Af­ter the fight­ing, the oc­cu­pa­tion

Otago Daily Times - - GENERAL -

CHAR­LIE GOS­SAGE, a bank teller in Dunedin when World War 1 be­gan, was a tem­po­rary ma­jor and on leave in Lon­don when the ar­mistice took ef­fect. Since he’d left New Zealand with the Main Body — as the first batch of troops was called — in Oc­to­ber 1914 and had served through­out, rea­son and fair­ness would sug­gest he could fi­nally pack up and go home.

But no. Gos­sage, who be­gan his army life with the Otago Mounted Ri­fles and ended it with the Ord­nance Corps, was sent back to France. There was no more fight­ing, but there was a mass of work for ord­nance men, and Gos­sage re­joined the New Zealand Divi­sion.

He was back just in time for the long weary march from north­ern France, through Bel­gium to the Ger­man border.

Of all the Do­min­ion and colo­nial troops in France at the end of the war, the New Zealan­ders were the only ones as­signed to the Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion force in the Rhineland, based on Cologne.

It was a Bri­tish de­ci­sion that did not meet with uni­ver­sal ap­proval. Some of the New Zealand troops protested to the divi­sion com­man­der, Gen­eral Sir An­drew Rus­sell.

They would much rather have been head­ing west to wait in Bri­tain for ships home in­stead of mak­ing a forced march east.

Their job in Cologne was to en­sure Ger­mans com­plied with the con­di­tions of the ar­mistice; they were, in ef­fect, New Zealand’s first peace­keep­ers. But first they had to get there. The long march be­gan on Novem­ber 28. French peo­ple — still mostly women, chil­dren and old men — lined the foot­paths and leaned out of win­dows, wav­ing flags and hand­ker­chiefs and blow­ing kisses. By the time the col­umn had cleared the out­skirts of the vil­lage, the band had fin­ished its first set. The march­ing men took over, whistling one of the sig­na­ture tunes of the war, The Long Long


Mal­colm Ross, the Duned­in­born jour­nal­ist who was New Zealand’s only of­fi­cial war cor­re­spon­dent, was with the march for some of the time. He noted that the great ma­jor­ity of men were nat­u­rally anx­ious to be go­ing home in­stead of to Ger­many, ‘‘but any slight un­will­ing­ness’’ quickly van­ished as the in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and pos­si­bil­i­ties of the jour­ney grad­u­ally un­folded.

The hours of march each day were de­ter­mined partly by the sheer lo­gis­ti­cal ex­er­cise of get­ting such a large mass of men, ma­chines and horses to move at a mea­sured pace, and partly be­cause overnight stays had to be de­ter­mined ahead of the march.

The march be­gan with the laud­able in­ten­tion of three days’ march and one day’s rest but to­wards the end, in an ef­fort to make up time, it be­came al­most a forced march. In all, the Divi­sion trekked about 320km in 23 days.

There was some ex­cite­ment at the prospect of cross­ing the Rhine and oc­cu­py­ing a part of Ger­man soil; they had the at­ti­tude and man­ner of tourists rather than of con­querors or oc­cu­piers. They wanted to see what Ger­many was like; they wanted to see the mighty Rhine, ma­jes­tic Cologne Cathe­dral. Along the way, on their overnight stops, they could wan­der with the free­dom of tourists, not cau­tiously as a sol­dier in a war zone. They did not have to wait in a re­serve trench for a spell in the front line; their wait­ing was for the food wag­ons to catch up; their fear was los­ing at two­up or crown and an­chor, two pop­u­lar games of the war for New Zealan­ders and Aus­tralians.

Ev­ery­where the troops went, they were show­ered with greet­ings from the lo­cals. Flags were waved and flown, whether the tri­colour of France or the red, black and yel­low en­sign of Bel­gium. One gun­ner wrote: ‘‘Ev­ery vil­lage and ev­ery town vaunted its hap­pi­ness with a pro­fu­sion of colour; some places had even small flo­ral arches and fes­toons of flow­ers and green­ery’’.

Printed no­tices were waved or propped up in win­dows: ‘‘Wel­come to our lib­er­a­tors’’.

One plac­ard sat in a win­dow of a house in Charleroi: ‘‘Thanks to New Zealand.’’

Prac­ti­cally ev­ery New Zealan­der who wrote of the march men­tioned Verviers, a tex­tile town in the prov­ince of Liege and only a few kilo­me­tres from the Ger­man border. Thou­sands lined the streets as the army from the other side of the world came into town. ‘‘We passed through streets lined with towns­peo­ple, who cheered us again and again,’’ the Field Am­bu­lance cor­re­spon­dent wrote. ‘‘The tri­umphal march of our imag­in­ing had be­come a re­al­ity. Of all our wan­der­ings through the towns and cities of France and Bel­gium, the Dig­ger will have no pleas­an­ter me­mories than of Verviers.’’

The Ger­man fron­tier was reached at Herbesthal, a ma­jor rail­way tran­sit point. Un­der the terms of the Ver­sailles agree­ment, Herbesthal be­came Bel­gian ter­ri­tory but in the mean­time it was still Ger­man and was where troops head­ing for the Rhineland could at last sit down in rail­way car­riages.

Since the Al­lies had not de­stroyed Ger­man rail­way lines and the Ger­mans would not have mined their own, travel by rail on the last leg to Cologne was per­fectly safe, if un­com­fort­able.

The Divi­sion’s ar­tillery, am­bu­lances and other mo­tor trans­ports con­tin­ued by road but the en­train­ing of the Divi­sion was a sig­nif­i­cant un­der­tak­ing. It took three days and 21 trains, each com­pris­ing 48 car­riages drawn by Ger­man lo­co­mo­tives, manned by Ger­man drivers and stok­ers. Horses had also to be loaded. A train left ev­ery three hours for the four­hour jour­ney to Ehren­feld, a city­dis­trict in the west of greater Cologne. There, troops fell in and made a cer­e­mo­nial march into Cologne proper across the Ho­hen­zollern Bridge to their des­ig­nated area of oc­cu­pa­tion at Mul­heim on the right bank of the Rhine and op­po­site the Cologne old town. The trek was fi­nally over. Among the oc­cu­piers was Char­lie Gos­sage, who didn’t get home from his war un­til De­cem­ber 1919. He’d been away more than five years and along the way had been men­tioned in dis­patches, been made an of­fi­cer of the Or­der of the

Bri­tish Em­pire, and lost a brother (at Gal­lipoli).


A reg­i­men­tal band leads part of the march through a vil­lage in north­ern France.


Char­lie Gos­sage (back row, ex­treme left) with other troop­ers of the Otago Mounted Ri­fles.


The map shows west­ern Europe at the end of the war with the red line in­di­cat­ing the New Zealan­ders’ march route.

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