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Alexander Byars Johnston -                               - 21/11/1966

Alexander Byars Johnston

Alex was the 3rd oldest surviving in the family of 11 of whom 8 lived to adulthood.

 George Proudfoot and Mary Byars Johnston Family


12th Otago Mounted Rifles territorials, circa 1912, from the Waikaka Valley/Maitland area .These men were part time soldiers before the war, many were farmers. Some went to the war early and some later depending on their circumstances. Some would have been married with children and a farm to run, so getting away at the first instance was not practical .Some were to never return.  

12th Otago Mounted Rifles territorials, circa 1912, from the Waikaka Valley/Maitland area  

Standing ,back row left to right

1.Albert George Johnston ,32674,Farmer from Maitland ,Killed in Action on the 12th of October 1917.
2.Possibly James Cumming 8/339,Labourer from Fairfax ,N.O.K Riverton
3.Charles Haddon Spurgeon Johnston ,13/2982,Farmer from Merino Downs.
4.Hugh Pearson McIntyre ,9/1626,Farmer from Maitland .
5.William Thomas Nichol,9/1934,Farmer from Maitland .
6.Robert Nichol,32713,Farmer from Maitland.
7.William Chittock,39165,Self employed Farmer from Waikaka Valley.

Middle Row
1.Stewart Alexander Aitken ,9/108,Farmer from Waikaka Valley,Killed in Action on the 29th of April 1918.
2.Samuel Paterson,9/188,A Farmer from Waikaka.
3.John Taylor,9/217,Saddler from Milton.
4.John Sheddan ,9/207a,Groom from Clinton ,N.O.K Waikaka Valley .
5.Possibly Henry Frederick Chittock ,78428,Railway Porter from Greymouth ,Born in Gore .

6.Robert Cumming ,54122,Farmer from Waikaka Valley .
7.Alex Byars Johnston ,12552,Farmer from Hiwaroa,N.O.K Comly Bank,Gore .Awared the Military Cross .

1.Possibly Robert Hugh McPhail,23595,Farmer from Waikaka Valley ,Killed in Action ,2nd of September 1918.
2.Adam Rankin Johnston ,53365,Farmer from Waikaka Valley.
3.William McIntrye ,9/165,Farm Labourer from Maitland ,Killed in Action on the 15th of September 1916.
4.John Oliver McPhail ,Farmer from Waikaka Valley,87370.

The original photo is in the West Otago museum ,Tapanui



Alec Johnston left for World War 1 from Balfor with his horse where he was farming with older brother John at "Glen Gordon."

His duty commenced on 9th July 1915

 The Canterbury Mounted Regiment marching past during an inspection at Sockburn Camp. Published in the Weekly Press, 23 September 1914 page 36.

The Canterbury Mounted Regiment marching past during an inspection at Sockburn Camp.




Loading CMR horses at Lyttelton

 Loading Canterbury Mounted Rifles horses at Lyttelton

 The horse stalls on board transport 2. Published in the Weekly Press 30 September 1914 page 29

 The horse stalls on board the transport ship.

 Trentham Camp 1915

 Trentham Camp 1915

Troups embarking Wellington

 Typical sceen when troups embarking at Wellington

The ships crossed the globe, sailing by way of Wellington, Hobart, Albany, Colombo, Aden and finally arriving in Alexandria to disembark.
Although the troops were disappointed at leaving the ships in Egypt, as they thought the posting would mean only isolated garrison duty - a duty well distant from the war in Europe, the relief for the horses to be again on dry land was evident for all to see, after the first wobbly steps the horses could not be restrained from rolling in the sand, kicking up their heels or breaking free in sheer delight at being out of their restricting stalls.   


The Turkish Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany. The New Zealand and Australian Forces were directed to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal. 
From April 1915 the Infantry and Artillery departed Egypt to attack the Turkish mainland on the Gallipoli peninsular. The combined British, French and the New Zealand - Australian division's attack found themselves unable to dislodge the capable Turkish defenses. Within three weeks the Canterbury Mounted Rifles along with the rest of the Brigade found themselves fully committed in the Dardenelles, fighting not as mounted riflemen but as Infantry. There was no opportunity to utilise horses on the precarious hills of Gallipoli at ANZAC.
After the retreat from the Dardenelles in December 1915 the regiment withdrew back to Cairo, and early in the following year began the Campaigns in the desert of Sinai and Turkish Palestine. This second campaign was a much different scenario to the Gallipoli failure. Men and horses of the NZMR proved a much more capable fighting force in the open desert and plains of the Holy Lands. A long two year campaign that only finished with the surrender of Turkish forces in October 1918. 

Regimental Headquarters Cairo 

Regimental Headquarters on the march through Cairo

 Map Sinai Palestine 1916-18

 Map Sinai/Palestine 1916-18

NZMR Middle East

 NZMR Middle East

ANZAC Mounted Division on beach

Troops of the ANZAC Mounted Division and their horses on the beach at Marakeb.. Powles family :Photographs. Ref: 1/2-178892-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23206310


Battle of Magdhaba

It had been a race against darkness and water, for if Magdhaba had not fallen

there was no water nearer than El Arish, and if darkness had fallen before the

trenches were captured most of the Turks would have got away.

One of the decisive events of the afternoon was the capture of a battery of

four mountain guns by Lieutenant A. B. Johnston, with his troop of the 8th

Squadron. This battery had given much trouble and was still firing when

Johnstone with six men rushed the emplacement, and the garrison consisting

of 2 officers and 15 men surrendered. Casualties were light in spite of the

prolonged nature of the fighting; among those who fell was Lieutenant H. A.

Bowron, of the 10th Squadron, who was hit during the early advance over the

bare plain.


    Military Cross (MC)  AWMM
    London Gazette 03/03/1917  AWMM

London Gazette A B Johnston Mlitary Cross award




 View of the hill of Tel el Saba

View of the hill of Tel el Saba (Tell es Sabe) just after capture by the British Army. Powles family :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-605-23-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23023566  

Tel el Saba (Tell es Sabe) immediately after capture  

Powles, Charles Guy (Colonel), 1872-1951. Tel el Saba (Tell es Sabe) immediately after capture. Powles family :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-605-23a-7. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23231956


On the night of 30 October 1917, British infantry and Anzac and British mounted troops marched through the dark towards Beersheba. At dawn the British 53rd, 60th and 74th Divisions, supported by an artillery bombardment, attacked a 5-kilometre line of entrenched positions. They seized the outer defences of Beersheba shortly after noon. The Anzac Mounted Division swept around the south-east and east of Beersheba and the 2nd Light Horse Brigade seized the Hebron road to the north of the town. The infantry attack did not succeed in drawing sufficient Turkish forces to the western defences, and the hill of Tel el Saba on the eastern side of the town continued to be strongly held. The men of the ANZAC Mounted Division, attacking on foot with the support of British artillery, made slow progress and it was not until 3 pm that the Anzacs were close enough to seize the hill. 

Map Battle of Beersheba 1917 MORE


With time running out for the Australians to capture Beersheba and its wells before dark, Chauvel ordered Brigadier General William Grant, commanding the 4th Light Horse Brigade, to make a mounted attack directly towards the town. Chauvel knew, from aerial photographs, that the Turkish trenches in front of the town were not protected by barbed wire. However, German bombing had forced the 4th Brigade into a scattered formation and it was not until 4.50 pm that they were in position. The brigade assembled behind rising ground 6 kilometres south-east of Beersheba with the 4th Light Horse Regiment on the right, the 12th Light Horse Regiment on the left and the 11th Light Horse Regiment in reserve. 

The Australian Light Horse was to be used purely as cavalry for the first time. Although they were not equipped with cavalry sabres, the Turks who faced the long bayonets held by the Australians did not consider there was much difference between a charge by cavalry and a charge by mounted infantry. The light horse moved off at the trot, and almost at once quickened to a gallop. As they came over the top of the ridge and looked down the long, gentle open slope to Beersheba, they were seen by the Turkish gunners, who opened fire with shrapnel. But the pace was too fast for the gunners. After 3 kilometres Turkish machine-guns opened fire from the flank, but they were detected and silenced by British artillery. The rifle fire from the Turkish trenches was wild and high as the light horse approached. The front trench and the main trench were jumped and some men dismounted and then attacked the Turks with rifles and bayonets from the rear. Some galloped ahead to seize the rear trenches, while other squadrons galloped straight into Beersheba. 

Nearly all the wells of Beersheba were intact and further water was available from a storm that had filled the pools. The 4th and 12th Light Horse casualties were thirty-one killed and thirty-six wounded; they captured over 700 men. Among the many gallant acts that day were the actions of Staff Sergeant Arthur Cox, who single-handedly under very heavy fire captured a machine-gun and crew of five in a redoubt; and those of Trooper Sloan Bolton, who assisted in the capture of a field gun, an officer and seven other ranks. Both were members of the 4th Light Horse Regiment, and both were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. 

The capture of Beersheba meant that the whole Turkish line was turned. However, among the Australian casualties that day was Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Maygar VC, Commander of the 8th Light Horse Regiment since 1915, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross in South Africa in 1901. After reporting to Chauvel’s headquarters, Maygar had just returned to his unit when he was wounded by an attacking German aircraft. Maygar’s horse bolted with him into the night and by the time he was found he had lost a lot of blood. He was taken to hospital at Karm, but died the next day. He was buried at Beersheba War Cemetery, which is now in Israel. 

The mounted troops and British infantry followed up the victory, thrusting into the steep hills of southern Palestine. On the flank of the mounted troops a detachment of Arabs under Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Newcombe, a British engineer who had been attached to the Australians in Gallipoli and France, pressed ahead on the extreme right towards Hebron. This, with the activity of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, caused the Turks to withdraw reserves from Gaza to protect Hebron. On the night of 1 November, the 52nd, 54th and 75th British divisions of the XXI Corps struck between Gaza and the sea and outflanked the town. Meanwhile the Desert Mounted Corps was stopped at Tel el Khuweilfe, and for a week this area was the scene of tense fighting, until the hill was seized by the 53rd Division on 8 November, the day after Gaza was captured by XXI Corps. 

The taking of Tel el Saba, or the role the New Zealanders played in the taking of Beersheba. By Steve Butler



General Chaytor receiving the KCMG, Jerusalem  

General Chaytor receiving the KCMG, Jerusalem. Powles family :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-605-44-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23078707   

 At some point Alex met up with T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)

Lawrence of Arabia

T.E. Lawrence and General Allenby Jerusalem



"A lot of the men came from the country, and they were farmers, and they knew how to shoot rabbits and live close to the land. They made good soldiers." said L. Watt, National Army Museum, 2016. 


Why should the horses from New Zealand and Australia stand the rigors of a campaign so well?
The horse is bred and reared in an ideal climate. During his early days he lives a natural outdoor life. The horses imported into Australasia were by no means the best. Other countries imported more valuable and better bred horses; the foundation stock in Australia and New Zealand could very easily be classed as only of medium quality. The best bred sires in New Zealand and Australia are used for the breeding of racing stock. The sires used on the stations are horses that have been sold as unsuitable for racing; their breeding may be good or indifferent. Therefore, it is the racing which keeps the standard high. Every year there are numbers of yearlings and two-year-olds that have met with injuries or accidents which tender them useless as racehorses; these are the class which find their way into the stations and are used as sires on good class mares. This is where the New Zealand and Australian remount comes from. A fixed breed has been imported into countries which have a climate and environment where the horse does not deteriorate, but improves. New Zealanders are a horse-loving people; they are sportsmen to the core. The horses that have stood the campaign the best are low-set, well balanced horses. Remounts should show breeding. Well-built ponies from 14.1 to 14.3 hands, with good, straight, clean action, have withstood the rigours of the campaign much better than taller horses. 


ANZACs shooting their horses 1

The ANZAC’s transported approx. 136,000 horses to the Middle East. After the war approx. 22,000

were sold and the rest were casualties of the war, or were shot. (New Zealand had sent 12,000)

These are the photos depicting the dreadful slaughter of their horses. The strict quarantine and after seeing how the locals treated their horses, camels and mules the men did not want to leave the beloved horses with them. 


 ANZACs shooting their horses 2

Originally thought to be the only one horse came back to New Zealand – “Bess”  

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/last-post-first-light/8577109/Bess-came-back  - The moving story of the only horse that came back to New Zealand ("Brave Bess" - book by Susan Brooker)

Acquiring horses for war

Sinai and Palestine


Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline

  The total population of New Zealand in 1914 was just over  1 million . In all,  120,000 New Zealanders enlisted, of whom  103,000  or 10 per cent of the Kiwi population served overseas. A total of 18,500 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, and almost 50,000 more were wounded





What proportion of the New Zealand population served in the NZEF?

Calculating the proportion of New Zealanders who served in the NZEF depends, as with much else, on who you include and which figures you select.

Provision and maintenance (Graph 1) plots embarkation figures as a percentage of the total population, and concludes that 9.2% of the population embarked on active service. The cited population figure – 1,089,825 – is the government statistician’s estimate for 31 March 1914, while the active service figure – 100,444 – includes the naval and aviation recruits who left New Zealand for service in British forces. [22] If you use the figure of 98,950, then 9.1% of the population left New Zealand on active service.


How many New Zealanders died in each theatre of war?

The  Roll of honour (1924) assigns the 16,697 deaths on active service between August 1914 and November 1918 to four theatres of war plus ‘United Kingdom and other places and at sea’. Gallipoli claimed 2721 lives (16.3%), while 12,483 (74.8%) died in France and Belgium, 381 (2.3%) in Palestine, 259 (1.6%) in Egypt and 853 (5.1%) in the United Kingdom and other places.


Another phase of Alex life began -


MARRIAGES (Otago Daily Times 4-12-1919)

Marriage Notice - Ab Johnston - E J Mullay


Alex and Elvina farmed at Brydone Southland then Comely Bank Maitland (Familys origonal Farm)








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