Waikato Mounted Rifles

The Waikato Mounted Rifles (WMR) is the New Zealand Army‘s only Territorial Force (Army Reserve) squadron of the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC). The Squadron’s origins can be traced back to 1869 when the first mounted unit was raised in the Waikato. Today the Squadron is part of Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles (QAMR) where it forms the regiment’s reserve squadron. WMR’s role is mounted reconnaissance and surveillance.

The New Zealand Army’s only Territorial Force (Army Reserve) squadron of the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps

Waikato Mounted Rifles

Cap badge of the Waikato Mounted Rifles
Active 1869–present
Country New Zealand
Allegiance Elizabeth II
Branch New Zealand Army Reserve
Type Mounted Rifles
Role Mounted Reconnaissance
Size One Squadron
Garrison/HQ Rostrevor Street, Hamilton
Motto(s) Libertas et natale solum
(Liberty and homeland)
Colors Maroon, Yellow and Black
March D’ye ken John Peel
Anniversaries 24 July – Regimental Birthday
20 November – RNZAC Corps Day/Cambrai Day
Military unit

. . . Waikato Mounted Rifles . . .

WMR’s lineage extends back to the New Zealand Wars (1843–72) and the formation of the Cambridge Mounted Rangers Volunteers. This unit was accepted for service on 24 July 1869,[1] and today this date is recognised as WMR’s ‘birthday’ and commemorated by the Squadron each year. Although the Cambridge Mounted Rangers Volunteers were disbanded in 1870, they were effectively re-formed shortly afterwards as the Cambridge Cavalry Volunteers.

The formation of the Cambridge Cavalry Volunteers, together with the nearby Te Awamutu Cavalry Volunteers (1871) and the Hamilton Cavalry Volunteers (1880) led directly to the creation of the Waikato Mounted Rifle Volunteers (1897), and then to the 4th (Waikato) Mounted Rifles when New Zealand’s Volunteer Force was superseded by the Territorial Force (TF) in 1911.

In 1885 all of New Zealand’s Volunteer Force cavalry units were turned into mounted rifles units. This was more than just a change of title, as the New Zealand Volunteer Manual makes clear: “It cannot be too frequently impressed upon all ranks of mounted rifles that they are in no sense cavalry. They are only intended to fight on foot; their horses enabling them to make longer and more rapid movements than the infantry soldier.”

Mounted riflemen had the same mobility as cavalry, but because they dismounted out of direct fire range, they were much less vulnerable. New Zealand’s mounted troops still required, “all the élan, dash and spirit of cavalry, but train to fight dismounted”.[2]

The historian of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Terry Kinloch, however draws an important distinction between mounted rifles and mounted infantry. “A mounted rifleman was a horseman who was trained to fight on foot, but also to carry out some of the other cavalry functions, such as reconnaissance and screening. A mounted infantryman was no horseman. He rode a horse when he had to, but he fought on foot, and did not undertake reconnaissance or any other cavalry role. Mounted riflemen thus fitted in between cavalry and mounted infantry, performing some of the secondary roles of cavalry, but fighting on foot.”[3]

Another source[4] explains that mounted infantry were foot soldiers provided with increased mobility, whilst mounted riflemen were horsemen trained to fight on foot in both offensive and defensive actions. As horsemen they were also expected to perform the duties of reconnoitring and screening troop movements as well as providing protection from surprise attacks. Mounted infantry were picked soldiers often organised in small units as adjuncts to an infantry brigade, or to an independent force of cavalry.

Each mounted rifles unit was recruited on a voluntary basis with troopers bringing their own horses to take part in military training. They were well represented when New Zealand first sent troops overseas to South Africa. On 28 September 1899, the New Zealand Government offered a contingent to serve with the British Imperial Forces in South Africa, two weeks before the war with the Boer republic began. A total of 10 contingents – the New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR) – were sent between 1899 and 1902, totalling 6,495 officers and men and more than 8000 horses. (At this time New Zealand’s population was only 900,000.)

The largest engagement in South Africa involving New Zealanders was at Langverwacht Hill in February 1902. Here, whilst defending a cordon enveloping between 800 and 900 Boer guerrillas under De Wet, the Seventh Contingent suffered badly: of approximately 90 men holding the New Zealand line, 24 were killed and more than 40 wounded. These losses are some of the most severe suffered by a New Zealand unit in a single short action in any war . Lord Kitchener reported that they had, “displayed great gallantry and resolution at a critical moment,” and that their conduct on this occasion, “reflects the highest credit upon all ranks of the contingent, and upon the Colony to which it belongs. Nothing could have been finer than the behaviour of the men.”[5]

Earlier, General Sir Ian Hamilton, had said this of the New Zealanders he had observed in the field: “I have soldiered a long time now, but I have never in my life met men I would sooner soldier with than New Zealanders. I feel the greatest affection for them and I shall never forget the work they did in South Africa”[6] Hamilton was to meet New Zealanders again in an even greater test fourteen years later at Gallipoli.

Another senior British officer, quoted in The Times History of the War in South Africa, wrote of the New Zealanders: “It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that after they had a little experience, they were, by general consent, regarded as on average the best mounted troops in South Africa.” The battle honour ‘South Africa 1900–02’ was the first to be awarded to WMR.

When the TF was formed in 1911 (three years after the Territorial Army in Britain) and compulsory military training introduced, New Zealand could field 12 mounted rifles regiments. Today only two NZ Army units still carry the Mounted Rifles title: WMR and QAMR.

The cap badge of the 4th (Waikato) Mounted Rifles dates from shortly before the First World War: a native Kaka parrot within a wreath of kowhai leaves and blossoms. The Latin motto, “Libertas et Natale Solum” is best translated as “Liberty and Homeland”.[7]

The Regimental March, ‘D’ye ken John Peel’ was also adopted. This was published in 1903 for general use as a trot by all mounted units, and in England was then used by the East Riding of Yorkshire Yeomanry. While this regiment has since evolved into today’s Yorkshire Squadron of The Queen’s Own Yeomanry, the same Regimental March has been retained.[citation needed]

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