The Maoris in the Great War
Chapter III. — The Maoris at Anzac, Gallipoli
The Maoris at Anzac, Gallipoli.
The Maori Contingent under Lieut.-Col. Herbert spent several weeks in camp on Malta before receiving the anxiously awaited orders to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Anzac Cove, on the war-rent peninsula of Gallipoli. The men were steadily employed in training, and a more willing and better disciplined corps it would have been hard to find. At Malta, a valuable officer of the Contingent, Captain F. Burton Mabin (later Lieut.-Colonel), Paymaster, was seconded for duty in charge of a large convalescent camp, at the request of the Governor of the island, Field-Marshal Lord Methuen, who desired a colonial officer to take charge, as there were so many New Zealand and Australian troops constantly arriving. The New Zealand G.O.C., General Godley, approved of this appointment, and for three years Lieut.-Colonel Mabin carried out his duties as camp commandant—he was in charge of six camps at various times—and he was cordially thanked for his services by the Governor and by the Colonial soldiers under his care. Malta at this time was an immensely important and busy place. There were at one time two hundred different units of the Empire and Allies in the camp under Lieut.-Colonel Mabin's command. These men and their places of origin were of a wonderful variety. There were New Zealanders and Newfoundlanders, Nova Scotians and Bermudians, Canadians, Australians, French, Italians, Greeks, Serbs, East Africans, Somalis, Indians and Chinese; these in addition to very large numbers of troops from England. The arrival of survivors of submarined transports enhanced this variety and the excitement of the camps. In one lot there were 150 officers and 2000 men of the torpedoed troopship “Cameronia.”
The Last of the “Emden.”
The Maori Troopship went in close to the wreck of the German cruiser “Emden,” destroyed by H.M.A.S. “Sydney” at Cocos Island, and Captain Pirimi Tahiwi took this kodak snapshot, an evening view.
In the Mediterranean.
Some of the officers of the Maori Contingent, on board the transport from Alexandria to Malta, to take over garrison duty, 1915.
The Maoris' home letters were often phrased in poetic and touching language. Private Huirua Rewha, of Ngapuhi, wrote from Malta to his father and mother at Rawhiti, Bay of Islands:—
Come to me, go from me, my letter of love to my parents, Rewha and Mae. Vaguely the thought steals through my mind that this is my last letter. That is why I greet you thus. So, again, goodbye to all at home, to all my relations who live there, and whom I did not see before leaving. Only if luck guides my steps shall I return. For the order has come that we are to move to the forefront of battle, to enter the scorching flame of the firing line. For many days have we been quite ready. We Maoris are now off to strike—to finish what we came here for. The head officers of our party are here after greeting us, and are now instructing us in methods of warfare. Your letter of love has come to me. I am well; my only grief is I hear nothing but the English voice. It is so; therefore, I must not grieve. I now feel my spirit, my soul, my whole body are not mine now. Never mind.
The transport conveying the Maoris from Malta (via Alexandria) also had on board the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance Detachment, the Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance, and 84 Royal Garrison Artillery from Malta. The strength of the Maori Contingent was 16 officers and 461 other ranks. On the morning of July 1st, the troopship entered Mudros Harbour, the port of Lemnos Island, and the Maoris gazed with excited interest on the shores of the first Greek island of which they had a “close-up” view. The beautiful bay was landlocked, with plenty of deep water inside. Two protecting booms with guns at the ends lay across the entrance, and torpedo-boat destroyers were constantly moving about outside.
“Look at those slopes,” said one of the lads of Ngati-Kahungunu; “isn't it like the back-country of Hawke's page 26 Bay?” “It reminds me of Poukawa,” said another. As the troopship steamed into the harbour she passed British warships to port and starboard, and the crews were very anxious to know who the new arrivals were.
“Who are you?” yelled a sailor from one of the ships.
A Maori wag shouted:
Instantly the reply came, “Oh, the Mah-oh-rees! Three cheers for the Mah-oh-rees!”
The sailors cheered as only Navy men can, and our lads returned the compliment at the call of “Three cheers for the Jackey tars!”
There were four other troopships in the harbour. The Maoris' ship anchored in the inner part of the port. Two or three villages were in view, but the New Zealanders had no chance then of a closer inspection.
Next day the Contingent transhipped to the steamer “Prince Abbas,” and sailed for Gallipoli Peninsula at 5 p.m. All was expectancy and excitement among the Maoris; the boys were in great fettle and they slept little that night. In the early hours of the morning the ship anchored off Anzac Cove.
The troops were paraded on deck fully armed and with full marching kit and the disembarkation began. Boats were waiting; one slipped up to the gangway and some of B Company entered it and were rowed off. Another took its place, and as fast as one was filled another moved up, quietly and expeditiously. Now the Maoris could hear the soul-thrilling sounds of warfare ashore, the cracking of rifles up on the heights. The boats landed the men at a small wharf and with tense elation they stepped ashore on the famous sands of the foeman's land. On the shore they saw piles of boxes, supplies of all kinds, ammunition, and everywhere were shelters and dugouts, for this beach was often under shellfire. Above rose in the gloom the steep face of the clay cliffs where the Anzacs had won their glorious name on April 25th.
The Maoris mustered on the sands in the early dawn and were marched straight up along the deep sap which led into the hills, the “Big Sap,” which was to be their main thorough fare for many a day and night. It led them up to No. 1 Post, page 27 where they were to camp. Here they found a squadron. (dismounted, of course) of the 10th Light Horse (West Australian) under Major Tom Todd, an old Auckland boy, who served in the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in the South African War). The Maoris were posted to No. 4 Section of Defence, under Brigadier-General A. H. Russell, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. The Brigadier came out to see the Maoris, and the word was passed that they were to set to work getting their hillside camp into terraces and get themselves comfortably fixed—as comfortably as was possible in such a place—before doing any fighting.
The boom of artillery that was to be a familiar sound for the next three years first startled and delighted the Maoris' ears this July morning. “At last,” they said, “here is the real thing!” They saw an aeroplane flying over the Turkish lines on the trench-scored shell-pitted heights above. The enemy shelled it without effect. Turkish shells, bursting, made white puffs of smoke around the flyer, but it was not touched. That evening was a lively one. Our side made a demonstration to draw the Turkish fire, and judging by the rattle of rifle and machine-gun fire they succeeded very well. General Godley visited the Contingent's camp, with Captain the Hon. Herbert, M.P., and Captain Malcolm Ross, the New Zealand official war correspondent, also came out and greeted his newlycome compatriots.
Some days were spent in sapping, forming the terraces and getting the camp into order. Water, it was found, was one of the most precious things here. All the water had to be carried up in 2-gallon milk cans; one gallon per man per day was the allowance.
The Maoris quickly came to recognise the morning and evening roar of the enemy big guns over at Anafarta, way on the left. “Gentle Annie” sent her shells screeching over the gully in which the Maoris lay, and bursting on the beach of Anzac Cove. The usual reply of the British was delivered by a torpedo-boat destroyer, which stood off and shelled the Turkish trenches. Then our machine-guns in the advanced positions got busily to work.page 28
The first casualty among the Maoris was Pte. Rangi Ellers , who was wounded in the shoulder by a shrapnel bullet while working in a sap on Walker's Ridge (July 7th). A number of the Contingent were now employed on various fatigues.
The Turkish big gun at Anafarta sent her usual shells along morning and afternoon. On July 9th Pte. Taupaki, assistant to the Q.M.S., and another Maori, with four pakehas, had a very narrow escape from death. A shell burst near them, and the four whites were wounded but the Maoris were unhurt.
Bathing in the sea at night was one of the very few luxuries at Anzac. The British torpedo-boat destroyers, steaming confidently along, were a great comfort to the land forces. Every now and again they would pitch a few shells into the Turkish positions and pass on. Their searchlights, too, playing on the enemy's area, were appreciated by our outposts. The beams directed on the hills on the night of July 9th enabled the men in No.2 Outpost to shoot several Turks.
Officers “Doing Their Bit.”
In a Trench-digging Competition with British Reinforcements at Malta, the Maoris easily beat all the Pakeha diggers. In the trench—Captain Roger Dansey, Captain Buck. On the right—Captain Hiroti, Lt. Tikao.
Late in the afternoon of July 11th (Sunday), the British cruiser “Talbot” came in and shelled Snipers' Ridge. Some of the shells took the face of the hill a bit low, but others struck the edge and ploughed great furrows through it. Nothing there, wrote a Maori watcher, could possibly live under the shellfire. It was a splendid sight to watch the “Talbot” firing broadsides. A flash of flame along the ship, then almost immediately afterwards the flash of bursting shells along the ridge the sound of whizzing fragments of shell amongst the columns of dust. The machine-gun on Todd's Peak turned on her stuttering bark at any signs of movements on the opposite height. Observers at the post signalled the results of the cruiser's shells, and beyond the “Talbot” the sausage-shaped balloon rode high in the sky, watching the progress of the cannonade.
An incident of the afternoon of July 11th was an urgent summons for Captain Peter Buck, the medical officer of the Contingent, to Todd's Peak. On going up there he found that a man of the 10th Light Horse (Australian) had been shot dead by a sniper; the bullet went through the inner angle of the right eye and emerged at the back of the head. He had been shot from Sniper' Ridge opposite. They had seen the sniper's post and had exchanged shots. After the fatality four or five men with periscope rifles lay in wait, and when they saw the enemy sharpshooter they fired all together. The sniper fell backwards and his rifle went up in the air. So there was at least the satisfaction of knowing that the L.H. man's death was avenged. In the evening Captain Buck and his party, with Major Todd, carried down the dead trooper to the aid post and thence along the beach to the cemetery at the point. The Anzacs who had been there for months took but little notice, the New Zealand Maori surgeon noted; they had become inured to the sight of stretchers bearing down the page 30 wounded and the dead. The Maoris presently were to become similarly accustomed to the daily toll of war. Hardly had the Australian padre ended his service, repeated from memory in the darkness, with a glimpse at the words of the last prayer by electric torch, when the party came under enemy fire. “Bullets,” wrote the Maoris' surgeon in his diary, “began to whistle and hum like angry bees around us, and the padre shouted, ‘Take cover, boys!’ In a twinkling we were behind the sandhills under safe cover, with the exception of Major Todd, who says he did not hear the padre, and our own padre, who from feelings of courtesy did not like to leave the Major by himself.”
So the great days of stress went on. By mid-July the Maoris were well at home in their camp, and were beginning to feel like veterans, but longing to come to grips with the foes whose shells they heard screaming over them. In the evenings heavy firing was often heard over towards Cape Helles on the right. No. 1 Platoon (Ngapuhi, under Lieut. Coupar, of Southland) were up at Walker's Top, and one night there was a heavy fusilade up that direction. A colonel had asked our men to make a noise so as to draw the Turkish fire. They shouted a stentorian haka, and the alarming sound set the Turks wildly replying with rifle fire, bombs and machineguns. The foe must have used up thousands of rounds of ammunition in reply to the Ngapuhi war-song. There was supposed to be an attack at Cape Helles, and the authorities wanted to keep the Turks on the heights near Anzac fully occupied.
On July 13th Pte. F. R. Rewa, No. 6 Platoon, on guard at No. 4 Depot, was wounded by a rifle bullet in the foot—the Maoris' second casualty.
During July the Maoris toiled splendidly on their chief job in the No. 4 Defence section, the widening of the chief communication trench known as the “Big Sap.” This work was the main avenue from Anzac to the outposts and to the steep gullies up which the attacking forces must approach the foe. Pack mules were taken up the trench and it was an exceedingly busy highway of traffic. It was necessary to widen page 31 it to five feet all the way, and this was difficult on the hard clay parts. Here and there a recess was made so that troops could stand aside to let urgent traffic pass.*
The excellent Indian Transport Corps aroused the admiration of the Maoris. These Indians carried provisions, water and ammunition on their pack mules, which looked sleek and well-groomed. The Indians camped near No. 4 Depot, had a pet goat, which quickly learned to dive into the nearest dug-out when the Anafarta gun began its fell work.
Some of the Maoris' officers visited the Otago Mounted Rifles (Colonel Bauchop) at No. 2 Post, inspected the trenches, and saw the Rifles' water supply, a spring of beautiful cold water in an old river-bed.
In the middle of July Captain Buck commenced the inoculation of the men against cholera. On July 16th two casualties occurred: Pte. Kennedy, B Company, wounded, while being instructed in bomb-throwing near No. 4 Depot, by a bullet from the Turkish trenches, going through both thighs, and Pte. T. Te Whare, A Company, shot through left thigh while lying down in his bivouac; femur fractured. Both cases were sent to the Field Ambulance quarters.
The Maoris, with their pakeha comrades, admired the smart gunnery work of their naval guardian angels the torpedoboat-destroyers. The “Chelmer” generally started in the evening, steaming up and down using her searchlight and threw her shells on to the Turkish trenches, with great accuracy. There was also a three-funnel destroyer, the “Rattlesnake,” whose range-finding and shooting were beautifully precise.
Pte. K. Mehaere was accidentally shot (July 17th) by a comrade who was unloading his rifle. The bullet went through a knee and left forearm, fracturing both bones. A very severe page 32 wound. Sergt. Te Hau and Pte. Kainga put a field torniquet on the arm immediately after the accident and did it very well. The injured man was sent out to the hospital ship.
The plague of flies in this burning mid-summer bothered the Maoris greatly, and the infection of food was inevitable. A number of men were soon down with diarrhoea.
The boys were now eagerly awaiting the expected order for a general assault on the Turkish positions. It was reported that the enemy had received 100,000 reinforcements and would soon try to drive the British off the peninsula. There was also dread of a gas attack, and the men in the trenches were all served out with gas helmets.
Up at Walker's Ridge the Ngapuhi stood target for artillery, rifle and bomb fire. On the night of July 20th, Pte. H. Rewha (Ngapuhi), when in a trench, was struck by a fragment of a bomb. He staggered to a comrade and handed him his field dressing and when it was applied he collapsed. While he was being carried down he was asked by a sympathiser what had happened to him. “I tunno,” he murmured, “but somet'ing hit me on te prurry head.”
All hands were on the alert now for the expected Turkish attack (as it happened this was forestalled by the carefully planned British attack), and the troops stood to arms about midnight, at moon-set and also in the early morning. B Company was sent round to No. 2 Post to strengthen it. A curious casualty happened on the night of July 21st-22nd. A man of B Company—while asleep with his reserve—was hit in the side by a stray bullet. It passed through the fleshy part and did not touch a rib or lung. Extraordinary to say, it never woke the man. He was awakened later by the cold, and felt his side wet with blood. The wound was slight. Pte. H. Tokara (6th Platoon) was wounded on the 22nd.
General Chaytor, at Malta, after being wounded at Gallipoli, 1915.
[Photo by Captain Tahiwi.
On July 28th, when a working party of 50 men under Lieut. Stainton was on the way to Reserve Gully, a Turk shell burst overhead. The flying shrapnel wounded three—Petita, through the lungs; Poata, lumbar region, and Wirepa, hand; another man had a slight wound on a hand.
On July 29th, an aeroplane (which proved to be a German) appeared above the beach and dropped a bomb, which fell into the sea. Flying over Walker's Ridge a burst of smoke was seen around it, and it volplaned down beyond the ridge at a very sharp angle; probably engine trouble. Pte. Hauiti, B Company, was wounded this day by a bullet which passed along the front of his neck and through a shoulder. He lost a lot of blood but the wound was not bad.
So went on the hot laborious days, with occasional casualties, until the force was called upon for the supreme effort of the campaign.
“The Maori soldier, picked man that he was, wished to justify before the world that his claim to be a front-line soldier was not an idle one. Many a proud rangatira served his country in the ranks, an example to some of his pakeha brothers. Their discipline was superb, and when their turn came for working-party, the long-handled shovels swung without ceasing until, just before the dawn, the signal came to pack up and get home.”