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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 2 (May 1, 1935)

Atkinson and the Rifle Volunteers

Atkinson and the Rifle Volunteers.

Natural leaders emerged from the few hundreds of bushmen and ploughmen and stock-raisers; men already well schooled in the rugged toil of settlement, familiar with the forest, and its tracks, and quick to adapt themselves to the conditions of guerilla fighting. One of these leaders was young Harry Albert Atkinson, farmer and bushman, a man of yeoman family, strong of frame, eager and sometimes fiery of temperament, fearless yet cautious where caution was needed; determined and masterful. He was one of the first men to join the afterwards celebrated Taranaki Rifle Volunteer Company, when it was formed in New Plymouth in 1858—the first volunteer corps in the British countries to fight an action with a foe. That pioneer company of settler-soldiers was a hundred strong. Atkinson quickly learned his drill; he was already, like most of his comrades, a competent rifle shot. When the tragic quarrel at Waitara began in 1860, two companies were formed, and the No. 2 Company elected Harry Atkinson as their captain.

It was not long before the Taranaki Rifles and the Militia had an opportunity of distinguishing themselves by their courage and steadiness under fire and their efficiency as skirmishers. Their first encounter with the Maoris was at Waireka, on the coast five miles south of New Plymouth. This was a combat of varying fortunes ending most dramatically by a Naval column storming a fortified position and relieving the hard-pressed Volunteers and Militia.