A FLOTILLA OF FIGHTERS
OFF TO THE WAR. AN HISTORIC PAGEANT. [By “ Banzai." for UlO ' Star.’] It. was a quiet, grey morning, with the freshness of spring in the dawn-wind when the swift flagship of a flotilla of lighters representing rhrec sea-girt nations lifted anchor in the basin of Wellington Harbor, and. proudly defiant of the sailor’s superstition as to sailing on a certain day, glided silently between the green hills io the leaden sea and an unknown port in the. far distance.
Beautiful this grey ship appeared in silhouette against tho hills, with her powerful furnaces throwing four fat coils of Westport smoke athwart the clouded sky. Strong and assuring she was with her lour 9.2iu guns almost equal to 12in, because of their better rate, of fire (about twice ns fast) and ten 7. Sin quickfiring gun?, pointed as though to gpard each quarter of the circle. As she moved seiward with a grim gracefulness, very different, surely, from the celebrated mystical monster whence she got her name, more than one watcher on Die hills longed to accompany her gallant 800 men and experience the maximum of her pace in a t.-ordeal sea —23 knots. Moments later another grey monster, of less graceful outline, showing a main aimament of four 12in guns and secondary armament of eight Biu gnu-, and a tertiary armament of twelve 6in guns, and flying a strange though happily symbolical flag, followed the more, famil-ar En-ign a fixed distance apart, hut in line, to he sure, as regards determination to guard the ten succeeding troopships, each crowd'd with spirited soldiers of a loyal 'Dominion, all glad that at last they wore clear of the littlenesses of easy prosperity and now on the way as mettled men to take an active part in the greatest war in history. And as one stood among many on a high near hill, musing over the tremendous circumstances that had brought together at the heart of the farthest outpost (.f Empire a combination of sea and laud forces unparalleled in our ken. and an international co-operation undreamed of by mouthing politicians only a few months ago, ship after ship, with here and there a familiar cruiser welded in ns a link of additional s'-cunty, as it were, noiselessly and neatly filed into a procession eight miles long—-a magnificent spectacle to thousands of cheering spectators on boats, wayside bluffs, and beaches, and on many hills.
It was good to cheer and to hear the cheers and tbs echoes of cheering in the cool quietness of the early morning; it, was belter and more ennobling to see a mother and a daughter, too thoughtful to cheer, stand on a rocky summit, and spread to the gentle breeze a spotless coverlet, so that it would appear to one far out at sea as a farewell signal and symbol as tender and as beautiful as the breast feathers of the ■white birds that, followed the stately grey ships. Such wa? the manner of (ho historical departure of men prepared to serve their King and the Empire, a net of their splendid company. A thousand stirring facts of the unparalleled pageant could and ought to ho written, as a comfort to (Uix'Otis hearts at home, and as a stimulus to many youths whoso souls have nor yet expanded; but unit! the fetter ol secrecy is broken by authorities who are only pnriiallv conscious of the value of public support in the great game of war, this ro-’git outline of a inagnitict nt picture must, suffice. Some day otto may write without restraint, and then the patient, public will leant the real glory of national service, the power and grace of fighting ships, and, best of ail. the genuineness and the proud eagerness of an honorable Imperial friend who has early mastered the principle of international cooperation and compact. Tho real spirit and significance of the outgoing of New Zealand's fighting army to the War of Nations would he imperfectly interpreted if one did not write oi the stir and the novel charm of the final preparations for departure; of Ibe great permanent advantages and the minor temporary disadvantages of its unavoidable deferment; of tho coming of purposeful fighting men and ships from far seas; and of rare hospitality and the sweeping away of silly prejudices and dangerous ignorance of facts beyond the short range of insular vision. The response to the call of Empire is a national duty; the rest that may not be detailed intimately represents national development. The permanent advantages of the long deferment of departure of tho troopships were daily made more apparent to those of the Wellington public and sojourners there who had opportunity of closely studying the training of the Dominion’s reel soldiers. Perhaps you have noticed how even weedy plants in' a garden will grow into sturdy, complete vegetables after wise and vigorous cultivation. ' Well, it. was by the same principle that the crudities cf New Zealand's fighting soldiers were changed to disciplined alertness and strength. Hard, steady, judicious exercise daily itt the stimulating air about tho hills of Wellington removed a multitude of n.irdonabla defects. There is nothing like healthy hard work to remove the grossne-ss of prosperity. Before the troopers embarked for a mighty enterprise they had leantcu the joy of physical and mental fitness, and marched as though to give expression to that joy- The advantages kf soldierly health and discipline are not vet known’.” of this nation's young men. If knowledge were complete there would be no move talk of calculat-d response to the call to war. The deferment of departure had some disadvantages, bur. these were mostly of a temporary character, and largely due, ns the Bishop of Wellington wisely pointed out. as a timelv. ktndlv protest, to the indiscreet hospitality of friends, There was undoubtedly a certain amount of silly revelry, but not. enough to di-credit the force- as a whole, nr to add power to tho ready cudgel of ihf "unco guide' There vas drunkenness. of eottrse, but tho percentage of it in a. force of 6.0C0 troopers, in a city that is rot oppressed with ultra-respectability, was creditably low. Even had there been a deliberate ‘willingness on the part of some troopers to become drunken as a q” pf T entertainment, let scornful and distressed critics who irav believe that they remain at home to fight ‘against, a worse enemy than war remember that a feature of advanced civilisation in cities is the humiliating fact that in the matter of establishing alluring attractions the men who build hotels and other haunts appear to have greater enterprise than those who set tin, say, Y.M.C.A.s. Usually there ere about 40 of the one class to otic of the other. But if is hardly necessary to defend the occasional revrlty of a few soldiers. Ton all know what Stevenson says of youthful vagaries: “ For God’s sake give trie” the young man who has brains enough to mike a fool of himself. Tim greatest charm of the memorable days in Wellington was not the high spirit of the soldiers as they willingly acquired merit among the hhls, nor any one of the innumerable evidences of the, genuine patriotism of ilto community. It was the final mu'tt-r of fighting men from far-scattered lands and divided seas. Two or three days before the date of deparltme the record shipping in the splendid port was noUblv increased, and for once tho • mhorities midc no attempt to place irksrmo restrictions on tho movements o! tho public So there was only one rendezvous for all the p-mpl* —a broad area of the harbor where, at an anchorage advantageous it, appreciative spectators, and within lltc easy view of certain prisoners of war u,te r n°d or. an island, and possibly ' biting their rails at, dr-stinv," lay two fine types of craft, that could' within an hour have made the peaceful, prosperous city a smoking ruin. Their purpose, happ'ly, was more serviceable; th-i” power on the side of progress and freedom. It is scarce,’v necessity (even if one were at. libertv to do so) to depict m tedious detail the eager curiosity of the juiblic, their pride and deep appreciation. Ton can bran in imagination the picturo of tho grey flotilla in the sunlit harbor, the differences In design of the ships, their purposes and flams, the exchange of greetings and the ditTerso modes of expression, the unstinted welcome from soldiers and citizens to sailors in from strange sens, the joyous stir, the subdued and ala.ost surreptitious hospitality to 'tranyerr- ashore, ibe lusty sniffing of national “anthems, the unique, unrewarded, treble-tongued speeches of representativemen, the tenderness of farewell and iiu-pokcn thought, and the deep, abiding significance ot it, all; a picture of Imperial and international history. ; And the best has not, been told.
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A FLOTILLA OF FIGHTERS, Evening Star, Issue 15637, 30 October 1914