Harry Browne describes Chunuk Bair battle

Harry Browne describes Chunuk Bair battle

Harry Browne was born in Whakatane on 11 April 1887. He was one of 12 children born to William and Ellen Browne, who both worked with the Native Schools Department.

Browne was working as a baker in Wellington when the First World War began. An ex-school cadet, he enlisted in the NZEF on 28 August 1914.

Joining the 6th (Manawatu) Squadron, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, Browne arrived at Gallipoli on 12 May 1915. He missed the main landings on 25 April because the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade had remained behind in Egypt as reinforcements. They landed on the peninsula without their horses, which were unsuitable for the rugged Gallipoli terrain.

After arriving at Anzac Cove, the Wellington Mounted Rifles relieved Royal Naval Brigade units on the right of Walker’s Ridge. The Mounteds experienced their baptism of fire on 18-19 May when the Ottomans launched a massed attack against Quinn’s Post and the Nek. They were able to hold their line and inflicted massive casualties on the advancing enemy soldiers.

The Wellington Mounted Rifles remained on Walkers Ridge until the August offensive. On 5 August, they moved north to No. 1 Outpost. Their task was to support the assault on Chunuk Bair.

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone’s Wellington Infantry Battalion captured the slopes of Chunuk Bair in the early hours of 8 August. They held the position throughout the day, but suffered severe casualties.

Around midday on 8 August, the 2nd and 6th squadrons of the Wellington Mounted Rifles moved up from Table Top to reinforce Malone’s men on Chunuk Bair. It took them several hours to reach Chunuk Bair because of the difficult terrain and heavy fighting. They finally arrived at 10.30 p.m. and occupied the central position in the hastily dug trenches around the summit.

Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Meldrum, the Wellington Mounted Rifles held their tenuous position, despite suffering over 60% casualties. This included Browne, who suffered a leg wound on 9 August. He described the heavy fighting on the summit of Chunuk Bair in an account written after the offensive:

Towards dawn the Turks came on vigorously their cries of ‘Allah, Allah’, mingling strangely with the hoarse cries of our fellows. Then things were brought to a climax, when shells from our destroyers commenced falling among us causing terrible havoc ...Thus with the fire of the enemy on three sides, and our own guns blowing us to glory from behind, the place became a corner of Hell … a man was blown thirty feet into the air by a naval shell, his limbs out spread, his whole body in silhouette against the sky. Yet another shell and the charred trunk of another man’s body fell near us. Simultaneously the enemy attacked fiercely his hand grenades taking deadly effect … the brunt of the attack was falling on the 6th. Captain Hastings who was holding one troop in reserve sent them on a counter charge … [A]s they reached the front parapet they encountered such a hail of fire and bombs that the unfortunate survivors broke, and as they were running back, carried the chaps in our trench with them … It was now that the remainder in the front trench were wiped out … One moment they were working their rifles like men possessed, and shouting defiance, and the next they lay crumpled up in the trench. Two only survived … and they joined Sandy and I in as hot a defence as ever four men were ever called upon to put up … where once a squadron had been. Bombs were coming over fast and when they burst in our little parapet would obscure us from one another ... We were now firing for all we were worth, necessity seeming to add deadliness to our aim although one did not need to be a crack shot at such close range. Nevertheless I found myself driving chiefly for the head … with a strange feeling of assurance that the bullet would find its mark … The fierce joy of battle, not always experienced, was in the air. Many grenades went over killing the wounded on the slope[s]. At last, another, landing in our trench … about six feet [away,] … caught me in the knees. I scrambled out thinking my right knee-cap had gone … I paused and looked down to find but a small hole just below the knee-cap and a little blood trickling down … A stop to put a proper dressing on might have meant disaster just then. ‘Are we downhearted’ cried someone. ‘No!’ was the hoarsed crack chorus of voices. This with cheering now and again, we did give Abdul a false impression of our strength. Another rally by the Turks was beaten back and the enemy accepted for the time being his defeat, settling down to vigorous sniping from both flanks. Presently one of our Sergeants and a few men returned swelling our numbers to eight or ten … We were standing on our own mates but they wouldn’t mind and we were too exhausted to lift them out. Such was the scene upon Chunuk Bair, upon which the sun shone on the morning of Monday 9th August … for the New Zealanders had not died there for nothing.

Invalided to England for treatment, Browne did not return to Gallipoli. When in hospital, Browne he wrote a detailed account of his role in the August Offensive.

After recovering from the wounds he received at Chunuk Bair, Browne transferred to the New Zealand Field Artillery in May 1916 and served on the Western Front. He took part in the battles of the Somme and Messines before a serious chest wound ended his war in June 1917. He never fully recovered from his injury, and died from pneumonia in 1928. His grave lies in Karori Cemetery in Wellington.

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Matthew Aislabie

Posted: 31 Jul 2017

Hi I'm Clements great grand son.
I have a photo copy of a letter Clement wrote on Aug 6th 1915 to his brother Allan.
Thanking him for letter and parcel from a Miss Rose, describing the war, the Moaris are here and doing a haka in a day or two.. getting orders to touch up your bayonets, just spent 14days in trenches with 24hrs on 24hrs off, and all sorts of stuff.
If don't have it already and interested to have it, I'm happy to send a copy.

Clement Guildford

Posted: 23 Mar 2016

Below is a report of an interview with Trooper Clement Aislabie from the Wellington Mounted Rifles given, on his return to Gisborne, on about the 6 November 1915, to a reporter for the Poverty Bay Herald.
Clement was invalided home 31/10/15 and took up a soldiers land grant at Ruatiti in the area associated with the Bridge to Nowhere.
He was my grandfather and died 1956 and is buried at Palmerston North

Picture a stretch of about three miles of Kaiti beach, but with fairly deep water up to the shore, and one has a rough idea of Anzac. Walker's ridge, with its steep and precipitous bluff, rises to the skyline. The half -moon bay is terminated on the right by Gaba Tepe, whilst the coastline runs away to a long low point on the left, dividing the cove from Suvla Bay. Except for the bare precipitous ridge face, the sea front is covered in a short thick scrub; Beyond the gully to the right is Lonesome Pine ridge. Sari Bair rises to a height of 971 feet and is located, as the crow flies, a couple of miles from the beach. Between it and Walker's ridge, however, is a stretch of broken country, spurs and ridges being mainly intersected by narrow, steep gullies. And this is Anzac Cove. A mere strip of the coastline, little more than a mile in depth, it has been subject to frequent shellfire from surrounding hostile batteries; it was here that our brave Colonials forced a landing on that historic Sunday in April, 1915. It is here that they have 'hung on' despite the bombastic efforts of the enemy to drive the little army into the sea. Living the life of land crabs in the dug-outs on the hill sides, or one of constant vigilance in the trenches up above the landing, our boys have played their part in the great war. The hearts' of parents and relatives have been gladdened by the recent home-coming of their sons. Many, however, are sleeping their last long sleep on yonder Turkish hillsides. The gladness! of the welcome home to-day. is softened by sorrow and affection for the fathers and the mothers whose brave lads have so nobly laid down their life in the cause of the Empire
A quiet- chat and the perusal of plans and photographs enables one to glean a more comprehensive idea of doings of the Colonial force at Gallipoli than all the hurried button-hole interviews that alone are possible as the boys step ashore once again home in dear old Gisborne.
Quite a fund of information of daily life an Anzac, of the progress and development of the fighting, and of the hundred and one experiences that are crammed into the excitement of several months at the front, was gained by a Herald representative yesterday from Trooper 'Clem.' Aislabie, of the Wellington Mounteds. Producing a photo of, the little cove, fairly alive with humanity, and with stores and ammunition stacked just above the beach, it impressed the uninitiated with the resemblance to a calm and peaceful watering place; Doubtless all have heard of the daring of the boys enjoying their bathe in the briny despite the spasmodic shelling of the beach. Trooper Aislabie affirms that probably more casualties have occurred on the beach itself than m the actual trenches. With the attention of "Bealby Bill" on the one flank and "Lazy Liz" ori the other, and the occasional arrival of big shells, from right across the peninsula, probably Chanak. Anzac was evidently a spot in which things seldom became very dull. It was approachable practically only under cover of darkness. Mine-sweepers stole in at night, and landed at the jetties erected by the engineers, huge consignments of things required for the upkeep of the forces. Anzac, he explained, was essentially a Colonial base of operations. The New Zealand infantry and Australians held the right front and the New Zealand Mounteds and the Australian Light Horse the left, turns being taken at relieving. There were several Indian mountain batteries, who arrived later and assisted in maintaining the footing on the ridge tops. At the first onset the troops seized a belt of probably nearly two miles in places, but subsequently withdrew and consolidated their line in crescent shape round the landing and over the first ridge top. Things settled down to the monotony of trench fightling. The boys spent 14 days in the trenches and then 14 days out in the "rest" gullies, "spelling," and on fatigues. The latter sometimes included a bit of sapping at night m the trenches. Often more shells landed in the rest gullies than in the actual firing lines, as the enemy were constantly trying for the base. Sometimes there were as. many as 50 or 60 casualties a day on the beach. Being summer the sea was smooth and troops and material landed without trouble, except from the enemy shells. The Turks" did not fire often at night for fear of disclosing the position of their batteries.
PERIOD OF TRENCH FIGHTING. In this little corner on the peninsula Trooper Aislabie estimates their were about 30,000 troops located prior to the big advance. Hostilities, as mentioned above, were mainly confined to mining and bomb throwing, the opposing trenches being only 15 yards distant at one point. Dysentery made its appearance and was at its worst during July. The malady was more pronounced amongst those who had been there longest and were somewhat run down. But many of the boys who subsequently took part in the night marches in August were still suffering loss of physical condition from the. epidemic. -Water was precious, and was brought in barges at night, and was pumped into tanks in the hillside. Speaking of rations, the Gisbornite said the food on the whole was good. The American "bully beef" was sometimes not good, but. the Colonial tinned meat, which they got sometimes, was splendid. There were plenty of biscuits and, good bacon and a few vegetables such as potatoes and onions, Rations were issued daily and the men cooked for themselves. Generally they had a mate and the couple took it in turns to cook, while the other hunted up some firewood from the cases on the beach or rhododendron scrub.
Incidentally Trooper Aislabie mentioned that the New Zealand Mounteds were never at Cape Helles, but were at Anzac all through. Some of the infantry were sent down a few days after the initial landing to join m the attack on Krithia, but they were all transferred- back to the Colonials' sphere of action, leaving the French and English troops, with a New Zealand, battery, to hold the southern extremity of the peninsula.
Up to August 6 hostilities had resolved themselves mainly into trench warfare. In fact the only "scrap" of. any nature the New Zealand Mounted had been in was the "outpost affair," which must be familiar to all Gisbornites, having been graphically narrated by the late Chaplain-Major Grant. Out post No 3 then taken and lost, was destined to figure prominently in future operations of the mounteds. The advent of big consignments of artillery ammunition aroused a 'general anticipation amongst the colonials at Anzao that big things were coming. The, boys, Trooper Aislabie went on to say, were very keen to get at the enemy.- There was the case of bis younger brother, Arthur, who was at the first landing and was wounded at Cape Helles. After two months at Masta he returned to Anzac and had only been back three weeks when he was sent to Lemrios with dysentery. The Fifth Reinforcements, reached Lemnos whilst the big engagement was in progress, and, seizing the opportunity to get aboard one of the boats he crossed over into the thick of the fray. He as wounded for a second time, on this occasion a bullet through the chest. He is now convalescing in England.
"It was a brilliantly conceived scheme," declared the Gisbornite, referring to the plan of the big attack. The objective, he explained, was Sari Bair (Hill 971), from -which the Narrowing could have been commanded. lt’s possession would have had a big moral effect upon the enemy. The plan of the campaign was for the Australians on the right flank to demonstrate on Lonesome Pine ridge, and thus draw attention from the main attack. The other forces struck out on the left link, taking possession of the broken country standing back towards Hill 971, .while other forces swung further round to the left and stormed the hill from that side. Meanwhile a large British force landed at Suvla Bay, a little to the north, and were to have crossed over and linked up at Hill 971. For some cause or another they were held up below Hill VV, and their failure to link up with the Anzac forces until too late was a great disappointment. As to the part played by the New Zealand Mounteds, a complete scheme had been worked out and each section knew what it had to do. The Wellington Mounteds, to which Trooper Aislabie belonged, had as their first objective No. 3 outpost above referred, to. Since its previous capture it had been strongly fortified. Large beams of timber protected the top of the trenches and afforded loopholes for rifles and machine-guns. From this vantage point the Turks had been accustomed to "pepper" the boys when they went down to swim at Anzac, and there were grudges to be paid back. Barbed wire entanglements and (as the engineer afterwards discovered.) mines also protected the front attack. Leaving their quarters at 9.30 p.m., a pitch black night, they advanced through the scrub round the back, and in half an hour exactly they had captured the outpost. The Wellington Mounteds advanced through a gully on the right and lost only four killed. The Otago and Auckland attacked on, the left. A further advance was subsequently made on to' Table Top, a ridge extending back towards Hill 971. They reached the top without opposition, having to climb 'a steep face, another such one as that scaled at the original landing. With the co-operation of the infantry and Australians. The Turks were driven out of the gullies and 500 were captured in one place. On account of the broken nature of the country and necessity for providing supplies, it was impossible for any army to make one wholesale attack on Sari Bair on the first night. The positions won as they advanced had to be consolidated. Important ridges were held at the back of Anzac. It was on the Sunday morning, he thought, the big fight occurred on Rhododendron Ridge,' the New Zealand and Australian forces being strongly supported by Gurkhas and regiments. The story of how some of the colonials reached the ridge top and gained a view of the Narrows, of the subsequent withdrawal' of the English force, and the efforts to retake the position, he said, had already been related. How it was exactly they came to be forced back he could not quite say but the Turks attacked heavily. .There were no less than eleven counter-attacks against our forces that day, despite the great slaughter affected by our artillery and warships. The engagement lasted practically four days, when fighting quietened down, and when he came away,, towards the end of August, more attacks were in progress. If assured of ample supplies of artillery and howitzer ammunition Trooper Aislabie is confident the colonials can hold on to their position, and that it will take the enemy all their time to resist our force. Questioned as to the nature of the opposing Turks he said that in the Achi Baba region in the south, Turkish regulars were met with, but at Anzac they appeared more like Asia Minor fanatics, and the 500 who were taken appeared, very glad to surrender. The Turks that had held No. 3 Outpost were evidently new recruits, judging by the gear they -left behind,'- and an interesting memento of which Trooper Aislabie brings back" in the shape of a heavy Turkish overcoat. There were piles of them at the outpost,apparently quite new, they came in very useful for keeping the wounded warm at the first dressing station. Asked as to the terrors "of the night attack the Gisbornite said that with the thunder of the big guns and the rattle of machine-guns and musketry, they rather enjoyed the charge, as they felt at last they were getting one back. Australians and Colonials were as one, and the mounteds gave the palm of place to the infantry as readily as the latter praised up the mounteds. He is enthusiastic over the performance of tlie Maoris, whilst as to bis officers they proved themselves to a man.