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Carterton farmer’s son: Born to serve the country

The most highly-ranked soldier from Wairarapa in World War I was a farmer’s son from Carterton, Sir Herbert Ernest Hart, writes GARETH WINTER of the

Carterton’s Sir Herbert Hart was a farmer’s son, who rose to the rank of Brigadier-General in World War I. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

Wairarapa Archive.

He was born at Taratahi in 1882, the eldest of William and Mary Ann Hart’s four children.

Known in the family as Bert, he was educated at Dalefield School and Carterton District High School.

After a brief spell as a pupil-teacher, he worked for his Fairbrother cousins in Carterton.

He studied commercial subjects and became the accountant for auctioneer and Carterton mayor George Fairbrother.

He was a keen rugby player and cricketer.

He saw his first military activity during the South African War.

He enlisted in the New Zealand 9th Contingent in 1902, although he was underage.

The war had virtually finished by the time the contingent arrived, and He went on to Britain and returned home in 1903, marrying Minnie Renall shortly after.

He trained as a solicitor in Carterton during the next decade, became a father, and furthered his military interests, serving with the Carterton Rifle Volunteers and the Territorial Army.

By 1914, he was a major in the 17th [Ruahine] Regiment, and on war’s outbreak immediately volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

He was appointed as second-in-command of the Wellington Infantry Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel Malone, and commenced training at Awapuni Racecourse.

He took part in the Gallipoli landing and was seriously wounded in the fighting on April 27, 1915, at Walker’s Ridge.

Evacuated to England for recovery, he was appointed to command the Wellington Battalion after Malone’s death on Chunuk Bair in August 1915.

He rejoined his unit later that month as Lieutenant-Colonel and saw out the campaign until evacuation in December 1915.

He led the Wellington Battalion to France in April 1916.

After the New Zealand Division fought on the Somme in September-October 1916, he had his first taste of higher command, becoming the temporary commander of 1st NZ Infantry Brigade.

By 1919, he had commanded each of the four infantry brigades, with the rank of Brigadier-General.

In early 1917, he was chosen to command the new 4th NZ Brigade, to be formed and trained in England.

Minnie Hart also arrived and was able to live near Codford Camp, allowing the Harts a brief domestic life.

The new brigade sailed to France in late May and its big moment came on October 4 during the Battle of Broodseinde, when a successful advance was made and many Germans captured.

His brigade was disbanded in February 1918, and he took over the 2nd Infantry Brigade.

On February 18 his headquarters at Polygon Wood were gas-shelled.

He was badly affected and blinded for a week.

He was removed to England and had months of convalescence and training troops before taking over the NZ Rifle Brigade in July 1918.

He was still in command when the brigade successfully captured Le Quesnoy on November 4, the last major battle for New Zealanders in World War I.

After brief service in the occupation of Germany, he returned to a warm Carterton welcome on April 25, 1919.

He returned to the law, moving to Masterton in 1920, although the Territorial Army remained an interest until his retirement, as Brigadier-General, in 1930.

He was the Administrator to Western Samoa in 1931-1935, for which he was knighted.

A few years later he became the Middle East administrator for the Imperial War Graves Commission, based in Jerusalem.

This continued into World War II until retirement in 1943.

Sir Herbert was a keen hunter and shot deer in Westland and various big game animals in Africa.

He was the founding president of Masterton Rotary, and retained an interest in the RSA and sport, particularly bowls.

He died in 1968 in Masterton, the last senior commander of the NZEF.

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