History – Massey’s ‘tourists’

Alexander Cleveland McArthur, aged 26, of Silverdale, along with other farmers, gum diggers and bushmen enlisted in the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Troopers had to provide their own horse that had to be four to seven years old and saddlery had to “be of a large strong type”. In an example of the Kiwi humour of the time, the 11th North Auckland Mounted Rifles (NAMR), was lead by Lieutenant Charles Mackesy, or “German Joe” as he was known because of his German ancestry. The NAMR was said to stand for “Nearly all Mackesy’s Relations”.Arriving in Alexandria on December 5, 1914, both men and horses were relieved to leave the cramped quarters of the troopship Waimana. Some horses had lost so much hair and condition that their owners had difficulty recognising them. Those on the “Star of India” fared better.

Put on trains, men and horses and arrived at camp in Zeitoun, about six miles from Cairo, a bare plot of land with not a blade of grass. Tents were erected often with stone signs or motifs in front. Infantrymen began training immediately while mounted troops had to concentrate on getting their horses fit first. There was a very strong bond between the men and their horses.

Alexander and his ‘cobbers’ relished the open spaces but not necessarily the daily route marches in full kit up and down shifting sand hills, rocky slopes. Horses were to get the mounted troops to battle after which the men fought on foot. Digging-in on the flint like crests of the hills, rifle drill, and bayonet fighting were part of the Mounted Rifle’s lot.

After exercises the horses, covered in grey dust like their riders, were attended to before the men could attend to themselves. They were watered in groups, jostling for their turn at the trough; groomed, and fed with a tiffin and barley mix, which was not always to their liking.

Men and horses were in peak condition after weeks of training and “spoiling for a fight”, as General Sir Ian Hamilton remarked when he reviewed the Australian and NZ Division all together in one place for the first, and last, time.

However Alexander’s first taste of battle came about as a result of troops taking leave in Cairo, a short train ride away. “Massey’s Tourists”, as they referred to themselves, wanted to see the world. The Pyramids and Sphinx for the obligatory photo on a camel as well as the bazaars of Cairo and the brothel district of Wazzir, which they found fascinating and horrifying at the same time. The dangers of cultural misunderstandings were very real. Soldiers often felt they were being ripped off by local traders, along with too much alcohol, trouble often followed. This, along with the rivalry between New Zealanders and Australians, led to a riot which was known as the “Battle of Wazzir”.

Alexander and his Auckland Mounted Rifles were called on to stand guard on the streets to prevent further riots.