One hundred years ago this week, Hawke’s Bay’s first contingent of men were mobilised for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
When the King declared war on behalf of the British Empire on 4 August, New Zealand put its mobilisation plans into action. Men volunteered in their hundreds. Women marshalled in matters of ‘practical patriotism’ – raising funds for the expeditionary force and in equipping men for the front.
The first thirty seven – 10 August
On 6 August Prime Minister William Massey offered troops for Imperial service and the Defence Force made its first call for volunteers. The government promised to have the entire expeditionary force of 8500 men and 3800 horses on its way to Europe in three weeks. Recruiting began on 8 August. Within a week more than 14,000 volunteers had stepped forward. The Hawke’s Bay men accepted into the first draft departed in groups according to the requirements of the unit they were joining. Whether it was a handful of men, or a hundred, thousands of well-wishers turned out for each departure, and sent them on their way with speeches, brass bands, and a chorus of God Save the King.
Some of the first to leave Hawke’s Bay were 37 men who had answered an early call for ambulance brigade members, a machine gun section and railway engineers. A public notice was put up on the evening of the 8th for volunteers; men were selected and fitted out on the 9th, and departed for Wellington on the morning of the 10th. Over 3000 people gave these first volunteers an enthusiastic send-off from the railway stations in Napier and Hastings.
Hastings all agog – 11 August
The earliest dated photographs in the museum’s collection capturing the departure of troops from Hawke’s Bay are three photographs taken at Hastings Railway station on 11 August.
The Daily Telegraph for 11 August notes the departure of one group of men from Hastings on that day. “Hastings was all agog” the paper said “to see one of the first large groups of men to leave Hastings”, the departure of a draft of 25 Mounted Rifles, B Squadron, 9th (Wellington) and their horses, for Awapuni (via Dannevirke), commanded by Lieutenant [Augustine] Georgetti.
These men were to join the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, formed on 8 August, and which concentrated at Awapuni Racecourse in Palmerston North (alongside other units) from the 12 August.
Napier Contingent Day – 15 AugustOn a meeting at the Napier Council Chambers on 10 August a ‘Contingent Day’, was proposed for the 15 August to raise funds for the expeditionary force. 250 women were given boxes and badges and let loose upon the pockets of the generous Napier public. Some ladies, the paper noted, started solicitations before breakfast, and they worked till 9.30pm that night, canvassing the streets. Hotel-keepers provided complimentary teas to all collectors. At Taradale, the post mistress, Mrs Hazel took charge, and had twenty girls on horseback scouring the countryside.
These satin badges, of which the museum has half a dozen, were given out to each patriotic purchaser, for a minimum donation of 5s. By noon, 2000 had been distributed and demands were coming in from collectors for more. Napier Contingent Day raised £351 18s 6d in all. Hawke’s Bay people undertook all manner of concerts, parades and events to raise funds.
Practical patriotism – 16 August
After the declaration of war, and the confirmation New Zealand would send men to fight, the women of Hawke’s Bay banded together in local Ladies’ Expedition Equipment Committees, to consider how to quickly supply the men of Hawke’s Bay with all they would need for the front. At the suggestion of Lady Godley (wife of General Sir Alexander Godley, Commander of the NZEF) the wives and mothers of the men of the 9th Regiment focused their attention on the supply of vests, hold-alls and ‘housewives’. The various branches of the Girls’ Friendly Society of Hawke’s Bay made and contributed 50 pairs of sox, 50 suits of flannel pyjamas and 50 flannel shirts.
Donated goods were collected at drill halls, and citizens were encouraged to make public subscriptions to enable the purchase of materials. Mobilisation commanders directed, and expected that local men be fitted out locally before their transfer to the concentration camps.
On 16 August, the main contingent of Napier men assembled in full force at the drill hall to be presented with the war kits that had been assembled by the women of Napier. Lieutenant Colonel Hislop, officer commanding the 9th Regiment (infantry) made a speech of thanks, “on behalf of the Napier boys going to the front I have to most heartily thank the ladies of this town for equipping them”.
Au Revoir, God speed, and a safe return – 17 August
On the morning of Monday 17 August 1914 the main contingent left Hawke’s Bay.
From Napier, 112 men, including 33 from Gisborne, met at the Drill Hall, where the the Rev J A Asher, conducted a short service, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer. The volunteers, headed by a band, were then marched to the railway station via the Marine Parade, Hastings, Emerson and Munroe streets, all of which were thronged with spectators. The museum holds two photographs of a large contingent of men parading along Marine Parade, on what may be this occasion.
Mayor J Vigor Brown and Lieutenant-Colonel Hislop spoke to the 112 contingenters and a crowd of 7,000 enthusiastic spectators from the balcony of the Terminus Hotel.
The papers reported:
“A most enthusiastic send-off was given to the local volunteers for active service this morning, many thousands of residents of all ages cheering the men on in their noble response to the great call from the Motherland for some of her stalwart sons.
Everyone appeared to be excited and patriotic in the extreme. Flags fluttered everywhere. Ladies wore ties of red, white and blue.
Some of the crowd were gathered together in small knots, only too evidently related to some member of the departing warriors, and in such groups were to be seen many saddened faces and moistened eyes. It was a scene of intense enthusiasm, dampened only by the stern realty of what was before the brave lads who had so nobly responded to the call.
In Hastings, the town despatched 48 members of B Company 9th Hawke’s Bay Regiment (old Hastings Rifles) and nine mounted rifles on the same special military train as the Napier and Gisborne men. Crowds began to assemble on the railway platform from 9am, and the paper notes that,
“by the time the men, headed by the Union Jack, wheeled into Station street to the inspiriting strains of the Hastings Band, something like 4000 persons had gathered on the platform, on the verandah roofs, tops of railway carriages, trees, and every available spot, to watch the lads’ departure.”
“When all were aboard, the train, whistling “hip hip hurrah! steamed out over exploding fog signals, amidst waving of handkerchiefs and sustained cheering, the Salvation Army Band playing ‘God Be With you till we meet again’”
These scenes of departure were repeated again and again from 1914 to 1918 as reinforcements were mobilised for the front. In my next post I’ll be writing about the next stage of the journey, and the experience of Hawke’s Bay men, at Awapuni, and other camps, as they prepared to depart for the war.
Can you help?
Piecing together the story of the departure of the first contingent of Hawke’s Bay men is a challenge, and my research is very much a work in progress. If you have information to share please get in touch.
I’m particularly keen to find out if there are any more photographs of the departure of Hawke’s Bay men in 1914 out there? Or better yet, letters, or diaries written by Hawke’s Bay men and women which shed light on daily life and activities in the early months of the war.
Did any of your ancestors depart as part of these first contingents of Hawke’s Bay men?
Curator of Social History
 The Napier recruits for the Field Ambulance Corps were BH Dyson; JH Ward; WH Wrathall; C Page; CB Angrove; JC Twomey; JA Campbell; ES Flood; FN McGee; C Collins and B Trim. The Hastings Ambulance contingent were Corporal McGuirk, Privates P Henderson, A Ford, R McKeown, V Portas, C Halse, R Chadwick, C Money, E Cruickshanks, J broad, G McNaughton, C Heald, WH Temperley, Duncan and Grant. The machine gun section members were H McCutcheon; WR Proffitt, S McConnochie, P McLean and JW Rowney, all of Napier. Napier railway staff, Sergeants Hammond and Mullaney, Sappers Hatwell, Woodville, Johnson, Marriott and Greenslade all left for Wellington to join the railway contingent. The Daily Telegraph, Monday 10 August 1014
 A public call was made for items such as strong pocket knives, strong cord, double or single blankets, dubbing for boots, empty pillowslips, underclothing, shirts, socks, towels, soap, brush and comb, shaving material, cleaning material for arms, needles pins and strong thread, forks, spoons, plates and pannikins.
 Monday 17 August 1914 Daily Telegraph