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Hero Stories of New Zealand

Rags of Glory: The Colours of the 58th

page 38

Rags of Glory: The Colours of the 58th

THE Queen's and regimental colours of the 58th Regiment (the “Black Cuffs”) are preserved as a sacred relic in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The age-worn flags were left in the care of the citizens of Auckland when new colours were presented the Regiment on its departure for England. During the period the 58th were in New Zealand, thirteen years, more than thirteen hundred men served in its ranks. Over a thousand of these took their discharges here and became permanent settlers. The regiment, what was left of it, sailed from Auckland for England in 1858. The scene at the last parade in the Albert Barracks on the departure of the remnant of the Black Cuffs is a subject one would like to see some of our artists set on canvas, a picture of pathos and patriotic devotion. This was the old soldiers' farewell as described by an eyewitness that day (November 19, 1858):

“….. As the corps formed up to the call of bugle and beat of drum, only 120 men gathered round the tattered and shot-riven colours. The survivors of the wars had fallen into the ranks of civilian life, and were engaged in the heroic work of colonisation, for peace has its victories as well as war, and the glory of saving life is greater than that of destroying it. The women and children had embarked in the transport, and all that remained was the last parade and roll-call, and final march to the wharf. Then I saw one of those incidents which no man could witness unmoved. On that parade page 39 ground were gathered grey-bearded and bronze-visaged men, whose well-knit and martial figures bespoke the old veteran, who had tramped, some of them, thirty and forty miles through wretched bullock tracks from the bush, to bid ‘Good-bye’ and ‘God bless you’ to old comrades who had been with them in the baptism of fire at Okaihau, at Ohaeawai, at Ruapekapeka, the Hutt and Wanganui. Some of those veterans, in their travel-stained clothing, went up and, reverently baring their heads, with tears coursing down their manly cheeks, kissed the old tattered colours under which they had fought and bled and were prepared to die if need be.”

There is inspiration there for a picture, surely!