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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

The Call to Arms

The Call to Arms.

Long after the clamour of historical controversy affecting the reputation of rulers, statesmen and soldiers, whose crimes, genius or virtues have made them outstanding figures in the greatest war of all the ages, has been stilled, and in that more distant time, when the fires of international hatreds shall have burned themselves out, will be read of with racing pulse and swelling pride of race the sudden emergence of this young nation from her sheltered solitude on the farthest edge of the world as an armed and valiant disputant among the war-seamed nations of Europe against barbarism and the lawless doctrine of force.

Instances are rare in history of such spontaneous expressions of loyalty to blood and kindred, of such devotion, at whatever uncounted cost, of sacrifice and suffering, to the ideals and traditions of our race. In the long roll of martyred nations, as of those that have fought and suffered and yet been spared the agony of national annihilation and the destruction of their liberties, there are imperishable examples of sacrifice and achievement; but nowhere is there to be found inspiration and impulse revealing such splendour of innate and instinctive loyalty, and of chivalry so splendid in its daring than in the instant decision of this Country to stand beside the Motherland in those early days of the gathering storm.

Impressive also and startling in conception was the swiftness with which her rapid decision was translated into action that gave to the Empire and to Freedom an organisation of fighting men unsurpassed in all the higher qualities of courage, endurance and resource that make in combination the most resistless soldier in the field.

page 4

The assassination of the Austrian Archduke at Serajevo, on June 28th, 2914, was followed a month later by Austria declaring war on Serbia, thus announcing in decisive terms the defeat of British diplomacy, and the triumph of Germany in the first act of the tragedy which was to leave the greater part of Europe in ruins. Events travelled fast under German direction in the development of the great conspiracy which was soon to shake to its centre a world feverishly alive to its imminent peril.

On August 2nd Germany declared war on Russia. At the same moment the German legions were swarming into Russian, French and Belgian territory. On August 3rd a formal declaration of war on France followed this open act of hostilities.

Britain's decision, on which an expectant and excited world, neutral and belligerent alike, waited in breathless suspense, was now taken. On August 4th Britain issued a declaration of war on the leader in the conspiracy against the world's peace.

The heather was now on fire throughout the Empire. New Zealand, in the van among the eager young Dominion States, three days later cabled an offer of an Expeditionary Force to the Imperial Government.

With the acceptance of this spontaneous offer, the necessary machinery was at once put in motion for effecting mobilization of the guaranteed force and its concentration at the four principal centres of the Dominion. In the composition of the Expeditionary Force, so far at least as the infantry side was concerned, one complete brigade was offered. The selection of volunteers was to be made on a purely territorial basis, each geographical area furnishing its quota towards its own territorial regiment. Thus, one infantry battalion from each of the four Provinces, Otago, Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland, each comprising four companies corresponding to and named after the territorial regiments then in existence in the Province or military area, constituted the Infantry Brigade. Under this arrangement the 4th (Otago) Regiment, the 8th (Southland) Regiment, the 10th (North Otago) Regiment, and the 14th (South Otago) Regiment each had its representation in the Otago Battalion, nominally, if not actually, to the extent ofpage 5 one company, which was named after and perpetuated the Territorial Regiment.

The call to arms met with an instant and magnificent response from the young men of the Province, who, animated by the feeling that their Country needed them or by a sense of national honour, or prompted by the spirit of adventure, came forward from far and wide at the first asking. Here was ready material for soldiers of the very finest type—all volunteers and all fortified by the same intrepid courage and armed with the strength and ardour of wonderful youth.

Tahuna Park, Dunedin, was selected as the concentration point for the Province on mobilization being given effect to; and to this area all recruits were speedily drafted on presenting themselves and being passed as medically and otherwise fit for active service. On August 7th the first draft, comprising seven officers and between 60 and 70 other ranks, arrived at Tahuna Park. Other drafts followed immediately from the districts of which Oamaru, Milton and Invercargill were the centres. Tahuna Park thus quickly became established as the receiving and concentrating point for Otago. Probably three-fifths of the men selected were without previous military training; but if they were deficient in this respect, there was nothing lacking in their physique, their bearing, and their spirit. The proximity of the projected date of departure of the Expeditionary Force from New Zealand did not permit of the introduction of a cornprehensive or exhaustive system of military training; in the time available instruction in the exercise and discipline of a soldier could be only of the most elementary order.

Orders were issued for everything to be in readiness for embarkation of the New Zealand Force for Europe on August 28th, 1914. This allowed but a limited period of time for equipment and organisation. Subsequently the date of departure was postponed to September 18th, and then later to September 25th. This postponement was a welcome one in many respects, as it afforded commanders an opportunity for more extensive training, and the Quartermaster-General's Department facilities for providing the Force with stores and equipment, as far as the resources of the country permitted.

Ten of the most suitable ships in New Zealand waters at the moment were taken over by the Government andpage 6 rapidly converted into a state which would provide for the transport of a military force. The two vessels allotted to Otago Province were the Ruapehu and the Hawki's Bay.

Meantime the Otago Infantry Battalion had been formed at Tahuna Park, and the training and perfecting of the organisation proceeded apace. Lieut.-Colonel T. W. McDonald, N.Z.S.C., had been appointed to command the Battalion, and other officers with territorial experience selected.