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Historic Trentham, 1914-1917: The Story of a New Zealand Military Training Camp, and Some Account of the Daily Round of the Troops within Its Bounds

Trained at Trentham

page 9

Trained at Trentham

No loitering footstep slows the line
As bravely forth they go,
To lands where paler sunbeams shine
And colder breezes blow.
They'll dream of hills of golden broom
Where warm winds sigh, and where
The royal rangiora's bloom
Makes sweet the summer air.

On a dull rainy day in June, 1915, the streets of Wellington were lined with crowds of people. They were waiting for something to pass along—something important, to judge by their expectant faces. The strains of a military band caused a stir and a turning of heads. Standing on a street corner was a New Zealander just returned from Australia, and there was a look of keen interest in his eyes. He had been in Australia when war broke out; he had witnessed a good deal of the mobilisation of the New South Wales quota of the Australian Main Force, and had seen ten thousand Australian troops march through the streets of Sydney. Among them were many New Zealanders, who, rather than wait till there was room for them in the smaller New Zealand drafts, had paid their passages across the Tasman and enlisted in Sydney. In their well-fitting Australian uniforms, these New Zealanders had looked smart and handy, like the Australians themselves, in all but name. In the eyes of the New Zealander just returned, there could be nothing more soldierly and manly than the Australians. He had known so many of them, warm-hearted, full of the joy of life and the love of adventure, loyal to their mates andpage 10glad to welcome the New Zealanders. Ten thousand of them marching had been a wonderful sight. And now, for the first time, he was about to see a body of New Zealand troops on the march.

The Artillery came first, marching with confident stride. They looked like picked men, tall and clean-limbed. Then came the Mounteds, section after section, riding past—burly, full-blooded men. Their officers looked like seasoned men, too—no untried youngsters were there. As they passed in a khaki column that moved on and on, the crowd began to cheer. Something very deep stirred in the heart of the New Zealander just come home. These men were different in his eyes from anything he had seen—it was the home pride that made it seem so. And when, suddenly, he saw an old school friend riding past and was recognised, his cup of joy was full. He shouted and hurrahed, and the bystanders gave him room.

"What do you call them?" he asked. "Which are they?"

"They are the Fifth Reinforcements," he was told.

"Surely they're the best that have gone," he said. But his neighbour smiled and answered,

"You should have seen the Main Body—7000 men—and the Seconds and Thirds and Fourths."

The band that led the Infantry came past then. In silence the New Zealander watched, spell-bound, the steady stride—stride—stride of these hardy, brawny men.

It was the Fighting Fifth that marched past on that winter's day; and we know now that they proved true Anzacs, which means that most of them were killed or badly wounded. They, like those who went before them and those who followed and are following still, were the flower of New Zealand, the cream of her manhood. They have proved themselves equal to the best soldiers in the world. Fortune has favoured New Zealand's sons in their environment. No huge cities have stifled them. The world of sport and adventure has been at the door of every man and boy. They have cultivated, unconsciously, resourcefulness and calmness in occasions of excitement; and behind all this has been their glowing, radiant health and the loyalty to the Homeland that has been instilled into them since they were infants. Much is due to these circumstances, and the credit of their success as soldiers belongs, in great part, to the officers and non-commissioned officers of the training staffs who have spent patient hours in shaping them to soldierly ways, following the lines laid down by the high command.

Since the Fifths went there have been many troops sent overseas. Well into the Thirties the numbers of the Reinforcements have climbed, and page 11they are larger Reinforcements now than they were in June, 1915. So far as the city people are concerned, until recently each Reinforcement has appeared before them in the streets and passed away in the transports at dawn of the next day. With Trentham Camp at the door of the city, how many have ever troubled to visit it and see where the troops have been trained since the Second Reinforcements went into camp there—where the Fighting Fifth were trained? And how many of those who have visited the camp understood the meaning of what they saw? The camp itself is simple and plain enough to look at. There is no wizardry in it: it has no conjurers' houses, no magic machines. But there has been a fine spirit animating Trentham and its organisation. The healthy, happy men in khaki who are seen in the city streets are the result of the spirit's working and of the hours of ceaseless, close work of the camp staff. One of these officers was once asked whether he did not find it tedious, instructing draft after draft of new men in the same work. He replied:

"Why should I? They are different men each time. I find it most interesting."

Most probably the secret of success lies in that officer's remark. At any rate, in the history of the New Zealand army the name of Trentham will be the name of the home camp. It has been the jumping-off place where thousands of civilians have become soldiers, and where the same thousands have passed from training to active service. Trentham Camp was not created in a night: it evolved itself from modest beginnings by sheer hard work and vigour on the part of those in charge and those in subordinate positions. And to-day it is one of the best organised and disciplined camps in the Empire.