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The War Effort of New Zealand

The Machine Gunners At Grantham

page 259

The Machine Gunners At Grantham.

Each New Zealand reinforcement included a certain number of machine gunners, who, in addition to the ordinary reinforcement course received special training in this work before they left the Dominion. The specialisation was greater as the war went on. They ranked as "specialists" with the reinforcements, but in England no such distinction awaited them, for they went to the infantry camps with the rest. It was so in the case of all "specialists," signallers, machine-gunners, and others. In the infantry camps they received a thorough training in drill and musketry, bombing, gas precautions, wiring and trench work. Afterwards when "specialists" were called for, these men's applications usually received first consideration.

Machine gunners had the advantage—it was usually considered an advantage—of a considerably longer period of training in England,—and certainly they had in New Zealand—than the infantry. For their training in England they were sent to Grantham—a railway junction town of considerable size on the Great Northern Railway, 102 miles from London. This was the centre of the British machine-gun world. In 1918 over 50,000 men were camped around there undergoing training. It was not so in the very early days of the war, before the value of the machinegun was fully realised! There were three Imperial camps at Grantham—Harrowby (where the general officer commanding, and the schools were), Belton Park, and Chepstone, the latter some distance away. At each of these places the drafts were divided into battalions, and the New Zealanders, who were camped at Belton Park, comprised one battalion. There were sometimes as many as 550 of our officers and men there. By having the training in the vicinity of the British machine gun camps, facilities in respect to ranges and instructors were available.

To Belton Park from Grantham was four miles. Busses, for a small fee and motor cars for a high one, carried you there. The Park was the private property of Earl Brownlow, and the grounds, which were magnificent in their tree-clad undulating sweeps, surrounded Belton House, an old, roomy, page 260mediaeval mansion. High lands stretched away north and south; and through the calm air perpetually came the distant tock, tock, of the ceaseless machine-gun fire, so familiar-at the front. The New Zealanders in this beautiful spot with its historic associations, and with Nottingham, Leicester, and Lincoln not many miles away, had ample to interest them, and, indeed, were very fond of the place. The average time spent there was seventy days. There was more to be learned in machine gunnery than accuracy of fire, and the mechanical construction of the weapon.

When our men first went to Grantham, New Zealand had only three machine-gun companies in the field. Another went with the 4th Brigade just prior to the Battle of Messines, and a fifth was sent to France in December, 1917. New Zealanders won the reputation at Grantham of learning quickly.

There was ample amusement for the men in camp in theatre entertainments, concerts, and pictures, while at Harrowby, two miles away was the garrison theatre, and at Grantham other public attractions. In most forms of sport the New Zealanders held their own in the district. There was not great scope in the camp grounds for agriculture, but though cultivation was not carried out to the same extent as at other New Zealand training depots, as much use as possible was made of the ground available. The camp was closed very soon after the termination of the war.