William Malone at Gallipoli

Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone (1859-1915) outside his bivouac on Walker's Ridge. Malone, a Stratford farmer and lawyer, commanded the Wellington Battalion at Gallipoli.

The Wellington Battalion landed at Anzac Cove on 25-26 April 1915. Malone soon began to impose order, transforming weak defensive positions along the Anzac perimeter into strong garrisons. Between June and August, he helped consolidate critical positions at Courtney’s Post and Quinn’s Post, where a small advance by the Ottomans would have threatened the entire line.

Malone’s diary entries record his growing disenchantment with his superiors and the conduct of the campaign. His demands on behalf of his men brought him into conflict with the New Zealand Infantry Brigade’s commander, Colonel Francis Johnston.

During the Sari Bair offensive in August, Malone led his battalion in the seizure of the Apex on Rhododendron Ridge, but refused to follow up a disastrous attack by the Auckland Battalion on Chunuk Bair, insisting that he would not send his men ‘over to commit suicide’. The next morning, 8 August, the Wellington Battalion captured the summit with little difficulty. Throughout the day, they threw back fierce Ottoman counter-attacks in fighting that left most of the battalion dead or wounded. Malone excelled in this desperate situation, leading his men in driving the enemy back until he was killed by artillery fire, probably from a New Zealand howitzer, around 5 p.m.

Following his death, senior officers tried to make Malone a scapegoat for the subsequent loss of Chunuk Bair and the failure of the offensive. Historians, notably Christopher Pugsley in Gallipoli: The New Zealand story (1984), have since refuted claims that Malone failed to entrench his men to best advantage on the summit.

Malone, the citizen soldier impatient with the incompetence of British regulars, has come to symbolise the New Zealand experience at Gallipoli. He is commemorated by a memorial gate and statue at Stratford.

William George Malone's diary

Sunday 25th April A lovely calm spring morning. We left Port Mudros, Lemnos, at 6.10 am [for] Gaba Tepe, Peninsula of Gallipoli with other Transports, having been preceded by Advance Landing Scouts [of the] Australian Division. We towed two barges in which to land troops and horse. A lovely calm and in nature a peaceful day. But the huge 15 inch guns of the Queen Elizabeth could be heard at sixty miles distance bombarding forts etc at Cape Helles and Sedd El Bahr where the 29th British Division was landing. As we got in we could see the action. Quite a number of Men-of-War, British, French and Russian blazing away. Transports steaming in close to the shore and landing troops in boats and barges. The shells were bursting all along the Turkish position which seemed strongly held. We did not steam nearer than about six miles but with glasses could see what a great and furious fight was going on. The French Division was making a feint on the coast of Asia Minor so as to keep troops there. We sailed on Northwards and got near Gaba Tepe which is some ten miles north of Cape Helles; found that our Army was landing at a bay some two miles North East of Gaba Tepe. It had commenced landing at 3.30 am and had been most gallantly, nay recklessly, carried out. The men-of-war, Majestic, Triumph Queen, Inflexible and others were firing furiously. Transports were landing troops.

The Australians had carried the heights surrounding the Bay but instead of being content with that and then digging in hard and fast had scally-wagged for miles into the interior, some three or four miles, got scattered and so became a prey to the Turks who had been surprised in the first place and had (it is said) only some 500 defending troops at our landing place. Their troops encamped at Bijuk Anafarta and Koja Dere were brought against the scattered Australians and slaughtered them. As the New Zealanders landed they were rushed up to the heights, mixed up higgledy-piggledy among themselves and with Australians with the result, in the case of my men anyhow (in my opinion), in serious avoidable loss.

At 4.30 pm my first troops went ashore ... I went with this consignment. When we got within about one mile from the shore we got into our ship's boats and rowed ashore. The Turks welcomed us with shrapnel and sprayed up the sea all about us, but very few of us got hit. The beach was crowded with all sorts of beings, men, mules, donkeys, horses, ammunition supplies, naval beach parties. In getting out of the boats many men got a salt water bath all over. They had full packs, 200 rounds of ammunition, three days food, etc and so easily slipped and fell. There didn't seem much organisation on the shore, in fact it was disorganisation. We evidently haven't got a Kitchener about. On paper it was all right but in practice no good. Still Britishers always muddle thro' somehow or another. The heads, like Generals Birdwood and Godley plan all right, but the executive officers in the main, are no good. Have no idea of order, method, etc. They, as I put it, 'hand up everyone on the ground'. The whole Army does.

I struck Generals Birdwood and Godley and they were very disappointed when they found my Battalion (less half a Company) were still on the sea. The Naval people for some unknown reason knocked off disembarkation. I got the General to wireless to the ships to carry one and about midnight the remaining one and a half Companies in Itonus got ashore and were sent to hold a ridge just above the beach. They had no tools as all our Battalion tools were on the Achaia with the other half Battalion! I had asked to get half of them at Port Mudros so that when we landed we would be independent but it was not allowed by our brigadier. However I got some of my Headquarters detail to go along the beach and collect all the tools they could. They got quite a number and then I sent them up to the ridge to enable the men to dig in.

I had rather an amusing incident. I was going along the beach close to the cliffs where there were crowds of men sleeping, finding out who they were so as to help reorganisation of units. Quoth I to one group: 'Who are you fellows?' Lo and behold they were Generals Birdwood, Godley and Bridges and their staff. And lo and behold there were quite a number of picks and shovels in their quarters. I soon got all the tools and sent them up to my men. By daylight Hart and the Second Company off Achaia landed. We were ordered into Reserve alongside Army Headquarters as an Army Reserve. We placed ourselves up a Gully, narrow and steep, full of scrub, and remained there until 4.00 pm of the next day when we were ordered to go up the gully on to the Plateau and report to General Walker, who was our acting Brigadier, Colonel F E Johnston being ill with gastric influenza. We had an awful climb. I found General Walker and reported but he didn't know what to do with us but in the end put us in reserve.

All this time the big ships' guns were booming away. Also quick firing howitzers, mountain guns and rifles. Endless fighting. Shrapnel bursting on and close to the beach, boats and barges going to and from the ships and beach landing all sorts of men and things. In the night of Sunday I know there were some questions among the Generals of our having to re-embark. Personally I could see nothing to require it. As General Walker's Plateau was congested with men without my Battalion, I asked, and obtained, leave to take them below the crest. We got settled down into dugouts and then got an Army Order to go back into our original reserve position. This from General Birdwood himself. We had been up the hill and now down again. Still we are all philosophers now.

Next morning, Tuesday the 27th, we were sent up another gully in which two Howitzers were placed and then to a place on the beach North of Divisional Headquarters and then told to draw two days rations and march North along the beach to where a big ridge came down from the high country surrounding the Bay. Duly, away we went. Arrived at the foot of the ridge, found General Walker, and heard a roar for reinforcements coming down the hill. Irresponsible men. Australian privates, passing the word for 'Reinforcements at the double!!' General Walker told us at once to send a Company up, packs to be left at the bottom. I enquired what they were to do? Where to go? I was told they would be met at the top and put right. So away they went. No soon gone than more yells of the same sort from the Australians. Another Company of men ordered to follow the first one. The Companies were (first) Wellington West Coast, (second) Hawkes Bay. Some 450 of the best solder men in the world. They were being sent to chaos and slaughter, nay murder.

I then brought up the remaining one and half Companies to about half way, which the Australian Brigadier told me to hold in Reserve. On doing this, more yells for reinforcements. I took on myself to stop the yelling and say no more reinforcements should go up in that irresponsible way. I went up myself to find out the position. A long climb along and up a ridge. I struck a sort of natural fort along it, entrenched and occupied by about forty Australians and two machine guns, one Major, a fat chap. I asked him what he was doing there sending down yells for reinforcements. He said he was passing the yells on. I asked him why he did not go himself and take his men with him. He said he had orders to stay. I went on, passing a score of Australian men wounded, lying all along the track. Finally I got to a Colonel Braund who said he was in command of the show. I asked for some explanation of the position and why he had left his own men down the ridge and called for reinforcements from the New Zealanders. He didn't know and knew nothing. Had no defensive position, no plan, nothing but a murderous notion that the only thing to do was to plunge troops out of the neck of the ridge into the jungle beyond. The Turks, of whom very few were seen by any of my officers, were lying down, shooting down all the bits of track that led from the ridge outwards; having range marks fixed, and dropping our men wholesale. Majors Young and Cunningham grasped the situation soon and told who they could to dig in. This was begun, but Colonel Braund came along and ordered the Platoon Commanders to go on and plunge into the jungle further and further. On their protesting he claimed as Senior Officer, their obedience to his orders, and so, on and on they went and got slaughtered – I made Colonel Braund send back and take all the Australians forward and to shift his Headquarters forward. I then went back to Brigade Headquarters to report and was told to bring up my remaining one and a half Companies to the fort. After getting them up I started to go forward again up the track to get a grip of things but was met by a lot of Australians tearing down the track yelling 'Fix bayonets, the Turks are coming.' I whipped back to the fort and put two machine guns on front slope with a line of best shots of the Ruahine [Company] and sorted the other men out in readiness to hold back the Turks. I really believed we were in for a solid thing and told the men we would have to stick it out at all costs. I then went forward and found that the panic, for such it was, had been stopped, thanks mainly to Major Hart, who had been sent on by me ahead of the Reserve to get a hand of things he, like the good chap he is, steadied the men.

By now wounded men by the score were being brought back and laid along the track, all sorts of wounds. The stretcher bearers couldn't cope with the number and soon there were no stretchers. I got an immediate demand from Colonel Braund for more reinforcements but sent him a firm refusal. He then said as I would not send him up more reinforcements he would have to retire to his first position. I told him he never ought to have left it.

Colonel Braund then came to see me and, on my asking why he had been doing as he had, said that the truth was he feared that if he didn't go on, his men would run away. I said that was no reason to sacrifice my men. I went and reported to General Walker and asked that the whole of the Australians be withdrawn as soon as possible. He came back with me to the position. We struck lots of Australians who hadn't moved. I ordered them up and drove them ahead, pelting the leading ones on the track when they stopped with stones and putting my toe into the rear ones.

By this time wounded men were being brought back in scores (my Battalion's casualties out of two and a half Companies, say 450 men, were about 45 killed and 150 wounded in about first hour of action) and left on track, no stretchers being available. They were all very brave. No cries or even groans. One man kept say 'Oh Daddy', 'Oh Daddy' in a low voice. Many greeted me cheerfully 'Well Colonel I've got it.' Many smiled. My men are wonderful. The world never saw better men or braver, I am sure. After the frightful murderous slaughter bungled by Colonel Braund of the Australians they hurry on, fired at from all quarters, yet unable in the jungle to see many of their enemy [and] dug themselves in.

I went up with Hart and we divided up the ground held – sent up picks and shovels and the night was passed by all hands dig dig digging. Turks firing from a distance all the night with shrapnel, machine guns and rifle. Hart, poor chap, directing operations got shot in the leg. Flesh wound only I am glad to say. He will be back in about a fortnight. He was shot by a Turk within a few yards. The Turks threw hand grenades at us through the night.

More of Malone's diary can be found in J. Phillips, N. Boyack and E.P. Malone, The great adventure: New Zealand soldiers describe the First World War, Allen & Unwin, Wellington, 1988.

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