Sacrifice and Glory
Local farm boys, along with their horses, were among the first sent to South Africa, after Richard Seddon offered a contingent of mounted rifles to fight during the Boer War of 1899-1902.
They were members of the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry (CYC), which despite its name was not a cavalry unit, but mounted infantry who used their horses merely to get into position before dismounting and fighting.
A territorial force that began during the second Maori Wars (1860-66), it was considered an elite unit because only wealthy farmers or their sons could afford to provide their own horse, saddle, weapons and uniforms.
Because of the cost of sending soldiers to the front (100 pound a man), it later fell to local communities to raise the funds and organise additional fighting resources.
A committee of prominent Canterbury citizens and members of the public largely organised and paid for the Third Contingent, which would become known as the ‘rough riders’ as it mainly consisted of men proficient at horse riding and shooting but with no fighting experience.
Still more local lads would see service during the Great War as members of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles.
Sent first to Egypt, then forced to leave their horses behind, our cavalrymen crossed the Mediterranean to land on the steep Turkish coastlines at Gallipoli. Here they spearheaded some of the toughest attacks before joining the Desert Mounted Corps in Sinai and Palestine where they were part of the now famous ‘charge of the Light Brigade’ at Beersheba.
Many brave men would lose their lives or return injured.
30 years later when New Zealand again rallied, local farmer Charles Upham would become the only combat soldier ever to win the Victoria Cross and bar. After a stint as a prisoner of war he returned to farm at Conway Flat the most highly decorated soldier of the conflict.
Residents of Hurunui still gather annually to remember the contribution of their men to freedom.