Whanganui First Contingent – Off to War

 

1802.3731On 5 August 1914 the Governor, Lord Liverpool, announced from the steps of Parliament to a crowd of more than 12,000 people that New Zealand was at war. Most New Zealanders then regarded themselves as British and Britain as home, so there was little hesitation in supporting the Mother Country in its moment of crisis.

The first request for support from “home” came sooner than many thought. On 7 August the New Zealand Government received a coded message from the British Government requesting that they capture the German wireless station in Samoa.

On 10 August 1914 twenty-five members of the New Zealand Railway Corps left Whanganui by train at noon for Wellington. Comparatively few Whanganui citizens were aware of their departure and consequently not many people were at the station to see them off.

The first draft for the Wellington Regt NZEF to leave Wanganui, 12th August 1914.

The first draft for the Wellington Regt NZEF to leave Wanganui, 12th August 1914.

The following day, however, the grim realities of war were brought home to these Whanganui men. When the Auckland troop train arrived in Wellington several of the carriages contained German prisoners who had been arrested in the north. There were guards with fixed bayonets to see that no attempt was made by the thirty-two captives to regain their liberty. Double lines from the ranks of the Railway Corps were drawn up on the platform, with fixed bayonets, and under a strong escort, the Germans were taken to the Alexandra Barracks. The scene as they were marched through the streets of Wellington was an impressive one, and the spectators realised that it was no superficial formality, but the stern custom of war that was being complied with.

The flag of German Samoa, taken by New Zealand Armed Forces in Samoa in August 1914.

The flag of German Samoa, taken by New Zealand Armed Forces in Samoa in August 1914.

Within a month of the declaration of war a New Zealand force had captured Western Samoa from Germany. The Union Jack was raised at Apia by New Zealand soldiers at 8.00am on 30 August 1914, the morning after the occupation. The capture was strategically important because there was a radio transmitter in the hills behind Apia capable of sending signals to Berlin and to the German fleet in the Pacific. The New Zealanders’ conquest was a peaceful affair, but it was marred by some disorder when New Zealand soldiers ransacked the liquor store at Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Apia.

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