The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine
How the Brigade Returned to their Horses after the Campaign in Gallipoli
How the Brigade Returned to their Horses after the Campaign in Gallipoli.
On December 26th, 1915, 62 officers and 1329 other ranks arrived at Alexandria from Gallipoli, under the command of Brigadier-General E. W. C. Chaytor, C.B., and travelled by rail to Cairo, and returned to their old camp at Zeitoun, where the horses had been kept in the best of condition by a devoted band of transport drivers and reinforcements, assisted by native labour.
We New Zealanders are all horse-lovers by our British birthright, and as Colonials we have learned to value the horse as a means of existence, and not merely as a means of recreation. Our Main Body men were horse-lovers by nature, for had they not volunteered and in very many cases brought their own horses? And they were now horse-lovers by conviction, the conviction born of active experience. They had learned that to no man is a horse so essential as to the mounted soldier. His horse is more than a friend, he is a part of the soldier's very life.
We had all read of the Arab's love for his horse, and we learned in these early days in the desert around Cairo the reason of that love. Without a horse in the desert a man is impotent. He perishes miserably. He who has once ridden into action with the bullets whistling past his ears and the shells bursting round him, will never forget his horse; how the good steed became verily a part of his body, a glorified body that carried him whithersoever he willed; escaping this danger by a miracle; leaping over that; and, when all seemed page 2lost, by his very energy and the thunder of his hoofs thrilling his rider to renewed effort.
Organisation as a Mounted Brigade began at once. Main Body men found their own particular horses again, and many happy meetings there were between man and horse.
It was not now a case of training horses. The horses were there in the pink of condition, and the task was to find the men. Horsemanship being an essential accomplishment for success in mounted work, daily riding tests were made, and much care, judgment and patience were exercised in the selection of suitable men from the reinforcements to fill vacancies to complete establishment. Indifferent horsemen were sent to their respective "Detail Squadrons" for further instruction. These "Detail Squadrons" were formed at Zeitoun (one for each regiment) to train reinforcements, and were drawn upon when required by the unit in the field. Selected officers and N.C.Os. were sent to the School of Instruction at Zeitoun, where they and those who from time to time throughout the remainder of the War replaced them, most worthily upheld the honour of New Zealand. Our machine gunners in particular gained much credit, carrying off the highest marks obtained by any unit throughout the whole course of the schools. These schools were instituted early in 1915, and were carried on by selected officers from the British Army and brought to the highest state of efficiency; and well and truly did they take that place in the East which in the West was taken by the training camps at Sling and the cadet battalions at Oxford and Cambridge.
Day by day the work of reconstruction went rapidly on. New arms and equipment were obtained from that generous mother of the Army, the Ordnance Stores. Old arms and equipment were cleaned and repaired, and the machine guns overhauled by our old friends at the Citadel. Here, at Cairo's most ancient fortress, are situated the Egyptian Army's ordnance workshops, and in Mishalany Bey and his assistants the Brigade ever found true friends, for whom no job was too difficult, no repairs too urgent, and no want too small to be instantly and efficiently supplied. And it was very largely owing to the Citadel that the strenuous efforts of every officer and man in each troop bore such good fruit; that the depleted page 3regiments, which had reached Cairo on December 28th, 1915, were enabled in a short twelve days to parade and to form (together with the Signal Troop, Field Troop, Field Ambulance and Ammunition Column) that perfect instrument of war, a Mounted Rifles Brigade—fully armed, magnificently horsed, properly equipped and at full strength.
The N.Z.M.R. Brigade was composed of three Mounted Rifles Regiments. The Auckland Regiment, the Wellington Regiment, and the Canterbury Regiment. The Otago Mounted Rifles were not with the Brigade during the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. Each regiment was composed of three squadrons; and each of these squadrons was recruited from a regiment of Mounted Rifles in New Zealand; and the squadron bore the name of that regiment in New Zealand. So the Auckland Regiment consisted of the 3rd, 4th and 11th Squadrons coming from their parent regiments, 3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles, 4th (Waikato) Mounted Rifles, 11th (North Auckland) Mounted Rifles. The Wellington Regiment was composed of the 2nd, 6th and 9th Squadrons coming from Queen Alexandra's 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Mounted page 4Rifles, 6th (Manawatu) Mounted Rifles, and the 9th (Wellington East Coast) Mounted Rifles. And the Canterbury Regiment consisted of the 1st, the 8th and the 10th Squadrons, from their parent regiments the 1st Mounted Rifles (Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry), the 8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles, and the 10th (Nelson) Mounted Rifles. From this it is seen that each of the three military districts, Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, found one regiment.
In addition to the three regiments the complete Brigade consisted of the Machine Gun Squadron, the Signal Troop, the Field Troop, the Mobile Veterinary Section, and the Mounted Field Ambulance. A battery of R.H.A. also always fought with the Brigade.
The Machine Gun Squadron was formed early in the Sinai campaign from the machine gun sections of each regiment and was therefore recruited from all three regiments. Later as a complete unit the Machine Gun Squadron was reinforced from suitable men from any district in New Zealand.
The Signal Troop were specialists principally from the Post and Telegraph Department and the Railways.
The Field Troop was a unit formed in Sinai. They were the handy men of the Brigade; and among them were civil engineers, mechanical engineers, engine drivers, carpenters, plumbers, draughtsmen, surveyors and mechanics of all kinds. And the Troop was recruited from selected men chosen on account of their special qualification.
The Mobile Veterinary Section was officered chiefly by veterinary officers belonging to the Agricultural Department and recruited from men selected in New Zealand. And, lastly, the Mounted Field Ambulance was kept up to strength by men selected in New Zealand and sent with the other reinforcements.
As to the R.H.A. Battery, for nearly the whole of the campaign the Somerset Territorial Battery, R.H.A., was attached to the New Zealand Brigade, and the men came almost to consider themselves New Zealanders, but the battery was, of course, recruited from England.
Attached to the Brigade, though not actually working with it, were the Rarotongans formed into a company about 250 strong.
In addition to the Brigade and its attached units, two Camel Companies were formed from Mounted Rifles reinforce-page 5ments. These companies formed a part of the I.C.C. Brigade and fought in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. On June 10th, 1918, they were disbanded and formed into the 2nd M.G. Squadron, and as such were attached to the 5th Australian L.H.Brigade.
|3 Regiments each of 24 Officers, 499|
|Other Ranks, 616 horses||72||1497||1848|
|1st Machine Gun Squadron||8||222||321|
|No. 2 Mobile Veterinary Section||1||29||28|
|Mounted Field Ambulance||6||133||127|
|Auckland M.R. Band||1||36||—|
|No. 4 Coy. A.S.C.||5||119||156|
|R.H.A. Battery 5||149||246|
|1.||2 Camel Companies each of 6 Officers 117 Other Ranks|
|These were formed in 1918 into the No. 2 M.G. Squadron of 8 Officers 221 Other Ranks.||page 6|
|2.||N.Z. Rarotongan Coy.||6||240|
|3.||Administrative Headquarters in Cairo||3||30|
|4.||Training Depot, Ismailia||19||79|
To keep the Brigade up to strength throughout the war a total of 17,723 all ranks left New Zealand.
The days went by busily spent in drill and "mobilisation parades"—the whole Brigade parading in full mounted order with first line of transport. These parades proved invaluable; and a steady improvement in smartness, in equipment, and in general soldierly bearing was very noticeable.