With the Lost Legion in New Zealand
Chapter IX — I Join the Troopers
I Join the Troopers
I was very kindly received by my brother officers on joining, all of whom were fine fellows, but sadly deficient in their knowledge of drill, so I had to turn to at once and knock them into shape.
Our duties chiefly consisted in patrolling, escorting strings of pack-horses or drays, where practicable, loaded with rations, etc., and despatch-riding, the latter a very arduous and dangerous work indeed, of which I shall say more anon, though of course we had to do our share of bush-whacking, when we discarded the breeches and boots for shawls.
The troopers were the perfection of irregular mounted men, being taken mostly from young colonial fellows who had been stock-riders, but there was a good leaven of broken-down gentlemen and remittance men, so, taking them altogether, they were a hard-riding, hard-fighting, hard-swearing and hard-drinking crowd.
You may have some difficulty in understanding why troopers should of necessity be hard swearers. Let me explain. The bad habit comes from driving pack-horses, most of which beasts of burden are mules, and pack-mules, like transport oxen, will not do their work without being comforted and encouraged by the most awful language, stock whips by themselves being useless; so even the page 152most religiously brought-up young men acquire this habit and stick to it.
It was in the beginning of July that Colonel McDonnell assumed supreme command and it was officially announced that the regular troops were to render no further service in the field, but were to evacuate the country at their earliest convenience.
We now therefore began to look out for sharp work, as our O.C. was not the man to let the fern sprout without doing something, and although it was winter, and bitterly cold, we knew that his theory of native warfare was to fight winter and summer, wet or fine, cold or hot, day or night, until the resistance of the Hau Haus should be overcome.
In this he was quite right, for although it entailed great hardships on us, with probably a heavy loss of men, still it would cause more loss to the enemy, as the fighting would be in their country. Their pahs and villages would be burnt, their food-supplies would be looted and destroyed, their women and children would have to starve in the bush, and they would also lose a lot of men. This they could not afford to do and we could; for, should we lose a hundred men in an engagement, we could enlist a hundred more, but should they lose a hundred they had no surplus stock from which to replace them.
The Colonel knew the Hau Haus well. He knew it must be war to the knife and that no peace was possible with mad fanatics whose one belief was to slay every white man and even all their own countrymen who refused to accept the absurd Pai Marire faith.page break page 153
There is no doubt that had the Colonel been allowed to carry out this policy the colony would have been spared at least two years of bloodshed and expense, but in every country where the Union Jack flies there is always a gang of rotters, peace-at-any-price men, nigger lovers, pro-Boers, pro anything, so long as it is against their own flag, and New Zealand, like all others, was cursed with such a mob.
However I had nothing to do with politics and was delighted when the Colonel, a few days after he had taken over the command, moved his headquarters and the bulk of the forces to Manawapou, some fifteen miles nearer our old battle-grounds.
Towards the end of the month the Colonel, escorted by a small party of troopers, rode to the Waingangora River, to interview We Hukanui, a neutral chief, so that he could ascertain through his medium whether the Hau Hau tribes wanted peace or war.
Of course we all knew peace was the last thing they desired, but according to Maori etiquette it was the correct thing to do, and the interview was both novel and entertaining.
As it was by no means certain what sort of a reception we were going to receive we advanced to the trysting - place, a kainga (open village), taking every precaution, and found some thirty Maoris squatting down in a semicircle, waiting for us. My first move was to leave two troopers, who were to remain mounted, as videttes, some hundred and fifty yards to our rear, so as to prevent any attempt to surprise us from that quarter, and this act received great praise from the Colonel, page 154who rode straight up to the squatting natives and dismounted.
After the customary salutations had been gone through many speeches were made and various proposals suggested, among them one, moved by We Hukanui, that the Colonel, alone and unarmed, should accompany him and call on the Hau Hau chiefs, was declined without discussion, as it was too risky even for our gallant O.C., the fate of the last Peace Commissioner who had called on them being of far too recent a date to make him risk the same end. (Note.—Mr Broughton, Chief Native Commissioner, had a few months previously, at their own request, visited the Hau Haus alone and unarmed for the purpose of discussing peace and had been foully murdered in the presence of the chiefs without being allowed to say a word.)
So the Colonel, as an amendment, handed the Rt.-Hon. We Hukanui a cartridge and a white handkerchief, directing him to convey them to the Hau Haus as symbols of war and peace. The chiefs were to choose which symbol they preferred, returning the other to the Colonel, who also sent them the polite message that should they choose the cartridge they would at once advise him when and where they would like the fight to take place. This ended the runanga and we rode back to camp.
On the following day a letter was brought in from the Hau Hau chiefs, requesting an interview, so again we rode out to meet them, taking this time only twelve troopers, though we left fifty Rangers in a very strong position on the bank of the Wain-gangora River.page 155
At the rendezvous we met several chiefs and a large number of their followers, whose absurd gesticulations, together with the gibberish they talked, pretending it was English, for they declared that the angel Gabriel had served them out with the gift of all tongues, excited the risibility of our men to such an extent we could scarcely restrain bursts of laughter, which would have been highly indecorous on such a grave occasion.
After the chiefs had made many speeches, in which they declared they wanted peace, the Colonel replied: "It is good. Bring all the chiefs to the Waingangora to-morrow; we will ratify peace there. If you do not come, I shall know you want war."
The following day we waited at the Waingangora, but no Hau Haus came; we were not disappointed, as none of us expected they would, and at night-fall we returned to camp.
Our O.C. now determined, as there was no chance of peace, to strike a rapid blow, so on the evening of the 1st of August he moved out of camp with a strong force to surprise the village of Pokaikai.
The night was a fine one, though the cold was so intense that it numbed our thin-clad men to the bone, while the stirrups and scabbards of us mounted men were quite thick with frost. Cold as it was we had to face it, and before daylight had reached our positions, halted and dismounted.
Shortly after we had halted Pierre and George came in with wonderful information, which was that they had crawled so close up to the Hau Hau pickets as to be able to overhear their conversation, page 156the tenor of which was that they, the Hau Haus, considering there was no possibility of being attacked on such a dreadfully cold night, had decided that bed was the best place for them, and so had taken themselves off to their virtuous, or otherwise, couches; also that the village was an open one, that they had penetrated into the middle of it, and that all the natives were asleep in the arms of Morpheus or their own various ladies.
This was a piece of unprecedented luck, nor was our O.C. the man to let such a chance slip, and the new orders he gave were excellent. He had at his disposal one company of military settlers armed with rifles and bayonets, the remainder of the outfit carrying carbines and revolvers, so this company he ordered to silently fix bayonets, enter the village and post themselves at the doors of the various whares (huts) so as to imprison the inmates. He also gave orders that on no account was a shot to be fired, as he now had great hopes of being able to surprise an adjacent village, hive its inhabitants in the same way, and so kill two birds with the one stone.
The movement was a plain and straightforward one, so simple, in fact, that no one doubted its successful termination, but, as Bobby Burns asserts, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often run crooked," and it was to be so on this occasion.
It has often been the lot of an unfortunate commander, after a long and harassing night's march, to have his well-thought-out plans utterly ruined by some crass idiot discharging his rifle, lighting his pipe, or committing some other wicked page 157act of folly or culpable clumsiness, and unfortunately the military settlers had in their ranks a half-baked rotter, whose nerves, getting overwound, let go a cheer just as the company was about to enter the village. The cheer was taken up by his comrades, which gave the alarm to the sleeping enemy, who rushed out of their huts and took to headlong flight.
As the whole show was now spoilt, the military settlers opened fire and charged, knocking over some of the fugitives, and bayoneting a few of the late starters, but the O.C. had to content himself with the meagre spoil of some dozen women, while, had it not been for the misconduct of the aforesaid infernal idiot, he would have scooped up all the principal Hau Hau chiefs and probably have ended the war: which shows what a tremendous lot of harm one fool can cause.
We had, however, made a valuable capture, and one that entailed great loss to the enemy—namely, some forty stand of rifles, together with a large supply of ammunition and other arms that fell into our hands. During this affair we lost only one man, and he was killed in rather a queer way.
At the end of the engagement one of the military settlers entered a whare for the purpose of bringing out a dead Hau Hau, and was still inside when a party of Rangers, who were searching the huts for any of the enemy possibly concealed, came up to it. Hearing someone inside the hut they demanded who was there, and received the answer: "A white man."
Now it was believed that the infamous deserter, page 158Kimball Bent, was with this gang of Hau Haus, and the men had all previously been cautioned to this effect, so that the Rangers fancied they had at last hived the scoundrel that every man had sworn should receive no quarter. Had poor Spain (the military settler) answered: "Friend," more questions would have been asked; but as he simply replied to the challenge, "A white man," the Rangers, convinced they had the villain in their clutches, fired on him, thereby shooting their own comrade.
By this time the loot had been collected and all the huts, with the exception of one, had been destroyed. (Note.—The principal reason for burning huts was to destroy the large quantities of powder or ammunition concealed in the thatch.) It was broad daylight, and as, thanks to the aforementioned fool, there was no further chance of doing anything, we returned to the camp at Manawapou where, I regret to state, Colonel McDonnell could not see his way clear to hanging the nervous ass who had spoilt our day's work.
I am not writing a history of the New Zealand wars, and it would be only wearisome for people nowadays to read of the forgotten, innumerable skirmishes, night marches and encounters, with their attendant hardships, the colonial irregulars went through.
For many years the district over which we then marched and fought has been the most fruitful one in New Zealand, where thousands of smiling homesteads now stand on the sites of our old bivouacs on which we shivered and starved and I often wonder if a single individual of the happy and page 159peaceful population who now occupy them ever give a thought to the bands of reckless ne'er-do-wells who, by the expenditure of their blood and health, rendered that land safe for their present occupants.
The British Empire has been largely built up by the same class of men, who have rolled out its frontiers farther and farther, and then held them against savage enemies in spite of deadly malaria, fever, starvation and horrible discomfort.
Would it therefore be an impertinent question for me to ask if any one of the yapping gas-bags in the home or the colonial Houses of Parliament has ever given a thought to the welfare of these rolling stones after they have been worn out by their unrequited work? However, it's no use asking silly questions, so let's return to our mutton.
The skirmish at Pokaikai put the fear of the Lord into the Hau Haus, the chiefs of whom were so fully cognisant of their narrow escape that for a long time they hardly dare sleep inside a whare, which the quick, continuous movements of McDonnell, who, unlike the regulars in the past, marched without pack-horses or impedimenta of any kind, did not allay. Our O.C. kept his own counsel, no one knowing when, where or how the next move was to be made, and many a night I have been roused out from under my blankets to start away on a bitter cold march for the purpose of beating up some congregation of Hau Haus.
Scouting and patrolling was also reduced to a science little dreamt of in British armies of to-day, so that the Maoris were kept ever on the qui vive; in fact the Colonel employed their own tactics page 160against them, and they did not like it, as village after village was attacked, stores of food were destroyed, till at last the Hau Haus became so harried that tribe after tribe weakened on it and gave in, until only two tribes remained in arms against us, and had the Government only had the sense to allow McDonnell a free hand, the war would have terminated in a few months. But it was not to be.
The first set-back our gallant commandant received was engineered by a worm called Parris, a man whom Sir Trevor Chute had ordered out of his camp, and this thing saw fit to invent and promulgate charges against the Colonel and his men for committing outrages and murdering women at Pokaikai, and a commission, consisting of Sir Cracroft Wilson, Colonel Cargill and Mr Graham inquired into the whole matter.
At this commission both Hau Haus and friendly natives were examined, and although Mr Graham did his best to help Parris to substantiate the latter's lies, it was all without avail, as every charge was ignominiously dismissed, the only foundation on which the mountain of falsehood had been raised being as follows:—
You must remember that it was dark when our men entered the village, and that on the alarm being prematurely given there was a general stampede of the natives. In the rush and dim light it is hard to tell man from woman, so one of the latter received a bayonet-thrust by mistake.
The wound was not a bad one, and after it had been dressed the Colonel interviewed her, offering to have her carried on a stretcher to hospital. page 161To this she objected, requesting instead to be left in a hut, asserting her friends would soon find her. This was done. She was made comfortable in a hut that was not burnt on her account, and we had not left the place an hour when her relations returned, so that at the time of the inquiry she was well and hearty.
History of course repeats itself, and the British House of Parliament is, at the present time, still disgraced by some of the foul liars who invented charges against the British troops in the Transvaal, and these treacherous hounds, posing as religious, honourable men, still have a big following in the country.
The same was the case in New Zealand, as Parris, who was commissioner for the district, was allowed still to retain his post, and did all in his power to thwart and hamper the Colonel, declaring the natives wished for peace, recommending the disbandment of the field force—in fact, played the part of a Little Englander with a Nonconformist conscience to perfection; and this man, owing to the criminal folly of the Government, was the cause of the discomfiture and defeat of the colonial forces.
To give you some idea of the folly the New Zealand Government perpetrated I must again digress.
In the House was a very strong peace party, mostly composed of members representing the Middle Island, in which there had been no war, and whose inhabitants begrudged paying the cost of the prolonged struggle, and whose desire to develop the resources of the colony made them page 162ardently long for peace, so much so that they gave ready credence to the reports of Parris, while they ignored those of McDonnell; and bitterly they were to rue it in the near future.
At the time the Colonel assumed command he had at his disposal an adequate field force of splendidly trained bush fighters who by continual warfare had not only learned their work but also to place the utmost confidence in their officers, their comrades and themselves. Alas, this was to end!
The major part of this force were military settlers who had contracted with the Government to serve for three years, their remuneration to be a grant of land, and it so fell out that at the very moment their services were most needed the time expired of one hundred and fifty of the very best men.
This placed the Government somewhat in a dilemma, as the Hau Haus were still in possession of the land that should have been surveyed, ready to parcel out to these fellows, and as this had not been done they could not keep their part of the contract. Still the men were quite willing to reengage, provided the Government would guarantee ten more acres of land per annum for each year they continued to serve. This was the most modest demand, and the Colonel permitted one of their officers to proceed to Wellington to lay the matter before the ministry, who not only refused to accede to it but treated the officer with quite undeserved insolence, going so far as to return the message that if the military settlers did not care to serve without another grant of land they could page 163leave the service, which they promptly did, in disgust, the majority of them making off to the southern goldfields, and the district, thanks to the insolent ignorance of a pack of lawyers and counter skippers, lost for ever the services of its best defenders.
Other corps had also been disbanded, and one fine day the Colonel, thanks to the besotted stupidity of the Government, found himself with only one hundred and sixty men, including officers, to hold a district and carry out a campaign—duties that a few months previous had found ample occupation for nearly four thousand men. Yet our gallant O.C. was not the man to be daunted. True he had not enough men to garrison the posts which the Hau Haus, now emboldened by our paucity of numbers, not only threatened with attack, but also theyambushed every road, attempting to cut off, and if successful cut up, our despatchriders and ration convoys. No; he would hit back, as he knew that passive resistance was no use in savage warfare, and although he had to withdraw nearly every man from all the posts to obtain a striking force, even then by no means an adequate one, still he did so.
Just previous to this headquarters had been moved forward to Waihe, where an old pah had been reconstructed into a small but strong fort, the building of which had been begun, carried on and completed under fire, so that we continually had to drop tools and take up arms to resist attacks.
At this time you might say we lived under fire, as all day long the natives fired at us from the bush, and it was now I played in the most extra-page 164ordinary cricket match that I think ever took place.
The game was inaugurated in honour of the completion of the work, and was Pigskin Polishers (troopers) v. Footsloggers (rangers), and was looked forward to with much excitement by both corps. Naturally the players were all out of practice, their dress far from accurate, and the pitch, well, damnable; but we turned to with élan, though to bat, bowl, or even field, belted as each man was with his revolver and fifty rounds of carbine ammunition, was very trying.
Moreover the side in the field had to pick up their carbines when they changed places at the call of "Over!" and the umpires held the batsmen's guns as in this country they sometimes hold their coats. In fact the whole get-up was outré in the extreme, and I fear ordinary spectators of English cricket would not have been highly gratified unless they had regarded it as a charity burlesque.
Now the main bush, in which the gay and festive Hau Hau lived and gambolled, was about one thousand yards away from the fort, but there were big patches of bush up to within four hundred yards of it, and any amount of manuka and fern scrub, that afforded good cover to an enemy wishing to pass from one to the other of these patches, so that, notwithstanding all our vigilance, scouts, or even considerable numbers of Hau Haus, could get quite close up to the stockade.
Well, the game commenced, and of course attracted the attention of the gentle savage. Word was quickly passed into the recesses of the bush that the white man was up to some new and page 165inexplicable devilment, so before long we had a highly interested if not appreciative gallery, who, emerging from the bush, squatted down, and for a time behaved itself with decorum.
To this we did not object, and had they continued to behave they might have remained there to the end, but perhaps they were over-critical, and the play, as I have already stated, not being first class, they may have considered they were entitled to show their disapproval of it.
Now we could have made allowances for their ignorance or their want of appreciation, although they were self-invited and had paid no gate money, even should they have gone so far as to hiss, but I maintain that paying spectators should restrain themselves from heaving at the players such things as dead cats, antiquated eggs, or ginger-beer bottles, but when it comes to expressing dissatisfaction with tuparas (double-barrelled guns) and Enfield rifles it is high time for the performers to skip or clear the ground.
Now the play was not good, that I allow, and also it is very doubtful what the Hau Haus thought had occasioned this entertainment and extravagant display of energy on the part of the hated white man. As most of them had been Christians they knew it was not a religious ceremony, neither was it a war-dance, white men not being civilised up to the merits of the war-dance. Perhaps they put it down to witchcraft, or some sort of an extra insulting challenge issued by men who had just built a pah in spite of the lavish expenditure of powder they had seen fit to waste in their attempts to obstruct its completion.page 166
Anyhow it was something important, or wherefore those cheers and hand-clapping from the other white men who lined the parapet or reclined on the ground, and as such must be counteracted.
First of all they danced a war-dance, and as no attention was paid to that they proceeded to take more active measures.
In the meantime the game had been progressing steadily. The troopers had had their first innings and had scored one hundred runs and the rangers had scored ninety with the loss of nine wickets.
The excitement was intense, "Well bowled," "Well hit," "Oh, well fielded" being howled by the enraptured lookers-on after every delivery, while ribald chaff, banter and badinage were being exchanged by troopers and rangers that would have shocked the spectators of a modern test match.
The last hope of the Footsloggers was a leviathan sergeant, an old Varsity blue, but his partner was a very fragile reed, who only required one straight ball to finish.
Could the sergeant keep the bowling to himself? That was the question, and men hugged themselves with excitement. He has it now, and the fielders retire farther out. By gad! he gets a loose one, and opening his shoulders he smacks it over Long-on's head. Big as the hit is he will only get three or perhaps four for it, as on that tussocky ground where a ball pitches there it stops, and Long-on is far out. Still the hit is a big one and is cheered by his delighted friends. "Well hit," "Oh, well hit," "Run it out," "Oh, run it out." Nor are the troopers behindhand with their shouts. page 167"Double up, oh, double up," "Sling it in, oh, sling it in," as Long-on has turned and, weighed down by revolver and ammunition pouches, darts after the leather sphere. Yes, there it is lying on that bit of open ground less than a hundred yards from that patch of scrub. Spurred on by the wild turmoil of shouts—"Oh, hurry up; for God's sake hurry up," "Chuck her in now—smart," "There, run three, run it out; allow one for the throw," etc., etc.—he rushes at the ball.
But what's the matter? Of a sudden the wild yells terminate into the pious ejaculation of "Oh, hell!" while the eager fielder throws himself on his nose, hunting cover, and drawing his revolver lets go the agonising shout of "Lost ball!"
Well this is what the matter was. As the questing fielder rushes to secure the ball that lies in full view in front of him and throw it in, out of that patch of manuka scrub darts several spurts of flame and smoke, and a number of balls of a different nature whistle round his head, and I ask you present-day cricketers which of you would have cared to have fielded that ball and slung it in to the expectant wicket-keeper? Or would you have hunted cover and howled, "Lost ball!" as that Pigskin Polisher did?
"Damn such interruptions," shouts the umpire, who was the Colonel at that; "drive the beggars off the field." And in a moment batsmen, fielders, umpires, scorers and onlookers grab their weapons and charge that patch of manuka scrub. We reach and tear through it just in time to see a party of Hau Haus disappear into a clump of bush some way farther off, then, laughing and cussing, return page 168to our game as the friendly natives good-naturedly offer to keep the ground for us.
The continuation of the game evidently mortified the Hau Haus, for they lined the four-hundred-yard bush and fired volleys at us. Did we allow them to stop the game? Not a bit of it. It was far too important a one to allow a gang of measly Hau Haus to interfere with, for was not that night grog night? And had not every trooper wagered his tot in backing his side? And had not every ranger done the same? Stop play; indeed no! They would play it out to the bitter end. So the game went on.
Now it is rather trying to most men to stand up against fast, erratic bowling on a more than bumpy pitch, but should the batsman's attention be distracted while watching the ball by the whistle of an Enfield bullet past his nose, or by seeing the pitch torn up by a similar missile, it becomes too exciting for anyone.
Again, it is rather conducive to wild bowling for a bowler to have to submit to the same ordeal preparatory to his delivering a ball, nor can even an umpire give the amount of attention the game requires to his important functions when half his time has to be devoted to dodging ricochets. So that the Colonel, a sportsman to his finger-tips, ordered all the available men not playing to assist the friendly natives in keeping order in the free seats. This they did, though not without a smart skirmish, which ended in the rowdy interrupters being driven off the field with the loss of several men, which served them right for trying to interfere with sport.page 169
This well-merited chastisement did not, however, satisfy the contumacious bounders, for they took post in the big bush and continued to lob bullets at us from the distance of a thousand yards, but of these we took no notice, for although now and again a bullet would announce itself with an angry hum, or drop nearly plump into the ground, yet they afforded a man a good excuse should he butter a catch or make a duck. Anyhow we played the match out, and I am delighted to say the troopers won by the narrow margin of seven runs, although I regret to add I contributed but little towards the winning score.