Where have all the young men gone?
Trooper George Alexander 'Alec' CAMERON
of the Wellington East Coast Mounted Rifles stands
at ease in this 1917 photograph, behind him, the last reunion photograph of the Wellington East Coast Squadron at Gisborne in 1965. Alec in old age also highlighted in frame from this "Gisborne Herald" photograph.


NZMR Reinforcements
hat badge.

George Alexander Cameron was known to all his mates as "Alec", he was raised and lived on the East Coast of the North Island close to Gisborne. His extended family live there still today.

When the Great War broke out Alec was working as a drover on a sheep run on the coast, a most unpopulated and very isolated area of the country. However it would be fair to say the whole nation of New Zealand would have been considered unpopulated in the years of the first world war 1914 - 1918. With a nation of only one million people living in an area larger in size than England, Scotland and Wales combined.

Like many of New Zealand's young men, Alec volunteered himself and his trusted horse "Kia Ora" and joined the Wellington East Coast Mounted Rifles Squadron. After training finalised in Featherston he departed Wellington as part of the reinforcements for the NZMR in the Middle East Campaigns. He boarded H98 - The Troopship "Tofua" on the 13th November 1917.

Training at Featherstone before departure in 1917
Alec and "Kia-Ora" on the far right.
The Wellington Mounted Rifles had been fully involved in the Gallipoli and Sinai Campaigns, and by the time Alec reached the war front the NZMR Brigade had crossed into the "Holy Land" of Turkish Palestine. During the coming months the Wellington Mounted Rifles were involved in the advance and attacks on Jericho, Es Salt and a final victory at Amman. Finally on October 20th 1918 the war in the Middle East was over when Turkey sued for peace.

Wellington Lads out and about in Palestine.
The 1915 Dodge Brothers Tourer was the pride of the Brigade.

Amongst the hell, terror and boredom that was war and of which the men never talked much about on their return home, there was one gem available to the men that gave great pleasure, and that was the motor car. And for Alec not just any motor car, the Dodge was a favourite. The exposure to this new mode of transport inspired a generation, and was instrumental in New Zealand's love affair of the car. When the men returned from war the growth of motor transport exploded.

Alec came back home to the Coast and married. Utilising the government ballot he began sheep farming at Matawai and raised a family. As the years rolled by he never forgot his mates of the WMR nor his horse "Kia Ora" that he had to leave behind in Palestine - when the time came to replace his mount on the farm he always named the horse Kia-Ora, the Maori words for greeting and farewell: "Be- Well".

For more information on the reunion photograph above of 1965, we had to ask Alec's grandson, Reece Burnett, to supply a little background.

The reunion get together was the last the old soldiers of the Wellington East Coast Mounted Rifles ever made. The meeting took place at "Barwick's Auctioneers" in Peel Street, Gisborne where the photograph is taken. Most of the men were now in their seventies. Alec was keen to attend, but on the morning of the reunion jammed his right hand in a doorway. He was in a lot of pain but refused to go to hospital. Instead he bound his hand up tightly to protect it from further injury and went off to the gathering. He sits in the front row of the picture holding his hat in his left hand and sits back shielding his damaged hand. Directly behind him in rolled up shirt sleeves is his life long friend Fred Barwick the Gisborne Auctioneer. Each of the men wear the black and white stripped "East Coast Rifles" tie.
The men in the photograph are all gone now, but obviously Alec is still here in spirit, his grandson Reece is a member of the NZMRA and he restores vintage cars for a hobby. But not just any old cars - Dodge Brothers cars.