I hope I may sleep to-night. I think so. If not, my wakefulness will wish the clock's hand forward.
25th April, 1915. H.M.S. "Queen Elizabeth." Our Queen chose the cold grey hour of 4 a.m. to make her war toilette. By 4.15 she had sunk the lady and put on the man of war. Gone were the gay companions; closed the tight compartments and stowed away under armour were all her furbelows and frills. In plain English, our mighty battleship was cleared for action, and—my mind—that also has now been cleared of its everyday lumber: and I am ready.
If this is a queer start for me, so it is also for de Robeck. In sea warfare, the Fleet lies in the grip of its Admiral like a platoon in the hands of a Subaltern. The Admiral sees; speaks the executive word and the whole Fleet moves; not, as with us, each Commander carrying out the order in his own way, but each Captain steaming, firing, retiring to the letter of the signal. In the Navy the man at the gun, the man at the helm, the man sending up shells in the hoist has no discretion unless indeed the gear goes wrong, and he has to use his wits to put it right again. With us the infantry scout, a boy in his teens perhaps, may have to decide whether to open fire, to lie low or to fall back; whether to bring on a battle or avoid it. But the Fleet to-day is working like an army; the ships are widely scattered each one on its own, except in so far as wireless may serve, and that is why I say de Robeck is working under conditions just as unusual to him as mine are to me.
My station is up in the conning tower with de Robeck. The conning tower is a circular metal chamber, like a big cooking pot. Here we are, all eyes, like potatoes in the cooking pot aforesaid, trying to peep through a slit where the lid is raised a few inches, ad hoc, as these blasted politicians like to say. My Staff are not with me in this holy of holies, but are stowed away in steel towers or jammed into 6-inch batteries.
So we kept moving along and at 4.30 a.m. were off Sedd-el-Bahr. All quiet and grey. Thence we steamed for Gaba Tepe and midway, about 5 o'clock, heard a very heavy fire from Helles behind us. The Turks are putting up some fight. Now we are off Gaba Tepe!
The day was just breaking over the jagged hills; the sea was glassy smooth; the landing of the lads from the South was in full swing; the shrapnel was bursting over the water; the patter of musketry came creeping out to sea; we are in for it now; the machine guns muttered as through chattering teeth—up to our necks in it now. But would we be out of it? No; not one of us; not for five hundred years stuffed full of dullness and routine.
By 5.35 the rattle of small arms quieted down; we heard that about 4,000 fighting men had been landed; we could see boat-loads making for the land; swarms trying to straighten themselves out along the shore; other groups digging and hacking down the brushwood. Even with our glasses they did not look much bigger than ants. God, one would think, cannot see them at all or He would put a stop to this sort of panorama altogether. And yet, it would be a pity if He missed it; for these fellows have been worth the making. They are not charging up into this Sari Bair range for money or by compulsion. They fight for love—all the way from the Southern Cross for love of the old country and of liberty. Wave after wave of the little ants press up and disappear. We lose sight of them the moment they lie down. Bravo! every man on our great ship longs to be with them. But the main battle called. The Admiral was keen to take me when and where the need might most arise. So we turned South and steamed slowly back along the coast to Cape Helles.
Opposite Krithia came another great moment. We have made good the landing—sure—it is a fact. I have to repeat the word to myself several times, "fact," "fact," "fact," so as to be sure I am awake and standing here looking at live men through a long telescope. The thing seems unreal; as though I were in a dream, instead of on a battleship. To see words working themselves out upon the ground; to watch thoughts move over the ground as fighting men....!
Both Battalions, the Plymouth and the K.O.S.B.s, had climbed the high cliff without loss; so it was signalled; there is no firing; the Turks have made themselves scarce; nothing to show danger or stress; only parties of our men struggling up the sandy precipice by zigzags, carrying munitions and large glittering kerosine tins of water. Through the telescope we can now make out a number of our fellows in groups along the crest of the cliff, quite peacefully reposing—probably smoking. This promises great results to our arms—not the repose or the smoking, for I hope that won't last long—but the enemy's surprise. In spite of Egypt and the Egyptian Gazette; in spite of the spy system of Constantinople, we have brought off our tactical coup and surprised the enemy Chief. The bulk of the Turks are not at Gaba Tepe; here, at "Y," there are none at all!
In a sense, and no mean sense either, I am as much relieved, and as sanguine too, at the coup we have brought off here as I was just now to see Birdie's four thousand driving the Turks before them into the mountains. The schemes are not on the same scale. If the Australians get through to Mal Tepe the whole Turkish Army on the Peninsula will be done in. If the "Y" Beach lot press their advantage they may cut off the enemy troops on the toe of the Peninsula. With any luck, the K.O.S.B.s and Plymouths at "Y" should get right on the line of retreat of the Turks who are now fighting to the South.
The point at issue as we sailed down to "X" Beach was whether that little force at "Y" should not be reinforced by the Naval Division who were making a feint against the Bulair Lines and had, by now, probably finished their work. Braithwaite has been speaking to me about it. The idea appealed to me very strongly because I have been all along most keen on the "Y" Beach plan which is my own special child; and this would be to make the most of it and press it for all it was worth. But, until the main battle develops more clearly at Gaba Tepe and at Sedd-el-Bahr I must not commit the only troops I have in hand as my Commander-in-Chief's reserve.
When we got to "X" Beach the foreshore and cliffs had been made good without much loss in the first instance, we were told, though there is a hot fight going on just south of it. But fresh troops will soon be landing:—so far so good. Further round, at "W" Beach, another lodgment had been effected; very desperate and bloody, we are told by the Naval Beachmaster: and indeed we can see some of the dead, but the Lancashire Fusiliers hold the beach though we don't seem yet to have penetrated inland. By Sedd-el-Bahr, where we hove to about 6.45, the light was very baffling; land wrapped in haze, sun full in our eyes. Here we watched as best we could over the fight being put up by the Turks against our forlorn hope on the River Clyde. Very soon it became clear that we were being held. Through our glasses we could quite clearly watch the sea being whipped up all along the beach and about the River Clyde by a pelting storm of rifle bullets. We could see also how a number of our dare-devils were up to their necks in this tormented water trying to struggle on to land from the barges linking the River Clyde to the shore. There was a line of men lying flat down under cover of a little sandbank in the centre of the beach. They were so held under by fire they dared not, evidently, stir. Watching these gallant souls from the safety of a battleship gave me a hateful feeling: Roger Keyes said to me he simply could not bear it. Often a Commander may have to watch tragedies from a post of safety. That is all right. I have had my share of the hair's breadth business and now it becomes the turn of the youngsters. But, from the battleship, you are outside the frame of the picture. The thing becomes monstrous; too cold-blooded; like looking on at gladiators from the dress circle. The moment we became satisfied that none of our men had made their way further than a few feet above sea level, the Queen opened a heavy fire from her 6-inch batteries upon the Castle, the village and the high steep ground ringing round the beach in a semi-circle. The enemy lay very low somewhere underground. At times the River Clyde signalled that the worst fire came from the old Fort and Sedd-el-Bahr; at times that these bullets were pouring out from about the second highest rung of seats on the West of that amphitheatre in which we were striving to take our places. Ashore the machine guns and rifles never ceased—tic tac, tic tac, brrrr—tic tac, tic tac, brrrrrr...... Drowned every few seconds by our tremendous salvoes, this more nervous noise crept back insistently into our ears in the interval. As men fixed in the grip of nightmare, we were powerless—unable to do anything but wait.
When we saw our covering party fairly hung up under the fire from the Castle and its outworks, it became a question of issuing fresh orders to the main body who had not yet been committed to that attack. There was no use throwing them ashore to increase the number of targets on the beach. Roger Keyes started the notion that these troops might well be diverted to "Y" where they could land unopposed and whence they might be able to help their advance guard at "V" more effectively than by direct reinforcement if they threatened to cut the Turkish line of retreat from Sedd-el-Bahr. Braithwaite was rather dubious from the orthodox General Staff point of view as to whether it was sound for G.H.Q. to barge into Hunter-Weston's plans, seeing he was executive Commander of the whole of this southern invasion. But to me the idea seemed simple common sense. If it did not suit Hunter-Weston's book, he had only to say so. Certainly Hunter-Weston was in closer touch with all these landings than we were; it was not for me to force his hands: there was no question of that: so at 9.15 I wirelessed as follows:
"G.O.C. in C. to G.O.C. Euryalus."
"Would you like to get some more men ashore on 'Y' beach? If so, trawlers are available."
Three quarters of an hour passed; the state of affairs at Sedd-el-Bahr was no better, and in an attack if you don't get better you get worse; the supports were not being landed; no answer had come to hand. So repeated my signal to Hunter-Weston, making it this time personal from me to him and ordering him to acknowledge receipt. (Lord Bobs' wrinkle):—
"General Hamilton to General Hunter-Weston, Euryalus.
"Do you want any more men landed at 'Y'? There are trawlers available. Acknowledge the signal."
At 11 a.m. I got this answer:—
"From General Hunter-Weston to G.O.C. Queen Elizabeth.
"Admiral Wemyss and Principal Naval Transport Officer state that to interfere with present arrangements and try to land men at 'Y' Beach would delay disembarkation."
There was some fuss about the Cornwallis. She ought to have been back from Morto Bay and lending a hand here, but she had not turned up. All sorts of surmises. Now we hear she has landed our right flank attack very dashingly and that we have stormed de Tott's Battery! I fear the South Wales Borderers are hardly strong enough alone to move across and threaten Sedd-el-Bahr from the North. But the news is fine. How I wish we had left "V" Beach severely alone. Big flanking attacks at "Y" and "S" might have converged on Sedd-el-Bahr and carried it from the rear when none of the garrison could have escaped. But then, until we tried, we were afraid fire from Asia might defeat the de Tott's Battery attack and that the "Y" party might not scale the cliffs. The Turks are stronger down here than at Gaba Tepe. Still, I should doubt if they are in any great force; quite clearly the bulk of them have been led astray by our feints, and false rumours. Otherwise, had they even a regiment in close reserve, they must have eaten up the S.W.B. as they stormed the Battery.
About noon, a Naval Officer (Lieutenant Smith), a fine fellow, came off to get some more small arm ammunition for the machine guns on the River Clyde. He said the state of things on and around that ship was "awful," a word which carried twentyfold weight owing to the fact that it was spoken by a youth never very emotional, I am sure, and now on his mettle to make his report with indifference and calm. The whole landing place at "V" Beach is ringed round with fire. The shots from our naval guns, smashing as their impact appears, might as well be confetti for all the effect they have upon the Turkish trenches. The River Clyde is commanded and swept not only by rifles at 100 yards' range, but by pom-poms and field guns. Her own double battery of machine guns mounted in a sandbag revetment in her bows are to some extent forcing the enemy to keep their heads down and preventing them from actually rushing the little party of our men who are crouching behind the sand bank. But these same men of ours cannot raise head or hand one inch beyond that lucky ledge of sand by the water's brink. And the bay at Sedd-el-Bahr, so the last messengers have told us, had turned red. The River Clyde so far saves the situation. She was only ready two days before we plunged.
At 1.30 heard that d'Amade had taken Kum Kale. De Robeck had already heard independently by wireless that the French (the 6th Colonials under Nogues) had carried the village by a bayonet charge at 9.35 a.m. On the Asiatic side, then, things are going as we had hoped. The Russian Askold and the Jeanne d'Arc are supporting our Allies in their attack. Being so hung up at "V," I have told d'Amade that he will not be able to disembark there as arranged, but that he will have to take his troops round to "W" and march them across.
At two o'clock a large number of our wounded who had taken refuge under the base of the arches of the old Fort at Sedd-el-Bahr began to signal for help. The Queen Elizabeth sent away a picket boat which passed through the bullet storm and most gallantly brought off the best part of them.
Soon after 2 o'clock we were cheered by sighting our own brave fellows making a push from the direction of "W." We reckon they must be Worcesters and Essex men moving up to support the Royal Fusiliers and the Lancashire Fusiliers, who have been struggling unaided against the bulk of the Turkish troops. The new lot came along by rushes from the Westwards, across from "X" to "W" towards Sedd-el-Bahr, and we prayed God very fervently they might be able to press on so as to strike the right rear of the enemy troops encircling "V" Beach. At 3.10 the leading heroes—we were amazed at their daring—actually stood up in order the better to cut through a broad belt of wire entanglement. One by one the men passed through and fought their way to within a few yards of a redoubt dominating the hill between Beaches "W" and "V." This belt of wire ran perpendicularly, not parallel, to the coastline and had evidently been fixed up precisely to prevent what we were now about to attempt. To watch V.C.s being won by wire cutting; to see the very figure and attitude of the hero; to be safe oneself except from the off chance of a shell,—was like being stretched upon the rack! All day we hung vis-a-vis this inferno. With so great loss and with so desperate a situation the white flag would have gone up in the South African War but there was no idea of it to-day and I don't feel afraid of it even now, in the dark of a moonless night, where evil thoughts are given most power over the mind.
Nor does Hunter-Weston. We had a hurried dinner, de Robeck, Keyes, Braithwaite, Godfrey, Hope and I, in the signal office under the bridge. As we were finishing Hunter-Weston came on board. After he had told us his story, breathlessly and listened to with breathless interest, I asked him what about our troops at "Y"? He thought they were now in touch with our troops at "X" but that they had been through some hard fighting to get there. His last message had been that they were being hard pressed but as he had heard nothing more since then he assumed they were all right—! Anyway, he was cheery, stout-hearted, quite a good tonic and—on the whole—his news is good.
To sum up the doings of the day; the French have dealt a brilliant stroke at Kum Kale; we have fixed a grip on the hills to the North of Gaba Tepe; also, we have broken through the enemy's defences at "X" and "W," two out of the three beaches at the South point of the Peninsula. The "hold-up" at the third, "V" (or Sedd-el-Bahr) causes me the keenest anxiety—it would never do if we were forced to re-embark at night as has been suggested—we must stick it until our advance from "X" and "W" opens that sally port from the sea. There is always in the background of my mind dread lest help should reach the enemy before we have done with Sedd-el-Bahr. The enveloping attacks on both enemy flanks have come off brilliantly, but have not cut the enemy's line of retreat, or so threatened it that they have to make haste to get back. At "S" (Eski Hissarlick or Morto Bay) the 2nd South Wales Borderers have landed in very dashing style though under fire from big fortress artillery as well as field guns and musketry. On shore they deployed and, helped by sailors from the Cornwallis, have carried the Turkish trenches in front of them at the bayonet's point. They are now dug in on a commanding spur but are anxious at finding themselves all alone and say they do not feel able, owing to their weakness, to manoeuvre or to advance. From "Y," opposite Krithia, there is no further news. But two good battalions at large and on the war path some four or five miles in rear of the enemy should do something during the next few hours. I was right, so it seems, about getting ashore before the enemy could see to shoot out to sea. At Gaba Tepe; opposite Krithia and by Morto Bay we landed without too much loss. Where we waited to bombard, as at Helles and Sedd-el-Bahr, we have got it in the neck.
This "V" Beach business is the blot. Sedd-el-Bahr was supposed to be the softest landing of the lot, as it was the best harbour and seemed to lie specially at the mercy of the big guns of the Fleet. Would that we had left it severely alone and had landed a big force at Morto Bay whence we could have forced the Sedd-el-Bahr Turks to fall back.
One thing is sure. Whatever happens to us here we are bound to win glory. There are no other soldiers quite of the calibre of our chaps in the world; they have esprit de corps; they are volunteers every one of them; they are for it; our Officers—our rank and file—have been so entered to this attack that they will all die—that we will all die—sooner than give way before the Turk. The men are not fighting blindly as in South Africa: they are not fighting against forces with whose motives they half sympathise. They have been told, and told again, exactly what we are after. They understand. Their eyes are wide open: they know that the war can only be brought to an end by our joining hands quickly with the Russians: they know that the fate of the Empire depends on the courage they display. Should the Fates so decree, the whole brave Army may disappear during the night more dreadfully than that of Sennacherib; but assuredly they will not surrender: where so much is dark, where many are discouraged, in this knowledge I feel both light and joy.
Here I write—think—have my being. To-morrow night where shall we be? Well; what then; what of the worst? At least we shall have lived, acted, dared. We are half way through—we shall not look back.
As night began to settle down over the land, the Queen Elizabeth seemed to feel the time had come to give full vent to her wrath. An order from the bridge, and, in the twinkling of an eye, she shook from stem to stern with the recoil from her own efforts. The great ship was fighting all out, all in action. Every gun spouted flame and a roar went up fit to shiver the stars of Heaven. Ears stopped with wax; eyes half blinded by the scorching yellow blasts; still, in some chance seconds interval, we could hear the hive-like b rr rr rr rr rr r r r r of the small arms plying on the shore; still see, through some break in the acrid smoke, the profile of the castle and houses; nay, of the very earth itself and the rocky cliff; see them all, change, break, dissolve into dust; crumble as if by enchantment into strange new outlines, under the enormous explosions of our 15-in. lyddite shells. Buildings gutted: walls and trenches turned inside out and upside down: friend and foe surely must be wiped out together under such a fire: at least they are stupefied—must cease taking a hand with their puny rifles and machine guns? Not so. Amidst falling ruins; under smoke clouds of yellow, black, green and white; the beach, the cliffs and the ramparts of the Castle began, in the oncoming dusk, to sparkle all over with hundreds of tiny flecks of rifle fire.
Just before the shadows of night hid everything from sight, we could see that many of our men, who had been crouching all day under the sandy bank in the centre of the arena, were taking advantage of the pillars of smoke raised between them and their enemy to edge away to their right and scale the rampart leading to the Fort of Sedd-el-Bahr. Other small clusters lay still—they have made their last attack.
Now try to sleep. What of those men fighting for their lives in the darkness. I put them there. Might they not, all of them, be sailing back to safe England, but for me? And I sleep! To sleep whilst thousands are killing one another close by! Well, why not; I must sleep whilst I may. The legend whereby a Commander-in-Chief works wonders during a battle dies hard. He may still lose the battle in a moment by losing heart. He may still help to win the battle by putting a brave face upon the game when it seems to be up. By his character, he may still stop the rot and inspire his men to advance once more to the assault. The old Bible idea of the Commander:—when his hands grew heavy Amalek advanced; when he raised them and willed victory Israel prevailed over the heathen! As regards directions, modifications, orders, counter-orders,—in precise proportion as his preparations and operation orders have been thoroughly conceived and carried out, so will the actual conflict find him leaving the actual handling of the troops to Hunter-Weston as I am bound to do. Old Oyama cooled his brain during the battle of the Shaho by shooting pigeons sitting on Chinese chimneys. King Richard before Bosworth saw ghosts. My own dark hours pass more easily as I make my cryptic jottings in pedlar's French. The detachment of the writer comes over me; calms down the tumult of the mind and paves a path towards the refuge of sleep. No order is to be issued until I get reports and requests. I can't think now of anything left undone that I ought to have done; I have no more troops to lay my hands on—Hunter-Weston has more than he can land to-night; I won't mend matters much by prowling up and down the gangways. Braithwaite calls me if he must. No word yet about the losses except that they have been heavy. If the Turks get hold of a lot of fresh men and throw them upon us during the night,—perhaps they may knock us off into the sea. No General knows his luck. That's the beauty of the business. But I feel sanguine in the spirit of the men; sanguine in my own spirit; sanguine in the soundness of my scheme. What with the landing at Gaba Tepe and at Kum Kale, and the feints at Bulair and Besika Bay, the Turkish troops here will get no help to-night. And our fellows are steadily pouring ashore.
26th April, 1915. H.M.S. "Queen Elizabeth." At 12.5 a.m. I was dragged out of a dead sleep by Braithwaite who kept shaking me by the shoulder and saying, "Sir Ian! Sir Ian!!" I had been having a good time for an hour far away somewhere, far from bloody turmoil, and before I quite knew where I was, my Chief of Staff repeated what he had, I think, said several times already, "Sir Ian, you've got to come right along—a question of life and death—you must settle it!" Braithwaite is a cool hand, but his tone made me wide awake in a second. I sprang from bed; flung on my "British Warm" and crossed to the Admiral's cabin—not his own cabin but the dining saloon—where I found de Robeck himself, Rear-Admiral Thursby (in charge of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), Roger Keyes, Braithwaite, Brigadier-General Carruthers (Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster-General of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and Brigadier-General Cunliffe Owen (Commanding Royal Artillery of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). A cold hand clutched my heart as I scanned their faces. Carruthers gave me a message from Birdwood written in Godley's writing. I read it aloud:—
"Both my Divisional Generals and Brigadiers have represented to me that they fear their men are thoroughly demoralised by shrapnel fire to which they have been subjected all day after exhaustion and gallant work in morning. Numbers have dribbled back from firing line and cannot be collected in this difficult country. Even New Zealand Brigade which has been only recently engaged lost heavily and is to some extent demoralised. If troops are subjected to shell fire again to-morrow morning there is likely to be a fiasco as I have no fresh troops with which to replace those in firing line. I know my representation is most serious but if we are to re-embark it must be at once. (Sd.) "BIRDWOOD."
The faces round that table took on a look—when I close my eyes there they sit,—a look like nothing on earth unless it be the guests when their host flings salt upon the burning raisins. To gain time I asked one or two questions about the tactical position on shore, but Carruthers and Cunliffe Owen seemed unable to add any detail to Birdwood's general statement.
I turned to Thursby and said, "Admiral, what do you think?" He said, "It will take the best part of three days to get that crowd off the beaches." "And where are the Turks?" I asked. "On the top of 'em!" "Well, then," I persisted, "tell me, Admiral, what do you think?" "What do I think: well, I think myself they will stick it out if only it is put to them that they must." Without another word, all keeping silence, I wrote Birdwood as follows:—
"Your news is indeed serious. But there is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out. It would take at least two days to re-embark you as Admiral Thursby will explain to you. Meanwhile, the Australian submarine has got up through the Narrows and has torpedoed a gunboat at Chunuk. Hunter-Weston despite his heavy losses will be advancing to-morrow which should divert pressure from you. Make a personal appeal to your men and Godley's to make a supreme effort to hold their ground. (Sd.) "IAN HAMILTON."
"P.S. You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe. Ian H."
The men from Gaba Tepe made off with this letter; not the men who came down here at all, but new men carrying a clear order. Be the upshot what it may, I shall never repent that order. Better to die like heroes on the enemy's ground than be butchered like sheep on the beaches like the runaway Persians at Marathon.
De Robeck and Keyes were aghast; they pat me on the back; I hope they will go on doing so if things go horribly wrong. Midnight decisions take it out of one. Turned in and slept for three solid hours like a top till I was set spinning once more at 4 a.m.
At dawn we were off Gaba Tepe. Thank God the idea of retreat had already made itself scarce. The old Queen let fly her first shot at 5.30 a.m. Her shrapnel is a knockout. The explosion of the monstrous shell darkens the rising sun; the bullets cover an acre; the enemy seems stunned for a while after each discharge. One after the other she took on the Turkish guns along Sari Bair and swept the skyline with them.
A message of relief and thankfulness came out to us from the shore. Seeing how much they loved us—or rather our Long Toms—we hung around until about half-past eight smothering the enemy's guns whenever they dared show their snouts. By that hour our troops had regained their grip of themselves and also of the enemy, and the firing of the Turks was growing feeble. An organised counter-attack on the grand scale at dawn was the one thing I dreaded, and that has not come off; only a bit of a push over the downland by Gaba Tepe which was steadied by one of our enormous shrapnel. About this time we heard from Hunter-Weston that there was no material change in the situation at Helles and Sedd-el-Bahr. I wirelessed, therefore, to d'Amade telling him he would not be able to land his men at "V" under Sedd-el-Bahr as arranged but that he should bring all the rest of the French troops up from Tenedos and disembark them at "W" by Cape Helles. About this time, also, i.e., somewhere about 9 a.m., we picked up a wireless from the O.C. "Y" Beach which caused us some uneasiness. "We are holding the ridge," it said, "till the wounded are embarked." Why "till"? So I told the Admiral that as Birdwood seemed fairly comfortable, I thought we ought to lose no time getting back to Sedd-el-Bahr, taking "Y" Beach on our way. At once we steamed South and hove to off "Y" Beach at 9.30 a.m. There the Sapphire, Dublin and Goliath were lying close inshore and we could see a trickle of our men coming down the steep cliff and parties being ferried off to the Goliath: the wounded no doubt, but we did not see a single soul going up the cliff whereas there were many loose groups hanging about on the beach. I disliked and mistrusted the looks of these aimless dawdlers by the sea. There was no fighting; a rifle shot now and then from the crests where we saw our fellows clearly. The little crowd and the boats on the beach were right under them and no one paid any attention or seemed to be in a hurry. Our naval and military signallers were at sixes and sevens. The Goliath wouldn't answer; the Dublin said the force was coming off, and we could not get into touch with the soldiers at all. At about a quarter to ten the Sapphire asked us to fire over the cliffs into the country some hundreds of yards further in, and so the Queen E. gave Krithia and the South of it a taste of her metal. Not much use as the high crests hid the intervening hinterland from view, even from the crow's nests. A couple of shrapnel were also fired at the crestline of the cliff about half a mile further North where there appeared to be some snipers. But the trickling down the cliffs continued. No one liked the look of things ashore. Our chaps can hardly be making off in this deliberate way without orders; and yet, if they are making off "by order," Hunter-Weston ought to have consulted me first as Birdwood consulted me in the case of the Australians and New Zealanders last night. My inclination was to take a hand myself in this affair but the Staff are clear against interference when I have no knowledge of the facts—and I suppose they are right. To see a part of my scheme, from which I had hoped so much, go wrong before my eyes is maddening! I imagined it: I pressed it through: a second Battalion was added to it and then the South Wales Borderers' Company. Many sailors and soldiers, good men, had doubts as to whether the boats could get in, or whether, having done so, men armed and accoutred would be able to scale the yellow cliffs; or whether, having by some miracle climbed, they would not be knocked off into the sea with bayonets as they got to the top. I admitted every one of these possibilities but said, every time, that taken together, they destroyed one another. If the venture seemed so desperate even to ourselves, who are desperadoes, then the enemy Chief would be of the same opinion only more so; so that, supposing we did get up, at least we would not find resistance organised against us. Whether this was agreed to, or not, I cannot say. The logic of a C.-in-C. has a convincing way of its own. But in all our discussions one thing was taken for granted—no one doubted that once our troops had got ashore, scaled the heights and dug themselves in, they would be able to hold on: no one doubted that, with the British Fleet at their backs, they would at least maintain their bridge-head into the enemy's vitals until we could decide what to do with it.
At a quarter past ten we steamed, with anxious minds, for Cape Helles, and on the way there, Braithwaite and I finished off our first cable to K.:—
"Thanks to God who calmed the seas and to the Royal Navy who rowed our fellows ashore as coolly as if at a regatta; thanks also to the dauntless spirit shown by all ranks of both Services, we have landed 29,000 upon six beaches in the face of desperate resistance from strong Turkish Infantry forces well backed by Artillery. Enemy are entrenched, line upon line, behind wire entanglements spread to catch us wherever we might try to concentrate for an advance. Worst danger zone, the open sea, now traversed, but on land not yet out of the wood. Our main covering detachment held up on water's edge, at foot of amphitheatre of low cliffs round the little bay West of Sedd-el-Bahr. At sunset last night a dashing attack was made by the 29th Division South-west along the heights from Tekke Burnu to set free the Dublins, Munsters and Hants, but at the hour of writing they are still pinned down to the beach.
"The Australians have done wonderfully at Gaba Tepe. They got 8,000 ashore to one beach between 3.30 a.m. and 8.30 a.m.: due to their courage; organisation; sea discipline and steady course of boat practice. Navy report not one word spoken or movement made by any of these thousands of untried troops either during the transit over the water in the darkness or nearing the land when the bullets took their toll. But, as the keel of the boats touched bottom, each boat-load dashed into the water and then into the enemy's fire. At first it seemed that nothing could stop them, but by degrees wire, scrub and cliffs; thirst, sheer exhaustion broke the back of their impetus. Then the enemy's howitzers and field guns had it all their own way, forcing attack to yield a lot of ground. Things looked anxious for a bit, but by this morning's dawn all are dug in, cool, confident.
"But for the number and good shooting of Turkish field guns and howitzers, Birdwood would surely have carried the whole main ridge of Sari Bair. As it is, his troops are holding a long curve upon the crests of the lower ridges, identical, to a hundred yards, with the line planned by my General Staff in their instructions and pencilled by them upon the map.
"The French have stormed Kum Kale and are attacking Yeni Shahr. Although you excluded Asia from my operations, have been forced by tactical needs to ask d'Amade to do this and so relieve us from Artillery fire from the Asiatic shore.
"Deeply regret to report the death of Brigadier-General Napier and to say that our losses, though not yet estimated, are sure to be very heavy.
"If only this night passes without misadventures, I propose to attack Achi Baba to-morrow with whatever Hunter-Weston can scrape together of the 29th Division. Such an attack should force the enemy to relax their grip on Sedd-el-Bahr. I can look now to the Australians to keep any enemy reinforcements from crossing the waist of the Peninsula."
Relief about Gaba Tepe is almost swallowed up by the "Y" Beach fiasco—as we must, I suppose, take it to be. No word yet from Hunter-Weston.
At Helles things are much the same as last night; only, the South Wales Borderers are now well dug in on a spur above Morto Bay and are confident.
At 1.45 d'Amade came aboard in a torpedo boat to see me. He has been ashore at Kum Kale and reports violent fighting and, for the time being, victory. A very dashing landing, the village stormed; house to house struggles; failure to carry the cemetery; last evening defensive measures, loopholed walls, barbed wire fastened to corpses; at night savage counter attacks led by Germans; their repulse; a wall some hundred yards long and several feet high of Turkish corpses; our own losses also very heavy and some good Officers among them. All this partly from d'Amade to me; partly his Staff to my Staff. Nogues and his brave lads have done their bit indeed for the glory of the Army of France. Meanwhile, d'Amade is anxious to get his men off soon: he cannot well stay where he is unless he carries the village of Yeni Shahr. Yeni Shahr is perched on the height a mile to the South of him, but it has been reinforced from the Besika Bay direction and to take it would be a major operation needing a disembarkation of at least the whole of his Division. He is keen to clear out: I agreed, and at 12.5 he went to make his preparations.
Ten minutes later, when we were on our way back to Gaba Tepe, the Admiral and Braithwaite both tackled me, and urged that the French should be ordered to hold on for another twenty-four hours—even if for no longer. Had they only raised their point before d'Amade left the Queen Elizabeth! As it is, to change my mind and my orders would upset the French very much and—on the whole—I do not think we have enough to go upon to warrant me in doing so. The Admiral has always been keen on Kum Kale and I quite understand that Naval aspect of the case. But it is all I can do, as far as things have gone, to hang on by my eyelids to the Peninsula, and let alone K.'s strong, clear order, I can hardly consent, as a soldier, to entangle myself further in Asia, before I have made good Achi Baba. We dare not lose another moment in getting a firm footing on the Peninsula and that was why I had signalled d'Amade from Gaba Tepe to bring up all the rest of his troops from Tenedos and to disembark them at "W" (seeing we were still held up at "V") and why I cannot now perceive any other issue. We are not strong enough to attack on both sides of the Straits. Given one more Division we might try: as things are, my troops won't cover the mileage. On a small scale map, in an office, you may make mole-hills of mountains; on the ground there's no escaping from its features.
As soon as the French Commander took his leave, we steamed back for Gaba Tepe, passing Cape Helles at 12.20 p.m. Weather now much brighter and warmer. Passing "Y" Beach the re-embarkation of troops was still going on. All quiet, the Goliath says: the enemy was so roughly handled in an attack they made last night that they do not trouble our withdrawal—too pleased to see us go, it seems! So this part of our plan has gone clean off the rails. Keyes, Braithwaite, Aspinall, Dawnay, Godfrey are sick—but their disappointment is nothing to mine. De Robeck agrees that we don't know enough yet to warrant us in fault-finding or intervention. My orders ought to have been taken before a single unwounded Officer or man was ferried back aboard ship. Never, since modern battles were invented by the Devil, has a Commander-in-Chief been so accessible to a message or an appeal from any part of the force. Each theatre has its outfit of signallers, wireless, etc., and I can either answer within five minutes, or send help, or rush myself upon the scene at 25 miles an hour with the Q.E.'s fifteen inchers in my pocket. Here there is no question of emergency, or enemy pressure, or of haste; so much we see plain enough with our own eyes.
Whilst having a hurried meal, Jack Churchill rushed down from the crow's nest to say that he thought we had carried the Fort above Sedd-el-Bahr. He had seen through a powerful naval glass some figures standing erect and silhouetted against the sky on the parapet. Only, he argued, British soldiers would stand against the skyline during a general action. That is so, and we were encouraged to be hopeful.
On to Gaba Tepe just in time to see the opening, the climax and the end of the dreaded Turkish counter attack. The Turks have been fighting us off and on all the time, but this is—or rather I can happily now say "was"—an organised effort to burst in through our centre. Whether burglars or battles are in question, give me sunshine. What had been a terror when Braithwaite woke me out of my sleep at midnight to meet the Gaba Tepe deputation was but a heightened, tightened sensation thirteen hours later.
No doubt the panorama was alarming, but we all of us somehow—we on the Q.E.—felt sure that Australia and New Zealand had pulled themselves together and were going to give Enver and his Army a very disagreeable surprise.
The contrast of the actual with the might-have-been is the secret of our confidence. Imagine, had these brave lads entrusted to us by the Commonwealth and Dominion now been crowding on the beaches—crowding into their boats—whilst some desperate rearguard was trying to hold off the onrush of the triumphant Turks. Never would any of us have got over so shocking a disaster; now they are about to win their spurs (D.V.).
Here come the Turks! First a shower of shells dropping all along the lower ridges and out over the surface of the Bay. Very pretty the shells—at half a mile! Prince of Wales's feathers springing suddenly out of the blue to a loud hammer stroke; high explosives: or else the shrapnel; pure white, twisting a moment and pirouetting as children in their nightgowns pirouette, then gliding off the field two or three together, an aerial ladies' chain. Next our projectiles, Thursby's from the Queen, Triumph, Majestic, Bacchante, London, and Prince of Wales; over the sea they flew; over the heads of our fighters; covered the higher hillsides and skyline with smudges of black, yellow and green. Smoky fellows these—with a fiery spark at their core, and wherever they touch the earth, rocks leap upwards in columns of dust to the sky. Under so many savage blows, the labouring mountains brought forth Turks. Here and there advancing lines; dots moving over green patches; dots following one another across a broad red scar on the flank of Sari Bair: others following—and yet others—and others—and others, closing in, disappearing, reappearing in close waves converging on the central and highest part of our position. The tic tac of the machine guns and the rattle of the rifles accompanied the roar of the big guns as hail, pouring down on a greenhouse, plays fast and loose amidst the peals of God's artillery: we have got some guns right up the precipitous cliff: the noise doubled; redoubled; quadrupled, expanded into one immense tiger-like growl—a solid mass of the enemy showed itself crossing the green patch—and then the good Queen Lizzie picked up her targets—crash!!! Stop your ears with wax.
The fire slackened. The attack had ebbed away; our fellows were holding their ground. A few, very few, little dots had run back over that green patch—the others had passed down into the world of darkness.
A signaller was flag-wagging from a peak about the left centre of our line:—"The boys will never forget the Queen Elizabeth's help" was what he said.
Jack Churchill was right. At 1.50 a wireless came in to say that the Irish and Hants from the River Clyde had forced their way through Sedd-el-Bahr village and had driven the enemy clean out of all his trenches and castles. Ah, well; that load is off our minds: every one smiling.
Passed on the news to Birdwood: I doubt the Turks coming on again—but, in case, the 29th Division's feat of arms will be a tonic.
I was wrong. At 3 p.m. the enemy made another effort, this time on the left of our line. We shook them badly and were rewarded by seeing a New Zealand charge. Two Battalions racing due North along the coast and foothills with levelled bayonets. Then again the tumult died away.
At 4.30 we left Gaba Tepe and sailed for Helles. At 4.50 we were opposite Krithia passing "Y" Beach. The whole of the troops, plus wounded, plus gear, have vanished. Only the petrol tins they took for water right and left of their pathway up the cliff; huge diamonds in the evening sun. The enemy let us slip off without shot fired. The last boat-load got aboard the Goliath at 4 p.m., but they had forgotten some of their kit, so the Bluejackets rowed ashore as they might to Southsea pier and brought it off for them—and again no shot fired!
Hove to off Cape Helles at quarter past five. Joyous confirmation of Sedd-el-Bahr capture and our lines run straight across from "X" to Morto Bay, but a very sad postscript now to that message: Doughty Wylie has been killed leading the sally from the beach.
The death of a hero strips victory of her wings. Alas, for Doughty Wylie! Alas, for that faithful disciple of Charles Gordon; protector of the poor and of the helpless; noblest of those knights ever ready to lay down their lives to uphold the fair fame of England. Braver soldier never drew sword. He had no hatred of the enemy. His spirit did not need that ugly stimulant. Tenderness and pity filled his heart and yet he had the overflowing enthusiasm and contempt of death which alone can give troops the volition to attack when they have been crouching so long under a pitiless fire. Doughty Wylie was no flash-in-the-pan V.C. winner. He was a steadfast hero. Years ago, at Aleppo, the mingled chivalry and daring with which he placed his own body as a shield between the Turkish soldiery and their victims during a time of massacre made him admired even by the Moslems. Now; as he would have wished to die, so has he died.
For myself, in the secret mind that lies beneath the conscious, I think I had given up hope that the covering detachment at "V" would work out their own salvation. My thought was to keep pushing in troops from "W" Beach until the enemy had fallen back to save themselves from being cut off. The Hampshires, Dublins and Munsters have turned their own tight corner, but I hope these fine Regiments will never forget what they owe to one Doughty Wylie, the Mr. Greatheart of our war.
The Admiral and Braithwaite have been at me again to urge that the French should hang on another day at Kum Kale. They point out that the crisis seems over for the time being both at Helles and Gaba Tepe and argue that this puts a different aspect on the whole question. That is so, and on the whole, I think "yes" and have asked d'Amade to comply.
At 6.20 p.m. started back intending to see all snug at Gaba Tepe, but, picking up some Turkish guns as targets in Krithia and on the slopes of Achi Baba, we hove to off Cape Tekke and opened fire. We soon silenced these guns, though others, unseen, kept popping. At 6.50 we ceased fire. At 7, Admiral Guepratte came on board and tells us splendid news about Kum Kale. At 2 o'clock the artillery fire from shore and ships became too hot for the Turks entrenched in the cemetery and they put up the white flag and came in as prisoners, 500 of them. A hundred more had been taken during the night fighting, but there was treachery and some of those were killed. Kum Kale has been a brilliant bit of work, though I fear we have lost nearly a quarter of our effectives. Guepratte agrees we would do well to hold on for another 24 hours. At a quarter past seven he took his leave and we let drop our anchor where we were, off Cape Tekke.
So now we stand on Turkish terra firma. The price has been paid for the first step and that is the step that counts. Blood, sweat, fire; with these we have forged our master key and forced it into the lock of the Hellespont, rusty and dusty with centuries of disuse. Grant us, O Lord, tenacity to turn it; determination to turn it, till through that open door Queen Elizabeth of England sails East for the Golden Horn! When in far off ages men discuss over vintages ripened in Mars the black superstitions and bloody mindedness of the Georgian savages, still they will have to drain a glass to the memory of the soldiers and sailormen who fought here.
27th April, 1915. Getting on for midnight. H.M.S. "Queen Elizabeth." All sorts of questions and answers. At 2 a.m. got a signal from Admiral Guepratte, "Situation at Kum Kale excellent, but d'Amade gave orders to re-embark. It has begun. Much regret it is not in my power to stop it."
Well, so do I regret it. With just one more Brigade at our backs we would have taken Yeni Shahr and kept our grip on Kum Kale; helping along the Fleet; countering the big guns from Asia. But, there it is; as things are I was right, and beggars can't be choosers. The French are now free to land direct at Sedd-el-Bahr, or "V," instead of round by "W."
During the small hours I wrote a second cable to K. telling him Hunter-Weston could not attack Achi Baba yesterday as his troops were worn out and some of his Battalions had lost a quarter of their effectives: also that we were already short of ammunition. Also that "Sedd-el-Bahr was a dreadful place to carry by open assault, being a labyrinth of rocks, galleries, ruins and entanglements." "With all the devoted help of the Navy, it has taken us a day's hard fighting to make good our footing. Achi Baba Hill, only a cannon shot distant, will be attacked to-morrow, the 28th."
After shipping ammunition for her big guns the Q.E. sailed at 7 a.m. for Gaba Tepe where we found Birdwood's base, the beach, being very severely shelled. The fire seemed to drop from half the points of the compass towards that one small strip of sand, so marvellously well defiladed by nature that nine-tenths of the shot fell harmlessly into the sea. The Turkish gunners had to chance hitting something by lobbing shrapnel over the main cliff or one of the two arm-like promontories which embraced the little cove,—and usually they didn't! Yet even so the beach was hardly a seaside health resort and it was a comfort to see squads of these young soldiers marching to and fro and handling packing cases with no more sign of emotion than railway porters collecting luggage at Margate.
At 7.55 we presented the Turks with some remarkable specimens of sea shells to recompense them for their trouble in so narrowly searching our beaches. They accepted our 6 inchers with a very good grace. Often one of our H.E. hundred pounders seemed to burst just where a field gun had been spotted:—and before our triumphant smiles had time to disentangle themselves from our faces, the beggars would open again. But the 15-inch shrapnel, with its 10,000 bullets, was a much more serious projectile. The Turks were not taking more than they could help. Several times we silenced a whole battery by one of these monsters. No doubt these very batteries are now getting back into concealed positions where our ships' guns will not be able to find them. Still, even so, to-day and to-morrow are the two most ticklish days; after that, let the storm come—our troops will have rooted themselves firmly into the soil.
Have been speaking to the sailors about getting man-killing H.E. shell for the Mediterranean Squadron instead of the present armour piercers which break into only two or three pieces and are, therefore, in the open field, more alarming than deadly. They don't seem to think there would be much good gained by begging for special favours through routine channels. Officialdom at the Admiralty is none too keen on our show. If we can get at Winston himself, then we can rely on his kicking red tape into the waste-paper basket; otherwise we won't be met half way. As for me, I am helpless. I cannot write Winston—not on military business; least of all on Naval business. I am fixed, I won't write to any public personage re my wants and troubles excepting only K. Braithwaite agrees that, especially in war time, no man can serve two masters. There has been so much stiletto work about this war, and I have so often blamed others for their backstairs politics, that I must chance hurt feelings and shall not write letters although several of the Powers that Be have told me to keep them fully posted. The worst loss is that of Winston's ear; high principles won't obtain high explosives. As to writing to the Army Council—apart from K., the War Office is an oubliette.
The foregoing sage reflections were jotted down between 10 and 10.30 a.m., when I was clapped into solitary confinement under armour. An aeroplane had reported that the Goeben had come into the Narrows, presumably to fire over the Peninsula with her big guns. There was no use arguing with the sailors; they treat me as if I were a mascot. So I was duly shut up out of harm's way and out of their way whilst they made ready to take on the ship, which is just as much the cause of our Iliad as was Helen that of Homer's. Up went our captive balloon; in ten minutes it was ready to spot and at 10.15 we got off the first shot which missed the Goeben by just a few feet to the right. The enemy then quickly took cover behind the high cliffs and I was let out of my prison. Some Turkish transports remained, landing troops. Off flew the shell, seven miles it flew; over the Turkish Army from one sea into another. A miss! Again she let fly. This time from the balloon came down that magic formula "O.K." (plumb centre). We danced for joy though hardly able really to credit ourselves with so magnificent a shot: but it was so: in two minutes came another message saying the transport was sinking by the stern! O.K. for us; U.P. with the Turks. Simple letters to describe a pretty ghastly affair. Fancy that enormous shell dropping suddenly out of the blue on to a ship's deck swarming with troops!
A wireless from Wemyss to say that the whole of Hunter-Weston's force has advanced two miles on a broad front and that the enemy made no resistance.
At 6 p.m. a heavy squall came down from the North and the Aegean was no place for flyers whether heavier or lighter than air. All the Turkish guns we could spot from the ship had been knocked out or silenced, so Birdwood and his men were able to get along with their digging. We cast anchor off Cape Helles at about 6.30 p.m.
At 7 Hunter-Weston came on board and dined. He is full of confidence and good cheer. He never gave any order to evacuate "Y"; he never was consulted; he does not know who gave the order. He does well to be proud of his men and of the way they played up to-day when he called upon them to press back the enemy. He has had no losses to speak of and we are now on a fairly broad three-mile front right across the toe of the Peninsula; about two miles from the tip at Helles. Had our men not been so deadly weary, there was no reason we should not have taken Achi Baba from the Turks, who put up hardly any fight at all. But we have not got our mules or horses ashore yet in any numbers, and the digging, and carriage of stores, water and munitions to the firing line had to go on all night, so the men are still as tired as they were on the 26th, or more so. The Intelligence hear that enemy reinforcements are crossing the Narrows. So it is a pity we could not make more ground whilst we were about it, but we had no fresh men to put in and the used Battalions were simply done to a turn.
We did not talk much about the past at dinner, except—ah me, how bitterly we regretted our 10 per cent. margin to replace casualties,—a margin allowed by regulation and afforded to the B.E.F. Just think of it. To-day each Battalion of the 29th Division would have been joined by two keen Officers and one hundred keen men—fresh—all of them fresh! The fillip given would have been far, far greater than that which the mere numbers (1,200 for the Division) would seem to imply. Hunter-Weston says that he would sooner have a pick-me-up in that form than two fresh Battalions, and I think, in saying so, he says too little.
Tired or not tired, we attack again to-morrow. We must make more—much more—elbow room before the Turks get help from Asia or Constantinople.
Are we to strike before or after daylight? Hunter-Weston is clear for day and we have made it so. The hour is to be 8 a.m.
Showed H.W. the cable we got at tea time from K., quoting some message de Robeck has apparently sent home and saying, "Maxwell will give you any support from the garrison of Egypt you may require." I am puzzled how to act on this. Maxwell won't give me "any support" I "may require"; otherwise, naturally, I'd have had the Gurkhas with me now: he has his own show to run: I have my own show to run: it is for K. to split the differences. K. gave me fair warning before I started I must not embroil him with French, France, or British politicians by squeezing him for more troops. It was up to me to take the job on those terms or leave it—and I took it on. I did think Egypt might be held to be outside this tacit covenant, but when I asked first, directly, for the Indian Brigade; secondly, for the Brigade or even for one Gurkha Battalion, I only got that chilliest of refusals—silence. Since then, there has been some change in his attitude. I do wish K. would take me more into his confidence. Never a word to me about the Indian Brigade, yet now it is on its way! Also, here comes this offer of more troops. Hunter-Weston's reading of the riddle is that troops ear-marked for the Western front are still taboo but that K. finds himself, since our successful landing, in a more favourable political atmosphere and is willing, therefore, to let us draw on Egypt. He thinks, in a word, that as far as Egypt goes, we should try and get what we can get.
Said good-night with mutual good wishes, and have worked till now (1 a.m.) answering wireless and interviewing Winter and Woodward, who had come across from the Arcadian to do urgent administrative work. Each seems satisfied with the way his own branch is getting on: Winter is the quicker worker. Wrote out also a second long cable to K. (the first was operations) formally asking leave to call upon Maxwell to send me the East Lancs. Division and showing that Maxwell can have my second Mounted Division in exchange.
Have thought it fair to cable Maxwell also, asking him to hold the East Lancs. handy. K.'s cable covers me so far. No Commander enjoys parting with his troops and Maxwell may play on one of the tenderest spots in K.'s adamantine heart by telling him his darling Egypt will be endangered; still it is only right to give him fair warning.
Lord Hindlip, King's Messenger, has brought us our mails.
28th April, 1915. H.M.S. "Queen Elizabeth." Off Gallipoli. At 9 a.m. General d'Amade came aboard and gave me the full account of the Kum Kale landing, a brilliant piece of work which will add lustre even to the illustrious deeds of France. I hope the French Government will recognize this dashing stroke of d'Amade's by something more solid than a thank you.
At 9.40 General Paris and the Staff of the Naval Division also came aboard, and were telling me their doings and their plans when the noise of the battle cut short the pow-wow. The fire along the three miles front is like the rumble of an express train running over fog signals. Clearly we are not going to gain ground so cheaply as yesterday.
At 10 o'clock the Q.E. was steaming slowly Northwards and had reached a point close to the old "Y" landing place (well marked out by the glittering kerosine tins). Suddenly, inland, a large mass of men, perhaps two thousand, were seen doubling down a depression of the ground heading towards the coast. We had two 15-inch guns loaded with 10,000 shrapnel bullets each, but there was an agony as to whether these were our fellows falling back or Turks advancing. The Admiral and Keyes asked me. The Flag Captain was with us. The thing hung on a hair but the horror of wiping out one of my own Brigades was too much for me: 20 to 1 they were Turkish reinforcements which had just passed through Krithia—50 to 1 they were Turks—and then—the ground seemed to swallow them from view. Ten minutes later, they broke cover half a mile lower down the Peninsula and left us no doubt as to what they were, advancing as they did in a most determined manner against some of our men who had their left flank on the cliffs above the sea.
The Turks were no longer in mass but extended in several lines, less than a pace between each man. Before this resolute attack our men, who were much weaker, began to fall back. One Turkish Company, about a hundred strong, was making an ugly push within rifle shot of our ship. Its flank rested on the very edge of the cliff, and the men worked forward like German Infantry in a regular line, making a rush of about fifty yards with sloped arms and lying down and firing. They all had their bayonets fixed. Through a glass every move, every signal, could be seen. From where we were our guns exactly enfiladed them. Again they rose and at a heavy sling trot came on with their rifles at the slope; their bayonets glittering and their Officer ten yards ahead of them waving his sword. Some one said they were cheering. Crash! and the Q.E. let fly a shrapnel; range 1,200 yards; a lovely shot; we followed it through the air with our eyes. Range and fuse—perfect. The huge projectile exploded fifty yards from the right of the Turkish line, and vomited its contents of 10,000 bullets clean across the stretch whereon the Turkish Company was making its last effort. When the smoke and dust cleared away nothing stirred on the whole of that piece of ground. We looked for a long time, nothing stirred.
One hundred to the right barrel—nothing left for the second barrel! The tailor of the fairy tale with his "seven at a blow" is not in it with the gunnery Lieutenant of a battleship. Our beloved Queen had drawn the teeth of the Turkish counter-attack on our extreme left. The enemy no longer dared show themselves over the open downs by the sea, but worked over broken ground some hundreds of yards inland where we were unable to see them. The Q.E. hung about here shelling the enemy and trying to help our fellows on for the whole day.
As was signalled to us from the shore by an Officer of the Border Regiment, the Turks were in great strength somewhere not easy to spot a few hundred yards inland from "Y" Beach. Some were in a redoubt, others working down a ravine. A party of our men had actually got into the trench dug by the "Y" Beach covering party on the day of the landing, but had been knocked out again, a few minutes before the Queen Elizabeth came to the rescue, and, in falling back, had been (so the Officer signaller told us) "badly cut up." Asked again who were being badly cut up, he replied, "All of us!" No doubt the Q.E. turned up in the very nick of time, at a moment when we were being forced to retire too rapidly. A certain number of stragglers were slipping quietly back towards Cape Helles along the narrow sandy strip at the foot of the high cliffs, so, as it was flat calm, I sent Aspinall off in a small boat with orders to rally them. He rowed to the South so as to head them off and as the dinghy drew in to the shore we saw one of them strip and swim out to sea to meet it half way. By the time the young fellow reached the boat the cool salt water had given him back his presence of mind and he explained, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, that he had swum off to get help for the wounded! After landing, a show of force was needed to pull the fugitives up but once they did pull up they were splendid, and volunteered to a man to follow Aspinall back into the firing line. Many of them were wounded and the worst of these were put into a picket boat which had just that moment come along. One of the men seemed pretty bad, being hit in the head and in the body. He wanted to join in but, naturally, was forbidden to do so. Aspinall then led his little party back and climbed the cliff. When he got to the top and looked round he found this severely wounded man had not only disobeyed orders and followed him, but had found strength to lug up a box of ammunition with him. "I ordered you not to come," said Aspinall: "I can still pull a trigger, Sir," replied the man.
To-day's experiences have been of the strangest. As armies have grown and as the range of firearms has increased, the Commander-in-Chief of any considerable force has been withdrawn further and further from the fighting. To-day I have stood in the main battery which has fired a shot establishing, in its way, a record in the annals of destruction.
On our left we had gained three miles and had been driven back a mile or rather more after doing so, apparently by fresh enemy forces. What would have been a promenade if our original covering party had stuck to "Y" Beach, had become too difficult for that wearied and greatly weakened Brigade. On the British right the 88th Brigade pushed back the Turks easily enough at first, but afterwards they too came up against stiffer resistance from what seemed to be fresh enemy formations until at last, i.e., about mid-day, they were held up. The Reserve were then ordered to pass through and attack. Small parties are reported to have got into Krithia and one complete Battalion gained a position commanding Krithia—so Wemyss has been credibly informed; but things went wrong; they seem to have been just too weak.
Hunter-Weston is confident as ever and says once his men have dug themselves in, even a few inches, they will hold what they have gained against any number of Turks.
We have been handicapped by the trouble that is bred in the bone of any landing on enemy soil. The General wants to strike quick and hard from the outset. To do so he must rush his men ashore and by very careful plans he may succeed; but even then, unless he can lay hands upon wharves, cranes, and all the mechanical appliances to be found in an up-to-date harbour, he cannot keep up the supply of ammunition, stores, food, water, on a like scale. He cannot do this because, just in proportion as he is successful in getting a large number of men on shore and in quickly pushing them forward some distance inland, so will it become too much for his small craft and his beach frontage to cope with the mule transport and carts. Hence, shortage of ammunition and shortage of water, which last was the worse felt to-day. But the heavy fighting at the landings was what delayed us most.
An enemy aeroplane (a Taube) has been dropping bombs on and about the River Clyde.
There is little of the "joy of the contest" in fighting battles with worn-out troops. Even when the men respond by doing wonders, the Commander is bound to feel his heart torn in two by their trials, in addition to having his brain tortured on anxiety's rack as to the result. The number of Officers we have lost is terrible.
Seen from the Flagship, the sun set exactly behind the purple island of Imbros, and as it disappeared sent out long flame-coloured streamers into the sky. The effect was that of a bird of Paradise bringing balm to our overwrought nerves.
Have published the following order:—
"I rely on all Officers and men to stand firm and steadfast to resist the attempt of the enemy to drive us back from our present position which has been so gallantly won.
"The enemy is evidently trying to obtain a local success before reinforcements can reach us; but the first portion of these arrive to-morrow and will be followed by a fresh Division from Egypt.
"It behoves us all, French and British, to stand fast, hold what we have gained, wear down the enemy and thus be prepared for a decisive victory.
"Our comrades in Flanders have had the same experience of fatigue after hard won fights. We shall, I know, emulate their steadfastness and achieve a result which will confer added laurels to French and British arms. "IAN HAMILTON, "General."
Two cables from K.:—
The first repeats a cable he has sent Maxwell. He begins by saying, "In a cable just in from the Dardanelles French Admiral, I see he thinks reinforcements are needed for the troops landed on Gallipoli. Hamilton has not made any mention of this to me. All the same yesterday I cabled him as follows:—"
(Here he quotes the cable already entered in by me yesterday.)
K. goes on, "I hope all your troops are being kept ready to embark, and I would suggest you should send the Territorial Division if Hamilton wants them. Peyton's transports, etc., etc., etc."
The second cable quotes mine of last night wherein I ask leave to call for the East Lancs. and says, "I feel sure you had better have the Territorial Division, and I have instructed Maxwell to embark them. My No. 4239 addressed to Maxwell and repeated to you was sent before receiving your telegram under reply. You had better tell him to send off the Division to you. I am very glad the troops have done so well. Give them a message of hearty congratulations on their successful achievement to buck them up."
Bravo K.! but kind as is your message the best buck up for the Army will be the news that the lads from Manchester are on their way to help us.
The cable people have pinned a minute to these two messages saying that the two hours' pull we have over Greenwich time ought to have let K. get my message before he wired to Maxwell. He may think Maxwell will take it better that way.
Before going to bed, I sent him (K.) two cables:—
(1) "Last night the Turks attacked the Australians and New Zealanders in great force, charging right up to the trenches, bugles blowing and shouting 'Allah Hu!' They were bayoneted. The French are landing to lend a hand to the 29th Division. Birdwood's men are very weary and I am supporting them with the Naval Division." These, I may say, are my very last reserves.
(2) Telling K. how "I shall now be able to cheer up my troops by the prospect of speedy reinforcements, whilst informing them of your congratulations, and appealing to them to continue as they have commenced," I go on to say that we have used up the French and the Naval Division "so that at present I have no reserve except Cox when he arrives and the remainder of the French." I also say, simply, and without any reference to the War Office previous denial that there was any second French Division, "D'Amade informs me that the other French Division is ready to embark if required, so I hope you will urge that it be despatched." As to the delay in letting me have the Indian Brigade; a delay which has to-day, so say the 29th Division, cost us Krithia and Achi Baba, I say "Unluckily Cox's Brigade is a day late, but I still trust it will arrive to-morrow during the day."
Bis dot qui cito dat. O truest proverb! One fresh man on Gallipoli to-day was worth five afloat on the Mediterranean or fifty loafing around London in the Central Force. At home they are carefully totting up figures—I know them—and explaining to the P.M. and the Senior Wranglers with some complacency that the sixty thousand effective bayonets left me are enough—seeing they are British—to overthrow the Turkish Empire. So they would be if I had that number, or anything like it, for my line of battle. But what are the facts? Exactly one half of my "bayonets" spend the whole night carrying water, ammunition and supplies between the beach and the firing line. The other half of my "bayonets," those left in the firing line, are up the whole night armed mostly with spades digging desperately into the earth. Now and then there is a hell of a fight, but that is incidental and a relief. A single Division of my old "Central Force," so easily to be spared, so wasted where they are, could take this pick and spade work off the fighters. But the civilians think, I am certain, we are in France, with a service of trains and motor transport at our backs so that our "bayonets" are really free to devote their best energies to fighting. My troops are becoming thoroughly worn out. And when I think of the three huge armies of the Central Force I commanded a few weeks ago in England—!
29th April, 1915. H.M.S. "Q.E." Off the Peninsula. A biggish sea running, subsiding as the day went on—and my mind grew calmer with the waves. For we are living hand-to-mouth now in every sense. Two days' storm would go very near starving us. Until we work up some weeks' reserve of water, food and cartridges, I shan't sleep sound. Have lent Birdwood four Battalions of the Royal Naval Division and two more Battalions are landing at Helles to form my own reserve. Two weak Battalions; that is the exact measure of my executive power to shape the course of events; all the power I have to help either d'Amade or Hunter-Weston.
Water is a worry; weather is a worry; the shelling from Asia is a thorn in my side. The sailors had hoped they would be able to shield the Southern point of the Peninsula by interposing their ships but they can't. Their gunnery won't run to it—was never meant to run to it—and with five going aeroplanes we can't do the spotting. Our Regiments, too, will not be their superb selves again—won't be anything like themselves—not until they get their terrible losses made good. There is no other way but fresh blood for it is sheer human nature to feel flat after an effort. Any violent struggle for life always lowers the will to fight even of the most cut-and-come-again:—don't I remember well when Sir George asked me if the Elandslaagte Brigade had it in them to storm Pepworth? I had to tell him they were still the same Brigade but not the same men. No use smashing in the impregnable sea front if we don't get a fresh dose of energy to help us to push into the, as yet, very pregnable hinterland. Since yesterday morning, when I saw our men scatter right and left before an enemy they would have gone for with a cheer on the 25th or 26th,—ever since then I have cursed with special bitterness the lack of vision which leaves us without that 10 per cent. margin above strength which we could, and should, have had with us. The most fatal heresy in war, and, with us, the most rank, is the heresy that battles can be won without heavy loss—I don't care whether it is in men or in ships. The next most fatal heresy is to think that, having won the battle, decimated troops can go on defeating fresh enemies without getting their 10 per cent. renewed.
At 9 o'clock I boarded H.M.S. Kennett, a destroyer, and went ashore. Commodore Roger Keyes came along with me, and we set foot on Turkish soil for the first time at 9.45 a.m. at "W" Beach. What a scene! An ants' nest in revolution. Five hundred of our fighting men are running to and fro between cliffs and sea carrying stones wherewith to improve our pier. On to this pier, picket boats, launches, dinghies, barges, all converge through the heavy swell with shouts and curses, bumps and hair's-breadth escapes. Other swarms of half-naked soldiers are sweating, hauling, unloading, loading, road-making; dragging mules up the cliff, pushing mules down the cliff: hundreds more are bathing, and through this pandemonium pass the quiet stretchers bearing pale, blood-stained, smiling burdens. First we spent some time speaking to groups of Officers and men and hearing what the Beachmasters and Engineers had to say; next we saw as many of the wounded as we could and then I walked across to the Headquarters of the 29th Division (half a mile) to see Hunter-Weston. A strange abode for a Boss; some holes burrowed into a hillock. In South Africa, this feature which looks like, and actually is, a good observing post, would have been thoroughly searched by fire. The Turks seem, so far, to have left it pretty well alone.
After a long talk during which we fixed up a good many moot points, went on to see General d'Amade. Unluckily he had just left to go on to the Flagship to see me. I did not like to visit the French front in his absence, so took notes of the Turkish defences on "V" and had a second and a more thorough inspection of the beach, transport and storage arrangements on "W."
Roper, Phillimore (R.N.) and Fuller stood by and showed me round.
At 1.30 p.m. re-embarked on the Q.E. and sailed towards Gaba Tepe.
After watching our big guns shooting at the enemy's field pieces for some time I could stand it no longer—the sight seeing I mean—and boarded the destroyer Colne which took me towards the beach. Commodore Keyes came along, also Pollen, Dawnay and Jack Churchill. Our destroyer got within a hundred yards or so of the shore when we had to tranship into a picquet boat owing to the shallow water. Quite a good lot of bullets were plopping into the water, so the Commodore ordered the Colne to lie further out. At this distance from the beach, withdrawn a little from the combat, (there was a hottish scrimmage going on), and yet so close that friends could be recognised, the picture we saw was astonishing. No one has ever seen so strange a spectacle and I very much doubt if any one will ever see it again. The Australians and New Zealanders had fixed themselves into the crests of a series of high sandy cliffs, covered, wherever they were not quite sheer, with box scrub. These cliffs were not in the least like what they had seemed to be through our glasses when we reconnoitred them at a distance of a mile or more from the shore. Still less were they like what I had originally imagined them to be from the map. Their features were tumbled, twisted, scarred—unclimbable, one would have said, were it not that their faces were now pock-marked with caves like large sand-martin holes, wherein the men were resting or taking refuge from the sniping. From the trenches that ran along the crest a hot fire was being kept up, and swarms of bullets sang through the air, far overhead for the most part, to drop into the sea that lay around us. Yet all the time there were full five hundred men fooling about stark naked on the water's edge or swimming, shouting and enjoying themselves as it might be at Margate. Not a sign to show that they possess the things called nerves. While we were looking, there was an alarm, and long, lean figures darted out of the caves on the face of the cliffs and scooted into the firing line, stooping low as they ran along the crest. The clatter of the musketry was redoubled by the echoing cliffs, and I thought we had dropped in for a scrap of some dimensions as we disembarked upon a fragile little floating pier and were met by Birdie and Admiral Thursby. A full General landing to inspect overseas is entitled to a salute of 17 guns—well, I got my dues. But there is no crisis; things are quieter than they have been since the landing, Birdie says, and the Turks for the time being have been beat. He tells me several men have already been shot whilst bathing but there is no use trying to stop it: they take the off chance. So together we made our way up a steep spur, and in two hours had traversed the first line trenches and taken in the lie of the land. Half way we met Generals Bridges and Godley, and had a talk with them, my first, with Bridges, since Duntroon days in Australia. From the heights we could look down on to the strip of sand running Northwards from Ari Burnu towards Suvla Bay. There were machine guns here which wiped out the landing parties whenever they tried to get ashore North of the present line. The New Zealanders took these with the bayonet, and we held five or six hundred yards more coast line until we were forced back by Turkish counter-attacks in the afternoon and evening of the 25th. The whole stretch is now dominated by Turkish fire from the ridges, and along it lie the bodies of those killed at the first onset, and afterwards in the New Zealand bayonet charge. Several boats are stranded along this no man's land; so far all attempts to get out at night and bury the dead have only led to fresh losses. No one ever landed out of these boats—so they say.
Towards evening we re-embarked on the Colne and at the very moment of transhipment from the picquet boat the enemy opened a real hot shrapnel fire, plastering with impartiality and liberality our trenches, our beaches and the sea. The Colne was in strangely troubled water, but, although the shot fell all about her, neither she nor the picquet boat was touched. Five minutes later we should have caught it properly! The Turkish guns are very well hidden now, and the Q.E. can do nothing against them without the balloon to spot; we can't often spare one of our five aeroplanes for Gaba Tepe. Going back we had some long range shots with the 15-inch guns at batteries in rear of Achi Baba.
Anchored off Cape Helles at dark. A reply in from Maxwell about the East Lancs. They are coming!
The worst enemy a Chief has to face in war is an alarmist. The Turks are indeed stout and terrifying fellows when seen, not in a poetry book but in a long line running at you in a heavy jogtrot way with fixed bayonets gleaming. But they don't frighten me as much as one or two of my own friends. No matter. We are here to stay; in so far as my fixed determination can make it so; alive or dead, we stay.
30th April, 1915. H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth. From dawn to breakfast time all hands busy slinging shells—modern war sinews—piles of them—aboard. The Turks are making hay while the sun shines and are letting "V" Beach have it from their 6-inch howitzers on the plains of Troy. So, once upon a time, did Paris shoot forth his arrows over that selfsame ground and plug proud Achilles in the heel—and never surely was any fabulous tendon more vulnerable than are our Southern beaches from Asia. The audacious Commander Samson cheers us up. He came aboard at 9.15 a.m. and stakes his repute as an airman that his fellows will duly spot these guns and that once they do so the ships will knock them out. I was so pleased to hear him say so that I took him ashore with me to "W" Beach, where he was going to fix up a flight over the Asiatic shore, as well as select a flat piece of ground near the tip of the Peninsula's toe to alight upon.
Saw Hunter-Weston: he is quite happy. Touched on "Y" Beach; concluded least said soonest mended. The issues of the day before yesterday's battle seem certainly to have hung on a hair. Apart from "Y" beach might-have-beens, it seems that, further inland, detachments of our men got into a position dominating Krithia; a position from which—could they have held it—Turkish troops in or South of Krithia could have been cut off from their supplies. These men saw the Turks clear out of Krithia taking machine guns with them. But after half an hour, as we did not come on, they began to come back. We were too weak and only one Battalion was left of our reserves—otherwise the day was ours. Street, the G.S.O.I. of the Division, was in the thick of the battle—too far in for his rank, I am told, and he is most emphatic that with one more Brigade Achi Baba would now be in our hands. He said this to me in presence of his own Chief and I believe him, although I had rather disbelieve. To my mind "a miss is as good as a mile" should run a "miss is far worse than a mile." He is a sober-spoken, most gallant Officer. But it can't be helped. This is not the first time in history when the lack of a ha'porth of tar has spoilt the ship of State. I would bear my ills without a groan were it not that from the very moment when I set eyes on the Narrows I was sent to prize open, I had set my heart upon just this very identical ha'porth of tar—videlicet, the Indian Brigade.
Our men are now busy digging themselves into the ground they gained on the 28th. The Turks have done a good lot of gunnery but no real counter-attack. Hunter-Weston's states show that during the past twenty-four hours well over half of his total strength are getting their artillery ashore, building piers, making roads, or bringing up food, water and ammunition into the trenches. This does not take into account men locally struck off fighting duty as cooks, orderlies, sentries over water, etc., etc. Altogether, it seems that not more than one-third of our fast diminishing total are available for actual fighting purposes. Had we even a Brigade of those backward Territorial reserve Battalions with whom the South of England is congested, they would be worth I don't know what, for they would release their equivalent of first-class fighting men to attend to their own business—the fighting.
There are quite a little budget of knotty points to settle between Hunter-Weston and d'Amade, so I made a careful note of them and went along to French Headquarters. By bad luck d'Amade was away, up in the front trenches, and I could not well deliver myself to des Coigns. So I said I would come again sometime to-morrow and once more wended my way along the busy beaches, and in doing so revisited the Turkish defences of "V" and "W." The more I look, the more do I marvel at the invincible spirit of the British soldier. Nothing is impossible to him; no General knows what he can do till he tries. Therefore, he, the British General, must always try! must never listen to the rule-of-thumb advisers who seek to chain down adventure to precedent. But our wounds make us weaker and weaker. Oh that we could fill up the gaps in the thinned ranks of those famous Regiments....!
Had ten minutes' talk with the French Captain commanding the battery of 75's now dug in close to the old Fort, where General d'Amade sleeps, or rather, is supposed to sleep. Here is the noisiest spot on God's earth. Not only do the 75's blaze away merrily from morn till dewy eve, and again from dewy eve till morn, to a tune that turns our gunners green with envy, but the enemy are not slow in replying, and although they have not yet exactly found the little beggars (most cunningly concealed with green boughs and brushwood), yet they go precious near them with big shell and small shell, shrapnel and H.E. As I was standing here I was greeted by an old Manchurian friend, le capitaine Reginald Kahn. He fought with the Boers against us and has taken his immense bulk into one campaign after another. A very clever writer, he has been entrusted by the French Government with the compilation of their official history of these operations.
On my way back to the Arcadian (we are leaving the Queen Elizabeth for a time)—I met a big batch of wounded, knocked out, all of them, in the battle of the 28th. I spoke to as many of them as I could, and although some were terribly mutilated and disfigured, and although a few others were clearly dying, one and all kept a stiff upper lip—one and all were, or managed to appear—more than content—happy! This scene brought tears into my eyes. The courage of our soldiers goes far beyond belief. Were it not so war would be unbearable. How strongly God keeps the balance even. In fullest splendour the soul shines out amidst the dark shadows of adversity; as a fire goes out when the sunlight strikes it, so the burning, essential quality in men is stifled by prosperity and success.
Later. Our battleships have been bombarding Chunuk—chucking shells into it from the Aegean side of the Peninsula—and a huge column of smoke is rising up into the evening sky. A proper bonfire on the very altar of Mars.
1st May, 1915. H.M.S. "Arcadian." Went ashore first thing. Odd shells on the wing. Visited French Headquarters. Again d'Amade was away. Had a long talk with des Coigns, the Chief of Staff, and told him I had just heard from Lord K. that the 1st Brigade of the new French Division would sail for the Dardanelles on the 3rd inst. Des Coigns is overjoyed but a tiny bit hurt, too, that French Headquarters should get the news first from me and not from their own War Ministry. He insists on my going round the French trenches and sent a capitaine de la Fontaine along with me. Until to-day I had quite failed to grasp the extent of the ground we had gained. But we want a lot more before we can begin to feel safe. The French trenches are not as good as ours by a long chalk, and bullets keep coming through the joints of the badly built sandbag revetment. But they say, "Un peu de repos, apres, vous verrez, mon general." During my peregrinations I struck the Headquarters of the Mediterranean Brigade under General Vandenberg, who came round his own men with me. A sturdy, thickset fair man with lots of go and very cheery. He is of Dutch descent. Later on I came to the Colonial Brigade Headquarters and made the acquaintance of Colonel Ruef, a fine man—every inch a soldier. The French have suffered severely but are in fine fighting form. They are enchanted to hear about their second Division. For some reason or another they have made up their minds that France is not so keen as we are to make a present of Constantinople to Russia. Their intelligence on European questions seems much better than ours and they depress me by expressing doubts as to whether the Grand Duke Nicholas has munitions enough to make further headway against the Turks in the Caucasus: also, as to whether he has even stuff enough to equip Istomine and my rather visionary Army Corps.
By the time we had passed along the whole of the French second line and part of their front line trenches, I had had about enough. So took leave of these valiant Frenchmen and cheery Senegalese and pushed on to the advanced observation post of the Artillery where I met General Stockdale, commanding the 15th Brigade, R.F.A., and not only saw how the land lay but heard some interesting opinions. Also, some ominous comments on what armies spend and what Governments scrimp:—that is ammunition.
At 3 p.m., got back having had a real good sweat. Must have walked at least a dozen miles. Soon afterwards Cox, commanding the 29th Indian Brigade, came on board to make his salaam. Better late than never is all I could say to him: he and his Brigade are sick at not having been on the spot to give the staggering Turks a knock-out on the 28th, but he's going to lose no more chances; his men are landing now and he hopes to get them all ashore in the course of the day.
The Intelligence have just translated an order for the 25th April found upon the dead body of a Turkish Staff Officer. "Be sure," so it runs, "that no matter how many troops the enemy may try to land, or how heavy the fire of his artillery, it is absolutely impossible for him to make good his footing. Supposing he does succeed in landing at one spot, no time should be left him to co-ordinate and concentrate his forces, but our own troops must instantly press in to the attack and with the help of our reserves in rear he will forthwith be flung back into the sea."
2nd May, 1915. H.M.S. "Arcadian." Had a sleepless night and strain was too great to write or do anything but stand on bridge and listen to the firing or go down to the General Staff and see if any messages had come to hand.
About 10 p.m. I was on the bridge thinking how dark it was and how preternaturally still; I felt all alone in the world; nothing stirred; even the French 75's had ceased their nerve-racking bark, and then, suddenly, in one instant, hell was let loose upon earth. Like a hundred peals of thunder the Turkish artillery from both Continents let fly their salvoes right, left and centre, and the French and ourselves did not lose many seconds in reply. The shells came from Asia and Achi Baba:—in a fiery shower, they fell upon the lines of our front trenches. Half an hour the bombardment and counter-bombardment, and then there arose the deadly crepitation of small arms—no messages—ten times I went back and forward to the signal room—no messages—until a new and dreadful sound was carried on the night wind out to sea—the sound of the shock of whole regiments—the Turkish Allah Din!—our answering loud Hurrahs. The moments to me were moments of unrelieved agony. I tried to think of some possible source of help I had overlooked and could not. To hear the battle cries of the fighting men and be tied to this Arcadian—what torture!
Soon, amidst the dazzling yellow flashes of the bursting shells and star bombs, there rose in beautiful parabolas all along our front coloured balls of fire, green, red or white; signals to their own artillery from the pistols of the Officers of the enemy. An ugly feature, these lights so beautiful, because, presumably, in response to their appeal, the Turkish shell were falling further down the Peninsula than at first, as if they had lengthened their range and fuse, i.e., as if we were falling back.
By now several disquietening messages had come in, especially from the right, and although bad news was better than no news, or seemed so in that darkness and confusion, yet my anxious mind was stretched on the rack by inability to get contact with the Headquarters of the 29th Division and the French. Bullets or shell had cut some of the wires, and the telephone only worked intermittently. At 2 in the morning I had to send a battalion of my reserve from the Royal Naval Division to strengthen the French right. At 3 a.m. we heard—not from the British—that the British had been broken and were falling back upon the beaches. At 4 we heard from Hunter-Weston that, although the enemy had pierced our line at one or two points, they had now been bloodily repulsed. Thereupon, I gave the word for a general counter-attack and our line began to advance. The whole country-side was covered with retreating Turks and, as soon as it was light enough to see, our shrapnel mowed them down by the score. We gained quite a lot of ground at first, but afterwards came under enfilade fire from machine guns cunningly hidden in folds of the ground. There was no forcing of these by any coup de main especially with worn out troops and guns which had to husband their shell, and so we had to fall back on our starting point. We have made several hundreds prisoners, and have killed a multitude of the enemy.
I took Braithwaite and others of the G.S. with me and went ashore. At the pier at "W" were several big lighters filled with wounded who were about to be towed out to Hospital ships. Spent the best part of an hour on the lighters. The cheeriness of the gallant lads is amazing—superhuman!
Went on to see Hunter-Weston at his Headquarters,—a queer Headquarters it would seem to our brethren in France! Braithwaite, Street, Hunter-Weston and myself.
Some of our units are shaken, no doubt, by loss of Officers (complete); by heavy losses of men (not replaced, or replaceable, under a month) and by sheer physical exertion. Small wonder then that one weak spot in our barrier gave way before the solid mass of the attacking Turks, who came on with the bayonet like true Ghazis. The first part of the rifle fire last night was entirely from our own men. The break by one battalion gave a grand chance to the only Territorial unit in the 29th Division, the 5th Royal Scots, who have a first-class commanding Officer and are inspired not only by the indomitable spirit of their regular comrades, but by the special fighting traditions of Auld Reekie. They formed to a flank as if on a peace parade and fell on to the triumphant Turkish stormers with the cold steel, completely restoring the fortunes of the night. It would have melted a heart of stone, Hunter-Weston said, to see how tired our men looked in the grey of morning when my order came to hand urging them to counter-attack and pursue. Not the spirit but the flesh failed them. With a fresh Division on the ground nothing would have prevented us from making several thousand prisoners; whether they would have been able to rush the machine guns and so gain a great victory was more problematical. Anyway, our advance at dawn was half heroic, half lamentable. The men were so beat that if they tripped and fell, they lay like dead things. The enemy were almost in worse plight and so we took prisoners, but as soon as we came up against nerveless, tireless machine guns we had to stagger back to our trenches.
As I write dead quiet reigns on the Peninsula, literally dead quiet. Not a shot from gun or rifle and the enemy are out in swarms over the plain! but they carry no arms; only stretchers and red crescent flags, for they are bearing away their wounded and are burying their piles of dead. It is by my order that the Turks are being left a free hand to carry out this pious duty.
The stretcher-bearers carry their burdens over a carpet of flowers. Life is here around us in its most exquisite forms. Those flowers! Poppies, cornflowers, lilies, tulips whose colours are those of the rainbow. The coast line curving down and far away to meet the extravagant blueness of the Aegean where the battleships lie silent—still—smoke rising up lazily—and behind them, through the sea haze, dim outlines of Imbros and Samothrace.
Going back, found that the lighter loads of wounded already taken off have by no means cleared the beach. More wounded and yet more. Here, too, are a big drove of Turkish prisoners; fine-looking men; well clothed; well nourished; more of them coming in every minute and mixing up in the strangest and friendliest way with our wounded with whom they talk in some dumb-crambo lingo. The Turks are doing yeoman service for Germany. If only India were pulling her weight for us on the same scale, we should by now be before the gates of Vienna.