Anzac is a time for us to reflect as a nation, here in Aotearoa New Zealand and in Australia. Lest we forget the courage and honour of our forefathers that fought at Gallipoli in the First World War.
Kia ora! I’m Brenda Tahi of Manawa Honey NZ and I would like to retell some of the history of the Anzacs at Gallipoli and share with you a little about my koro (grandfather) Bert Fairlie who was one of the New Zealand soldiers there. I will also touch on Anzac Biscuits – a tradition in our part of the world, and yes, made with our honey! So read on…
Our forefathers fought so bravely to take and hold key battle positions on the Gallipoli peninsula of Ottoman Turkey in in World War 1. As the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), they were part of an Allied campaign intended to secure the Dardanelles Strait to allow ships to pass through and capture Constantinople (now Istanbul). The ultimate aim was to knock Ottoman Turkey out of the war, in order to secure supply routes to Russian ports on the Black Sea, and advance the war effort on that Front.
The Allies had tried to storm the Dardanelles with a naval attack in March 1915 but this had failed, mainly through the Ottoman mobile artillery using the Gallipoli peninsula to take out the Allied minesweepers. In response, the Gallipoli campaign was designed to take out the Ottoman artillery so that another naval attack to secure Constantinople could successfully be forced up through the Dardanelles.
The Gallipoli invasion was the first major effort of New Zealand troops in the First World War. In October 1914 the Australian and New Zealand expeditionary forces had been bound for the Western Front. But in November, Ottoman Turkey entered the war against the Allies and so the New Zealand and Australian forces were dropped off in Egypt to complete their training and to bolster the British forces guarding the Suez Canal.
From there, it was decided by the British command to commit these forces to the Gallipoli campaign. New Zealanders and Australians made up nearly half of the total number of 75,000 troops that were readied as the Allied Forces for the Gallipoli invasion in April 1915. The rest of the force was from Great Britain and Ireland, France, India and Newfoundland.
And so, it was that our forefathers were amongst those dropped on the Gallipoli beaches at dawn on the 25th of April 1915…
You can only wonder what would have been in the minds of those soldiers as they landed on those beaches. The Allied strategists certainly thought that they could beat the Turks on land, but it took weeks to prepare for the expedition. These were critical weeks that the Turks used to set their defensive plan, assemble their soldiers and build roads to keep them well supplied. The Turks were much better prepared than the Allied forces had anticipated.
The diary of a New Zealand solider, George Bollinger, tells us some of what the Anzacs were thinking:
Sunday 25th April: The day is beautifully fine. We are steaming full speed, close to the southern shores of Gallipoli. What a day of days! … At present we are within a very few miles of our warships and transports… What a sight! Their big guns never cease, and as we see the flash and burst of the shells on land, we think thousands of Turks must be going under…. 
The Anzacs landed midway up the Gallipoli peninsula, 2 km north of their intended landing place. There, they encountered determined Ottoman Turk forces in the rugged hill country above the beach. The diary of George Bollinger tells us more:
Monday 26th April: The Australians were frightfully cut about effecting a landing yesterday. They say there are at least 6000 casualties…Two New Zealand battalions were in last night and got cut about. The Turks have overwhelming numbers and it is a perfect wonder how the Australians captured these heights. In landing as many as 49 were killed in one boat and a whole regiment was practically wiped out. The din and roar and whistle of the missiles is awful. As we sit here the ambulance are passing with wounded on the stretchers…
The Anzac forces were unable to make any significant advance, and then spent the next few days desperately holding onto their small beachhead. This place became home to the Anzacs for much of the year in front of them and it soon became known as Anzac Cove.
Tuesday 27th April: At daylight this morning a terrific artillery duel raged. The Turks put hundreds of shells onto our landing place…Word rushed down from above for (reinforcements) at the double, as our fellows were getting massacred. We threw off packs and forgot everything in that climb up the cliffs. We fixed bayonets on reaching top and got into it. The country is terribly hilly and covered with scrub from four to five feet high. On we rushed against a rain of bullets and our men began to drop over, before they fired a shot. We started to get mixed and were everywhere amongst the Australians. Our men were dropping in hundreds…
Elements of the early Gallipoli campaign for the Anzacs depended entirely on their resourcefulness and bravery. Some of the tactics of the Allied campaign and their execution have been criticised as shambolic. It all had disastrous consequences.
George Bollinger’s diary tells of the conditions that Anzac soldiers faced at Gallipoli, right from the beginning of the campaign:
Wednesday 28th April: We were relieved about 8 o’clock. Mostly our nerves were gone. We retired back and tried to rest: our casualties were very heavy. We manned the trenches again at 6 o’clock. No sleep and nothing to eat, just a craving for drink, and the wounded always empty our bottles. The Turkish trenches are now on a ridge about 200 yards away. Our warships are shelling them, but unfortunately have also accounted for a number of our casualties…
The Allies had hoped to take the peninsula fairly easily, but the Ottoman counter attack was well set up and effective in execution. The Anzacs were brought to a halt with just a hold in Anzac Cove, and many went to their death in their attempts to advance against the Turks.
Each side took on reinforcements in the ensuing months of battle, which ebbed and flowed. Both sides suffered huge casualties. The figures were horrifying. For example, on Chunuk Bair, although a New Zealand contingent of 760 men were heroic in taking that hill, 712 of them became casualties.
It was clear that after months of fighting that the grand plan of the Allies to quickly overwhelm the Turks had not succeeded. More soldiers were requested by the British command, and the fighting wore on, with the casualty number mounting.
In August 2015, the Allies made what would prove to be the last attempt to break the deadlock on Gallipoli. The men were already weakened by dysentery and months of inadequate nutrition, and the August offensive was too great a challenge for the troops, without more reinforcements. Like much of the rest of the plan for Gallipoli, it failed.
The political will for supporting ongoing effort at Gallipoli began to wane. No further support for the campaign was forthcoming and the British command for the Allied forces was changed. It was only then that it was finally decided that the Allied forces be evacuated in December 1915.
The decision to evacuate brought a mixed response from our fore-fathers at Gallipoli. They understood that that the position of the Allies was one of stalemate but evacuation had never been considered. After all, they had lost so many men, and fought so hard to get to where they were. For many it felt like cowardice. It was all very hard to understand.
But this was war, and the orders for evacuation were issued. The focus then became one of planning the exit to avoid the huge loss of life that could potentially come with such a move. A number of ruses were used to deceive the enemy, such as linesmen laying lines during the day but then rolling them up again at night. Or setting up guns to fire with a set-up activated by dripping water. Incredible ingenuity!
The evacuation of the Anzacs began on 15 December, and 36,000 troops were shipped out over four nights. Support troops and reserves went first, then the fighting units were thinned out until only 10,000 remained on 19 December.
Herbert (Bert) Vincent Fairlie, signaller attached to NZ Mounted Rifles, on his horse Ginger. Bert served as an Anzac at Gallipoli in World War One. (Credit: L M James – Fairlie Collection)
My grandfather Herbert (Bert) Fairlie was amongst the last to leave Gallipoli in the evacuation in December 1915.
He had embarked for the war with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Regiment in February 1915. Whilst in Egypt, he was attached to the Signal Troop for the Mounted Rifles and went to Gallipolli.
With what we have now for communication systems in our modern world, we find it hard to understand just how crucial signallers were during the First World War. They played a vital role taking orders to the front line and sending information back to command headquarters.
Signallers had a range of signalling tools, including flags and lights but on Gallipoli, with the Turks on the high ground, the main methods used were runners and telegraph lines that had to be laid out across battle grounds. It was dangerous work.
Signallers risked their lives laying out and repairing lines, and running messages to and from the front line. These runners used horses and bikes at speed to avoid fire. Many died and replacements had to be brought in, for the communication lines had to be serviced – the army operation could not do without it.
My grandfather was one of only three of the Signal Troop for the NZ Mounted Rifles left at Gallipoli on the last day of the evacuation. He along with all remaining Anzac troops were evacuated successfully that night, with the very last leaving about 4 o’clock in the following morning. My grandfather went on to further campaigns in the war, gained commissioned rank, and was mentioned in dispatches for gallantry.
He returned to New Zealand in 1919 and married my grandmother to start a family and to break in and farm ancestral land up the Awatere River near Te Araroa. He made a lifetime of cherished memories for our father and our family.
But what sticks in my mind is the image of him laying lines as a signaller and then rolling them up again as one of the last to leave Anzac Cove at Gallipoli, taking his signalling box with him.
I am frequently reminded in our office at Manawa Honey NZ, for we have his signalling box right here with us. I take it down once in a while to wonder about him, and to reflect, as I do now for Anzac Day 2021.
And then I’ll keep taking good care of it to pass on to the next generations of our family that descend from the Anzac in our family – our koro, Sergeant H V Fairlie.
I’m forever reminded of my grandfather Bert Fairlie by his signalling box which I hold for future generations of our family. Photo taken in the packing room, Manawa Honey NZ office, Ruatahuna.
The months at Gallipoli were terrible for all, with rations insufficient to keep the men in good health. From the outset things were tough as an excerpt from George Bollinger’s diary records: “Food for 24 hrs: 2 biscuits and some water.” 
It is said that the poor health and condition of the soldiers was one of the reasons for the failure of the August 1915 offensive. Moving and keeping food edible is a key issue for army logistics. Clearly, you cannot issue bread for an army on the move or caught in stalemate – it simply won’t last.
So instead, at Gallipoli, one of the main staples for the soldiers was the Anzac wafer or ‘tile’. This biscuit was quite unpalatable and was so hard, it was described by some as ‘bulletproof’.
The whole idea was that these biscuits would last, and indeed they did – some are even held still as war artefacts in museums today! But to make them edible back in World War One, the poor soldiers would have to resort to ways like grating them into water to make what they would call a ‘trench’ porridge!
Back home in New Zealand and Australia, wives and mothers of the Anzacs baked biscuits for galas and fetes to raise funds for supporting the war effort, and in romantic memory, to send to their men at war. The recipe needed to be one without eggs, so it could last long voyages and storage, and to be nutritous and tasty, bulky to beat hunger, and cheap to make in volumes.
The creative cooks in New Zealand and Australia went to work and over time, they came up with a recipe that delightfully brings together rolled oats and coconut into a sweet and crunchy, easy-to-make biscuit. So the classic Anzac Biscuit recipe was born.
These biscuits are classic favourites in New Zealand and Australia, and we gladly recommend them to the world. Make these to commemorate the Anzacs on Anzac Day. Here’s our Honey Anzac Biscuit recipe for you to make for the whanau, friends or an event on Anzac Day. We use Rewarewa Honey or Manuka Honey for our version of the Anzac Biscuit, to add their special goodness and taste!
Honey Anzac Biscuits: a special treat to commemorate Anzacs’ gallantry and effort at Gallipoli.
Come Anzac Day, we’ll be making these biscuits and reflecting too. Thinking of our forefathers – those who died and suffered in our nation’s name. Thinking of my grandfather, bravely setting up communication lines at Anzac Cove then being amongst the last to leave… Lest we forget!
What are your family’s memories of the Anzacs and how do you commemorate the events at Gallipoli in the First World War? Share your stories below…
Brenda Tahi, CEO, Manawa Honey NZ, April 2021