The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
New Zealand Rifle Brigade
New Zealand Rifle Brigade
- Commander—Lt.-Col. (Temp. Brig.-Gen.) H. Hart, C.M.G., D.S.O.
- Brigade Major—Major D. E. Bremner, M.C., N.Z.S.C.3
- Staff Captain—Lt. (Temp. Capt.) E. Zeisler, M.C.4
- Musketry Officer—(No appointment)
- Intelligence Officer—Capt. H. E. Crosse, M.C.
- Bombing Officer—2nd Lt. C. A. Stringer
- Gas Officer—Lt. A. M. Goulding
- Transport Officer—Lt. V. Marshall
- 1st Bn., Rifle Brigade—Lt.-Col. R. C. Allen, D.S.O.
- 2nd Bn., Rifle Brigade—Lt.-Col. L. H. Jardine, D.S.O., M.C.
- 3rd Bn., Rifle Brigade—Major (Temp. Lt.-Col.) G. W. Cockcroft
- 4th Bn., Rifle Brigade—Lt.-Col. R. St. J. Beere
- N.Z. Maori (Pioneer) Battalion—Lt.-Col. G. C. Saxby, D.S.O.5
- 3 Light Trench Mortar Batteries
- N.Z. Machine Gun Battalion—Lt.-Col. D. B. Blair, D.S.O., M.C., N.Z.S.C.6
- Divisional Train N.Z.—Lt.-Col. F. W. Parker7
- 1st N.Z. Field Ambulance—Lt.-Col. G. Craig
- 2nd N.Z. Field Ambulance—Lt.-Col. D. N. W. Murray, D.S.O.
- 3rd N.Z. Field Ambulance—Lt.-Col. J. Hardie Neil8
- 1 Mobile Veterinary Section
- 1 Employment Company
It was arranged that the opening stages of the advance into Germany should be carried out by the Second and Fourth Armies under the senior Commanders, Generals Plum or and Rawlinson, and that at a later stage the frontier should be crossed and the Cologne bridgehead occupied by the Second Army with the II. VI. IX. and Canadian Corps and the 1st Cavalry Division. The IV. Corps itself was transferred to the Fourth Army on 14th November, but in order to give the New Zealand Division the privilege of entering Germany the New Zealanders were marked for eventual transference to the II. Corps.
3 Succeeded in December by Capt. Zeisler.
4 Succeeded in December by Capt. H. E, Crosse.
6 Succeeded in December by Major J. B. Parks, M.C.
7 Vice Lt.-Col. Atkinson, invalided in September.
8 Succeeded by Lt.-Col. H. J. McLean in November.
The march continued in stages through the remainder of France and across Belgium. In Bavai on 1st December, H.M. the King, accompanied by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and H.R.H. Prince Albert, visited the Divisional area and attended a 2nd Infantry Brigade Church Service in the Bavai Church. Maubeuge was reached on 3rd December, Charleroi on 7th December. From that day the Division's moves were ordered direct by the Fourth Army. It marched past General Rawlinson on 11th December on the outskirts of Namur. Buy was passed on 12th December, the day on which the 1st Cavalry Division crossed the Rhine. On the 14th the Division passed once more after 9 months' interval under command of the Second Army. After a march of some 150 miles from Beauvois, Verviers near the German frontier was reached on 19th December. Everywhere received with the utmost enthusiasm and hospitality, the Division was particularly touched by the warmth of the reception given in Verviers. Bunting was displayed profusely, and streamers bearing messages of welcome were suspended across the streets. Troops who chanced to halt in the town for the customary 10 minutes at 10 minutes to the clock hour went on their way, men rifles horses and wagons decorated with flags and flowers.
This friendliness on the part of the inhabitants, the beautiful scenery of the Sambre Mouse and Vesdre valleys, the historic associations of Liège Namur and Charleroi made the march interesting and enjoyable. Much of it was done in vile weather on bad roads. Not unmindful of the strain and sacrifices endured for so many months, the High Command had laid it down that the comfort of the troops during the march was to be the first consideration. Supply difficulties were, however, inevitably considerable and for the time insuperable, and many men were forced to retain worn out boots, which at the moment it was impossible to exchange. Nevertheless march discipline was extraordinarily good. All the way 2nd Otago had not a single march casualty.page 606
In the Verviers district the Maori (Pioneer) Battalion was detained for despatch to England. The artillery and part of the Train continued by march route to Cologne. but the infantry and the other troops proceeded from the German frontier by rail. On 20th December, passing through silent expressionless crowds, 1st Canterbury at the head of the 2nd Brigade Group was the first New Zealand infantry unit to cross the pontoon bridge over the Rhine. The Division was billeted in various suburbs. Divisional Headquarters were at Leverkusen, the 1st Infantry Brigade Group at Leichlingen, the 2nd at Mülheim, the 3rd at Bensberg. The artillery arriving on the 26th were quartered in Deutz and Mülheim.
In these areas the New Zealanders formed the reserve Division of the II. Corps. Certain precautionary measures were taken against an outbreak by the civil population or an armed rising. The Engineers established dumps in connexion with the organisation of the "B" Line Defences, Cologne Bridgehead, and large infantry parties cut pickets in the forests as stakes for our barbed wire entanglements. Numerous guards were maintained for various purposes. Sight-seeing was encouraged. Educational work replaced military training. Discipline was good, only 1 serious case affecting the good name of the Division.
No effort was spared to expedite demobilization. Already at the end of December the 1914-15 class and drafts of married men were sent to England. The first regular draft left on 14th January 1919, and from 28th January onwards drafts, varying from 700 to 1000 all ranks, were despatched weekly. The last draft was sent on 25th March.
During this process it was necessary to maintain the Division on a footing which would enable it to go into action at short notice. Certain changes in organisation were introduced with this end in view. Measures, however, were adopted to avoid transfers of personnel and to preserve for purposes of record the identity of units until final disbandment.
The artillery and D.A.C. were accordingly reduced first to a 4-gun and then to a 2-gun basis, two 4-gun batteries being formed in each brigade. The infantry were organised into 2 brigades. The 2 battalions of each Territorial Regiment amalgamated. The 1st and 2nd, and the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Rifle Brigade were reconstituted as 2 battalions. The Rifle Brigade Headquarters and the units page 607affiliated to the Brigade Group were disbanded. The new A and B Battalions (Lt.-Col. R. C. Allen and Lt.-Col. Jardine) of the Rifle Brigade were attached to the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades respectively. Medium and light mortar batteries were disbanded, the personnel being absorbed into artillery and infantry units. At a further stage all infantry units were reduced to a single brigade group by the amalgamation of the Canterbury and Otago Battalions, of the Auckland and Wellington Battalions, and of the A and B Rifle Battalions into a North Island, South Island and Rifle Brigade Battalion respectively, each then dealing direct with Divisional Headquarters. The Headquarters of the infantry brigades were then disbanded. A similar procedure was adopted with the Machine Gun Battalion. The Engineers, the Ambulances, and the Divisional Train were disbanded by units. Animals were disposed of, mainly for despatch to the United Kingdom. Ordnance equipment and all stores were handed in to the Army. As units gradually amalgamated or disbanded, the billeting areas were evacuated for the incoming troops of the 2nd Division. In the middle of February the 1st Infantry Brigade moved from the Leichlingen to the Bensberg area. By 9th March the Division was concentrated at Mülheim. Divisional Artillery Headquarters, artillery brigades, batteries and the D.A.C. were broken up on 18th March. A week later saw the disbandment of Divisional Headquarters, Headquarters of the Engineers and the remaining Engineer company, the Divisional Signal Company, the 12 infantry battalions, the Machine Gun Battalion, the last remaining Ambulance, the Headquarters of the Divisional Train, and the 1 intact Train company. The Division's 3 years' history comes to an end on 25th March 1919.
General Russell had already been compelled by illhealth to leave the Division on 1st February, when command was assumed by General Napier Johnston. General Russell bade his troops farewell in a singularly felicitous letter:—
“On leaving the Division after 3½ years1 of command I wish to thank all ranks for their loyal support and to congratulate them on the success obtained. In the line and in action at all times they have earned the respect of their adversaries and the good word of those who fought at their side.page 608
1 i.c. including his command of the old N.Z. and A. Division in Gallipoli and Egypt.
“With one exception each objective has been gained, and that exception added yet fresh laurels for tenacity and resolution in. face of insuperable difficulties.
“There is no distinction between one unit and another, between, one branch and another. All alike, including the Staff, have done their share, working for the common end and together have earned a reputation of which their country is proud.
“This is all to the good. 'Now a word as to the future, where fresh problems are in front of us. Successes as real, if less dramatic, will surely be ours. The effect will be less evident, because each will have his own zero hour, but the success will be as great, if we continue to be animated by the same spirit of each for all.
“In conclusion, I wish you all a safe return to New Zealand and every prosperity and happiness in the future.”
2 p. 16.
The financial policy agreed on between the British Government and all Overseas Dominions with regard to the maintenance of troops during the war provided for a payment by the respective Dominion Governments for rations, clothing, personal equipment, horses, guns and equipment at contract rates. The maintenance and replacement of equipment and the expenditure of ammunition in France were covered by a pro capita rate which varied in accordance with the amount of ammunition expended at different periods. If thus in the financial burden of the war New Zealand bore her fair share, the scale on which reinforcements were sent forward from the training camps in New Zealand to the base in England and the regularity with which their arrival might be counted on were alike the envy and despair of the other Dominions. Throughout the whole of the war they had been despatched month by month in the average proportion of 10% establishment for infantry, 5% for artillery and 3%-to 4% for other arms. Exclusive of Imperial reservists and of New Zealanders serving in the forces of the Mother Country and other Dominions, the total number of troops and nurses provided by New Zealand, out of a population of slightly over a million, for foreign service from the outbreak of war to the Armistice amounted to over 110,000. The aggregate of troops and nurses actually despatched overseas exceeded 100,000. Of these two-thirds had enlisted voluntarily.
1 p. 328. On Lt.-Col. Mitchell's relinquishing command, it was commanded successively by Capt. (Temp. Major) E. C. Dovey, N.Z.S.C., Lt.-Col. J. A. Mackenzie C.M.G., Major G. H. Gray, M.C.
2 The Maori (Pioneer) Bn, only were repatriated as a Unit.
By the end of 1918 the number of New Zealand camps and establishments in England had been considerably augmented. In September 1917 the Rifle Brigade personnel had been separated from the 4th Infantry Brigade Reserve Camp at Sling1 and had been quartered at Brocton.2 The artillery since the spring of 1917 were trained at Ewshot.3 At the end of 1916, owing to the large number of casualties at the Somme and the limited facilities then available for evacuating sick or wounded to New Zealand, it was found that existing hospitals and convalescent institutions were becoming congested. As a measure of relief a Discharge Depot (Major W. Kay), was formed at Torquay, where to provide employment educational work was organised by the N.Z. Y.M.C.A. and a farm of 800 acres leased by the N.Z.E.F. An Officers' Convalescent Home and a Nurses' Home had been established at Brighton. The Commanders of the other more important camps and depots at this time were:—
- N.Z. Command Depot, Codford—Lt.-Col. G. C. Griffiths
- N.Z. Engineer Reserve Depot, Christchurch—Lt.-Col. G. Barelay. V.D.
- N.Z. Signal Reserve Depot, Stevenage—Lt. (Temp. Capt.) T. L R. King, M.C.
- N.Z. Machine Gun Res. Depot, Grantham—Major L. C. Chaytor, M.C.
- N.Z. Medical Reserve Depot, Ewshot—Major A. W. Izard
- No. 1 N.Z. General Hospital, Brockenhurst—Col. P. C. Fenwick, C.M.G.
- No. 2 N.Z. General Hospital, Walton—Col, E. J. O'Neill, D.S.O.4
- No. 3 N.Z. General Hospital, Codford—Lt.-Col. G. Home, O.B.E.
- N.Z. Convalescent Hospital, Hornchurch—Lt.-Col. C. H, Tewsley. C.M.G.
As demobilisation proceeded, the smaller establishments were gradually absorbed in the larger. Owing to a congestion caused by strikes and consequent suspension of shipping a further camp at Sutton Coldfield (Lt.-Col. J. A. Mackenzie) was established during the spring of 1919 to accommodate surplus personnel.
1 Now commanded by Brig.-Gen. Stewart, succeeded in turn by Brig.-Gen. Young, and Lt.-Col. Stitt.
2 Now commanded by Lt.-Col. Shepherd.
3 Now commanded by Lt.-Col. Fulla, succeeded by Major R. G. Milligan.
1 p. 17. His chief Staff Officers were:—
- A.Q.M.G—Lt.-Col. (Temp. Col.) G. T. Hall, C.M.G.
- A.A.G.—Major (Temp. Lt.-Col.) J. Studholme, D.S.O.
- D.A.Q.M.G.—Major (Temp. Lt.-Col.) T. H. Dawson, C.M.G.
- D.M.S.—Col. C. M. Begg, C.B., C.M.G. (succeeded Col. W. H. Parkes, C.M.G., C.B.E., in December 1918, died February 1919, succeeded by Lt.-Col. B. Myers, C.M.G.)
- Matron-in-Chief—Miss M. Thurston, R.R.C.
- D.D.S.—Lt-Col. J. R. Rishworth, M.B.E. (succeeded by Lt.-Col. T. A. Hunter, C.B.E.)
- Staff Paymaster—Lt.-Col. (Temp. Col.) J. W. Hutchen, C.M.G.
- A.D.O.S.—Lt.-Col. H. E. Pilkington, R.N.Z.A., previously A.D.O.S., XIX. Corps. Officer i/c Records—Lt.-Col. N. Fitzherbert, C.M.G.
- Headquarters were transferred to Bloomsbury Square in November 1917. In March 1919 Brig.-Gen. Richardson was recalled to New Zealand on duty and succeeded by Brig.-Gen. Melvill and he in turn by Brig.-Gen. Napier Johnston.
The following extract from his Farewell Message to the N.Z.E.F. may be quoted:—
“It has been a great privilege—a privilege I have most fully appreciated—to have not only raised and brought from New Zealand such a force, but to have had the honour of holding the command of it throughout the whole period of the war…..
“in Gallipoli, Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom you have taken your full share of the burden and stress of this war, and you have earned, I believe without exception, the highest regard of all those under whom and with whom you have served.
“You will leave behind you a reputation for discipline, fighting qualities, steadiness, resource, initiative, hard work, and gentlemanly conduct of which both you and New Zealand have every reason to be proud…..
“My four years as General Officer Commanding the Forces in New Zealand and still more my nearly five years' experience as General Officer Commanding the N.Z.E.F. have specially impressed me with the natural capacity of the New Zealander. New Zealand, I am convinced, is able and is destined to play a part in the world out of all proportion to her size and population.”
During the unsettling conditions attendant on the period of repatriation from the English Depots every possible measure was taken to facilitate the return to civil life. A Compulsory Educational Scheme was set in operation aiming page 613at the development of citizenship and at practical training in civilian pursuits. As early as March 1917 the New Zealand Y.M.C.A. had inaugurated educational training in the hospitals in England, particularly in Hornchurch. This was followed by the establishment of a school for disabled soldiers in August 1917 and by a system of voluntary and at a later stage compulsory education in the summer of 1918, in both command and training depots and on transports.1Following on a conference held in March 1918, on the eve of the German offensive, similar educational work had been carried on in the Division by the N.Z. Y.M.C.A.
With the Armistice a comprehensive compulsory scheme, continued on returning transports, was enforced under military control for all ranks. The administrative2 and educational staffs were drawn from the N.Z.E.F. A special grant of £50,000 was made by the New Zealand Government to cover expenses. In addition, as a free gift from the Dominion to her soldiers, 50 scholarships of a value of between £175 and £250 per annum were allotted to selected candidates. Facilities for higher education and advanced vocational training were given in a liberal spirit. Though now losing the direct control which had been in their hands up to the cessation of hostilities, the N.Z. Y.M.C.A. gave the most loyal co-operation. No record of the Division would be complete without a tribute to their unstinted and most efficient ministration to the material mental and moral needs of the troops, whether in front line trenches or at the base.
1 Education Officer, Capt. J. R. Kirk.
2 Director of Education: Lt.-Col. (Temp. Col.) H. Stewart, succeeded by Major (Temp. Lt.-Col.) E. H. Northcroft. Assistant Directors: for England, Lt.-Col. Northcroft, succeeded by Lt. (Temp. Major) W. R. Tuck; for Germany, Capt. (Temp. Lt-Col.) H. E. Barrowclough; for Transports, Capt. G. E. Archey; for Disabled Soldier's, Lt. (Temp. Capt.) N. Bell.
No unit as large as a Division can engage in 3 years of all but continuous active fighting without experience of the vicissitudes of war. In any reasonable operation skilful preparation and gallantry can as a rule achieve success, but occasions arise when a combination of factors over which no control can be exercised frustrates the most skilful preparations and the most consummate gallantry. On other occasions misfortunes must be ascribed to other reasons. In the Division's history the only failure in a major operation was at Bellevue,1 and even in minor actions the number of instances where full objectives were not attained is extraordinarily small. Almost exclusively its record is one of success, and the rare failures may be boldly faced. As in this narrative scrupulous care has been taken to avoid magnifying successes, so failures have not been unduly glossed over. It may be safely claimed that no Division in the Armies of the Empire can lay bare every aspect of its life to critical scrutiny with more assurance of winning respect.
1 pp. 280 sqq.
The junior officers and the non-commissioned officers constituted one of the Division's strongest assets. Towards the end of the war officers were recruited almost exclusively from the ranks. Naturally mature for their years, trained in the stern school of practical experience, and privileged to take military courses in France and England, they possessed both personality and knowledge of their work on which company and battalion commanders could rely as on a rock.
From a young and virile people, predominantly agricultural, highly intelligent, of unusually fine physique, a race of horsemen farmers musterers athletes and Rugby footballers, it was only to be expected that its manhood, already subject to a compulsory system of military training, should yield sterling material for the purpose of war.
Such expectations were to prove not misplaced. No Army had a monopoly of gallantry and fortitude, which shone conspicuously against the dark background of battle both among our enemies and allies. Some few instances of New Zealand prowess have been given in these pages, many others are on record, many are known only to the dead, who fell as they performed them. But the unusually successful history of the Division presupposes the existence of other characteristics. Of these perhaps the most distinctive were aggressiveness resourcefulness and thoroughness. One and all were engrossed in a vigorous prosecution of the war. To this all other interests, such as leave or sport, were subservient. By its nature this history is mainly a record of the infantry, the drudge and queen of the battle, and of the other fighting arms, but the same ready initiative and the same earnest concentration on work were not less marked in the other branches of the service, in the brilliantly conducted administrative offices, the Medical and Veterinary Corps, Engineers, Train, Chaplains' Department, and all technical services. These qualities formed a central force of dynamic and unflagging energy permeating the whole body.
With a highly developed sense of esprit de corps, the troops generally impressed the outsider as stern dour and grim. On the march the cheerful and spontaneous gaiety of the English regiments was conspicuous by its absence. The undemonstrative reception of battalions returning after notable achievements suggested to an English observer the not inapt name of "The Silent Division." Characteristic too was a deep-rooted aversion to anything savouring of ostentation and "swank." From this and from the democratic page 617traditions of national life arose a strenuously combatted inability, shared with other overseas troops, to achieve that polished finish in saluting, which is generally regarded as a hall-mark of military discipline. Yet throughout the war discipline both in the field and at the bases was extremely good, and was generally well maintained in England even under the irksome delays of repatriation. Countless unsought tributes were given to the good behaviour of New Zealanders in all places and under all circumstances, and while soliditary was preferred to superficial smartness, the Division practised in a very marked degree the virtues of precision orderliness and cleanliness whether in billets transport lines or trenches. In particular, the inspections held by General Russell in the last months of the war during periods of "reserve" would not have been out of place in the proudest barrack-square in England for minute perfection of equipment and for steadiness.
Innumerable references could be made to non-expert appreciation.1 The tribute of a high authority cited by General Russell on his return to New Zealand indicated the measure of the regard in which the Division was held in France: “I think you may always claim that the Imperial soldier would sooner fight alongside the New Zealand Division or hand over to them or take over from them than from any other troops in the field.”
On the same occasion as elsewhere General Russell himself bore witness to his troops: “They say a General leads his men. He docs not really lead them, but he pushes them from behind, and when he has good boys like the New Zealanders he has no need to push them at all. He presses the button, and away they go, and sometimes they go too far.”
1 Cf. a generous tribute paid by F. M. Cutlack, one of the Australian official correspondents, in "The Australians" p. 18, “The New Zealand Division, probably the all-round best and strongest Division in the British Army.”
2 p. 402.
3 p. 383. Undue importance must not be attached to this remark.
With the scenes of the Division's earlier actions, Armentières, Flers and the slopes in its vicinity, with Sailly Ploegsteert Messines Basseville Gravenstafel Bellevue and the Ypres ridges the name of New Zealand will be for all time associated. The epic fighting in 1918 is succintly reviewed by General Harper, Commander of the IV. Corps, in a farewell letter to General Russell, which may fittingly close this record:—
“As the New Zealand Division is leaving the IV. Corps, I desire to place on record my appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered, and to thank all ranks for the magnificent fighting qualities which they have invariably displayed.
“The Division joined the IV. Corps at a critical time on the 26th March, 1918, when it completely checked the enemy's advance at Beaumont-Hamel and Colincamps, and thus closed the gap between the IV. and V. Corps. By a brilliant stroke it drove the enemy from the commanding ground at La Signy Farm and gained observation over the enemy's lines, which greatly assisted ia his defeat on the 5th April, 1918, when he made his last and final effort to break our front. Throughout the summer the Division held portions of the Corps front with but a short interval of rest. During this period I never had the least anxiety about the security of this portion of the front; on the other hand, by carefully conceived and well executed raids the enemy was given little respite, and identifications were procured whenever required—in this connection I deplore the loss of that brave man, Sergt. Travis, V.C.
“It was the ascendancy gained by this Division over the enemy that compelled him to evacuate the ground about Rossiguol Wood.
“At the commencement of the great attack on 21st August, 1918, only a minor part was allotted to the Division, but subsequently on the night of 23rd August the Division was ordered to attack, and swept the enemy from Grévillers, Loupart Wood, and Biefvillers, and gained the outskirts of Bapaume. Stubborn fighting page 619was experienced around Bapaume, but eventually the enemy was overcome and pushed back to the East.
“From 24th August till 14th September the Division was constantly engaged, and drove the enemy back from Bapaume to the high ground west of Gouzeaucourt, where the heavy fighting occurred at African Trench.
“After a short period of rest the Division was put in again on 29th September to complete the capture of Welsh Ridge and to gain the crossings over the Canal de l'Escaut. A night advance over difficult country, intersected by the trenches and wire of the Hindenburg Line, was brilliantly carried out and entirely successful, and resulted in the capture of over 1000 prisoners and over 40 guns. On the 1st October the Division captured Crèvecocur against strong opposition, and held it in spite of heavy shelling and several counter-attacks throughout the subsequent days, until the great attack on 8th October, when the Division broke through the northern portion of the strongly organised Masnières Line, and penetrated far into the enemy's line at Esnes and Haucourt.
“Going out to rest on the 12th October, the Division was again in the line on 23rd October and drove the enemy back from the outskirts of Romeries to Le Quesnoy. Finally on the 4th November the Division by an attack which did much to decide the finish of the war forced the surrender of the fortress of Le Quesnoy and drove the enemy back through the Forest of Mormal, the total captures of the IV. Corps on that day amounting to 3,500 prisoners and some 70 guns.
“During the period the New Zealand Division has been in the IV. Corps, they have captured from the enemy 287 officers and 8745 other ranks, 145 guns, 1419 machine guns and 3 tanks, besides much other material.
“The continuous successes enumerated above constitute a record of which the Division may well be proud. It is a record which I may safely say has been unsurpassed in the final series of attacks which led to the enemy's sueing for peace.
“In conclusion I wish to thank you and your Staff for the willing support which you have invariably given and the helpfulness shown in all circumstances.
“I send every man of the Division my heartfelt good wishes for the future.”