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

Chapter XVIII. — The March to Germany — and Garrison Duty in Cologne

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Chapter XVIII.
The March to Germany
and Garrison Duty in Cologne.

The 2nd Brigade rested in Le Quesnoy till November 11th, and on the 10th provided a guard of honour for M. Poincaré, President of the French Republic, on the occasion of his visit to the town. The following afternoon the brigade began to march to the Beauvois area, news of the Armistice having been received during the morning. The night of the 11th was spent in billets at Quievy, and the march was resumed next morning.

The time in Beauvois was spent at first in light training and recreation; but later on a good deal of attention was paid to route marching, in preparation for the march to Germany, During this period Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart left the 2nd Battalion, to take up the duties of Director of Education to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Major N. R. Wilson assumed command until December 4th, when Lieutenant-Colonel Stitt was transferred from the 1st Battalion to the 2nd.

On November 28th the march began; and as the brigade passed through the area occupied by the 37th Division, the latter's bands played the column through the villages, and its troops lined the streets to give our men a hearty send-off—a compliment that was much appreciated by everyone.

Lack of space prevents a detailed account of the march, but a list of the billetting areas of the Canterbury Battalions will be found in Appendix "E." The weather was wonderful for the time of the year, and there were only four actual marching days that were wet. The roads were for the most part good, but the boots worn by the men were not good enough to stand a long march; and as supplies of new boots and materials for repairs were a long time in arriving, a good deal of discomfort was suffered by many of the men.

The issue of rations, though no smaller than usual, proved insufficient to sustain the men on a lengthy march. It is suggested that the explanation is that men engaged in trench page 288warfare, which is more or less sedentary, do not require as much to eat as men who are expending their energy in marching long distances. Fortunately, potatoes and other vegetables could be bought in many of the villages, and the regimental funds provided by the people of Canterbury enabled the rations to be substantially increased.

The long stay of the New Zealand Division in Flanders had given its members a rather poor opinion of the Belgians; but its march to Germany caused that opinion to he altered. The New Zealanders were greeted with enthusiasm, and met with the greatest kindness and hospitality; this was particularly marked in the district round Charleroi, at Auvelais, and at Verviers, the last large town through which the Division passed.

The 2nd Brigade crossed the German frontier on December 20th, entrained at Herbesthal and reached Ehrenfeld, a suburb of Cologne, the same day. The Y.M.C.A., working at both ends of the train journey, showed once again its energy and enterprise by providing hot drinks and food for the troops. The 1st Canterbury Battalion was the first battalion of the Division to reach Germany, as it left its last billets in Belgium at 1.30 a.m. on the 20th, entrained early in the morning, and arrived at Ehrenfeld at 10 a.m.

The brigade was stationed at Mülheim, on the right bank of the Rhine; and the route taken from Ehrenfeld skirted the town of Cologne, and crossed the river by the bridge of boats at Mülheim. The 1st Canterbury Battalion marched into the barracks of the German 16th Infantry Regiment, where it was very comfortably quartered. The 2nd Battalion arrived at Ehrenfeld just after dark the same day, and began to march to Mülheim at 6 p.m. It had been intended that this battalion should also be quartered in the barracks, but the space allotted to it was occupied by English troops. After three uncomfortable days in temporary quarters, the battalion was accommodated in two large schools, near the barracks. It was, however, several weeks before anything approaching barrack-room conditions was attained.

The duties of the 2nd Brigade, in its capacity of part of the Army of Occupation, were chiefly to provide numerous isolated guards over enemy munitions of war. A whole company was page break page 289permanently stationed at the dye-works at Leverkusen, four miles north of Mülheim, to provide guards over a large store of high-explosives there. The 13th Company of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was detailed to perform this duty when the brigade arrived at Mülheim; and was afterwards relieved by a company of the 1st Battalion.

The smaller permanent guards and the usual battalion and company guards and fatigue parties, provided by the remaining companies of the two battalions, kept the majority of the men fully employed. In addition there was drill, physical training, and route marching in the mornings. In the afternoons leave was granted to all ranks to be absent from barracks; this leave extended at first to Cologne, but later on only a limited number of men were allowed passes to the city.

A special trip by steamer, up the Rhine as far as Königs-winter, took place on January 2nd; and small parties with guides were daily taken to Bonn, and round the sights of Cologne.

Christmas was celebrated by both battalions with as near an approach to festivity as was possible, though transport difficulties had prevented the arrival of the turkeys ordered months before. These arrived in time for the New Year, when the real Christmas dinner was held. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel Stitt had returned to the 1st Battalion as Commanding officer, on Lieutenant-Colonel Row's departure to a course at Camberley; and Major N. R. Wilson resumed command of the 2nd Battalion, with the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

On January 4th and 6th the 2nd Brigade practised the action to be taken by it, as laid down by Division, in the event of rioting by civilians. The battalions marched out in battle order, and took possession of the telegraph offices, railway stations, and other points of strategic importance. As a demonstration of strength, the practice made an obvious impression on the people of the district.

The educational classes promoted by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force began on January 17th, and thenceforward all ranks, when not engaged in purely military duties, were given the opportunity of preparing themselves for their return to civil life. The aims of those responsible for the educational scheme page 290were unfortunately frustrated, to a great extent, by the rapidity of the demobilisation of the Division.

January 18th and 19th were notable by reason of a visit by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. On the afternoon of the 18th all the officers of the two battalions were present at the 1st Battalion's Officers' Mess, when the Prince paid an informal visit and took tea with the officers. The following day His Royal Highness, accompanied by the Divisional and Brigade Commanders, attended Church Parade at the 1st Battalion's barracks, and afterwards inspected the brigade in the barrack square.

The beginning of the end of the Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force came on December 26th, when the first draft for demobilisation marched out from the 1st Battalion. A small draft from the 2nd Battalion followed on January 6th, and drafts from both battalions left on the 14th and 28th. Men on leave from the New Zealand Division were retained in England, and further reduced the strength of the battalions.

In accordance with the scheme of demobilisation, the two Canterbury Battalions were amalgamated on February 3rd, their strength at that date being:—1st Battalion, thirty-two officers and five hundred and eighty-seven other ranks; 2nd Battalion, thirty-two officers and six hundred and thirty-six other ranks. The new battalion was lodged in the barracks formerly occupied by the 1st Battalion, and was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel A. D. Stitt, with Major N. R. Wilson as Second in Command, and Captain M. R. Walker* as Adjutant.

During the month of February large drafts marched out, on the 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th, so that on the 27th the battalion strength was reduced to twenty-nine officers and four hundred and ninety-nine other ranks. On this date the battalion amalgamated with the Otago Battalion to form a South Island Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Stitt. Further large drafts left during the month of March, on the 4th, 11th, and 18th; and on March 25th the final draft left for England.

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The end of the Canterbury Regiment as a unit of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force may therefore be said to have arrived on February 27th, though the infantry battalions were not officially disbanded till March 25th. On reaching England the men of the Regiment were drafted to various camps, according to their ports of disembarkation in New Zealand, but the Regiment was represented in the march of the Overseas troops through London on May 3rd, when a draft of two hundred men from Number 1 Camp, Sling, was on parade.

* This officer had been Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion since the Somme, 1916, continuously, except for a break at the beginning of 1918, when he was in hospital owing to the effect of gas poisoning. He had thus filled the office of Battalion Adjutant for a longer period than any other officer in the Division.