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The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Part 2.—The 3rd and 4th Battalions

Part 2.—The 3rd and 4th Battalions.

Inauguration and training—Dress—Maymorn and Rangiotu Camps—Departure for Egypt—Arrival at Ferry Post.

While the Brigade was at Ferry Post, the 3rd and 4th Battalions arrived from New Zealand, and this may be a fitting place for a record of their early history; but as the organization and training of the "left half" of the Brigade followed so closely on the lines adopted by the older portion, a mere outline will be found sufficient for our purpose.

Colonel V. S. Smyth, N.Z.S.C., (Reserve of Officers, Royal Warwickshire Regiment), was appointed to the temporary command, with Capt. John Bishop, N.Z.S.C., as Camp Adjutant. Having served in a similar capacity with Lieut.-Col. Fulton during a considerable portion of the training period of the "right half," Capt. Bishop, who had been retained for this purpose, was specially qualified for the position of staff officer; while Col. Smyth had had, in addition to his service in the Imperial Army, several years' experience in command of military districts in New Zealand.

The special preparatory training of officers and non-commissioned officers commenced at Trentham on September 7th, 1915, and the men marched in on the 11th and 12th of the following month. On the 15th a move was made to Maymorn, some six miles to the north of Trentham, where a tented camp was occupied, and general training commenced at once.

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Major J. A. Cowles, of the 17th (Ruahine) Regiment, took over the command of the 3rd Battalion, with Captain H. S. N. Robinson, N.Z.S.C., as Adjutant. The 4th was commanded by Major A. E. Wolstenholme, of the 4th (Otago) Regiment, his Adjutant being Lieut. J. L. Turnbull, of the 1st (Canterbury) Regiment. All appointments were, of course, provisional, being subject to alteration when the battalions should join up with Brigade on active service.

As in the case of the earlier battalions, each unit had its orderly-room with complete staff, and the establishment of headquarters' sections and details received early attention, so that, if called upon, it could move out at a moment's notice completely organized. Efficiency in all respects was the one aim, and this, in spite of adverse conditions, was, as the event proved, amply attained. The ill-luck that attended the career of the band was felt as a great drawback. It suffered repeated casualties owing to sickness, and was often practically defunct.

In the matter of dress, the 3rd and 4th Battalions were in some respects more fortunate than their predecessors, for by this time some slight degree of finality had been reached. The blaze of the 3rd was a black cloth triangle of 1 1/2 inch side, standing on its base, while that of the 4th was a similar patch placed with its base uppermost. These were worn on the hats and caps as in the other two battalions. The puggarees issued, however, were plain khaki without the central strip of scarlet, a defect that was remedied in due time after the units joined up with the Brigade. Unfortunately the men could not be issued with khaki uniforms for some six weeks after their enlistment, and, as a consequence, could not be given leave to town for that period—a deprivation which they bore with admirable patience and resignation. In the case of officers of all grades, boots, puttee-tapes, belts, frogs, scabbards, ties, etc., were black, in which respect they differed somewhat from the officers of the 1st and 2nd, and consternation reigned when it was found on arrival in Egypt that certain modifications had to be carried out for the sake of uniformity.

Owing to long-continued bad weather, Maymorn at last became untenable, and at the beginning of December the battalions moved to the site of the old Rifle Brigade camp at Rangiotu, where, as in those former days, much better conditions obtained, and where both the general health and the work page 61of the units rapidly improved. From the people of the neighbouring towns they received the same kindly treatment as was bestowed upon their predecessors. They were hospitably entertained by various clubs and patriotic societies, and the indefatigable concert parties from Palmerston North continued their good work as of old.

Final leave commenced on December 19th, and continued for fourteen days, and on its conclusion work was resumed with renewed vigour. The usual short period of special continuous training in attack and defence, outpost work and bivouacking, was carried out on the sandhills about Himatangi; and this was followed by the musketry course, taken by the 3rd at Palmerston North and by the 4th at Wanganui. During the period of general training, Colonel C. R. Macdonald, of the General Staff, delivered a series of lectures on trench warfare and machine- gun tactics.

Towards the end of January, when the time for departure was at hand, a general inspection parade was held by the Honorary Colonel, His Excellency the Earl of Liverpool, who complimented the new units on their fine appearance and smart work, and referred in graceful terms to the good reports of the older battalions already on active service.

The 4th Battalion left for Auckland on February 3rd, and after a march through the city in pouring rain, embarked on the 4th. The battalion (less "C" Company) was accommodated on the "Mokoia" (Transport No. 43), and "C" Company went aboard the "Navua" (Transport No. 44), in company with the 3rd Field Ambulance and the Maori Reinforcements. These transports sailed from Auckland at 1 a.m. on February 5th. The 3rd Battalion left camp on the 4th, marched through Wellington, embarked on the "Ulimaroa" (Transport No. 42), and sailed at midnight on the same date.

Unlike the 1st and 2nd Battalions, these two units embarked without equipment or rifles. There was little space on board ship for training, but the work done was carried out regularly and efficiently. Lectures were given daily, and every effort was made by means of physical drill and sports to keep all ranks fit. The monotony of the long voyage was relieved by frequent concerts, mock trials, and the time-honoured ceremonial of Neptune's Court, well and truly carried out, on passing from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. Each page 62unit produced its ship's magazine, that of the 3rd being known as "The Blast," and that of the 4th as "The Mokoian." There was considerable excellence in both, and probably "The Blast," printed at Colombo, could hold its own with any similar publication. Its printed matter was well selected and written in fine style, while the illustrations by Lance-Corporals Thompson and Bell were produced with that clever and humorous touch which afterwards became famous throughout the Division.

The transports called at Albany on 15th February, leaving on the 17th, and were at Colombo on the 28th and 29th. At each of these places route marches were held and general leave given, and at Albany the officers were invited to a ball given by the citizens. The behaviour of the men at both ports of call was the subject of favourable comment on the part of shore officials and the people generally, the only "regrettable incident" being the stranding of two or three of the personnel at Colombo owing to a misunderstanding as to the hour of departure. As the last of the troopships left the latter port and was making good headway westwards, a small tug came racing out and signalled her to stop. There was much speculation as to the reason for this action, and the usual wild explanations multiplied as the tug was seen to lower a boat which pulled smartly over to the trooper. The gangway was put down, and up this majestically stepped a solitary Rifleman. This was the famous New Zealand footballer, "Wing" David afterwards killed in action in France—a man much beloved by his comrades and something of a trial to, though secretly admired by, his officers. Arrived on deck, he waved a haughty dismissal to the tug and a condescending signal to the bridge that the troopship might now proceed. The usual cold formalities regarding the matter of absence without leave engaged the attention of the delinquent and his commanding officer at orderly- room next morning.

The troops disembarked at Suez, moved by rail to Ismailia, and marched to the Brigade camp across the Canal at Ferry Post, the 3rd Battalion reporting on March 13th and the 4th Battalion two days later.