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The War Effort of New Zealand

[The New Zealand Camps in England]

page 244

When at the outbreak of war, the Imperial Government accepted the offer of a New Zealand expeditionary force, base camp accommodation in the United Kingdom was a matter for early consideration. It was not known then that the troops would be required for Gallipoli. Richmond Park, on the edge of the western suburbs of London, was suggested, but New Zealand's senior officer attached to the War Office, Brigadier-General G. S. Richardson, C.M.G., then a major, on being consulted recommended a locality more distant from the attractions of the Metropolis. The Salisbury Plains were accordingly decided upon. It was there that the British section of the New Zealand main body was sent for training, under Captain Lampen, another New Zealand officer at that time in England. The site of the camp was the identical ground whereon afterwards Sling Camp arose.

The men of the British Section, to the number of 250, were sworn in by the High Commissioner for New Zealand, the Hon. Sir Thomas Mackenzie. Their first task was the preparation of the camp for the reception of the main body from New Zealand. They commenced building what was afterwards called No. 1 Camp. This work was abandoned when the news came that the New Zealand and Australian troops had been instructed to land at Alexandria; and the section Itself, to the number of six officers and 234 other ranks, sailed for the same destination on December 12th, 1914. Then the Canadians took over Sling Camp, and continued the work of construction.

Meanwhile the High Commissioner was devoting much time to military details requiring attention in England in connection with the affairs of the New Zealand forces. He was in constant cable touch with the Defence Minister in New Zealand, the Hon. Sir James Allen, upon whom rested the responsibility of administrative decisions. In assessing the weight of these tasks it must be remembered that new page 245tracks were being blazed, that no past knowledge was available to guide the Dominions in unknown realms of overseas warfare. The Dominion Staff Corps officers attached to the War Office had all by this time been dispersed upon various duties on the fighting fronts—it was the hour of Britain's greatest need—and their expert services were not available to New Zealand. The High Commissioner established a base records office, and, later, when wounded arrived, interested himself in their welfare, and was the responsible authority over convalescents, and men on leave.

At first New Zealanders were grouped with Australians—the military authorities at that time chose to recognise no appreciable difference between the two—at Weymouth, in Dorsetshire, and discipline was undoubtedly lax; but in January, 1916, it was decided to take over Hornchurch as a general depot for all New Zealand soldiers in Britain. Early in February, 1916, however, after the Gallipoli evacuation, and when France and Flanders had been decided upon as the future battleground for the Division, it became necessary to prepare for a very much larger base establishment in England, with an officer of senior rank in command.

Colonel J. J. Esson, C.M.G., 5th (Wellington) Regiment, was recommended by General Godley for the position. This officer, a typical civil service territorial enthusiast—the service gave many such to the war—besides being the financial representative of the Dominion Government with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, was Assistant Quarter-Master General to the Australian, and New Zealand Division in Egypt and Gallipoli, but on the evacuation he became officer in charge of the administration of the N.Z.E.F. in Egypt. For a time, owing to the scattered condition of the various units, and the wide distribution over many hospitals of the sick and wounded, the administration was no light task, but before the force left Egypt for France reorganisation was well in hand. There are official letters from senior Imperial officers on record which indicate that the New Zealand base organisation in Egypt was considered to be a model for other forces. This, probably, was in some measure due to the fact that most page 246of the senior administrative staff were men of commercial and business standing in New Zealand, whose experience proved most valuable. Colonel Esson, however, despite his own desire, was not destined for higher military honours. The New Zealand Government intimated definitely that his services were urgently required in the Dominion for special civil and military duties (he is now Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster-General), and he returned to New Zealand after first visiting England in connection with the re-organisation there.

The New Zealand Government, meanwhile, had applied to the War Office for the return to the New Zealand Staff of Brigadier-General Richardson who was then with the Imperial troops in Salonika. That officer, who had come into prominence as A.Q.M.G. to the Naval Brigade which went on the forlorn hope to Antwerp, and was now D.A. and Q.M.G. with the 11th Corps at Salonika, was accordingly appointed General Officer in charge of the Administration of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the United Kingdom, a position he occupied to the end of the war, probably sacrificing thereby his chance of the command of a division. He assumed control in London on April 2nd, 1916.

His first task was to map out an organisation for future requirements. At that time Hornchurch was the sole New Zealand camp in Great Britain, accommodating both convalescents and fit men. The Gallipoli campaign and the Egyptian camps had provided valuable experience. When the Division transferred to France separate provision was arranged as follows:—(1) for hospital cases; (2) for men in convalescent stages; (3) for men in the period between convalescence and fitness; and (4) for men sufficiently recovered to be trained for active service. It was not possible to bring the whole scheme into active operation at once, though very little time was lost in doing so. Hornchurch was set aside exclusively for a convalescent depot to which all patients leaving hospital were sent; and the reinforcements arriving, and men in the United Kingdom who had become fit, were entrained to Sling. On July 17th, 1916, Codford camp was decided upon as a depot for men in the stage between con page 247valescence and fitness. Later it was found unwise to leave in any of these camps men who, after service, had been "boarded" for New Zealand, and a discharge, or evacuation depot, was established at Torquay, in sunny Devon, where they could await shipment home. It was felt that if there was any possibility of these men eventually becoming fit again for active service, the voyage and healthier climate and outlook in New Zealand would afford them better prospects; besides which the acute food problems of Britain had to be considered. Thus, there were four catagories of men who were kept distinct in separate camps—(a) fit men at Sling; (b) men recovering from convalescence, at Codford; (c) convalescents at Hornchurch; and (d) men awaiting evacuation, at Torquay. As time went on men who, though not fit for service in the line were well enough in other respects, were classified for home duties at camps and depots where labour was required. The system of classification adopted was C men who would be fit within six months; C1 men who might become fit; C2 men who would never be fit for the line. Many of these men were to be found at camps, hospitals, depots, and head-quarters doing police, orderly, and clerical work. A very small proportion of them had not seen active service. These arrangements had the approval of the General Officer Commanding the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Lieut.-General Sir Alexander Godley.

For a time Sling Camp met all requirements in regard to the accommodation and training of the arriving reinforcements, and the retraining of recovered casualties. But the exigencies of warfare necessitated that varying reserves should be held; sometimes all available men were called for by the Divisional Commander and camps became virtually empty; at other times there were heavy accumulations which taxed accommodation. In September, 1917, Sling Camp, constructed for 4,000 men, had to accommodate 4,500, and the Rifle Brigade reserve of 2,000 had also to be provided for. It was, therefore, decided to take over from the Imperial authorities a camp at Brocton, in Staffordshire (in the Northern Command), and to find the Rifle Brigade reserves accommodation there.

Other New Zealand camps were established as the page 248necessity for specialised training in particular branches of the service demanded. The engineers were sent to Boscombe in the vicinity of Bournemouth, the machine-gunners to Grantham, the artillery to Ewshot, and the Maori pioneers went with the engineers. All these camps were administered from the General Headquarters in London.

The task of administration naturally increased very much as time went on. In every respect the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was a self-contained unit, and provision required to be made accordingly. There were departments at General Headquarters to control the medical, nursing, and dental services, the arranging of drafts for France, the allotment of reinforcements to camps, the pay of the troops, the records, the provisioning of the camps, the purchase of ordnance supplies, the postal services, the care of men on leave, and other, smaller details. All these departments were capably managed, and the success of the administration has its best eulogy in the competence, health, equipment and discipline of the troops sent over to France, and their general morale.