From Gallipoli: Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers with his medals and memories.
Fred Rogers with his medals and memories.

Fred Rogers, of Invercargill, fought at Gallipoli in the 8th (Southland) Company of the Otago Infantry Battalion. This account, from an interview many years later, is from the vaults of The Southland Times.

Fred Rogers makes a gentlemanly apology for the tremor in his voice when he talks about the Gallipoli landing.

"I'm sentimental as a rule, and tears are pretty near to my eyes, often, when I'm talking about it. But when you were there you just had to face it."

He and his Otago battalion mates were taken to the Gallipoli Peninsula on the vessel Annaberg; a journey that left them liberally infected with lice.

They hit the shore on lifeboats in about five feet of water.

He saw his first man shot before making shore. Then men rolling back down the hills and ravines that rose up from the narrow beach, some holding injuries as they tumbled. "It's pretty tough up there," he said to one.

"You're wanted up there mate," came the reply.

Dead and wounded lay around him. It was a nice fine day.

Turkish fire claimed 15 men from Rogers' company. That night, he buried his first man, Alex Black, from his own platoon.

From April 27 to May 2 they set up at Otago Gully then Shrapnel Gully.

In the twilight, going up the gully when rain had fallen, they saw puddleholes created by the hooves of Murphy's donkey, taking the wounded down to the beach. They hadn't had water for days, so strained some into their dixies.

In the gathering dark, they came to the foot of Pope's Hill, fixed bayonets, and climbed the rope to the top of the steep bank, then advanced, a few metres at a time, under heavy rifle fire and shrapnel.

"We were glad to take cover behind the Turks who had been killed since the landing. They were swollen up. I can still smell them."

Only three from his section were left and they had advanced further than anyone else.

"As morning broke, I spotted a Turk firing at Tommy Vincent from behind a thyme bush . . . Tommy bobbed up and was killed. I put three rounds rapid fire into the bush where the Turk was and all was quiet."

A shot from the exposed flank caught one of Rogers' two companions in the back. The other, Peter Fraser, stayed there to look after him while Rogers ran back, bullets flying in the dust around him, to seek help.

He flung himself into a shallow, crowded trench, packed so tight that someone had to get out again. He'd arrived last, so out he went.

The call came back from Fraser: what would he do with the injured man? Rogers called back to take his personal effects and leave him.

There was a slight pause.

"I can't, Fred. They're all covered in blood."

What family would want those back? Then they were under heavy fire, not only from both sides, but also - maddeningly - from the water.

"Our own destroyers were lobbing shells among us. They must have thought we were Turks. We were so far advanced."

A piece of shell hit Rogers in the ankle. Now he was lame.

Distressingly, he saw a grenade take down Peter Fraser and the injured Captain Fleming, whom Fraser had been helping back to the medics.

(Mercifully, both survived, though Fleming caught some fragments in his eyes.)

On landing he was made a sergeant.

There had been 56 in his platoon. Now there were 16.

The history books say that on May 8 the New Zealand Infantry Brigade attacked entrenched Turkish positions in daylight, that the action failed, and the brigade suffered 835 casualties, bringing the toll for the first 14 days on the peninsula to more than 2000.

Rogers remembers that up on high ground the troops came across an open area, which they gave the cheery name the Daisy Patch, because of the flowers covering most of it.

Then they moved forward in artillery formation.

"I can still see section after section . . . mown down like a reaper mowing down hay."

He was in a group that made it to a spot where a house had once stood. The chimney was still standing and thyme bushes were all around.

Ahead of him, Stan Strang was shot through the lung. A quiet joker, that one, but a ready volunteer when jobs came up.

Rogers ran out and dragged him back by his arm to the chimney, where an Auckland officer - "a chap named Andrews, a one- pipper" - came up.

"I'll give you a tip how to make him comfortable," he said, standing up over the wounded soldier, just high enough to be shot dead himself.

The charge was ordered and the troops waded through the scrub, while the higher-placed Turks fired down on them.

No good. They had to retreat.

Back at the chimney, Strang was hanging on. Downhill a ways was a well, but those who had tried to reach it had been hit.

Rogers had a good view from where he was and decided to have a go. He buttoned a small kerosene tin into his tunic and bolted. "Bullets went everywhere. I reached down and got my tinful, but was frightened to get going again because they knew I was there. I waited a while and visualised how I'd go . . . this way and that way."

He made it, and was able to give Strang a cup of Bovril. A comfort, at least, before he died on a stretcher.

In 1990, Sergeant-Major Fred Rogers, of 8th (Southland) Company, returned to Gallipoli for 75th anniversary celebrations. He broke ranks and gave an unscheduled speech. Apparently, it was pretty good.


The Southland Times