[Interview with Gallipoli veteran Bob Needs].
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Interview with World War I veteran, Bob Needs of Oamaru, who recalls the Gallipoli landing, fighting and rugged conditions. He is interviewed by Steve Challis of Radio Waitaki.
Bob: And there was no tide there in the Mediterranean, at Anzac anyway, the whole thing was concealed. However, they escaped from that.
When it come our turn to go ashore it was down the gangway into big naval rowboats, three of them towed by a steam pinnace and then row for the shore until the boats grounded and then it was over the side into the water yourself, hold your rifle up out of the water and head for the beach.
Interviewer: Can I ask you what it felt like as a young man of 20 at that time, to be fighting a war on the other side of the world? What were your feelings as you ploughed into the water?
Bob: It didn't worry me somehow. We didn't know what we were going into, see?
Interviewer: Were you apprehensive or scared?
Bob: No, I can honestly say it didn't worry you.
Interviewer: You weren't worried that you were fighting someone else's war?
Bob: We hadn't come under intense fire then. It was a different matter altogether when you had been in a battle or two. But I can say this, it never seemed to worry me that I was going to get knocked, until the morning I was.
[break in recording]
Bob: From then on it was over the first ridge into Shrapnel Gully and then up the steep hillside where the fighting was. Prior to the landing we were primed up with a story that the Turk was a poor soldier, that he was a rotten shot and all that and the Australians must have been primed with the same tale because I remember climbing up that hill out of Shrapnel Gully that Sunday morning, I met an Australian soldier coming down. He had no hat on, no rifle, his eyes were sticking out like a crayfish and he was properly wild, holding his right wrist with his left hand and this is the salute he give me: "For Christ's sake keep your head down, mate. They told us the B's couldn't shoot he says, but the B's soon got me." It was good advice. He went on his way. He just had a bullet through the shoulder. We never met again, for him the war was over.
The weather that day was quite good until well in the afternoon when a very heavy drizzle set in. That night was one that I will never forget because the Turk attacked countless times and every time he was stopped. Everyone realised quite well that if they lost that ridge we were finished. It was a night, as I say, that I will never forget. It was a cry for reinforcements here, reinforcements there; ammunition here, ammunition there, stretcher bearers, water for the machine, you call it, it was mentioned, but we held the position. And that my friends, in spite of all the stories about how far we got on Gallipoli, was the furthest position, permanent position that we held on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Never more than 2000 yards off the beach.
Ten days after the landing we were put on destroyers and taken to Cape Helles to assist the Tommies troops in an attack on the village of Krithia and the hill Achi Baba. Sad to say, I think as far as I know the net result of that fighting was just an increased casualty list.
In due course, we returned to Anzac and for quite a while did garrison duty there, making preparations for the concealment of further troops for the big stunt in August. Comes August the 6th and 7th and we were moving further up the peninsula towards Suvla Bay and we had to keep concealed in the scrub in the day time. Every man had a white patch sewn between his shoulder blades and the back of his arms so that the navy, which was our artillery, could tell whether we were British troops or Turkish on the hillside.
On the morning of the 8th of August, it was a Sunday morning too, we were sent up, the 10th company of which I was a unit, was sent up onto Rhododendron Ridge to assist the Aucklanders in clearing the Turks off that. We succeeded in that and then we came under very heavy fire and I recall Captain Wallingford, the Brigade machine gun officer, an Aucklander, yelling out in the din of battle "Lie down on your bellies, boys and let as much go over your heads as you can." It was good advice and was taken without any delay.
I lay there for a while and then I saw a flash in the sky and a Turkish shrapnel shell burst and sprayed its bullets down. I got one in at the hip joint and my left thigh down at the thigh until above the knee. It hit me a welt and I don't want another one like it. However, I was extremely fortunate because it missed the bone and missed the artery. I was duly carried off the crest and put down in a sheltered place clear of the flying ironmongery. And then I lay there on that hillside wounded, without any medical attention of any sort, for three days and three nights.
[break in recording]
Bob: I was picked up about 9 o'clock on Wednesday morning and taken down the creek bed, Chailak Dere was the name of it, 'til I was met by the doctor. The doctor says "Can you walk?" I says "No, I've been lying there for three days." Well, he says "We wouldn't ask you boy, but we want the stretchers to bring them off the top," and there was plenty of them lay there for days. I said "Take the stretcher." They got me up on my feet. I couldn't stand. He gave me a stick, that was no good. I asked for an orderly to help me to the beach. He called a little lad across and this little lad, with my arm round his neck and an old rifle for a crutch, away we went. We got down to the beach and had a rest there. And then we had to go over a bank and the Turks had a machine gun on that, and I scrambled up with this rifle and said "Come on Jack, we'll make it alright" and he got up, he sent the rifle flying, grabbed me, threw me over his shoulder and he went over that bank and no Turk on Gallipoli had a chance to get a shot at us. We hadn't gone far along the beach before we met a major with all his brass around his hat and a staff captain with his red tabs up and they wanted to know "Where are you men going?" and I told them I was going to Walker's Ridge to get on the hospital ship.
"Who told you to go?"
I says "Nobody."
"You go back to the end of the sap there and be evacuated tonight."
I says "Look mate, I got hell to get this far and I've been lying up there for three days and you want me to go back and do it again tonight? Well I says I'm not going to do it, I'm going to Walker's Ridge."
They ordered me back. Well, I told them where they could go. I'd had all I could take. I told them where they could go and in the finish I told them they should be up the top of the hill where the bayonets were red and men were dying, instead of down on the beach, bossing wounded men about and I told them they could go to a warmer climate than [unclear]. They left me and I went on to Walker's Ridge and I eventually got on the hospital ship that afternoon, the British-India line Neuralia.
[break in recording]
Interviewer: Bob, what sort of rations were most of the armed forces on in Gallipoli in 1915? What did you have to eat?
Bob: Rations? Well, I was 15 weeks on Gallipoli and while I was there I had nothing but bully beef and biscuits and flies. You couldn't draw breath through your open mouth but you were swallowing flies and a lot of the water you drank had to be strained through your teeth. I know this doesn't sound very ...you know, but it's the truth. We had one ration of bread while I was on Gallipoli and that was one loaf amongst eight of us so, you know, it was about a mouthful each. That was all we had all the time I was there, bully beef and biscuits. And flies.
Interviewer: Was there any difficulty in getting the food to the troops?
Bob: No, we never seemed to have any trouble there.
Interviewer: What about weather conditions - was it particularly hot?
Bob: You see at one post at Gallipoli we were only about 15 yards from the Turks, our trenches.
Interviewer: 15 yards? What did you do - look at each other?
Bob: Well, I've seen the fellows [makes whooshing noise] fire a tin of bully off over to the Turks.
Interviewer: You fired a tin of food over to them?
Bob: And they would fire a packet of dates back at us fellows.
Bob: We weren't bad cobbers at all, as long as you kept your head down. That was at Quinn's Post. We were about, just about, well, all I know, at Quinn's Post we threw tins of bully beef at them
Interviewer: In return for dates?
Bob: Yes, they'd fire dates back at us. Of course, we only had the rifle on Gallipoli, rifle and bayonet. We had no artillery of any consequence of our own, bar the Navy and they could only shell the front faces. Any bombs that we made were made on the battle ships in just an empty jam tin with a quarter of a plug of gelignite with it and some things round it and a bit of a two inch fuse. That's all, we had nothing but the rifle and bayonet there.
Interviewer: What were medical conditions like?
Bob: Medical conditions? Poor.
Interviewer: How poor?
Bob: The doctors, they couldn't handle it, see? I wouldn't be dead sure about these figures, but I have an idea, I think there was 120,000 cases of sickness against 90,000 casualties. Bowel trouble, dysentery and diarrhoea and all that. That was the flies. Look, I'll tell you this: conditions got that bad, May... I'm just not that sure of the date..May the 2nd or May the 8th, a Turkish officer come over their front line with a white flag up. He crossed no-man's land. He was taken and blindfolded at our front line down to the beach to Headquarters to jack up an armistice to bury the dead. The smell, my friend, you've never smelt anything in your life like it. It got to that stage that neither the Turks or us could bear the smell of the dead in no-man's land. I was back in the trench, watch out, waiting for four o'clock. Four o'clock, bang - the first shot was fired. I don't know where it was, whether it was theirs or ours, but I heard a rifle shot; the war was on again.
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 24526
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Needs, Robert Alexander, -1984, Interviewee
CHALLIS, Steve, Interviewer
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster