The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
A few days after this we crossed the river and encamped on the north side, leaving a redoubt with a force on the sour side. This was very early in March, and on the 10th there was a slight gale came up that way. All the tents were levelled. General Cameron could be seen crouched in an old case under a bank. All the official documents went soaring away all over the country, like big flakes of snow.page 79
I was very anxious to see the sea in its angry state, so I went towards the cliffs, covering my face and forcing my way along, but I was disappointed.
I dared not uncover my face, for the gravel and spray were so intense that I soon retreated.
Oh yes, that was a good old-fashioned gale, not the kind of thing experienced in these days.
Paper collars were just beginning to be the fashion, and an officer of the Royal Irish had quite a heap of them in his tent. His servant, a man of his regiment, said one day, "shall I wash thim collars, sir."
"If you like," was the reply.
So he gathered them up with a bundle of other articles, and off he went down to the river.
The officer goes to another and said, "That fool of a servant of mine is off down to wash my dirty paper collars, let's go and sit on the bank to see and hear what happens."
The man commenced operations, and all went gaily till the collars began to be operated upon. Before long he ceased singing a favourite ditty he was going over, and fixed his eyes on the paper that was drifting away over the gentle ripples of the river; then he looked at the flimsy remains in his hands, and was evidently of the opinion that he was unable to do justice to the occasion, so he finally wound up with a few very powerful adjectives for the benefit of the spalpeen who took his master in by selling sich things as thim for collars.
On the 13th March, after establishing posts at Patea, the remainder of the force moved further on up the coast. How far it was the general's intention to have gone that day I could not say, perhaps he depended on circumstances. This is very wise at times, and proved so in this case, for the enemy claimed a big say in the matter.
The force was all formed up and everything ready for moving off, when the General gave directions for the "Die Hards" to take the advance. This was not relished by the other regiments; but, as a matter of course, they had no say in it. On we moved, with two companies as an advance guard.
We had got a couple of miles on, when a trooper was sent in advance on to a ridge to see if any natives were about. He had hardly reached the top, when he suddenly wheeled his charger round and galloped back. He had not reached page 80 us when firing commenced from another ridge a couple of hundred yards from the first one.
The two leading companies were at once thrown out in skirmishing order, and away we flew. We were in this too. My company was one of the leading ones. Poor Father McSweeney dismounted and clung to the lee side of the hill. We were soon on top of this, when we exchanged a few shots with our friends opposite, then advanced. The troopers charged after them; but they happened to be too neat a precipice, down which the horses could not go; but they got down, and the troopers moved off to the left, thinking to get down round that way.
By the time the enemy were running out from below we had got to the top. This gave us a wonderful advantage over them. All near were soon disposed of. Several made for the river, thinking to cross; but alas! they were [unclear: dooomed]: to disappointment. None reached the other side. As soon as we saw nothing near to engage our attention, we moved down to the flat.
Colonel Weare, C.B., 50th Foot, who was Acting-brigadier had got down by this time, and was urging the men down the bank. The village of Kakaramea was not far ahead. When getting down, a brother sergeant of my company slipped, and neve stopped till he came to the bottom. Colonel Weare saw this and thinking, I presume, that it was through eagerness to be them, he called out, "Well done, that sergeant."
After all was over, and we had or were about pitching on tents in the village of Kakaramea, the Orderly Sergeant of my company was sent out for (myself) by Colonel Butler, why said, "Who was the sergeant spoken to by Colonel Wear down at the cliffs."
"Sergeant O. C_____, sir."
"Send him to me. Colonel Weare wishes to see him.
I went off and hunted up Dan, and said, "Dan, the Colonel wants you."
Dan was a very fussy man, always anxious to put on lot of side when a superior was about; and in a surprised was he asked me what he was wanted for.
I told him I didn't know, but that the Colonel seemed in towering rage; so you are in for it over something.
Dan reluctantly moved away in search of the Colonel, who at once took him to Colonel Weare. There Dan met a [unclear: ra] surprise, for the Colonel informed him that it was he page 81 intention to recommend him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. This for a sergeant carries £15 with it.
Dan was so taken aback that he nearly fainted, and no wonder. When he came back he said, "What do you think, Ned? I'm to be recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal."
I said, "My word, Dan, that was a lucky slip for you, I wish I had done the same."
In due time the medal was presented on the Market Square, Wanganui.
During this day and night a redoubt was thrown up here with the view of establishing another post, and the following day the main force moved on a few miles to a place called Manutahi. A good stiff day's work was before a large working party to cut a track for drays, &c., through a bush into a village. As the advance guard moved up to the village a few harmless shots were fired, and the natives bid it adieu for a time, and so far as a place of abode, forever.
I was detailed for outlying picquet that night, and the party I was connected with had to cover the right and half the front of the camp. When moving away after posting our second double sentry one of the men suddenly exclaimed, "There's a native."
"Where," I replied.
"Just there," he said, indicating.
The officer pooh-poohed the idea.
"But," I said, "this is the direction the natives ran as we came up, and it will not be safe to allow two men here alone (the place was covered with high fern and flax) without a good search round."
"No use," the officer said, "move on."
So they were cautioned to be on the alert and give the usual signal should they see or hear of anything about in the covering, and on we went, and all sentries were posted but one file. I was leading, and just in front and about the distance our last file should be posted was a large bunch of flax, and as I came to it, and was passing on the camp side of it, I heard a rustling on the other side. I suddenly sprang back and looked; there I saw a huge Maori creeping away with his gun at the trail. I levelled my rifle, but the officer would not allow me to fire.
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"How do you know," he said, "but that it is one of our own men."
in my opinion that is how a large percentage of awards are granted.
Whilst on the subject of decorations, I would here observe, that like most other things matters at the Antipodes are reversed, and this has been specially noted as regards distinguished decorations. "Whoever heard of a man in the Imperial Army putting in an application for a Victoria Cross or other decoration, except the long service and usual war medals? It is not for individuals to claim, such must be moved for by others. Is it right that a man should be the judge of his own conduct? There are several instances on record in this Colony of where this has been done.
I know two instances in particular where they postered every officer they had known out here, after they returned to the old country, to recommend them for the Colonial Cross, and after no end of trying, extending over many years, they received them.
Some "heroes" too who have been immortalized in a book of that name strut about decorated with two New Zealand war medals. They got one from each government—Imperial and Colonial. My own ideas are that there is just as much honour attached to one as one dozen of the same kind of medals.
It was not intended by General Cameron to establish a permanent post here, because communication was open nearer the sea to Patea, but straight from that place to the coast near the mouth of the Manawapou River was the place chosen for redoubts and a depot of supplies. Potatoes were found at Manutahi by scores of tons already dug. They were all carted down to Manawpou for future use. Pork was also found in plenty—running about. In fact this afforded about the only sport we could avail ourselves of—that and cooking them. So plentiful was pork that the Commissariat General (afterwards Sir Edward Strickland, now deceased) offered us extra grog in lieu of the ration meat. This was cheerfully accepted, and was kept up for several days.
Shortly we all moved down to Manawopou and encamped on the south side of that river. A redoubt was thrown up; then another on the north side, between that river and the Tangoho, another river about a quarter of a mile north of it; here also were erected store huts. When this was finally completed each redoubt was manned, and the remainder of the force moved on about a mile beyond the Tangaoho, and was page 84 there for some days. Very little was done here, that is, beyond the usual camp life.
Then we moved on to Waingogoro, encamping on the south side of that river. Two redoubts were erected here—one on each side of the river. Now and then a force would go out looking for game, also making themselves acquainted with the country round about; but rarely was there any game caught.
Before long the main force retreated, leaving each redoubt occupied by part of the "Die Hards," and those at Manawopou were also manned by some of our men, the remainder going back to Wanganui. My company was doomed to ruralise for some months at Manawopou. Our main duty here was to meet half way between there and Patea the convoys; next day take them half way to Waingogoro; the third day go and meet it again; and on the fourth take it half way to Patea. This, with guards' picquets and procuring firewood, just kept us from getting robust.
Now and then a little excitement would be created through a few thoughtless Maoris firing a few shots at the convoys. On one of those occasions our party went to meet the convoy coming from Waingogoro. We had a foot-bridge for crossing the Tangaoho River; but the troopers (six) who usually accompanied us had to wait till the tide was out sufficiently to allow them to cross. This delayed them some time, and one was deputed to bring the officer's horse (Lieutenant Waller's), and we had reached our destination before there was any sign of them. The two escorts did not exactly meet; but the officers usually did for a chat.
The drays were on their way to us, when we saw a trooper coming with all speed leading Lieutenant Waller's horse. We at once knew that something had happened, or he would not be alone, and at once fell in.
The trooper said, "Only for that d_____d horse I could have killed half a dozen Maoris."
This was taken as slightly bombastic, for the man was well known. One man said, "Why didn't you let it go?" "But where's the other men?" was asked.
"One is dead. The others are gone back."
The affair looked "queer." We hurried off, some going straight to the scene, and others tearing away in skirmishing order round bush wards, with the object, if possible, of cutting off the retreat of the natives; but we could see none.page 85
When we reached the fatal spot there was poor Taylor—dead—with a huge gash right across his forehead, supposed to have been done with his own sword, which, with his carbine, was gone. His horse, too, was dead, and partly on him, another horse was kicking in agony on the ground, and a Captain Fisk, a militia officer who happened to be with us on his way to Wanganui with the convoy, and who some years after was drowned from a steamer between Taranaki and Auckland, took a rifle and put it out of its misery.
On another occasion our party were at the meeting place on the Patea side waiting for the coming convoy, when we saw a couple of troopers riding after some horses that had broken away from Patea. The men were in their shirt sleeves and unarmed. The offending horses made for the direction of the Manutahi Bush, and when the men found themselves within range they stopped, and some natives in the bush, seeing they were not likely to go nearer, opened on them. One of the troopers' horses was knocked over, and as the firing began, the stray horses turned round and went homewards.
We rushed up when we heard the firing, and lucky for the man whose horse was shot that we did, for he was held there. We got him free from the horse, and took saddle, &c., and got the other trooper, who took his comrade up behind him. We poured a volley or two in the direction of the bush and retired. This gave rise to all sorts of brave expressions from the enemy, which, of course, only amused us.
The scamp Kemble Bent deserted from his post on the south side of the Manawopou River, and went among the Maoris. Bent was a very bad egg. He was an American, and hated our service with all the hatred which characterises some men of that continent. He was frequently in trouble, and I don't think there was a man in his company sorry to see him "clear."