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

Chapter I. — The Formation of the Regiment

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Chapter I.
The Formation of the Regiment.

The history of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force begins on August 7th, 1914, when the New Zealand Government cabled to the Imperial Government offering the services of the headquarters staff and personnel of a Division of two brigades—one of mounted rifles and the other of infantry.* This offer was accepted on the 14th, and the mobilisation and concentration of the Division began immediately. Major-General Sir A. J. Godley, K.C.M.G., C.B., was appointed to command the Division; and he continued to command the New Zealand Expeditionary Force after he had been given the command of an Army Corps, and until the Expeditionary Force was disbanded. As far as the infantry brigade was concerned, recruiting proceeded on a Territorial basis, and preference was given to members of the existing Territorial Regiments. It was decided to send two battalions from each island—one from each of the principal provincial districts; and the geographical situation of the Territorial Regimental areas made it possible to allot four Regiments to each battalion, for the purposes of recruiting. Accordingly, recruits for the infantry of the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were obtained from the following Regiments:—

* One brigade only of artillery, consisting of brigade headquarters, three 18-pounder field batteries (4 guns each), and an ammunition column, accompanied the Main Body; but the infantry brigade had the regular establishment of field ambulance, field company (engineers), supply company (Army Service Corps), etc.

Auckland Battalion.

3rd (Auckland), 6th (Hauraki), 15th (North Auckland), and 16th (Waikato) Regiments.

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Wellington Battalion.

7th (Wellington West Coast), 9th (Hawke's Bay), 11th (Taranaki), and 17th (Ruahine) Regiments. The 5th (Wellington) Regiment was not represented, as it had been largely drawn on to provide the Samoan Force.

Canterbury Battalion.

1st (Canterbury), 2nd (South Canterbury), 12th (Nelson), and 13th (North Canterbury and Westland) Regiments.

Otago Battalion:

4th (Otago), 8th (Southland), 10th (North Otago), and 14th (South Otago) Regiments.

Thus came about the peculiar system of numbering the companies of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade (and later of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Infantry Brigades), which was later on to cause so much mystification to units of other forces. As far as the New Zealand Brigades were concerned, however, this curious system caused no practical inconvenience, and though the Territorial system was not strictly observed in some of the later reinforcements, it was always the aim of battalion commanders to allot new men to the company representing the district of New Zealand from which they had come. There is no doubt that in this way local pride was converted into pride in the company, and so in the Territorial Regiment in New Zealand from which that company had its origin.

It is not, however, with the 1st, 2nd, 12th, and 13th Regiments that this book is concerned, but with what may be termed the "artificial" Canterbury Regiment—the Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force—which was built up from the four Territorial Regiments. There are many officers and men who refer with pride to their association with the Canterbury Regiment, who have never had any service with the Territorials. Yet now the Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force has been disbanded, it is to the Territorial Regiments that belongs the privilege of carrying on its traditions; and it must not be forgotten that it was the Territorials who first made its name as a fighting unit.

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Until after the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula, there was only one battalion of the Canterbury Regiment in the field. Then the large number of reinforcements accumulated in Egypt, and the arrival of two battalions of rifles, then called "The Trentham Regiment," made possible the formation of a Division of New Zealand Infantry. The Imperial Government having notified its desire to have infantry rather than mounted troops, the reinforcements for the latter were drawn upon to help to make up a second Infantry Brigade; and a certain number of officers and men were transferred from the Mounted Rifle Brigade to the 2nd Infantry Brigade. The 3rd (Rifle) Brigade was formed with the two battalions of the "Trentham Regiment" as a nucleus; and its fighting strength was completed by the arrival of two more battalions in March. 1916.

The original Brigade now became the 1st Brigade, and few of its personnel were transferred to the 2nd Brigade, the exceptions being senior officers and company commanders of the new battalions, and a stiffening of junior officers and of non-commissioned officers. The 2nd Brigade also consisted of one battalion from each of the four principal provincial districts; and, as in the case of the 1st Brigade, each of the sixteen companies wore the badges of the Territorial Regiment which it represented.

To distinguish the men of the new battalions from those of the old, distinctive patches, to be worn on the back of the tunic, were issued to each battalion of the 2nd Brigade on its formation. The patch of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was a scarlet triangle above an inverted dark blue triangle, on a square black ground.* The strength of each infantry battalion was now laid down as thirty-three officers and nine hundred and seventy-seven other ranks, and this was maintained till May, 1917. The battalions were then re-organised on a basis of thirty-four officers and nine hundred and ten other ranks, which was the establishment of the infantry battalions till the Armistice of November, 1918. In January of that year, it was found necessary to reduce the strength of infantry in each British page 4 Division from twelve battalions to nine battalions. As the New Zealand Expeditionary Force had a sufficient supply of reinforcements in hand, no such reduction was made in the New Zealand Division.

At the end of 1916, the separation of the battalions of the various regiments having proved inconvenient in practice, chiefly in the matter of reinforcements, and the exchange of officers between battalions, the General Officer Commanding the New Zealand Expeditionary Force decided to reorganize the 1st and 2nd Brigades. On January 1st, 1917, the 2nd Auckland and 2nd Wellington Battalions were transferred from the 2nd Brigade to the 1st, and the 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago Battalions came to the 2nd Brigade. New patches were devised for the 1st Battalion of each regiment, that of the 1st Canterbury Battalion being the same as that of the 2nd Battalion, but worn sideways with the scarlet triangle on the left, instead of on top.

The change in the brigades was not at first welcomed by the battalions; but from the regimental point of view the gain was very great, and if there were some slight feelings of soreness, they quickly passed away. Eventually, the 1st Canterbury Battalion had the honour of having its Commanding Officer (Lieut.-Colonel R. Young) promoted Brigadier-General; and though he was lost to the Regiment for a while, his subsequent appointment to command the 2nd Brigade gave very great satisfaction.

During the winter of 1916-1917, large numbers of reinforcements had accumulated in England, consisting not only of drafts from New Zealand, but also of men of the Division who had been wounded, chiefly at the Somme. At the request of the Imperial Government, these men were formed into a 4th Brigade, consisting of a 3rd Battalion from each of the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, and Otago Regiments. These went into camp at Codford at the end of March, 1917, and left for France at the end of May. The new battalions also wore distinguishing patches, that of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion consisting of a dark blue square, with a perpendicular scarlet stripe down the centre.

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The arrangements made between the Imperial and New Zealand Governments provided that the latter should not be called upon to provide extra reinforcements to maintain the strength of the 4th Brigade; and that the Brigade should be disbanded in the event of the Division falling below strength, and the drafts from New Zealand being insufficient to supply all the men required by the Division. The heavy losses of the Division at Passchendaele, and during the following winter in the Ypres Salient, drained all its available reinforcements; and in consequence, in February, 1918, the 4th Brigade was disbanded, and the 3rd Battalions of the four regiments ceased to exist as service battalions. Those officers and men who were not immediately required for reinforcing the Division were formed into entrenching battalions. Despite their name, they saw some desperate fighting in the spring of 1918, and did useful work in helping to stop the German advance in Flanders.

Finally, there was the Reserve Battalion of the Regiment, which was called the 3rd or 4th Battalion, according to the number of service battalions for the time being in the field. An account of the system of training and administration of this battalion will be found in Appendix "A."

To return now to the mobilization of the original Canterbury Battalion of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the quotas supplied by the Territorial Regiments were assembled at the local Territorial headquarters and medically examined there. They were then concentrated at their regimental headquarters, those of the 1st Regiment at Christchurch, of the 2nd Regiment at Timaru, of the 12th Regiment at Nelson, and the West Coast quota of the 13th Regiment at Greymouth, and were re-examined at those centres. The North Canterbury men of the 13th Regiment went direct to Christchurch, arriving there on August 14th, the same day as the men of the 1st Regiment went into camp at the Addington Show Grounds. The following day the South Canterbury and Westland men arrived, and the Nelson men reached the camp on Sunday, August 16th.

The battalion was organized on the old basis of four double companies, of a strength of two hundred and fifty each, and each divided into four platoons. Each company was commanded by a major, with a captain as second-in-command, and with a page 6 subaltern to command each platoon. In addition, the Expeditionary Force took with it its first reinforcement of ten per cent. of its strength. These extra men were included in the quotas supplied by the Territorial Regiments, and were attached to the battalions for training and discipline. Separate rolls of the reinforcement were kept, and the men were not posted to the companies of the four battalions, but when the Main Body sailed for Gallipoli they accompanied it.

In command of the Canterbury Battalion was Lieut.-Colonel D. McB. Stewart, the Commanding Officer of the 1st (Canterbury) Regiment in the Territorial Forces. The complete list of the officers of the Canterbury Battalion at the date of its departure from New Zealand is as follows:—

1st (Canterbury) Company:
2nd (South Canterbury) Company:
  • Officer Commanding.—Major D. Grant.
  • Second in Command.—Captain F. B. Brown.
  • Subalterns.—Lieutenant J. C. Hill, Lieutenant R. A. R. Lawry, Lieutenant C. C. Barclay, Lieutenant O. H. Mead.
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12th (Nelson) Company:
13th (North Canterbury and Westland) Company:

* The black ground was chosen for two reasons—one the association of this colour with the New Zealand football team, the "All Blacks," and the other as a compliment to the Brigade's commander, Brigadier-General Braithwaite, of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, of whose uniform a bunch of black ribbon hanging from the tunic collar is a distinctive feature.