Lance Corporal Harry Cuthbert Northcroft was one of 22 men of the Auckland Mounted Rifles killed on 19 May 1915 at Walker’s Ridge, Gallipoli during the unit’s first engagement with Turkish forces.1
Born in Hamilton in February 1889, Harry was the youngest of Margaret and Henry William Northcroft‘s five children. He had three sisters, Agnes, Hilda and Ruth and a brother, James.2 His father was a resident magistrate and the Chief Justice and Resident Commissioner of the Cook Islands between 1913 and 19153 and a veteran of the New Zealand Wars who was awarded the New Zealand Cross for valour in July 1910.4
Harry Northcroft attended Auckland Grammar School from 1898 to 1905, leaving to work as a clerk in the law office of Hesketh and Richmond.5 Northcroft attended Auckland University College (AUC) between 1906 and 1910, and had passed two sections of his LL.B when war broke out.6 Like many students at the time, Northcroft worked during the day and went to lectures in the late afternoon and evening. Northcroft’s obituary in The Kiwi notes that he ‘was of fine physique, and was keenly interested in athletics’;7 he also played rugby and took part in an inaugural University shooting match in 1909.8
Three of Northcroft’s siblings, Agnes, Hilda and James, were also students at AUC.9 Hilda later studied at the Medical College for Women at the University of Edinburgh graduating with a MB, ChB in 1908.10 During the war she practised in England, returning to Auckland as a medical officer on the troopship Ayrshire in late 1918.11 A well-known Auckland doctor and community leader, Hilda continued her family’s association with AUC as a founding member of the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Federation of University Women.12
On 14 August 1914, Northcroft enlisted with the Auckland Regiment of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR), a unit in which had he had served as a territorial.13 Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Mackesy, the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment (AMR) comprised three squadrons: the 3rd (Auckland) Squadron, of which Northcroft was a member, the 4th (Waikato) Squadron and the 11th (North Auckland) Squadron, a total strength of 26 officers, 523 other ranks and 608 horses.14
After training at Epsom Camp and at Otahuhu, Northcroft sailed with the Main Convoy on 16 October 1914 aboard HMNZT Waimana or Star of India.15 The AMR’s horses were stabled in specially prepared areas of the ships. However, it was not an easy journey for the Convoy’s nearly 4000 horses, with three percent dying.16 Arriving in Egypt in early December, the Regiment travelled by train to Zeitoun Camp near Cairo where, once their horses had acclimatised, training began in earnest.17 Like their Australian counterparts, the Light Horse, the NZMR were not trained to fight on horseback, like traditional cavalry, but to ride into action, dismount and fight like ordinary infantry.18 Northcroft, who had enlisted as a Trooper, was promoted to Lance Corporal in February 1915.19
In early April 1915, when the Australian and New Zealand Infantry Division received orders to prepare for the invasion of Gallipoli, the NZMR and the Australian Light Horse brigades were told, much to their disappointment, that they were to remain in Egypt to defend the Suez Canal.20 However, in May they received orders to go to Gallipoli as much needed reinforcements.21 The mounted units were to fight as infantry, leaving their horses, farriers and some recently arrived reinforcements in Egypt. On 9 May 1915, the regiment left Alexandria aboard HMT Grantully Castle and arrived at Anzac Cove on 12 May.22
Landing at Anzac Cove in high spirits, the men of the AMR encountered a ‘few worn, beaded men, whose sunken eyes and deeply-lined faces told of the ordeal they had been through’.23 Their cheerful greetings were met with monosyllabic responses from these ‘veterans’ who had landed at Gallipoli only weeks before.24 The AMR was assigned to Walker’s Ridge, an important strategic position high on the ridge which overlooked Anzac Cove. As they worked to extend and deepen the system of trenches begun by the Nelson and Deal Battalions of the Royal Marine Light Infantry who had previously occupied the ridge, the men quickly discovered that ‘to be able to dig is one of the first qualifications of a soldier’.25
At midnight on the night of 18/19 May, the AMR’s position came under heavy fire. At 3.30am ‘the Turkish fire slackened, and then after an ominous silence, the enemy sprang to the attack. Cries of “Allah, Allah, Allah” from thousands of throats rent the air.’26 Northcroft’s death in the fierce fighting that followed is described by Trooper Charles F. Jones: ‘Harry Northcroft was shot dead only a yard from me, also Jim Thompson. A German got round the end of our trench, shot Northcroft dead, and just missed me by a whisper, the bullet getting old Jim through both temples.’27
By 4.30am, the AMR had repulsed the attack on their position but 22 of their men were dead and another 27 wounded.28 The bodies of the fallen were buried nearby and the position of each grave carefully recorded by Colonel Mackesy, who sent a copy of his report to Mr Christopher James Parr, the Mayor of Auckland.29 In the accompanying letter Mackesy wrote that the attack on Walker’s ridge had been the AMR’s baptism of fire but that ‘they came out pure gold’ and ‘No commander ever had a finer and braver lot of gallant young gentlemen to lead into action’.30
In 1927, Northcroft’s mother visited his grave which was by then located, as it is today, in the small Walker’s Ridge Cemetery. During her visit she stayed with Captain James Rule Jones, the War Graves Commission superintendent for the area, who was overseeing the landscaping of the many cemeteries on the peninsula. At Walker’s Ridge, Mrs Northcroft found that rosemary, a symbol of remembrance, had been planted by the Commission; she had tried to bring a rosemary bush to plant herself but it was confiscated by custom officials in Constantinople.31
Northcroft’s name appears on several memorials, including the Auckland Grammar War Memorial, a plaque in St Peter’s Anglican Church, Takapuna, and on the Auckland Lawyers’ memorial in the (Auckland) Supreme Court. A street in Takapuna was named in his honour in 1916 and his family donated a stained glass window based on the painting ‘The great sacrifice’ by British artist James Clark to St Andrew’s Church, Epsom in 1924.32 The inscription beneath the window also records the deaths of his sister Ruth, in 1916 and their father Henry Northcroft in 1923.33 Northcroft’s sister Agnes, who married James Wynyard in 1909, named a son born in 1916 in his honour. Sadly, Henry Cuthbert Wynyard was killed in April 1945 serving during the Second World War with the New Zealand Armoured Corps in Italy.34
Katherine Pawley, Special Collections
- 'Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline, 1915', available online at NZHistory, updated 29 August 2014, accessed 9 March 2015.
- Auckland Grammar School Chronicle, III, 1, 1915, p.14.
- Auckland Star, 11 December 1923, p.6, accessed via Papers Past.
- ibid.; 'List of Recipients', in A. H. McLintock, ed., Wellington, 1966, available online at Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 22 April 2009, accessed 9 March 2015.
- Auckland Grammar School Chronicle, p.14.
- The Kiwi: Official Organ of the Auckland University College, 11, 1916, p.27.
- The Kiwi, 5, 1, 1909, p.40
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1902, pp.51-53.
- Linda Bryder. 'Northcroft, Hilda Margaret', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 10 December 2013, accessed 18 December 2014.
- The Kiwi , 11, 1916, p.27; ‘Territorial Force - Harry Cuthbert Northcroft - 2nd Lieutenant, 3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles - WWI 13/110 - Army’, R22203835, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- 'Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment', available online at NZHistory, updated 29 August 2014, accessed 2 December 2014.
- 'Harry Cuthbert Northcroft’,Cenotaph Database, Auckland War Memorial Museum, accessed 5 January 2015.
- 'Transporting horses from New Zealand', available online at NZHistory, updated 29 July 2014, accessed 2 December 2014.
- ‘Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline, 1914’, available online at NZHistory, updated 29 August 2014, accessed 2 December 2014.
- 'Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment’.
- 'Northcroft, Harry Cuthbert - WW1 13/110 – Army’, R21381122, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- 'Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline, 1915'; C. G. Nicol, The story of two campaigns: Official War history of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919, Auckland, 1921, pp.27-31.
- C. G. Nicol, p.33.
- ibid.; 'Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline, 1915'.
- C. G. Nicol, p.43.
- Manawatu Times, 31 August 1915, p.2, accessed via Papers Past.
- 'Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline, 1915'.
- Auckland Star, 23 July 1915, p.8, accessed via Papers Past.
- Evening Post, 4 January 1928, p.14, accessed via Papers Past.
- New Zealand Herald, 30 August 1924, p.10, accessed via Papers Past.
- ‘Henry Cuthbert Wynyard’, Cenotaph Database, Auckland War Memorial Museum, accessed 5 January 2015.