This day 100 years ago

This day 100 years ago was a Tuesday, and our choir founder, Jimmy McNish, was out of his 8 man tent at Tahuna Park at 0430. By 1030 the infantrymen were packed up and, despite departure secrecy, a small crowd watched Private James Hoey McNish of 4th Company Otago Infantry Battalion march down Victoria Road to the Musselburgh Station of the Ocean Beach railway line.

A train was waiting to take the Otago Contingent of 1,100 Infantrymen and others to the two troopships moored at Port Chalmers, while the 600 Mounted Troops rode their horses to Port Chalmers to meet their colleagues, before boarding with the others.

Jimmy had only been in camp for 12 days before departure, but the 32 year old bachelor had previously spent 13 years as a volunteer in the Waikari Riffles. In spite of the best efforts of government and defence to keep the embarkation quiet, word quickly spread, and by the time of sailing in late afternoon a sizable crowd had formed. Numerous banners and a farewell speech from the Mayor of Port Chalmers would be the last memories the Southern Men would take with them.

Not quite, in addition to army issue clothing and equipment; The Dunedin Women’s Association, operating out of the Otago Early Settlers Hall; had issued every man with a “Comfort Kit”. It contained items such as a chest protector, muffler, housewife*, Balaclava, handkerchiefs, cholera belts, soap, liquorice, knives, forks, spoons, spare braces and socks.

Our Jimmy would not see Dunedin again for 3 years. Sadly, for a significant number of his mates, they would never see the city again.

*a small case or wallet containing needles, pins, thread, darning wool etc. Soldiers language; “huswife”, “hussive”, “hussif”.

Written by:

Huia Ockwell 22 September 2014