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The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919

Appendix "A." — The Canterbury Regiment at Sling

page 292

Appendix "A."
The Canterbury Regiment at Sling.

[Based on material contributed by Major R. A. R. Lawry, O.B.E. (Canterbury Regiment) Staff Captain 4th New Zealand Infantry (Reserve) Brigade].

When in April, 1916, the New Zealand Division was transferred from Egypt to France, there was left behind in Egypt, with a specially selected staff of officers and non-commissioned officers, the nucleus of a Training Battalion for each Infantry Brigade. The 1st and 2nd Brigade training battalions each consisted of Auckland, Canterbury, Otago, and Wellington companies, each company to supply reinforcements for the corresponding service battalion. The 3rd Brigade Training Battalion consisted of New Zealand Rifle Brigade personnel only.

In order to facilitate administration, it was decided to transfer the Base and Training Depôt to England. Sling Camp, near Bulford, Salisbury Plain, where the British section of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was encamped in 1914, was allotted for this purpose; and the training battalions, together with other arms of the service, numbering in all forty-one officers and seven hundred and four other ranks, left Alexandria on May 31st, 1916, disembarked at Plymouth on June 10th, and arrived the same day at Sling, where each unit was accommodated in a separate hutted camp. The Canterbury companies of the 1st and 2nd Brigade Training Battalions were commanded by Captain A. F. R. Rohloff and 2nd Lieutenant C. F. Carey respectively.

Next day Colonel V. S. Smyth, N.Z.S.C., took command of the Depôt, which was thereafter known as the New Zealand Reserve Group. Training under unit commanders began at once, and arrangements were made for the training of infantry officers and non-commissioned officers at various schools of instruction in the Southern Command. Those who obtained first-class passes were appointed instructors at Sling in their respective subjects.

A few days later the 1st and 2nd Brigade Training Battalions were re-organized—the former to consist of North Island troops and the latter of South Island troops. The South Island Battalion, under the command of Major G. Mitchell, Otago Regiment,page 293 was known in future as the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Canterbury-Otago Regiments, and comprised two companies for each of those Regiments.

On August 12th the strength of the Group having increased, owing to the arrival of the 12th and 13th Reinforcements and sundry drafts from the New Zealand Command Depôt at Cod-ford, to over one hundred and sixty officers and three thousand six hundred other ranks, the reserve companies for each Infantry Regiment were re-organized into separate Reserve Battalions, the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Canterbury Regiment being under the command of Colonel G.J. Smith, T.D., Canterbury Regiment.

Reinforcements at the rate of approximately one thousand per month continued to arrive from New Zealand, where they had received from eight to sixteen weeks' elementary training. On arrival at Sling a reinforcement lost its identity as such, and was absorbed into the various Regiments of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, as far as possible in accordance with the districts in New Zealand where the men normally resided. They immediately commenced a course of training, the duration of which varied according to the urgency of the demand from France.

Men from New Zealand or from hospital who had had previous service overseas were posted to their original regiments, and received a short refresher course, chiefly in musketry and trench warfare. All troops were graded in platoons according to the degree of efficiency attained, backward men being set back into less advanced platoons. The training was severe, lasting from 6.30 a.m. until 9 p.m., often seven days a week, but the health of the troops was excellent.

Good rifle ranges, a live bombing ground, and a gas chamber were available in the immediate vicinity, and the large areas of undulating War Department land alongside the camp were eminently suitable for training in field operations by day and by night. Large vehicle sheds and gutted stables and three covered miniature ranges were used for indoor instruction in wet weather.

Owing to the heavy casualties to the Division during the Battle of the Somme, 1916, the demand for reinforcements during this period was very great, and training was reduced topage 294 an intensified course covering from eight to twenty-eight days, according to the demand. To economise in administrative staffs, the double-battalion organisation was soon resumed, Colonel G. J. Smith, T.D., commanding the Canterbury-Otago Battalion. When the demand for reinforcements again became normal, each draft arriving from New Zealand was given four weeks' training at Sling.

On March 29th, 1917, Colonel G. J. Smith was appointed Officer in Charge of Administration, New Zealand Reserve Group, and Major J. L. Saunders, D.S.O., Otago Regiment, succeeded him as Commanding Officer of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Canterbury-Otago Regiments.

In April, 1917, the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade was formed for service in France, and the creation of a 3rd Service Battalion for each Infantry Regiment necessitated that the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion should in future be known as the 4th (Reserve) Battalion.

On July 30th, 1917, Major J. L. Saunders was appointed G.S.O. of the New Zealand Reserve Group, and Major C. B. Brereton (Canterbury Regiment) assumed command of the 4th (Reserve) Battalion Canterbury-Otago Regiments. In August of that year separate Reserve Battalions for each of the four Regiments were again established; and Major Brereton remained in command of the Canterbury Battalion until succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Griffiths on October 6th, 1917.

It had always been held that the four weeks' course of training at Sling was not sufficient to produce the standard of efficiency required in France. Owing to the great distance of New Zealand from the theatre of war, the training there was as not up-to-date and complete as it would otherwise have been, and much of the training at Sling was necessarily of an elementary nature. Towards the end of 1917, therefore, the course was lengthened to eight weeks, with very satisfactory results.

At the beginning of 1918 a system of exchange of officers between the service and reserve battalions was brought into force. Instead of the company commanders at Sling being selected from officers who were passing through the reserve battalion on their way to rejoin their service battalions, they were now sent over from the service battalions on a four months' tour of duty withpage 295 the reserve battalion. By this means, the latest ideas in the field reached the reserve battalion more quickly than had hitherto been the case.

Lieutenant-Colonel O. H. Mead succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel Griffiths as Commanding Officer of the Canterbury Battalion on July 5th, 1918, on the latter being appointed Commanding Officer of the New Zealand Command Depôt at Codford.

On January 1st, 1919, the Canterbury Battalion was reorganized into the Canterbury District Repatriation Detachment for all arms of the service, Lieutenant-Colonel Mead remaining in command until August 14th, when the detachment was disbanded, the final details being transferred to other detachments.