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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18


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I have been asked to write a few words as a foreword to the Regimental History of the N.Z.F.A. I am naturally glad to do this, though I do so with the greatest diffidence, owing to the fact that my close personal relationship with the New Zealand Field Artillery ceased in July, 1916, when to my very great regret the New Zealand Division left my command. I can, therefore, write only about the early period of the war, though I need hardly say that I never failed to take the greatest interest and real pride in the achievements of the New Zealand Forces.

It was in December, 1914, that I first made acquaintance with the New Zealand gunners, when the artillery sent from the Dominion consisted of one brigade of field artillery, viz., three four-gun batteries. This force was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. Napier Johnston, R.A., a Canadian by birth, who, after graduating at the Kingston Military College, had entered the Royal Artillery, and whose services had been placed at the disposal of the New Zealand Government. Colonel Johnston had as his battery commanders Majors Symon, Sykes, R.A., and Standish. During the breathing space given us in Egypt in the early months of 1915, no time was lost by Colonel Johnston in bringing his brigade to a high stage of efficiency; and in this work he was most ably seconded by his battery commanders.

Later on, and shortly before leaving Egypt, the brigade received a most welcome addition in the form of the 4th (four-gun) Howitzer Battery, under the command of Major Falla. It was this battery which had the honour of being the first to land at Gallipoli, as it did on the morning of 26th April, 1915. It will, I am sure, be readily realized what immense importance I, together with all my comrades on the Anzac position, attached page viiito this particular battery, when I say that for a considerable time these four little 4.5 in. howitzers were the only howitzers of any description on the whole of the front held by my army corps— and real stout and yeoman work they did for us.

Later in the same month, the 2nd and 1st Batteries joined the 4th Howitzer Battery at Anzac, while early in May the 3rd Battery was landed at Cape Helles, but rejoined the rest of the brigade at Anzac in the middle of August. In the same month the 5th Battery arrived at Anzac from New Zealand, to be followed in October by the 6th Howitzer Battery.

Only those who served throughout those weary months at Gallipoli can fully realize the strenuous times which all the gunners went through; and only those who were able continuously to visit the gun positions will ever know the magnificent work done night and day, for weeks, and even months, without relief, by all ranks of the batteries. The great spirit shown by all, and their determination not to be daunted by any difficulties or discomfort, or by the heavy enemy artillery which was constantly shelling our positions, are qualities which will ever live in my memory; and I shall always have a feeling of the greatest admiration, and, indeed, I might say affection, for the New Zealand Artilleryman. His Australian brother well knew his value, for Australia and New Zealand were there fighting shoulder to shoulder, realizing how the safety and honour of the one depended equally on the staunchness and courage of the other—and neither ever failed. I cannot think of gunners ever having had to work over more difficult ground than they were called on to do at Gallipoli. They always rose to the occasion, and well lived up to that proud regimental motto of "Ubique."

The day came, however, when the Gallipoli Peninsula had to be evacuated. On our withdrawal to Egypt in the spring of 1916, the New Zealand Forces were reorganized and expanded to a complete division, which included the formation of the artillery into the normal divisional organization of three brigades, and as such it proceeded to France in March, 1916.

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On arrival in France, the Anzac Corps was called upon to occupy that portion of the front of the British lines in the immediate vicinity of Armentières; and so well do I remember with what real goodwill the New Zealand gunners first established themselves on the outskirts of that town. Here it was, I think, that the infantry began to realize to the fullest extent how much their whole existence in the line and eventual success must depend upon the work done by the artillery; and how no army could hope to win battles unless infantry and artillery had complete confidence in each other. That the infantry did possess this complete confidence in the accurate shooting of their batteries speaks for itself; for, having acquired this, the infantry realized that they could carry out an attack and advance under the closest covering fire from their own guns with as much immunity as it is possible for infantry ever to have in a modern battle—and this must always be the greatest glory which gunners can achieve.

The part taken by the New Zealand Artillery during the latter period of the war must be described by others who know it better than I do. I will conclude by saying what a real privilege I have always considered it to be the commander and comrade of these brave and true men for the many months we served together, and I most heartily wish them all happiness and prosperity for many years to come in this beautiful land of New Zealand.

W. R. Birdwood, General.

22nd July, 1920.
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