Author(s): Cyprian Bridge Brereton
In 1926, Colonel Brereton who had taken the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion into the Great War in the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, wrote the well-received first edition of this title. The three campaigns alluded to, were the Battle of the Suez Canal on 3 February 1915; Gallipoli as it related to the Landing at Anzac, and the Second Battle of Krithia at Cape Helles (where the author received a serious head wound); and the Western Front, including First Somme in September 1916 and two periods in the line in the Northern Zone, in and about ArmentiÃžres. Although it was only 24 hours or so in duration, the rarely-written-about Battle of the Suez Canal was of signal historic importance. No one was better able to write about New ZealandÃ†s role in it, than Brereton. All four battalions of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade were called upon to reinforce the canal defences, when the very real threat of a Turkish attack developed. Only a minor element of them became involved - two platoons of 12th Company, commanded at first-hand by Major Brereton; 100 all ranks. Solely by their musketry skill, they helped deter a brigadesize assault over the narrowest point of the canal. We read his front-line account of their baptism of fire, and his later shrewd analysis of how the Turks should clearly have won, had they conformed to their German-authored plan. Colonel Brereton strongly identified with his soldiery; his concern clearly was with them rather than upwards towards his seniors, and the prospects of personal advancement. He describes the relevant skills brought by them from their rural pursuits. Personally cool under fire, he writes in an attractive, flowing style, quite lacking in military jargon, and with occasional dry humour, to which the reader will warm. This is whether discussing battle, desert training in Egypt, troopship journeys, inter-action with French civilians or the multiplicity of other incidents experienced in over four years of active service, at a responsible, but not too-elevated level. This second edition, edited by John H. Gray, CBE, an acknowledged authority on New Zealand in the Great War through his previous publications, and formerly a senior officer of the Territorial Force, has much more to offer than the original book. He has greatly benefited from the key assistance of Mrs Annie Coster, grand-daughter of the author, who as a child knew him well. She has entrusted to the editor, the ColonelÃ†s 270-page unpublished autobiography finalised in the 1950s. No longer influenced by the discretion necessarily imposed in 1926 when widows and children and former servicemen were still living, Brereton frankly recorded in it incidents of historic importance, that now demand exposure to the light of day in this centenary year of the warÃ†s commencement. Many verbatim Brereton extracts now illuminate the earlier, unaltered text, to which editorial comment and many illustrations and maps have also been added, to greatly widen its scope. Mrs Coster has also written an additional chapter to the Second Edition, of family and human interest, which she entitles The Fourth Campaign. All this new material now introduces Brereton the man of letters and distinguished Nelson regional identity, additionally to Brereton the man of action; thus much enlarging the character of the work. We read of his early life in a pioneer family in the Motueka River Valley. How he had to withdraw from Nelson College at aged 14 to manage his motherÃ†s 600 acre farm for the next eight years, when his father and older brother drowned in Tasman Bay - lost without trace. Of his career change as a dentist in Westport, the while continuing his military training in the Volunteers. Of his own post-war farming, cut short by the effects of his war wounds, and his later twenty-two-year career as Curator of the Nelson Museum. This Second Edition presents Cyp Brereton in the round, as the First Edition was never intended to do, while also fleshing out its military history significantly. Tales of Three Campaigns (Second Edition) will be of national appeal, but will have especial interest to people in the Nelson and Tasman region, and also in Canterbury, to which the 12th Company was integral in the time of war.