From Garston to Gallipoli

Fred Naylor, left, on his newly broken-in horse.
Fred Naylor, left, on his newly broken-in horse.

One of the gems from the vaults of the Southland Oral History Project is an interview, recorded in the 1970s, with Garston's Gallipoli and Western Front veteran Fred Naylor. Here are some extracts.


On signing up:

The Athol Territorials were asked if any of them wished to go and fight for their country and I was the first man to step out and say I would go.

We went . . . to Tahuna in Dunedin, where we were issued with horses and it so happened that I was the last man to receive a horse. I saddled it, mounted it and rode it to the parade ground but he was a real bucker and he thought he would unseat me. But I was a farmer's son and I knew how to ride. The sergeant major says "throw me your rifle", so I threw him my rifle and rode that horse to a standstill.

After we dismounted and I tied the horse to the tethering rail again we were called to the parade ground and our officer says "There's too many men to take. Some of you will have to stay behind."

So I said "Well, if I'm being left behind I'm going home."

And he said: "Don't worry Naylor. You'll be going."

Aboard the Hawke's Bay, en route:

We had 44 ships in our convoy and at times we were right on top of the wave and we could count every one of them. And then we would go down again and we wouldn't see a ship. We had 32 men in my troop and there was only five of us that were fit to look after the horses. The sea didn't trouble me.

(But then, in the Red Sea) I was frightened, there, because it was a great sea for the ship to roll. You'd think it was going to capsize then it would right itself again.

Camping close to Cairo:

It was an awful show. There wasn't a blade of grass for hundreds of miles. We didnt' see any grass all the time we were there. And at times the locusts used to come over in the daytime and they'd blacken out the sun.

At Gallipoli:

We were transferred to Number 2 outpost. We had a bit of a scrap there with the Turks and I was hit on the foot with a piece of shell.

I went round the trench on my hands and knees faster than a champion runner could, saying "My foot's blown off! My foot's blown off!"

Then I thought, by Joves, I better get back to my post, because we all had to report . . .

And I had a look at my foot. Nothing wrong with it.

If I'd had my boot off I might have got wounded and got out of it but no such luck.

Evacuating the peninsula:

We were taken off on a British warship. Those British sailors, well, they thought we were real heroes. I think they were the heroes.

I saw the sinking of the Triumph while I was there and by Joves those blue jackets, they stood to their guns to the last. You could see the Triumph going over getting deeper into the water but the blue jackets were still firing."

Cavalry charging at Messines:

Talk about the Charge of the Light Brigade. The infantry said we were mad and by Joves we were.

We charged over barbed wire entanglements, over trenches, and what good we did I don't know.

We got a few men killed there. Good men too. And then we came out of the line for a spell and I transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (attached to the Wellington Regiment).

On being offered 28 days leave soon after the death of Victoria Cross winner Dick Travis:

I was told that I and two others who had the longest service in the company would not go back into the firing line again, and that we were going on a 28-day trip to New Zealand.

We were all joy . . . And then came the word of the big advance and we had to go back into the fighting again.

On fellow OMR veteran Rod McTavish's premonition:

Rod came to me the night before the attack (towards the end of the battle for Bapaume) and he was just about crying. He says "Isn't it tough luck? We've got to go into this when we know we are so close to New Zealand. And I says, "Cheer up, Mac, we'll get through it all right".

Well, we went in that attack .. . . and it was the worst scrap I was ever in. The five-nines were coming down like hailstones. Some of (the Kiwis) gathered in a heap, but not me, I got out by myself.

But Mac got smacked. He lived about two minutes. Poor old Mac.

On the upside of rain:

The sergeant said "we want two volunteers to man the guns".

Jenkins - he was a fine little fellow - he says, "I'll go". I said I'd go too.

We started digging to get into shelter, but it rained that hard that as fast as we dug it filled up with water.

So we knocked off and we left the tripod of the gun there and took the gun down (with us) to shelter under a bit of roofing iron.

When we went back in the morning, we couldn't find the tripod. A shell had landed there and blown it away.

On parting advice:

"Then we came out of that stunt and they lined us up and my officer came to me and he says "Naylor, you are to report to so-and-so. You're going back to New Zealand. Six weeks holiday."

And he shook me by the hand and he says "Good luck. If you get back to New Zealand . . . don't come back to this. Take to the bush".

And that poor little chap, in the next fight he got riddled with bullets.

On his first officer:

My first officer was Jimmy Hargest. He was a good soldier, was Jimmy.


The Southland Times