The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919
Chapter II. — Training in New Zealand and Egypt: and the Suez Canal Fighting
Training in New Zealand and Egypt: and the Suez Canal Fighting.
Training began at Addington immediately the troops marched in; and though the parade ground was small, there was room for squad drill and elementary musketry, and there was a route march every day. Equipment such as uniforms, boots, blankets, rifles, and Mill's web (the two latter withdrawn from the Territorials) arrived in small lots, and Was issued immediately it became available. Every man was keen, as he realized that if he failed to reach the required standard, there were dozens of men anxiously waiting to take his place.
The bulk of the training was carried out under the tuition of the officers, and non-commissioned officers of the battalion, who quickly proved the value of their Territorial experience. The range at Redcliffs was used for musketry practice. The first field training was carried out at the end of the first week; when the battalion marched against an imaginary force at New Brighton, made an attack, and bivouacked for the night at Wainoni Park.
At the beginning of September, bad weather made the Show Grounds uninhabitable, and the battalion moved to the Metropolitan Trotting Club's Grounds adjoining, where the men had their first experience of billeting, in the tea kiosk, luncheon bar, and other buildings. Here drill proceeded, varied by occasional field work, and route marches by day and night; and the work of equipping the battaiion went on slowly but steadily. On September 7th, another move was made, to the Plumpton Park Trotting Ground at Sockburn, where the troops were under canvas again. Here the area available for training was much larger than before, and both battalion and company drill became possible. The results of the good work done were now becoming evident, and the steadiness of the men on parade at a review by the Minister of Defence, on September 14th, showed the high standard of discipline in the battalion.page break
Officers of Canterbury Battalion, Main Body, N.Z.E.F., Taken at addington, August, 1914.
Back Row.—2nd. Lieut. D. P. Fraser, Lieut. N. F. Shepherd, Lieut. A. D. Stitt, Lieut. R. Miles, Lieut. J. Parker, Lieut. Temple, 2nd. Lieut. F. Starnes, Lieut. J. C. Hill.
2nd Row.—Lieut. V. G. Jervis, Lieut. F. Maurice, 2nd Lieut. E. H. Batchelor, 2nd Lieut. D. Dobson, Lieut. H. Stewart, Lieut. O. Mead, Lieut. N. Forsythe, Capt. K. M. Gresson, Capt. F. Brown.
3rd Row.—Capt. G. C. Griffiths, Lieut. H. Saunders, Lieut. H. Ffitch, Lieut. A. E. Conway, Lieut. R. A. R. Lawrie, 2nd Lieut. C. Barclay, 2nd Lieut. W. G. Skelton, Rev. T. Taylor (C.F.).
Front Row.—Major C. Brereton, Major D. Grant, Major R. A. Row, Capt. A. Critchley Salmonson, Lieut.-Col. D. Macbean Stewart, Major A. E. Loach, Major B. Jordan, Capt. C. Cribb, Lieut. F. J. Stewart.
The battalion remained at Sockburn till September 23rd, when it entrained there at noon and went straight through to Lyttelton. Very few of the public of Christchurch were aware that the troops were leaving, but a large crowd of Lyttelton people gave the transports a hearty send-off. Battalion headquarters and the 2nd, 12th, and 13th Companies embarked at once on the Atltenic (H.M.N.Z.T. No. 11), and the 1st Company, the machine-gun section, and the first line transport on the Tahiti (H.M.N.Z.T. No. 4). The strength of the battalion (including the 1st Reinforcement of one officer and ninety-nine other ranks) was thirty-four officers and one thousand and seventy-six other ranks: of these, twenty-eight officers and eight hundred and forty-four other ranks were on the Athenic, and six officers and two hundred and thirty-two other ranks, as well ass sixty horses, were on the Tahiti. During the afternoon of October 2nd, the transports, left the harbour, and having picked up the Otago transports, outside the Lyttelton Heads, entered Wellington harbour at 2 Pcm. the following day.
It had been originally intended that the four South Island transports should be joined by the Wellington transports, and then should go straight on, picking up the Auckland transports off the coast. However, orders had now been received that the departure of the Expeditionary Force was to be indefinitely postponed. The reason for the change of plan, no doubt, was the presence in the South Pacific of enemy warships, and the lack of a naval escort sufficiently powerful to protect the transports.
The ships were berthed at the wharves, and the 1st Company and machine-gunners were transferred to the Arawa,* while the horses were sent to the Canterbury Mounted Rifles' lines at Lyall Bay. The troops lived on board, but were taken ashore daily for exercise and training on the hills on the outskirts of Wellington; and were also taken by train to the Trentham rifle range. In this way the rest of September and the first fortnight of October were spent. On October 10th, the whole force was inspected by His Excellency the Governor-General, the Earl of Liverpool, at Lower Hutt Park.page 10
The ships for the escort arrived on October 14th: they were H.M.S. Minotaur, and the Japanese warship lbuki. The following day the Auckland transports came into harbour, and during the night the remaining transports left the wharves and joined the Auckland ships in the stream. H.M.S. Psyche and Philomel completed the escort, and the whole fleet left Wellington harbour at 6 a.m. on the 16th. On clearing Cook Strait the convoy formed up in two columns eight cables (1,600 yards) apart, and with the ships in each column three cables (600 yards) apart. The first column or "division" consisted of H.M.N.Z.T. No. 3, Maunganui; No. 9, Hawke's Bay; No. 8, Star of India; No. 7, Limerick; No. 4, Tahiti: and the second of H.M.N.Z.T. No. 10, Arawa; No. 11, Athenic; No. 6, Orari; No. 5, Ruapehu; No. 12, Waimana. The Minotaur steamed six miles ahead, the Ibuki and Psyche were at the same distance on the starboard and port beam respectively, and the Philomel as rearguard was four miles astern. At night the escort closed in to 4,000 yards' distance.
The routine established for the Main Body was adopted, in the main, on all the transports which carried troops from New Zealand; though experience showed that it was advisable to devote more time to properly organised amusements than to purely military exercises. In addition to physical training before breakfast, two and a half hours were spent each morning and afternoon in lectures, musketry, rifle exercises, and such drill as the very limited deck-space permitted. It is obvious, however, that drill carried out in such circumstances is of little value, beyond its power to kill time.
The food was good, and was usually much more varied than that supplied in camps; but there is no doubt that, on practically every transport that left New Zealand, food was occasionally spoilt by cooks who had plenty of good intentions but little skill in their art. On the whole, however, the men were as well fed as conditions of life on a transport admit. It is true that there were often complaints; but it is also notorious that the monotony of a long sea-voyage breeds grumbling, and naturally both the Main Body and every reinforcement had its share of grumblers. The meals were served in a special mess-room, which was not used as sleeping-quarters, though it was usually available page 11 in the evening for amusements. Canteens gave the troops a chance to buy a few luxuries and some of the smaller necessities of life: here again, experience was needed to show what was most in demand, and the later reinforcements had better canteens than the Main Body and early reinforcements. The military work of the Y.M.C.A. was also in its infancy when the Expeditionary Force left New Zealand, so that this organization was not in a position to help the men on the early transports in the full way it did later on.
Such was the everyday life on board the transports: it is not necessary to give more than a few details of the voyage of the Main Body, and the movements of subsequent reinforcements cannot be recorded here. On October 21st the fleet called at Hobart, where the troops landed the following day for a route march, and leaving on that day reached Albany on the 28th. Before the fleet left Hobart, H.M.S. Pyramus replaced H.M.S. Psyche in the escort. On arrival at Albany, the fleet found awaiting it there most of the Australian transports, which formed a large and imposing fleet. The Canterbury troops on the Athenic, which was berthed late in the afternoon of arrival, were taken ashore for a route march; and those on the Tahiti also had a march with the other troops from their own transport.
On the morning of November 1st the Australian and New Zealand transports put to sea under charge of their escort, in which H.M.A.S. Sydney and Melbourne had replaced H.M.S. Pyramus and Philomel. On November 9th H.M.A.S. Sydney destroyed the Emden, near Cocos Island. H.M.S. Minotaur had left the convoy on November 8th, and H.M.A.S. Melbourne left on the 12th. A few days later (November 13th) the New Zealand transports and three of the Australian ships received orders to steam ahead of the rest of the fleet, and to pick up H.M.S. Hampshire, under whose escort they reached Colombo on the 15th. It took two days to coal and water the ships, and small parties of the troops were allowed on shore under their officers.
Only the faster ships of the convoy (including the Athenic and Tahiti) called at Aden (on the 25th); and these left the next day to join the remainder of the fleet, which was sailing page 12 direct to Suez. At this time orders were received that the Australian and New Zealand Expeditionary Forces were not to go direct to France, but would land at Alexandria and would complete their training in Egypt.
The convoy arrived at Alexandria on December 3rd, and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was ordered to camp at Zeitoun, four miles out of Cairo. The site was sandy and dirty, and the first troops arrived there at night to find that the camp existed only in name. Disembarkation was slow, and it was not till the 9th that the whole of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was at Zeitoun. Here the British contingent, which had been training on Salisbury Plain, joined the Force on December 24th.
For administrative purposes, the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade was grouped with the Divisional headquarters and the two brigades of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and the whole became the New Zealand and Australian Division, under the command of Major-General Sir A. J. Godley. Each brigade, however, carried on its training independently of the other two brigades.
The training of the infantry brigade naturally at first consisted mainly of drill, from squad drill up to battalion drill and ceremonial; but as time went on, more and more attention was paid to field training. This was varied by long route marches through the sand, much night work, and entrenching practice. By degrees the men were hardened up, and the condition which they had lost on the sea-voyage was gradually recovered; till an actual experience in a practice attack showed they were capable, if need he, of covering twenty-seven miles in a day. without any bad effects. A great deal of time was spent on the rifle range at Abbassia, with the result that the average of shooting was claimed to be as high as that of any troops in the world.
During this time many ceremonial parades were held. The first was on December 23rd, when the force marched through the streets of Cairo, where Lieutenant-General Sir J. G. Maxwell, K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G., D.S.O., commanding the forces in Egypt, took the salute. At the end of the month, it was announced page 13 that the Australian and New Zealand forces were to be organized as an Army Corps, and would be commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir W. R. Birdwood, K.C. S.I., K.C.M.G., C.I.E., D.S.O. The arrival in Egypt of the High Commissioner for New Zealand (Sir Thomas Mackenzie) at this time made it a suitable occasion for a review of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force; and on December 30th, General Birdwood inspected the Force, and was accompanied by the High Commissioner. Again on January 9th the whole Force was paraded, and was addressed by the High Commissioner, after which the troops marched past Lieutenant-General Sir J. G. Maxwell.
At the end of January the troops were well advanced in their training; so that on news being received on the 25th that the Turks were advancing on the Suez Canal in three columns, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade was considered fit to support the 11th (Indian) Division, which was holding the defence of the Canal.
The brigade was divided into two portions, headquarters and the Auckland and Canterbury Battalions being sent to Ismailia, on Lake Timsah, midway between Port Said and Suez, and the remaining battalions to El Kubri, near Suez. The troops for Ismailia entrained at Palais de Koubbeh and Helmieh Stations on the afternoon of January 26th, and reaching their destination the same day, became the general reserve of the forces defending the Canal.
The Canterbury Battalion was ordered to garrison certain posts, namely, one at El Ferdan, and another at Battery Post (both north-east of Ismailia), and one at Serapeum (south of Lake Timsah). One company of the battalion was kept in reserve at Ismailia (Ferry Post), and a platoon of one of the other companies was also retained there, to act as an armed patrol under the Assistant Provost Marshal. On February 2nd, there arrived the battalion's draft from the 2nd Reinforcements, consisting of three officers and one hundred and ninety-two other ranks.
The expected attack was made by the Turks early on the morning of February 3rd.page 14
An official report on the fighting, issued for the benefit of the battalions at El Kubri, reads as follows:—
Report of Fighting on Canal
February 2nd to 4th, 1915.
Early on the morning of the 3rd an attack was made on our outposts which was repulsed, the enemy retreating leaving 15 killed and wounded and 40 unwounded. Later in the day a partial attack was made from the S.E., but the enemy were stopped 1,200 yards from the position.
At El Ferdan, where the 13th Regiment Company and two platoons of the 1st Regiment Company were stationed, the enemy made an attack. At 7 a.m. a Turkish Battery of four small guns opened fire on the Signal Station, finding the range immediately; they hit the buildings several times. At this juncture H.M.S. Clio came up and silenced the batteries, though she was hit three times in so doing. The action was ended at 1 p.m.
North of Ismailia, at the Battery Post, there were two platoons of the 12th Nelson Regiment Company. These men were not actually fired on. But the battery on their left was shelled. Later in the day this post was relieved by two platoons of the 3rd Auckland Regiment Company. These platoons were shelled on their way out to the post but suffered no casualties.
By Ismailia Ferry Post, where the 2nd South Canterbury Company were stationed under Major Grant as general reserve, the enemy were found to be entrenching about half a mile to the east at daylight. Two battalions (sic) opened fire, and the enemy's guns engaged the Hardinge, Requin, and our Mountain Artillery. Though no regular attack was made, intermittent shelling continued throughout the day. The New Zealand platoons actually saw no fighting, but they were exposed to shell fire throughout the day. Some of the shells fired at this point fell within half a mile of the ground where the Auckland and Canterbury Battalions were encamped.page 15
The shipping on Lake Timsah was subjected to shell fire during the day, and also the outskirts of Ismailia at various points.
During the night of the 3rd a half-hearted attack was made, after which the enemy withdrew the bulk of their forces to Kataib El Kheil.
Toussum and Serapeum.
At daylight on the 3rd the enemy were found to be close to Toussum and Serapeum, and their guns opened fire on both posts. At the latter post where our ships and artillery engaged the enemy, there were two platoons of the 12th Nelson Regiment Company under Major Brereton, who took up outposts at 5 p.m. on the night of the 2nd on the west bank of the Canal. On his right was a battery of the Lancashire Artillery, and on his left the 62nd Punjabis Infantry. All was quiet until 3.20 a.m., when heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy commenced to our north. At this time there was no fire to the New Zealanders' front. The Punjabis were reinforced with 30 of our men, who on arrival at once commenced opening fire at a party of Turks attempting to cross the Canal in boats, which movement they effectively stopped. At this the enemy retreated and entrenched on the eastern bank under our fire. Many of the enemy tried to retreat but were stopped by our fire. We were helped by enfilading fire from the rest of the two platoons on our right, who had the command of the enemy's trenches for a distance of 1,200 yards. There were three distinct attempts made to cross the Canal at this point, all of which failed. A counter-attack by the 62nd Punjabis about mid-day produced considerable results. Early in the afternoon orders were received to close on the 22nd Brigade Headquarters. During this move Private Ham was severely wounded and afterwards succumbed to his wounds. The only other New Zealand casualty was that of Sergeant Williams, who was slightly wounded by shrapnel. Outpost duty was resumed at 5 p.m. No more fighting took place except for persistent sniping, the enemy having retired leaving many dead and nearly 300 prisoners.
On the morning of the 4th, troops from Serapeum captured some 150 of the enemy, who were still entrenched on the Canal page 16 bank some one and a half miles south of Toussum, after having been treacherously fired on, the white flag having been raised and signs of surrender made.
During the day H.M.S. Swiftsure, Clio, and Hardinge, the French ships Requin, D'Entreastreaux, as well as torpedo boats and launches engaged the enemy and rendered valuable assistance. The Hardinge was struck by two 6 in. shells and had ten men wounded. The Swiftsure had one man killed. Military casualties were:—British officers killed, 1; wounded, 4. British, Indian, and Egyptian rank and file killed, 17; wounded, 79. The enemy along the Canal at all points attacked, appear to muster in all some 12,000 men, and at least six batteries. One 6 in. gun was also located, which is thought to have been silenced by the Requin.
Throughout the fighting two companies were always kept ready to leave camp at a moment's notice to reinforce any position where they might be required.
Over 500 of the enemy were buried by our troops, and up-wards of 500 are prisoners in our hands. It is calculated that on a basis of three wounded to one killed, the enemy must have suffered a loss of at least 1,500 wounded, making total casualties of between 2,500 and 3,000. The enemy is now in retreat all along the line: whether they will make another attack cannot yet be determined. It has been ascertained that General Dyemal Pasha was present during the action with a number of German officers, one of whom has been killed.
On February 3rd a message of congratulation on the three days' fighting was received from the General Officer Commanding in Chief and Lord Kitchener.
A. C. Temperley,
New Zealand Infantry Brigade.
February 12th, 1915.
Officers of 1st Bn. Canterbury Infantry Regiment, N.Z.E.F., France, April 22nd, 1917.
Back Row.—2nd Lieut. C. H. Holmes, 2nd Lieut. A. Andrews, 2nd Lieut. F. Comer, Lt. E. H. L. Bernau, 2nd Lieut. E. Haydon, Lieut. S. E. K. Marshall, Han. Lieut. W. H Osborne.
2nd Row.—2nd Lieut. J. M. Barton, Lieut. S. Natusch, 2nd Lieut. H. H. Hanna, Lieut. W. F. Brothers, 2nd Lieut. E. C. D. Withell, Lieut. S. G. Smith, Lieut. A. G. Dean, Lieut. J. A. McQueen, Lieut. W. N. Elliott, 2nd Lieut. A. C. C. Hunter, 2nd Lieut. J. W. Fraser, 2nd Lieut. R. L. Wilson.
Front Row.—Capt. S. W. Brooker, Capt. F. N. Johns (M.O.), Capt. T. W. L. Rutherfurd, Capt. J. L. C. Merton, M.C., Capt. A. D. Stitt, M.C., Lieut.-Col. R. Young, C.M.G., D.S.O., Capt. D. Dobson, M.C., Capt. F. J. W. Stewart, Capt. L. G. O'Callaghan, Rev. C. O. H. Tobin (C.F.), Capt. G. H. Gray.
No further attacks were made on the Canal, but the Canterbury Battalion remained in garrison of its posts till February 8th, when it was relieved by troops of the 1st Australian Brigade. On the afternoon of February 5th, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade was ordered to provide a detachment of four hundred rifles and a machine-gun section, to form part of a force under the command of Major-General Younghusband, which was to attack a Turkish force at Katib El Kheil, five miles east of Ismailia. The 2nd Company was detailed as part of this force, and had actually started, when orders were received that the operations had been abandoned.
The battalion remained in the Canal area, manning a few posts north of Ismailia, but continuing training all the while; till it returned to Zeitoun on February 26th. The 4th Australian Infantry Brigade had arrived in Egypt in the meantime, and had been included in the New Zealand and Australian Division. Field practices, on a larger scale than had hitherto been tried, were now frequent. Thus, on March 3rd, the whole Division practised an attack on a skeleton force, representing part of the main Turkish army, which was supposed to have crossed the Canal and to be advancing on Cairo. Again. on the 5th, the Division moved out after dark, took up and entrenched a defensive position, and returned to camp the following morning. The two infantry brigades opposed each other on the 10th, and on the 12th the Division attacked the East Lancashire Territorial Division. On the 17th the Division practised taking over trenches by night, and a night assault on the enemy trench-system opposite it; and returned to camp by daylight.
The Division on February 27th had been warned to hold itself in readiness for active service, and it was guessed that an offensive against the Turks was being planned. A Divisional mobilisation parade was therefore ordered for March 22nd: at this parade the High Commissioner of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, was present and took the salute at the subsequent march-past. On the 29th, the Division was inspected by its new Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton.
At the beginning of April, Divisional Headquarters was notified that the Division would probably begin to embark on the 7th of that month, and an advanced base was established page 18 at Mustafa, near Alexandria. Orders were issued to the infantry battalions to reduce their strength to the war establishment of thirty-three officers and nine hundred and seventy-seven other ranks; and each battalion was also ordered to detail an additional body of one officer and ninety-nine other ranks (equivalent to ten per cent. of the strength of a battalion) which was to accompany the battalion as a reinforcement. All the remaining officers and men of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force who were left after the battalions had been reduced in strength to war establishment, and the ten per cent. of reinforcements had been selected, were ordered to remain in the Zeitoun Camp, which was to be made a training depôt.
The infantry battalions were meanwhile being daily exercised in long distance route-marching, with packs brought up to the weight of seventy pounds. This was fifteen pounds above the usual weight carried, the extra weight being necessary to prepare the men to carry on disembarkation an extra eighty rounds of ammunition and three days' rations. To ensure that every man was properly equipped, a preparatory embarkation parade was held on April 5th, when every man, horse and wagon was on parade, and every detail of equipment was carefully checked.
The 12th and 13th Companies left for Alexandria before the rest of the Canterbury Battalion, entraining at Palais de Koubbeh station on April 9th, and embarking on the Itonus the same day. Battalion Headquarters and the 1st and 2nd Companies entrained at Helmieh station on the 10th, and embarked on the Lutzow the next day. The transport officer and forty men, with horses and vehicles, embarked on the Katuna: but though these were taken to Gallipoli, they were not landed, but returned to Alexandria. page 19
* These troops were re-transferred to the Tahiti on October 13th.