Steeds and shellfire on the Western Front
The horses that were sent to the Western Front during the First World War faced many of the same difficulties as the soldiers that they served. Horses were used to transport officers, heavy artillery and other equipment to the front lines. The artillery conveyed by these horses was an essential element of the military strategies that developed on the battlefront. The Battle of the Somme in 1916 in particular saw the first widespread use of the ‘creeping barrage’, a strategy designed to provide cover for an advancing line of infantry.
Leonard Leary was a law student in Wellington who first served in Samoa after joining up in 1914 and then joined the British Royal Artillery and fought at the Battle of the Somme. In this 'Spectrum' radio documentary from 1982 he recalls both the trials of controlling horses amid the confusion of a battlefield and the use of the creeping barrage at the Somme.
Māori and Pacific Islanders march to war
On Saturday 5 February 1916, the 3rd Māori Contingent of Reinforcements and others made their way from Parliament along Lambton Quay to their departure point at Wellington’s waterfront. Members of the Māori Contingent are easily identified by their uniform of pith helmet, shorts, putties (a long strip of cloth around the lower leg) and lack of ammunition pouches, which distinguished them from the ‘lemon squeezer’ hat and full uniform of the other troops. The idea of engaging in a battle in foreign lands so far from home must have raised excitement as well as doubt as the Māori Contingent headed for the challenge and conflict of World War One.
Troops from several South Pacific countries formed part of the 3rd Maori Contingent. Among them was Sergeant-Major Uea of Lalofetau, Niue. He had helped to encourage support for the war effort and was the oldest of the Niuean volunteers who sailed that day.
Who was to blame for the sinking of the Marquette?
Thirty-two New Zealand medical staff, including ten nurses, were killed when the troop transport ship SS Marquette was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat on 23 October 1915. The Marquette was en route from Alexandria to Salonika, carrying troops of the British 29th Division Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery, along with their equipment and animals. The medical personnel, equipment and stores of the New Zealand No. 1 Stationary Hospital were also on board. Questions were later asked about why a hospital unit was travelling with an ammunition column, which made the ship a legitimate military target.
In this 1965 recording two survivors, Herbert Hyde and Alexander Prentice of the New Zealand Medical Corps, recall the shipwreck and their impressions of why the disaster happened.
Machine gunners at Chunuk Bair
Leonard Leary was an ammunition handler with a Wellington Infantry Battalion machine gun team, and was wounded at Chunk Bair. The outdated Maxim machine guns used by New Zealand troops on Gallipoli were operated by a team of six men. These teams had to carry their guns up to vantage points and assemble them there in the heat of battle.
Listen to Leonard Leary reading from his memoir about the battle of Chunuk Bair.
‘Australia prepared’ – making ammunition
‘The Amazing Micrometer’, a machine measuring to one 40,000th of an inch, is one star of this 1916 film, made at Australia’s Colonial Ammunition Company. Many of the factory’s workers are women, symbolising a community united in the war effort and highlighting women’s vital contributions on the home front. They are seen making .303 cartridges, packing them in cases, and filling a soldier’s bandolier (ammunition belt). This is an extract from an hour-long documentary showing how Australia ‘made and equipped the expeditionary forces’ to contribute to the Allied cause during the Great War.