A Hero’s Painful Memories
Bernard “Tiny” Freyberg VC, CMG, DSO ended World War One a highly decorated hero – celebrated in Britain as well as his homeland of New Zealand. He had served with the British forces: his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was won at Gallipoli, his Victoria Cross (VC) on the Somme and, at the age of 27, he was made the youngest Brigadier-General in the British Army. He would go on to command the 2nd New Zealand Division in World War Two and become Governor-General of New Zealand.
Born in London, he grew up in New Zealand after his family emigrated and he attended Wellington College, in the capital city.
In 1921, still suffering from the many wounds he received during the war, he returned to New Zealand for several weeks to recuperate. He turned down all requests for public appearances and a civic reception, but he did take time to visit his old school and address an assembly of the boys.
One of those schoolboys, Max Riske, vividly recalled the event some 60 years later in a radio interview. As Max explains, the boys were expecting a stirring speech from a glorious war hero – but got something quite different from the man who had lost two brothers and many friends in the war.
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.
A dead teenager and life on the Somme
Like many young men, New Zealander Jim Warner lied about his age to enlist in World War I and found himself going into action on the Somme with the Auckland Infantry at the age of 18.
In this excerpt from a lengthy interview he recorded with Radio New Zealand reporter Andrew McRae in 1982, he recalls the conditions, the death of his 16-year-old friend and the shattered landscape of northern France which had been shelled heavily by the time the New Zealanders arrived in September 1916.
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.)