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A Sketch of the New Zealand War

General Cameron XIII

page 117

General Cameronpage 118page break
Photograph of a Maori storehouse, or pātaka

Maori Storehouse

page 119 XIII

Just at this point, when we were on the eve of rendering Wiremu Kingi's position at Puke-Rangiore untenable, an armistice was sought by Wiremu Tamihana, the King-maker. The Maori had always got the better of us in diplomacy, and there is little doubt we were outwitted on this occasion. The capture of an empty pa meant little to us, and that is all the glory we could have achieved; but the moral effect on the King Movement might have been immense. Nevertheless, our political dissensions were so galling that the armistice was granted. The fact was, most of our South Island Parliamentary representatives, who had suffered nothing, insisted that the war should be prosecuted to the bitter end. In this they were supported by the members from Taranaki, because their homes were devastated and their future gone. The rest of the North Island representatives, supported largely by the Province of Nelson, insisted on peace.

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An armistice was the only possible compromise, and it was substantially agreed upon as between independent nations.

General Cameron arrived about this time, and the War Office poured in troops from both India and England. The Maori foresaw the consequences, and, notwithstanding the arrival of Sir George Grey as Governor—or rather, in consequence of it—both strained every effort to make ready for the final struggle.

General Cameron was in the prime of life. He enjoyed high reputation, was an iron-grey man, a rigid disciplinarian, reticent and austere. His arrival was a surprise dramatically effected. Arriving by steamer, he rode out to Waitara from New Plymouth without giving any notice, handed his authority to General Pratt, and at once took command. I was in medical charge of the field hospital at Waitara. Dressed in a blue jumper, with a pair of brown tweed trousers on tucked into digger's knee-boots, I wore a forage cap with the Army Medical Staff badge. As I was seeing my patients in a large marquee tent, in stalked this military figure. I saluted, and went on dressing the men's wounds.

General Cameron stared at me and said,—

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"Are you a medical officer?"

I said, "Yes, General."

He replied, "I could not have thought it."

"Nevertheless, General, it is a fact"

Soon an order was issued for the removal of the headquarters of the 65th Regiment to Auckland. I accompanied it. One day I was walking down Queen Street; it came on to rain, and I found myself sheltering under a verandah with a gentleman in plain clothes, whom I knew to be the General. I respected his incognito, and engaged in a general conversation with him. He knew perfectly well who I was. I avoided military subjects, and discussed the social condition of the Colony.

He was clearly impressed. Every kind of knowledge was important to him in his difficult position. The shower lifted, and we parted, exchanging the usual courtesies.

The General required just then a report on the housing and sanitary condition of the women and children of some Indian regiments who had just arrived. I was selected for the duty, and sent in a straightforward, business-like report, urging various concessions outside the prescribed line. This led to my being put in medical charge of a flying column sent to an entirely different part of the Colony, where page 122the war had not as yet broken out. Thus I missed seeing all the important military operations in the Waikato.

When, however, General Cameron moved his headquarters to Wanganui, on the west coast, I received orders to join that expeditionary force. It were bootless to describe the condition of things I found there, or the hardships I underwent. Suffice it to say that the persecutions of the soldier under the cumbersome system in vogue surpassed anything I had previous experience of. General Cameron had loudly declared that New Zealand was the grave of glory—he succeeded in making it an abode of misery for the soldier. Such marching, counter-marching, picketing, such a work of double sentries, such an ado to prevent surprises, would have taken the heart out of any man. The great military strategy was to march all night through slush and rain, in darkness and confusion, and encamp at break of day on some miserable flat reeking with swamp water. How well do I remember an ass of a Colonel commanding a wing of the 68th Foot bawling out constantly, as we floundered through the tangled roots and mud in the darkness of the winter's night, "Keep your fours, men!" and the reply in a strident page 123voice, "Ah, then, is it all fours you mean, Colonel?"

I have said enough. I went through months of it, and had it not been for a sense of humour strong in me, I sometimes think I would have died under the hardship.

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