The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Introductory Note: The Outbreak of the Great War, and New Zealand's Offer
Introductory Note: The Outbreak of the Great War, and New Zealand's Offer.
On the 28th June, 1914, the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated at Serajevo by a Serbian. Subsequent events showed that Germany had long been preparing for a war that should give her predominance in Europe and preeminence as a world-power; and the shooting of the Archduke, an event which took place while the British fleet was still in Kiel Harbour on its friendly visit to Germany, was eagerly seized upon as a pretext for the commencement of hostilities. Within a week the Kaiser held his famous War Council at Potsdam, and on the 23rd of July. Austria, Germany's "brilliant second." handed to Serbia an impossible Note, followed five days later by a declaration of war. Russia, the champion of her smaller ally, was drawn in; Belgium, whose only offence was that she stood in the way of the march on Paris, had her articles of neutrality contemptuously treated as "a scrap of paper;" France entered the lists, and Great Britain, despite the mightiest efforts of diplomacy to avoid conflict, was compelled by the claims of right as against might to take her due share in the struggle, and, on the 4th of August, 1914, declared war against Germany.
New Zealand in the meantime had not been idle. As early as July 31st, while the statesmen of Great Britain were still striving for peace, yet fearing that all their endeavours might prove to be fruitless, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, in Parliament assembled, voiced the determination of the people of this country to support the Empire to the uttermost, and if such necessity should arise, to take upon themselves a full share of the burden of the war. This was no empty statement. Preliminary arrangements were at once made for the preparation of an expeditionary force for service in Europe or elsewhere, if such assistance were required by the Imperial Government, and immediately after Great Britain's declara-page xivtion of war the definite offer of a suitable contingent was made.*Advice was sought regarding the composition of this body, and on August 7th notification was sent to the effect that New Zealand was prepared to supply at once an expeditionary force exceeding in strength that suggested by the Home authorities; and this was followed by the intimation that New Zealand proposed to assume all financial responsibility for that force, including the cost of its transportation to the theatre of war.
As originally constituted, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force thus placed at the disposal of the Imperial Government consisted of the Headquarters Staff of a Division, a Mounted Rifles Brigade, a Battery of Field Artillery, a section of a Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column, a section of a Divisional Ammuntion Column, headquarters and two sections of a Signalling Company, an Infantry Brigade, a Company of a Divisional Train, a Field Ambulance, and an Independent Mounted Rifles Regiment.
* The first occasion on which the Colonies contributed military aid for an Imperial enterprise was in Cromwell's Expedition to Jamaica, in 1653-4. On that occasion the Barbadoes furnished 4000 men from its militia of white apprentices on the plantations. The next instance came in the Carthagena Expedition of 1740, when the American Colonies supplied a force of 4000 men. After that the American Colonies helped consistently in the conquest of Canada, until the final victory of Amherst in 1760. During that period the first two American regiments were placed on the British establishment, and in 1758 were created the "Royal Americans," which are still with us as the King's Royal Rifle Corps. Then the American Colonies were lost, and everyone thought that the British Empire had come to an end. Immediately afterwards followed the war in which our losses in the West Indies compelled us to raise a regiment of African negroes, still with us as the West Indian Regiment. During the 19th century the Empire was consolidated. The Canadians helped gallantly to defend their country from American invasion from 1812 to 1814. The Cape Colonists joined in the fights against the Kaffirs, and the New Zealand Colonists in the wars against the Maoris.
Then came the war in Egypt, and for the first time Australia offered a battalion for that service. In the South African War practically all the Colonies sent contingents. And finally, in the present war, not only has every part of the Empire given us freely of its men, but the descendants of the Peninsula veterans in South America have sent their sons, whose native tongue was Spanish and who knew not a word of English, to fight for the Old Country.—(Hon. J. W. Fortescue at the Royal Institution, London, 21/2/'19.)
No sooner had the mobilization of volunteers for the Main Body commenced than New Zealand was called upon to face an additional task. This was the immediate despatch of a special force for the capture of the German possessions in Samoa. The response was so prompt and the preparations so rapidly conducted that the Samoan Expeditionary Force, a self-contained organization of all arms, including three companies of infantry, and numbering in all 55 officers and 1358 other ranks, was able to set out on its mission on August 15th. * and a fortnight later Samoa was in our hands. Towards the end of March, 1915, these troops were replaced by a relief force of men over the ordinary age limit, and on their return to New Zealand they were in the main held for absorption into either the reinforcements then in camp or those special battalions the formation of which was at that time under consideration, and which were destined to become the first two units of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
Reinforcements for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were sent to Egypt at intervals of about two months, and in order of despatch the New Zealand Rifle Brigade ranks with the Seventh, in company with which it sailed almost exactly twelve months after the departure of the Main Body.
* The British Expeditionary Force commenced to land in France on August 7th, and the disembarkation of the first four Divisions was completed on the 16th.