Images of war
A sergeant from the 1st Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade fires rifle grenades from a trench. The work is repetitious and dangerous, as rifle grenades were temperamental – sometimes landing in the trench or exploding in the barrel.
The destructive power of heavy artillery fire is seen in a pan across the pulverised remains of a village – the scene is one of complete desolation. The pan ends on a trench scene, sandbags are piled high and soldiers with their gas mask satchels on their chest descend into a dugout.
A line of soldiers stumbles through a large shell hole, knee-deep in water – it is some 20 meters in diameter and 4 to 5 metres deep. The soldiers are conscious of the camera, however the conditions are not staged – they are typical of those endured by the New Zealand Division in the low-lying trenches of Northern France during the winters of 1916 and 1917. It was not uncommon for men to spend up to eight days at a stretch in these tough conditions.
In the Bull Ring at Sling Camp
Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains of England was home to four or five thousand New Zealand soldiers at any one time, from 1916 until after the end of the war. It was staffed by New Zealand officers, with the exception of physical instructors whose job it was to get the ‘colonials’ into fighting shape. These men were veteran sergeant-majors of the regular British Army and their territory was the training ground known as ‘The Bull Ring.’ In a 1964 radio interview, Jack Archibald of Nelson recalled the grim conditions he faced there in the harsh winter of 1917.
Bright blades flickering into straw-filled sacks
As part of their full 16-week training course, recruits were given four weeks of training in drill, artillery and bayonet use at Featherston Military Training Camp, in the countryside north of Wellington. This film shows Lewis gun instruction, and fixed bayonet training with straw-filled dummies. A history of the Trentham Camp recorded how: “The bright blades flickered into the straw-filled sacks, out again and in again. At each point the men made hoarse guttural noises, like football war-cries, and when the enemy was presumed to be dealt with they charged on for a line of trenches. The instructor had overtaken them... But he scarcely could be heard for the yelling of his men, mingled with the war-cries of other squads.”