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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18


page 1

A distinguished writer of another generation has described history as being mainly a register of the crimes of rulers and the sufferings of the people. This statement, no doubt, had its origin in a long and unbroken succession of wars—dynastic wars, racial wars, and wars of conquest—all of which down through the ages, from the campaigns of Cæsar to the Napoleonic wars, and the most frightful war of all the centuries in our own most recent day, have formed the staple subject of history. The general truth of the statement is incontestable; but never from the beginning of recorded time has it been pregnant with such terrible meaning, or exemplified in a form so appalling in its consequences to the world, as in its relation to the Great War that raged for nearly five years, from August, 1914, onwards, with a violence and on a scale of destruction and suffering and loss of human life without parallel in the history of the world.

The clear and instant comprehension of one outstanding fact—the peril that menaced the Empire—was the clarion call that roused the young nations in the outer seas of the world to a sense of the danger that threatened the Motherland, under whose protecting hand they were able to follow unmolested in their removed isolation, the peaceful way that led to growth and nationhood. The people of New Zealand clearly, and at once, recognized that a struggle was being forced upon them as a member of the household of British Nations, and by an enemy page 2bearing already a record of infamous crime, and that the issue plainly resolved itself into a fight not only for their country, but for their hearths and homes; for the future and for the nationality of their children. But, perhaps more powerful than all else, was the surging force of loyalty to blood and kindred, and the appeal of great and moving traditions, immemorial and imperishable, which in times of stress and danger are the real links of Empire; the indissoluble ties that bind and hold together the scattered members of the great family of nations; the sublime inspiration that rises above every new call for sacrifice, that gathers fresh strength and greater daring from reverses, and sees in the darkest hour only the light that leads to victory.

Overshadowed somewhat by the vastness of the armaments on land and sea, which the Great Powers of the world had launched against each other in this concentration of destructive force, it is questionable whether even among the people of New Zealand to-day there is as clear an understanding as there should be of the full measure of her services and her sacrifices as a nation in arms, mobilised to the near limit of her fighting manhood, enrolling and equipping, and then transporting to the other end of the world, the largest number of men in proportion to population of the overseas Dominions. And, also, as short memories are the rule in the crowded and fevered life of the world, and the obliterating hand of time has an unchanging habit of dealing not too tenderly with much that should be regarded as sacred to the nation, it is the duty of New Zealand to-day, not only to those of her soldiers who still live, but even more so to those who have fallen, and not less as an inspiring message to future generations of New Zealand, to see that the valour of her soldiers, and the loyalty of her people to a great cause, are given a permanent and honoured place in her national literature.

This is conceived to be history in its highest form. It stands as an implied, if not direct, repudiation in language and spirit of those ideals that may imperceptibly lead young nations, fresh from the discovery of their prowess in war, in directions not conducive to their ultimate happiness and security. But while page 3history discountenances what is known to-day, in an aggressive and lawless sense, as militarism, it should stand for everything that makes for national patriotism, for the strengthening of the traditional love of freedom, the development of vigour of national character, and proficiency in the use of arms for the protection of our shores and the security of our liberties. Towards the attainment of such objects the lessons of the Great War may be wisely and profitably employed.

The rapidity with which a succession of dramatic events of the profoundest import to the world followed the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Francis, at Serajevo, on June 28th, 1914, threw the nations concerned into a delirium of feverish anticipation, without the power to visualise even in the remotest degree the vastness of the calamity that was about to desolate the world. One month after the Serajevo tragedy, which, viewed from any human standpoint, concerned only a very small number of people, Austria had declared war on Serbia. Then followed that succession of terrible events which plunged almost the whole world into the abyss. Five days after Austria's declaration of war, Germany sent her troops into Luxembourg, violated French territory without even a formal declaration of war, made war on Russia, and opened her campaign of savagery on the practically defenceless people of Belgium. England, up to this point, had been tirelessly engaged in efforts of peaceful negotiation, remonstrance, and protest, and despairing of stemming the tide of war by such means, declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914, and immediately entered the lists on the side of France and her Allies.

Three days after England's declaration of war with Germany, the New Zealand Government cabled to the Imperial Government offering to provide an Expeditionary Force, and on August 12th the offer was accepted. Already, on July 30th, preliminary arrangements had been made by the Defence Authorities of the Dominion for raising a voluntary Expeditionary Force for service in Europe or elsewhere, and the moment the cable of acceptance reached New Zealand this prepared machinery was set in motion. Concentration camps were established in the Military Districts, in which the Mounted Rifles page 4Regiments and Infantry Battalions were formed, and received their preliminary training. Volunteers for the Artillery, in common with those for other Divisional Units, were concentrated at the Awapuni Racecourse, near Palmerston North. At the outset it was decided to send away with the Force one six-gun 18pr. Battery, a Section of Brigade Ammunition Column, one Section of Divisional Ammunition Column, and one Small Arms Sub-section of a Horse Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column. But by the time these units had been formed it was decided that something more ambitious should be attempted with the large number of young men volunteering for the Artillery. Ultimately it was decided to equip and despatch with the Expeditionary Force a whole Field Artillery Brigade of three 18pr. Batteries, each of four guns, and one Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column; also to form a Howitzer Battery of four guns to be sent away with the Second Reinforcements.

Command of the Brigade was given to Lieut.-Colonel G. N. Johnston, R.A., one of the Imperial officers whose services had been loaned to New Zealand to assist in the training of her Territorial Forces. Lieut.-Colonel Johnston remained in command of the New Zealand Artillery during the training in Egypt and throughout the Gallipoli campaign, and going to France as C.R.A. of the Division, held his command until the close of the war. The Adjutant of the Brigade was Lieutenant J. M. Richmond, R.N.Z.A., 2nd Lieutenant W. L. Moore being Orderly Officer.

The officers of the three batteries were:—1st Battery—Major F. Symon, Captain C. McGilp, Lieutenant C. N. Newman, and 2nd Lieutenants J. C. Dunnet and F. M. Turner. 2nd Battery—Major F. B. Sykes, R.A., Captain G. E. Daniell, Lieutenant V. Rogers, Lieutenant R. C. Wickens, and 2nd Lieutenant A. E. Horwood. 3rd Battery—Major I. T. Standish, Captain C. V. Leeming, Lieutenant R. Richards, Lieutenant C. Carrington, and 2nd Lieutenant T. Farr. Brigade Ammunition Column—Captain F. G. Hume, R.N.Z.A., Lieutenant N. Purdie, and Lieutenant S. W. Morton.

The gunners who had been posted to the original six-gun battery were distributed amongst the three new batteries, and on this nucleus the establishment of gunners was built page 5up by selection from the many who clamoured for inclusion. Practically all the non-commissioned officers had had considerable experience either in the volunteers or Territorials, or in the Permanent Artillery. But the equipping of batteries on an active service footing was a harder problem than the selection of personnel, and actually was only made possible by the experience and foresight of those who had been instrumental in equipping the Territorial batteries with modern guns and howitzers. The field artillery of New Zealand's citizen army comprised at the outbreak of war four Brigades, each of two batteries and an ammunition column, and with the exception of D (Mountain) Battery (Wellington), all the batteries possessed modern 18prs. or 4.5in. howitzers. D. Battery was awaiting the arrival of new guns from England. The 18pr. batteries were A. Battery (Auckland), and G. Battery (Hamilton) of the Auckland Brigade; F. Battery (Napier) of the Wellington Brigade; E. Battery (Christchurch), and H. Battery (Nelson), of the Canterbury Brigade; and C. Battery (Invercargill) of the Otago Brigade. The two 4.5in. howitzer batteries were B. Battery (Dunedin) and J. Battery (Palmerston North) of the Otago and Wellington Brigades. The original volunteer batteries had always been able to attract a good class of recruit, and had maintained at once their popularity and strength even in the days when volunteering had grown so unattractive that it had to give way to a system of compulsory training. Nor did they lose their keenness under the new system; and undoubtedly they gained a great deal in efficiency. It was these batteries, then, which may be said to have furnished the foundation on which the artillery of the Expeditionary Force was built up.

The horses were a fairly mixed lot. The best of the gun horses came from the stables of the Royal New Zealand Artillery. These were few in number, however, and so the drivers, good horsemen most of them, had a busy time for a while schooling the raw material in the way that a gun horse should go. During the few weeks that elapsed before the Brigade moved down to Wellington in readiness for embarkation, details of organisation and equipment occupied most of the energies of commanding officers and their subordinates, page 6and the amount of training carried out was inconsiderable. The closest secrecy was being maintained as to the probable destination of the Force, and the date of its departure, but towards the end of September the fitting out of the vessels which had been chartered as transports was complete, and preparations were made for embarkation. The Brigade was to embark at Wellington, the 1st and 2nd Batteries on the Limerick, and the 3rd Battery and the B.A.C. on the Arawa. On September 23rd the Brigade entrained at Palmerston North for Wellington, and on arrival there shortly after mid-day marched through the streets of the city to the barracks at Mt. Cook. Embarkation was carried out the following day.

The Main Body, as the first Expeditionary Force has always been called, comprised one Mounted Rifle Brigade, one Infantry Brigade, an independent Mounted Rifles Regiment, a Brigade of Field Artillery with a Brigade Ammunition Column, Field Troop N.Z.E., Signal Troop, Signal Company, Mounted Field Ambulance, No. 1 Field Ambulance, and Divisional Train. The force which actually sailed totalled 8,417 of all ranks. Of this total 6,900 had had some previous military training, 3,600 having served in the Territorial Force at the time of enlistment.

The 4th (Howitzer) Battery was not formed at the same time as the 18pr. batteries, as the offer of a howitzer battery was not accepted by the Imperial authorities until shortly before the embarkation of the Main Body. When its formation was decided on, one officer and a few N.C.O.'s who had acquired experience in howitzer batteries in the Territorials were withdrawn from the 18pr. batteries to assist in the training of the new unit, which it was then decided should leave New Zealand with the 2nd Reinforcements. The Battery was organised and trained at Trentham Camp, and when it left New Zealand was commanded by Captain N. S. Falla, who had with him Lieutenant H. J. Daltry, Lieutenant R. Miles, Lieutenant E. Gardner, and 2nd Lieutenant J. G. Jeffery.

An official farewell was tendered to the units which embarked in Wellington, at a big parade held in Newtown Park on September 24th. The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, the Wellington Infantry Battalion, and the Artillery page 7Brigade, and other Divisional Units paraded in full strength, and were inspected by His Excellency the Governor, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Defence. Great crowds assembled in the Park to witness the parade, and afterwards lined the streets and cheered the soldiers as they marched down to the wharves. The transports backed out from the wharves before dark, and anchored in the stream, where they were were joined during the evening by the Ruapehu and Hawke's Bay from Port Chalmers, and the Tahiti and Athenic from Lyttelton. The fleet stood ready to sail with the dawn, but before the morning it was known that its departure had been indefinitely postponed. The Waimana and Star of India, which had left Auckland the previous night, had been recalled to that port by a wireless message, and the transports at Wellington went alongside the wharves again and made ready to disembark all the mounted units with their horses. The fleet would not sail, it had been decided, without a sufficiently powerful escort. On disembarking, the Artillery with their horses and vehicles marched out to the Lower Hutt Racecourse, and went into camp. During the three weeks that elapsed before the Force finally sailed away the batteries were able to devote their whole energies to training, and the time was very profitably spent.

The escort for which the Force had been waiting arrived at last on the afternoon of October 14th, to the surprise and delight of the soldiers, who were growing tired of the long delay. Two big cruisers, H.M.S. Minotaur and the Ibouki, the latter flying the Japanese flag, steamed quietly and unannounced into the harbour at Wellington, and were at anchor almost before the city was aware of their arrival. By the following afternoon the mounted units, which had been encamped around Wellington, had embarked again with their horses and vehicles, and the transports one by one moved out into the stream. The Maunganui, which was the flagship of the convoy, and on which was Major-General A. J. Godley, commanding the Expeditionary Force, was the last transport to leave the wharves; and as she went past the cruisers in the gathering dusk, the men-of-warsmen gathered aft and woke the echoes with their cheers.