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Official History of the New Zealand Engineers During the Great War 1914-1919.

Chapter XVII. — Personnel of Field Troop — Engineers

page 294

Chapter XVII.
Personnel of Field Troop

The personnel of our engineers were picked men, practically all being artisans. They were chiefly 30 to 45 years of age and many of them in private life had been occupied in business of their own. Being most versatile, it would be hard to find a finer body of men anywhere for the class of work they were called upon to do on active service. With their adaptability and ingenuity, nothing came amiss to them and, if anything from which an improvised bridge or structure could be built, lay in the vicinity, our engineers could be relied on to rise to the occasion and provide some improvised structure to answer the purpose required.

Realising the importance of their work, such as bridging, barb-wire entanglements, redoubts, water supply, etc., etc., they were always ready and willing to work at high pressure. All took a pride in their unit and always strived never to let their brigade down.

As with all units, many funny incidents occurred among the personnel and it is a great pity a diary had not been kept of such incidents with all units, for they would have well merited being collected and published. But unfortunately most of them have been forgotten.

One story relates to a trooper who had been transferred from a regiment to the troop. In leaving the regiment he had to part with his horse and take on a new mount from the new unit. Having been very attached to the horse he could hardly reconcile himself to the loss. He approached the O.C. Field Troop to try to secure the transfer of his horse to the Troop. This the officer endeavoured to do, but it being against regulations he was unsuccessful. The trooper persisted in his efforts for some three months and every time his old regiment was in his vicinity he would visit it and ask the Major for his horse. One day the Major informed him that, although it was against orders, if he got a mate for "Toby," the fancy mule Of the regiment, who had lost his mate in action a few days previously, he would allow the trooper to take his horse. Thanking the Major, the Trooper undertook to supply a mule to pair with Toby. After six weeks had passed and this trooper had page 295spent all his spare time, with leave and without, scouring the lines of all the units he came near, with the purpose of pinch ing the required mate to pair with "Toby," he was unsuccessful.

One morning as the O.C. Field Troop was inspecting the horse lines, a strange horse was observed there. Upon making inquiries it was learned that it belonged to this trooper, who assured the officer all was in order and that the Major of his late Regiment had given it to him the night before. Thinking there must be a tale to unfold behind this, the O.C. quietly-made inquiries some time later and the facts were as follows: This man, accompanied by a companion, proceeded to his old regiment's quarters at night and arranged with his companion to hold the horse-picket in conversation whilst he himself proceeded, when unobserved, to remove from their horse-lines "Toby" himself.

Scouting clear round the camp he came in from the other end near the officers' quarters and asked for the Major. The Major came out to view the mule, and examining it closely he remarked that it was a splendid mate for "Toby" and told the trooper to hand it over to the horse-picket and tell the sergeant in charge that he was to allow him to remove his own horse.

Highly delighted, the trooper, unobserved, got Toby back to the horse-lines and fastened him in his quarters again, then boldly approached the sergeant of the horse-picket and informed him that he had the Major's permission to remove his horse from the lines. The sergeant, being in doubt, sent a messenger to the officer to inquire. Back came the messenger informing the sergeant it was correct and the trooper was to remove his horse, which was done.

Next morning, when the Major came down the horse lines to compare the new mule with Toby, much to his surprise there was only Toby to view. Being a humorist, and a horse lover, he appreciated the joke that had been put over him as much as anybody, and he took no action to have the trooper's horse returned.

One other incident was in connection with a bombing raid by Turkish aeroplanes in Palestine. The groom of the Field Troop officer always made himself a safe dug-out where possible when a new camp was set up, but the batman usually occupied it first when the area was bombed.

Upon this particular occasion, when the taubes came over and bombed the camp, the batman, as usual, rushed the page 296groom's dug-out first. Plunging head first into the dug-out he found himself confronted by a large snake which was sitting Up making ready to bite him. He scrambled out more quickly than he had entered and remarked to the groom that he could have his dug-out to himself.

One of the men entered the dug-out with a rake and killed the snake, which measured six feet six inches long.