Mrs M.A. McCandlish (mother),
Wangaehu, New Zealand
Wangaehu, New Zealand
Body on Embarkation:
Wellington Mounted Rifles
16 October 1914
Place of Embarkation:
Wellington, New Zealand
Orari or Arawa
Page on Nominal Roll:
Last Unit Served:
Wellington Mounted Rifles
Place of Death:
Date of Death:
9 August 1915
Age at Death:
Cause of Death:
Killed in action
Roderick McCandlish - computer colourised from original 1914 photograph.
11/92 Corporal Roderick McCandlish of the 6th Manawatu Mounted Rifles was Killed In Action on the heights of Chunuk Bair. He was one of 173 men that made the mad dash to expel the Turks from the key position on the Gallipoli Peninsular in August 1915. Only 73 men survived the ordeal.
Compilers note: Several years ago I was reading ‘Gallipoli The New Zealand Story’ by Christopher Pugsley and came across photos and extracts from the diary of Trooper Roderick McCandlish. The Mulvay family of Taihape held the diary, and I was fortunate to be able to copy it, together with accompanying letters, after contacting Mrs Betty Mulvay.
I have been interested in military history for many years, and to read an account of the Gallipoli campaign from a brave relative who gave his life was very moving indeed. His name had been passed on through the years to various family members, including my father, Jack Roderick, and his brother Roderick Alexander McCandlish.
In 1998 I travelled to Gallipoli and spent two days walking over the ground that Roderick had become familiar with. As you can imagine it was a special experience, standing near the places, as I read from his diary entries.
I have now written this account of the last year of his life; from the time he left the farm at Whangaehu until the tragic ending on Chunuk Bair. By researching the many books on the campaign, and other soldier’s diaries and personal experiences, I hope to have given a background to Roderick’s participation in this war.
Where possible I have given an account of these incidents with respect to where Roderick and the 6th Manawatu Squadron WMR were at the time.
Newcastle, Australia - 2009.
BETWEEN THE LINES
The Diary and Letters of 11/92 Trooper Roderick McCandlish-Wellington Mounted Rifles
Roderick William Telfer McCandlish was born in Kaiopoi, Canterbury on 2nd May 1892, and christened in St Bartholomew’s Church on 3rd of July. He was one of six children of John Telfer and Mary Ann McCandlish. He had a sister Agnes 10 years older; brother John 8 years older; brother Alexander 7 years older; brother Gilbert 4 years older (who died shortly before Roderick’s birth); and a sister Jean, 3 years younger.
The family moved to the Whangaehu River Valley, just south of Wanganui, in about 1905, where they leased a dairy farm on the riverbank, upstream from the township. Roderick would have been 13yr then, and we know from a Report Card that he was attending Queens Park School in Wanganui during 1906. He was DUX of the Standard 6 Class; of ‘excellent’ behaviour; and won the Mrs Bernie’s Special Prize for General Knowledge, on the 17th December.
After attending school, he grew up helping on the farm, becoming a proficient horseman and accurate shot. The farm required the clearing of scrub, and drainage before it could support the family and this demanded long hours of hard physical labour
Britain had declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 after it had invaded Belgium, and the call went out for the young men of the British Empire to come and fight the dreaded Hun and his allies. They being the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires..
Roderick was a fit young man of 22yrs of age, and he took the call-to-arms seriously. Ten days later he had enlisted, and was writing home to his mother.
Awapuni. August 14th 1914.
Dear Mother, I suppose you are wondering what has become of me. Well I am passed as fit to go out to fight for my country. I can tell you I got the shock of my life when Willie got passed out, and they picked about half a dozen holes in him. He was knocked up over it, and a fellow must feel pretty rotten getting sent back after saying goodbye to everyone. I have been just scratching along without blankets or gear, but I have got the pick of the Regiment for mates, and a real good officer, so I am very comfortable. Some of the fellows have been to the Boer War, and my mate was in the English Calvary, so if we get into any fun we will give a good account of ourselves. Willie said he would go home and get my gear, and come back with it. But I did not see him yesterday so don’t know what has become of him. I hope you are getting along all right with the place. It ought to be easy enough, and Bill will do all he can. Mother – Mary Ann Your Affectionate Son, Roderick.
Mother - Mary Ann
The letter was sent from Awapuni Racecourse in Palmerston North; a collection point for the eager volunteers. Willie was Willie Baldwin, a farmer’s son from a nearby property in the Whangaehu. He later married Roderick’s sister Jean. Charlie Baldwin, Willies cousin, became a mate of Roderick’s during his tour of duty.
In the camp a spirit of comradeship and self-sacrifice sprang into being. Friendships were formed, and friendly rivalry between the various arms of the service quickly manifested itself. After the hard hours of training, the citizens of Palmerston North went out of their way to entertain the troops with dances and other forms of amusement.
Finally all was in readiness for embarkation. By 24th September the Awapuni Contingent had reached Wellington, where it was officially farewelled in Newtown Park. After the ceremony the troops marched to the wharves through dense crowds of enthusiastic well-wishers, the bands playing "Tipperary" and other tunes popular at that time.
The men were elated at the prospect of an early departure, but disappointment awaited them. The presence of two powerful German cruisers had been detected in the Pacific, and so the departure was deferred pending the arrival of two other warships to strengthen the escort. The troops reluctantly disembarked, and the Regiment marching to Trentham Racecourse, where training was resumed.
Trentham, October 6th 1914. Dear Mother, I am just writing a few lines to let you know that I am all right and doing well. It is a sign that I am not fretting over wars, and that I am getting well fed, and not much work when I tell you that I now weigh 12 stone 4 pounds. Charlie Baldwin is 12 stone 8 on the same scales, so I am growing quite a big man now that I am a soldier. I suppose you can guess how disappointed I was when we got orders to come ashore again. Well it was better than going out and getting sunk, and being ashore is better than lying out in Wellington Harbour like we were for three or four days. Anyway our Regiment got a trip out of it as they sent us to Lyttelton to make up a shipload on the ‘Tahiti’. And then we came back to Wellington with the’ Athenic’ with the rest of the Canterbury’s, and the two Dunedin ships all stemming in line ahead, our boat being a flash Frisco mail steamer, being in the lead. The ‘Tahiti’ is the second fastest boat in the convoy and could give most battleships a lead, so she would take some catching. Being a flash boat she is beautifully fitted up and has plenty of bathrooms and wooden decks, while all the others, bar the ‘Maunganui’, the one General Godley is going on, have iron decks and are not near so comfortable or fast. That is what comes of being in a flash Mounted Regiment. The Canterbury Mounted Regiment is on the same boat, and some infantry. Altogether, six hundred men, and two hundred and thirty horses. Charlie B is on the ‘Arawa’. It is a bit of hard luck that we did not get on the same boat, but he belongs to the 2nd Regiment and they keep each lot together. Its great the people one comes across here. The other day I was talking to the greatest ruffian in our troop about the Alexander Rifles, and he casually mentioned that they were formed in his old peoples homestead. I asked him where it was, and he said that his father used to own the Warrengate. Perhaps you have herd of the Chamberlains. One thing I notice is that there are very few workingmen going out to fight. The greater parts of the chaps here have been to college, and every other one comes from the Wanganui School. The young High Commissioners son seems a very decent chap. He and I chum up a good bit. He has asked me to come into his section. That means working and living with him through the war, but I am in with some other descent fellows so I did not accept, although it would make things pretty right when I would arrive in London I hear that we are getting away at the end of this week but of course we have to abide by events. I hope this finds you all well as it leaves me at present.
I Remain your Affectionate Son,
Finally the departure day of 16th October arrived and along with his mates, Trooper McCandlish WMR 11/92, with 8500 men and 3800 horses, sailed from Wellington Harbour. It was said, “ the hearts of the men were high, and the cheering crowds witnessed the departure of the splendid manhood of the dominion.”
The troopship “Tahiti” carried Roderick’s Squadron, the 6th Wellington Mounted Rifles, under the command of Major Dick; Captain Hastings (second in command), and Lieutenants Somerville, Taylor and Mayo The Officer in Command of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the journey to Egypt was Lieutenant Colonel Meldrum of the 6th (Manawatu) Regiment.
HMS ‘Minotaur’ and the Japanese battleship ‘Ibuki’ had arrived to join HMS Philomel and HMS Phyche, the other two naval ships that were to escort the ten troopships of the NZEF. They anchored in the harbour overnight. At 6 am the next morning, the convoy sailed away in single file, heading for Tasmania.
October 11 1914.
I am writing these few lines to let you know that I have arrived at Hobart, and that I am in excellent health. It seems to be great to be such a long way from home, but we are all New Zealanders and now that we are away from our own country we all stick together like glue, and I have been away from home enough not to be bothered with home sickness.
I seem to get on very well with a lot of men so that I am enjoying myself immensely, barring one day or two when we struck some rough country and I was seasick, but I did not get down too it, and I soon got over it. One evening I lost my tea as soon as I came out of the Mess room. As they can only seat about three hundred men at one sitting, they have two sittings, so I got in with the second relay and I hung onto that lot until about bedtime when it also went overboard.
I had a good breakfast and I have been all right since. Our boat is a splendid sea boat, and it is just as well, for nearly every trooper was knocked up, and the language was awful. We have not lost any horses yet, and we are the only boat that has not, so that speaks well for her. It is a great site to see ten big ships all jogging along in two lines with the Monitor about seven miles in front; a Japanese warship about seven miles out on our right side; and a British Cruiser on the other flank and astern. To me the slow helpless troopships jogging quietly along in line look like so many cattle, and the low lying powerful looking warships, the dogs shepherding them. At night all the portholes are covered up, and the transports only carry one or two lights.
We landed in Hobart today and once off our ship, we marched through the town. The people gave us a descent reception The Tasmanians say they have to admit, that we are a better and smarter looking lot of troops than their own. We have a piano and plenty of players, singers and so on, so that we have plenty of fun. I will have to draw this letter to a close. We are leaving here tomorrow, so you will next hear from me either from Albany or Colombo. So hoping that this finds you all in good health.
Your Affectionate Son,
On 21 October they arrived and disembarked for exercise at Hobart, where the Mounteds led the march through the streets to a great ovation from the crowds. All the men were loaded with gifts of fruit, and the generosity of the Tasmanians was overwhelming. Sailing north they joined the Australian contingent at Albany in Western Australia, and the Cruisers ‘Sydney’ and ‘Melbourne’ were added to the escort vessels. On the 28th October, the 38 ships carrying 28,000 men and 9,000 horses set sail for an unknown destination.
On the Horse Deck
The Emden – aground and destroyed.
On the 9 November, an event took place that was witnessed from a distance by the men aboard the transports. Following a distress call from a signal station on the Cocos Islands, the cruiser HMS ‘Sydney’ went to the rescue. The German raider SMS ‘Emden’ had been very active in the Indian Ocean, and had sunk scores of Allied cargo vessels. One of her daring exploits included a night raid into Penang Harbour where she destroyed two French and Russian warships.
She was now shelling an important Indian Ocean communication station on Direction Island.
The battle between the two ships continued for two hours with the ‘Emden’ being struck by over 100 shells from HMS ‘Sydney’, and the ‘Emden’ knocking out a gun and range-finding equipment on the ‘Sydney’. To avoid sinking, the German Captain beached his vessel on North Keeling Island, but refused to surrender. Sydney re opened firing causing further casualties before the stricken vessel “struck her colours”.
The crossing of the Equator on the 13th November saw the men enjoying the ceremonial rites of “ducking”, where there was some horseplay and wild antics to let off steam. In some case, no respect was given to young officers who also came in for ragging and ducking. The convoy then arrived at Colombo on 15th where the New Zealand troops (unlike the Australian troops) were given shore leave. Everyone that is, except Roderick, who as mentioned in his letter, had a problem with the captain!
After two weeks at sea with only dry canteens, many a soldier over indulged on the local alcohol. But after gathering the stragglers aboard they set sail again on 17th November, heading for the port of Aden. Unfortunately adequate supplies of fresh water were not loaded for the voyage and before long, the men were down to drinking condensed seawater that proved to be hardly palatable.
Pneumonia was rife on board the vessels but medical help ensured that only nine men had to be buried at sea by the chaplains. The ships were crowded and the journey monotonous, and so where possible physical training was organised, or sports such as boxing, wrestling and tug-o-war Concerts were also a favourite with the troops. In the tropics the heat was intense and many men slept out on the deck to catch a breeze.
The handlers and grooms looking after horses were kept busy feeding them with oaten chaff and barley twice daily, and stalls were regularly hosed out with seawater and disinfectant. Despite their best efforts, the ships crews complained of the constant unpleasant smell. It was amazing that only 88 horses lost their lives on the voyage.
26th Nov 1914.
I am writing these few lines to let you know that I am in first class health, and that we are having a very good trip. These letters are all censored, and I am not allowed to say where we are, but I am just A1. Barring a few days after leaving Australia, the weather has been perfect, and we have been sailing through a pretty calm sea. We are getting very decent food now. It was a bit rough and ready for the first few days, but we made so much fuss about it that they are doing things a lot better now. You will have heard all about the “Emden” getting smacked up. We were only forty miles away from the trouble, but all we saw of it was the warships of our convoy rushing around, made us think there was something doing.
I did not get ashore at Colombo. One day I was on guard, and the other, I was under guard, owing to having a row with the Captain of the ship. We have not had any mail since leaving Hobart, but I suppose thee is a letter or two for me when we get the mail. I suppose things are very busy now. I hope the place is going along all right. I can just picture what it would be like if I were home now. I suppose it will be after Christmas when you get this, so I will close with wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I remain Your Affectionate Son.
With fresh supplies at Aden on 26th, the convoy entered the Red Sea and sailed to the entrance of the Suez Canal arriving there on 30th November. En route through the Red Sea it had been announced to the force that their destination was to be Egypt and not the “Old Country” as many had been wishing. The announcement had generally been received with relief; as for most of the men they were sick of the sea voyage.
Alexandria at Last.
After a brief stop at Port Said they sailed the 150 miles along the Egyptian coast to the port of Alexandria, arriving on the 3rd December. Trainloads of very disgruntled men headed south in the hot overloaded wagons, wondering if their dreams had turned into nightmares. Fortunately they approved of their camp, even though many did not have tents to begin with.
Zeitoun Camp was in the desert a few miles northeast of Cairo, and though conditions were rough to begin with, overtime the camp developed into a regular tent city with all manner of comforts. Showers, dining huts, canteens and cafes were eventually built. The men’s tents were cramped and hot, and because of sand floors that were moistened to reduce dust, they eventually became rock hard. Though to weary men at the end of a hard training day, they had no trouble sleeping on it with just a blanket. Marches over 20 miles into the desert, followed by endless hours of digging trenches and fighting imaginary enemy in temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit were the normal working day. In December, Britain declared Egypt to be a British protectorate. Troops were brought in, and the khedive Abbas Hilmi was deposed. His uncle, Prince Hussein, was proclaimed Sultan of Egypt, so ending Turkey's nominal sovereignty over Egypt.
Back in New Zealand on 12th December, Roderick’s brother Alexander was celebrating his 29th birthday. He had married Jeannie Cameron in 1913, and had a 6-month-old child Mary. They would have two further children –Alison born in 1917 and Alexander in 1919.
Zeitoun Camp 5th January 1915.
Dear Mother, I suppose you are wondering what has become of me, for I have not written for quite a long time now. Well we only got our first letters from NZ last week, and being so long without a letter did not give one much encouragement to write. But I felt a bit annoyed with myself when the letters came, and when they were given out, only two of us got letters out of nine, the other fellows said ”Mac the lucky beggar has got a letter, and we have got none”. I made up my mind to write home straight away. But I have been so busy. I am not a bad cut, and I generally get my horse and myself well turned out, so I get on town-pique guard duty. There is nothing doing tonight so I am writing letters.
Well in the first place you may judge how soldering in Egypt agrees with me when I tell you that I weigh twelve stone nine. The boys in our tent say that its no use growling about the tucker, when Mac is sitting there smiling, and as fat as he can stick. Of course I never in my life dreamed of landing in this part of the world, but the heads thought we were needed here, and it is a lot better for us to winter in a country were there are only about twenty rainy days in the year, than in England where the troops are in mud and snow and up to their knees. We have plenty of room to drill, as the country is all desert around here. The only part they can get anything to grow, is alongside the River Nile, and the canals they have cut all through the country.
At first everything seemed strange, as everything's totally different to things in English countries now. I knock around Cairo as though I had been here all my life. The British have come a great trick here, putting one king off his throne and giving another his job. It is great what they can do with a few thousand troops to break them up. The New Zealanders are great favourite with the people here.
We had a route march through Cairo the other day (23rd Dec 1914.) Just to show the natives what they would be up against if they got looking for trouble. They took us through the slums of the town, as it is the uneducated people that the Turks are trying to stir up. They had some Turkish flags flying, and we were hissed in one or two places, but there was no trouble, which is just as well for them, for we all had ten rounds of ammunition. It is a great city, the oldest parts of it was built thousands of years before Christ. And there are lots of beautiful places. Of course all the buildings are of stone, and they look peculiar, for they are all flat roofed, for they scarcely have rain. We are camped on a plain where a lot of battles have been fought, and where a lot that has been written in the Bible happened. We marched up a gully the other day, at the head of which is the rock that Moses struck and the water rushed out. There is a bit of a well there now.
We went past this and went about ten miles further on to where some of the Australians are camped, and there we entered the New Year, with our horses tied to two ropes stretched between two transport wagons, and us sleeping in the sand a few yards behind them. At twelve o'clock the Australians made a deuce of a row, cheering, singing and coo -ee-ing. The Cooee is their war cry. And to hear some of them on it, is like a factory whistle, so you can imagine the row a few hundred of them would make. There was a long article in the Cairo papers some time ago about a crowd of New Zealanders frightening the devil out of the natives with a haka. The papers and the French and English people here are making the Australians sore over the fuss they are making of the fellows. For instance, in the route march through Cairo, the Australians were there, the papers gave a full account of it and said all sorts of nice things about us, but did not mention the “cornstalks” at all. They have written several letters to the papers complaining about being overlooked and drawing attention to the fact that Australia is eight times as large as New Zealand, but they do not mention that they have sent not three times as many men as New Zealand. I dropped into a theatre on Sunday night and one of the main items was a song by a great singer from Paris about the soldiers from New Zealand, and although the song was in French, we nearly brought the house down. I suppose the Australians there said, “those damned pig islanders have scored again”. The French had this country one time, and all the educated people talk French, and yours truly is beginning to pickup the lingo. Between the lots of us, we got a pile of papers by the mail, and I have to thank someone for the Press. It looked quite homely to see Heralds, Chronicles, Auckland's and Canterbury Times kicking around the tent. We took some of the pictures and posted them up in the tent. All the officers that come down the line come in and look at our Maori belles, bush pictures and NZ pictures in general. I see from the papers that you are having a dry season. Well it won’t do you much harm I notice that you say that you are driving the cows through the clover, so I guess that the swamp is growing clover instead of the old familiar. I cannot express how pleased I was when I read that Alex was coming down at Xmas. I know that he will put you on the right track, and now that the seas are clear there will be no trouble getting the staff home. I hope the potatoes turned out well, and that you got a good price for them. I received a letter from Jean, she must be quite a young woman for it was so lady like, that I did not guess that it was from her. I hope that the two girls are behaving well. Charlie Baldwin is all right. He caught a cold in the Red Sea and had a pretty tough time for a while, but he shook it off eventually. The chaps have made their beds and are turning in. We get up at 5.30 (of course it is dark then) and we are kept going until 5, and then feed at 8, so we have a long day, but we are all in great form and as happy as can be so. Mother don’t you worry about me if I have gone to the war. I must draw to a close so hoping this finds you in good health, as it leaves me at present.
I remain Your Affectionate Son,
In late January, a force of 12000 Turks was seen advancing towards the northern banks of the Suez Canal. From observations they seemed to be going to attempt to cross the Canal it in a fleet of small boats. This caused great excitement in the Camp, as everyone thought that the time had come for a scrap with the enemy. Songs were sung and bands played in anticipation, as life in the desert had become monotonous.
On the night of 2/3 February the expected attack came, and of the Anzac’s, the Canterbury and Nelson Companies were the only ones that were engaged in the fight. The combined forces managed to stop the enemy crossing the Canal and later drive them back into the desert. During this encounter the New Zealand Expeditionary Force suffered its first causality killed in action. He was Private Arthur Ham 6/246, of the 12th Nelson Company. The British loss was 18 killed and 83 wounded but the Turks suffered badly with over 3000 killed, wounded or prisoner.
Zeitoun Camp. January 28 1915.
Dear Mother, I am writing you a few lines to let you know that I am well, and are enjoying myself first rate. We have been putting in some hard work latterly, but the other day the Commander-in-Chief inspected us at work, and he said that we were thoroughly efficient, and since then they have eased things up a good bit. They reckon that our regiment is as good as any troops there are, and the way we handle our horses astonishes the English Officers. The General said that he never thought Mounted men could get into action so quickly. They gave us the order to dismount for action when we were going at a gallop. We were off, and one man takes four horses out behind a hill, and the rest of us are ready for anything before the horses have stopped. The Tommies pull up very carefully, dismount according to the book, and then spend about half an hour getting the horses fixed up. Then when they give one man three horses to lead, there are often horses all over the desert. They get us up at half past five in the morning, and any one who does not show up in a few minutes has to look after the horses for four hours the next night. In our troop there are fifty horses all tied up to a line, so there is always something to do. We get a far bit of drill to do, then the horses are fed and watered four times a day, and groomed twice. There is a lot of work to do cleaning the camp and getting the food for the horses and ourselves. The last feed for the horses is at half past eight, so we have a fairly long day. And for all of this lot, we draw twenty-eight bob once a fortnight. For a few days after payday we live pretty high. The boys by buns, cakes and all sorts of luxuries to make a good feed with our rations. And a good many of them don’t show up at meals at all, but patronise the native tuck shops. Of course this makes all the more for the canny going ones, but towards payday, the tables are full again. The boys all stay at home at night and talk finance, and argue the pint in general. The troop I am in comes from all up the Main Trunk line. I am about the only lowlander in it. There are some great arguments about dogs, horses, haymaking, fencing etc. One can hardly realise that we are so far from home, for there are so many New Zealanders here, and the same old horses all help to make it like home. But as soon as one gets out of the camp - the strange looking buildings and people speaking foreign languages makes one feel out of it all together. The natives speak Arabic, and most of the whites speak French. The horses here are all Arab ponies, they have no Draught horses. Some of us reckoned that they loaded up some ponies, about the size of Jeans grey pony, and they were pulling a ton. Every one of us feels like kicking the darkies when we see the pretty little ponies pulling such big loads. There are lots of donkeys and camels here, and for the first few weeks our horses went cranky at meeting allsorts of queer sights on the roads. But now, although they are terribly fit with the hard feed, they do not mind donkeys, or even the big guns. The other day we were manoeuvring with the guns firing behind us, and the shells bursting in front of us, and the shells make a deuce of a roar going through the air, but the horses do not mind a bit. There is a lecture on, so they are turning out the lights, so good night.
Your Affectionate Son, Roderick
Zeitoun Camp - Sunday – Feb. 1915. Dear Jean, Just a few lines to let you know that, bar being roasted alive, I am getting along first rate. I received a postcard and papers from mother by last post, and a long interesting letter from Alex. By all accounts you are all getting along nicely which is very pleasing to me. The re- enforcements arrived the other week, but I was disappointed at not seeing any boys from Whangaehu. Alf Philps and Bob Cave from Rongotea were the only ones I knew, and strange to say, Alf is living in the next tent to me. I was talking to Charlie Campion the other day and he seems to like the life and is certainly looking well, and keeping very straight too. Charlie Baldwin is having a good time of it. If he were to show up in Whangaehu looking like he does now, no one would know him. He has grown a mo, and he is a long way fatter than ever I have seen him before. I can tell you that the papers come in just right, although they are full of war news. The trouble here is the sand and the flies. The flies are a different tribe to those at home and the beggar’s wont be driven away no matter how one tries. They are worse than the natives, and they are bad enough. The only word anyone learns of their language is the ones telling them to clear out. No matter how far we go into the desert, and we get a good way on the horses, there is always a swarm of them wanting to sell oranges, cigarettes, cakes and cooked eggs. The oranges run about four a penny and the eggs six for tuppence- hapny. So it does not cost much for these little luxuries. There being no grass or rain about here, we raise a cloud of dust every time we go out to drill, and I can tell you by this time we are full of grit. When Charlie B comes home he will be a regular old navy.. They are very strong on teaching us how to dig trenches. They had us out making trenches in the daylight and we ended up being-pretty good at the game. They took us out at night and had us dig trenches in the dark, and then to finish up with, they lost the whole Mounted Brigade coming home. They were about a mile out on a two-mile trip! The flash Canterbury Regiment were directing – they used to chuck off at us on the boat about being country and backblock lads, but I at least think the 6th Regiment could find their way home in the dark. They are having a lot of trouble with their horses as well. They have had three stampedes since they have been in camp, and have lost a few horses during them. In the stampede we had at Trentham, not a horse got away, although it happened in the middle of the night. Last week they took us out in the afternoon and we were digging trenches half the night and did not get home until after twelve. But there was hot coffee and a fortnights mail waiting for us so there was not much growling. Only from an odd one who did not get a letter, and one chap in our tent who went off a treat over his brother selling all his stuff, including a favourite gun. The news caused him added grief because he was stony broke, and he could picture the glorious time his brother would have with the cheque from the stuff. I notice that you people are getting off the track with my address. Unless you stick to the exact thing, there is not much chance of my getting the letters, and I got a roar from the Post Office over the address on some mail latterly. I think this is about it this time Jean. I hope you are all getting along all right, and don’t get to worrying about yours truly, for I never had such a soft thing on in my life. I have to volunteer for work, and play football in the sand and boiling sun, to keep my weight down, for we are being fed like fighting cocks. Hoping this finds you well. I Remain your affectionate Brother Roderick
* Trooper (Bob) Robert Cave - 11/748 –33yr - from Rongotea. Killed in action at Hill 60 on 27 August 1915. (The last major assault at Gallipoli). – Buried at Hill 60 Cemetery.
* Trooper (Charlie) Neil Campion – 11/32 – 22yr - from Longburn. Killed in action on 26 May 1915 –buried at Ari Burnu Cemetery.
* Trooper (Alf) Horace Philp –11/114 –age unknown – from Wellington. Died of Wounds on 27 August 1915 (Battle of hill 60) – buried at Hill 60 Cemetery.
*Trooper R.J McDonnell, 11/234,wounded on 9 August 1915.
*Trooper Alexander Graham Morrison -11/106 WMR - from
Taihape. Survived Gallipoli.
Zeitoun Camp. 28 February 1915 Dear Mother, I am just writing a few lines to let you know that I am well and are enjoying myself in Egypt. I have not received a letter for some weeks, and I often wonder how you are all getting on, and also how the little farm is doing. . I don’t suppose you would know what I meant if I referred to the swamp. One thing I know is that everybody will be good to you, for all the old hands about there take a friendly sort of interest in the place, and I have got an idea that Jack will do some good, for he will not have to work on the place much, and he would try to get the best out of it to satisfy himself. I received a letter from Alex last mail. I would not be surprised to see him volunteer, for it will take more than those who can find it convenient to settle this business. There are a few married men with us, and owing to people marrying earlier in the old- country, most of the English Territorials are married, while some of them are only boys. I saw a little trumpeter in Cairo the other day, and he only looked about twelve years old. But they have got the cheek of old nick. The youngest in our squadron was born in the Whangaehu valley. He is a son of Charlie Mc Donnell and is only seventeen. Charlie Campion has got well out of danger as he has got a job as a groom to General Godley, and that gent has got himself made General –in- Command of the Base, and that is where all the stores, spare stuff, hospitals etc is kept well behind the firing line. Everybody cheered when we heard that Godley was not going to command us at the front. The man they put in his place has every appearance of being a good man, and everyone thinks a lot of him already. They made a fuss of General Godley in New Zealand, but I think the money they spent on presents for him would have been better spent on the troops. Although I suppose it would have been all the same, for of all the money that has been subscribed, we have not got half a crowns worth of stuff apiece. And to rub it in, they have been selling gift tobacco and stuff in the canteens here, and the gift stuff was sold to us on the boats. And then with the lemonade they charge us eight pence a bottle, where for the same thing the nigger canteen sold us for two and half pence, and they are not philanthropists. Most of the troop I am in come from the Taihape, and the people there had sent stuff over for their boys. None has arrived, so our officer has told them to send it to him. We were without butter for six weeks, and strange to say, they were selling NZ butter in Cairo. A Canterbury officer in charge of the stores has been sent home. We were out on a trek for four days, and by the “holy-frost” I never had anything like such a thirst in my life. We were ordered not to drink water out of the canals or wells, but when we had fixed our horses up, the Brigade nearly drank the canal dry. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. They talk about the heroes that went with Kitchener to Khartoum, but I think they were a cut above that, for the heat here is terrific, and the air on the desert is as dry as a furnace. But I don’t think we will do any fighting here, for I suppose by the time this reaches you I will be in another country. I don’t know what sort of reports there were of the brush up on the Canal, but according to the accounts in the English papers, anyone would think that there had been a young war on. But the NZ troops only heard the noise of the fun, and there were not many hurt. Charlie B is getting along all right. He says he never felt so well in his life, and he certainly looks well. It seems Charlie Campion has been sending home some nice tales about him. But if anything, the boot is on the other foot. From what I can make out his troop leader put him on the groom job to get rid of him. For being a groom is no flash job at anytime, and the chap whose place he took reckons Godley is the worst boss anyone could have. There is not much chance of yours truly getting stuck behind the firing line. The job I had at Awapuni took me out of the troop, and although they released the corporal of the position and put me in his place, they wanted me to stay on. My troop leader went to a lot of trouble to get me back into the troop, and down at the range one day he had a look at my target and said “my word that man is a good shot”. It is not many who would sling up a Corporals stripe, but I will get on all right. There are some men to be put out of the troop before we go to the front, but they are picked out and my passage is all right On this trek I was leading a spare horse, and for about half the way I rode it and gave my horse a spell.
Considering that with gear, ammunition, feed for horse and drink, and rations for myself I ride eighteen stone, it means something in this country. On the morning we started home another chap took the horse, but they would not let him ride it, so he fell in considerably. In this town we went named Bilbeis, and pronounced Bill Bailey, the only white women there came from NZ. How she got there, and how she stops there I am hanged if I know, for the natives live like vermin, and there are millions of them with just a few white official Engineers etc This place was about the most dangerous in Egypt, and I think they sent us along to show them that all the British troops were not at the front as the Germans reckon, and that if they came to any tricks there would be lots of trouble for them. I think this is about all for this trip, and hoping this finds you all well and prosperous.
I Remain Your Affectionate Son,
Between training they would visit the bustling cities of Cairo and Heliopolis and try to understand the people and history of this land. They climbed the Pyramids and the Sphinx; rode on camels, visited the Cairo museum, Mosques, the Nile and the Zoo. On one occasion, the Mounteds had made a four-day trek with full equipment, to the ancient town of Bilbeis, some 30 miles northeast of the Camp.
Zeitoun Camp. 12 March 1915.
Dear Mother, I am just sitting down to write you a few lines to let you know that I am getting along all right. I did not get any mail this time, so I will not have much to write about, for we are having a very quiet time of it. Although from what one sees in the NZ papers we get, anyone would think that we were having an exciting picnic. And then one cannot talk about the wether for it is fine all the time. This would be a very fine country for picnics, the only trouble is that it’s beginning to get very hot, and our thick clothes are not at all suitable for this climate. We are not doing much work now partly on account of the heat, and have learnt practically all there is in the game. The horses are well fed, and having been on hard feed for so long, they are naturally very fit. The ground where they are tied up has trampled down pretty hard, and my horse used to skin a couple of his shins getting up and lying down. So when we got issued with some new putties sometime ago, I put my old ones on my horse every night. The only trouble is, that sometimes I got hold of the wrong ones in the dark, and so now if anyone loses a puttie, they say “I suppose Mac has put it on his horse”. We get a good supply of papers in our tent, for a chap named Chamberlain, whose family owns some land that Chapman used to lease, is in the same tent, and his mother always sends him a deuce of a swag every mail. The other day we got orders to cut down our swags to the bare necessities, and on top of that, Chamberlain received two great parcels of beautiful things. To cap the lot, he was stony-broke, and already had to throw clothes away. So in the afternoon he set to work and sold nearly the whole lot to Officers and chaps who wanted odd things. So I suppose his mother is happy, and Joe was happy with a pocket full of Piastres instead of the Glory Box.
Charlie and I went and had a good look at the Museum in Cairo the other day. Charlie has to study economy now that he is only getting two bob a day. I just got my washing bill the other day, a matter of 18 Piastres or four shillings. The niggers charged for over three months washing and besides a pair of socks were lost. I can tell you its bad enough having to make our own beds, wash dishes etc. Getting the washing done helps to remind me of the good old days. I am anxious to know how the place and all of you are getting on, but it is no use saying write soon, for it takes such a long time for letters to go and come. But with ordinary luck I don’t see how things cold fail to be anything but right. I must now draw to a close.
I Remain Your Affectionate Son,
received your letter among a lot that I received by a mail that came in
unexpectedly just after I last wrote. I am pleased to know that you are all
doing well (bar trap accidents) and that the place is going along all right
which I may judge from the fact that you have a stack of hay just outside. For
I know that haystack making takes some manoeuvring and work to get in, and
there must have been feed to burn for the powers-that-be, to take on getting in
hay. But then there is not the fescue to get rid of this summer, so that you
will have time to look around. It was something of a relief to me when I
learned that you had got a capable man on the place, for I was often thinking
latterly that a good sort of a manager would be a lot better.
don’t want to deny yourself any pleasure on my account. I think that you are
having a better time than I am, for I guess you would be going some to do that.
Of course two bob a day does not amount to much of a racket but I generally
manage to get away having--- ---?
what we see in the New Zealand papers that have reached here, they are printing
some awful rot about the country and our doings here. And one chap in our
squadron who has been writing to the papers, got such a twist the other day
that he has not turned up to meals in the mess-room for several days. If I were
guilty of writing such slobbery stuff, drunk or sober, I would never show my face
among the troops again. What gets me is how anybody with ordinary common sense
would publish some of the tales we see in the papers. From what I can see most
of the ghastly yarns come from members of the A.S.C. (All –Slopers-Calvary)
commonly called “depot scouts”. These fellows look after the stores, transport,
and office work and there are lots of them. For it is reckoned that for every
two fighting men, there is one non-combatant man.These fellows never see the firing line, and so try to make tin
heroes of themselves by writing fearful yarns home.
think I will have to draw this to a close Jean, for I have a good few letters
to answer. I am sending you a photo of our troop football team.The Officer is our troop leader Lieutenant
Somerville, one of the finest men I have ever come across.None of the fellows in the 6th come from our way, so that it is not much good writing the names of the others.
this finds you all in good form.
Remain the Same,
PS – by the way, you will pick yours truly in the
football team, and the chap kneeling on the left is our troop Sergent
Overton.The one sitting behind the
fuzzy haired chap (Morrison) is Corporal Chamberlain whose people own some land
up the valley. You see the nosebags hanging on the feed-bin. There are nearly
thirty-seven to be filled every feed time. The building is the mess- room, and
my tent is just in front of the picture.
recognise my mate in the photo enclosed. Charlie looks quite fierce in the
moustache, but I am sorry to relate that it is no more. I was not dolled up for
the occasion, as while we were strolling around Cairo one day, Charlie got onto
me to go and get our photo taken. So after an argument as to wether we would go
out to Heliopolis or not, we went into one in Cairo just up the street, and
fixed it up. I would like you to give one to Mrs Hood with my very best
Waiting and Training
Charlie Baldwin & Roderick.
The Football Team Roderick is standing at the left.
I am writing these few lines to let you know that I am well and that I
received your card and also the papers. You did not say how the place is going
along, and of course I cannot help wondering how things are panning out. The
papers are very acceptable indeed, for of course we are all wondering how old
NZ is doing. Although I think the articles, which cause the most amusement, are
the wondrous tales some of the lads write home from here. If anyone walks down
the lines on the night after the mail is given out, they would see in each tent
someone reading aloud some hair raising tale, and all the rest chirping in
laughter over it. By the time this reaches you. I suppose everyone will be in
convulsions over some colonials getting shot in Cairo. Well there was a bit of
a row on down one street, when some regular British soldiers (the Tommies)
showed up. As has been the case in several rows latterly, the colonials quitted
their own affair and didn’t leave it to the Red Caps. In previous affairs they
always turned out and cleared out, but they must have got full up, and drew
their revolvers and fired.This really
made matters worse. Then some officers ordered the Tommies out, and then things
During the riots
some English Territorials were ordered to charge with fixed bayonets, but sad
to tell, the Australians took their rifles off them and threw them in a fire.
There were a few men hurt, but no one was killed. Our Squadron was on duty that
day, which means that we were kept in camp to do all the work for the Regiment,
and anything else that turns up. So that when the row took place they sent us
down to Cairo with ammunition, but everything was quiet and still when we got
there. The "wolors” have got no time for us, and vice- versa. There used to be
a bit of bitterness between the Australians and us, but since the colonials
have been-------------The rest of this letter has been mislaid ------
*On the 2nd May Roderick
celebrated his 23rd birthday, and the 4th May was his
parent’s 33 rd Wedding Anniversary. On this day in 1882, John Telfer McCandlish
(26yr) married Mary Ann Hartwell (21yr) at the Residence of Mrs. Warkworth in
Harrison Street Wanganui.Mary Ann was
the daughter of Job and Ann Hartwell, and was born in West Bromwich,
Staffordshire in 1861. Her father was an engineer, and they lived at Brunswick
Line, in Wanganui.
I am just writing you a few lines to let you know that I am well, and
that although a lot of New Zealanders have gone to the front, us Mounted are
still doing the tourist act here in Egypt. I suppose you would be wondering how
I spent my birthday yesterday. Well Charlie B, two other chaps and I, had a
flash dinner and a bottle or two of wine at a place in Heliopolis, and then we
went to Cairo, and finished up at the theatre at night. So I did not have a bad
day of it.
had a sports meeting at the camp on Saturday. I had a fly in the hunter’s
competition. I had never tried my horse at a fence before, but I had an idea he
could jump, so I thought I would give him a go. He jumped all right, but he hit
one hurdle pretty hard, and of course in an entry of seventy horses, the least
mistake puts one out. Charlie’s mare baulked at the second jump, and the next
time she stopped at the first hurdle. One of the boys took a photo of me taking
the first hurdle, so I will send it along next time. Charlie gets knocked up
with the heat; otherwise he is enjoying himself immensely, and is terribly
anxious to go to the front.
am sending two photos of my horse and another belonging to a chap named Matson who is the one with the putties on. You will notice that we are wearing helmets
now on account of the heat. We have to tie the horses up with chain to a wire
rope, for they chew up everything they can. You will notice how the coat is
chewed, and that is the second one in five months. Those must have been good
things Mrs Baldwin brought for Willie, for I have not had to get anything
mended since I have been on the job. Even the socks are not showing any signs
of wearing out. Although we did not get
to a cold country, the balaclava has come in alright, for when we are sleeping
out in the open, they keep ones head warm, and one wants something, for it gets
a bit chilly in the wee small hours of the morning.
We have not had nail for over a
fortnight, so I am looking forward to getting swags of mail one of these days.
By the time this reaches you, you will be right into winter, although with the
heat and the long days here, we can hardly imagine winter weather. Although I
have not had many details of how things are going with the swamp, I should
think that with a good man like Mr Robson, the place ought to be doing well,
and hold every prospect of making plenty of money next season.
to be battling along still. I suppose between the war and the dry weather, it
has made things pretty tight for him. People no doubt used to sneeze at the old
swamp, but I guess they would have to get the police to stop the rush of buyers
if it was offered on the old terms now.
close now, but hoping this finds you all well at home.
I Remain – Roderick.
*Mr Bill Robson was
employed by Mrs McCandlish to manage the farm in Roderick’s absence.
On the 7 May, off the
coast of Ireland, the passenger liner ‘Lusitanian’ was torpedoed and sank by a
German U-boat. The ship sank in 18 minutes, killing 1198 of the 1959 people
aboard. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany,
and was instrumental in bringing the USA into the First World War.
May 1915) – Fine day. Everybody busy getting equipment ready to go to the
front. Served out ammunition. Marched to the station at eleven o’clock
Entrained. I then went to sleep.
Roderick woke early on the morning of the
8 May 1915. Reveille was at the normal time of 5am. The rumours that had
circulated over the previous few days were about to come true. At last the
Wellington Mounted Rifles, were going to be put to the test. All of those days
of hard and boring training was finally going to be tested at the battlefront
at a destination called The Dardanelles.
A few weeks previously,
troops of the New Zealand Infantry had been lucky enough to go and fight for
King and Country during the landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, on 25 April.
Unknown to Roderick was the fact that 75,000 men on 200 ships had found that
the landings in both places proved to be more difficult than anticipated. By
the end of the first day 2,500 young men had lost their lives. The Mounted Divisions had been kept back in
Egypt, as the fighting tactics on horse back were unsuitable for the terrain of
the Peninsula. . Many lives had been sacrificed at Gallipoli in the few weeks
since that fateful landing, and now the Mounteds were called upon to come to
the aid of their beleaged colleagues. They were to leave their horses,
harnesses, and special uniforms behind in the Zeitoun Camp, and to join their
fellow countrymen as infantry fighters
Leaving their trusty horses was hard on the men, as the 2800
steads had accompanied them on their long ocean journey from the home
country. The men had strong bonds with
their horses, and they often tried to find them extra rations. Roderick was one of the fortunate ones in
that he was able to take his own horse on the journey. Other Cavalrymen would
have been paired with a horse, and would have kept it for as long as it was
fit. They counted on their horses like they counted on their fellow soldiers.
If the men had known that only one horse, “Bess”, would return to New Zealand
after the war, their departure for adventure would have been saddened.
One of Roderick’s fellow troopers, Clutha McKenzie, would join “Bess” in
New Zealand, when after the war; they were used as the model for the sculpture
of the ANZAC Memorial. “Bess “ lived to
be 24 years of age. A cairn marks the place she died, a few miles from the
township of Bulls.
Clutha McKenzie was the youngest son of the New Zealand High
Commissioner in London. He was in Roderick’s Section and at aged 20yr, was
blinded at the battle of ChunukBair. He returned to NZ, and had a distinguished
career in Government; as an author; and helping the Blind. He was knighted for
work in 1935 and travelled the world in aid of the sight impaired, promoting the Braille
system of reading.
Clutha McKenzie and Bess
The Squadron, under the leadership of Major Dick, joined the other contingents on the Parade Ground at Zeitoun, at 5.30 am, and marched to the tune of “John Peel”, played by the Regimental Band. After the orders for the day were given, the rest of the time was spent checking equipment, collecting ammunition, and deciding what clothing and personal belongings to take for the journey.
It was a short march to the railhead at Palais-de-Koubbeh where they were farewelled by friends and supporters. All ranks had made themselves exceedingly popular with the European residents in and around Cairo, and crowds assembled to wish them “good luck”. The trains left at 11pm for the overnight journey to the port of Alexandria, where they arrived at daybreak.
As they trundled through the night many would have reflected on their time in the desert of Egypt. With its blistering sun, and sand storms, and the strange smells and customs of the local people. As Roderick was to comment in a letter to home –“they dressed like people out of the bible!”
Some were far less polite describing the locals as contemptible, and it being “the land of sin, sand, s—t and syphilis” They would also remember the good times spent in the streets of Cairo wheeling and dealing with the traders for souvenirs, food and beer They had been present at the Wazzir Riot in the Red Light district of Cairo (which had made big headlines back home), and proudly marched through Cairo on 23rd December 1914.
As the men of the Mounteds prepared to go to battle, on this day at Cape Helles in Gallipoli, the British tried again to take the village of Krithia. The New Zealanders supporting had little time to prepare for their role and they went in behind a weak artillery bombardment. The NZ Battalions struggled a few hundred metres before being brought to a halt at a place called the 'Daisy Patch’ where they were pinned down by Turkish machine guns and could neither advance nor withdraw. Despite their predicament, General Ian Hamilton ordered the whole front-line including the New Zealanders, to resume the attack. This Second Battle of Krithia was a failure, and took the front-line only 500 yards further inland. There were 6500 British casualties, of which 800 were New Zealanders.
(Sun 9 May) – Fine day. Arrived in Alexandria and was put to unload baggage. One of our Corporals was taken ill with appendicitis. Embarked on transport” Glentully Castle”. Very fine ship. Left Alexandria at seven o’clock- fine weather and calm sea.
The ‘Glentully Castle’ was moored at the jetty ready to receive them,
and the rest of the day was spent loading provisions and stores for the
There were no bunks
or hammocks on board the vessels, so the troopers made the most of the cramped
conditions. At 7pm in the evening, the small convoy sailed into the night, heading
north across the Mediterranean Sea.
(Mon 10 May) – Fine. Everything going along quietly.
Passed a few ships. Machine gun mounted on bridge and poop deck. On guard. Was
issued with active service postcards.
During the voyage
there were guard duties to perform as well as equipment overhauls. Any spare
moment was a time to catch up on last minute letters to home, and maybe if one
was inclined, a little card playing and gambling. It was a pleasantly calm
voyage except for a heavy rainstorm, which drenched those poor unfortunates who
were sleeping on deck. Wet gear only added to the misery of the cramped vessel. (Tues 11
May) –Fine. Arrived at the entrance to the Dardanelle’s. Saw lots of
warships and transport.
During the morning
the ‘Glentully Castle’ anchored among ships, half a mile off the southern tip
of the Gallipoli peninsular. On shore they could see the Turkish Fort and
village of Sedd-el-Bahr, which had been destroyed on the 18th March
when a Squadron of French and British Battleships had boldly attempted to force
their way through the narrow Dardanelle Straits. The troops would not have been
aware, but on that day seven weeks earlier, three Battleships were sunk, and
four more capital ships severely damaged by Turkish mines that had been
secretly laid the night before. Over 700 men had lost their lives for no gain.
After that blunder,
Turkish Commanders now knew, that a British invasion was imminent. They quickly
increased the number of troops on the peninsular by six times, to a force of
84,000 men. Dire consequences for the Empire troops, in the invasion, planned
for 25th April only 36 days later.
S.S River Clyde aground on V-Beach, Cape Helles.
To the left of the Fort was a small beach,
which was covered with tents, mules and stores of all description. Close
inshore to it, was grounded a large collier, the SS ‘River Clyde’. This vessel had been modified for attack, by having holes cut into its sides to allow the invading troops to rush down a narrow gangway, onto lighters for the quick trip to V- Beach. On the 25th April 2000 British troops were inside the vessel, and as it ran aground they stormed down the gangway only to be decimated by withering machine gun fire from Turkish positions at the Fort.
It was a death trap.
Of the 1000 that exited the ship, only 300 survived the ordeal. There were six
VC’s won here before breakfast. The loss of men on this beach, for the day
exceeded 6500 dead or wounded.
It is doubtful wether the troops on the ‘Glentully Castle’, looking out onto this scene,
realised the full extent of that catastrophe here at Helles.
(Wed 12 May) – Fine day. Came up the Gulf of Saros
and stopped at the NZ site, and its landing place.A battle was in progress at the Peninsular. Saw the artillery and
warships in action. Was taken on destroyers close in, then taken by lighters to
a landing. There were a few bullets falling and one or two men were hit. It’s
all very interesting.
The convoy left Cape Helles in the
afternoon, acknowledging the anchored ships as they departed. One such ship was
the destroyer HMS Goliath of 13000 ton, which some 10 hours later, would be
sunk with a loss of 570 lives.Undercover of a thick fog, a Turkish Torpedo Boat would slip past the
defences and fire three torpedos into the vessel.After an enormous explosion the ship rolled completely over, and
together with its Captain, quickly went to the bottom. The Turkish vessel the
Muavenet escaped to fight again another day. The convoy moved northwards for 12
miles and dropped anchor in the middle of a fleet of transports, about 2 miles
off Anzac Cove. The fellows crowded the rails, and stared towards the steep,
scared countryside where they could make out shell bursts on the high crests
Large shells occasionally shrieked out of the unknown, and
sent up geysers of spray near a heavy cruiser moored nearby. These shells were
being fired from the German Cruiser “Geoben”, anchored far away on the other
side of the peninsular. All the while as the sun set on the scene before them,
there could be heard the staccato sound of rifle fire from somewhere up in
those dark ghostly hills.