The War Effort of New Zealand
Chapter IV. — The Work of the "Philomel."
The Work of the "Philomel."
The commencement of the great war caught New Zealand at a very precarious moment, so far as her naval preparations were concerned. At the beginning of 1914, after much argument and deliberation, it had been decided that New Zealand would make a start to train her own personnel, with the object of manning her own ships in the near future as an adjunct to the great Imperial navy. A Naval Adviser had been appointed for New Zealand to take charge of the necessary organisation for training, etc., and to advise the government on naval matters. He had arrived in June, 1914.
On the 15th July H.M.S. Philomel was commissioned as New Zealand's first naval unit with a nucleus of officers and men lent from the Royal Navy, and arrangements were made and authorised for commencing the system of training New Zealand boys, by entering some sixty or seventy to complete the full complement of the ship.
On the 30th July the ship left Wellington for Picton for steam trials, drills, etc., and to give the men an opportunity to shake down previous to enlisting the boys for training. However, events moved rapidly. On the night of the 30th, whilst at Picton, a message was received from the Admiralty indicating that war appeared imminent. All ideas of the training scheme had to be at once abandoned, and the ship prepared for war with the utmost rapidity.
At 7 a.m. on the 31st July the Philomel sailed again for Wellington, and every effort was made to complete her with men and stores at the earliest possible moment. Reserves and volunteers were called for to complete numbers, and these responded to the call, and were enlisted for the period of the war. The ship was able to leave Wellington as fully equipped as possible by the 8th August, 1914, in order to meet H.M.S. Psyche and Pyramus at Auckland, and to prepare for any eventualities that might occur.page 64 page 65
Even in those early days New Zealand had received a request from the Imperial Government to effect, if possible, the capture and occupation of Samoa. This request was promptly acceded to, and on the 15th August Philomel, Psyche, and Pyramus sailed from Auckland, convoying the steamers Moeraki and Monowai, which carried the expeditionary force destined for Samoa. At this time it was known that a large German naval force was in the Pacific, although its exact location was uncertain. Had they become aware of the expeditionary force leaving New Zealand the strength of the convoying ships would not have been sufficient to resist the Germans for five minutes. Consequently, with a large number of untrained men forming part of the complement, times were somewhat anxious; but Noumea was safely reached on the 20th August, when the convoy was brought up to the necessary strength by meeting the Australia, the Melbourne, and the French cruiser Montcalm. With this addition to our strength, and having coaled, the squadron sailed on the 23rd for Fiji with considerably more confidence. After calling at Suva for coal the squadron arrived at Samoa, without further incident, on the 30th August. As is well known, Samoa surrendered without fighting. The troops were landed, and the majority of the squadron sailed again the same evening for other duties, leaving the Philomel and Psyche at Apia.
On the 31st the Psyche sailed for Vavau, followed later by Philomel at high speed, owing to the reported vicinity of the German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. After coaling at Vavau Psyche sailed for New Zealand, and Philomel proceeded to visit other islands of the Tongan Group. The object of this visit was to inform the King of Tonga the nation was at war, of which no information had, up to that time, been received, the opinion of the people in the island being that probably a strike in New Zealand had delayed the arrival of their ships and stores. The consternation of the German merchants, who had practically the monopoly of the island trade, was very marked, the price of copra falling from about £20 to about £5 a ton in six hours.
Auckland was reached on the 12th September when the ship was again coaled and docked, and all possible repairs necessary undertaken.
The first expeditionary force to Europe was now nearly ready, and on 24th September H.M.S. Philomel in charge of transports Nos. 8 and 12 left Auckland to meet the remainder of the convoy in the Tasman Sea. Owing, however, to rumours of enemy danger in that sea the convoy was ordered to return during the night, and arrived again in Auckland the next day, much to the astonishment of the soldiers aboard, who had no idea that they had been turned round, and who again found themselves in Auckland, instead of well on the way to France. It is now known that the rumoured danger did not exist and that the German cruisers were nowhere in the vicinity. After this scare it was thought necessary to increase the strength of the convoying squadron, and the Philomel with her two transports returned to wellington to join up with the remainder there; but it was not until the 16th October that the expeditionary force finally left Wellington, convoyed by H.M.S. Minotaur, Psyche, Philomel, and H.I.J.M.S. Ibuki. A course was set for Albany. At Hobart, H.M.S. Pyramus joined the convoy, and, proceeding on, Albany was reached on 28th October, when the Philomel and Pyramus parted company with the convoy. They kept an easterly course, making for Singapore, and at the same time endeavouring to discover the whereabouts of the German cruiser Emden, which was known to be somewhere in the southern portion of the Indian Ocean. With this object in view the two ships were approaching Christmas Island in the hope of finding the Emden possibly anchored there, when we page 68became aware that she had been sunk by the Sydney off Cocos Islands, about 200 miles to the westward. Had the Emden been met at sea it is doubtful whether two such old units as Philomel and Pyramus could have done much good beyond indicating her locality, as her superior speed would have enabled her easily to avoid action had she so desired, and in the light of future events, perhaps, her more modern guns would have enabled her to carry out an action when entirely out of range from the Philomel and Pyramus. Had we found her unprepared, however, and at anchor, there might have been some chance of destroying her.
The ship proceeded to Singapore, arriving there on the 12th November. Here Pyramus parted company with her owing to engine difficulties. The Philomel proceeded towards Port Said, convoying three French transports returning to France with troops. She took them as far as Aden, the time being fully occupied with examining merchant ships, assisting convoy, etc. After arriving at Aden the convoy was turned over to another man-of-war, and the Philomel proceeded to patrol the Red Sea to check the Turks in making fortifications, to stop their trade, and to hinder as much as possible any effort on their part to re-establish defences at Sheikh Syed (opposite Perim Island), recently destroyed by landing parties from other vessels.
At 11 a.m. on the 9th December the first shots in anger were fired from the ship when a large number of dhows were found building and repairing at Mocha. These dhows were destroyed, but the village was undamaged, although all the inhabitants fled inland.
It was rather an interesting sight. As the ship approached the village the whole of the inhabitants in one body departed carrying their children and goods with them, and, as the back of the village consisted of high sand hills, the whole thing could be seen. Immediately the ship turned to leave, all the inhabitants came back in a body, and, in order to see the result, the ship was again turned round, when like a regiment of soldiers, they again did a right about turn.
After patrolling the Red Sea, and boarding and examining page 69and, when necessary, sinking enemy dhows, the Philomel arrived at Suez on the 12th December, intending to go into dry dock for cleaning and repairs. By this time the ship, which had practically before the war become entirely out of date for warlike purposes, was sadly in need of a general overhaul to make her more efficient for the service for which she was destined, and to bring her up to date in regard to her engines, and in other respects. The docking facilities at Suez proved unsuitable for the large repairs required, and it was decided to leave them until the ship could be spared to go to Malta.
On the 20th December an urgent message was received stating that an attack of the Turks in force on Tor, a large British quarantine station on the Sinai Peninsula, was about to take place. On our arrival there that night the quarantine authorities were found to be anxious and expecting an immediate attack, and a party of thirty men with two maxims was landed and located in the best positions for the protection of the buildings, the ship herself being moored in a position to support the defence with her guns. However, nothing occurred, and on the 23rd December, the news being more reassuring, and the ship being urgently required at Port Said, the landing party was re-embarked and the Philomel sailed, arriving at Port Said on the 24th.
On Christmas Day we sailed for Malta, this time forming the only escort to nine large transports, of which the Royal George was one, a vastly different escort from those which were required in the later days of the war in these waters. On arrival off Malta the convoy was turned over to another vessel, and the ship proceeded to Malta for docking and repairs.
The appearance of the Malta harbour, to one who knew it well in peace time, was extraordinary. It was full of men-of-war of every sort and description, but amongst them all the Philomel was the only one flying the White Ensign, the whole of the remainder being French ships under repair, or giving leave, etc. In dock was a modern French dreadnought with a large hole in both sides of her bows, caused by a torpedo in the Adriatic. Malta at this time was the headquarters of page 70the French Fleet operating in the Adriatic. The Philomel remained there one month, during which time the dockyard hands worked on her night and day to bring her up-to-date with fighting tops, anti-aeroplane guns and other requirements, and also in giving a thorough overhaul to her engines and machinery. This was perhaps the pleasantest time for the officers and men during the whole period of the war. Every opportunity was taken to give them as much leave and recreation as possible; and the weather was cool and pleasant.
On the 29th January, 1915, the Philomel sailed again for Port Said. Immediately on arrival there she was ordered to patrol the coast to the eastward, and proceed, via Cyprus, to the Gulf of Alexandretta to take up the duties of patrol in that locality, and to harass the Turks as much as possible. Agents and intelligence officers were embarked at Cyprus, and the ship arrived off Alexandretta on the 5th February. During the voyage a suspicious ship was observed, which, owing to failure to answer signals, was nearly fired upon. Fortunately, at the critical moment, we realised that she was our own aeroplane carrier, who in the dusk had not observed the signal.
Alexandretta at this time was a place of some considerable importance as the idea was to effect a landing in force there in order to cut the Bagdad railway, and divide the Turkish Empire into two parts. This, if carried out, would have rendered the Gallipoli campaign unnecessary. Operations in the Gulf of Alexandretta were extremely interesting: efforts were made to destroy the telegraph wires, and continual bombardment every day took place to stop the Turks in their efforts to make fortifications and dig trenches, and generally prepare themselves for attack. The town of Alexandretta itself, being unfortified, was considered sacrosanct, so long as no effort was made from there to attack the ship.
Some interesting episodes occurred here. For instance, the Turks were ordered to deliver up engines and rolling stock at Alexandretta. This they agreed to do, but stated that they had no explosives available by which they might be destroyed. A landing party from the Doris was therefore landed under a flag of truce; the engines were run out about one mile from the town, and with rolling stock, were blown up page 71by British blue-jackets in the presence of the Turkish Government officials. On another occasion it was understood that a large train-load of Turkish troops was coming into Alexandretta. A landing party, therefore, went ashore in the night and cut the line, then re-embarked to await results. Later the train was seen approaching, and everyone was looking for a "lovely accident." The "accident" came in excellent style, but unfortunately the train only contained camels! The troop-train was following behind, and, seeing the disaster, got away.
Many communications were held with the Turkish Governor and General under flags of truce at Alexandretta, and it was very irritating, as soon as a flag of truce was hoisted, to see German officers swaggering about on the quays. They were seldom, if ever observed except when the flag of truce was hoisted. Some of the correspondence was interesting. On one occasion the Turkish Governor threatened to murder five British prisoners drawn by lot from amongst those held at Damascus, as a retaliation for the killing of some of his people by shells from the Doris, our predecessor in those waters. This was stopped by a letter from the ship stating that in the event of the British hostages being murdered the life of the Commandant (Rifat Bey), and also those of the Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman Army in Syria (Djemal Pasha), and of all persons concerned would be forfeited without fail. He replied that he would pardon the five Englishmen provided the captain of the Doris was delivered to him, or that he received an assurance that the captain of the Doris had been shot. The correspondence continued some time, but the hostages were not shot, and the Turkish Commandant strongly suggested that H.M.S. Philomel should leave them alone and go and look after our own islands, which were in danger.
During this time a somewhat serious reverse occurred to one of the landing parties of the Philomel. On the 8th February a large number of pack animals were seen on the road to Alexandretta, and in order to examine these packs a party of two officers and fifteen men was landed to intercept them and find out what they contained. The place where page 72they were to land was first swept by shrapnel, and no great resistance was anticipated, as in the usual run of events at that time the opposition only consisted of a few gendarmes, who generally put up no strong opposition before leaving. On this occasion, as bad luck would have it, unknown to us, there was a party of about three hundred Turkish regulars making their way behind the hills and through the thick trees adjoining. Our party was allowed to land without opposition, but when well away from the boats a heavy musketry fire was opened upon them from several directions. The party had to retreat along a dry river-bed, which was fortunately there, and which could be covered by the guns of the ship. The party retired to near the mouth of the river-bed, carrying all their wounded except one; but it was impossible for them to approach the boat as every man showing himself was at once shot, and they had to lie there to await darkness. It was here, I think, that the first New Zealander belonging to a regular New Zealand force and recruited in New Zealand (Able-Seaman Knowles, R.N.R.), was killed by the enemy. After dark the party managed to embark and return to the ship, bringing their dead and wounded with them, with the exception of one man. The casualties it was found only amounted to three killed and three wounded, which was very fortunate under the circumstances. Agents stated that the Turks reported having killed ten of our men, captured one hundred, and also three boats. Agents also reported that the Turkish casualties from the ship's fire were very large, amounting to over one hundred killed, of whom over seventy were understood to have been killed by a fortunate high explosive shell, whilst they were taking refuge in an old castle. The spot where this incident occurred is known as Jonah's Pillar, where a pillar is erected to mark the reputed place where Jonah was cast up by the whale.
The man left behind was thought by everyone to be dead, as he had been seen from the ship to be shot while running across a field, and not to move again. However, when searching the coastline after dark with searchlights this man was observed to be alive. At once a rescue party volunteered, and asked to be allowed to go and recover him. In view of the page 73known presence of large bodies of the enemy on shore it was some time before permission was given, but eventually the men were authorised to make the attempt. Searchlights had to be turned off so as not to reveal their presence, and a boat was sent away with muffled oars. The party landed as near as possible to where the man lay, some distance back from the beach. After searching in the darkness for some time (fortunately it was a very dark night with no moon), the party had to return to the ship without him. Searchlights were again turned on, and again the man was seen moving. Nothing would do but that a second attempt must be made, and on this occasion the man was recovered and brought on board. The search party had been on shore altogether about four hours with the enemy all round. Unfortunately the man was dangerously wounded, and he died two days later.
The time at Alexandretta was very interesting as there was fighting of sorts every day, and the embarkation and disembarkation of our agents was always exciting, as it had to be done in absolute darkness on an uncharted coast. On one occasion, on endeavouring to embark some of these men at daybreak, it was found that the ship would not move and it was later discovered that she was softly aground on sandbanks. However, by getting all the crew to dance in time on the afterpart, and going full speed astern, she eventually slid off without damage, and the agents were embarked later. It was lucky that the ship got off at daylight, as otherwise it would have been distinctly uncomfortable being aground, and open to enemy gunfire, within 100 yards of a hostile coast.
After leaving Alexandretta, on being relieved by the Bacchante, the Philomel again proceeded to Port Said, and from then on spent some time in and about the Suez Canal, where the Turks were threatening in strength. The patrol of the entrance to the Canal was an uninteresting and rather anxious task; and a good deal of time was spent in patrolling the Great Bitter Lake and its vicinity. It was at this period that the Turks succeeded in laying some mines in the Canal, one of which is strongly suspected to have been bumped by both the Bacchante and Philomel; fortunately, if such was the page 74case, it did not act, and when picked up it was found to be faulty. Luck was not always this way, however, for the Turks did succeed in blowing up one large merchant ship in the Canal with the object of blocking the passage, but the ship was afterwards salvaged, and the interruption to traffic was removed in twenty-four hours.
About this time the situation in the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia was becoming serious, and all the small craft possible were required for work on the River Tigris. The Philomel was ordered to attempt to tow two flat-bottomed Nile gunboats to Mesopotamia. As bad luck would have it, heavy weather was met just after leaving Suez, and the gunboats, being of very light build and only meant for river work, both sank incontinently.
The ship arrived at Aden on the 28th April, and was interrupted in the proposed cruise of the Persian Gulf by orders to organise and undertake an expedition against the Mad Mullah in Somaliland, who had been giving trouble. This caused great disappointment at the time as, after receiving special mountain guns, having trained camels and the men to ride them (an amusing interlude), and having page 75everything prepared for an expedition on a fairly large scale to a very hot country, at the last moment a telegram was received that this expedition was to be abandoned. The ship proceeded to the Somali Coast with the High Commissioner of Somaliland. Berbera was established as our headquarters and various negotiations were carried out for placating the tribes, principally those at Lachorai and Has-al-Mait. The former place was afterwards the scene of the Mad Mullah's serious set-back by one of His Majesty's ships, which completely routed his Dervishes.
An interesting episode in connection with this visit was the landing of 100 native levies collected from the bazaars of Berbera. They were the dirtiest tribe ever seen, I should imagine, on board a man-of-war since the slave days, and were armed with muskets of a generation ago. Lack of sights or even bolts to their rifles did not seem to worry any of them so long as they were the proud possessors of a gun. They were taken from Berbera to Shallub and landed there through the surf, carrying all their possessions on their heads, but I doubt if they ever did much damage to the Mullah and his dervishes.
At the conclusion of this cruise (the High Commissioner having disembarked), the ship was again urgently needed at Port Said to take charge of the patrol of the North African Coast to the westward of Alexandria, where enemy submarines where showing signs of activity, and where it was thought that depots for their supply were being organised.
During June and early July this work was carried cut, but no submarines were seen. At this time the headquarters of the Senussi were close to Sollum, and a curious situation developed. Italy was in the war as our Ally, but was at war also with the Senussi. The latter at that time were supposed to be our friends, whom it was desirable to placate to avoid further trouble in Egypt. It will readily be seen that negotiations had to be conducted somewhat delicately. It will be remembered that afterwards the Senussi took action against us, and had to be punished.
About the middle of July, Perim was again threatened page 76by the Turks, and the Philomel was withdrawn from the Mediterranean patrol and ordered at once to Aden. Shortly after the Philomel left Sollum two Egyptian gunboats, and an armed boarding-steamer, were blown up by an enemy submarine at that place, thus showing that our patrol had been very necessary. The Philomel proceeded to Perim and arrived there on the 18th July. We found that the Turks had established a mobile battery somewhere about Sheikh Syed, and had been bombarding Perim, with apparently the particular intention of destroying the lighthouse and the coaling station. It proved impossible to locate this battery as it moved daily and would never open fire when any man-of-war was in sight.
At this time Aden was undoubtedly in considerable trouble. The Turks had arrived in force in the hinterland behind the town, and had succeeded in driving in our troops to the fortress. At one time they had actually occupied Sheikh Othman, a suburb of Aden beyond the Peninsula, from which a large proportion of the water supply is drawn. However, they had been driven out of that, and they retired again towards the hills at Lehaj. Our troops had endeavoured to occupy Lehaj, but had been repulsed by very superior forces—which resulted in a somewhat disastrous retreat with the loss of many men, principally due to heat. The whole of the hinterland of Aden up to and beyond Lehaj, and along the coastline to the West, is really a British Protectorate, but when the Turks came into the war the garrison of Aden had been insufficient to hold this large area, and had had to concentrate for the defence of the British coaling station—Aden itself. The Turks thus occupied a large part of what was really British Territory.
When the Philomel proceeded from the Mediterranean to Perim, General Younghusband was a passenger on board. We were taking him to Aden as the new British Resident and Commander-in-Chief. The Turks were again threatening, and the greatest vigilance was demanded of the garrison to hold the lines outside Sheikh Othman. Such was the position when the ship reached Perim. She remained patrolling in that vicinity until about the middle of August, 1915. Many page 77endeavours were made to tempt the Turks to reveal the situation of their batteries by the Irishman's method of trailing the tail of your coat before them, and by chasing their dhows close in to the shore, but they refused to be tempted.
At the beginning of August the situation at Aden had become more urgent, and the ship was recalled there to co-operate with the army in its defence. A machine gun detachment with wireless apparatus, under one of the ship's officers, was landed, and sent into the trenches with the army, and the ship herself stood by to co-operate on the flanks. However, only various small skirmishes resulted. The weather was extremely hot, and this heat in the hinterland behind Aden was too much even for the Turk. The country in that region is abominable, with hot sand and absolutely no shelter and water.
However, on the 25th September a reconnaissance in force was decided upon by the military authorities with the intention of endeavouring to turn the Turks out of the village of Waht, about eleven miles from Sheikh Othman, and the naval machine gun section took part. The object was accomplished in the early morning, and the order was given for the men to remain in the village until the evening, and then again retire on Aden. But about mid-day the Turks attacked in force, and it became necessary for the party to retire. During this retirement three of the best men of the Philomel fell, and met their death. The casualties were due entirely to heat. In the middle of the day, in the full power of the sun, it became impossible for white men to march. Their strength left them, and once they sat down on the sand they could not get up again. Many men of the white regiment of the Buffs also succumbed in the same way. The military officer's report on the naval detachment on his occasion states: "Apparently in their keenness to get into the firing line the whole detachment doubled some distance in the sun, and this, added to the long march, knocked them out. The sand was so hot that one felt it burning through the soles of one's boots, and men crumpled up in a minute. The whole detachment has borne its trials in this abominable spot cheerfully, and has page 78all along been keen to do its duty. I know you have lost three excellent men. They have set a magnificent example to the Indian troops in whose section they have been living. An example like this has a wonderful effect on the Indian soldier, who then realises the stuff of which the Britisher is made."
One of the men who died on this occasion had already been recommended for his gallantry in Alexandretta, where he worked a maxim gun, not fitted with a shield, from the bows of the boat which was lying on the beach—in the action already described. He did so during the whole action in the midst of a storm of bullets, and in some miraculous way escaped being hit.
The ship continued in the vicinity of Aden until about the 30th October. Then the situation in the Persian Gulf became urgent, and we were ordered there with all speed. The German agents in Persia had been within an ace of getting the Shah into their hands, and operations became very necessary to impress upon the latter the power of the British, and also to ensure the safety of the Mesopotamian Expedition, which would have been seriously imperiled had Germany obtained control of Persia. Moreover, all the telegraph lines to Mesopotamia run along the northern and eastern coasts of the Persian Gulf, where various stations are established on British concessions. Bushire, principal port of Persia, was taken, and occupied, by British land and sea forces. All telegraph stations on the coast contained British detachments of Indian soldiers, and it became necessary for constant naval patrols to attend to and hold the whole coast, in addition to protecting and rendering assistance to transports, and the many hundreds of small craft which were being hurried to Basra. It became the Philomel's duty to assist in these operations, but the major part of her work was to take charge of operations in the lower portion of the Gulf, including the Mekram and Oman coasts, and their vicinity.
One now began to realise what heat on board a ship can mean, although one would have thought that our experience in the Red Sea and the vicinity of Aden had hardened us to anything possible in this repect. The men's clothing was reduced to vests, helmets, backpads, and short white pants. page 79Double awnings had to be set fore and aft, and even then the heat was insufferable. Men appearing outside the awnings without backpads invariably suffered, and practically the whole ship's company endured torment from prickly heat. In accordance with the usual practice in the service, a body of Somali boys was engaged to do the work outside the ship during the time the sun was up. Some idea of the heat may be gained from the fact that the temperature of the sea in and about Muscat in the summer was 96 degrees whilst on occasions that of the air was 105 degrees at midnight. The atmosphere in the daytime was very humid, which added greatly to the distress of human beings. However, such conditions have to be experienced to be realised.
It might, perhaps, be interesting to mention the nationalities which at this time were actually serving on the ship. In addition to the New Zealanders there were English, Scotch, Irish, Australians, Newfoundlanders (2), Maltese, Somalis, Abyssinians, and Arabs.
While we were in the Persian Gulf we again met the Pyramus. She formed one of the Philomel's Patrol Squadron, with two other vessels, and continued to cruise in this vicinity until the end of the year, visiting all telegraph stations continuously. A British-Indian regiment was landed at Muscat where it entrenched behind the town which the Arab tribes were threatening, and one ship had usually to be in that vicinity ready to co-operate if necessary.
On the 24th December, 1915, the Philomel left for Bombay, as it had become necessary for her to dock and repair again, and her second Christmas was thus also spent at sea. She remained at Bombay for a fortnight, giving leave and recreation for the men as much as possible. During the time a ship is in dock it is impossible for the men to remain on board, and therefore all were landed, and they lived for the fortnight in the Sailor's Home ashore; and a welcome change it was found, as Bombay at this season has a healthy and moderately cool climate. All hands were naturally glad of the short respite, for there had been no opportunity for them to land for recreation at any of the ports in the Persian Gulf.
On the 6th February the tribes behind Bushire became rebellious. This place had been returned to the Persian authorities by Britain on the declaration of the Shah that he would remain friendly, but the British detachments had continued there, holding the peninsula. As they had been attacked on two or three occasions it had become necessary to land guns and men from the navy. However, nothing eventuated of any consequence; and shortly afterwards trouble in the south again took the ship to her old station. There were massacres and riots at Lingah, a tribal war at Sharja, and, also, the telegraph stations at Charbar and Jashk had been continuously threatened.
The first proceedings here were taken in connection with Jashk, where the British Agent had been murdered under suspicious circumstances. A Persian army under the leadership of men friendly to Great Britain was being organised to proceed into the interior to put down insurrections fostered by German partisans. A large number of rifles and ammunition were carried from Muscat for their use, but beyond doing this the Philomel took no actual action.
On the 17th March the ship proceeded to Sharja on the Trucal Coast, near the great pearl banks, where a tribal war was in progress. This coast is entirely occupied by Arabs who own no allegiance to any King or Sultan, each village or district being ruled by its own Sheik as an independent kingdom. Consequently small wars, like the old border wars in England, are continually occurring between adjacent districts, and this little trouble was one of them.
The villages have large towers of brick and stone which protect the approaches. In this particular case both disputants were short of ammunition, but each had one or two old smooth-bore cannon. At regular intervals one side would fire its gun, and shortly afterwards the other side would reply. After a shot had been fired the villagers would be sent out to page 82collect the round shot which had probably rolled and bounded away into the plains beyond, to use it to reload the gun and fire back again. This was the state of affairs when we arrived.
Having collected the sheiks on board and explained to them that they were under the protection of Great Britain and that this sort of thing could not be allowed, they were given a week to settle their troubles, and the Philomel proceeded to Charbar. The latter station had telegraphed that the adjacent village was occupied by a large armed party of natives who intended to capture and destroy the telegraph station. Proceeding at full speed the ship arrived there before daylight. A party was landed, consisting of one officer with sixty men and two maxims. Acting in conjunction with the detachment of an Indian regiment stationed there, the force surrounded the village or as nearly so as possible, and at daylight called upon the hostile force to surrender. This they refused to do, but after the Philomel had fired a few rounds of high explosive shell from heavy guns, at the same time gradually approaching the village, the party surrendered with all their arms, and were imprisoned in the telegraph station until such time as the Philomel could transport them elsewhere.
The ship then returned to Sharja in company with the Clio, and found the tribal war still continuing there with added vigour. On this occasion both Sheiks were brought on board, and were told that they must settle their differences before leaving the captain's cabin. After wild gesticulation and talk for about three hours no decision had been arrived at; therefore, the captain of the Philomel having heard all their grievances through the interpreter, wrote out terms of peace and told both Sheiks to sign them under penalty of having all their towers knocked down next morning. This seemed too great a penalty, so both signed and were landed at their respective towns amid the great excitement of the populace. As far as is known they kept these terms of peace and gave no further trouble.
The ship then proceeded to Charbar to pick up her page 83prisoners (Shadullah and his followers), who were eventually sent as captives of war to Burmah.
During the time the Philomel remained in the Persian Gulf it was this type of work in which she was continually engaged, except during the period from 8th May to 12th June, 1916, when, owing to defects in her engine room she had again to proceed to Bombay. One hoped to be able to give the men some recreation and leave. This fortunately was possible, the ship companies proceeding by watches to the hills near Bombay. But at this time of the year—the breaking of the monsoon with warm weather—Bombay is extremely unhealthy, and five men died of tropical diseases, while twenty-one had to be left behind ill, though they later recovered.
The Philomel then returned to the Persian Gulf, continuing the same type of work, arranging coal for transports, lighters, protecting stations; and in the beginning of December she went up the Shatt-al-Arab to Basra, where great preparations for the final advance on Bagdad were proceeding.
After visiting Muhammerah, Abadan, Kuweit, Bushire, and other places the warship again proceeded to her southern station, but at the end of the year her engines began once more to give trouble. She therefore had to proceed in haste to Bombay to dock for worn and leaky stern glands. Her services, however, being urgently needed, she only remained there three days. Reports of enemy mine layers recalled her urgently to her station. The mine layer eventually proved to be the Wolf the enemy vessel which afterwards visited New Zealand waters and did so much damage here.
About this time it became quite apparent that the Philomel must have a long refit, occupying some months, or otherwise she could not continue. The Admiralty, therefore, decided to send her back to New Zealand, pay her off, and send the crew Home. After a voyage without much incident she arrived at Wellington on the 16th March, 1917.
The New Zealand trawlers Simplon and Nora Niven, and later the whaler Hananui were chartered from their owners, together with their crews of fishermen, and these, assisted by naval ratings from the Philomel were employed for fifteen months in this work. Considering the small number of craft available they did most excellent work. Forty-seven mines out of a total of sixty, which the Germans now state they had laid, were actually accounted for. The men employed in this work, which was strange to them and to which was attached considerable danger, deserve the greatest credit.
This concludes but a brief account of the work of H.M.S. Philomel. Various incidents of interest have been enumerated without going into detail. The Philomel was the only unit actually owned by New Zealand, but it must be understood that there were a large number of New Zealanders engaged otherwise in naval operations as naval officers and ratings during the war. Amongst them one may particularly mention the old Australasian Naval Force (a body of New Zealanders) who served continuously during the war in the Pyramus and Doris. These men had only one break for a spell of leave in New Zealand. The Pyramus worked in close conjunction with the Philomel for a large part of the time, and the reports of the New Zealanders serving in her, received through her Captain, were most excellent.
In addition a large number of New Zealanders proceeded to England to join the motor-boat patrol service and for naval wireless work; and many seamen resident in New Zealand who previously belonged to the Imperial Royal Naval Reserve, were called up for the war. Reports show that these men conducted themselves as their country would have wished and expected them to do.
The motor-boat patrol saw much active service in page 86the North Sea and on the coasts of England; and several New Zealanders were present in their boats at the celebrated actions at Zeebrugge and Ostend, and in many other minor operations.
It must be a great pleasure to New Zealand to be able to think that all her naval representation in the war was so thoroughly well reported upon, and that the individuals so conducted themselves as to bring the greatest credit to their country.
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Every New Zealander, when leaving his native shores for active service on land or sea, was given a printed slip having upon it special messages from Earls Roberts and Kitchener, the latter's last message to the British troops, and the following words from the New Zealand Minister for Defence:—"Remember that you will hold the Dominion's honour in your keeping. Remember that both the friends you meet and the enemies you fight will form their opinions of New Zealanders from you; therefore see that you are brave as you are honourable, and modest and courteous as you are brave." Ed.