The New Zealand Mounted Rifles
The Machine Gunners

The steady gaze of an old hand looks back:- Trooper Metcalf of the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles wears the hat badge
of the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps and the returned servicemans badge above his right pocket.
Original Trooper photograph taken circa 1917.

SITE MAP

 


A re-enactment trooper of the Auckland Mounted Rifles.

Attached to the side of the puggaree is the red and black patch signifing that he is a member of the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron.


With the Machine Guns
Source: THE KIA ORA COO-EE August 15th 1918 Page 3. Contributed by Brendan O'Carroll.

by N.W.H. Beaven

"Little puffs of powder
Little squirts of lead,
Make a man remember
He must keep down his head
."

...and that is a machine gun.

Vickers Mark 1 Machinegun

I remember, when I was first detailed to the school of Instruction at Zeitoun, about October '15. I thought, "What a complicated piece of machinery the machine gun is and how impossible it would be to learn all about it in three weeks." However, at the end of the period I had a working knowledge of the gun, and have been learning more ever since - but there is always more to learn. In this respect, a machine gun is like woman: though you live with it for twenty years, you can always go on finding out things about it you never suspected before.
Long years ago it was man's aim to construct a gun that would shoot many rounds per minute; and after many evolutions, Sir Hiram Maxim invented one that has given general satisfaction. The Japs, during their war with Russia, were the first specially to train machine gun crews and to take the trouble properly to understand the working of the guns.

Members of the 1st Canterbury Mounted Rifles give a
demonstration in Egypt of the .303 Hotchkiss Machinegun,
also used by the NZMR in the desert campaigns.

Nowadays, guns are always brigaded i.e. all the guns of a Brigade are made into a separate unit, and put under the command of one officer, generally a Major, who places them at the disposal of various Regiments as required, when in action. This unit with a Mounted Brigade is called a "Machine Gun Squadron."
The gun numbers are:-  No.1, who does the firing; No. 2, who looks after the feeding of the gun - he carries the gun into action whilst No 1 carries the tripod; Nos. 3 and 4, ammunition carriers. Then there is the range finder, whose duty it is to make out all ranges, and who always has his range finder with him. In some cases there is a scout, who generally acts as an extra gun number. These gun numbers might be termed the aristocrats of a section the other men being pack leaders, who drag the gun and ammunition packhorses along. This is a very responsible job, (especially when galloping into action; but it is a job that nobody likes much and pack leaders are generally very pleased to get a 'rise to a gun number. A Machine Gun Squadron is what is termed a technical unit where every man is supposed to be a specialist at his job. We are skilled workmen but we are not proud; we don't give ourselves airs. In fact, you will always see us fraternizing with the Regiment chaps.

In the Squadron we have another branch the Transport. Now, the Transport is used for a great number of things - indeed, it is very useful and its members think themselves exceedingly important --I am not a Transport driver. On trek they carry the officers' and their own gear this is of the first importance; secondly, they carry all the reserve ammunition spare gear and cookhouse chattels (if you are a great friend of one of the drivers you may get a small parcel carried as a great favor). The Transport is a unit within a unit and the fellows in it get a bob a day more than gun numbers and pack-horse leaders. Also, the drivers do no fatigues their arduous duties do not permit of it. Fatigues in the M.G.S. are about the same as in a Regiment except that we never do any guards.

Carrying a machine gun into action is no joke. The order has been given "Dismount. Guns off'' You leap off, hand your horse over to your pack leader, bundle the gun and tripod off the pack: and then find that the enemy is much farther away than you thought. If you are No 1 you shoulder the the tripod, if No 2 the gun, whilst Nos. 3 and 4 take two boxes of ammunition each from one of the ammunition packs: and off you start lo the nearest vantage spot to get the gun into business. the Section officer or sergeant to the leader or perhaps the scout has been sent forward to select a spot, and you plod wearily on with bullets zipping all around. It gives a fellow h curious feeling down the spine and that gun gets heavier - you feel that you must drop, the wretched thing fling yourself on the ground and gasp. However; you have progressed near enough to the enemy trenches and the officer gives the command to get the gun into action in a certain position. This you do as quickly as possible feeling as if you had grown to the size of an elephant. Complete concealment of the gun position is highly desirable: but alas! not always practicable in an attack where very often a position has to be found in haste and the gun put almost anywhere.

It is fine, once in action to hear the old lady spitting out death; it gives you a great feeling of security also the feeling that you are doing your duty in the Great War. I remember, after Rafa we had had a heavy day, and all the gun crews were getting pretty tired. But when the Turks had given in, our officer said, "We'll go and a look at Jacko's trenches." So we got up to see what destruction had been done.

Perhaps our hearts were calloused but felt triumphant when we saw the trench battered in and dead and wounded lying thickly in them.

After a stunt there is always plenty to be done. The guns have to be thoroughly cleaned and oiled, and all the belts of ammunition must be gone through and refilled. For this purpose there is a belt filling machine, which, when it is in proper order, fill the belts very quickly and evenly. Hand filling is much slower, and great care must be taken to keep the cartridge even in it's pockets. A fast man is supposed to be able to fill a belt of 250 rounds in twelve minutes, but it is some going.


Hotchkiss machinegun

Horses are of great importance in the Squadron. Then there are mules. Gun and ammunition pack-horses should be of light draught type, low set and active.  A tall pack-horse in an abomination, as the extra few inches require a great deal more brute strength to hoist the gun and ammunition on to the pack. I write feelingly. I was pack horse leader for a time and had an overgrown, under-condition old rake of a black mare, called "Estelle". She was about  16 hands high, and every time we had to lift the ammunition panniers up we thought our backs - or hearts- would break. "Estelle" luckily, one day went lame, and now, l hope, is enjoying life between the shafts of glengarry - she caused me plenty  of pains and trouble.

Horses are the cause of three parts of the work. We rise and groom, according to circumstances for from ten minutes to an hour. Ere half the time has elapsed the horses become visibly bored, their faces bearing an expression of great resignation as they are wondering if they would ever get  breakfast. We groom before dinner and again in the afternoon.

Pack saddles are hard to keep on, especially if the horse is not of Aldermanic proportions. You pull the girths so that you think the horse will be pulled in half; five minutes afterward the saddle, with it rolls in under the horse's tummy: and if the animal is not of an amiable disposition, you will see some marvellous movements on its part, generally ending in all the gear being thrown to the four winds of Heaven, and many straps being broken. An amiable horse, when it gets in this plight, generally stops while you adjust the whole turn-out, and looks at  you as if to convey the one word, "Idiot".

Despite all our little worries, we are a happy family, quite content to let the world roll on, while we do our duty.



The article above - "With The Machine Guns" by N W H Beaven. Source: THE KIA ORA COO-EE August 15th 1918 Page 3.


This photograph from machine gunner 11/1145 Sergeant Martin Eccles who embarked with the 5th Mounted Rifles Reinforcements, Wellington Mounted Rifles. This presumably is the Machine Gun Section of the Wellingtons with Vickers machine guns taken circa 1917 in Palestine. After the war Martin followed his father's lead and joined the church, becoming the Reverend Eccles.
"The Martin Ashton Eccles Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library."

"BILLY AND ME"
The notation on the back of this photograph says it all.

Sergeant Martin Eccles and his trusted steed "Billy" fought with the Wellington Machine Gun Section.
"The Martin Ashton Eccles Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library."
Full Name: Martin Ashton Eccles
Serial No.: 11/1145
Next of Kin: Rev. Canon Eccles (father), Woodville, New Zealand
Enlistment Address: Care of Mrs Pyke, Ranui, Manutuke, Gisborne, New Zealand
Body on Embarkation: 5th Reinforcements
Embarkation Unit: Wellington Mounted Rifles
Embarkation Date: 13 June 1915
Place of Embarkation: Wellington, New Zealand
Transport: HMNZT 24 or HMNZT 25 or HMNZT 26
Vessel: Maunganui or Tahiti or Aparima

Trooper Busby on first glance is a little difficult to see as he lies on his back aiming and firing the Vickers Machine Gun at an enemy aircraft at high altitude.
This photograph is a further image taken by Sergeant Martin Eccles, and is Inscribed - Verso - centre: "Firing at an enemy aeroplane. Busby firing the gun and Glendenning feeding the belt. That is the job I do now, but on another gun."
Busby is possibly 11/212 James Busby from Waipiro Bay, also a member of the WMR and the NZMGS.
Glendenning is probably Lance Corporal 11/804a James Jackson Glendenning of Whangamomona in the Wellington District and a specialist with the NZMGS.
James Glendenning was later Killed in Action at the engagement of Ayun Kara - 14th November 1917. According to the Official History, James was first buried one mile south-west of Ayun Kara, but was later re interned at the CWGC Military Cemetery at Ramelh. Grave reference M.27.