The Troopers’ Tale
The History of the Otago Mounted Rifles
The connected fates of friends at Gallipoli
Sergeants of the 7th before the war. From left: James Hargest, Peter Mackay and John McAlister.
Three Northern Southland friends, James Hargest, Peter Mackay and John McAlister, experienced connected but varied fates while fighting at Bauchop’s Hill with the OMR at Gallipoli in 1915. All three were part of the 7th (Southland) Squadron that left New Zealand with the Main Body in 1914 But in the last hours of 6 August during their squadron’s attack, things came unstuck.
Hargest led his troop silently in the dark up to a Turkish trench and, just as they were reaching the parapet, the Turkish defenders stood up and fired a volley of shots. Hargest recalled years later that all they could think of doing at that moment was to leap high into the air. During this impromptu display of acrobatics, a bullet drove through McAlister’s wrist then carried on, striking Hargest in his calf. Moments later, Peter Mackay was running uphill, leading his troop to the aid of Hargest when he was hit by shrapnel, the blast decapitating him.
At a rendezvous at daybreak of injured men on top of the Bauchop’s Hill, a dazed subaltern was complaining more than OMR commander Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Bauchop considered appropriate. An OMR trooper present recounted that ‘our old colonel’ barked at the officer, telling him to ‘take a hold of yourself ___, look at little Hargest lying there wounded not saying a word!’ One of Hargest’s men, Will Balneaves, helped his officer hobble to the beach, then, with no means of evacuation in sight, commandeered a boat and rowed him out to a hospital ship. The staff refused to take Hargest on board, turning the pair away with a barrage of expletives. Balneaves persisted, and rowed around the ship for the entire day and night, frequently shifting course to exploit the shade of the larger vessel. Eventually the medical staff took Hargest aboard late the next day, just before sailing for Alexandria.
‘Little Jimmy’ Hargest went on to be Brigadier James Hargest, Southland’s most distinguished soldier of both wars before his death in August 1944 in France while acting as an observer following the Normandy landings. The bullet lodged in Hargest’s leg at Gallipoli in 1915 remains with him today, in his French grave. Those who served beneath him considered him ‘a great man’. Another war hero, Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger, asserted in 1951 that Hargest, had he survived the war, ‘would be the present Prime Minister’ of New Zealand.
McAlister returned to New Zealand in late 1915 and continued farming near Riversdale. During the next war, he served as a sergeant in the local Home Guard. Again he was wounded in the line of duty, this time somewhat humorously. While giving grenade-throwing instruction in a brassica paddock, a wayward ‘grenade’ – a swede – slipped out of a guardsman’s hand, striking McAlister firmly on the head. Laughter erupted in the ranks and was only silenced when the veteran sergeant ordered a 10-mile route march. McAlister died in 1945.