WWI horseman back home

By Roger Moroney

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HOLDING HISTORY: Neil Chambers (left) with his son William and grandson George, hand over the historical portrait to the heads of Chambers House, Alice Hoogerbrug and Cooper McDougal, both from Year 6. PHOTO/WARREN BUCKLAND HBT14226901
HOLDING HISTORY: Neil Chambers (left) with his son William and grandson George, hand over the historical portrait to the heads of Chambers House, Alice Hoogerbrug and Cooper McDougal, both from Year 6. PHOTO/WARREN BUCKLAND HBT14226901

There has long been a link through the generations between the Chambers family of Havelock North and the local primary school.

The school once took part in a fundraising campaign to buy a horse for an "old boy" who had spent his early years of education there.

On Friday morning, after a long absence, the horse came back and principal Paul Bremer was delighted.

"It's the right place for it," Neil Chambers said as he and two other generations of the family presented the school with a large framed photograph of a majestic looking soldier seated proudly upon an equally majestic horse.

The soldier is Major Selwyn Chambers, who as a lad in the latter years of the 19th century enjoyed his school years at the little Havelock North school.

He went on to become an active and popular member of the local community where the family had established itself as a core of the farming community, becoming chairman of the Hawke's Bay Farmers Union as well as serving as a major in the territorials.

So no surprise that at the outbreak of WWI he quickly enlisted and became part of the Wellington Mounted Rifles.

Being cavalry, horses were needed in great numbers and it would transpire that between 1914 and 1916 the New Zealand Government acquired more than 10,000 of them to equip the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces.

Communities across the country rose to the challenge to find the funds and horses - and the headmaster of Havelock North School, supported by the pupils and their parents a century ago, did their bit.

They fundraised every way they could to come up with the cost of a fine horse - a horse for their old boy Selwyn Chambers.

He proudly took possession of his fine charger which he declared would be named Sir Henry Havelock, and he made the pledge that he would not let the generosity and determination of his old school, and the community he loved, go without recognition.

He commissioned a photograph of himself seated grandly on his horse, and had a large copy made and framed, which he presented to the school.

But through the years there were many changes at the school and items were moved, shifted or stored through the years, and the photograph lost its place on the wall.

A couple of years ago it was recognised as being a part of the Chambers family's historical archive and found its way back into family hands.

However, it was only recently unearthed by Selwyn Chambers' grandson Neil. "So I got on to the school and they were delighted to hear about it," he said.

Mr Bremer described the occasion as "one of our treasures coming back" - and fittingly the head pupils of Chambers House (one of school's four houses) were asked to accept it.

At the following assembly the 475 pupils learned of its significance and were fascinated to hear how, 100 years ago, the children of that era gave what they could to buy a horse for a very special old boy.

The portrait is made more special through the fact Neil Chambers' father Russell also went to Havelock North School, as did he, and his son William and William's son George.

"It's back where it belongs and it will be there for the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli," Mr Chambers said.

The portrait will be placed in the main foyer until a "special place" is found for it where it will also feature a plaque explaining its significance.

Sadly, Major Selwyn Chambers died on the Gallipoli peninsular after being struck in the throat by a sniper's bullet just after dawn on August 7, 1915, during the campaign to take Chunuk Bair.

And his much-loved mount fared no better. Most of the thousands of horses that went overseas died from injury or disease ... and the rest were either killed, sold or kept for use by the British Army.

Only four Kiwi horses eventually returned home.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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