The Chunuk Bair (Çanak Bayır) Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery and Memorial is located between Eceabat and Bigali on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. The memorial lists 849 missing soldiers from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), and the cemetery has 632 burials, of which only ten are identified. All of the CWGC memorials and cemeteries at Gallipoli were designed by Sir John Burnet (1857-1938). Read more about Burnet’s memorials here.
At the summit of Chunuk Bair (elev. 892 ft.) there is the largest of the five ‘From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth’ monuments that commemorate the service of the NZEF, flanked by a statue of Col. Mustafa Kemal, later Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic.
Chunuk Bair is a pilgrimage site for New Zealanders. Every year the anniversary is observed at the monument. The Prime Minister, the Governor General and the Commander NZ Defence Forces will attend, along with a Royal (Prince Harry was there last year), a high-ranking Australian (in a show of solidarity) and a Turkish official.
The Battle for Chunuk Bair was perhaps the greatest ‘what if’ of the Gallipoli campaign. In the early morning hours of August 8th, 1915 the Wellington Battalion captured this key hilltop and with scant reinforcements held off counterattacks all day long. When relieved the next day the Wellingtons counted only 49 effectives. The hard-won toe-hold was lost to a massive Turkish counterattack on August 10th.
Who were the Wellingtons? In 1914 the New Zealand Territorial Forces (NZTF) had 16 infantry and 12 mounted rifles regiments, most of which didn’t have a full-strength battalion.
The original NZEF had two brigades, each with four battalions, to which NZTF regiments contributed one full-strength company. Thus the Wellington Battalion had four companies, one each from the 7th (Wellington West Coast Rifles), the 9th (Hawke’s Bay Rifles), the 11th (Taranaki Rifles) and the 17th (Ruahine Rifles).
The Wellingtons CO was Lt. Col. WG Malone of the 11th, a major landowner and lawyer who had
raised a battalion for the South African war. He was a 57 year old character; for example, in 1911 (at his own expense) he equipped his men with the ‘lemon-squeezer’ hat, rather than the Aussie-style, because ‘it looks like Mt. Egmont’. Subsequently the hat was adopted by the whole NZEF, and is today the dress headgear of NZ soldiers. He had four sons in the NZEF, two of whom were at Gallipoli and one was killed in France in 1918. You can read more about him here.
On August 6th Col. FE Johnston, the British CO of the NZ Infantry Brigade, lost his best chance to capture Chunuk Bair by waiting all day for more troops that never came. Before dawn on the 7th he moved up to a spot called the Apex, where he waited again, in full view of the enemy. HQ had to insist that he attack; finally the Auckland Battalion went first and was stopped cold. The Wellingtons were next in line, but Malone refused to attack until dark, telling Johnston: ‘We are not taking orders from you people … My men are not going to commit suicide.’
Johnston would have court-martialed Malone had he not been killed by friendly artillery fire. According to a Wellingtons survivor the telephones worked but Johnston’s HQ ignored most of what they were told, and ordered Malone to do senseless things.
Both Malone and, incredibly, Johnston received a Mention in Dispatches (MID) for the action, but a subsequent report placed blame on Malone; it was said that he had dug his trenches in the wrong place.
Johnston was later promoted to Brigadier and was killed by sniper fire, ironically on August 7th, 1917.
The first of 13 Victoria Crosses (VC) to NZEF soldiers in WW1 was awarded to Signals Cpl Cyril Bassett for laying and repairing those telephone lines that might have made such a difference had Johnston paid attention to what he was being told.
Since 1999 New Zealand has had its own awards scheme, and in 2003 an unsuccessful effort was made to get a retrospective VC (NZ) for Lt. Col. Malone. King George V had decreed in 1919 that there would be no further medals awarded for acts in WW1, and this was deemed to still stand, so instead a plaque bearing the text of the proposed citation was placed in the New Zealand Parliament building in Wellington.