Monday, 23 May 2016

Sentry Duty and Mining at Gallipoli

The excited chit chat ceased. Nervous anticipation pervaded the small boats.
They were still proud to be doing something for their country!

The 1st Light Horse Brigade landed at Anzac Cove at 10pm on the cold Spring evening of 12 May 1915, under heavy fire from the Turks. They had arrived at war without their beloved horses! They were heading into trench warfare, a completely different type of fighting than they had trained for! What a shock it must have been to be so suddenly confronted with the horrific scenes on that narrow sandy beach at Gallipoli.

The troops were deployed on fatigue duties, building defences, building a new road in Monash Valley to circumvent snipers, and digging communication trenches on Pope’s Hill and Quinn’s Post.

After a particularly vicious skirmish between the Anzac forces and the Turks in the middle of May, there was an agreed armistice on 24th May when both sides were able to bury their dead in relative peace. It had been noted that during this time, the Turkish were able to gather information and intelligence on the positions of the Allied troops which ended with an attack on an Allied stronghold known as Quinn’s. In the lead up to this, Allied sentries were stationed along The Bloody Angle and The Nek and were able to observe the Turkish army digging new trenches towards the Allies.

It was customary that sentry duty was carried out during the day by a sniper (or a sniper and his observer) and during the night by two snipers. However, Sgt McArthur patrolled alone three times The Bloody Angle, and recovered many rifles (both Turkish and Anzac), ammunition and equipment. He was commended for an Award of Honours for his bravery on sentry duty and also for acquiring valuable information regarding the enemy’s digging operations between 20th and 30th May.  It must be remembered that George had listed his occupation as a miner from Adelaide, S.A. upon enlistment!
Commendation Quote:
In December 1915, Lt Col D. Fulton, C.O. 3rd L.H. Regt, sent a commendation for Award of Honours to Headquarters. It read:
“No. 601 Sergt McArthur, George Kirby – This N.C.O. is recommended in his work in patrolling, alone, three times the BLOODY ANGLE and recovering many rifles both Turkish and S.M.L.E., ammunition, & equipment. Also acquiring valuable information regarding enemy’s digging operations between the dates of 20th and 30th May 1915.”

During the latter half of May, many of the troops in the Quinn’s area were miners from W.A. and S.A. and they were of the opinion that it would be easy for the Turks to undermine Quinn’s by tunnelling. There had already been several reports in early May by the miners that the Turks were tunnelling as they could hear familiar sounds but these reports were ignored by the Allied officers in charge. When it was confirmed that the Turks were mining towards the Allied trenches, the miners advised that they were only a few feet below the trenches. They then organised a countermine (explosive charge) that would be put into a listening hole, secured above ground by sandbags and then exploded. This was intended to collapse the collapse the enemy tunnel. This was successful. Miners were then organised from both the 4th Infantry and the 1st L.H. Brigade and were set to dig countermines to try to stop the Turks. They were again successful in destroying several enemy tunnels but the Turk had such a head start that finally, on 28th May, Quinn’s was blown up and taken by the enemy.

The 1st L.H. Brigade had only been in the trenches of Gallipoli for a few weeks and all around the smell of death pervaded everything. It was bitterly cold at night and mud clung to everything. However, the troops carried on.

Soon after this assault on Quinn’s, the 1st L.H. Brigade were out of the trenches into General Reserve behind Section Headquarters in order to man the inner defences in case of alarm. Sgt. McArthur appeared to have stayed out of trouble as there is no record of him being sick or wounded. (Source: War Diaries of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment)