For the first four months of 1915, the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (WMR) continues training in Egypt. Hopes of action in defence of the Suez Canal and then in the invasion of the Dardanelles are dashed. In May, however, the WMR and the rest of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (NZMR) are thrown – as infantry – into the desperate struggle to seize the commanding heights of the Gallipoli Peninsula. In the next four months the regiment suffers more than half of all its casualties in the war.
- 9th – The WMR begins training as a regiment.
- 30th – The Second Reinforcements arrive in Zeitoun Camp. About 105 men and 130 horses join the WMR.
- 1st – The NZMR begins training as a brigade. These exercises in large-scale unit coordination are important for the senior officers but tedious for the men.
- 26th – The Third Reinforcements arrive in Zeitoun. The WMR receives 115 horses, some of poor quality.
- 2nd – Rioting by Anzac soldiers in Cairo’s Wazzir brothel district is put down by mounted troops. All leave is stopped.
- 3rd – The Australian and New Zealand Infantry Division receives orders to prepare for the invasion of Gallipoli. The bulk of the NZMR (including the WMR) and the two Australian Light Horse brigades will remain in Egypt to continue training and to defend the Suez Canal against the Ottoman Turks.
Training focuses on long-distance marches and inter-brigade maneouvres.
- 5th – The NZMR receives orders to move to Gallipoli as infantry.
- 8th – The WMR leaves Zeitoun and travels by train to Alexandria. The regiment, along with the rest of the NZMR, is to reinforce the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Anzacs are part of General Sir Ian Hamilton’s Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF), which has been given the task of capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula and seizing control of the Dardanelle Straits from the Ottoman Turks.
Because of the small size of the Anzac beachhead, and the rugged terrain, the regiments of the NZMR are ordered to leave their horses behind in Egypt. They will fight as standard infantry units at Gallipoli. Arrangements are made to take officers’ horses and a few draught horses to meet transport requirements.
- 9th – The WMR is divided into two groups that embark on two transport ships:
HMT Grantully Castle – 25 officers, 453 other ranks
HMT Kingstonian – one officer, 30 other ranks and the horses
HMT Grantully Castle leaves Alexandria at 6 p.m.
- 12th – HMT Grantully Castle arrives off Anzac Cove at 12.30 p.m. The men of the WMR are transferred onto destroyers, taken closer inshore and landed by lighters at the jetty. Though they are exposed to Ottoman small-arms fire from the heights overlooking Anzac Cove during this process, only one man is wounded. On landing the strength of the regiment is 25 officers and 451 other ranks.
The WMR bivouacs in Reserve Gully.
- 13th – The NZMR is ordered to relieve the Royal Naval Brigade and take over No. 4 Section of the Anzac Cove defensive perimeter (a line which includes positions on Russell’s Top and Walker’s Ridge). The WMR goes into the line on Walker’s Ridge, completing its relief of the Nelson and Deal battalions by 3 p.m.
HMT Kingstonian, which is carrying the first-line transport, arrives off Anzac Cove but returns to Alexandria without disembarking any of the men or horses on board.
- 24th – A truce is in effect at Anzac Cove between 7.30 a.m. and 5 p.m. This allows both sides to collect and bury their dead from the ‘no-man’s land’ between the two front lines. Medical officers supervise the truce, during which each side clears half of no-man’s land. The bodies of enemy dead are brought to collection points in the centre to be handed over to the other side. Men of the WMR in the front line collect and bury bodies.
- 25th – The WMR is relieved by the 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment and bivouacs in Shrapnel Valley.
- 28th – The 6th (Manawatu) Squadron is ordered to support an attack by the Canterbury Mounted Rifles on a Ottoman position 450 m north-east of No. 2 Post. Shortly after the Ottoman position is captured by the Canterbury Mounted Rifles at approximately 11.30 p.m., the 6th (Manawatu) Squadron moves up and relieves them. Its orders are to consolidate the newly captured position – now named No. 3 Post – and hold it until relieved.
- 29th – The 6th (Manawatu) Squadron does what it can to strengthen No. 3 Post. However this is surrounded on three sides by Ottoman positions on higher ground and badly exposed to rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire during the day. This both prevents the men from working on the defences and allows the Ottoman Turks to concentrate their forces dangerously close to the outpost.
At 9 p.m. the 6th (Manawatu) Squadron is relieved by the 9th (Wellington East Coast) Squadron (less one troop) under the command of Major Selwyn Chambers – total strength 5 officers and 93 other ranks. At approximately 10 p.m. the Ottomans begin a sustained and heavy attack on the post. At 11.30 p.m. the signal line to the post is cut, severing communication with Major Chambers and his men. An attempt to send a troop of the Queen Alexandra’s 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Squadron to the beleaguered post fails. At midnight the remainder of the 2nd Squadron under the command of Major James Elmslie tries to break through to No. 3 Post. After initial progress Elmslie’s men strike strong Ottoman resistance and are held up roughly halfway between posts 2 and 3.
- 30th – Fighting continues all night at and around No. 3 Post. Elmslie’s squadron has advanced far enough to take some of the pressure off Major Chambers and his men, who fend off repeated Ottoman assaults on their position. At daybreak communication between No. 3 Post and the main line is restored via signal flags and two mountain guns are brought to bear on the Ottoman positions.
6th (Manawatu) Squadron is ordered to reinforce 2nd Squadron in a renewed effort to break through to No. 3 Post. The relieving squadrons get within 100 m of No. 3 Post but make no further headway. The attacking Ottoman troops have also brought supporting weapons into play – artillery fire from a mountain gun on nearby Hill 971 and machine-gun fire from closer range make it all but impossible to cross the ground between the two posts unscathed.
At 6 p.m. Lieutenant-Colonel William Meldrum is told that two squadrons of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles will be arriving under cover of darkness at 8 p.m. to relieve 9th Squadron. At 7 p.m. Major Chambers gets word out that the northern section of the post is so badly damaged by grenade attacks that he can no longer defend it. But as darkness falls the Ottoman attacks finally ease.
The relief of 9th Squadron from No. 3 Post by the Canterbury Mounted Rifles is completed by 11 p.m. The evacuation of the wounded is the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of the operation.
The other two WMR squadrons also withdraw and are relieved by the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. The 2nd and 6th squadrons move out from No. 2 Post around midnight and join the 9th Squadron at Fishermen’s Hut.
- 31st – The Canterbury Mounted Rifles’ commanding officer, Major G.F. Hutton, soon decides that No. 3 Post is untenable and retires to Fishermen’s Hut. The Ottoman forces quickly reoccupy No. 3 Post (known from now on by the Anzacs as ‘Old No. 3 Post’) and advance towards the gully between Fishermen’s Hut and No. 1 Post. Alerted to this sudden threat, Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum immediately stands to all three of his squadrons and extends them in a makeshift defensive line from Fishermen’s Hut across to No. 1 Post. Met with a hail of fire, the Ottoman infantry break off their attack and fall back to Old No. 3 Post.
The strength of the WMR is 21 officers and 353 other ranks.
- 1st – The WMR bivouacs in Shrapnel Valley.
- 7th – The WMR relieves the 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment and goes back into the line at Walker’s Ridge.
- 21st – The WMR is relieved and moves into a bivouac on Walker’s Ridge.
- 30th – The strength of the WMR is 24 officers and 327 other ranks.
- 1st – Reinforcements arrive. Four officers and 97 other ranks are taken on strength by the regiment.
- 18th – The WMR relieves the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment and goes back into the line.
- 31st – The WMR is relieved by the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment and bivouacs on the southern slopes of Walker’s Ridge.
The strength of the WMR is 24 officers and 351 other ranks.
- 5th – Battle of Chunuk Bair: The WMR takes part in the biggest offensive undertaken by the Allies at Gallipoli. This has three main components:
1) A large-scale British landing at Suvla Bay, 8 km north of Anzac Cove;
2) An attack by New Zealand, Australian and British forces from Anzac Cove aimed at linking up with the British at Suvla and capturing the strategic heights of the Sari Bair range;
3) Diversionary attacks by the Australian Division at Lone Pine and British forces at Cape Helles.
The NZMR is assigned to the Right Covering Force of the Allied attack on the Sari Bair range. This force is to clear the way for the Right Assaulting Column to capture the ridge at Chunuk Bair (part of the Sari Bair range) by taking six key features: Old No. 3 Post, Big Table Top, Destroyer Hill, Little Table Top, Bauchop’s Hill and Walden Point. The WMR is to capture Destroyer Hill and Big Table Top.
The WMR moves to a new bivouac area at No. 1 Post.
- 6th – Battle of Chunuk Bair: After resting all day at No. 1 Post, the WMR concentrates in the Sazli Beit Dere after nightfall and at 9.30 p.m. begins to move out to attack.
The 6th (Manawatu) Squadron overruns Ottoman positions on Destroyer Hill in a close-quarters action using bayonets and grenades. The squadron suffers just three casualties in this action, but one of those wounded is the squadron commander, Major Charles Dick. The 2nd and 9th squadrons now pass through the 6th Squadron and Destroyer Hill to attack Big Table Top. The 6th Squadron remains behind to consolidate its possession of Destroyer Hill and mop up any remaining pockets of Ottoman resistance.
The planned route up the western slopes of Big Table Top is found to be too exposed and Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum decides to continue around to the eastern side of the base of this feature and take the Ottoman garrison by surprise from the rear. Distracted by the ongoing fighting at Old No. 3 Post and Destroyer Hill, the Ottoman troops on Big Table Top fail to detect the New Zealanders. The lead elements of the 2nd and 9th squadrons use entrenching tools to cut steps in the north-east face of the steep escarpment until they reach more gentle ground just below the crest. An advance guard overpowers a nearby Ottoman night post, the rest of the assault force is quickly brought up and the trenches on Big Table Top are overrun in a matter of minutes. By 11.15 p.m. Big Table Top is securely in the possession of the 2nd and 9th squadrons, which have taken 150 Ottoman prisoners.
The NZMR has achieved all its objectives. Casualties have been very few for the WMR, but heavy for the Otago and Canterbury mounted rifles regiments.
- 7th – Battle of Chunuk Bair: Overall Allied progress has slowed and the advance of the main assault columns has fallen badly behind schedule. Two WMR troops move to Old No. 3 Post to relieve the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Most of the WMR consolidates its position on Big Table Top under constant Ottoman machine-gun and sniper fire. Major Chambers, commander of 9th Squadron, is shot and killed. The 6th Squadron moves up from Destroyer Hill to rejoin the rest of the regiment in the morning. The two platoons of the Maori Contingent originally assigned to support the regiment also rejoin it at Big Table Top during the day.
- 8th – Battle of Chunuk Bair: In the early hours of the morning the Wellington Battalion captures Chunuk Bair. The Ottoman counter-attack them repeatedly.
In an attempt to renew the general attack on Sari Bair, the Allied troops are reorganised into three columns. No. 1 Column consists of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the Wellington and Auckland Mounted Rifles regiments, 8th (Pioneer) Battalion, The Welsh Regiment, the 7th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, and the 26th Indian Mountain Battery. No. 1 Column is to consolidate the ground already taken on the south-western slopes of Chunuk Bair and, in conjunction with the other two columns, gain the whole of Chunuk Bair and extend out from it as far as possible to the east and south.
At 12.15 p.m. the WMR is warned that it is needed to reinforce the firing line at Chunuk Bair. At 3 p.m. Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum and the 2nd and 6th squadrons leave Big Table Top and move to the head of Chailak Dere, where Meldrum reports to the commander of No. 1 Column, Brigadier-General F.E. Johnston. The 9th Squadron remains behind to garrison Big Table Top. The total effective strength of the WMR at Chailak Dere is 173 all ranks.
Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum is ordered to attach his force to Lieutenant-Colonel Athelston Moore’s Otago Infantry Battalion (effective strength approximately 400) and to hold Chunuk Bair at all costs. After Chunuk Bair is reached at 10.30 p.m. the WMR occupies the central position – the ‘Cockpit’. At 11 p.m. Moore is wounded and evacuated. Meldrum assumes command of the post.
- 9th – Battle of Chunuk Bair: Attempts to improve the defences and bring in those wounded in the previous two days’ fighting continue until 4 a.m., when the Turks resume their attacks on the position.
Over the next 10 hours Ottoman infantry repeatedly assault the position, supported by heavy artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire. Some Allied naval gunfire and artillery fire is reported to fall short and hit the New Zealand and British trenches at Chunuk Bair and its approaches. The Ottoman infantry attacks cease after 2 p.m., giving the defenders some respite.
The WMR and the Otago Battalion are relieved by the 6th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and 5th Battalion, The Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire) Regiment, at 10.30 p.m.
Casualties for the 24 hours at Chunuk Bair amount to 117: two officers and 38 other ranks killed, and three officers and 74 other ranks wounded (the three officers all die of their wounds). Major Elmslie, commander of 2nd Squadron, is among those killed in action.
- 10th – The remnants of the regiment (less 9th Squadron) move from Chailak Dere to bivouac at No. 1 Post. The 9th Squadron is divided into two groups of 50 men each, one garrisoning Big Table Top and the other garrisoning Old No. 3 Post.
- 11th – The WMR (less 9th Squadron) leaves No. 1 Post. Detachments occupy posts at Camel’s Hump and Destroyer Hill. The remainder of the regiment goes into brigade reserve in the Sazli Beit Dere.
- 21st – The WMR is relieved from its posts by the Canterbury Infantry Battalion and rejoins the rest of the NZMR further north at Kabak Kuyu, near Hill 60, at 5.15 p.m. Five officers and 125 other ranks are sent forward to a recently captured section of trenches on the western slopes of Hill 60 to relieve the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. The rest of the regiment bivouacs at Kabak Kuyu.
Reinforcements arrive; two officers and 77 other ranks are taken on strength.
- 25th – The WMR men in the trenches at Hill 60 are relieved by troopers from the Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles.
- 26th – Three officers and 100 other ranks of the WMR relieve a similar number of men from the Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles in the trenches at Hill 60.
- 27th – A second attack on Hill 60 is mounted in an effort to expand the foothold gained on the 21st. The attacking force is divided into three groups: a Right Force of 350 Australian infantry, a Left Force of 250 infantry from the Connaught Rangers, and a 400-strong Centre Force made up of 300 men of the NZMR and 100 from the 18th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Five officers and 100 other ranks from the WMR are part of this group and Major James Whyte, WMR, has overall command of Centre Force.
At 4 p.m. an artillery bombardment opens up on the Ottoman trenches. At 5 p.m. this ceases and the first wave of attackers – 160 men of the Auckland and Canterbury Mounted Rifles – quickly capture the first line of Ottoman trenches. The second wave, consisting of the Wellington and Otago Mounted Rifles, passes through them and on to the second line of trenches 40 m further back. These too are captured, but both waves suffer heavy casualties and the Ottoman defenders respond with fierce counter-attacks. The advance is halted and Centre Force is ordered to consolidate its hold on the second line of Ottoman trenches. The 100 men from 18th Battalion, AIF, reinforce the New Zealand line.
The New Zealanders defend the position for the rest of the day and night under constant artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire. A number of Ottoman counter-attacks are beaten off.
Another 50 men of the 18th Infantry Battalion, AIF, and 250 men of the 9th Australian Light Horse arrive around 10 p.m. to reinforce the New Zealanders.
The 140 m of Turkish trenches taken is the only success of the attack. Right Force has failed to take its objective because of heavy machine-gun fire. Left Force took its objective but was forced out of the position by the Turks by 9.30 p.m.
- The remainder of the WMR also arrives overnight to reinforce the position.
Casualties for the day are two officers and 48 other ranks killed, and three officers and 54 other ranks wounded.
- 28th – The WMR continues to hold the newly captured trenches on Hill 60 against constant Ottoman counter-attacks throughout the day and night.
At midday Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum relieves Major Whyte and takes command of the post.
Later in the day 180 men of the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment arrive to reinforce the line.
Chaplain Class III William Grant, WMR, is killed while attempting to reach a wounded man in the open.
- 29th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR are relieved by troops of the 19th Battalion, AIF, and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade. They move into trenches at the rear of the Hill 60 position.
- 2nd – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR move to a bivouac just behind the front line on Cheshire Ridge, which was captured during the August offensive.
- 4th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR relieve the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the front-line trenches on Cheshire Ridge.
- 12th – The WMR is relieved by 27th Battalion, AIF.
- 13th – The WMR (less the Machine Gun Section of one officer and 13 other ranks) is ordered to move down to the beach and embark on HMT Osmanich. Just three officers and 67 other ranks embark. Along with the rest of the NZMR, the WMR is transported from Anzac Cove to the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea for rest and training.
- 14th – The WMR disembarks in Mudros Harbour and goes into Sarpi Camp.
- 18th – Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum departs for Egypt and Lieutenant John Strang of the Otago Mounted Rifles takes temporary command of the regiment.
- 28th – The officer and 13 other ranks of the Machine Gun Section left behind at Anzac rejoin the regiment at Mudros.
- 4th – Reinforcements arrive at Mudros; four officers and 307 other ranks are taken on strength by the regiment.
Major Albert Samuel, who is amongst the reinforcements, temporarily assumes command of the regiment.
- 7th – The four regiments of the NZMR reallocate their recently arrived reinforcements to the regiment from the military district in which they were recruited. Some of these men change units for the second time in four days.
- 10th – The WMR embarks on HMT Osmanich to return to Anzac Cove. Its total effective strength on return to Gallipoli is nine officers and 363 other ranks.
- 13th – Reinforcements of one officer and 68 other ranks are taken on strength. Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum resumes command of the regiment.
- After landing at Anzac, the regiment moves into a bivouac at ‘Wellington Gully’.
- 25th – Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum assumes temporary command of the NZMR and Major Samuel assumes temporary command of the WMR.
- 27th – The WMR moves into the front-line trenches between ‘Carisbrooke Castle’ and ‘Norfolk Street’, and also holds the sap leading from ‘Kaiajik Sap’.
Snow starts to fall late in the day and continues falling until the next day. For men in the trenches with little shelter, this is a miserable time.
- 18th – Six WMR officers and 153 other ranks embark as part of the general evacuation of Suvla and Anzac Cove by the Allies. They are transported to Lemnos.
- 20th – The rearguard party (Captain John Burnet Davis and 11 other ranks) from the WMR leaves Anzac Cove for transportation to Lemnos. With the evacuation of Anzac Cove complete, the involvement of the WMR in the Gallipoli campaign is over.
The regiment (total effective strength 375 men) camps on Lemnos awaiting transport to Egypt.
- 22nd – The WMR embarks on HMT Hororata and leaves Lemnos for Egypt.
- 26th – The WMR disembarks at Alexandria, Egypt, and travels by train to Zeitoun Camp, near Cairo. Its strength on arrival in Egypt is 18 officers and 342 other ranks. Since landing on Gallipoli it has suffered 640 casualties and absorbed 524 reinforcements.
- 27th – The WMR arrives at Zeitoun Camp. Mounted training resumes.