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

Chapter I

page 3

Chapter I.

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.

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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.

The Regiment Embarks.

On the morning of September 22nd Otago's first contribution to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, comprised of troops of the Main Body and the 1st Reinforcements, entrained at Tahuna Park, and proceeding to Port Chalmers, embarked on that date on two transports, and were enthusiastically farewelled by the people of the Province. On the evening of September 24th the Otago and Canterbury transports arrived in Wellington Harbour; by the morning of September 25th, under escort of H.M.S. Psyche, they were ready to join the Auckland and Wellington transports, which had already put to sea.

At this moment, however, orders were issued by the New Zealand Government that, for Imperial reasons, the sailing of the Expeditionary Force was to be temporarily postponed. In accordance with this unexpected development, arrangements were immediately made to disembark all horses and all mounted units. Camps were established in and around Wellington for the mounted units, while the infantry remained on the transports by night, and were taken ashore by day and exercised, for the first time, in tactical operations over the hills around Wellington, one battalion being railed daily to Trentham for musketry practice.

On October 14th H.M.S. Minotaur and H.I.J.M.S. Ibuki arrived in Wellington Harbour, and on the following day the Auckland transports, escorted by H.M.S. Philomel, arrived at Wellington. At 6 a.m. on October 16th the whole convoy, escorted by Minotaur, Psyche, Philomel and Ibuki, weighed anchor and proceeded out of Wellington Harbour to sea, cheered by large numbers of the people of Wellington and farewelled by His Excellency the Governor, the Militarypage 7 Headquarters Staff and Ministers of the Cabinet. Once Cook Strait was cleared, the convoy formed up in columns of divisions, in line ahead, with three of the four escorting cruisers steaming at a distance of six miles, one ahead, one on either beam, and the fourth four miles astern, these distances being reduced by less than half during the night.

The strength of the Expeditionary Force, consisting of the Main Body and the 1st Reinforcements, totalled 360 officers and 8,067 other ranks, and included 3,815 horses. Its composition was as follows: Commander, Major-General Sir Alexander Godley, K.C.M.G., C.B., and Headquarters Staff; one Mounted Rifle Brigade; one Field Troop; one Signal Troop; Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance; one independent Mounted Rifles Regiment (the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment); one Infantry Brigade (four Battalions); Divisional Artillery (one Field Artillery Brigade); Divisional Signal Service; Divisional Transport and Supply Unit; Divisional Medical Units.

The personnel of Otago Battalion was as follows:—

Officer Commanding, Lieut.-Col. T. W. McDonald, N.Z.S.C.; Second-in-Command, Major J. B. McClymont; Adjutant, Captain A. Moore, D.S.O. (Royal Dublin Fusiliers); Assistant-Adjutant, Lieut. J. S. Reid; Regimental Transport Officer, Lieut. H. R. Martineau, V.C.; Quartermaster, Lieut. V. J. Egglestone. Attached: Medical Officers, Captain C. V. A. Baigent, N.Z.M.C., Lieut. W. G. Scannell, N.Z.M.C.; Dental Officer, Captain J. H. Don, N.Z.M.C.; Chaplain, Rev. J. Ross.

Machine Gun Section.—2nd-Lieut. L. G. Wilson.

4th (Otago) Company.—Major R. Price, Captain A. V. Spedding, Lieuts. R. P. Jones, J. S. Reid, J. L. Saunders, 2nd-Lieut. A. C. Boyes.

8th (Southland) Company.—Major J. A. Mackenzie, Captain W. Fleming, Lieuts. W. I. K. Jennings, N.Z.S.C., G. Myers, 2nd-Lieuts. E. M. Gabites, W. F. Tracy.

10th (North Otago) Company.—Major J. H. Moir, Captain F. H. Statham, Lieut. T. W. Nisbet. 2nd-Lieuts. C. St. C. Hamilton, J. G. Cowan, W. M. McKenzie.

14th (South Otago) Company.—Major W. McG. Turnbull, N.Z.S.C., Captain G. S. Smith, Lieuts. J. T. Moroney, R. L. Duthie, H. L. Richards, 2nd-Lieut. D. J. A. Lyttle.

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The embarkation states of the Otago Battalion indicated a total strength, inclusive of the Machine Gun Section, of 34 officers and 1,076 other ranks. Of this number 21 officers and 603 other ranks sailed on the Ruapehu, officially designated H.M.N.Z.T. No. 5, and Lieut.-Colonel T. W. McDonald was appointed Officer Commanding Troops. On the Hawke's Bay (H.M.N.Z.T. No. 9) there were 13 officers and 473 other ranks of Otago Battalion under the command of Major J. B. McClymont; Lieut.-Colonel Bauchop, C.M.G., being Officer Commanding Troops of the transport.

This eventful voyage to the seat of the European War of New Zealand's first Expeditionary Force may be briefly described. Hobart was reached on October 21st, the convoy sailing again on the following day, and reaching Albany on October 28th, where was found in the sheltered waters of King George's Sound an imposing assemblage of transports carrying the troops of the first Australian Expeditionary Force. At 5 a.m. on Sunday, November 1st, the escort, now consisting of H.M.A.S. Melbourne, H.M.A.S. Sydney and H.M.S. Minotaur, put to sea, followed by the Australian transports. Two hours later the New Zealand transports followed in their wake, and on November 3rd the Japanese cruiser Ibuki rejoined the escort. On the night of November 8th-9th the convoy passed 50 miles to the east of the Cocos Islands, and at 6.30 a.m. on the 9th the S.O.S. signal was picked up which resulted in the memorable destruction of the German raider Emden by H.M.A.S. Sydney, which had hurriedly left the convoy in response to the signals sent out from the cable station on the Cocos Group. The announcement of this fine achievement by H.M.A.S. Sydney was received with the greatest enthusiasm on board the troopships. On November 15th the convoy reached Colombo, the victorious Sydney, with 138 prisoners from the battered Emden, subsequently entering the harbour, when the prisoners were distributed over the New Zealand and Australian troopships. On November 17th the New Zealand transports, escorted by the Hampshire, left for Aden, which was reached on November 25th. On the following morning the journey was continued to Suez.

On November 28th information was received by wireless that there was a probability of disembarkation at Suez, which page break
Main Body Non-Commissioned. Officers, Otago Regimes.Commanding Officer:Lieut.-Colonel. T. W. McDonald, N.Z.S.C.

Main Body Non-Commissioned. Officers, Otago Regimes.
Commanding Officer:Lieut.-Colonel. T. W. McDonald, N.Z.S.C.

page 9 meant that instead of proceeding to England, as was supposed to have been originally intended, the Force was to land in Egypt. This proved to be the case; but the journey was not yet quite at an end. The great waterway of the Suez Canal, with its defence posts and garrisons of Indian troops, was entered and Port Said reached on December 1st. The Emden's prisoners were now transferred to the Hampshire, and the convoy left for Alexandria on December 2nd, arriving there on the following morning.

Arrival in Egypt.

The New Zealand Expeditionary Force had now reached the end of its long journey by sea. Orders for disembarkation were issued, the transports disgorged their freights of men and horses, and on the evening of December 3rd the first troop train left Alexandria for Zeitoun station, about four miles beyond Cairo. Distant about a mile and a-half from the detraining point, and on the edge of the sun-smitten desert, was the site of the camp selected for the New Zealand troops. More and more trains arrived with men, horses, baggage and stores, and in the course of a few days, with all energies directed to one end, the various lines commenced to assume a well-ordered appearance. There were, of course, the disadvantages inevitably arising from the heat of the day and the eternal sand; while at the outset, on account of the futility and inadequacies of the local methods of so-called transport, stores were a long time in coming to hand, and certain inconveniences followed.

On December 6th Lieut.-Colonel McDonald was admitted to the Citadel Hospital, Cairo, on account of ill-health; and a Medical Board deciding that he would not be fit for duty for a considerable period of time, he severed his connection with the Regiment and eventually returned to New Zealand.

It was now proposed to use the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as the nucleus of a Division to consist of Headquarters; three Brigades, namely, the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade (including the Ceylon Contingent); New Zealand Field Artillery Brigade; New Zealand Field Howitzer Battery; one Field Company Newpage 10 Zealand Engineers; New Zealand Signal Company; Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment; Divisional Train; three Field Ambulances.

Meanwhile the weather, the great determining factor in all military operations, continued warm by day and cold by night; the general health of the troops was good; and training was in full swing over the open spaces which the desert country afforded. The training was of a severe and exacting nature; and in this connection the long route marches which the infantry daily carried out in full marching order across the sands contributed in a large measure to the high standard of military discipline and the wonderful state of physical fitness ultimately attained. In leisure periods there were afforded opportunities of securing pleasant mental and physical relaxation, either in the city of Cairo, where, it may be said, there was much moral viciousness and much iniquity, or at the great Pyramids of Ghizeh, or the many other places of antiquity which provided unfailing interest and instruction.

On December 18th, owing to the hostile action of Turkey, the suzerainty of that country over Egypt was terminated, and by Proclamation it became henceforward a British Protectorate; and Abbas Hilmi Pasha, late Khedive of Egypt, because of his adhesion to the King's enemies, was deposed, and the Sultanate of Egypt was offered to and accepted by Prince Hussein Kamel Pasha, eldest living Prince of the family of Mohammed Ali. The new Sultan was proclaimed at Cairo on December 20th, the Regiment being included in the strength which represented the New Zealand Division at the ceremony.

On December 21st Lieut.-General Sir W. R. Birdwood, C.B., C.S.I., C.I.E., D.S.O., Indian Army, who had been appointed to command the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, arrived in Egypt from Bombay. There was a march of the New Zealand Division and the Australian Light Horse through Cairo on December 23rd, and an inspection by Lieut.-General Sir John Maxwell, K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G., D.S.O., Commanding the Forces in Egypt. Sir Thomas Mackenzie, High Commissioner for New Zealand, arrived from London on December 24th for the purpose of extending a welcome to the New Zealand troops; on December 30th there was apage 11 review of New Zealand Forces in honour of the visit of the High Commissioner.

On December 31st Major A. Moore, D.S.O., was appointed to the command of Otago Battalion, vice Lieut.-Colonel T. W. McDonald, and was granted the temporary rank of Lieut.-Colonel while holding such appointment. Major J. H. Moir was appointed Second-in-Command of the Battalion, and Lieut. J. S. Reid became Adjutant.

Field training and a further review marked the early days of January. At this stage it was announced that the New Zealand Force was to form the nucleus of a second mixed division, to be known as the New Zealand and Australian Division of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, with Major-General Sir A. J. Godley in command. Such is a brief chronological record of the leading events immediately following the Regiment's arrival in Egypt.

Turkish Advance on Suez Canal.

On January 25th orders were received for the move of certain troops to the Suez Canal area to support the Indian troops already holding that line against an expected attack by the Turks, who were reported to be advancing on the Canal in three columns. The entrainment of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade commenced on the following morning—Otago and Wellington Battalions were ordered to Kubri, about 12 miles north of Suez; Brigade Headquarters and Auckland and Canterbury Battalions proceeding to Ismailia. The defences which were entrusted to Otago and Wellington Battalions, in conjunction with Indian troops already established there, comprised a series of posts, Baluchistan, Kubri, Ghurka, and Shalouf, disposed along the eastern bank of the Canal between Suez northwards to the Little Bitter Lake, a distance of about 15 miles. Preparations were at once made for an expected attack in strength by the Turks.

The attack on the Canal and its defences developed on February 3rd, The attempts made to cross the Canal failed signally; a large number of the enemy were killed and 650 taken prisoners; and at the close of the fighting on February 4th the enemy was in retreat all along the line, The only point at which the New Zealand Force became seriouslypage 12 involved in these operations was in the locality of Serapeum, where the Turks unsuccessfully attempted to effect a crossing of the Canal by means of pontoons; and at a later stage in the day's operations the first and only casualties, one death from wounds and one slightly wounded case, were sustained by the New Zealanders. Otago Battalion was in reserve and was not involved in the attack.

On Thursday, January 28th, the 2nd New Zealand Reinforcements, comprising 34 officers and 1,189 other ranks, under Major A. B. Charters, arrived at Suez. Disembarkation was effected and the journey continued by rail to the New Zealand Camp at Zeitoun. The arrival of the 3rd New Zealand Reinforcements, comprising 62 officers and 2,147 other ranks, followed on March 26th.

On March 29th the Division, complete with reinforcements, paraded for inspection by General Sir Ian Hamilton. From this date events immediately commenced to shape themselves in a direction fraught with great and far-reaching consequences.