Sunday 26 November 2023

New Zealand Mounted Rifles in numbers

 In 1992 Richard Stowers, chronicler of the 1st Contingent New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR), wrote:

"There is no accurate figure for the total number of New Zealanders who served in the New Zealand Contingents. This is mainly due to many men returning to South Africa in later Contingents and others joining Contingents in South Africa." (p. 275 Kiwi versus Boer)

Work by Colin McGeorge* published in 2003 on the question of "How many New Zealanders served" arrived at a figure of 6,080. He created a database from nominal rolls and resolved many duplications noted at by Stowers. I have used, perhaps for the first time, the medal rolls. 

As part of my work in creating an accurate QSA and KSA medal roll index with medal roll pages I have just finished the NZMR rolls. They are complicated, as Stowers points out, by the "many men returning...[or]...joining Contingents in South Africa.". I can add another complication, not every man serving in a subsequent contingent is mentioned on that contingent's roll, there is just a note on the roll for the first contingent he served with. 

But, using a database one can untangle much of this and identify men who joined in South Africa. Using nominal rolls for each contingent Stowers presents a figure of 6,495 men in the NZMR. I conclude a total of 6,164 men served in the NZMR, this includes 11 British officers and men attached. Medal rolls do not indicate nationality. Ideally medal roll data should be combined with nominal roll, social and geographical data.

The NZMR was composed of 10 contingents, the first leaving in October 1899 and the last in April 1902. The final three contingents, 8, 9 and 10 were divided into two regiments, North and South Island. In the medal rolls the men of the 9th are not shown by regiment, only the 8th and 10th contingents are sub-divided and shown in The Register as '1/8', '2/8', 1/10' and '2/10'. The war was the first time New Zealand had sent a military force overseas. The men were all volunteers and most had experience as civilian soldiers, they had no experience in warfare.

This table shows the figures for each contingent and how many men were returning for a second, third or fourth tour. Also included under "Rejoiners" are the 11 men, mostly officers, but all from the British Army to provide expertise in campaigning and liaison with the British army in South Africa.

I have included Stowers' figures for comparison, he does not split out the 8th, 9th or 10th contingents by regiment.

The table shows 6,080 men first enlisted in the NZMR while 6,164 men served. This discrepancy reflects those men who joined the NZMR having served in another unit in the war prior to enlisting.

The chart shows the Rejoiners in graphical form, the yellow line is the percentage of each contingent's strength made up by Rejoiners.

Returning for more service was not uncommon and accelerates from the 6th contingent with 14% peaking at 35% for the 9th contingent. The number of rejoiners "crashed" for the 10th because the number of available rejoiners had volunteered for previous contingents, also the 6th to 9th Contingents were on active service into 1902 when the 10th was raised. It is possible word was out the war was drawing to a close, indeed the 2/10th arrived five days before peace was signed. These men spent more time at sea than they did in South Africa. Six men served in four contingents and 84 men served in three contingents.

The Rejoiners provided valuable experience to the in-coming contingent, they occupied all ranks from Private/Trooper (both ranks are used on the medal rolls) to Major. The table (left) shows how many of each rank was a Rejoiner, many getting a promotion on re-enlisting. In John Crawford's assessment, The Best Mounted Troops in South Africa?* he wrote, "The later New Zealand contingents benefited greatly from having a core of South African veterans in their ranks."

Providing "new  recruits" with direct, relevant campaigning experience  contributes greatly to the success of a unit. This kind of injection of experience throughout the ranks was not available to most units deploying to South Africa.

The majority of Rejoiners were from the NZMR, but those who served in South Africa represented a wide range of 33 different units such as; Kitchener's Horse, Robert's Horse, South African Light Horse, Australian units, Imperial Light Infantry, and Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry. Two of the most unusual units are the St John Ambulance Brigade (SJAB) and the Southampton Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SVAC).

Adolph Gricourt first served in the war with the SVAC, a very small unit of 22 first aid trained men. They were attached to various RAMC hospitals, in Bloemfontein they worked under Dr Arthur Conan Doyle. They only served in 1900. In August 1901 Gricourt set sail from London aboard the SS Paparoa bound for Wellington, the passenger list shows he was a 21 year old "Farm Cadet". The record of Military Pensions to members of the NZMR (1902 no. 54) shows his contact in New Zealand as "Friend: Harold Maffy, Post-Office, Palmerston". He enlisted for the 1/8th contingent in January 1902, number 5209.

The St John Ambulance man was Percy Growcott Hulme who served in Natal in 1900 with the SJAB. He was enlisted aboard the SS Cornwall on the 15th March, 1902. His enlistment form, digitised by the NZ Archives, is entirely handwritten on notepaper. He appears to have been working as an iron moulder in Sydney, New South Wales. How he came to be Trooper 5997 1/8th contingent NZMR and not a member of an Australian unit is a mystery. Hulme was a traveller, he received the clasps 'Transvaal' and 'South Africa 1902' in 1907 in Burma where worked as a locomotive driver.

The NZMR was not the only unit to receive significant numbers of rejoiners. It is common amongst the many South African raised colonial units. Continuing work on the QSA and KSA medal rolls will enable detailed statistics such as these to be produced.

* Colin McGeorge, The Social and Geographical Composition of the New Zealand Contingents, "One Flag, One Queen, One Tongue", ed. John Crawford and Ian McGibbon, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2003.

* John Crawford's article was published in "One Flag, One Queen, One Tongue", ed. John Crawford and Ian McGibbon, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2003.

No comments:

Post a Comment