September 23rd marks the day that the Canterbury troopships, Athenic and Tahiti, left Lyttelton in 1914. There had been rumours of the leaving date for some time, but the actual date was not publicised, some said for security reasons, but it incensed others. Public farewells to Auckland and Wellington troops were reported in the papers, but for a writer to the Star, on September 25th:
What about the farewell to our own Canterbury boys ? There is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction expressed on all sides at the treatment of the Canterbury Expeditionary Force. They were not even allowed to march through the streets that their mothers and fathers and those near and dear might get a farewell look. Into the train at Sockburn Camp and out again at Lvttelton (they might have been prisoners in a huge Black Maria from the treatment), their relatives not being allowed even on the wharf till the very last moment. As one mother remarked, “We were kept for hours, like cattle behind a barrier, and could not then call out a greeting to our dear ones, whom we had given to fight for our country.” Eventually as the ships were moving off, the barriers were removed, and helter skelter rushed the mothers and fathers of our boys to try and wave a last good-bye. What treatment is this? Is it befitting that those who have gone away, for God knows how long, should carry with them feelings of anger and disappointment? Surely an aching heart at leaving dear ones behind was enough without any addition. Of the feelings of those mothers and wives who so generously gave their boys I need say nothing. I know of several who came up by the express in hopes of seeing their only sons, but reached Lyttelton too late. The troopships had gone.
Men in the training camps were not told either. Cecil Malthus wrote on September 22nd,
I can hardly believe that the leave this afternoon was our last opportunity of seeing friends – surely we would have been explicitly told so if it was. Perhaps all we will get will be some short leave in Lyttelton, and in that case the difficulty will be to let you know
And later, at sea, on the 24th,
I did not get a word of farewell from any of my family: no doubt they disbelieved that we were going.
The Star (an evening paper) reported the troopships going, but the event was not mentioned in The Sun until the day following departure in a waspish editorial about the flouting of the Defence Department’s wishes by other, unnamed, local newspapers. The Press maintained silence but reported on the Prime Minister’s attendance at the Auckland farewell and the official farewell for the Wellington men, as well as New Zealand action in Samoa. After the many events and support in the local Christchurch and Canterbury district for the troops, the lack of an official farewell rankled.
Once on board the men sent letters home mentioning the farewell, and conditions on board. The following letter from a Peninsula mounted man is of interest:—
“We struck camp on Tuesday morning at 6.30 and rode through to Lyttelton via Sumner, the South Canterbury Mounted Regiment going with us. The infantry came down on Wednesday at 2.30. We spent half an hour on the Sumner beach, gave our horses a sand bath and a walk in the sea, then came on to Lyttelton. We embarked practically straight away without any excitement or fuss of any sort. Our horses and ourselves were on board in a very short time, and we were all well settled down by the time night came. The C.Y.C. have good quarters for their horses. There are 90 men all packed in one big room. Goodness knows what it will be like in hot weather. Anyhow, we all managed to sleep well on board the first night. On Wednesday, we were busy all day getting luggage on board and making things comfortable. No visitors were allowed on the wharf. People were waiting all day to get in to see us. There were about 700 people to see us off. They came on the wharf at 5 o’clock, and we sailed at 5.15, so they did not have much time to say good bye. It was a very stirring send off I can tell you. Mr C. Hay, and party from Pigeon Bay, came with us out to the Heads. I suppose they were going back to the Bay. “
This first sailing took the men to Wellington.