Born in the small rural town of Wairoa in the Hawke's Bay, Garioch or ‘Garry’ Clunie was 20 years old at the outbreak of war. He had been working as an independent bushman in the Gisborne area. In 1914 he was living in Paraparaumu, a small town in the north Wellington area.
Clunie enlisted with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) on 25 October 1914, a week after the departure of the New Zealand Main Body from Wellington. He attested in Paraparaumu and was assigned to the 6th (Manawatu) Squadron, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. Shortly after, he was sent to Awapuni Camp in Palmerston North to begin his training.
After several months’ training at Awapuni Camp, Clunie was sent to Wellington on 11 December 1914 to join the rest of the NZEF’s 2nd Reinforcement convoy of 1,752 men. These soldiers paraded at Wellington’s Newtown Park in the expectation that they would depart from Wellington Harbour on 13 December. However, the weather was too rough to sail, and the 2nd Reinforcements did not depart until 5 am the following morning.
Clunie was billeted to HMNZT Verdala for the voyage to Egypt. Verdala was accompanied on this trip by two other New Zealand transport ships – Willochra and Knight of the Garter.
The convoy had a rough passage across the Tasman Sea to Hobart. Clunie describes this in a letter to his brother, Will:
Just a few lines to let you know that we are having at tip top time of it. We had a pretty rough trip to Hobart but I never got sick and so I enjoyed the trip all right. We lost six horses so far… We expect to get to Albany tomorrow evening but I don’t know wether [sic] we will stop or not. Our officer was telling us this morning that if the others were in action by the time we got there, we would just take coal and water and go right on, and I hope we do. The sooner the quicker now I would like to be there in the first scrap…
Having spent Christmas at sea, the NZEF 2nd Reinforcement convoy arrived in Albany on 28 December 1914, where it joined the Australian fleet. Together, they embarked as the Second Convoy on 31 December 1914.
Clunie appears to have enjoyed his passage to Egypt, writing to his brother, ‘We are still plodding across the water. My word the sea is as calm as can be and the weather is tip top’. Despite the calm voyage, Clunie explained that the trip was not uneventful:
There were five men died on our ship and four on the Australians... Isn’t it hard luck kicking out before they get to the front … I had a good bit of fun in Colombo, they did not grant leave but we took French leave ... we saw all the town ... of course the next day [we were] fined ... but it was worth it.
After a seven-week voyage, Clunie disembarked in Alexandria, Egypt, on 1 February 1915. The horses were unloaded the following day. The 2nd Reinforcements arrived in Cairo by train on 2 February 1915, and marched to nearby Zeitoun Camp to join the NZEF Main Body soldiers and begin their desert training.
Clunie wrote to his brother a few days after his arrival, giving his impressions of the camp:
We are camped out on the hard desert and it is not a bad place either. It is terribly sandy of course, but very healthy. We have a real good camp with every convenience. We have big mess rooms and hot and cold baths. There is good water from the Nile... We get plenty of leave here, we have every night off from 6 untill [sic] 10 and Sunday we have 10 in the morning untill [sic] 10 at night and we have a half holiday on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
On 4 March 1915 Clunie was officially attached to the rest of the Main Body soldiers, becoming a member of No. 2 Troop, 6th (Manawatu) Squadron, Wellington Mounted Rifles.
At Zeitoun Camp, training and lectures were complemented by leisure time, when soldiers were allowed to visit the nearby sights of Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza. Clunie wrote a number of letters to his brother, describing his activities:
5 February – The first day after we got here I went into Cairo, it is about 4 miles and the trams run us in for 1 piasta that is equal to 2 pence. … [It] is a big place about a million population and there are some fine buildings there. The European quarters of the town are very nice, the buildings are up to date and the trams, my word they are fine, they are beautiful cars and by jove they do travel. The trains here are fairly fast too. The native streets are filthy shows.
23 March – I had a good time out at the Zoo last Sunday, my word it is worth seeing, there are all sorts of things imaginable, the giraffes took my eye the most. There was one there I’ll swear stood 18 feet and they are very pretty. I watched the old hippo too, he is a cute old beggar. We had a big review here last Monday morning by General Godley and the high commissioner and that afternoon we left here for a place called Barrage about 20 miles away. We went there to give our horses swimming practice in one of the big dams. My word Will it was a picnic, the best holiday I have had yet out here.
Clunie wrote to his brother again on 6 May 1915, just after receiving news that he would soon be leaving for Gallipoli. His letter illustrates his knowledge of how poorly the campaign was going.
I am just going to scribble a few lines to let you know the best news we have had yet. We are off to the Dardanelles on Saturday dismounted. We heard the other day that the brigadier offered the brigade as infantry and we were accepted. We are not going to carry any packs I believe, just our mounted equipment and a few little things we will need. Isn’t it good though Will, aft the way our boys fought to be going over to help them, my word they did but up a fight. I believe it was a real slaughter while they were landing. I have not heard how Ben got on yet. I see 3 chaps out of his section of 12 men are in hospital but I have not had a chance to see them yet. Anyhow I Hope he is still going strong. By gum Will you can’t imagine what a pleasure it is to be getting out of this hole of a place. Only two more days here. Oh it is alright. Well Will, that is pretty well all the news I can think of here at present. How is Nell and the children and yourself all getting on. I heard that you have been having good weather there lately and having a good season with the cows and I heard that granddad was coming down soon, so tell him from me that (it) is a great pleasure to know that there is two of the family at the Turks and I reckon with a bit of luck we will both give a good account of ourselves.
Our New Zealand boys lost a bit over 1000. There are about 7000 so they lost pretty heavy but things won their way. How are all the folks there. I hope they are all well. Please remember me to all. The third reinforcement are to stay and look after the horses, so they won’t be there for a good while if ever they have the luck. By Jove there are a few cold feet in our regiment. there won’t be no trouble if they call for more volunteers for to help the thirds at the base. Well Will old boy I can’t write any more as I have six more to write and I have only tonight and tomorrow night
So with heaps of love to you all I must close
From your loving Brother
PS: don’t forget to write.
PS: how is the garden.
The Wellington Mounted Rifles left Egypt on 8 May 1915. On 12 May, they landed at Anzac Cove and went straight into action. The New Zealand Infantry Brigade were still at Cape Helles, so the riflemen were assigned to support British and Australian units in holding the line at Walker’s Ridge in the Anzac sector. In his diary, Clunie described his first week on the peninsula. While the first few days were relatively quiet, on 19 May the Ottomans launched an attack with 42,000 men and were repelled with great loss of life.
12th [May] – We lay off Cape Helles all day and went up to Anzac and landed at 7o’clock under fire. We marched up a bit of a gully and camped for the night. It seemed our boys were just up the cliff but it was the bullets cracking instead of the rifle shots...
14th – We have only got one pint of water a man to do us for 24 hours, to make tea and all. So we are going pretty dry. It is hot and dusty in the trenches too...
15th – I had some very good shooting this morning at some 5 Turks laying in a line at 250 yards. I hit two and the other three got for it – got one sniper...
16th – I had a very interesting duel this morning. I put my head up and very nearly had it shot off, so I got to another position and watched and presently I saw him in the bush just behind the Turk trench at 200 yards. So I got to it and so did he. We must have fired about ten shots each and at last I hit him and he died there but by jove her gave me a narrow go for it. I had two through my tunic and the others were hitting the sand bags all round me. Best fun I had ever shooting yet...
19th – The Turks made an attack in massed formation on us and the Australians on the whole front about 3 o’clock this morning and were repulsed. Their killed is estimated at 3,000 and wounded 7,000 – killed and our casultys [sic] altogether were 106.
In the final few days of May, the Wellington Mounted Rifles were engaged in a major action at No.3 Post (afterwards known as ‘Old No.3 Post’). Clunie and the 6th (Manawatu) Squadron worked through the night on 28 May, attempting to improve the trenches at No.2 Post. By daylight, their position was still very exposed, and the squadron was forced to ‘hold tight’ until darkness fell. They were relieved by the 9th (Wellington East Coast) Squadron at 9pm on 29 May, but shortly after this the Ottoman soldiers attacked the position with great ferocity, leaving the 9th cut off from any reinforcements. Attempts were made by the 2nd and 6th Squadrons to connect No.2 and No.3 Posts, but these failed to break through.
The official history of the Wellington Mounted Rifles recalls:
As the day [30th May] wore on the magnitude of the folly of ordering a small force to hold this isolated and badly-sited salient became more apparent, but our men continued to defend in magnificent style, cramped as they were in shallow trenches against tremendous odds and better-equipped troops. Grim determination and bulldog tenacity alone enabled them to hold against the shock of bombs and bullets which were showered on the position. Had our men been equipped with bombs, their fighting chances would have been greatly enhanced; but they made the utmost use of the weapons at their disposal, and further stiffened their defence by boldly catching and throwing back live Turkish bombs, which in many cases exploded in the ranks of the enemy.
Late in the evening of 30th May, the Ottoman attacks died down and the 9th Squadron was able to retreat to Fisherman’s Hut. The other squadrons attempted to hold No.3 Post, but eventually found the position untenable and abandoned the post to the Ottomans.
Clunie related the event in his diary:
30th [May] – We got word just before daylight that the 9th (C Sqn, WMR) were cut off so we had to go and get them out. We scrapped all day and broke through and pushed the Turks back to let the 9th out with their wounded. Heavy casultys [sic] on both sides. They had 30 and just as they got into the bottom of the gully a big reinforcement of Turks came up and we retired closing in behind the 9th. We got down to Fisherman’s Hit and got into some trenches there after 2 bayonet charges and we held there till just on daylight where the Turks retired up into the hills and we left and came home.
Between June and July, the Wellington Mounted Rifles experienced a quiet period, mainly garrisoning the Walker’s Ridge area. On 6 August 1915 Clunie’s squadron was called on to participate in the August Offensive. The squadron took and held Destroyer Hill, but lost their commander in the action. On 7 August the Manawatus joined the rest of the Regiment and the Maori Contingent on Table Top.
The next day the Regiment moved up to Chailak Dere and then onto Chunuk Bair itself. There, the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Otago Infantry Battalion supported the Wellington Infantry Battalion until late on 9 August, when they were relieved and moved back to No. 1 Out Post. After surviving the heavy naval artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire of the battle for Chunuk Bair, Clunie was wounded by a bullet in the thigh on 10 August while in this ‘rest’ area. The wound was serious enough to invalid him off Gallipoli. He was taken to hospital in Alexandria to recover, and did not return to Gallipoli until 10 November 1915.
Clunie wrote to his brother from hospital to tell him about the battle at Chunuk Bair:
Just a few lines to let you know I’m not much hurt. I was very lucky to get off so lightly as a terrible lot of our boys went down, my word it was a great charge, we were after a hill that dominates the country round for miles and right across the peninsular and we got to it, but our regiment has suffered heavily and all the other regiments the same. There are only one or two of our boys still going there, they are nearly all wounded or killed.
They landed a big force of Kitcheners’ army there and by gum they fought well and now I think the war on Gallipoli will soon end and I hope to be in at the kill. I think I will get back in a week or so. I am able to walk about again now and these little bullet holes don’t take long to heal. The bullet is still in my leg but don’t think they will bother to take it out here yet as it won’t effect [sic] my walking and they say it takes these operations a long while to heal. I was sorry when I got hit, I should have liked to go right through the charge, it lasted for 3 days and I can tell you at times it was lively.
Well dear old Will the only thing I hope now is they cure me and send me back in time for the kill. How are you all keeping – Nell and all the children. Are you all well. I often used to think over on the peninsular what I would have given for about two hours on your farm where I would have got at the milk and the cakes. How is the little garden doing that we used to do such a lot of talk over and a little work. By gum Will those were great days discussing war and tugging away at all those old roots. It was great and I often think of those happy old times. Still I don’t think it will be such a great time now before we all come trooping home again. I don’t think the war will last a great deal longer. It is not a bad life. Will, this soldierings [sic] a bit lazy that is the only trouble. I would far prefer the horse work to the trenches except when we get out to fight like we did over there the other day. It was good. The best sport ever I had, only I broke my bayonet once and I was scared that one of them might skewer me before I got another one but there were plenty of rifles and bayonets all over the place. It was all bayonet pretty well the whole charge and I soon grabbed another one. By gum the black devils stood up to us with the hooks to start with but by god they did yell attack when we got to work. they very soon broke and scaled. Oh Bill it is a glorious feeling to chase them as we did that night. Well I’ll have to be closing down. Last I saw of Bill Lynch he was all right, please remember me to all the folks about there and give my love to jnr and now with love to you all I must say.
Good bye from your loving brother
I haven’t caught a Hun for Donald yet, plenty of dead ones.
A month after Clunie’s return to Gallipoli, it was announced that there was to be a full retreat of the allied forces, beginning on 17 December 1915. Clunie was in one of the last parties of the Wellington Mounted Rifles to leave the Anzac sector, early in the morning of 20 December.
He described the evacuation in a letter to his brother:
Well old Boy I guess you have heard by now that we have left old Anzac for good, it was hard luck Will wasn’t it after all the good old boys we have lost. It was a knock to us that have been fighting there all the time and I don’t mind telling you that I think any of the old hands would have far rather had word to have another go for 971 than to give it all up for nothing, however the evacuation was a great success even more so than was expected I think. Of course they had been sending stuff away for a week before we left, then word came that half of every regiment in the firing line was to go at 4.30 one afternoon. Next day, the same time 18 went from each squadron. At 9 o’clock 9 went and that only left 7 of us to defend our whole length of trench untill [sic] 3 in the morning. There was only one man at each lookout post, which were about 2 chain apart and I can tell you it was a long lonely watch. We had to stand with our head over the trench the whole time and our legs ached something awful. Of course we were all old boys that stayed and when we left we were sort of expecting the Turks to break, but luckily for us their spies had not been up to the mark and we were able to stick out our chests and march off in quite a dignified way. We had about two miles to go to the landing and just as we got into the punts they blew up Walers and retired so they only had to come onto the punt and away we went. Well it was a great joke the Turks never knew we had gone, for the usual fire went on after we had left, we could hear them firing away on the empty trenches and at 7 the next morning they put in a great bombardment over our trenches. It was a great joke to see them shelling the place and no one there...
In March 1916 the New Zealand Mounted Rifles was reorganised into the Anzac Mounted Division, which included three brigades of the Australian Light Horse. They remained in Egypt, defending both the Suez Canal and a new water pipeline and railway being built by the British Army across the Sinai Desert. Clunie fought with the Wellington Mounted Rifles in several actions during this campaign, the most dramatic being the battle of Romani where the Anzac horsemen successfully defended the strategic village of Romani from a large Ottoman attack.
On 9 August 1916, in the aftermath of Romani, Clunie received a gunshot wound to his left shoulder and a slight wound on his leg.
Listen to Clunie describe fighting at Katia, near Romani, and the gunshot wound he sustained in eastward advances at Bir el Abd.
He was sent to the 27th General Hospital in Abbassia, Cairo for treatment and then to Aotea Convalescent Hospital to recover. Clunie did not return to the battlefield until December 1916, in time to participate in the final battles of the Sinai Campaign at Magdhaba and Rafa.
After forcing the Ottomans out of the Sinai peninsula, the Anzac Mounted Division advanced into Palestine. Clunie fought with the Wellington Mounted Rifles in the first and third battles of Gaza, the drive on Jericho, and the raids against Es Salt and Amman in early 1918. During this campaign, Clunie was promoted twice, firstly to lance sergeant in July 1917, and then to his final rank of sergeant on 27 August.
From April until October 1918 the division was stationed around the Jordan Valley, an area rife with malignant malaria. Despite the best efforts of their medical officers to limit its spread, many of the men contracted the disease.
The official history of the Wellington Mounted Rifles recalls:
With the approaching heat of a Jordan summer and the dreaded spectre of malignant malaria before them, the medical officers of the Brigade at once began to wage war on mosquitoes by draining swamps, and treating standing water with crude oil, which floated on the top and killed the young mosquitoes as they rose up to it. These and other precautions were maintained throughout the summer, with the satisfactory result that the incidence of malaria, in the area thus treated, was wonderfully small.
The Jordan Valley at Jericho lies 1200 feet below sea level, and its fine dust on the plain and thick jungle near the Jordan are infested by scorpions, centipedes, and snakes, pilgrims of the night mainly amongst the men's bedding. Swarms of flies infest the Valley by day, when the intense heat makes the rocks unbearable to the touch, and movements of men and horses raise clouds of blinding dust.
Clunie fell ill on 20 September 1918 with malaria. He was hospitalised for several months and recovered, but suffered a relapse of the disease in late 1918. As a result of his illness, he missed the successful capture of Amman, the battle of Megiddo, and the final defeat of the Ottoman armies in the Middle East in September 1918.
Clunie was sent home from Egypt on 19 April aboard the troopship Kaikoura and discharged from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in May 1919.
After marrying Doris Phoebe Connor on 21 June 1919, Clunie took advantage of the New Zealand Government’s Returned Serviceman’s loan scheme and bought a farm in Rimu Road, Raumati Beach near Paraparaumu. There, the couple raised a large family of eight children.
Clunie rarely talked about his war service with his family, but enjoyed sharing stories in the company of his former comrades. He became interested in politics and social reform during the Depression and was dismayed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Unlike many returned serviceman, he refused to offer his services to the Home Guard. According to his diary and letters published by his grandson Kevin Clunie, he deeply regretted the lives he had taken during the war, especially towards the end of his life. On 19 February 1971 Clunie died at his home aged 76.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand
Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga: 18805, CLUNIE, Garioch Thomas, 11/749
Clunie, K and Austin, R, 2009, From Gallipoli to Palestine: The War Writings of Sergeant GT Clunie of the Wellington Mounted Rifles, 1914-1919, Slouch Hat Publications, McCrae, Australia
Wilkie, AH 1924, Official History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd, Auckland
Te Papa Tongerewa, Museum of New Zealand
New Zealand Electronic Text Centre 2014, New Zealand in the First World War 1914–1918, viewed 20 September 2014, <http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-corpus-WH1.html>