Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18


The almost simultaneous evacuation of the troops from Anzac, Suvla Bay, and Cape Helles threw a tremendous burden on the transport services in the Mediterranean, and the return to Egypt of the troops of the New Zealand and Australian Division, although carried out as expeditiously as possible, was not completed until the New Year had dawned. The evacuation of Anzac having been a gradual process extending over more than a week, units arrived back in Egypt distributed on different transports, and in no particular order. On arrival at Alexandria some parties proceeded to Zeitoun, and others to Moascar. At this latter place, which was merely a railway siding a mile from. Ismailia, on the banks of the Suez Canal, advance parties were proceeding with the establishment of a big camp where the Division was to be once more concentrated under canvas. With the arrival of the Infantry Brigades, the artillerymen with their horses and guns, other Divisional troops, and the Supply and Transport services, the camp took on an air of bustle and animation, and the men gradually settled down again to the routine of training.

By the time units had settled down in their new quarters and training had been thoroughly entered on, the Divisional Staff had completed a comprehensive scheme of reorganisation which had as its object the formation of a self-contained, complete New Zealand Division. This scheme, which was immediately put into operation, involved the withdrawal from the Division of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade and the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade, a circumstance which was almost as sincerely regretted by the men of those Brigades page 101as it was by the rest of the Division. With the exception of the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment, which was retained as Divisional Troops, the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade also ceased to be part of the Division. The Divisional Artillery was thrown into the melting pot, and the two three-battery Brigades which the Division had had on Gallipoli were expanded into four Brigades. Three Brigades consisted of four 18pr. batteries, each of four guns, and the remaining Brigade was to comprise three 4.5in. howitzer batteries. In addition, there were to be three sections of the Divisional Ammunition Column, and a Howitzer Brigade Ammunition Column.

The composition of Brigades with the names of Brigade and Battery Commanders was as follows:—

  • 1st Brigade (Lieut.-Colonel F. Symon).
    • 1st Battery—Major C. McGilp.
    • 3rd Battery—Captain C. V. Leeming.
    • 7th Battery—Captain A. E. Horwood.
    • 8th Battery—Captain C. N. Newman.
  • 2nd Brigade (Lieut.-Colonel F. B. Sykes).
    • 2nd Battery—Major F. Hume.
    • 5th Battery—Captain Beattie.
    • 13th Battery—Captain T. Farr.
    • 14th Battery—Major H. C. Glendining.
  • 3rd Brigade (Lieut.-Colonel I. T. Standish).
    • 9th Battery—Captain R. S. McQuarrie.
    • 10th Battery—Captain R. Wickens.
    • 11th Battery—Captain V. Rogers.
    • 12th Battery—Captain H. A. Davies.
  • 4th (Howitzer) Brigade (Lieut-Colonel N. S. Falla).
    • 4th Battery—Captain J. L. H. Turner.
    • 6th Battery—Captain G. E. Daniell.
    • 15th Battery—Captain R. Miles.

The first essential was the provision of personnel, the equipment was to come later. The men for the new units page 102were drawn largely from the ranks of the Mounted Infantrymen, and very good material they proved. Practised horsemen, and nearly all men of fine physique, they possessed individually and in the mass most of the qualifications which their new commanders might have desired in them. Above all else they were astonishingly keen. It was significant of their interest in this new branch of the Service that when the Third Brigade found itself considerably over-strength and proceeded to draft men back to the Mounted Rifles, many N.C.O.'s elected to revert to the ranks and remain in the Artillery. A good many commissions had to be granted to make up the establishment of officers; experienced noncommissioned officers had to be selected, and a leavening of experienced gunners and drivers had to be provided for each new formation. Out of the new material was gradually evolved the complete unit, and under the instruction of men who had served their guns on Gallipoli the initial and more wearisome stages of training were quickly passed. The fact that it was impossible to equip the new batteries with guns was a serious hindrance, and much of the work was perforce of a very general nature. It was a case of making the most of the guns which the Division did possess. Work on the heavy sand, under a hot African sun, was trying and strenuous, but it was never overdone, and interest was never allowed to flag. Surprising results attended the training. The whole alphabet of artillery training from standing gun-drill to battery manœuvres was traversed in an incredibly short space of time, and the success which attended the instructional fire practices on March 22nd and the three following days, provided ample assurance that the labours of the past three weeks had borne good fruit.

Although a great deal of hard work had to be done, life meanwhile was not without its pleasant interludes of sport and recreation; games of football were played in the evening and on Saturdays, and inter-unit matches created a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. Frequent swimming parades gave the men ample opportunity of disporting themselves in the pleasant and invigorating waters of Lake Timsah, and a system was introduced by which men in turn were granted page 103twenty-four hours' leave to Cairo. Beyond these things there was little to vary the monotony of existence in a camp which was more or less isolated in the desert. Growing weary of inaction, and confident of their fitness to take the field again, men began presently to talk of France, and to look forward eagerly to the day when they would enter the lists against the most formidable of their enemies. They were not long to chafe at their inactivity. The syllabus of training which had been mapped out had hardly been completed when orders appeared announcing that the Division would shortly embark for France. Rumours on this absorbing topic had been in the air for some time, but once the move was announced events travelled swiftly.

On April 3rd the Division, which had already had a visit from H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, was inspected by General Sir Archibald Murray, Commander-in-Chief Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and two days later units began to entrain for the ports of embarkation. The preliminary movement orders showed that the Divisional Artillery was to entrain on the 5th, 6th, and 7th of April. Immediately the camp was thrown into that orderly disorder of preparation which always precedes an enterprise of any magnitude. Kit inspections and the checking of equipment, the return of surplus stores, and the making up of shortages were followed by the striking of camp as unit after unit moved off to the entraining point at the railway siding, where the presence of large native working parties added to the noise and confusion. Few said farewell to Egypt with any regret; on the contrary, the prospect of action and a change of environment was hailed with enthusiasm. Light work was made of the entraining, and as fast as trains were available they were loaded up and set off for Alexandria, where men and horses were to embark for Marseilles. Guns, wagons, and ammunition were not taken, as Batteries and Ammunition Columns were to be newly equipped on arrival in France. Transports proceeded to Marseilles individually, and without attached escort; and though the submarine menace in the Mediterranean was then a real and growing one, the transport of the Division was accomplished without serious incident.

page 104

Everyone was eager for his first glimpse of France, and the ship's rails were lined and every vantage point on deck was crowded as the transports made their way up the picturesque harbour and proceeded to their berth at the wharves. All civilians had been rigorously excluded from the vicinity of the wharves, so that most of the ships arrived without any welcoming fuss. The disembarkation was carried out with the same despatch that had characterised the embarkation, and as units came ashore they were packed into long troop trains, and set off on their journey northwards through the heart of Southern France. The countryside was clad in the fresh and tender verdure of spring, and looked fair indeed to eyes that for long had gazed upon nothing more attractive than the scarred slopes of Gallipoli, the bare hills of Lemnos, and the parched and boundless spaces of the Egyptian desert. Marseilles and the sea were quickly left behind, and soon the way lay through the Rhone Valley, with its blossoming orchards and orderly vineyards, its quaint little clustering villages, and its busy towns. It was a long, slow journey, and the not over comfortable accommodation gave little opportunity for easy rest or sleep; but the way was never wearisome. The beauties of the countryside, the sense of change, and the novelty of the surroundings left no room for dull thoughts or weariness of mind. Lyons, Dijon, Versailles (where a glimpse was obtained of the famous palace), and Rouen were all passed in turn, and finally Havre, the destination for the time being, was reached after a journey that in most cases had extended over fifty hours.

At Havre, where the Artillery were to be fully equipped before proceeding to join the Division in its billeting area, several days were spent in camp on an exposed hillside above the town. The weather was bitterly cold, and a chilling wind blew straight in off the sea, proving very trying to men so suddenly transported from a tropical climate. There was little time to worry about the cold, however, for the days were busily occupied with the drawing of every detail of equipment required by Batteries and Ammunition Columns. Units took their teams, in many cases freshly drawn from the Remount Depôt, to the great base stores on the quayside, and marching page 105in at one gate were equipped with guns, wagons, and everything else that was essential before they left by the other. The extensive yards, literally crammed with guns of all calibres and stores of every description, furnished a convincing demonstration of the material resources which England was then beginning in earnest to place at the disposal of her armies in France. As soon as units were complete they moved off again to rejoin the Division, which by this time had settled down in billeting areas near Hazebrouck.

The billets which had been reserved for the Artillery were situated in and about small villages, such as Lynde, Le Ciseaux, and Blaringhem, small places with a poor estaminet or two, and little else of note beyond the church with its spire standing up above the clustering thatched roofs. The old barns and disused stables, which served as billets, were made comfortable enough with the aid of straw bedding, even if they were not overclean; but the season had been wet, and the gun-parks and horse-lines were for the most part quagmires. Nor were there any manœvring grounds available, so that beyond a route march or two no departure from the ordinary routine was attempted. Before going into the line, however, batteries were called on to undergo a test of their shooting abilities. Each Brigade in turn was required to send a party of gunners from each of its batteries to Calais, where they carried out live shell practice on ranges on the sea-front. As a test of shooting ability, if it were so designed, the affair was very simple, but it served to demonstrate the discipline and smartness of the gun-crews. In congratulating the men of one battery on their shooting, which had been but typical of that of all the brigades, an English staff officer explained that all batteries were being so tested prior to going into the line in France since, on occasions, one or two batteries had inflicted as much damage on their own infantry as on the enemy!

Before the Division was ordered into the line at Armentieres some further substantial alteration was made in the composition of the artillery brigades. The howitzer batteries were distributed between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Brigades, and page 106the 4th Brigade was made to consist of three 18pr. batteries. Brigades then stood as follows:—

1st Brigade (Lieut-Colonel F. Symon, C.M.G.)—1st, 3rd, 7th and 15th (How.) Batteries.

2nd Brigade (Lieut.-Colonel Sykes, D.S.O.)—2nd, 5th. 9th, and 6th (How.) Batteries.

3rd Brigade (Lieut.-Colonel I. T. Standish, D.S.O.)—11th, 12th. 13th, and 4th (How.) Batteries.

4th Brigade (Lieut.-Colonel N. S. Falla, D.S.O.)—8th, 10th, and 14th Batteries.

Brigade Ammunition Columns were abolished, and a 4th Section was added to the Divisional Ammunition Column, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel M. M. Gard'ner. The four Brigades and the Divisional Ammunition Column were commanded by Brig-General G. N. Johnston, C.R.A. of the New Zealand Division. The Division was now commanded by Major-General A. H. Russell.