Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Compulsory military training, a hundred years ago

I got this from an undated newspaper clipping in my files. It was also published in the centenary booklet put out by the Avondale Jockey Club in 1989. Apart from where it is inscribed "Avondale Camp 1912" and is fairly obviously a mounted military outfit on the racecourse, little else is known about them.

I may now know more, however. I'm putting together a paper at the moment on what appears to have been the first military camp on the racecourse, in May 1912. I found the timing of the camp quite by chance -- I was in the city library, looking in a book listing old post offices and postal agencies put out by the NZ Postal History Society, and wondered, "What do they have under Avondale?" Well, there was the usual -- Whau Bridge agency from 1861, then the post office at Avondale station -- and then, a note about two special temporary post offices, set up on the racecourse at two military camps. The first, from 1 May to 8 May 1912, was what I tracked down. The other (also a target for further research) was in August 1914, before the Pioneer Maori camp later that year.

The men in the photo appear to be the 3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles, originally constituted as part of the NZ Territorial Force in March 1911. The Avondale camp was their first annual training camp, and the first training camp for mounted forces anywhere in the Auckland area. Two other training camps, one at Papatoetoe and one elsewhere in Auckland, pre-date this one, but were for infantry and artillery units. A band was part of their unit -- the 3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles band played at the 1928 at the unveiling of the mounted soldier's memorial at Otahuhu. During World War I, they fought at Gallipoli, the Sinai, and Palestine.

Legislation for compulsory military training, replacing our system of volunteer brigades since the 1860s Land Wars, was passed in December 1909, but after a report by Lord Kitchener suggesting changes, it was held up until an amendment was passed late in 1910. It wasn't until early 1911 that the first territorial armed units were organised and constituted. Military training began in school for all males in New Zealand from age 14, and continued until age 25, with a reserve until age 30 and call-up until age 55.

There was opposition to CMT from the Quakers and trade unionists, but it continued through to World War I.

This is an intriguing find. So far, I have the news reports on the camp from the NZ Herald and Auckland Star, and will do a bit more digging next time I'm in the city around the time the unit formed up, and see if there's any additional information in the Observer and Weekly News. I put the final paper up on Scribd later on. But, here's a taste: this was written by a Herald reporter for the 4 May 1912 issue.
A bag of bran for a pillow, sweet-smelling hay as a mattress, a waterproof sheet and two military overcoats as bedclothes -- and a HERALD reporter settled down for his first night in camp at Avondale on Wednesday. The "last post" had long since sounded, but from different parts of the camp came sounds of revelry. In the horse lines, just outside the tent, all was quiet, save for the "champ, champ" of the horses at their feed, and an occasional sharp rebuke from the guard to a refractory horse. And so to sleep.

At a seemingly unearthly hour in the morning the bugle sounding the reveille awoke the camp. The morning was cold and raw, and it was difficult to leave the warm tent, but coffee, brought by a friendly orderly, made the task easier.

Outside the men were hard at work grooming their horses, and all was bustle and confusion. Horses groomed and fed and accoutrements cleaned, the various squadrons lined up to be fitted for uniforms, and many a laugh was heard as a particularly small man got lost in a particularly large uniform. The regiment clothed, breakfast was the next thing, after which the regiment went through a course of mounted drill prior to being inspected by General Godley in the afternoon.

Update: finished the article on 18 December 2008.

1 comment:

  1. wanting to speak to Steve Butler, re Northland Mounted rifles and Lft - Col McCarroll