The War Effort of New Zealand
The Codford Depot
The Codford Depot.
It has already been explained that when the wounded or invalided soldiers were sufficiently recovered to leave Horn-church they were sent to the Command Depot at Codford to be "hardened" for further active service training. Established in somewhat straggling fashion among the bleak, bare, undulating downs of Salisbury Plains, a few miles by road from Sling camp, Codford camp was not popular for its surroundings or its exterior attractions. Less than a mile from the camp headquarters lay the little old-fashioned Wiltshire village from which the camp derived its name—the only oasis of interest in the midst of a drab environment. Men usually went to Codford after fourteen days convalescent leave, which did not enhance its popularity. This, also, was the first stage on the return journey to the trenches. Let this remark not be misunderstood. Soldiers themselves will appreciate its meaning. Our men were as willing as the combatants of any country to shoulder the burden of duty; indeed, in the important military actions, theirs is a record of apportioned tasks exceeded. But human nature, especially after wounds or illness, instinctively rebelled against a return to the front, to the filth, the exposure, the racket of the guns, and probable death. Such feelings, however, were rarely expressed, and when they were they received little encouragement. The page 267spirit of duty quelled the rebellion of the flesh. Codford camp may have had its "lead-swingers"—in every community there are black sheep—but these men comprised an insignificant section, and a very lonely one. Nevertheless, owing to the mental and physical condition of its inmates, the management of a depot of this description presented a more difficult problem than others, and officers required to be sent there who could handle all ranks with tact and consideration.
Early in 1918 the number of men accommodated at Codford had risen to 3,200. To control and administer the depot there was a commanding officer, a second in command and adjutant, a quartermaster and supply officer, ten combatant officers, and an A.P.M., four medical, and five dental officers. Codford was the centre of our dental operations. The officers did not necessarily go there out of convalescence, but were usually sent over from France for a six-months' tour of duty. They required to be men who, besides being able to exercise command, and drill troops, could also take keen interest in and appreciate the value of sports and other recreations, and help the contentment and page 268welfare and encouragement of the men. Military training was, of course, the first consideration, but it was found that sports were of great assistance in promoting and maintaining fitness. Training was controlled by the commanding officer, advised by the senior medical officer and the sergeant-major of the Army gymnastic staff. If followed the general routine governing infantry training; but as the aim was to help men to recover from injuries, more attention was paid to bayonet fighting, physical training, and route marching than to barrack-square drill. The system proved very efficacious in preparing the troops for the most strenuous routine of the camps of the reserve units. A medical officer was constantly in attendance at the parade-ground, so that if a man were unable to undergo the training either from weakness or the nature of his injury, his case and its peculiarities were noted on the spot. This assisted correct treatment. The unusual spectacle was also seen of a doctor attending daily route marches, and it was a point of honour among the profession to decline a horse! In addition to the general training of troops, special classes were held periodically in which men with service to their credit, and who showed interest and skill in physical training and bayonet fighting, could take a course of instruction to fit them to be instructors later. Twenty-one of these men, after going through Aldershot, were returned to New Zealand to assist in the training operations here.
Probably the most popular of Cedford's institutes was the New Zealand War Contingent's club "Aotea Roa." It possessed a library, reading and writing rooms, a large games-room with billiard-tables, a room where one could enjoy an easy-chair and a good book in comfort before a fire, and buy eatables, tea, or coffee; in fact, "Aotea Boa" was claimed inside and outside the depot as the best-equipped club on the Plains. Its management was in the hands of ten capable ladies of the War Contingent Association, whose arduous work of attending to the running and conduct of the page 270club, and in arranging concerts and entertainments, was very faithfully done. There was also the Regimental Institute opened in July, 1916. The Institute answered in most respects to the canteens at the New Zealand camps, except that it was wet as well as dry. But in addition to sales over the counter the Institute supplied the officers, hospital nurses, and three flourishing sergeants' messes with provisions. Its accounts were audited annually by a London firm of accountants. The profits, which were considerable, were devoted partly to providing prizes for field sport, concert parties and other amusements, and also to defraying the cost of barrack damages and deficiencies. The ubiquitous Y.M.C.A. needed no trumpeter to proclaim its good work. It had two huts in the depot, both well equipped and popular. A nightly cinema performance was given at the Salvation Army hut—an attraction provided entirely out of camp funds, and run by New Zealanders.
Forty-five acres of land in the vicinity of the camp was cultivated in the year 1917, and planted out in various kinds of vegetables. The cost of this enterprise was £464, but the net value of the yield was £933. The farming operations were considerably extended in 1918.