Proud spirit of the Otago Mounted Rifles
BOOK REVIEW: The Troopers' Tale: The History of the Otago Mounted Rifles
Edited by Don Mackay, foreword by Lieutenant General Rhys Jones (Turnbull Ross Publishing RRP $70)
There has been something of a resurgence of interest in the military history of our proud little nation in recent years, often highlighted by the increasing numbers of Kiwis young and old who turn up at Anzac Day services around the country.
From small beginnings as a light horse troop of volunteers in 1864, the Otago Mounted Rifles (OMR) gradually grew to become a fighting unit that proudly took part in the Gallipoli campaign and later the Western Front, serving Otago and Southland, New Zealand and the Commonwealth for almost a century.
This book is the first full history of the OMR with chapters written by New Zealand's leading military historians, including Christopher Pugsley, Terry Kinloch, Jeff Plowmanby and Don Mackay himself, and as well as being a detailed account of the unit's battles and travels, it is also a history of the men who served, with personal accounts and experiences balancing out the historic detail.
It is this balance that makes The Troopers' Tale so readable, something that will appeal to more than just the military buffs.
While the unit was named for Otago it also included Southland and there are plenty of Southlanders included in this comprehensive history.
There are names and stories in here that we are probably all familiar with, including Vic Christophers – one of the four Christophers brothers to die in the war – and Alf Walmsley, whose name was given to Walmsley House rest home, James Hargest and, of course, Hugh Mackay, the grandfather of the man who compiled and edited this book.
The stories and more than 390 photographs and maps cover the lives of the men before, during and after times of conflict, including the adventurous Adcock boys, who at the tender ages of 10 and 11 decided to walk from Invercargill to Dunedin to get a look at the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York during their royal visit to Dunedin.
The stories told through their letters, diaries and recollections are colourful and compelling and with the addition of the military facts give quite a three-dimensional picture of what life was like for the men of the Otago Mounted Rifles.