“After dark we were marched most of a mile toward Suvla Bay and then inland. We were told to be very quiet, not to rattle our equipment or rifles. We didn’t know how near or far the Turks were. We just knew where Chunuk Bair was. All of a sudden, in the dark, there was a very merry Haka from the Maori contingent on the seaward side of the valley up which we were travelling. My word, it startled us. Then rifles began to bang. The Maoris, it turned out, were dealing with a Turk outpost. Word came down to us that it was all right, the Turks had been wiped out, and we could proceed uphill, up a rough track leading from the sea toward Chunuk Bair” Dan CURHAM, Wellington Infantry Battalion.
For the majority of Australians, the term ‘ANZAC ‘ is one which is held in very high regard – with a mixture of honour and pride. However our nation often forgets; perhaps even ‘overlooks’ the stark fact that this term is a shared one. For without the existence and contribution of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force during the First World War – the term ANZAC would simply never have come into existence.
And it was the above mentioned account which I read many years ago; given by a New Zealand veteran, which sparked my interest in the role played by the N.Z.E.F at Gallipoli. Despite the fate of the poor Turkish soldiers; I could not help but delight in the thought of these Maoris breaking out into a spontaneous Haka – after they drew their first blood. So much for the order to remain ‘silent’ and advance with stealth! Indeed, before reading a book written by Maurice SHADBOLT called “Voices Of Gallipoli” – I too was subconsciously guilty of the belief, that the term ANZAC belonged to us Australians.
I have visited Gallipoli on a number of occasions. However it was during my last visit in 2005 that I happened upon a very lonely little relic which caught my eye – as I walked between the features known as ‘The Apex’ and ‘The Pinnacle’ on my way up to Chunuk Bair. A road had been freshly graded between these two iconic points; and it must have been a combination of the shape and the colour of the item which drew my attention as I walked along.
I had seen many examples of Australian military buttons during my years of collecting memorabilia. I was also familiar with the style of the British Pattern 1902 tunic and the manner in which buttons were applied. So the shape of a metal retaining ‘ring’ attached to a disc like object – immediately identified this object to be a military style button. However, on this lonely stretch of dirt road (clearly never walked or visited by the general tourist market) there was absolutely no other hint or indication that this stretch of ground had once been sewn with the lives of New Zealand’s young men.
IMAGE LEFT: A studio portrait of 40526 Private Joseph Luke DODD of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Whilst Private DODD was not a Gallipoli veteran, this image clearly shows the British style 1907 Pattern Tunic and the smaller 5/8th (five eights) inch sized buttons which secure the pocket flaps and epaulettes.
An attempt to gain the high ground by New Zealanders began with the August offensive. It was these heights which were the target of Dan CURHAM and his comrades from the Wellington Infantry Battalion on the evening of the 6th of August, 1915. But it was not only the Wellingtons who would shed their blood in a bid to win these heights. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles along with 500 men of the Maori Contingent had been given the initial task of clearing the many gullies and foothills below Chunuk Bair. The Auckland Infantry Battalion were then ordered forward on the morning of the 7th, to capture the peak of Chunuk Bair; where their numbers were virtually cut in half by Turkish Machinegun fire. The following morning, it was the Wellington’s turn to charge forward. Led Lt. Colonel William Malone, they captured the height and had their first glimpse of the Narrows. What later followed was an epic fight for their lives. Before Chunuk Bair would be totally lost, the Otago Infantry Battalion and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles would also have their men sacrificed, before being relieved on the 9th of August by two British Battalions. They never regained the heights of Chunuk Bair, but would hold a line across ‘The Apex’ right up until 2.15am on the 20th of December, when the position was totally evacuated.
During the reminder of the campaign, the Canterbury’s would be just one of many units within the N.Z.E.F who would take their turn in garrisoning this position. So when you consider that this relic button was once part of a soldier’s uniform, ascertaining for certain – exactly which unit the owner came from is virtually impossible. However, judging from it’s position on the ground between ‘The Apex’ and ‘The Pinnacle’ – it may be speculated that the owner of this button may have fallen during the fighting between 6th and 9th of August.
IMAGE RIGHT: The relic button, alongside two ‘serviceable’ buttons for comparison. When placed side by side with these two examples, there can be absolutely no doubt as to the identification of this relic as being a button from a N.Z.E.F tunic.
Like most other British Commonwealth uniform, the 1902 Pattern S.D. (Service Dress) tunic utilised two different sized buttons. The front of the tunic (as can be seen in the photograph above) was fastened by way of five (5) buttons which were 1″ (one inch) in diameter. The four pockets on the outside of the tunic were fastened by way of the 5/8″ (five eights of an inch) diameter buttons which are subject of this story. However, the New Zealand issued tunics differed slightly – in that the centre-line buttons measured 7/8″ (seven eights of an inch) in diameter.
IMAGE LEFT: The reverse side of the relic placed alongside two buttons in serviceable condition. These buttons bear the script “New Zealand Forces” and the stars of the Southern Cross. The button eyelet and retaining ring used to secure the button to the uniform, can easily be seen.
The 1902 Pattern Tunic evolved with slight modifications, into the 1907 Pattern Tunic and it is generally this pattern of Service Dress which fitted out the N.Z.E.F. For all intents and purposes, the 1907 Pattern Tunic was basically the same style of tunic used by the British Army, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and the Canadian Expeditionary Force (with only a few minor manufacturing differences and nation specific buttons).
The fact that this particular relic, was located with the ‘retaining ring’ still attached – leads me to believe that this button may in fact be the type which secured the flap of a pocket. I base this on the premise that the cuff consists of a ‘straight’ sleeve (unlike Australian tunics which had a button up cuff) and did not require a cuff button. I have also been led to believe that the epaulette button was in fact stitched onto the shoulder portion of the tunic; subsequently they did not require a retaining ring. However, I would be keen to hear from any collector who actually has a tunic of this pattern in their collection – to confirm or deny this. There were no shards of cloth evident with the button, however considering that this relic was exposed to the elements and not buried in mud or dirt – this is not surprising.
IMAGE RIGHT: One Commonwealth – but three different button types. From left to right:- Australian button (showing the relief map of Australia with a Crown and the words ‘Australian Military Forces’ embossed around the periphery) British button (showing the Royal Crest flanked by an image of a Lion on the left and Unicorn on the right) and the New Zealand button (showing the stars of the Southern Cross and the words ‘New Zealand Forces’) Whilst the British button is only slightly larger – the other two buttons are five eights of an inch in diameter. At the time of posting this article, I did not have access to a Canadian Expeditionary Force button and would welcome any contribution.
The fact of the matter is….a pocket button would be “missed” by it’s owner. A breast pocket especially, is likely to be the pocket where a recent letter or a photograph of one’s family would be kept. We have all heard the tale of a man placing a bible or shaving mirror in his breast pocket and this item actually succeeding in “stopping a bullet”. To lose a button, would be to risk losing what was contained in that pocket. And whilst my above comments are merely conjecture, you can be assured that a soldier would not wish to lose any object which he holds dear.
But I am afraid that this particular button was found on a piece of land which the New Zealanders only possessed for about 3 days. Before it became “No Man’s Land” between ‘The Apex’ and ‘The Pinnacle’. One may draw the sad conclusion that it’s owner lost something more valuable on that day than a button… or the contents of a pocket. With the retaining ring in place, it is likely that the woollen uniform simply rotted away – leaving the button in situ. And with the historic accounts of bloated bodies laying out in the August heat of 1915; it is heartbreaking to think of a lad, so far from home – being left out in the hot sun to decay…because his mates could not get to him.
Only one Victoria Cross was awarded to a New Zealander on Gallipoli. When Divisional Signaller, Corporal Cyril BASSETT spoke about his action at Chunuk Bair and the awarding of his prestigious medal – he protested “All my mates ever got were wooden crosses”.
When Leon Gellert wrote the following verse: he was not writing about Australians – nor was he writing about New Zealanders…….he was writing about ANZACS.
There’s a lonely stretch of hillocks,
There’s a beach asleep and dream,
There’s a battered, broken fort beside the sea.
There are sunken trampled graves
There’s a little rotting pier
And winding paths, that wind unceasingly.
There’s a torn and silent valley
There’s a tiny rivulet
With some blood upon the stones beside it’s mouth
There are lines of buried bones,
There’s an unpaid waiting debt,
There’s the sound of gentle sobbing in the south.
Wish to learn more about New Zealand in the World Wars or speak to some like minded kiwis ? If so, please visit the MILITARIANZ website by Clicking Here