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

Advance into Germany

Advance into Germany.

Preparations were now commenced for carrying out the projected advance into Germany. A certain measure of dissatisfaction prevailed over the fact that the journey was to be undertaken on foot instead of by rail, but this was to some extent dispelled when it came to be realised that the railway system ahead had been seriously disorganised by the blowing up of bridges and culverts and the general destruction caused to the permanent way by the enemy during the course of his retreat.

There was a small section which represented that the Division should not proceed into Germany under any circumstances, their contention being that members of the N.Z.E.F. should now be returned to their homes. Curiously enough, some of those who exhibited this feverish desire to return to New Zealand had left its shares only a few months previously. It was then pointed out that the fact of an armistice prevailing did not imply that the War was at an end; and furthermore, that an honour had been conferred upon the New Zealand Division when it had been selected to form part of the Army of Occupation.

On November 18th a Divisional route march of a test nature was held, and the standard of march discipline attained was good. The weather during this period was exceedingly cold, though dry, and with comfortable billets, adequate supplies of fresh vegetables, facilities for hot baths and frequent page break
Officers of 2nd Battalion Otago Regiment—Germany, February, 1919.

Officers of 2nd Battalion Otago RegimentGermany, February, 1919.

page 385 changes of underclothing, and plenty of diversity in the way of football matches and cinema performances, the time passed pleasantly enough.

At this stage a Divisional Education Scheme was propounded and subsequently discussed in the course of frequent lectures and conferences.

On November 26th Lieut.-Colonel Charters assumed temporary command of the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade; whereupon Major L. M. Scott took over command of the 1st Battalion of the Regiment.

On November 28th the Otago Regiment, as part of the New Zealand Division, commenced its victorious march into Germany. The selected route lay through the Valleys of the Sambre and Meuse, along which, down the ages, had passed many great Armies, but never before an Army of Conquest from so remote a part of the World.

Proceeding along the main Cambrai-Le Cateau highway, thence striking almost due north through Bethencourt, Viesly, Briastre, and Solesmes, and accorded a hearty despatch by the fife and drum bands of the 37th Division, the Regiment reached and halted for the night at St. Martin and Bermerain. Thereafter the direction of the march was always northeasterly. Rain fell almost continuously during the first day, and the heavy going under the weight of full packs provided a severe test for the opening stage of the journey. In fact a great deal of rain was experienced on subsequent days; but the assurance of comfortable billets at the termination of each day's march and the warm greetings of the civil populations on route lightened the discomforts of the road. Periodical spells of two and at times three days broke the monotony of distance. At many of the towns where the Regiment halted over night householders became deeply grieved if they did not receive one or more soldiers under the arrangement of billeting. The course of this great march brought the Regiment to such places as Maubeuge, Charleroi, Namur and Liege; but it was at Verviers that the most demonstrative reception of all was accorded our troops, men and horses being decorated with garlands of flowers.

On December 1st a Church Service was held at Bavais, when His Majesty the King and the Prince of Wales were present.

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The roads traversed were for the most part in good order, but the typical cobbled highways of Northern France and Belgium proved severe on footwear, and the greatest difficulty was experienced in securing supplies of new boots, or even leather for repairs, at a time most urgently required. In order to lessen the burden of the march, great-coats and steel helmets were discarded on December 7th, when at Montignies-sur-Sambre, and deposited there for despatch by rail at a later date.

On December 20th, after a march of 170 miles on foot, the Regiment crossed the Belgian-German frontier. At Herbesthal, on the border line of the two countries, the Regiment entrained and completed the final 60 miles of the journey by rail through German territory. The detraining point was Ehrenfeld, on the outskirts of Cologne. From this point the Regiment marched through Cologne City, crossed the River Rhine by the Bridge-of-Boats, and thence into Mulheim. There it took up its station along with the other troops of the New Zealand Division, now established as one of the Bridgehead Garrison units of the Allied Army of Occupation.

The successive halting places on the line of march were as follows:—
1st Battalion.2nd Battalion.
November 28BermerainSt. Martin
November 29OrsinvalVillers Pol.
November 30BelligniesBellignies
December 3RousiesFerrier-le-Grand
December 4ErquelinnesErquelinnes
December 5ThuinThuin
December 7Montignies-sur-SambreMontignies-sur-Sambre
December 8La SarteAuvelais
December 9FlawinneTemploux
December 11MarchoveletteVedrin
December 12LavoirWaret-Leveque
December 13AmpsinAmay
December 17OugreeOugree
December 18NessenvauxFraipont
December 19LimbourgLimbourg
December 20MulheimMulheim
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The remarkable feature of the whole journey was the unrestrained enthusiasm and the almost embarrassing hospitality of the French and Belgian civil populations. As our victorious troops, marching to the stirring music of the Regimental Bands, advanced through a succession of towns and villages, the people excitedly crowded the road-sides, now able to realise, with feelings of emotion not easily suppressed, that the long days of enemy invasion and subjection were definitely ended.

Across the border, the attitude of the German people was first one of timidity, which might have suggested fear of retribution, and later one of attempted conciliation, or desire to make friends, supported by acts intended to convey goodwill. Of course, the presence of Allied troops in the area assured the civil population a sense of security against rioting and internal strife, such as was threatened or had occurred elsewhere. But in any case the German mentality was not to be understood on so brief an acquaintance. There was no evidence of hostility to our troops in a general sense; in fact, the temper was that of a nation completely subdued,—a state of mind and action conveying an illustration of the expression "knocked sick."