[Gallipoli veteran Leonard Leary talks about conditions and fighting on Chunuk Bair. Part 1].

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The first part of a scripted talk by Leonard Leary about his experience on Gallipoli during World War I.

Unidentified announcer: This is to introduce Mr. Leonard Leary, regimental number 10-1881 who has some experiences to recount on the attack on Chunuk Bair, August 1915.

Leonard Leary: The advance of the Wellington Battalion up the slopes of Chunuk Bair on Gallipoli has been described by the late Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger as the finest exploit of a New Zealand unit in the war. Here is an account of a small part I saw of it and the general conditions on the peninsula.

By that time the New Zealand Brigade had been some months on Gallipoli and every man was affected to some degree by dysentery and its terrible weakening affects. I would like to stress the fact that in health and strength, the men taking part in the action were only shadows of what they'd been when they landed. Probably half of them ought to have been in hospital.

I had been with the Wellington Battalion machine gun section on Walker's Ridge for several weeks and every other day, when not with the gun, had seen the pathetic sight of men going down to the beach to sick parade some of them so weak that they had to sit and rest every hundred yards or so, every bone could be seen. Their eyes seemed huge in their hollow sockets and it could truthfully be said they were nothing but skin and bone. A few hours later the same men could be seen returning to their units, in the same slow and uncertain manner, having been given medicine by the medical officer. The shortage of men was so acute that unless one was almost dying there was little chance of being evacuated. Men were sometimes found dead on the latrines in the morning. From the beginning, food had consisted mainly bully beef and hard biscuits with sometimes cheese and jam, and usually for breakfast a rasher of fat belly of bacon, seldom with more than one thin strip of lean. Rations were piled in stacks, without cover, in the hot sun and during the daytime most of the most of the contents of a tin of beef could be poured out leaving some coarse strings of beef behind. Bacon and beef were so salty that an effort was needed to swallow the stuff. Jam was usually poured from the tin. Whole cheeses melted and became blobs of grease on the ground. Over the whole area of ANZAC there was a smell of dead and rotting bodies and this was noticeable some distance out to sea.

After lying up all day in a blind gully where the scrub was high enough to hide us from observation, as darkness fell, the battalion moved all along a deep sap near the beach, about two miles where we turned inland and travelled for most of the dark hours up a deep ravine, gaining height steadily all the time. I was carrying the spare-parts box and although
the gun, carried by No.1 and the tripod, carried by No. 2, were heavier, it was all I could manage and the corporal carried it for a while to give me a rest. At that time we were still using to old Maxim gun, a very heavy affair - the allotment being four to a battalion.

Just after daylight we moved out of the ravine up a steep hillside, pretty tough going with the heavy loads and our weak state. Eventually we arrived at Rhododendron Spur where our men had been under heavy fire that morning. There were many dead and wounded lying around and I saw one old friend, from pre-war days, who was hit in the foot. I spoke to him as we passed and he was quite cheerful.

The gun was set up and brought into action and was firing most of the time to well into the afternoon when a shell burst just in front of it and ripped part of the water jacket away. I was coming up with ammunition, a few yards back, and still have a vivid picture of the two sergeants who were manning the gun at the time - leaning back from the burst. Luckily no one was hit. I never saw our target as I was busy all day taking up ammunition, carrying messages, helping dig shelter trenches and so on. Fire was heavy nearly all day - shells, machine gun and rifle fire and most of the wounded were hit again and killed, no one had time to attend to them.

Towards evening a party of about six of us went up to where the knocked-out gun was still in its emplacement, intending to bring it away. Enemy fire had died away and there were only a few bullets coming over. We picked up a young chap who had lost touch with his unit and took him with us. We were standing in a group waiting for orders when there was a sudden sharp report, like the crack of a whip, this young chap had been hit, the bullet just grazing his chin and going though his jugular vein. Blood poured out in a stream. His knees just seemed to give way and he just seemed to sit down on a bank behind him. No one spoke, I went to him. It was obviously useless

On my last trip down the hill, as we were preparing to move, I remembered the wounded friend that I had spoken to in the morning and went back to look for him. He was still alive but had been hit again in the other foot and a shrapnel bullet had gone through both thighs, luckily missing the bones. I collected some field dressings dressings and water bottles from the dead lying around, and put a pad on each wound. The water bottles were nearly empty, or nearly so, but eventually I collected nearly half a bottle full. He was a big heavy chap beyond my strength to shift but luckily a lost infantry man came along and the two of us managed to half lift, half drag him into a hollow where he was safely under cover. When I met him after the war, he told me he was there two more days before being found and carried out.

After dark we moved down hill a short distance and stayed there till nearly dawn. The night was bitterly cold and as we were not carrying blankets we had practically no sleep. While it was still dark we went up hill again, more to the left and mounted the gun on a crest of a ridge running up to the peak of Chunuk Bair. On the right, across a fairly deep gully, was another shrub covered ridge. This was evidently held by the Turks, as most of the fire that started with daylight came from that direction. It began with the dawn and increased until at full daylight there was so much noise it was difficult to hear one's own voice. This was all due to rifle and machine gun fire. I didn't see one shell burst that morning.

At daylight our gun was in action. It had only two or three sandbags for protection and a few broken old shrubs behind it. I was about fifty yards behind it lying on my back in a slight hollow filling belts with ammunition and they rest of the gun crew were another fifty yards back in a narrow shelter trench about two feet deep and just wide enough to sit in. Where the gun was and where I was there seemed to be an almost continuous stream of bullets and while I felt my body was sheltered, I was sure my hands were. Before long No. 1 ran past down the hill - he had been hit in the foot. The corporal called out for the next man to go out to the gun. That meant me, and it needed a strong effort of will to get up and run forward. When I reached the gun, the officer was still in No. 1 position and the other man still in No. 2. Two shallow hollows had been scraped out for the men needed for firing, one to aim and fire, one to feed and change the belts of ammunition, but there was no shelter at all for me. I threw myself down between them but felt as exposed as if on top of a hill. The officer had been wounded in the wrist earlier in the morning and after a while started to shiver. I suppose partly from the pain of the wound and partly from the cold which was still severe. Being desperately anxious to get a bit of cover, after a time I said to him, "You should go and have that wound dressed, sir, or it will go septic". He said nothing but after a few minutes got up and left us. As soon as he moved I started to get into his place, but the other chap moved too but as he was senior to me, I gave way to him. If he hadn't been so conscientious, it's quite likely he would be alive today instead of me. During all the time I was in the gun position little puffs of dust were popping up all around us. As soon as the officer had gone, my mate started firing again and I was kept busy attending to the belt so never saw what he was firing at."

Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero

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Year 1960

Reference number 247028

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Ngā Taonga Korero Collection

Genre Oral histories
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Sound recordings

Credits Leary, Leonard (New Zealander, b.1893, d.1989), Speaker/Kaikōrero
New Zealand Broadcasting Service (estab. 1946, closed 1962), Broadcaster

Duration 00:09:21

Date 16 Oct 1960

Subject Leary, Leonard (New Zealander, b.1893, d.1989)
New Zealand. Army. Wellington Regiment
Gallipoli Peninsula (Turkey)/Turkey
World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- Turkey -- Gallipoli Peninsula
World War, 1914-1918 -- Food supply