beach. Soon a man came along carrying Noel Blackburn on his back. Noel was looking just about played out.

"Hello Noel, Where did they get you?"

"Through both knees" in a very shaky voice.

After a short spell during which I bandaged my leg (knee) as best could, I continued on and soon got into a regular gully, it was simply chock-a-bloc full of wounded and dead. The dead, a lot of Ghurkas amongst them, near the entrance of gully, and the wounded further  down, each man getting as far down the gully as he could. It was very difficult getting over them. Meanwhile my knee was swelling up and getting very stiff and I picked up a rifle and used it for a walking stick. I also had to take frequent spells as I was feeling rather floppy. Presently Tom Vile came along also bombed in the legs. Together he and I got further down the valley and then he went on ahead At this time the bombardment by the Navy was going on. While I was taking one of my walks a shell came with a loud whistle and landed near the top of the hill just above me, it nearly made me jump out of my skin.

 

I was quite sure that particular gun was after me and I hurried on as fast as possible. After a while I picked up Tom Vile again near some water holes and here we sat down or rather got as comfortable as possible, as whatever portion of me touched anything seemed to be bombed, and was remarkably sore, also I could not bend my knee. Frank Cash also came along. We had been told by some wounded further back that we could not get out to the beach by this gully, but a party of walking cases determined to try. About two hours after they came back having decided that it was impossible, one of them got three extra bullets in him (shoulder etc.) for his trouble. Another lot said they were going to try to get over the ridge and get down by the proper gully and said they would let the dressing station know about us. Some of the men had been in this gully for two or three days doing as best they could. All this time we were "resting" by the wells and soon I began to feel very hungry (everything left in trench). Luckily some of the wounded had a lot of biscuits and so I had a feed off them. How much water I drank I don’t know. There was a continual stream of wounded coming for drinks. Water fairly clean, only a few frogs in at. The day passed very slowly, first heat, then cold again towards evening. The only pleasant thing being that word came that the dressing station knew of us, and would send stretchers as soon as it was dark. Towards evening we gradually set off back towards the entrance of gully to where the stretchers come across. Soon as dusk, all who could possibly walk set off to get over the ridge and also word came along that stretchers would be along soon. Very weary wait, and about two stretcher, bearers came and about 50 cases to go. They came in two and threes, and nearly at the end Torn and I were picked up. talk about a motor car or aeroplane it could never be as good as that stretcher. By this time they had a very rough track cut over the hill and we were pushed and pulled and bumped over this. By Jove it was a rough trip, especially for my thigh, as it was impossible to be carried properly up the hill and every rest always just got my thigh. But it could not be helped and the stretcher bearers were just about dead with fatigue, going all night, I arrived at the dressing station at 9 p.m. having lost sight of Tom. Here they looked at my knee, but not at my thigh (very busy) and I was labelled and ready to go on down. While waiting Captn. Cook came in quite hale and hearty. Nearly everything here was in darkness, because several men had been shot by snipers. Presently they started to carry me down, three men, not much talk because of snipers, We called in at two dressing stations on way and about 5 a.m. got to one quite near the beach. If ever I have been nearly frozen it was that night, there were absolutely no coats or blankets to be had and it just about freezing on 971. My pants were half torn off and only a thin shirt. At the bottom they gate me two thick blankets and hot bovril and morphia, and even then it was about an hour before I got warm. After about two hours I started for the final trip to the beach, got about half way and found the beach was being shelled and sniped and impassable. We were put under cover as best they could find, but still exposed to shell fire.

 

After a time I got two orderlies to help me and we went by a narrow sap very slowly and reached other end where they got a stretcher and carried me up to the dressing station. There were hundreds of men lying in it and I was put down about ten yards away from the entrance to the main sap to Anzac. Through this sap there was a constant stream of mules. Every mule raised a cloud of very fine dust which spread very gently over everything. No cover at all from the sun and a very limited supply of water, which ran out. Moans and groans all round, and one man periodically trying to get up, and generally falling back on top of someone else, it was a sort of nightmare at times. Luckily I was next to a very decent fellow, who turned out to be an English Officer from Genrusey of "The Kents". He was shot through the lung, but took it all very well. Some of his men (walking cases) came across him and waited on him hand and foot, and he got me and the man next him everything he could in the way of coffee, beef tea, biscuit etc. He also wrote the card to you. I have unfortunately forgotten his name. We lay there all day seeing Hospital ships fill up and get away and the crowd round us was getting bigger and bigger. It was warmer down there and I managed to get an oiled sheet for cover, and so was fairly warm. Not much sleep, too many moans and groans and cries of "Water, water - - - In the morning Alec Howard came along (acting stretcher bearer) and he got some of my things from Anzac, and then with Griffiths who also came along about 9 a.m. , they carried me down to the beach. The officer had been carried down some little time before. The scene on the beach was beyond description. No water, very badly wounded (stomach etc.) men, Turks sniping the beach and wounding and killing both stretcher bearers and wounded. A more miserable picture could not be imagined. They had to put the wounded down and leave them sometimes, because anyone standing up would be hit, it was horrible, the suffering there. They had parties out routing out the snipers but they were very hard to find, generally short work when they were found. There was an improvised pier from which they loaded the boats, and by good luck Alec managed to get me right up close to it. There were two Hospital ships which had just come in. Major Grant (Chaplain) came along and got me moved up to where Dick McDonnell (Taihape) was, he also gave me a drink of wine. We were now right by the pier head, and after a long wait at last a string of boats came in. Luckily most of the sniping had ceased, but there was immediately a rush of walking cases, who were ordered back. Then they picked out the worse cases and about last of all our turn came, (I expect was looking rather miserable) and we were put on and towed out to the Gascon, I was very thankful to get away, some poor brutes bad been on the shore for days and scores had died, they just buried them in a little patch close by. Dick McDonnell was bombed in the legs rather badly, saw him again at Malta, but not since. Major Grant turned out trumps in the way of looking after our wounded, he went everywhere. He said he was going to complain about the state of affairs on the beach, it was simply beyond description. We were aboard the Hospital ship by 2 p:m: In the evening we left for Imbros, then to Mudros and then Malta, a very slow hot trip. Very glad to get off at Malta. Eight days in all (stayed at Mudros).
          I think I have given you a pretty fair account of what happened and if you are as tired of reading it as I am of writing it, we had better both stop. You can do what you like with it, publish it, print it, or destroy it, or keep it. It has taken me about two days to write it.


p.s. Looked over and passed as fair, by myself.
Alec Howard told me Lieut. Mayo had died, no hope from beginning. Poor Glen McLean was bombed, think in the abdomen. He tried to get away from one bomb and just about fell on another one. He died sometime afterwards. Our only officer Captn. Hastings was also bombed, nearly blew his legs off. Don’t know what has happened to him, no trace after he got to the beach. I think he must have died there and been buried. There was a tremendous muddle and he might easily have been missed.

[End]


(From Trooper Roy Dalrymple -Wellington Mounted Rifles 1915)