Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maoris in the Great War


page 88

On August 12th, orders came for the New Zealand Division to move to Blaringhem area to rest prior to a move south, presumably for active operations. The Pioneers were alloted to the 3rd Brigade group for the transfer. The Division was being relieved by the 51st (Highland Division), and the Maoris' ground was to be taken up by the 5th Battalion, Royal Scots (Pioneers).

On the 14th, the Battalion with other troops marched to Steenwerck, six miles, and entrained for E'taple, where the Pioneers detrained and found billets waiting, in a very clean little village, surrounded by rich farming land all in crop. Some days were spent here, a pleasant relief from the trench work under shell-fire. Captain Ennis took over the position of Adjutant vice Captain Cooper, evacuated sick from Armentieres.

On the 19th, orders were received to move to the region of the Lower Somme, near Abbeville. Next day the Battalion marched to St. Omer, and there entrained for Longpre, and the Somme. From Longpre the route was an easy march to Hallen-court, where good billets had been made ready. A syllabus of training was laid out, to cover six days, but was not finished, as there was another move in a few days to Fricourt cross-roads. Here the Battalion was about five miles behind the front line, but there were big guns all round and there was the continual roar of artillery battle. The Germans were very busy shelling Fricourt Wood, just in front of the Pioneers' position. The traffic on the roads was continuous. There was a continual stream of all kinds of vehicles passing all the time and the never-ceasing procession of infantry and guns.

“I don't care for the position of our bivouac very much,” Lieut.-Col. King wrote in his diary, “as it is on the forward slope of a hill running north to Ancre Brook and alongside cross-roads, which seem pretty sure to be shelled sooner or later.”

page 89

The Pioneers were not long in commencing trench and dugout work. The allotted ground was in Delville Wood, where old trenches were cleared up. The trenches were in a very bad state and mud was everywhere. The road to Montauban was particularly bad. The roads and trenches were under heavy shell-fire and there was much gas from exploding shells, mostly lachrymatory.

On the 31st, one man was killed and five wounded and a sergeant and three men were gassed. Nearly everyone was affected by the tear shells which, as an officer expressed it, “were a damn nuisance, but otherwise pretty futile.” About seven o'clock that evening, the Germans shelled the cross-roads beside the camp. There were no casualties, but the O.C. decided to move camp next day to a more comfortable spot.

Various details of trench and road work occupied the force at Fricourt for some days. A number of the men in A Company were feeling the effects of gas, and on September 2nd, Sergeant Duff died of gas poisoning. On the same day Pte. Barton was killed and one man was wounded by a bomb. This occurred when the Corps was sent to fresh ground just west of Fricourt Circus. The C.O. and Company Commanders laid out the lines for new communication trenches, French and Turk Lanes, from Montauban to the front line between High Wood and Delville Wood. There was very heavy fire from our guns (the Australian heavy howitzer battery included) all the afternoon, but not much return fire.

On September 3rd A, B, and C Companies each worked one shift on Turk Lane. DCompany worked one shift on dug-outs for themselves on the ridge behind High Wood. There was very heavy fighting this day all along the front from French Right trench past Bezantin Le Petit. The British flammenwerfen was in action in High Wood, and the C.O. remarked in his diary that he “would not like to be at the wrong end of it.” Huge volumes of flame at least 100 feet long and 50 feet high, tore through the wood and must have had a terrible effect on the garrison of the German trenches. Many German prisoners passed through the camp during the evening. At ten o'clock that night, all the companies started on Turk Lane, and full shifts were worked, each platoon being away from page 90 camp for 10 hours. Work on Turk Lane went on well for some days, the men digging into it in good style. There was very heavy firing at times towards Pozierés and Givinchy. On September 8th, General Russell came up to see the Battalion's work and expressed his appreciation and that of the Commander of the 15th Corps of what had been done. On the 9th, all the companies were engaged in cleaning up and “duck-walking” Turk Lane, which was now fit for traffic from Montauban Alley to Black Watch Trench, and duckwalks had been constructed to the bottom of Devil's Valley, the junction of Turk and St. George Lanes. No work was done after noon on the 9th, owing to an attack by our British left flank Division on High Wood and Wood Lane. The C.O. and Major Buck went up and watched the attack from Pommiers Redoubt but could not see much, owing to the smoke and dust of the bombardment. The attackers took Wood Lane and held it, but the attack on High Wood was only partly successful; the Germans still held the N.E. corner, where Great Trench starts from. The camp, near the transport lines, was shelled at about 4 p.m., from the direction of Martinpuich, and three men were killed and nine wounded. A horse and a mule were killed and a G.S. waggon was smashed. This damage was caused by the explosion of one shell. Major Buck, describing his observations of the British attack, which was preceded by severe bombardment, wrote:—“We were sitting near a Brigade H.Q., and it was interesting to see an aeroplane fly low over it sounding a horn to attract attention and then dropping a message with a red, white and blue streamer on it. We also saw one of our' planes come circling down slowly and (then) precipitately with a little flicker of light noticeable. She struck the hillside rather suddenly on the opposite side from us and burst at once into flames. There were two German' planes up a little while before, but whether they were responsible I do not know.”

Twenty reinforcements arrived in camp on September 8th, all for the Maori companies. They included some Samoans.

Orders came through on the night of the 10th, that work could be recommenced after midnight, so Major Buck went out with Lieuts. H. Dansey and Kaa, and set various jobs in page 91 hand. A deep dug-out for Brigade H.Q., 20 feet below ground, was finished by D Company, assisted by R.E. miners. Several shells were put on Turk Lane, and there were fears of gas at times. The platoons came off work at 8 a.m. (Sunday, the 10th). One man was killed by H.E.. General Russell went round with Colonel King and the R.E. officer and it was decided to take Turk Lane trench forward to Wood Lane, and the position of assembly trenches for the coming attack was also fixed. This day the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade took over the trenches on Bezantin Ridge, and the 2nd Brigade moved up to Fricourt and Mametz Wood.

On September 11th, the Battalion moved up and dug-in east of Pommiers Redoubt, so as to be nearer the work. One platoon from each company was still employed on Turk Lane, making it six feet deep through from Black Watch Trench to Worcester Trench. This day 2nd. Lieut. D. Bruce arrived from the base with forty reinforcements, mostly Maoris. Entry in Major Buck's diary: “Went on to end of Turk Lane into Black Watch Trench and found the work D Company had been shelled out of. Put men on work and explored down trench to the right, the previous front line. Dead men, Germans and English, everywhere in the trench, in the sides of the trench and about in the open, unburied,, and smell fearful. Our artillery started putting in to the German front line stuff like shrapnel but which sprayed out fire like fireworks; it seemed like liquid fire. Fritz sent up distress rockets and the Germans started sending over heavy H.E. We hurried back to our men, who were fairly deep. They went on working, and the bombardment ceased without our men being hit. Captain Harris and I explored to the left and decided on trench to follow on. Everyone thinks highly of our trench, Turk Lane. Got home at 2 a.m.”

Next afternoon (September 12th) the C.O. and Majors Saxby and Buck went up and laid off work in advance of Wood Lane ready for the advance, also the line of an assembly trench from Tea Trench to Coffee Lane, which A Company was to dig that night. Heavy shelling started, and hung up the work for about an hour, causing several slight casualties in the 3rd Brigade trenches. The country between Black Watch Trench page 92 and the German front line (Great Trench) was in what the C.O. described as “an awful state.” The shell craters were so thick that they overlapped one another, and there were men of both sides lying unburied all over the place. Some had been dead since the British cavalry first took High Wood in July.

“The trenches,” wrote Colonel King, “are nothing but a wreck, and no one seems to consider it his job to clean them up. Truly the British are a wonderful people. They would rather sit in a busted trench and get shot than do a little work on the end of a pick and shovel. The 3rd Brigade are digging new trenches to live in, which will serve as assembly trenches for the advance.”

Of that day's experience under shell-fire, Major Buck wrote:—“While we were looking round the Germans started heavy bombardment with H.E. Saxby and I got into a little bit of old trench about three feet deep and hung it out. It lasted about an hour. The Colonel was over on the left, also in for a hot time. All heartily pleased when it stopped—the severest thing I have experienced and not at all pleasant. Glad to get out…. In the evening we saw some more of the fiery shells [British] going over High Wood. Spirits of men good and we are in for a big push on the 15th.”

Next day there was more shelling, but the Maoris kept their work going. On the 14th, work was suspended; all hands had a spell before the offensive of the morrow. Orders for the Battalion's share in it were got out and issued, and in the afternoon all the officers met and talked the whole programme over so that everyone knew what his job was and how to do it. About a dozen tanks, the new armoured caterpillars, passed the camp on their way to Green Dump ready for the next day's work. This diary entry of the C.O. indicates that these engines of warfare had then been seen for the first time by the Battalion:—“They are weird-looking things and ought to scare hell out of Fritz.” That evening the camp was shelled from the direction of Morval, and the bombardment while it lasted was severe. Six men were killed, 2nd.-Lieut. Henare Mokena Kohere was severely wounded, and ten other ranks were wounded. The casualties were sustained mostly by C Company.

page 93

Lieut. Kohere died of his wound on September 16th at the Casualty Clearing Station, and his Ngati-Porou and other comrades deeply mourned him. He was a grandson of Major Mokena Kohere, who with Major Ropata Wahawaha fought the Hauhaus on the East Coast from 1865 on; the two Ngati-Porou leaders received swords of honour from Queen Victoria. Kohere had command of a full platoon of Ngati-Porou, and his cousin Lieut. Pekama Kaa, commanded a platoon that partly consisted of men of that tribe. He was thus the senior Ngati-Porou officer. His wound was in the groin, but the high explosive fragment had been deflected up into the abdomen. He soon realised the hopeless nature of his injury. Before being removed by the Field Ambulance his last request was that Pekama Kaa should be given command of the Ngati-Porou Platoon. The request was acceded to. Thus on a far-away battlefield in France, there was re-enacted a scene that had occurred on many a Maori chieftain's death-bed in the homeland of Aotearoa. Whether college-bred platoon commander or old-time tattooed chief of a tribe, the warrior's last dying thoughts and instructions were for the welfare of the people he commanded.