NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES

Trooper Norman Booth
Trooper Booth and his brother of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles
North Auckland Mounted Riflemen - 35728 Norman Booth, in a computer enhanced photograph above, and again Norman Booth seated next to his elder brother Andrew. Both men served with the North Auckland Mounted Rifles. Andrew departed with the Main Body and saw action at Gallipoli where he was wounded and invalided out of the service. Norman departed later with the Reinforcements and served in the Second Campaign in Palestine.


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NORMAN DOUGLAS BOOTH
- A PERSONAL MEMORY OF MY FATHER.

by Graeme Booth.

I wish I could share lots of stories my father told me about his service with the Mounted Rifles and later the New Zealand Engineers during the great conflict that was WWI. But sadly I can't, because like so many of his comrades who returned to civilian life he didn't really want to talk about his wartime experiences. Occasionally he would open a window of his memory and share an experience. But attempts to elicit more information usually resulted in the window being slammed shut and you were left with the feeling that you were intruding on something very personal and probably traumatic.

Norman Douglas Booth was born in 1895 near Cootamundra, New South Wales. His parents, John and Catherine, already had one son they had named Andrew Cameron Booth, born in Goulburn N.S.W. two years before.

John and Catherine were farming people and over a number of years had become wealthy as they moved about New South Wales owning and operating sheep and cattle stations. Legend has it that John had a knack at spotting stations that had become run down through mismanagement and knew what would be needed to make them productive again. Such stations could be bought cheaply and later sold at a profit.

Like most outback Australians, riding horses would have been second nature to the two boys and no doubt these abilities stood them in good stead when they joined the Mounted Rifles.  Their education was entrusted to private tutors who lived with the family at the various homesteads but as they got older Catherine insisted the family move to Sydney so her sons could attend “proper”  schools. They settled in Chatswood and I still have the Bible my father won as a prize at the Presbyterian Sunday School.
In the early part of the twentieth century, with the boy's education complete, the family moved to a farm near Okaihau in Northland.


"Get on Parade!" Members of 11th Squadron prepare for a dismounted parade. Location unknown. photographs- Trooper N. Booth

New South Wales has been in drought between 1895 and 1902 so they regarded New Zealand with its regular rainfall as a better farming prospect. But the move was  to be a financial disaster that was not of their making.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 older brother Andrew enlisted in the Northland Mounted Rifles, leaving his father and younger brother to run the farm. Like so many of his comrades he was sent first to Egypt then on to Gallipoli where he was wounded in the knee on 8 August  1915, almost certainly during the attempt to relieve the Wellington Regiment on Chunuk Bair. It seems reasonable to expect that this happened on Rhododendron Spur and the records show that he was evacuated first to Malta and then to England for hospital treatment.

Like my father, he didn't talk much about his experiences. In fact, when details of his wounding came available after his death, it was a surprise to his family. They knew he had been wounded but always understood it was in France.

Meanwhile things were far from rosy in New Zealand. John Booth died of prostate cancer while on a trip to buy stock for the farm and was buried in the Taihape cemetery. My father hated farming and was keen to join the war effort so managed to persuade his mother to sell the property. He headed for the recruiting office and in 1916 at the age of 21 he too was a Mounted Rifleman and eager to join the fray.


Mother and Son pose in a Sydney
Studio Portrait.
Norman and Catherine.

His training was at Featherston Camp and he then embarked on a troopship for the Middle East, which called first at his former home town of Sydney.  There he met older brother Andrew who was returning to New Zealand having been declared unfit for further service because of his wound. The story goes that Andrew didn't know that the farm had been sold and that his younger brother was now also a Mounted Rifleman. His brotherly greeting of : "What in the bloody hell do you think you're doing here ?” has become part of family history. Still, they must have resolved their differences because there are a number of photos of them together in Sydney. Also present in some of the pictures is their mother Catherine but just how she happened to be there has been lost in time. She probably had many friends and relatives in Sydney so maybe it was a good time for her to go visiting.

Andrew returned to New Zealand as Norman sailed for Egypt. My father's  experiences can't have been great because for the rest of his life he retained a dislike of the military and had a particular distaste bordering on hatred for the British officer class. He certainly wasn't a pacifist, but the willingness of the commanders of the day to sacrifice lives appalled him 

At one stage he opened up just a little to me about a particularly traumatic experience where the mounted troops had taken a particular objective, but the British generals insisted that it had been “ reserved” for one of their regiments and the Anzacs were ordered to withdraw. Not surprisingly the Turks re-occupied and reinforced the position.

Dad suddenly got up, walked to his bedroom and rummaged in a wardrobe where his kept his clothes and personal things. He handed me a small photograph taken with his own little Kodak VPK camera showing a line of corpses stretched across the desert – the remains of the ill-fated British regiment that had been ordered to re-take the objective. He took the photo back and I never saw it again, even though I looked for it after his death. Perhaps he destroyed the picture as it was obviously a memory he didn't really want to dwell on.

On another occasion he described having his horse shot from under him during a cavalry-style charge and rejoining his comrades after walking past the bodies of dead Turkish soldiers who had been killed as the Anzacs took the objective.


Norman and fellow troopers onboard a troopship to the front.

Of course the Mounted Rifles weren't really intended to be used as cavalry regiments, although the Light Horse's epic charge at Beersheba shows that it did happen. I regret not pressing him for more details.

He also spoke about having encountered the legendary "Lawrence of Arabia” . This only came to light after the movie about the great man came to our town and Dad commented that Peter O'Toole who played the lead role didn't look anything like the real Lawrence. When I asked if he knew Lawrence he made it clear that mere enlisted men like him didn't get to talk to such important people, but he did get to see him leaving a British headquarters.

Card Game at Khan Yunnis
Norman seated third from left enjoys a game of "poker" and a break from the
battlefield with fellow troopers of the North Auckland Mounted Rifles after entering the Holy Land. Horses stand in the horse lines behind the soldiers tents.
All photographs from the Norman Booth collection.

Right: Elder Brother Andrew and Norman cross paths in Australia:
"What in the bloody hell do you think you're doing here ?”

My brother Malcolm recalls seeing another film entitled “The 40,000 Horsemen” which was about the Anzac Mounted Unit in general and the Australian Light Horse in particular. Leaving the cinema a very excited young Malcolm asked Dad if he had been in the film. “Oh yes,” responded Dad in his usual laconic way. “My horse was the one that was out of step.”
Late in the war Dad contracted malaria and was very sick. We don't know if this happened before or after he transferred to the New Zealand Engineers, possibly because he hoped to pursue an engineering career after the war.

 




Below: Group photo of Norman's 22nd NZMR Reinforcements that departed for the Front on the S.S. Moeraki 15th February 1917. Click on image for enlargement. Drag corner of the image with your cursor to enlarge to suit your screen size.
Trooper N. Booth stands at number 10.

Right: Enlargement from the 22nd Reinforcements photo taken prior to departure from New Zealand shows Norman Booth standing in the back row.
The identity of the photographer or agency is not known - however it was discovered in the photographic collection of Corporal Alfred Anderson NAMR.
Such finds as this allow the Association to cross reference material supplied by many different sectors of the public to help preserve our NZMR history.

Recent releases of digitised material by government departments both here and Australia gives further information previously unavailable online.
The Auckland Mounted Rifles WAR DIARY for the month of August 1915 and hand written by Lieutenant (later Major) Haeata at Gallipoli records the terrible fate of the AMR and of brother Andrew as the Regiment attacked the high ground of Chunuk Bair.

"Aug 8th - Left OVERTON GULLY at 0130 and proceeded to RHODODENRUM SPUR arrived at 0800 and proceeded under fire to cross ridge into safety. Remained in gully until 1200 during which time several schrapnel shells struck and did damage. 11th and half 3rd Squadrons then rushed over line of hill and reinforced firing line on CHUNUK BAIR and the remainder of 3rd and 4th Squadrons joining us at 1400. Kept enemy back with great difficulty, (from 1800 to 2000 had only 85 men). Relieved by OTAGO Infantry at 2015 - fought all night.
W. Haeata Lieutenant, Acting Adjutant, AMR."

Page after page follows, and column after column of men's names scroll down the pages - no words of valour or determination, just simple lists of men Killed in Action or Wounded. On page 5 faded by time, the pencil written columns of names reveal the name:
Trp. A.C. Booth 13/168

Like so many Norman returned home and was discharged after two years and 258 days of military service to a “Land Fit For Heroes”,  but a bitter experience was in store. The family's considerable fortune had been entrusted to an Auckland law firm named Hammond and Cracknell but one of the partners had embezzled the lot and they were now virtually penniless.  A number of other clients of the same firm found themselves in exactly the same position with no prospect of compensation because those were the days before lawyers were required to be part of a fidelity fund.

The Booth brothers endeavoured to build new lives in the post-war world but an attempt to enter the motor business with a garage in Morrinsville failed. Older brother Andrew returned to Australia with his New Zealand-born wife and family where he established a successful import business. He never lost his love for New Zealand and spent a lifetime working on maintaining relationships between the two countries. For many years he was the President of the New Zealand Services Club in Sydney. In later life he was awarded a New Zealand M.B.E., even though he was an Australian citizen.
Norman established a small radio and electrical business in Pukekohe. His only involvement with the military came in WWII where he was an officer in the local Home Guard. He took charge of the heavy machine gun the unit was eventually issued with and kept it in a bedroom in the family home, ready to be transported in his 1936 Chevrolet to repeal any Japanese invasion.  Tragedy was to punctuate his life with the loss of a son at the age of eight and his first wife two years later. I am from his second marriage.

Dad died on October 10 1973 and was laid to rest in the Pukekohe cemetery. His grave is marked by  a simple headstone bearing the emblem of the Mounted Rifles. In the same cemetery other headstones bear the same emblem of the proud regiment he and other local men served when they were young and anxious to serve King and country.






Trooper Andrew Booth in a Auckland Studio sitting 1914

We welcome Graeme Booth to our growing NZMR Association. Over the last few months we have had a steady increase in membership. We thank you all in showing your support by joining our historical group - However I hear many interesting stories from you but I suspect there is a general fear to put pen to paper to tell your families history. Be assured we want to hear it.
This is where Graeme comes in with a helpful offer. As some of you will have already guessed, Graeme is a professional journalist and is noted for his many years service in television news and current affairs.
Graeme is prepared to write up your Dad's story (Grandad,great Uncle) if you care to supply the memorabilia - photos, Army records.
In the first instance telephone me - Steve Butler (09) 846-9784 to get your story started and posted here on the Internet.