LIEUTENANT Colonel Guy Charles Powles was
born in Wellington on December 15,1872. Educated at Wellington College. Was a
farmer from 1891 to 1910. Fought in the South African War and the First World
appointed OC Central Command in April 1924. He held the Queen's Medal with four
clasps for service in South Africa, the CMG, DS0, 1914-15 Star, British War
Medal and Victory medal. His other decorations include the Order of the Nile and
he was ADC for the King. After the end of WW1 he was appointed second in charge
of the instruction camps at Trentham and in April 1922 he went to General
Headquarters as staff officer in charge of "A" Branch, where he remained until
He was later appointed Chief of General staff with the rank of
Colonel. He was principal of Flock House training school from 1930-1935. In 1940
he was appointed commandant at Waiouru Army Training Camp. He wrote the history of the New
Zealanders in "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine." (1922) After his retirement from the army
he took up sheep farming at Te Horo. He had three children, one of whom was Sir
Guy Powles, New Zealand's first Ombudsman and High Commissioner in Western
Samoa. Colonel Powles died on June 17,1951. From the Alexander
Tumbull Library archives NZ Biographies 1976,vol 2 ,Pg 124.
Reg No: 1318 Surname:Powles GivenNames: Guy Charles Contingent: Fourth Unit: No. 7 company Ship: Gymeric 31 march 1900 Rank: Sergeant-Major Occupation: Farmer Next of Kin:Powles Mr C P Relationship to Soldier: Father Next of Kin Address: Wesley Road,
Wellington County/City: Horowhenua
Guy Powles held the post of Brigade Major of the NZMR at the beginning of hostilities in 1914, and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel during the conflict. In the montage above are the Wellington Mounted Rifles rounding up and bringing in Turkish prisoners after the Battle of Rafa, this image is one of the many photographs taken by the Colonel during the campaigns. His foreground picture was taken in New Zealand much later in 1927. The Powles collections are held at the Alexander Turnbull Library Wellington.
The most lasting tribute to C. Guy Powles must be his knowledgeable and informative accounts of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles during the Desert Campaigns of World War One.
Published directly after the Great War "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" written in association with the compiler, Major A. Wilkie W.M.R., and the further publication, "History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles1914-1919" are recognised as authoritive works on the actions and deeds of the Brigade.
Not only was Colonel Powles a competent leader and soldier he is also remembered as a photographer and the owner of his trusted steed "Bess", the only horse to leave New Zealand for the Great War in the first detachment that returned back to New Zealand at wars end. (A similar distinction is accredited to "Major" the only horse to return to New Zealand after the Boer War in South Africa). Bess was to be Guy's mount for the entire conflict in the desert.
Although most Brigade horses were either sold or destroyed after the armistice in 1918, the Colonel took Bess on to England for the victory celebrations in Europe before returning home. This act of taking "Bess" to the acceptable disease free fields of England meant the horse was considered to be in quarantine and after her stay was cleared of any latent Middle Eastern infections. She was therefore allowed to return home to New Zealand - a situation that was unfortunately not afforded to any of the other Brigade animals.
Charge of the ANZAC Mounted Division, Palestine 1917
Photo by Lieut-Colonel C. Guy Powles, G.M.G., D.S.0. National Library NZ.
Left: This photograph taken by Guy Powles as he and the ANZAC's charged the Turkish defended town of Rafa. A most graphic image of an actual mounted charge to come out of World War One. The New Zealand Troopers ride through the clouds of desert dust towards the Turkish fortifications.
The intensity of the scene jumps across the generations - who would fall - and who would live to fight another day.
The logistics of keeping an army in the field is a daunting task, and requires many more men in support than actual combatants engaged on the front line. Even more of an effort is required to support a Mounted Division crossing a hostile desert. The skill of the English Engineers and the Egyptian Labour Force was a magnificent achievement in building a standard 3' 6" gauge railway line and an associated 12" fresh water pipe from the Suez Canal at Kantara across the Sinai into Turkish Palestine. But as the Anzac and British attack lengthened it also gained momentum, and it was a with a welcome sigh of relief for the Army Service Corps when the Anzac Division broke out of the desert and reached the Mediterranean Coast at El Arish. Now shipping that had been unloading supplies from New Zealand to Alexandria could now sail directly to the men in the field and ease the strain on the railway link.
Guy Powles from Headquarters NZMR was on hand to photograph the first event, and he later commented in his book "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" as the first shipment of frozen mutton arrived from home.
"...About this time our first store ship arrived at El Arish. Native boatmen with their boats from Alexandria were brought over to do the unloading; and it was hoped that our much overworked railway would be greatly eased by these sea-borne rations. But the Egyptian boatmen did not take kindly to the work. This work consisted of rowing their great double ended surf-boats out to the store ship, where she lay at anchor a mile from the shore; loading up their boats with rations and bringing them ashore —the boat being met in the surf by a large party of natives stripped to the waist and carrying a long rope. This rope was attached to the boat as she came through the surf and the team of men then ran away with her up on to the beach. The rate of unloading became so slow that it was seriously considered whether it would be advisable to give up landing stores on the beach, when a happy thought struck someone that the New Zealanders had just received a detachment of Rarotongans, who as Pacific Islanders were no doubt expert boatmen. Enquiries were made and it was found that they were all at home in the water, and they eagerly took on the job of manning two surf boats. These two boats put up wonderful records in unloading stores, shaming the Gyppies into greater effort, and building up a school of competition by which the boat making the greater number of trips in the day, received a flag mounted on a pole which was placed in the bows of the boat and carried throughout the following day.
Our Rarotongans were then withdrawn as there was more important work for them to do. But their example remained for the rest of the campaign, and the victorious flag was carried by the winning boat right up the length of the coast, until Jaffa was reached."
Dr Peter Powles remembers riding “Bess”. Edited from an article published October 2005. Dr Peter Powles, in his late 80s today, remembers clearly the excitement he felt as a five year-old when the steamer anchored at Wellington. Not only was his father, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Guy Powles back from WW1 but also on board was something equally exciting. Against all the odds, the Otaki man had returned from the bloody war front with his faithful mount “Bess”.
Many of the soldiers who had volunteered to fight in those distant shores had taken their own horses. The Masterton bred Bess, however, had a break thousands of other New Zealand horses never had and today its memory is a torchbearer to a part of New Zealand history never really told. “With the Turks driven our of Syria the war had turned. The rifle brigade returned to bases in Egypt. The army decided they could not afford to take the horses back and decided to sell them to the wogs. The locals were known to treat their animals harshly,” said Dr Powles.
The book ‘The New Zealander's in Sinai and Palestine’ written by his father Lt. Colonel Powles in 1922 captures that special relationship between the Kiwi blokes at war and their horses, and provides an understanding of what was to happen:
“We New Zealanders are all horse lovers by our British birth right, and as Colonials we have learned to value the horse as a means of existence, and not merely as a means of recreation. Our Main Body men were horse lovers by nature, for had they not volunteered and in many cases brought their own horses? And they were now horse-lovers by conviction, the conviction born of active
experience. They had learned that to no man is a horse so essential as to the mounted soldier. His horse is more than a friend, he is part of the soldiers very life.” Dr Peter Powles remembers riding “Bess” the torchbearer of a forgotten history. Waikanae resident Dr Powles recounts what happened:
“When the blokes found out, rather than contemplate the slow, cruel end awaiting their beloved horses they upped and shot them”.
The stature of Lt.Colonel Powles, and the privilege of an army general dealt a fateful
hand. The lieutenant colonel knew General Sir Andrew Hamilton Russell commander of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
“Unlike the rank and file, the generals were allowed to take their horses back so Bess was included as part of the generals own three horses that were shipped back to Britain. There a Lady something or rather… you know…part of the landed gentry, looked after Bess while father did an officers’ course at Oxford. General Russell was sent to France and then to Germany, and father ended up riding Bess in the Victory Parade that marched through the streets of Berlin,” said Dr Powles.
Again she was shipped back to Britain. After a season, Bess, along with General Russell’s two horses, were shipped on the long trip back to New Zealand.“There was a fire on board. Photographs of the horses and their feedstock were destroyed. They were fed bread,” he said.“When she landed in Wellington we had the man who bred Bess take her back to Masterton. He entered her in show jumping where she came second. She was at Trentham for a time and then my father’s old family friend at Rangitikei took her. She was bred with a Welsh pony stallion and later had three foals to a racing stallion.”
“When my father was at Flock House at Bulls, Bess was sent to him. I was at boarding school then and every holiday I used to ride her. That’s where she died and they have a monument of her.”
“The monument to Bess is the only recognition of the contribution made by the New Zealand horse to the war effort.”