New Zealand was not caught Napping:
1900 – 1914

For a young country whose population did not reach one million until 1908, the early years of the 20th century saw very considerable activity in defence affairs.

  • For a young country whose population did not reach one million until 1908, the early years of the 20th century saw very considerable activity in defence affairs.
  • The South African (Boer) War 1899 – 1902 resulted in the New Zealand Government supporting the Mother Country by enlisting and dispatching 6,500 men in 10 Contingents. Not only did this give out country a more highly developed sense of identity, it created a small corps of training officers and NCOs, and completed the push to see Volunteers into Khaki field uniforms
  • Following the 1907 Colonial Conference, New Zealand Prime Minister welcomed a "broad plan of military organisation for the British Empire" and representation on the Committee of Imperial Defence.
  • In 1909 we not only increased our contribution to the Royal Navy – our ultimate trade and security guarantee – but offered to pay for a new battle cruiser for the Royal Navy as well.
  • We established a New Zealand Branch of the British Navy League; passed our own Naval Defence Action 1913 and secured HMS Philomel as a training ship.
  • To Bring our army into line with Britain and the other Dominions (and placate the National Defence League) by 1911, the "creaking" 50 year old volunteer system had been demolished. It was replaced with an up-to-date Territorial Force (T.F.) based on compulsory part-time training.
  • The T.F. units made outstanding progress within a couple of years. Credit must go to British regular officer Major-General Sir Alexander Godley and his team of 300 British and New Zealand officers and soldiers.
  • Not only did training, organisation and administration improve beyond recognition: equipment, weapons and uniform were also quickly brought to a high standard.
  • The principal component of the Territorial Southern Military District ("The area south of the Waitaki River) were:
    • An Infantry Brigade with four Rifle Regiments based in Dunedin Invercargill, Oamaru and Milton.
    • A Mounted Brigade with three Regiments having head-quarters in Dunedin (Otago Hussars), Invercargill and Balclutha.
    • A Field Artillery Brigade with Batteries in Dunedin and Invercargill.
    • Coast Defence Troops, a Company of Engineers and two Ambulance units.
    • Signals and Ammunition Supply Companies were also created.

The following paragraphs have been extracted from "Armed Forces and Volunteers in Otago and Southland" which I wrote for the "1998 (150th) Cyclopaedia of Otago and Southland."

Outside of Dunedin and Invercargill, some 35 companies and squadrons were established from North Otago to the South Coast. Compared with the Volunteer system standards of training and attendance at parades and camps, improved dramatically and officer standards were appreciably raised with the introduction of selection by examination and interview by District Boards. By August 1914 some 4,000 or more young men from our provinces had experienced Territorial training and many must have been grateful for the experience on entering camp in the early months of WWI. Annual camps were held at scattered locations throughout Otago and Southland. Places such as Mandeville, Merton, Milton, Wyndham experienced gunfire, the noise of galloping horses, the tramp of hob-nail boots and shouts of command.

The following extract comes from the Commanding Officer's (Lieut Col J McAra) report of 4th Regiment (Otago Riffles) for the year ending 31cMay 1912: "The outstanding feature was the training camp held at Waironga (North Taieri) from 15th to 23rd February. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were very adverse, but in spite of this, much good work was done. The route marching, undertaken every afternoon, was greatly appreciated by all ranks, who cheerfully faced the ever increasing length of the march, with the result that on the last day, the Regiment moved in marching order from camp to Dunedin, a distance of over 10 miles, in a style that would have done credit to regular troops."

Col McAra'a report for the year ending 31 May 2014 mentions: "On 24 April the Battalion assembled and entrained for Matatae, Central Otago for 9 days training in camp. As the camp comprised the whole troops in the Otago Military District, it was the largest concentration ever seen in this part of the Dominion. Cold frosty nights, delightful warm days, no rain – all ranks enjoyed the open air life in the invigorating climate of Central Otago. Altogether 586 Officers and Men attended camp this year."

Twelve months to the very day from when the Otago Military District Camp assembled, many of these same men were desperately wading ashore at ANZAC Cove on Gallipoli Peninsular. In the van of the Otago Regiment was the 8th (Southland) Company under the command of Major J A MacKenzie. Strath Taieri and its invigorating climate must have seemed worlds away.