Monday, October 14, 2013

A letter from Charles Patrick McMahon - Portage Pass Memorial


Following are extracts from a letter received by his relatives from Trooper Charles McMahon, who left New Zealand with the Mounted Rifles of the Main Body, and who left Egypt with the Mounteds on May 5th. The letter is dated June 29th, and is written after seven weeks of warfare: 

"It was hard for us to leave our horses behind, but we are told we shall get them when we reach country suitable for horsemen. We spend our time in digging ourselves in and trying to get a shot at the enemy. We dig to get at them, and they dig to get at us. We are entrenched on the side of a hill, and in some places we are only 15 yards from the Turks, and not more than 30. We have made the place safer since we have been here, and the casualties are one-sixth of what they were.  Roads are coming, scrub is going, and the dug-outs, our places of refuge from the bombs, are not bad. 

"I shall never forget in a hurry the sinking of the Triumph. We were on a hill, and saw everything from the time the Germans torpedoed her until she sank. A noise like a distant gun, a cloud of smoke and water rising in the air, but not very high she went on her side, remained a few minutes, then slowly turned over till you could almost see her keel, and sank. I don't know what we should have done without the warships; we could not have landed or remained very long when we did if it had not been for them.  Now when the Turks are wanted to get a 'move on' a couple of broadsides does it. 

"Several of the boys from there – I mean Picton and Havelock—have been wounded or killed. Dalton, Taylor (from Koromiko), Sergt. Boden, and Sergt. Patterson were killed alongside me. The first fight we were in poor ‘Dick' Boden, 'Col.' Patterson, 'Bob' Anderson, a Nelson fellow and I were on guard on top of a hill like the point near Portage that we call the peninsula, but not so big. A party of Turks attacked us, and we killed 18 and wounded two, luckily for us they were poor rifle shots. It was on the same hill later on that Boden and Patterson were to fall. They were fine fellows, and I thought a lot of them. On the other side of the hill the rest of our troop with the gun section killed dozens. The ground was covered with dead Turks, so they asked for an armistice to bury their dead; and yet at the end of another two days about 1500 Turks were dead in front of our trenches.  Poor 'Col.' Patterson was wounded one evening just before we were relieved by another squadron. I stayed out on the hill with him till twelve o'clock, when Father Dore came with two stretcher-bearers. Poor fellow! He died half an hour after we got him into camp. 

I often long for a junck, not a slice, of cake, and when eating bully beef and biscuits I think how I would enjoy fruit pie and cream. 

"Bates has been ill and is sent to the base.  Hume has been sick this last week. (Tpr. P. C. Hume has since been sent to Malta). I am with the Morrison boys and Sergt. Major Pigou, and you would laugh if you saw the way the lot of us scamper to our dug-outs' when the shrapnel comes! We do burrow into the ground, but you can't blame us in trying to save our skins." 
[Word was received by his relatives on Saturday that Trooper McMahon had been killed in action] 
The letter above was sent by Trooper Charles McMahon to his family from Gallipoli and printed in the Marlborough Express on 30 August 1915. The discovery of a letter written by a soldier who is on a memorial is always a great find such letters give us all a real insight into the conditions and lives of those fighting at the front.  In his letter Trooper McMahon mentions his fellow soldiers and pals who have died at the front.  In war death often becomes part of a macabre normality for those there however it would have taken a toll both emotionally and physically on those who continued to survive.  Sadly Trooper McMahon lost his life on Gallipoli on the 6/7 August 1915 unable to 'save his skin' as he puts it in the letter above.  He is remembered on the Chunuk Bair (New Zealand) Memorial, Chunuk Bair Cemetery, Gallipoli.   Below is an extract from a letter received by Trooper McMahon's mother which recounts her sons death.

  Marlborough Express, Volume XLIX, Issue 262, 5 November 1915, Page 5

I have decided to write about each of the soldier's mentioned in the letter in my next few blogs.

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