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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18

The March to Germany

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The March to Germany.

On November 13th, after the Artillery had rejoined the Division at Quievy, the announcement was made that the New Zealand Division was to form part of the Army of Occupation which was to march to Germany and occupy the bridgeheads on the Rhine. The following day an impressive Thanksgiving Service was held at a massed parade of the whole Division, after which the C.R.A., Brigadier-General G. N. Johnston, addressed each battery in turn regarding the march to Germany.

The Divisional Artillery remained at Quievy from the 13th until the 28th November, cleaning up and getting everything in readiness for the trek to Germany, which was all to be done by road. Horses that were lame or poor in condition were evacuated, and fresh horses were drawn from the remount depôt to bring batteries and ammunition columns up to their establishment. On the 28th November the whole Divisional Artillery set out for Escarmain—the first stage on the long trek to Cologne. The next day's march was from Escarmain to Tasmieres through Beaudignies and Le Quesnoy, over the country, across which the Division had fought its way but a little while before. The Forest de Mormal was avoided by making a detour to the north through Bavai. Units remained in billets in the Tasnieres area for two days; an inspection was to have been held at this place by his Majesty the King, but this did not eventually take place.

On December 3rd, the column marched to Ferriere-la-Grande and on the 4th to Fontaine-Valmont. On this second day the way lay through Marrpent and Jeumont, where the enemy had had an important railroad centre and big munition works. The railway yards were crowded with a heterogeneous collection of rolling stock, including French, Belgian, and German. There were many train loads of ammunition, and others loaded up with a wonderful variety of odds and ends salvaged from the battlefields, affording a striking illustration of the systematic manner in which the Germans converted all waste and scrap material to profitable use. Many of the buildings in the station yards, and much of the rolling stock had been wrecked and burned; and according at least to the statements of the civilian inhabitants, this destruction had been wrought by the Germans themselves on the declaration of the Armistice.

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One of the Mobile Trench Mortars [Official Photo Designed by the Divisional Trench Mortars to meet the changed conditions of fighting in the last advance

One of the Mobile Trench Mortars [Official Photo Designed by the Divisional Trench Mortars to meet the changed conditions of fighting in the last advance

A New Zealand Battery coming into action on the site of a captured German Battery [Official Photo

A New Zealand Battery coming into action on the site of a captured German Battery [Official Photo

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The frontier having been crossed at Solre-sur-Sambre during the 4th, the route now lay through Belgium, and in every town and every village the New Zealanders were received with such enthusiasm that their march became almost a triumphal progress. Many of the inhabitants gave up their most comfortable rooms for the soldiers, and to have them billeted in the house was regarded as a privilege. On December 5th, the march was continued to Lobbes, and during the three days that units were billetted there, almost everyone visited Charleroi, some few miles off. The column marched through Charleroi and the thickly populated industrial district surrounding it on the 8th, when it moved from Lobbes to Lambusart. While in the Bothey-Bossiere area, which was reached on the 9th, arrangements were made for special trains to enable the men to visit Brussels. On the 12th the march was to Hauret-Harlue and next day to the Wanze area in the Meuse Valley, and near the famous waterway from which it takes its name. The wonderful old citadel at Huy was visited by nearly the whole of the Divisional Artillery. Of considerable interest also was the beet sugar factory, one of the largest in Europe. The night of the 17th was spent at Seraing, a densely populated suburb of Liege, and next day the trek was continued to the Chence-Chaud-Fontaine area.

The last night in billets in Belgian territory was spent at Verviers, where the enthusiasm of the population knew no bounds, their hospitality being more pressing and open-handed than anything that had hitherto been experienced. The following day, December 20th, the German frontier was crossed. Passing under the triumphal arch, decorated with evergreens and the flags of the Allied Nations, which marked the Belgian boundary, brigades marched down the slope and through the little village of Eupen, that stood just inside the German frontier. Had there been no other indication of the fact, the attitude of the civil population would have been sufficient to tell the soldiers that they, at last, were actually on German soil. When the first New Zealanders went through Eupen, the streets were absolutely deserted, and beyond a furtive lifting of blinds, there was no sign of life in the dwelling houses. The German population were evidently somewhat fearful of the consequences to themselves of the Allied occupation, but they soon recovered page 306from their initial fears, and exhibited a conciliatory attitude and a desire to please, which was no doubt prompted by self-interest. After entering Germany the column marched through a hilly and inhospitable countryside, until it reached the billetting area near the poor and scattered village of Rotgen. Before night fell and batteries had settled down in their quarters, hail and sleet had begun to fall, and the bitter cold made the draughty barns and outbuildings but a poor substitute for the comfortable billets which had been the rule in the march through France and Belgium.

On December 23rd, the march was resumed to the Hurtgen-Birgel area, and on the following day through Duren, where were located the headquarters of the 7th Brigade Army Corps, to the Blatzheim-Kerpen area. Christmas Day, cold and somewhat cheerless, was spent here, and on the following morning the final stage of the journey was commenced. Cologne was entered about midday; the remainder of the Division had preceded the Artillery, having gone on by train from Verviers. The long column marched through Cologne, and crossing the Rhine by the Hohenzollern Bridge, proceeded to their respective areas in Deutz and Kalk on the eastern banks of the river.

Divisional Artillery Headquarters was situated in the main thoroughfare in Deutz, the 1st Brigade and the D.A.C were billetted in big school buildings, the 2nd Brigade in some exhibition grounds, and the 3rd Brigade in old Imperial Army Barracks. During the latter half of the trek, and until the units of the Divisional Artillery were demobilised, Lieut.-Colonel Symon acted as C.R.A. of the Division. Brigadier-General Johnston had proceeded on leave shortly after the declaration of the Armistice, and on his arrival in Cologne assumed command of the Division, following on the departure of the Divisional Commander.

In Cologne, batteries had only the ordinary routine to occupy their time and consequently after they had settled down in their quarters and removed the stains of travel from their vehicles and equipment all ranks had ample leisure and opportunity to go sight-seeing in the city itself or to make excursions to various places, attractive or interesting, along the banks of the Rhine.

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The Route Taken by the New Zealand Artillery in its Marce to Cologne

[unclear: The Route Taken by the New Zealand Artillery in its Marce to Cologne]

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The inhabitants of the city probably realised that the presence of troops of the Army of Occupation was not without its advantages, as it secured them from the possibility of any disturbances and upheavals, such as were then taking place in other party of Germany. At any rate the majority of them displayed a quite friendly attitude towards the British troops who were quartered in and about the city. The civilian population suffered a great many hardships as a result of the war conditions, and there was almost a total lack of many commodities which normally are regarded as indispensable. There was no lack of amusement or gaiety, however, and the cafes and places of entertainment were generally crowded each night; the strongest attraction for many of the soldiers being the "Opernhaus," where for a very modest charge they could hear operas produced by companies which generally attained a high standard of ability. They were produced in German, of course, but that circumstance did not seriously detract from their enjoyment.

A good deal of time was devoted to sport, principally football, and for all ranks the stay in Cologne will always have pleasant memories. A visit was paid to the Division by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and as it was of a purely informal character it was so much the more appreciated by the men of the Division.

The demobilisation of the Division commenced with the New Year. On January 1st, 1919, the first draft, consisting of 1914 men, left Cologne for England, en route to New Zealand. In the bitter cold of mid-winter the two days' train journey to the coast was tedious and uncomfortable in the extreme. On arrival in England drafts proceeded direct to one of the New Zealand Base Depôts, the majority of the artillerymen going to Sling Camp. From there, after a period of leave, and a longer period of waiting, they proceeded to the port of embarkation, and finally set out on their return to New Zealand.

Once under way, demobilisation proceeded rapidly. All stores, equipment, and guns were returned to the ordnance authorities, and the horses were disposed of after being divided into three main classes. A certain number of mares were selected for breeding purposes, others were marked for retention in the page 308Imperial Army, and the remainder were sold, either to be butchered or used for general purposes. By the end of January demobilisation was practically complete and the Divisional Artillery, as a unit, had ceased to exist.