The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter I. Birth of the Regiment
Chapter I. Birth of the Regiment.
When the Great War broke out in August, 1914, New Zealand "leapt to arms unbidden." For her "The Day" had come. But it was not "The Day" the Germans had toasted. The people of New Zealand were peacefully inclined. They had not been taught to regard war as a necessity. They had come to a promised land, a land that might be the home of a nation, and all they desired was the opportunity to possess it. True, a system of compulsory military training was in operation, but for home defence only. It was merely a preparation against any possible invader. But at the challenge of militarism to civilisation, the Dominion sprang to arms. The day had come when she was to prove her loyalty to King and Empire, when she was to assume the burden of a free nation within the Empire, when she was to show to the world that Britons of the most distant Dominion were the bone and flesh and blood of the Motherland. Britain's menace was her menace. Her sons were Britain's sons. Her offer to help to the limit of her power, was as inevitable and as certain as the rising of the sun. Within a few days of the declaration of war, the Mother country had accepted New Zealand's offer of aid, and men of pease clamoured in their thousands to enrol.Never did fiery cross on page 2Highland hill stir the fighting blood of the clansmen as did the call for men stir the soul of young New Zealand. There was no need to make the call an appeal. The problem of the military authorities during those fateful days of August was not to get men, but to get them slowly enough. It was in this atmosphere of martial ardour and patriotism that the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment had its birth. It lacked the advantage of tradition, but its augury was bright.
In speaking of the birth of the Regiment, there is no desire or intention to belittle the value of the three Territorial units of mounted rifles in the Auckland Military District. From these territorial regiments—the 3rd Auckland Mounted Rifles, the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles, and the 11th North Auckland Mounted Rifles—the Auckland Mounted Rifles of the Main Body of the N.Z.E.F. was officered and supplied with the majority of its non-commissioned officers; its three squadrons were drawn almost entirely from the districts of the three territorial units, whose names they took; but in composition, the three squadrons had practically no resemblance to the territorial units of the same names. They had an entirely distinct individuality, and thus the A.M.R. of the N.Z.E.F. can be said to have come into being at the mobilisation of August, 1914.
No unit under the compulsory territorial training system, with its 18 to 25 years age limitation, could possibly hope to attain to the average standard of the rank and file of the A.M.R. with whom this history deals. The physique of the men was splendid, and from the colonial mode of life they inherited the initiative and resource which make for high military talent. But page 3no regiment of the force contained so many types and represented so many widely-divergent walks in civil life. There were lawyers and schoolmasters and students; there were bushmen and farmers and stockmen; there were tradesmen and labourers and clerks; one single tent in the Epsom camp included a schoolmaster, a barber, a coach driver, an accountant, a carpenter, a farm labourer, a commercial traveller, a farmer, and a lawyer. But a rare spirit of comradeship grew up within a few days in tents, in troops, and in squadrons, and so was born the Spirit of the Regiment which became more and more a living reality as the weeks and months went by, and flourished in glorious maturity on the crags and crests of Gallipoli, along the desert ways of Sinai, and throughout the waterless tracts of Palestine, where was enacted the last and greatest crusade. It was the spirit of the men who, upon the outbreak of hostilities, travelled fast from far back stations by horse and coach and launch and train to be "in time for the war"; it was the spirit which gave the last drop of water; the spirit which does not know when it is exhausted nor when it is beaten. It was the spirit of Kipling's "If"—
"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
"To serve your turn long after they are gone
"And to hold on when there is nothing in you
"Except the will which says to them 'Hold on!'"
Within a few days of the call for volunteers, the three squadrons of the Regiment were practically complete, and had commenced training at Epsom Camp, with Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. R. Mackesy in command. Of this officer's distinguished record more will be said later, but something of his character and personality should now page 4be given, because it was largely due to the outstanding qualities of the commander that the Regiment owed its sound and thorough foundations. A tall commanding figure, Lieutenant-Colonel Mackesy was then a man of 54 years, therefore many years over military age so far as it applied to the rank and file. He was a man of wide learning and experience, and there were few men in the Dominion who at that time realised how tremendous the conflict was to be. He was not of those who spoke so hopefully of the "Russian steam-roller," and how speedily it was going to roll up the eastern armies of Germany. It was not surprising, therefore, that the training he prescribed was hard and intensive. The feather-bed soldier had nothing to hope if he found himself under Colonel Mackesy. It need hardly be said, also, that the commanding officer was a strict disciplinarian, but he had no need for a detention barracks, the most dreaded punishment for serious default being to strike the offender's name from the roll. Hundreds of men were waiting to step into every vacancy, so a remarkably high standard of discipline prevailed. It was a unique method of punishment and one of the few occasions it could be practised. It was a modern translation of Shakespeare's lines:—
"He which hath no stomach to this fight,
"Let him depart, his passport shall be made."
Actually, however, a regiment composed of the first volunteers for war has few men of the serious defaulter type, and orderly room appearances were rare, and this continued to be the case with the A.M.R. throughout the whole period of hostilities.page 5
Second in command was Major Chapman, an officer who was to die almost at the beginning of his war service. Hale fellow well met, he won the respect of the men, and they were stern critics. As adjutant the Regiment had Captain Wood, N.Z.S.C., a highly efficient officer. The Regiment was fortunate in its squadron commanders—Major Tattersall of the 4th, Major McCarroll of the 11th, and Major Schofield of the 3rd. All possessed the confidence of their men, many of whom were their personal friends in civil life. So it came about that a very happy family sort of feeling prevailed—so much so that officers and troopers sometimes found themselves on the point of addressing each other by their christian names. Similarly, the happiest relations existed between the troopers and the junior officers.
In dealing with these days when the Regiment was in the making, the work of the sergeant-majors must not be overlooked. All, except one, had come from the Imperial Army. In inculcating a sense of discipline, and in grounding the men in the elementals, these soldiers performed a service of untold value. To illustrate the rawness, in the military sense, of some of the recruits who were so soon moulded into soldiers, an incident of the Epsom parade might be related. One of the frivolities of the moment was for a tent to "count out" another tent in unison. This bright morning one of the sergeant-majors was teaching a few elementary truths to a squad of men who had never been drilled in their lives before. He told them how to "number," and then gave the word of command. All went well until the tenth man was reached, and he, quite unconscious of the page 6enormity of his offence, serenely shouted, "Out." The face of the gallant S.M. was a study, and the homily he delivered is historical.
The matter of the greatest importance in the equipping of a regiment of mounted rifles is the provision of horses, and it was a day of tremendous anxiety for the men when remounts were issued. For days horses had been arriving at the remount depot from many destinations. The pick of the animals had already been ear-marked for the officers, but it was not generally known that all the "old soldiers," who had learned wisdom in South Africa, had paid secret visits to the depot and had noted good animals against the day of issue. Some, in fact, had gone the length of tying small pieces of twine to the tails to aid them in quickly recognising the animals when the descent was made upon them. But on the fateful day, alas, it was not a case of "who finds, keeps." Instead, the remounts were led round in a ring while the troop leaders were given alternate choices; and so it happened that neither the wise ones of South Africa nor the innocents from the pavements and the bush, were allotted the chargers of their choice, and loud were the lamentations. The only cheerful ones were those who had brought their own horses to camp, the instructions being that such horses, provided they were passed by the veterinary officer, were to remain in the possession of the old masters. At that time there were few who were inclined to enthuse over the horses. Even allowing for the usual effects of winter, there was still a look of roughness about the horses, and they were anything but uniform in stamp. Quite a number of the animals seemed to have been badly broken, if broken at all, and page 7generally there was not the appearance of quality one would expect to see in a collection of remounts purchased for war service. One man, a veteran too, rejoiced in a beast which obviously had relations in the kingdom of heavy Clydesdales. She suffered from strangles, and he called her Saucy Kate. Yet events proved that these same horses, excluding Saucy Kate and one or two like her, were the horses which survived the seven weeks' voyage to Egypt, standing all the way, and afterwards carried the bulk of the men through the desert campaign, beating the Arab horses at their own game. Many of these same horses did stretches of 50 and 60 hours without water in that torrid country, and ended their earthly career, after the final surrender of the Turks, at the hands of their own masters, who chose to take this heartbreaking course rather than risk their gallant four-footed comrades falling into the hands of cruel owners and ending their days in slavery.
The only men who evinced alarm about the equestrian qualifications of the troopers were the S.Ms. who had come from the Imperial cavalry. It was quite impossible for them to teach the men a real cavalry "seat"—their only failure—and often they were heard to lament over the "loose seats" of the troopers. "You might be able to stick on," remarked one of the instructors one day, "but I wouldn't say you could ride." However all differences on the question of riding were gradually smoothed out, the troopers admitting that the cavalry style was no doubt pretty, and the instructors at last agreeing that the colonial style was much more effectual than it looked.page 8
The days of August slipped quickly by, and September's days rapidly multiplied, and still there was no definite news of the departure of the Force. Fits of great depression occasionally swept over the A.M.R. owing to fears that colonial troops would not be considered efficient for modern war, that the war would be over before the New Zealand Force could get anywhere, that garrison duty in some inglorious spot would be their portion, and so on and so on. Little did the men dream of the great tasks they would be called on to perform, and the laurels that they or their successors were to bring home. Veterans now smile at these anxieties of former days, but none the less they are a little proud of the spirit from which those anxieties arose.
Training In Egypt. 1. Part of Zeitoun Camp. 2. A.M.R. on training trek. Halt on Ismalia Canal, on the way to Delta Barrage. 3. Regiment crossing Barrage Bridge over the Nile.
A.M.R. marching through Cairo on December 23 after Prince Hussein Kamel Pasha was proclaimed Sultan in the stead of Khedive Abbas Hilma Pasha, who had thrown in his lot with Turkey.
In a somewhat depressed frame of mind, the Regiment disembarked three days later. Two squadrons proceeded to Otahuhu and one to Taka-puna, where training was resumed until a more powerful escort was obtained. Three long weeks were so spent. On October 10 the Regiment again embarked without any warning, all except one troop being accommodated on the Star of India. On the evening of the following day the two ships, with H.M.S. Philomel escorting, steamed out of the Waitemata to join the rest of the convoy at Wellington. How memorable an event was that final departure! Ashore vast crowds, held by emotions too deep for expression, watched the moving ships get under way. The great dread laid its cold fingers on the hearts of the women, even if some stay-at-home men loudly scoffed at the idea of these soldiers ever getting to the war, which, of course, was then against Germany and Austria alone. It was well for the city and the relatives of the men that the extent of what the sacrifice was to be was not then realised. It was well that no one could know that within a few short months fully one-fifth of those cheering young men of the Auckland Mounted and Infantry units were to give their lives in the cause of humanity, and that almost all the remaining four-fifths were to suffer wounds or the health-wrecking page 10sickness of the Gallipoli campaign. With their splendid band playing the song of the immortal "Contemptibles" of France "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" the men of the A.M.R. took their last farewell of home, and set out on the Great Adventure. The glorious confidence of youth possessed them, an intense patriotism mingled with a keen sense of adventure fired their blood, and a determination to be worthy of the land they represented, shone like a guiding star. These emotions were not openly displayed, however. Then and always the A.M.R. assumed a pose of amused indifference which some of our Allies could never understand.
Wellington was reached on October 14, some hours after the arrival of H.M.S. Minotaur and the Japanese warship Ibuki, which were the adequate additions to the escort. No shore leave was granted to the Auckland men, although it is rumoured that several of them, wearing the uniform of ship's engineers, walked down the gangway to waiting launches and enjoyed good cheer ashore for the last time. Failing the chance of a trip on shore, one of the Regiment's jesters assisted with great alacrity in the loading of stores, hoping that his evil designs might be rewarded. The best "loot" he could get was a case of plug tobacco—but it was not tobacco. Only horse shoe nails were to be seen when the case was opened with great mystery in a dark corner.
At 6 a.m. on October 16, the grey-painted transports, escorted by the warships Minotaur, Psyche, Philomel, and Ibuki, sailed for an unknown destination. It was an event which marks page 11an epoch in the history of New Zealand. It might, indeed, be said that on the day when the Dominion's Main Body Force of 9,000 men sailed to the aid of the Motherland, she achieved nationhood. It was the first great expression of her Imperial obligations, and although her war effort was to reach the then undreamed of total of nearly 100,000 men, it was no mean achievement to despatch within two months of the acceptance of the offer of aid, an equipped force of 9,000 men.