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The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Part 3.—The Brigade Complete

page 63

Part 3.—The Brigade Complete.

Command, Brig.-Gen. Fulton—Promotions and adjustments— No. 3 Machine-gun Company—Lewis Gun Sections—Training Battalion—Return to Moascar—Training—Preparations for departure —Inspections—Embarkation—Arrival at Marseilles.

On the arrival of the 3rd and 4th Battalions the rearrangement of the officers of the Brigade, already commenced in connection with the formation of the Division, was proceeded with. The adjustment involved transfers and promotions which necessitated reference to the Expeditionary Force Headquarters, and were not completed until the last week of March, when the undesirable suspense and uncertainty which had been felt as a drawback right from the inception of the Brigade gave place to the feeling of satisfaction that approximate finality had at last been reached. In this matter the settlement of the command of the Brigade was not the least gratifying feature. The principal details of the adjustment were as under:—

Brigade Headquarters:

  • Lieut.-Col. (Temp. Col.) H. T. Fulton to command the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, with the temporary rank of Brigadier- General.
  • Capt. T. R. Eastwood (The Rifle Brigade) to be Brigade Major, with the rank of Major.
  • Capt. R. G. Purdy, N.Z.S.C., to be Staff Captain.

1st Battalion:

  • Major W. S. Austin to be Lieut.-Colonel, and to command the Battalion.
  • Capt. J. G. Roache to be Major, and to be Second-in-Command.
  • Lieut. H. Holderness to be Captain, and to be Adjutant.
  • Capt. G. E. Simeon, Quartermaster, to be Major.

2nd Battalion:

  • Major R. St. J. Beere to be Second-in-Command.
  • Lieut. E. J. Brammall to be Quartermaster.

3rd Battalion:

  • Major J. A. Cowles to be Lieut.-Colonel, and to command the Battalion.
  • Major A. Winter-Evans to be Second-in-Command.
  • 2nd Lieut. J. S. D'H. Birkby to be Lieutenant, and to be Adjutant.
  • Capt. J. McD. Johnston to be Major, and to be Quartermaster.
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4th Battalion:

  • Major C. W. Melvill, N.Z.S.C., to be Lieut.-Colonel, and to command the Battalion.
  • Major A. E. Wolstenholme to be Second-in-Command.
  • 2nd Lieut. D. Kennedy to be Adjutant.

Captains P. H. Bell, J. Pow and E. Puttick, of the 1st Battalion, and A. Digby-Smith, of the 2nd, were promoted to be Majors. Major Puttick was for the time being with the 2nd Brigade as Staff Captain, and did not return to us until the middle of July, when he took over the position of Second-in- Command of the 4th Battalion on the death of Major Wolstenholme. Majors Bell, Pow and Digby-Smith became senior Company Commanders of the 1st, 4th and 3rd Battalions, respectively. Capt. A. J. Powley had been appointed Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion in January, and Lieut. H. Eastgate Quartermaster of the 4th in the previous October.

Immediately after his arrival with the 3rd and 4th Battalions, Col. Smyth left us to take over the control of the New Zealand Base at Kasr-el-nil Barracks, Cairo. When the Base was moved to England, he brought the training units from Egypt, and for some time commanded Sling Camp, Salisbury Plain.

Coincident with the organization of the Division, the Machine Gun Sections were withdrawn from their battalions and combined into Machine Gun Companies, one of which was attached to each Brigade. That formed of Rifle Brigade sections was known as No. 3 Company, and came into being officially on March 1st. As the establishment of a Machine Gun Company was headquarters and four sections of four guns each the organization was a simple matter, for the sections were ready-made, and it was only necessary to draft in the personnel for the Company Headquarters and the extra officer now required for each section. The following were the officers as finally arranged:—

Officer Commanding: Capt. J. Luxford (3rd Battalion).

No. 1 Section: Lieut. R. G. Gallien (1st Battalion), Lieut. L. S. Cimino (1st Battalion).

No. 2 Section: Lieut. A. C. Finlayson (Otago Mounted Rifles), 2/Lt. K. D. Ambrose (1st Battalion).

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Colonel (Major General Sir) E. W. C. Chaytor, K.C.M.G., K.C.V.O., C.B.

Colonel (Major General Sir) E. W. C. Chaytor, K.C.M.G., K.C.V.O., C.B.

Brigadier-General W. G. Braithwaite, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.

Brigadier-General W. G. Braithwaite, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.

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Lieut.-Col. J. A. Cowles.

Lieut.-Col. J. A. Cowles.

Lieut.-Col. W. S. Austin, D.S.O.

Lieut.-Col. W. S. Austin, D.S.O.

Major W. Kay, O.B.E. Face p. 65.

Major W. Kay, O.B.E. Face p. 65.

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No. 3 Section: Lieut. C. G. Hayter (Canterbury Mounted Rifles), 2/Lt. P. D. Russell (Otago Mounted Rifles).

No. 4 Section: Lieut. C. S. Geddis (Otago Mounted Rifles), Lieut. J. A. D. Hopkirk (1st Battalion).

The Company served with the Brigade until January, 1918, when all the machine-gun sections of the Division were organized into the New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion of four Companies (Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago), and so passed from the control of Brigade commanders.

To take the place of the Machine Gun Sections, preparations were made for the establishment of Lewis Gun Sections in each battalion, and the following officers were appointed as specialists to supervise the training of the personnel and to superintend the general work:—1st Battalion, 2nd Lieut. N. H. Arden; 2nd, 2nd Lieut. H. M. Keesing; 3rd, 2nd Lieut. C. E. Bridge; 4th, Lieut. J. W. Snaddon. Lewis guns, however, were a new and practically untried arm, and were not available for issue at a greater rate than two per battalion, though the regulation scale of four per unit, as laid down by the Army Council at the beginning of the year, was made up before we entered the trenches on the Flanders front. As the usefulness of the guns, both in attack and in defence, became more and more clearly demonstrated, the rate of issue steadily increased until it stood, towards the close of the war, at 36 per battalion, 32 for ordinary use and four for anti-aircraft purposes.

To complete the adjustment there now only remained the formation of a Training Battalion, which would absorb the reinforcements for the Brigade, and from which would be drawn as required drafts of officers and men whose training would be completed under conditions more nearly approaching in general character those of active service than could be expected to obtain in the home training camps. This unit, known as the New Zealand Rifle Brigade Training Battalion, was established at Moascar on March 21st, the details being taken in the main from the second and third reinforcements for the first two, and the officers from all four battalions. Major W. Kay, from the 1st Battalion, was placed in command, with Captains J. Bishop and W. E. Christie as Adjutant and Quartermaster, respectively. Following were the first company officers:— No. 1 Company, Capt. W. G. Bishop and Lieut. A. Hog-page 66gans; No. 2 Company, Capt. O. W. Williams and 2nd Lieut. W. G. Ivil; No. 3 Company, Capt. C. Horsnell and Lieut. F. E. Greenish; No. 4 Company, Capt. P. V. Hackworth and 2nd Lieuts. E. A. Winchester and N. W. Shackleford.

When the Division left Egypt for France the Training Battalion remained at Moascar. A brief outline of its subsequent history is given in Appendix III.

The Brigade moved on March 20th from Ferry Post to Moascar Camp, where it remained until it left for France early in the following month. During the stay at these camps, training was continued with unabated energy. Company, battalion and brigade parades, route marches and staff rides, night operations and trench-digging, specialist training and transport work, each had its place, till at last all ranks, the newer arrivals as well as the "old hands," felt that they were fit for any emergency. Yet, with all our labours, there was time and opportunity for much pleasure. The hot season was not far advanced, and the general surroundings had a special interest. There was a liberal allowance of leave to Cairo. Ismailia and its beautiful plantations and gardens, Lake Timsah and the Suez Canal with their naval and mercantile shipping, even the open desert itself with its scattered remains of bygone civilizations, all had a charm that was irresistible. Bathing parades to the lake or the Canal were a special joy, and often practically the whole personnel of the Brigade would be in the water at one time; and, though reminders of the great world-strife were never absent, there was a refreshing restfulness in a quiet evening stroll to the Canal after a crowded day of toil on the sands of the desert.

Then, too, we had, what so seldom occurred in after-days, the whole of the Division assembled in one place. There was consequently an opportunity for our fellows to mix with the stalwarts from Gallipoli and hear from them at first hand what it meant to be in close contact with the enemy under conditions which would probably prevail in that theatre of war whither we were destined soon to go. We saw much of the other Anzacs also, and in this connection a spontaneous display of goodwill is worthy of note. A brigade of Australians marching across the desert from Tel-el-Kebir was overtaken by a heat-wave, with the result that the men were suffering march page 67casualties to an appalling extent. Word of their plight reached the camp of the New Zealanders near by, and at a hint, rather than an order, every available water-cart, every spare dixie, and every water-bottle within reach was taken out by our men, who streamed over the sands hastening to bring relief to their neighbours in distress.

The time for the departure of the Division was now near at hand, and the final preparations were pushed to completion with all speed. Para-typhoid inoculation had been carried out twice towards the end of March. Kits were reduced by sending away all private belongings, forage caps were finally handed in,* and on April 1st the new charger-loading, short M.L.E. rifles were drawn in exchange for the old M.L.E. long rifles that had hitherto been in use.

We had been inspected by General Godley and seen at training by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and now, on April 3rd, the whole Division paraded before General Sir A. J. Murray, commanding the Forces in Egypt. To us this was a very imposing parade, the first occasion on which we had seen ceremonial work on such a scale; but we left the ground at the conclusion of the march past with the consciousness that our hard training had not been in vain so far as it affected our physique, smartness, steadiness, and general appearance. With due thoughtfulness the quicker step of the Rifle Brigade had been provided for, the band accommodated its time accordingly, and, notwithstanding the drawback of loose sand, the several battalions in close column of platoons swung by at the trail in fine form.

On the same evening orders were received for moving out and embarking for France. The Advance Party of the Brigade under Capt. Purdy entrained for Port Said on the evening of the 5th April, and embarked there on the "Franconia." page 68On the same day the 1st Battalion left Moascar for Alexandria and embarked on the "Arcadian." The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Battalions and the 3rd M.G. Company departed from Moascar on the 6th at different times, commencing at 3 a.m., and embarked at Alexandria, the 2nd (less a small party which went on the "Minnewaska") on the "Arcadian," and the 3rd and 4th and the M.G. Company on the "Alaunia," a fine transport which, unfortunately, was torpedoed on her return journey from Marseilles, a fate which also subsequently befell both the "Franconia" and the "Arcadian." Brigade and Battalion Transport Sections, with their horses and mules, were quartered on the "Elele" and the "Menominee." The complete outfit of vehicles, which we had brought with us from New Zealand, was left behind in Egypt.

The departure from Alexandria commenced on April 7th. Little space was available on the ships for training exercises, but much time was devoted to lectures on trench warfare and preventive measures against gas attacks. In addition to the usual precautions taken against attack from submarines, all ranks wore lifebelts constantly both by day and by night, and each ship supplemented quick-firer, Lewis gun and Vickers gun sentries with sections of men with loaded rifles specially posted on either side.

No untoward event occurred, however, though there appeared to be frequent scares, and the course taken sometimes seemed to be a very roundabout one. Off the coast of Sardinia, for instance, the "Alaunia" was compelled to "about ship" for half a day and then zigzag to her destination. Except in the Gulf of Lions, the weather was fine and the sea smooth, and the transports arrived at Marseilles all well on the 12th, 13th and 14th.

* The felt hats, officially known as "smasher" hats, were still worn with the longitudinal crease in the top, and the distinguishing black patch was retained on the puggaree until May 23rd, when it was transferred to the sleeve of the tunic. It was not until the 7th September following that the now familiar peaked arrangement of the crown was ordered. The resemblance between our hats and those of the Americans was afterwards freely commented upon. This likeness, however, was only general; for whereas we had a puggaree the Americans had a cord, and while our creasing brought the ridges one running from front to rear and the other across on the line of the shoulders, the ridges of the American hats crossed diagonally.