Interview with Dr Ian McGibbion, ONZM author of GALLIPOLI : A Guide to New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials

Liam Butler interviews Dr Ian McGibbion, ONZM author of GALLIPOLI : A Guide to New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials

RRP$25.00 Penguin Books New Zealand

 12th Nelson Company advance on Daisy Patch a New Zealand Infantryman describes the attack…

 “We pushed forward into the firing line about 4 a.m. [on 8 May 1915], loaded up with signalling gear. I was feeling the effects of poor feeding, and had to drop out for a spell, as

I was so weak. I pushed on again, and reached the firing line at last, exhausted. Bullets were whizzing past me, and I wished that one would hit me, I was so dead beat.

I watched the 12th Nelson Company make an advance over open country called the Daisy Patch. There was absolutely no cover for them. They lost their commanding officer, and several men were casualties. . . .

Our turn to go across came next, and we went over the top in open order, with the best of luck. At once we were greeted with a terrible fusillade of rifle and machine gun fire,

which was deadly. The man on my right had his brains shot out into his face, and the chap on my left was shot through the stomach. Halfway across the patch I tripped over a root

and fell down. I lay still for two or three minutes until I had recovered my breath. Then the bullets started plugging up the earth all round me, so I got up again and made for the

Turkish trench as hard as I could go. I reached it without being hit, but was almost dropping with weakness. There was no room in the trench for me, so I jumped into a river bed close by and found a safe place.

After a short while Wilkie came walking up the stream. . . . We stayed in the river bed until 5.30 p.m., when the whole line advanced again. We lost over 200 men in this attack.

I managed to come through safely once more, but it was a miracle I was not hit, as men were falling all around me. After advancing about 150 yards, we dug in again, and I was sent back to the rear by the Colonel to look for the ambulance men and stretcher-bearers, and bring them back with me. So I had to cross again all the fire-swept ground we had just come over. I dropped my equipment and ran all the way.

I found the ambulance men about one and a half miles to the rear of the firing line. . . . They said that they had no stretchers, but I persuaded half a dozen of them to come back with me without stretchers, and they got to work bringing the wounded men in, using oil sheets.

I got hold of a dozen other fellows, and we were out until early the next morning, taking men in to a central dressing station. There were some horrible cases, and to make it

worse, it started to rain, and we were soon wet through. About 4 a.m. I fell down exhausted, and slept in a field for two hours, not caring very much what happened to me.”

 

Ref: Sergeant Bill Leadley, of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, in Jan Chamberlain (ed.), Shrapnel and Semaphore, pp. 14–15.

Question One: Sergeant Bill Leadley, of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion noted that "it was a miracle he was not hit" during the attack on Daisy Patch where "lost over 200 men in this attack".  Ian how does your book allow readers to better comprehend the incomprehensible sacrifices of young New Zealand men made for us?

Ian McGibbion: It does so by walking the visitor over the ground on which these sacrifices were made. When a visitor views the nature of the battlefield, whether the flat, open ground Leadley crossed at Cape Helles or the rugged terrain in which the Australians and New Zealanders fought most of the time at Anzac, he or she gets a better idea of the terrible predicament troops found themselves in at Gallipoli. In short, my book aids visitors to understand the battlefield, and the advantages the Ottomans held in occupying the higher ground.

Question Two: Ian, Gallipoli includes an appendix of Gallipoli battlefield tour operators and guides. What should older people look for when deciding upon the best tour company for their needs?

Ian McGibbion:                 The needs of visitors, young or old, will depend on what transport they have. Those with a rental car can perhaps use someone like Kenan Celik as a guide, though he is at the upper end in terms of a fee. If they don’t have a car, one of the tour companies listed will meet their needs. The disadvantage is that traveling with a group limits options to explore the battlefield. The operators listed specialize in taking people to the battlefield, and are no doubt well prepared for older visitors. Older people may have limited funds, in which case they might like to shop around to see who offers the best deal.

Question Three: Ian, you devote a chapter to the savage fighting at Chunuk Bair.  What role did the Maori Contingent play at Chunuk Bair?

Ian McGibbion: A portion of the 500-strong Maori Contingent took part in the assault on the foothills that preceded the infantry attack on Chunuk Bair. Several platoons were allotted to the Wellington, Otago and Canterbury Mounted Rifles and they helped to capture important positions like Baucop’s Hill and Table Top. Men later recalled hearing a resounding haka following the capture of the latter position. Others were involved in clearing the way up Chailak Dere, the main route to Chunuk Bair, for the infantry by removing obstacles under the direction of field engineers. Later the Maori Contingent moved up the hill and was based near the The Farm, below the summit of Chunuk Bair. After the Ottoman counterattack on 10 August, they operated near the position known as The Apex.

Question Four: Ian your guide includes maps, memories and photos of the unforgiving landscape.  You also include the memorials to the brave soldiers who were killed protecting us.  How did writing this book affect your opinion of the role of our armed forces today?

Ian McGibbion: It didn’t really affect my opinion of the role of the armed forces today. But producing this guidebook, and the one on the Western Front, certainly increased my admiration for the men who formed the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1914-18. They faced situations that are almost inconceivable today, especially the high probability of becoming a casualty. Warfare has changed immeasurably since then, and we are unlikely to field large citizen-soldier forces again. The emphasis today is on professional forces to deal with a very different type of fighting.

 Extracts reproduced with permission from GALLIPOLI : A Guide to New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials by Ian McGibbon. Published by Penguin Group NZ. RRP $25.00. Text copyright © The Crown, 2004.  Pg 62 Daisy Patch –Photograph copyright © The Crown 2004 Pg 99 Maori soldiers at Outpost No. 1. Part of the Maori Contingent helped capture the foothills on the night of 6–7 August. Photograph copyright © ATL, J. C. Read Collection, F-58101-1/4

 

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