The Lieutenant-Colonel, the Major, the Captain and the Second Lieutenant.
When the Mackesy family went to war they certainly turned up in numbers. The standing joke in Whangarei was that the initials N.A.M.R. on the squadrons badge stood not for "North Auckland Mounted Rifles" but for "Nearly All Mackesy's Relations!"
To only relate the story of Charles Mackesy and his three sons from the time they all became members of the Auckland Mounted Rifles – (11th North Auckland Squadron) would be an injustice.
The history of the family and its relationship with New Zealand is a saga in its own right. However in telling the AMR story it is a shame that we only mention here that Charles Ernest Randolf Mackesy was a son of a military family of Ireland. His father had come to New Zealand as a soldier during the early days of colonisation and had been allotted land to develop into farm land in Parahaki near Whangarei. He died before he could return to Ireland where his pregnant wife was waiting to come to the new land. She never departed Ireland and Charles was born there 1861.
A military career followed, but he took time to study agriculture in Germany and became fluent in German, a skill that was to help the Mounted Rifles in the desert when Charles was able to eavesdrop on enemy communications.
Leaving Europe Charles set up a farm and married a local girl in Kansas in the United States. Their three sons, Charles, William and Harry were all born there. Farming in Kansas suffered a disastrous set back when the farm 'blew away' in the tornadoes that ripped through the countryside.
Charles remembered the land option in New Zealand and the family arrived in 1891 to begin farming in Onerahei.
When the government of the day instigated the formation of a country wide catchment for the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, Charles and his sons volunteered. With his military background Charles senior became the commanding officer of the N.A.M.R. After years of commitment and training the family departed together for Egypt and Gallipoli.
Charles, William and Harry held the ranks of Captain, Lieutenant and Sergeant respectively.
All the boys were promoted in the field. Harry later became Second Lieutenant, and sadly was killed in action on the 6th August 1915 while attacking Old Outpost Number 3 in a night attack.
Major Charles Mackesy commanded the 11th squadron through many difficult engagements, and he was severely wounded in both arms, one a massive injury when a bullet shattered his upper chest and shoulder. Charles saw no further action on Gallipoli and was sent to Cairo Hospital and then back to New Zealand. He returned later for the campaign in the desert. Interestingly both Major Charles and his son believed this to be a dum-dum round, although it is a debated issue as to whether the Turks did indeed use dum-dum ammunition - however Charles mentions the word dum-dum only once in his diary:
"... Here again I was nearly hit, I was standing in a trench and a bullet hit a stick at my elbow and splintered hitting my arm and back, probably a dum-dum..."
William also survived both the Gallipoli campaign and the Sinai – Palestine campaigns, attaining the rank of Captain in the field. Like his older brother and father he too finally returned to NZ after the end of hostilities.
Charles senior's record is an incredible account of will and ability. While in command of the AMR in Gallipoli he fought internal battles with his English superiors over strategic decisions. He considered a plan by British Generals to counter attack at Walker's Ridge be seriously flawed – and said so.
In his diary Major Charles Mackesy records the argument that his father had with English General Godley over this proposed action:
"...General Godley gave orders to counter attack the Turks but we knew that there was no chance on the Chess Board against their dug in positions and machine guns. Dad was directed to lead the A.M.R. out and he said he would if ordered to, but that it was madness and an unnecessary waste of life and that he would be leading his men into certain death. He was told to do it..."
Godley must have been shaken by this rebuff by his subordinate officer as Charles continues in his diary:
"...Colonel Meldrum was then directed by Godley to assess the position. Meldrum who had not previously been to the attack position said it could be done...Colonel Meldrum took Harding into the No. 4 sap to show him the Turkish trench but somewhere along the way he got confused and said that the men in No 5 sap were the Turks. Lieutenant Harold of the 3rd squadron saw what was happening and showed Meldrum where the Turks really were. Colonel Meldrum now began to see the seriousness of the position as did Captain Harding who insisted on explaining everything to the men before the attack began...Dad was putting all the pressure possible on Godley to stop the foolhardy attempt and eventually he won and orders came to call it off. "
This action by a senior officer in the field towards Generals planning in the rear was an unheard of event at the time, but Charles had been adamant that he would not send the AMR to certain death. In retaliation the British high command sent him from the battlefield back to Cairo to “tend the horse lines” – Officially it is stated in the Regiments history as:
“…Many other changes had taken place. Lieutenant-Colonel Mackesy had relinquished command of the Regiment, he having been sent to Egypt to remedy, if possible, a sickness among the horses of the brigade, which was causing heavy mortality…”
The real reason that Charles senior had been sent to Cairo is confirmed by his son Major Charles in his letter home to Lilly. Written while in Cairo, recovering in hospital from surgery,
"...Dad came into see me (he had been sent back to Cairo to ostensibly take over the brigade camp, but Godley had got rid of him after the confrontation about the attack on Walkers Ridge)..."
Here the old Colonel waited and his time arrived when the British admitted defeat and withdrew from the Dardanalles in December 1915.
The arguments Charles (snr) had with high command at Gallipoli almost certainly cost him any opportunity of becoming commander of the NZMR (that role went to an equally gifted New Zealander, General Edward Chaytor), but he retained command of the AMR. His leadership through the trials of Romani, Magdabah, Beersheba and on to the conclusion of hostilities in October 1918 became legendary.
MACKESY, Lieutenant Harry, of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, killed in action, was a son of Lieut Colonel Mackesy, who is at the front. He left NZ with the Main Body as sergeant in the North Auckland Mounted Rifles and was promoted to lieutenant for meritorious service in the field. Lieut Mackesy married the eldest daughter of Mr Thomas Barnes of Kamo and has a family of two young children. He was for a time in charge of Harrison Bros refrigerating plant at Whangarei and was afterwards manager of the Parua Bay Co-operative butter factory. Captain Charles Mackesy, a brother, has been engaged in Egypt and at the Dardanelles and is now in hospital. [Reprinted from the Auckland Weekly News19.08.1915]
Above Diary Page: While transcribing letters and diaries of Lieutenant Colonel James McCarroll in 2007 an entry in his 1915 Diary for December 7th reads:
"Erected tombstone over H. Mackesy's Grave."
Such finds are exciting additions to our history and are only possible by the support of New Zealanders forwarding family papers to the Association to copy. (Items returned to owners once photographed.)
The incident of Harry's death recorded in the official records
"...Promptly at 9 p.m. the beam of the destroyer’s searchlight cut a bright path through the darkness and her guns began. The Regiment, in formation, slowly crept forward, the 3rd squadron, led by Captain Wyman (Major Schofield having become second in command of the Regiment), being on the right, and the 11th squadron, led by Lieutenant Herrold, on the left, with the 4th squadron in support, finally reaching the outer ray of the searchlight, which was some 25yards from the trench. Punctually at 9.30 p.m. the second bombardment ceased and the searchlight switched off. Instantly the Aucklanders, spreading fanwise, rushed up the slope. Eight Turks, in a detached post, were bayonetted almost before they were aware of the presence of danger, and the troopers, without the slightest hesitation, dropped down through openings in the overhead cover into the absolute blackness of the trench. The destroyer’s bombardment may have had the effect of driving some of the garrison into back saps, but the trench was far from being empty, and some desperate hand-to-hand fighting took place in the dark. The Turks had little stomach for this sort of visitation,however, and those who could, fled.
The troopers pressed through the works. One man, in turning the corner of a traverse, found a Turk in a corner, but he had not sufficient room to make a proper thrust, and the unfortunate Turk died slowly. A second later, a Turk fired round a traverse, and two troopers dropped. One Aucklander, in dashing down the trench, bayoneted in fine style a roll of blankets and two or three sacks. Almost before the front line was properly occupied, the troopers were in the second line. So stubborn were some of the Turks in their defence, that many were concealed feet foremost in holes in the trench walls, from which they fired until the steel did its work.
Very soon the whole position was cleared, and the troopers then set to work to fill the sandbags they had brought,and with them built barriers at various places in the trenches, from which the bombers effectively held off the Turkish counter-attacks during the night. By morning the place was consolidated. The action was a smart, finished piece of work,and the Regiment is very much indebted to the destroyer Colne for its effective cooperation. The Regiment had only 20 casualties this night, while the Turks left 100 dead in the trenches and near vicinity. Unfortunately, among the killed was Lieutenant Harry Mackesy, the Colonel’s son, a gallant soldier, who had been commissioned from the ranks and was the brigade’s bombing officer." Official history of the AMR - Sergeant C.G. Nicol
Major Charles Mackesy
From Charles, sections from letters to his wife Lilly:
"... Saturday I took a party out burying any dead bodies we came across and collecting arms etc. This was done under fire, but fortunately we suffered no casualties. On Sunday I made an attempt to find Harry’s grave and after some time I found the chaplain who had buried him. He showed me where it was and I then asked a corporal who was on sick leave to make a cross and erect it there..."
"...We were advancing from the left and the Turks held the traverse. They were shooting round the corner and over the top and this was where I got my first graze. The Turk fired round the corner at me and the shot grazed my ribs. I then, by throwing my rifle out, shot round the corner and he fell on his face. My rifle then jammed and while I was trying to clear it I pushed round the corner and came face to face with another Turk waiting. He could have bayoneted me but he tried to shoot and only having a single (breech) loading rifle he had apparently forgotten to reload it, as nothing happened. He then turned to run and I bayoneted him. I got my rifle working but had all the woodwork and bayonet shot off going round the next traverse. The rifle jammed again, and I had to use the butt on the next Turks. After this I was buggered and I staggered against the wall of the trench. One of the boys gave me a pull at his water bottle which had a shot of rum in it, and I was all right again... "
"...Just then Lieutenant Maunsell of the Wellington M.R. came up. He saw that I was badly wounded and had come up to take over. I outlined the position to him but practically immediately he too was badly wounded. The (dead) Turk I was sitting on started to smoke, his uniform was on fire, I emptied my water bottle on it and a wounded man pulled the ammunition away to stop it exploding..."
Lilly waits at home
Final entry in the letters to Lilly:
"...Here I got a wire from you my darling, saying you would meet me at the ship, but as it had been officially announced that it would not tie up until 10am I knew you would not be down till about then.
I was up at 6am and the hours I spent waiting for you were the longest I have ever spent. When I saw you walking down the wharf, I was more excited than when I was in the firing line..."
Reflection of time: Entering the Kauri Museum at Matakohe in the heart of old North Auckland Mounted Rifles country is a doorway to another era. A visitor is quickly transported back through time to the early settlement days with the multitude of knickknacks and machinery that are on display.
With a careful eye one can detect various remnants of Mounted Rifles memorabilia scattered everywhere among various presentations. At first glance an old silver trophy draws the viewer to the interesting hand cast support made up with three rifles crossed to hold the inscribed cup. Interestingly the cup was made and presented by Joseph Palmer over a century ago. Interesting as Palmers Jewellers are still vibrant retailers and Jewellers in Whangarei today.
It appears the trophy has had an eventful life - the original engraving states:
"3rd Regiment A.M.R.V. [Auckland Mounted Rifles Volunteers] - For Highest Aggregate Score at 500 600 & 700 yards Range."
The next line of engraving takes the trophy into contests between marksmen of machine guns of the 1920's:
"Reallocated For Best Shot - Hotchkiss Gun".
And finally in the 1950's new engraving on the front states:
"Re-Presented to the Ruawai District High School Cadets by the Auckland Mounted Rifles 1950".
With a feeling of nostalgia the visitor realises that the trophy has run its course, and no longer will this piece be up for grabs by a sharp shooting mounted rifleman - but then it is in the right place, sitting on a Kauri mantelpiece surrounded by other fellow time travellers.The reflection of the mirror shows the cup winners names listed on the back of the cup, and from across the years and decades - near the cup lip, sharp and shiny gleams back a winners name:
1908 Sargt-Major Mackesy.
A computer colourised image of Sergeant Major Charles Mackesy (jnr.) pre-WWI
This article was written with affection for Richard Mackesy, Grandson of the Colonel and son of Major Charles Mackesy. At the time of writing this piece
Richard is eighty-seven years old - and himself a returned serviceman from the second world war, having served with the New Zealand Artillary in North Africa.
I met Richard after a brief telephone call which I had made to his home in Havelock North. It was fortunate that within a week he and his wife Marnie were
traveling to Auckland where we met at my home and I was able to film an in depth interview with him. Not only was Richard a joy to listen to as he related
his family history, he brought with him unpublished pictures which you see here and a collection of papers, including a diary his father had kept
during the Gallipoli campaign which he wrote for his wife Lilly. His "Letters to Lilly" will be presented here once they are transcribed.
Steve Butler - March 2006.