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The Maoris in the Great War

The Lessons of the Push

The Lessons of the Push.

The Battalion's experience of the last three weeks, Major Ennis noted in his official diary, had demonstrated the vital necessity when an advance was made of pushing roads, light railways and tram lines forward with all possible speed. When the 2nd Anzac Corps took over this sector practically nothing forward of Wieltje had been done. No attempt had been made to make the road to Steenbeck fit for heavy traffic; the light railway was only laid as far as Wieltje, and nothing had been done in the way of tram lines. The front line was only 4,000 yards from Wieltje and our Division had to attack on the 4th October, the day after coming into the sector. The various corps at once commenced laying a plank road from Wieltje to Steenbeck, while the New Zealand Pioneers had to carry the road from Steenbeck as far forward as possible, and commence laying tram lines from Brigade Farm forward. The Light Railways were expected to have their line to Bridge Farm by page 130 the 3rd, but did not actually get there until about the 5th. They were therefore of no use in our first advance, and later were only used for their own construction and ammunition for the heavy artillery.

The Maoris made a start at once on road and tram line. For the latter they were at first promised three miles of 20-lb. track; this was altered to 1,500 yards of 9-lb., and finally, after labour had been wasted on formation it was found that only 500 yards of bare 20-lb. rails were available at Abeele, without sleepers, fish-plates and dog-spikes. Tram lines were at once stopped and the Pioneers never laid a rail. Attention was therefore concentrated on the roads. From Steenbeck to Spree Farm was a shaking bog, and it had to be fascined. Sufficient material was not available, so only a single track could be laid. Some guns got past this; many more were bogged. However, the weather kept fine until the night of the 3rd, and the attack of the 4th was well covered by the artillery. After the 4th the Battalion took over the road as far as Spree Farm, and with practically no material we had to make the road forward passable for guns. This could easily have been done in fine weather, but in the wet weather that followed, and hampered by the continual and increasing trains of pack animals the Pioneers had no chance. No further attempt could be made to push forward the tram lines owing to the lack of material. Even had this been available the congested state of traffic on the road from Ypres to Steenbeck made it almost impossible to get waggons with material forward.

The 47th Division relieved our infantry and were timed to attack on the 8th October. After their failure the New Zealand Division returned to the attack on the 12th. Both these attacks were failures, because—from the Pioneers' point of view—of the failure of roads, light railways and tram lines. With material available, a tram line could have been laid very quickly, at least to the bottom of Gravenstafel Hill, and would have been invaluable, if only for supply of ammunition and evacuation of wounded.