Steeds and shellfire on the Western Front
The horses that were sent to the Western Front during the First World War faced many of the same difficulties as the soldiers that they served. Horses were used to transport officers, heavy artillery and other equipment to the front lines. The artillery conveyed by these horses was an essential element of the military strategies that developed on the battlefront. The Battle of the Somme in 1916 in particular saw the first widespread use of the ‘creeping barrage’, a strategy designed to provide cover for an advancing line of infantry.
Leonard Leary was a law student in Wellington who first served in Samoa after joining up in 1914 and then joined the British Royal Artillery and fought at the Battle of the Somme. In this 'Spectrum' radio documentary from 1982 he recalls both the trials of controlling horses amid the confusion of a battlefield and the use of the creeping barrage at the Somme.
First day on the Somme for Kiwis and tanks
On the 15th of September 1916, the New Zealand Division saw their first major action on the Western Front. In the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, they joined British forces as part of the continued effort to attack German-held territory around the river Somme in northern France.
A new element was also introduced on September 15 with the arrival of tanks in battle for the first time. British military leaders hoped that these new armoured machines, initially known as land-ships, would be able to straddle enemy trenches, break through barbed wire entanglements and end the stalemate of trench warfare.
But Lindsay Inglis, a New Zealand officer involved in action that day, recalls the tanks he saw were less-than-impressive.
Direct to Aussie
This footage shows Australian troops boarding a train in France after the battle of the Somme and some of the worst fighting of World War One. One carriage has ‘Direct to Aussie’ on the side, suggesting the troops are returning home – or perhaps just wishing they were!
”The Tanks that Broke the Ranks”
Written and composed by English music hall writers Harry Castling and Harry Carlton,The Tanks that Broke the Ranks, was a popular music hall song celebrating the first use of tanks on the battlefield. The sheet music was released in December 1916, just three months after the first use of tanks in war by the British, during the Battle of the Somme.
Although both sides regarded the tanks with interest and awe when first deployed, their success was mixed. Of the 49 tanks shipped to the Somme, only nine made it across ‘no man's land’ to the German lines.
The song references many prominent German military leaders of the day, including Kaiser Wilhelm, Alfred von Tirpitz, Paul von Hindenburg and Prince Wilhelm. It was very popular in music halls in 1917. This recording was sung by internationally acclaimed Australian performer and recording artist Peter Dawson under the pseudonym ‘Will Strong,’ which he used for music hall recordings.
Good to Go / E pai ana, Ka haere
The Second Māori Contingent is shown parading at Narrow Neck Training Camp in Auckland before leaving for the front on the SS Waitemata on 19 September 1915. According to the waiata “Te Ope Tuatahi”, composed by Apirana Ngata, the recruits of the Second Contingent were drawn mainly from the East Coast tribes of Ngāti Mahaki, Ngāti Hauiti and descendants of Porourangi. Among them was Second Lieutenant Hēnare Mōkena Kōhere of Ngāti Porou. Kōhere died of wounds on 16 September 1916 following the Battle of the Somme. He is mentioned in the sixth verse of “Te Ope Tuatahi” with the phrase: I haere ai Hēnare, I patu ki te pakanga, Ki Para-nihi ra ia. ("Farewell, O Hēnare,Me tō wiwi, and your 'clump of rushes' who fell while fighting in France". The ‘clump of rushes’ is thought to refer to the men under Kohere’s command who died alongside him.)