Throwing away our history
Three prominent New Zealand military historians want a memorial here in honour of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
And David Lackey, a Vietnam War veteran, believes the perfect place to recognise them is as part of the Goverrnment’s $17 million WW1 centenary upgrade of the national War Memorial in Buckle Street.
“The Rifles have a memorial in Israel, there are two in Australia, and until a mob destroyed it, there was one at Port Said in Egypt. There are none in New Zealand,” says Lackey.
He notes that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were not old fashioned cavalry with lances and sabres as might be imagined, but highly mobile infantry troops whose horses enabled them to deploy fast over distances unable to be managed quickly by marching men.
The NZ Defence Force’s Lieutenant Colonel Terry Kinloch, a military historian and an expert on the First World War supports Lackey, saying, “The Mounted Rifles were a major element of New Zealand’s effort in WW1, and they’ve been completely forgotten.”
He believes there should certainly be a memorial to those men in New Zealand. “The Rifles helped push the Turks out of Palestine, and effectively helped reshape the Middle East. There’d be no Israel otherwise.”
Noted First World War historian Glyn Harper of Massey University agrees.
“The men were not only the last of their kind, but they performed remarkably well,” Harper says.
The Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s war historian Ian McGibbon, also says he is keen that there should be a memorial to the NZ Mounted Rifles “somewhere in New Zealand”.
The NZ Mounted Rifles were formed in 1914 from the Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury Mounted Brigades. Overseas they were sidetracked to Gallipoli where (without their horses and with casualties continually replaced) they served for six months, led by Hawkes Bay farmer and soldier, Colonel Andrew Russell, and distinguished themselves.
Both the Australians and the British were effusive, the Australian official historian describing their efforts securing the western foothills as ‘ …a magnificent feat of arms, the brilliance of which was never surpassed, if indeed equalled….’
An idea of their sacrifices on Gallipoli comes from the note that only 250 were able to take a month’s leave from an initial strength of about ten times that number.
Back in Egypt, and united with their horses, they were tasked with protecting the Suez Canal against the Turks. They joined three brigades of the Australian Light Horse to form what was known as the Anzac Mounted Division for a time under the command of General Edward Chaytor, (a veteran of a similar kind of warfare in South Africa against the Boers) which Lt Col Kinloch says , is the only time Anzac forces have ever been commanded by a New Zealander.
From Suez they fought their way across the Sinai and into Syria eventually capturing the entire Turkish 2nd Corps as the war ended.
“We are throwing away our history” in not recognising the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, David Lackey says.
Lackey quotes The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, which states ‘The New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade achieved results unequalled by any other division of horse, Allied or enemy, engaged on any front in the war’.
He says the desert campaign was “about as Anzac as you can get” as Australians and New Zealanders fought right alongside each other.
Lackey believes that a memorial to the Rifles would resonate with a large number of New Zealanders because nearly 18,000 people were involved with them while they existed...
“...and there must be a large number of Kiwis now who’d be proud of those ancestors”.
The New Zealand Mounted Rifles used to be remembered in an imposing bronze statue dedicated to The Desert Mounted Corps at Port Said in Egypt. It was paid for by the surviving troops themselves, at the cost of a day’s pay each. But it was blown up by the mob in the 1956 Suez crisis as being “British”.
With some New Zealand help, a memorial to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles has been resurrected at Richon Le Zion in Israel, commemorating one of their victories (over the Turks at the battle of Ayun Kara).
The New Zealand Government paid for half the cost of an Australian copy of that spectacular original C.Webb Gilbert sculpture which the Egyptians smashed. By Australian sculptor Raymond Ewers, it depicts in bronze a mounted Australian Light Horseman defending a New Zealander who stands beside his wounded horse.
But it stands, a memorial to the Anzacs half a world away in Albany which is at King George’s Sound in West Australia, where the troops gathered before they left for the Middle East. Many Australians felt that too far to go to remember heroes, so they paid for another on Anzac Parade, right in the middle of Canberra. It was the first memorial to be placed there.
But there is no memorial anywhere in New Zealand to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.