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The War Effort of New Zealand

Engineers and Maoris

Engineers and Maoris.

On the banks of the Stour, between the old towns of Christchurch and Boscombe, and about three miles distant from the great sea-side resort of Bournemouth, was situated the camp where the New Zealand Engineers, Tunnellers, and Maoris received their training in England. Fronting the camp, across the slow running Stour—which is about the size of the New Zealand Avon—spread a sweep of broad green river-meadow, up which at high tide crept little "streams and inlets," and at the back of which, two miles away, rose the houses of Bournemouth. On the right of the camp, a mile or two away, were more hills, where the trench work of the page 261Engineers was executed; while to the left was the sea, and the tower of old Christchurch Cathedral tolling off the years and the centuries as they passed over this beautiful sunny south. No New Zealand company was more advantageously situated than the Engineers. The camp was part of the Royal Engineers' training ground, whose permanent barracks we adjoined. Many years ago it was a great artillery centre. Tradition says the artillery employed at Waterloo went from there; and one day, many years hence, legend may record how white and brown people from the southern antipodes were made subtle there in the arts of military engineering against the extinct Hun. The course of instruction extended over three months. Men and officers attended the adjacent school of the Royal Engineers and thus learned from the most efficient teachers. The subjects in which proficiency was essential were: field work, tresselling, pontooning, railway construction, hut-building, bridging, raft-construction, erection of suspension bridges, wiring, demolition of railways, trench-construction in all its branches, and the use of explosives. The Maoris also went through this course to fit them for the work that fell to pioneers. The drivers among the engineers received in the Royal Engineers' Stadium what little instruction they required. The river Stour afforded facilities for good practice in rapid bridge-construction. Across it various descriptions of bridges were run up and rapidly taken down again. In this class of work New Zealanders in examinations usually secured average marks of ninety per cent. From this camp, New Zealand supplied besides her reinforcements for France, officers and men to carry out special work at her own home camps and depots.

During the winter months all ranks went into billets in Boscombe. The non-commissioned officers and men had central messing-rooms, at which they attended meals as a parade. The officers drew rations, and messed at the houses they occupied. Householders preferred this, because it gave them command of extra rations, as the issue was greater for soldiers in training than for Civilians. Men were required to be in their billets every night at 10 o'clock unless they page 262possessed late passes, of which they were allowed one per week. Watch over them and their little ways was kept by the military police. In March, with the return of the sun, they issued forth, like buds in spring, and took up their quarters under canvas on the grounds already described. There was regret at leaving the comfortable billets, where people were so kind, but the tents—large Indian marquees—soon became popular, and in the Stour there was bathing in the mornings among the swans and the water-lilies. During the billeting period the morning march from the town to the parade grounds, with band playing, was one of the daily events in the locality, and no doubt will long be remembered there. Amusements for the men were not lacking either in the camp in summer, or among the billets in winter.

Usually two battalions of Maoris were attached to the Engineers. The idea of the General Officer in Charge of Administration in sending them to Boscombe was to give them the advantage of the best climate in Britain. They were well under control and were very popular with everybody, especially with the people with whom they were billeted, who were always ready to testify to their gentlemanly behaviour. It was surprising how much they were in demand at private houses, where they were on the best of terms with people, and usually were found entertaining the company with popular songs and choruses. There were many tangis in Boscombe, Christchurch, and Bournemouth, when the call came to our Engineers, Tunnellers, and Maoris to break camp and prepare for embarkation to distant New Zealand.