Flashback: The Anzac hero who would not back down

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone in 1914-15
Alexander Turnbull Library reference 1/1-012824-G

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone in 1914-15

William Malone was loved and hated by his men and resented by many of his superiors. His enemies disliked him too.

After decades of blame for the loss of Chunuk Bair in one of the key battles of the Gallipoli campaign,  the Taranaki lieutenant colonel has been exonerated by the historians and is is set to go down in history as one of our greatest war heroes.

Malone was 55 when he led the Wellington Battalion of 1000 men from New Zealand in October,1914.

Military historian Jock Vennell is writing a book about Anzac hero Lieutenant Colonel William Malone.
Ross Giblin

Military historian Jock Vennell is writing a book about Anzac hero Lieutenant Colonel William Malone.

As a younger man he had been one of the 1500 men of the Armed Constabulary who had expelled Maori in 1883 from the village of Parihaka in Taranaki, where they were passively resisting European land occupation.

Training in the hot Egyptian desert, Malone led his men in full combat equipment on 30-kilometre marches.

"He was very hard on his troops, both in training and on Gallipoli," said Wellington military historian Jock Vennell,  who will soon release the first biography of Malone.

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, seated, and three officers from the Taranaki Volunteers in about 1911.
Alexander Turnbull Library reference 1/2-065624-G

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, seated, and three officers from the Taranaki Volunteers in about 1911.

"They hated him for it in the beginning, but on Gallipoli it showed results, and they eventually came to love him as a man who they could trust with their lives."

Malone was as hard on himself as he was on his men. He had trained rigorously for the war he knew was to come, restricting his diet, exercising daily, and moving from the marital bed to sleep "rough" on a camp stretcher.

He was already a fit man, his body toughened by 10 years of  clearing Taranaki bush for farmland.

He was highly disciplined, strong-minded, and a man of  "complete integrity", Vennell said.

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On the battlefield  he would not blindly follow what he considered foolish orders, and in the battle of Chunuk Bair of August 1915 he would directly refuse them.

Malone's own diary, spectacular in its detail, describes the day that would become known as Anzac Day.

Read an excerpt from Malone's diary

On a "lovely calm" spring morning, he and his Wellington Battalion sailed from Port Mudros on the island of Lemnos. From six miles out, the "furious fighting" ashore could be seen.

There was chaos on the beach at Anzac Cove as the Australians, who had landed first, were being slaughtered by the Turks.

It was late in the day that Malone led the first of his troops ashore as Turkish shrapnel rained around them and men, weighed down with rifles and heavy packs, clambered out of the boats and on to the beach.

"There didn't seem much organisation on the shore, in fact it was disorganisation," he wrote.

It was a scene of disorder and death. Over the coming days, Malone's men would be ordered from place to place as the commanding generals struggled to shore up the Anzac line against fierce Turkish counter-attacks.

It was on a Tuesday, two days after landing, that they found themselves at the top of a ridge where an Australian colonel was sending wave after wave of his men against dug-in Turkish troops.

Malone went forward and demanded to know why the colonel was squandering the lives of his men in what he thought were useless frontal attacks.

"He didn't know and knew nothing. Had no defensive position, no plan, nothing but a murderous notion that the only thing to do was to plunge troops out of the neck of the ridge into the jungle beyond."

Malone  refused to give the colonel any more of his men or extra supplies of ammunition – a brave move in a military environment where orders were simply obeyed.

Malone would eventually bring order to Walkers Ridge, a high and crucial point overlooking the beach and his men "fought like hell to hold it", Vennell said.

New Zealand, Australia, and Britain would lose thousands of men in the Anzac landing battles but – for now – Malone was not one of them.

There were to be more battles, including the Helles action in the south of the Gallipoli peninsula, where the Wellington Battalion lost 200 men in futile attacks on the Turkish line.

Then came two months in the hell of Quinn's Post. "Most men couldn't stand it for more than two to three days at a time," Vennell said.

"The Turks snipers and bombers were relentless. Bodies lay all over no man's land.

"Flies and rats infested the corpses and latrines, men fell sick in hundreds. It was hellish, but Malone held Quinn's Post together and turned it into one of the strongest positions in the Anzac line."

But it was the August Battle of Chunuk Bair,  immediately after the defence of Quinn's Post, in which Malone's leadership,  courage and personality were best shown, Vennell said.

The Allies were  by now deadlocked on Gallipoli, and a plan was hatched at Allied headquarters for a "breakout" attack along the Sari Bair range, which included high points such as Chunuk Bair.

It was a complicated operation made more dangerous by the fact Turkish commanders knew it was coming, even if they did not know exactly when or where. Multiple divisions would storm the ranges form different angles.

For Malone's Wellington Battalion – who were exhausted and "dangerously near breaking" after three months of fighting and heavy casualties – it was to be an ascent over steep and rugged country while other New Zealander troops,including the Maori contingent, approached from the flanks.

As well as being woefully unready, Malone feared: "We shall possibly mistake the Maoris for the Turks and the confusion in the dark will be terrible."

He was correct. It was dawn as Malone's battalion reached a shallow basin 300m below the crest of Chunuk Bair. He was ordered to push on even though daylight had come and all surprise had been lost.  Malone refused, opting to dig in and wait for darkness.

The brigade, however, was ordered to push on in full daylight and the Auckland Battalion was sent into the attack.

"With at least two Turkish battalions now defending the ridge, the result was a massacre," Vennell wrote.

"In less than 10 minutes, over 300 men were killed or wounded for the gain of just 100 metres of ground."

Malone and his Wellington Battalion were now ordered to continue the assault. Infantryman Charlie Clark would recall what happened next.

" 'Stop  where you are,' Colonel Malone told us. He was very stern and strong-faced. Malone told the British commanders, 'No, we are not taking orders from you people. Wellington is not going up there. My men are not going to commit suicide. I will take all the risk and any punishment. We will take Chunuk Bair tonight, in the dark, not in daylight'."

Malone was threatened with court-martial but refused to back down and – true to his word – he and his battalion advanced the the last few hundred metres to the summit before dawn.

Back at headquarters in Anzac Cove, telescopes were trained on the summit as New Zealand troops took the peak.

Malone decided not to push on as originally ordered but to dig in and hold on till reinforced.

"On Chunuk Bair, one of the most savage infantry battles of the war, was about to begin," Vennell wrote.

The Turks launched a series of brutal attacks, overrunning Malone's front trench, bayoneting the wounded or beating them to death with their rifles.

Reinforcements began to arrive but the New Zealanders and the British troops supporting them on the ridge were now being slaughtered by the guns of British warships in Anzac Cove and New Zealand artillery in position near Chunuk Bair.

Lieutenant Charles Lepper would remember: "They did more damage to us in half an hour than the Turks did all day. They killed out two trenches of our chaps, one on either side of the one I was in, and slapped up ever so many mounteds ..."

Malone sent a message to his headquarters on the ridge below Chunuk Bair to stop the shelling and to send more reinforcements. Both were granted and, that night, more men were sent up Chunuk Bair.

By now Malone's men had been pushed back into a shallow trench behind the crest. The Turks could now creep to within 20 metres of their line, fire at almost point blank range and drop grenades into the trench, Vennell wrote.

"Wounded men no longer able to hold a rifle loaded for those who could. Others crawled around filling their hats with cartridges from the pouches of the dead and wounded and taking water from their water bottles."

Still the Turks kept on, and still Malone fought alongside his men, rushing into the front line with rifle and bayonet, leading charges to push back each Turkish advance.

At about 5pm,  the shelling seemed to have ceased. Malone and others got ready to settle their troops in the best defensive positions for the night.

He and two of his officers stood up just as a shell,  from a British warship or a New Zealand artillery battery, exploded above their trench. One officer got a bullet in the mouth, the other was shot fatally through the lung, and Malone was hit twice in the head.

He died on Chunuk Bair, a hero to the men who had once hated him.

Weeks later, a letter, written on the eve of the assault, reached his wife Ida, who was now in England waiting to meet her husband when he came on leave.

"We are in for a big move and everything promises well.

"The attack starts tomorrow night. You will have heard about it long before you get this ... I do know all your feelings and I reciprocate them, but do not be sad ... My candle is all but burnt out and we shall be moving soon.

"So good night dearest one. Your lover and husband."

 - Stuff

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