The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
1. By the Commander of the New Zealand Division, Major-General Sir A. H. Russell, K.C.B., K.C.M.G
1. By the Commander of the New Zealand Division, Major-General Sir A. H. Russell, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.
To the fact that Lord Liverpool, Governor-General of New Zealand during the period of the Great War, was himself a Rifleman, the 3rd Brigade of the New Zealand Division, formed early in 1915, owes its distinguishing title. Many of our territorial units were already affiliated with regiments of the British Army: and in like manner, recognized and accepted by the Regular Rifle Brigade as a family connection, somewhat distant it may be, our own Brigade formed yet another link between the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and that Army by whose side it was already fighting.
Reaching Egypt before the close of the year, the Brigade, after an interesting experience with the Western Frontier Force engaged in the campaign against the Senussi, was joined by the war-seasoned veterans from Gallipoli, whose laurels gained at the historic landing and in the attack on Chunuk Bair were at once an object of envy to the newcomers and a spur to their ambition. Differences in drill, in dress, in title, had, even before they left New Zealand, given rise to that indefinable feeling that they were something apart, in a measure distinguished from the territorial regiments. The older soldiers, with whom they were now in contact, were quick to mark peculiarities, and henceforth they were even more than Riflemen—they were the Dinks!
They were to prove the value of their esprit de corps in France. The almost uniform success of their raids on the Armentieres front must be ascribed to something more than mere luck, large though the element of chance may be in these risky enterprises. But it was on the Somme in 1916 that the Brigade was to win its spurs. To it was entrusted what appeared to the Staff to be the most important share in the operations of September 15th. Doubts were expressed by the page xHigher Command as to the wisdom of using comparatively inexperienced troops for so difficult a task. The contention that their eagerness to win a solid reputation would carry the Riflemen far was justified by the result. A brilliantly-executed attack was crowned with success. Henceforth the mana of the Brigade was assured, and its distinction was to rest on surer grounds than differences in drill and title.
Throughout the ensuing two long years of fighting on various parts of the Western Front the prestige of the Brigade was maintained undimmed. Whether patiently holding on through the miseries of stationary trench-warfare, the monotony of which was relieved only by dashing patrolling and raiding excursions; whether participating in set actions such as Messines, and even ill-fated Passchendaele; or whether detailed for long-drawn-out tasks with pick and shovel, the troops of the Brigade could ever be relied upon to accomplish all that it was in the power of men to achieve. They were the first into the breach caused by the German spring offensive on the Somme in March. 1918, and bore with conspicuous success the brunt of the counter-attack a week later. They took a no mean share in turning the tide when our offensive opened later in the year, and finally, by the capture of Le Quesnoy, more spectacular if not more solid than its previous exploits, completed the fighting record of a Brigade which had worthily upheld the traditions of its namesake of the Regulars.
The name of General Harry Fulton is inseparably linked with that of the New-Zealand Rifle Brigade. Largely responsible for its early training, he was associated with it till he fell in action at Colincamps in 1918. In a sense the Brigade was his child, and indeed he cared for it as a father. His youthful Brigade Major, Robert Purdy, will likewise long be remembered keen, able and fearless, he was killed by the same shell which mortally wounded his chief. The double loss was a severe blow.
The distinguishing marks of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, though somewhat superficial, were important enough in their place, and the tradition established, confined though it was to the period of the Great War, is of no small value. In an age of standardization the importance of uniformity is not to be gainsaid; but it is to be hoped that in our search for it we page xishall not fail to give due consideration to the encouragement of individuality of regiments, and that in the future organization of the Defence Force of New Zealand a place may be found for a Rifle Brigade.