Topic: Arthur Charles Harrison (1894-1994)

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This article is written by Hugh Harrison. Hugh gives us an insight to his time in the Middle East and compares it with the conditions his father faced in the same region during the First World War. It was first published in the 6th Battalion (Hauraki) Regimental Association's newsletter issue 41 Dated November 2005. The photographs within it come from Hugh's father's album which was lent to the City Library in 2013 to be digitised. A selection appears below. To see other photographs look to the related images on the right hand side.

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View the Service Record of Arthur Charles Harrison here (click here)

To view the album in its entirity, click here (3 mb)

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A selection of images taken by Arthur Harrington in Wgyot and Palestine during WWI

THE EIGHTH REINFORCEMENTS, Middle East Memories.

In 1943 I was with a platoon of drivers from the N.Z. Ammunition Company sent to assist the British Army Ordnance units in the Egypt Palestine and Sinai zones. The main vehicle parks and storage dumps were well dispersed, generally in open desert locations some distance away from main traffic routes to provide essential protection from sabotage or air raids that were still a possibility at that time.

We spent three or four months on this work in the blazing sun driving all manner of vehicles to various locations with different kinds of loads. I was the motor cyclist for the outfit carrying messages and on convoy control. Beside the heat we put up with the occasional sand storm, water was rationed but we had plenty of petrol. We missed regular meals and showers and our clothes became sweaty and dirty. We worked long hours as each trip had to be completed in the allotted time. The drifting sand covered the roads in places and sometimes trucks were bogged down. Sand got into fuel systems and petrol pumps failed with the excessive heat.

Portrait of Arthur Charles Harrington (WWI)We reckoned we were hard done by at least that’s how it felt to me until I remembered that hundreds of our Anzac forefathers had fought in these same places only 26 years before. They had different forms of transport and hardships then.

My father was a light machine gunner and mounted rifleman in the Auckland Mounted Rifles this regiment comprised men from the Bay of Plenty, the Waikato and Auckland districts and many would have connections with Hauraki soldiers of today.

The Regiment had some old fashioned cars and lorries. Some modern at the time but in general the transport was horses.  The total number of horses transported from New Zealand was 9,988.The loss on voyage was only 3 per cent. The largest number of horses carried on one ship was 728. In Egypt in one camp an epidemic of influenza raged among the animals for six weeks. Almost all of the 5,000 of them in the lines were affected and about 75 died.  Next came ringworm which affected about 80 per cent. In the desert of Sinai, shortage of water caused a considerable loss of horses. Flies were also a serious trouble. Their bites brought sores at the corner of horses, eyes and mouths,  and any cut or wound difficult to heal. Sand colic was also a common complaint.

In the first battle of Gaza the horse casualties were light, but in the second battle the New Zealand mounts suffered severely. Acres of horses standing while the men were in action, made an easy target for the bombs of hostile airmen, and also for guns, and they were bombed and shelled from early morning till late at night. Out of a total of about 2,000 horses attached to the Brigade 100 were killed outright and about 300 were wounded.

In the big push in 1917 the New Zealand horse’s endurance was severely tested. The pace left the camel transport far behind. At one stage the horses had to go 72 hours without water, and their sole allowance of food was 12 lbs. of barley each per day, and each had to carry a three-days ration. This restriction to barley, with a shortage of water brought on diarrhoea and horses began to die.

At this time the Brigade was at Jaffa where some stacks of barley straw were found and with petrol driven chaff cutter some of the horses had barley chaff which helped to check the trouble. Anthrax appeared in the Jordan Valley early in 1918 but the disease was quickly arrested and only three horses died.

In mid-summer when the temperature went as high as 122° F (50° C). in the shade. There was ever a dark streak in the limey dust left by the horses— the drip of the sweat that did not cease in those sweltering days and nights.

In the advance from the Jordon Valley in 1918 in one day 28 of the N.Z. Brigade horses died from apparently acute poisoning. Altogether about 150 were lost in this manner, it was believed that the poisoning was due to tablets of strychnine, arsenic, and other medical materials mixed accidentally or designedly with barley abandoned by the Turks on the roadside when a convoy had been caught and cut up by aeroplanes. This barley, which lay in little heaps on the roadside, had been picked up by the New Zealand mounted, men and given to their horses.

At last the Armistice was signed and from that date until the troops embarked from Egypt the New Zealanders had an abundance of horse racing, in which the Dominion representatives had many memorable wins. At one big meeting in Egypt open to the whole of the Expeditionary Force the New Zealand horses won five races out of seven. It is proof of the stamina of New Zealand horses that a number of the main body mounts went right through the war, and won races in good company after the Armistice.

Before the home-coming embarkation from Egypt there was many a sad parting between man and horse – mates in the hard years of war. The ill-usage of some horses that had been sold to callous Egyptians had convinced the New Zealanders that a merciful death was a better fate for a faithful horse than bondage to a pitiless task master, and numbers? for which kind owners were not available, were given a painless death.

After I returned from the Second World War and watched my trooper father working his farm horses and observed the love and care he gave them I understood that bond between them far better than before I went away.  For all the vehicles I drove or rode only one motor bike in Italy gives me any special memories of affection most machines were just hard hearted and cold. 

H. Harrison.

 

Afternote: In talking with a local librarian Hugh recalls that his father ´╗┐told stories as a lad of shooting turkeys as they walked through the crops of his own father's farm. During the war men from farming backgrounds operating machine guns commented how well this prepared them for shooting the enemy as their heads appeared above the dunes of the desert.

 

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This article was archived at Perma CC on August 10, 2016 (https://perma.cc/8F7Z-JBGH).

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Arthur Charles Harrison (1894-1994)


Year:c.1916 and c.1943
First Names:Arthur
Last Name:Harrison
Date of Birth:1894