2/Lt George Alexander Wishart (1881 – 1940)
On 6 August 1914, the government in London telegrammed their counterparts in New Zealand requesting that it would be “a great and urgent Imperial service” if their forces could seize the island of Samoa, which at that time was German territory. Four days later, 1,413 men (and six nurses) had assembled and set sail via Suva, Fiji where they picked up several guides and interpreters before heading on to Samoa. Among those joining the ‘Samoan Advance Party’ in Fiji was a 33-year-old Boer War veteran named George Alexander Wishart who had been working on the island for the Department of Agriculture as a plantations inspector. Through his work, George had become well-versed in the various native tongues of the Pacific islands and therefore, his services as an interpreter were of great value. The Party landed unopposed at Apia on 29 August with George remaining part of the occupying force until 12 September when, as an enlisted man, he received orders to sail for Auckland to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces.
George Alexander Wishart was born in Auckland on 4 January 1881, the sixth of ten children of Alexander Wishart, a railway official from Paisley, and his wife, Agnes Verner. Alexander left Scotland with his parents and siblings in 1851, initially settling in Victoria to work the goldfields before journeying on to New Zealand four years later. By the turn of the century, his family were living on Middleton Road in Remuera – a suburb of Auckland. George had set himself up as a chemist and on 27 February 1902 at Onehunga, he volunteered to serve with the Imperial Troops in South Africa. Due to his profession, George was assigned the rank of dispenser corporal in the North Island Battalion of the 9th New Zealand Contingent, which embarked from Auckland on the SS Devon on 19 March 1902. The battalion arrived in Durban at the end of April and went into camp for three weeks before proceeding to Newcastle. Due to frequent outbreaks of dysentery among the men, it is likely George was kept busy during his soon-to-be brief time in South Africa. Aside from some minor skirmishes involving patrols, the Ninth did not see any fighting before the peace treaty was signed at the start of June; however, they did gain the distinction of firing the last shots of the war when an altercation occurred between a small party of New Zealanders and three Boers near Vereeniging after the cessation of hostilities. A month later, George’s battalion embarked in Durban on the troopship Orient and returned to New Zealand where they arrived on 8 August.
By 1908 George had left Auckland and was living on Ha’afeva Island in Tonga, where he fathered two children with a local girl named Taufa Luakau Moalaand, and in January 1914, took up the position with the Fijian Department of Agriculture. That September, after his departure from the Samoan Advance Party, George joined the machine-gun section of the 11th (North Auckland) Mounted Rifles and left with the First New Zealand Contingent onboard the Waimana on 16 October. At the end of November, the New Zealanders reached Suez and disembarked at Alexandria on 5 December. The next six months were spent training in various Egyptian locations and guarding the Suez Canal, with orders to proceed to the Gallipoli peninsula eventually dispensed on 5 May 1915. A week later George arrived at Anzac Cove (without his horse) and would have immediately gone into the front lines at Walker’s Ridge. In the early hours of 19 May the Regiment engaged in their first action when the Turks made an attack on the Rifle’s position. George’s unit (one of only two machine-gun companies) found themselves with a restricted field of fire, and consequently, their efforts were later described as providing moral rather than actual support. At dawn, the enemy, who suffered terribly, retired back through the scrub under rifle fire and the position was held at the cost of 22 AMR men killed and 27 wounded.
At the start of August, George took part the biggest offensive undertaken by the Allies at Gallipoli up until that point. Along with Australians and British, the New Zealanders based at Anzac were tasked with capturing the strategic heights of the Sari Bair range with the first objective for George’s squadron being the Old No. 3 Post which they successfully took during the evening of the 6th. The following day orders were received for the Regiment to resume its attack and take Chunuk Bair at dawn on the 8th. During the battle, George’s unit suffered catastrophic losses to the extent that by the day’s end his squadron virtually ceased to exist, with only 16 of 124 men answering the roll call the next morning. The experience clearly had a profound effect on George who was evacuated from the peninsula on 16 August to the hospital ship Scotia suffering from neurasthenia which was highly likely to have been brought on by the stress of battle and horrors he had witnessed. Ten days later he found himself at the New Zealand General Hospital in Cairo before being sent back to New Zealand on the hospital ship Tofua which left Suez on 23 September and disembarked in Dunedin on 26 October.
After journeying back to Auckland by Red Cross train, George spent the remainder of the year convalescing at his parents home and returned to duty on 14 February 1916 at Trentham Camp when he was transferred to ‘A’ Company of the 10th Reinforcements. Promotion to sergeant immediately followed and less than a month later on 4 March George began the long journey from Wellington to rejoin the New Zealand Division – disembarking in Suez on 10 April. On arrival, he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Training Battalion and based at Moascar until late May, when his unit embarked on the Nile for England – arriving in Devonport on 6 June.
The remainder of 1916 was spent stationed at Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains during which time George was promoted to Acting Quartermaster Sergeant (with pay) on 11 August, and then 2nd Class Warrant Officer on the 25th. In April 1917 he was nominated for officer training and struck off strength of the battalion on the 25th in order that he could undertake a course of instruction at No.6 Officer Cadet Battalion at Balliol College, Oxford. George was eventually gazetted Second Lieutenant from 30 October, and posted to the 1st Canterbury Infantry Battalion but was Supernumerary to Establishment and subsequently ordered back to New Zealand to take up a commission with a reinforcement draft. The contingent of 740 men boarded the troopship Ruahine in Liverpool on 16 November and arrived in New Zealand on 5 January 1918 where, upon arrival, George and a small number of other officers were granted three weeks privilege leave.
After reporting back to duty at Trentham with ‘B’ Company of the 40th Reinforcements on 18 February 1918, George was then sent to ‘D’ Company of the 39th Reinforcements on 5 March and based at Featherston Camp, which was New Zealand’s largest military training camp and situated northeast of Wellington. He immediately wrote to Headquarters requesting that he be transferred to the Samoan Forces; however, the application was denied on the grounds that he was still on strength of the NZEF and under the command of the GOC of that Force. Furthermore, the Chief of the General Staff also noted that as George was medically fit and specifically sent back from the front for duty as an officer of a Reinforcement draft, he must return in that capacity.
On 10 July George was assigned to ‘H’ Company of the 41st Reinforcements; however, five days earlier he had made a second application to be transferred – this time to the New Zealand Maori Contingent which was based at Narrow Neck Camp. Once again, the request was turned down; however, on 20 August it was eventually granted owing to the contingent being short of two officers. In the interim, on 29 July George was Court-Martialled for absenting himself from Trentham camp between 20-23 July and found guilty. His sentence states that he was ‘reprimanded’ and he eventually reported to duty with the Maori Reinforcements on 27 August.
George’s war came to a conclusion on 12 January 1919 when he was demobilised; however, it appears he was not yet ready to leave the military and on 6 February made an application to take up a position with the Samoan Garrison. Although kept on file, it appears that such a position was never offered to George and instead he went into the Reserve of Army Officers.
After a period living back in Auckland George appears to have returned to Fiji where is he known to have resigned his appointment as Inspector of Produce on 20 November 1929. Around about the same year he married Victoria Frances Rosa Wilson from Geelong, Victoria and had one child with her. George died in Suva on 22 July 1940.
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