[Gallipoli veteran Leonard Leary talks about conditions and fighting on Chunuk Bair. Part 2].
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The second half of a scripted talk by Leonard Leary of Auckland. He recalls his part in fighting on Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli during World War I. [He begins mid-sentence.]
Leonard Leary: ... but he kept on a little too long. The water in the jacket boiled and up went a cloud of steam and gave our position away. He stopped immediately but the fire seemed to increase from their on. We were both lying flat with our heads down when he gave a slight start, but no other movement. Getting no answer when I spoke to him, I got to my knees and found that a bullet had gone clean through his head. For some reason I didn't think of calling for the next man. I thought I had to move him by myself so I could get into the firing position. The idea didn't appeal to me at all, but I realised it had to be done. While I was considering the matter, suddenly there was deep darkness and a sensation of falling. When light began gradually to return, I wondered idly, what there would be to see when it was fully light, and it was with a sense of surprise and almost disappointment that I found myself still in the same place. A bullet had made a furrow across the top of my head and stunned me, probably only momentarily. As soon as I could, I got up and ran back to the remainder of the section.
As I ran the air seemed to be full of angry bees in a tearing hurry. While the corporal was putting a field dressing on my head, he suddenly remembered about the gun and said "Next man, go up to Mac. He's on his own." I said "Mac's dead".
The corporal told me later when we met in France, that fire was so hot all that day that the gun couldn't be recovered until after dark.
I was told to go down to the beach and started off downhill, but hadn't got far before I saw the Wellington Infantry going into action, and stopped under cover to watch them. The advance was made just as we had been trained in New Zealand: first one section and then another rising and running forward at a given signal. Where they waited, they were under cover. The ground sloped upwards for a few yards to where they came under fire and then levelled off so they were soon out of sight. But in each section I saw go forward, before they disappeared, here and there, a man would fall. While they were waiting their turn, I saw some of them wave and smile to their mates further along the line. They might have been on the training ground at Trentham.
After seeing three or four sections go forward, I started off, eventually reaching a dressing station near the beach at No. 2 Outpost. A medical officer in a big Red Cross marquee put another dressing on the wound and told me to go down to the beach and wait for a boat. Another marquee alongside was full of wounded lying on hospital beds. Through the entrance, I saw the face of a chap I knew, and went in to speak to him. While we were talking, an orderly who was passing the other end of his bed, suddenly clapped his hands to his stomach and doubled up. A stray
bullet had come in through the back of the marquee and hit him in the stomach.
I went down to near the sea and lay on a sandbag for some hours, until a rowboat came in from a transport lying offshore and I got aboard and was rowed out to the ship. There I was given a paillasse on deck and stayed there until we reached Alexandria. The ship was an ordinary transport as there weren't enough hospital ships available and there were only two nurses to deal with the ship full of wounded, some of them badly knocked about. There were medical orderlies, of course.
For our first meal we had fresh beef stew. Not actually very fresh, as the meat was a bit high, but I thought it was the best meal I'd ever tasted. During the last two days I hadn't been able to swallow any kind of food, although I had in my haversack two hard-boiled eggs and two tins of condensed milk, bought at Anzac Beach before the action began. I couldn't even get the milk down. Men on the water barges from Lemnos sometimes had a few such items of food for sale.
As submarines were operating in those waters at that time, and as ours was not a hospital ship, we took a roundabout course, and the voyage to Alexandria took five days. The only attention I had during the voyage was one change of dressing and I don't remember seeing either of the sisters after coming aboard, but didn't expect it, as I knew there were dozens of badly wounded men to see too.
The five days must have been a terrible ordeal for those two, with so many suffering and dying men to see to, and no doubt, practically no sleep. And then the ship would go back and the experience would be repeated. I felt ashamed to be going to hospital at all, being able to walk out and get onto a ship at once and never having any pain to speak of.
After a few weeks in different hospitals; Gazeera [?], Mina Haz [?] by the pyramids and Helwan, I returned to Lemnos where the New Zealand Brigade was having a spell, and then to Gallipoli again to stay there until the evacuation.
According to Major Harston, who was adjutant at the time, the Wellington Battalion came out of the battle with three officers and sixty men left. They had achieved their objective and captured the summit of the hill, but it was recaptured by the Turks not long after the Wellington Battalion had been relieved.
Unidentified announcer: Mr. Leary has been talking about the main attack and now he has something to add about the evacuation.
Leonard Leary: From the time the New Zealand Brigade returned to Gallipoli from the rest on Lemnos, until the evacuation, there was no movement from trench warfare, each side being satisfied to hold its position. I remember only two incidents worth mentioning. The first was a snowstorm that lasted three days and gave us an idea of what the winter would be like. It may also have had some bearing on the decision to evacuate, as the track up from the beach became so muddy and slippery that the mules couldn't bring up enough rations and water. For some days we were so short of water that we were excused from shaving and tried melting snow to augment our drinking water. Coming only a short time after months of heat, the cold was felt intensely.
The other incident was that about a fortnight before we left, we had orders not to fire a shot for forty-eight hours. The idea was that when we did leave, the Turks wouldn't be in too big a hurry to investigate. Of course we weren't told the reason and didn't know definitely what was to happen until almost the last day, but all kinds of rumours went the rounds. From what I have read since, it seems that for a couple of weeks, ships came in after dark each night and took away a certain number of men, so that by the final night not a great number was left.
Our guns were mounted in the front line at what was known as The Apex, the highest point on Chunuk Bair held by our side, so we knew nothing of what was going on at the beach. On our last day we were shelled for a time by the heaviest shells we had had thrown at us on Gallipoli. The Turks had evidently acquired some bigger guns. We spent some of the day destroying surplus rations and disposing of ammunition. As the night wore on, there was the normal amount of firing. Each unit was timed to leave its position at a certain time and move as fast as possible to the beach. I think we left at 1.15am and were the last, or one of the last, to leave. As we also had the furthest to go, when we did start, we didn't waste any time. I believe that some devices were arranged to fire rifles sometime after positions were vacated, but I saw none myself. We took the guns with us and had an uneventful journey to the beach.
Most of the track was along the sides or bottoms of gullies where a few days before hundreds of men had been living in their dug-outs, usually with a rubber groundsheet overhead. It was a bright, moonlight night and it seemed strange to see all those bivouacs empty and silent, like passing through a deserted city. We walked in silence and eventually joined up at the rear of a long line of men in fours waiting to reach the jetty. No one spoke, and except for the shuffle of feet, we might have been an army of ghosts.
Progress was slow but steady and it was probably not more than an hour before we were on barges and on our way out to ships lying off in deeper water. From there we were taken to Lemnos and after some weeks, to Egypt. The success of the operation is proved by the fact that not one man was a casualty owing to enemy action. It wasn't expected that we would get away without some fighting and hospital tents had been put up and equipped to deal with several hundred casualties. Medical officers and orderlies were prepared to stay behind to care for the wounded and be taken prisoner.
Although we were retreating, we hadn't the slightest feeling that we were a beaten army. The Turks had gained our respect as good, hard fighters, and were usually referred to as 'Johnny Turk', almost with a note of affection, but we felt that we were as good, or better and that we were leaving owing to force of circumstances and certainly not being driven off.
Announcer: That account of the fighting at Gallipoli was given by was Mr. Leonard Leary.
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 148783
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Ngā Taonga Korero Collection
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Leary, Leonard (New Zealander, b.1893, d.1989), Speaker/Kaikōrero
New Zealand Broadcasting Service (estab. 1946, closed 1962), Broadcaster
Date 16 Oct 1960
Leary, Leonard (New Zealander, b.1893, d.1989)
New Zealand. Army. Wellington Regiment
World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- Turkey -- Gallipoli Peninsula
World War, 1914-1918 -- Medical care