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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Chapter One — The Mobilisation of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and Formation of Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment

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Chapter One
The Mobilisation of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and Formation of Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment

From the Southern hills and the city lanes
From the dairy-herd and the flax-clad plains.
The farthest outpost of England's brood!
They'll win for the South, as we knew they would—
Knew they would—
Knew they would;
They'll win for the South, as we knew they would

At the beginning of August, 1914, when Germany violated the neutrality of Belgium in order to invade France, Great Britain, true to her pledge to protect Belgium against unprovoked aggression, entered the conflict, and her Dominions and dependencies immediately signified their willingness to assist the Mother Country to the utmost of their resources.

At this time the land force of Great Britain was very weak numerically, and it became necessary to build up expeditiously a new land force to supplement "the contemptible little army," whose numbers quickly diminished before the weight of the enemy.

The rapid raising of reinforcements therefore became a matter of vital importance, and in order to assist in this direction the Dominions volunteered readily and liberally with the best of their manhood. New Zealand took the initiative, and on 7th August its Parliament announced that an Expeditionary Force of from 7,000 to 8,000 men would be prepared for service forthwith.

The promptness of this offer was made possible by the system of compulsory military training which had been carried out in New Zealand for some years. Moreover, the high standard of physique of the majority of eligible officers and other ranks page 2who volunteered for the Main Body and their natural adaptability for military service were factors of great importance which materially assisted the selectors in expeditiously completing the establishment of the Force, and despatching it quickly.

There was no need to call for volunteers, for thousands of trained officers and other ranks, embracing all classes of professions and trades from cities and country, rushed to the recruiting offices, sacrificing their business prospects and disregarding pecuniary considerations, to record their names for service. To accommodate the Force, camps were quickly erected, the centres being at Auckland. Palmerston North (at Awapuni Racecourse), Christchurch and Dunedin.

Major-General Sir Alexander Godley was placed in command of the force, the composition of which, including the Head-quarters Staff, was as follows:—A Mounted Rifles Brigade of three Regiments, an independent unit of Mounted Rifles, a Field Artillery Brigade, an Infantry Brigade of four Battalions, a Signal unit, a company of divisional train, a Field Ambulance, New Zealand Veterinary Corps, Line of Communication units, Army Pay Depôt, and the New Zealand Chaplains' Department, the strength of the force being: 354 officers, 7412 other ranks, and 3753 horses.

Of the above, the Mounted Brigade comprised:—

Officers. Other Ranks. Mach. Guns. Horses.
Headquarters 8 49 0 36
3 Mounted Rifle Regiments (Auckland, Canterbury, and Wellington) 78 1569 6 1824
1 Field Troop 3 74 0 75
1 Signal Troop 1 32 0 17
1 Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance 8 118 0 80
Totals 98 1842 6 3032

(The Horse Artillery Battery to be furnished by the Imperial Government)

The three regiments of the Mounted Brigade were composed of nine squadrons—three from Auckland, three from Canterbury, and three from Wellington—each of which represented its parent regiment, the badges of which it retained, the name of the province being given to the composite regiment in each case.

The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment was formed on the 8th day of August, and it concentrated at Awapuni on the 12th, its composition being one squadron each from the 2nd

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(Queen Alexandra's) Wellington-West Coast Mounted Regiment, the 6th (Manawatu) Regiment, and the 9th (East Coast) Regiment, Lieut.-Colonel W. Meldrum, of the 6th (Manawatu) Regiment, being placed in command.

The other units which concentrated at Awapuni were.—The Wellington Infantry Battalion, the New Zealand Field Artillery, Field and Signal Troops of the New Zealand Engineers, Company of Divisional Signallers, and the Mounted Field Ambulance.

The establishment of the Wellington Mounted Regiment (including attached troops) was: 26 officers, 1 warrant officer, 37 staff sergeants and sergeants, 22 artificers, 6 trumpeters, 457 rank and file—making a total personnel of 549. Horses (including attached): 528 riding, 74 draught, 6 pack—total, 608.

The attached were: Medical officer, one veterinary officer, one artificer, three other ranks, 18 horses (including 14 for interpreters) and four bicycles. A chaplain with batman was also included. The above does not include Base details.

The full strength of each of the three squadrons was: Six officers, 10 staff sergeants and sergeants, six artificers, two trumpeters, 134 rank and file—total, 158. Horses: 153 riding, 14 draught, 2 pack—total, 169.

The Machine-Gun Section comprised: One officer, one sergeant, 25 rank and file. Horses: Riding 20, draught 16; and two guns with the necessary transport.

The personnel of the Regiment was complete in a few days, and all ranks quickly accustomed themselves to camp life at Awapuni. Here the troops were equipped, horses were selected, and steady training was carried out under efficient instructors, the majority of the latter being members of the New Zealand Staff Corps.

A combination of fortunate circumstances combined to make me camp a pleasant one, the executive of the Palmerston North Racing Club having placed their grounds and buildings at the disposal of the troops; the spacious dining rooms of the grandstand were utilised as messes for the N.C.O.'s and other ranks, the officers dining in the Racing Committee's room adjacent.

The keen enthusiasm of the men to perform their duties thoroughly, and their buoyant spirits under ail conditions, enabled them readily to assimilate the sound instruction imparted! Their conduct was exemplary throughout, in consequence of which liberal leave was allowed, the evenings being free for those who were not required for necessary duty.

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In the camp a spirit of comradeship and self-sacrifice sprang into being. Friendships were formed which were later strengthened on the inhospitable shores of Gallipoli, and finally cemented on the burning sands of Sinai.

The general public of Palmerston North left no stone unturned to entertain the troops, dances and other forms of amusement being given by the citizens, of which all ranks have grateful recollections.

Friendly rivalry between the various arms of the service quickly manifested itself. The keenest contending parties were the Mounteds and Infantry, and all ranks were infected. The Infantry jocularly maintained that they were the backbone of the Force, the Mounted retaliating in similar mood that they were able to accomplish all that the Infantry could do, and more—they could ride, and were also "the eyes of the Army." The interchange of views and the opinions expressed from time to time were exhilarating and productive of much good. Keen competition resulted which tended to produce a high standard of efficiency. Every detail of correct military etiquette and custom, from camp cleanliness to hair-cutting, was discussed, comparisons were made and demonstrations given. The late Colonel Malone, who commanded the Wellington Infantry, of which he was justly proud, loved to impart to his officers and men his ideas of correctness by example. For instance, when the question of hair-cutting was raised in the officers' mess the Colonel asked one of his subalterns—whose hair had been cut to the roots—to stand up for all present to note the perfection of the "Infantry cut." Loud applause and exclamations of approval from the Infantry officers followed the inspection, and there appeared to be a feeling of satisfaction amongst them that the Mounteds had been "shown a point." But the tables were quickly turned, for Colonel Meldrum seized the opportunity and asked the late Captain Hastings to stand up. He did so, his bald head glistening in the gaslight. Turning to the assembled officers, the Colonel said: "Gentlemen, this is how we do it in the Mounteds!" The humour of the situation was too much for the assembly, and all joined in a hearty laugh, no one appreciating the joke more than Colonel Malone.

Notwithstanding the popularity of Awapuni Camp and its environs, the troops were anxious to get to the theatre of war as quickly as possible. They were stalwart men and keen soldiers, whose physique, acumen, and powers of endurance would compare favourably with any other body of men. Reports of page 5the battles in France and Belgium quickened their martial spirit and fired their enthusiasm and ambition to test their strength against the enemy. They had confidence in themselves. Their forefathers had led adventurous lives before them and had surmounted the gigantic obstacles which had confronted the pioneers of New Zealand. The scanty population of the Dominion had produced many champions in the athletic world, and it was natural that the confidence and patriotism of its men should inspire them to prove themselves in the greatest game of all—that of war. They had not long to wait, for whilst the work of organising the Force had been proceeding at the centres mentioned ten troopships had been undergoing alterations to transport the troops, and H.M.S.'s Psyche and Philomel were waiting at Wellington as escort.