The History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919
Chapter XIX. — Of the Return to the Battlefields of Gallipoli
Of the Return to the Battlefields of Gallipoli.
At Ayun Kara matters went on quietly, all units being engaged in replacing old and worn-out horses, and in receiving and organising drafts of reinforcements. On October 31st news of the armistice with Turkey arrived and was received with quiet relief and a satisfaction that the job was at length finished. Training went on uninterruptedly, but more time was allowed for sports. Football was soon in full swing, and preparations were completed for a Divisional sports meeting and horse show. Every unit had a small sports meeting and horse show of its own, at which every horse that could jump, and many that could not, were trained and tried out.
The armistice was followed by the Allied occupation of the Dardanelles and Constantinople, and sentiment prompted a decision that the Australians and New Zealanders should be represented in the force to be landed on the Gallipoli peninsular. The choice fell upon the 7th Light Horse Regiment of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade and the Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade.
Early in November the Regiment received word of a probable move to an unknown destination. A good deal of secrecy was maintained about it, but finally the news came through that the 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment and the Canterburys were to go to the Dardanelles as part of the Army of occupation. As the Regiment was to go as infantry, the best of the horses were distributed amongst the other units of the Brigade, and the remainder handed in to the Remount Department, leaving for embarkation a few riding horses and transport animals only.
Entraining at Ludd on November 13th en route to Kantara, the Regiment experienced a disagreeable trip on the train, for heavy rain came through the roofs of the trucks, wetting everybody to the skin, but the hot sunshine of Kantara in the early morning of the 14th made things right again.page break page 245
The camp was. about four miles east of Kantara on the open desert, alongside the railway. Not knowing what the duties were to be at Gallipoli, nothing was left to chance, and ordinary training continued, varied by rifle exercises and route marches, while ceremonial drill was also brushed up.
The strength of the Regiment for embarkation was limited to twenty-five officers and four hundred and sixty-four other ranks, while eighty-one animals were allowed for riding horses and transport purposes. Any officers or men over this number were to return to the training unit at Ismailia. Preference was given to old hands, if they passed the doctor, to go with the Regiment, as against those who had recently joined. After several false alarms a boat at last arrived on the 27th, and the Regiment immediately embarked. The Australians also embarked at the same time. The transport, H.M.T. "Huntscastle," a captured German, had probably been quite a decent boat originally, but after being burned out and then re-conditioned as a horse boat at Athens, with accommodation for one hundred men and a thousand animals, later mined, and then for the last twelve months tied up in Alexandria Harbour, she was not; to say the least of it, quite a suitable boat for one thousand men and one hundred and sixty animals. Her decks leaked everywhere during wet weather, and there was no hospital for sick men.
Sailing from Kantara early on the morning of the 28th, the "Huntscastle" reached The Narrows on December 2nd, and the Regiment disembarked on the 5th and went into billets in a very dirty and verminous Turkish hospital between Maidos and Kilid Bahr, but the 10th Squadron was detached from the Regiment and established a comfortable camp in a ruined mosque and surrounding buildings at Maidos.
The weather was extremely cold, and there was much influenza and some malaria among the men, but the six weeks spent on Gallipoli was a season of deep interest to all ranks.
All or nearly all of the officers and most of the men had fought at Anzac, and they explored the old positions with feelings of emotion stronger and deeper than could be awakened in their hearts by any other battle-ground of the war.
For the purpose of finding out if the Turks were complying with the terms of the armistice, the Regiment was page 246ordered by the 28th Division, under whom it was serving, to make a detailed reconnaissance of an area bounded by a line Gaba Tepe—Kilia in the south to a line Karakova Burnu—Kara Acaj Limon on the north. This reconnaissance took place between the 11th and 15th, and three officers and forty-five other ranks took part in it.
Many visits were made to the old battlefields at Anzac, and special parties searched for graves and missing comrades of the Canterbury and other regiments; all graves were tended with loving care and great pains taken to have them properly marked and recorded.
E. R. Peacock, writing on the spot, says:—"The spirit of true comradeship towards the dead shows itself in a wonderful and beautiful manner. Going over each remnant, buttons and scraps of cloth and other details they found sufficient to be convinced that the remains were those of a comrade. It is impossible to describe or to do justice to the tender, reverent, care with which each particle was gathered together, a grave dug, and the whole buried in quiet impressive solemnity.page 247
There was no funeral service but no dignitary ever received a more truly loving Christian burial than did these remains. Those, big strong rough looking troopers with their shovels hunting for their comrades on the old battlefields is a picture no artist could paint nor any poet do justice to. They represent the true spirit of the Anzac. We grant them brave as lions, facing dangers without a sense of fear, enduring hardships and privations that would kill most mortals and we talk of their self-reliance, confidence, resourcefulness and bluff, but when it comes to this kind of work what seems to be a new characteristic appears. They displayed a tenderness, care and love which could not be excelled by mother or wife or child."
The men of both the mounted regiments were treated with the greatest consideration by the British Command, and nearly all the officers and some of the men visited Constantinople.
On January 17th four officers and forty-five other ranks went across to the Asiatic shore and visited ancient Troy.
Less four officers and ninety other ranks, with the horses and transport vehicles, the Regiment embarked on board H.M.T. Norman on January 19th, and arrived at Port Said on the 22nd, going through by train to Kantara. Next morning page 248the journey to Rata was continued by train, and the Regiment went into camp with the rest of the Brigade.
At Rafa the time was taken up by a certain amount of training and the inception of an "Educational Scheme;" on February 15th there was held a Divisional Gymkana; and on a never-to-be-forgotten occasion the men of the Regiment presented the 'old Colonel' with a walking stick—still cherished by him as the greatest gift he has ever received.
In the early days of March rumours of disturbances in Egypt had been current, but little attention was paid to them. But on the 17th at noon orders were received for the whole Brigade to move immediately to Kantara, which was reached by the Regiment at 6.30 on the morning of the 18th. Horses and saddlery were drawn from the Remount Depot and Ordnance Stores respectively, and Regimental Headquarters with the 1st Squadron marched to Benha, in the Delta, on March 21st, and on the 23rd the whole Regiment moved by rail to Tanta. The next day a small column was formed, consisting of the Canterbury Regiment, four armoured cars and a small armoured train, which proceeded to march through the Delta.
This duty imposed an enormous amount of patrolling upon I all ranks, and the force was received at first with feelings of great fear in the multitude of small villages with which the Delta is filled. Our men were tired by many years of campaigning and exasperated at being retained in Egypt long after the war was over and all other troops had returned to their homes, and so went about their work with a determination and thoroughness that soon brought peace and quietness to a turbulent community.
Though received with fear, their departure was the signal for much regret and lamentation on the part of the head men and peaceable villagers, who found that, though strict and stern to evildoers, our men were generous and just to a degree.
Kafr el Sheikh was a typical disaffected area. By a night march it was surrounded at daylight, and much amusement was given the men by the desperate efforts of the disaffected portion of the inhabitants to escape. Among these was the Omda (or head-man of the village) who tried to escape in a motor car. Later on, when peace and order was established, page 249he became a firm friend of the Regiment, and gave a dinner at which he made a speech. "I was in much fear of the men in the big hats," he said, "and when a man came up to me after my arrest and told me to put my arms to my sides and to stand up and hold my head erect, at the same time placing his hands on his belt, I felt my last moment had come, and began trembling and to say my prayers and to consign myself to God, when he pulled out a camera and took my photograph I could have kissed him."
All rioters arrested were tried immediately by a Court set up by Colonel Findlay, and, if guilty, sentenced to fines, imprisonment and the lash.
In a few weeks the whole district was patrolled and all disaffected people dealt with, and the usual quiet village life resumed.
As soon as the first excitement of patrolling and bringing in offenders wore off, sports of all kinds were instituted to keep up the spirits of the tired and home-sick men. Intersquadron and inter-regimental tournaments were held, and a team went to Cairo to play cricket.
But the greatest pleasure was derived from the horse races, and in these the natives took an immense amount of interest, and helped in the arrangements and provision of the various racecourses required. A totalisator run on New Zealand lines was established. There was no charge for admission, and the inhabitants were invited to come and bring their horses. They came in large numbers, and, being great gamblers, a large amount of native money used to pass through the "tote."
This participation in a sport they understood undoubtedly largely helped in the pacification of the inhabitants of the district patrolled by the New Zealand Brigade.
Race meetings were held in Alexandria and in Cairo, and many races were won by New Zealand horses, among them the Allenby Cup by a Wellington Regiment horse, and a great race at Cairo by a Canterbury horse—Trooper Quigley's "Sunday," magnificently ridden by Trooper A. E. Wormald, who is well known in New Zealand racing circles.
On June 17th orders were received to return all horses to the Remount Depot at Belbeis, and the whole Regiment moved to a camp at Chevalier Island, Ismailia.page 250
After the great disappointment at Rafa when the Brigade, instead of embarking for home, was re-equipped and went to its trying duties in the Delta, the move to the Canal was welcomed with quiet thankfulness.
On June 30th, 1919, over seven months after the close of the war, the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade was disbanded, and 75 officers and 1,014 other ranks embarked under the command of Colonel Findlay on the transport Ulimaroa for New Zealand, and on the last transport to leave Egypt, the Ellenga, on July 23rd, 1919, there were a few officers and men of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, mostly "main body" completing that "band of brothers"—the old Canterbury Mountd Rifles, the "C.M.R's."
Mainly drawn from the country districts of Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson and the West Coast, the officers, noncommissioned officers and men proved to be a body of men in whom initiative, tenacity of purpose and a high sense of duty were the predominating characteristics. And it was a most encouraging fact that the latest reinforcements were of the same fine character as were the veterans of the Main Body. Though an essential qualification was that of a horse-lover, other qualities were necessary to the successful life of a mounted rifleman, and were provided in abundance because of the varied professions hitherto followed in civil life by members of the Regiment. There was the sheep-farmer, the dairyman, the musterer from the hills, the ploughman of the plains, the surveyor, the engineer, the city man who rode to hounds. No matter what work was on hand—the building or demolition of a bridge, the crossing of a deep river, the finding and development of water, the running of a steam or petrol engine, the formation of a road, the administration of a city—all came easily to such a body of men, and through it all ran a steady purpose—the War had to be won. No sick or holiday leave was allowed to interfere, nor did implacable climate daunt when operations began.
To these qualities, so essential for the work in hand, was added a fine sense of the conduct necessary in dealing with lower races. Of such a nature was this instinctive quality, that the district taken over by the N.Z.M.R. Brigade during the riots in Egypt after the Armistice was at once quieted and a perfect discipline preserved with the goodwill of the inhabitants. The page 251big men on the big horses were met in fear and trembling, and yet when the time came for them to go the people openly expressed their regret.
No member of the Regiment would forgive anyone attempting to record their doings in the Great War if he did not mention the Regiment's undying gratitude to the Aotea Home. Opened modestly in Heliopolis on the 25th November 1915, as a small convalescent home of 25 beds for New Zealanders, by 1918 it had increased to 250 beds and was firmly established as the Home of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade. Truly was it a "home away from home," and always with grateful memories will that devoted band of women be remembered. They were Matron M. A. Early, Sisters K. Booth, N. L. Hughes and Misses E. Macdonald, M. Macdonald, R. Cameron, L. McLaren and M. McDonnell. They were ably supported by Sergeant G. H. Sleight and Gunner Stewart who had charge of the cooking. Aotea was a piece of New Zealand and every man felt in duty bound to treat the staff as his hostesses and to his everlasting honour be it said the Mounted Riflemen throughout the whole of the life of the Home "played the game."
Also it will be remembered that the large amount of Regimental and Squadron funds with which the Regiment was able to supplement the Army rations, will always bring to mind the strenuous work of friends in New Zealand. To Mr. Snodgrass and the Patriotic Society of Nelson and to Sir Heaton Rhodes and Colonels Deans and Milton, and their many helpers, we will ever owe much. Their enthusiasm in organising public meetings and bazaars, and making speeches whereby the funds were collected throughout the towns and country is gratefully remembered, and every man who went away feels that the soldier alone could not have won the war without the assistance of those at home, nor without the sympathy courage and endurance of our women.