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SA4644 Farrier Darcy Harold Retter – 7th Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles
 
Darcy Harold Retter was born on the  12th January 1881 the fifth of six sons in a family of 13, born to Frederick Charles and Martha Annie Retter.
 
The Retter family were early settlers in Wellington with Frederick Charles Retter being born in Wadestown Wellington, in 1849. Frederick Charles married Martha Annie Smith in 1870 and he ran a blacksmith shop in the main street of Johnsonville Wellington. As the family grew up the boys also became blacksmiths with the eldest Frederick William Retter establishing another shop in 1894, in Main Road Johnsonville.  Blacksmithing ran in the family as three of Frederick Williams younger brother, Claude, Leonard and Darcy all being listed as farriers when they enlisted in the New Zealand Mounted Rifles to serve in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Farriers were vital to keeping horses well shod and able to be used in the very mobile cavalry campaign that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were committed to.
Darcy’s older brother Claude had enlisted in the 4th Contingent and was in South Africa when Darcy and Leonard  (Len) Retter both enlisted in the 7th Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
 
Darcy’s enlistment papers, signed on the 13th March 1901, noted that he was working for his father as a blacksmith in Molesworth Street, Wellington. The papers also note his age as 21 years three months, so had been adjusted allow him to serve.[i] On that date SA 4644 Farrier Darcy Retter, his older brother SA 4645 Farrier Len  Retter, SA4207 Trooper Charles Robertson, SA4643 Trooper John Robinson from Johnsonville,  SA4605 Lance Corporal Joseph Brown from Tawa, SA4650 Trooper George Styles from Pauatahanui and  SA4657 Trooper Leo Gestro from Paremata all enlisted.
 
On arrival in South Africa the 7th New Zealand and the 6th Queensland Contingent were assigned to Colonel Garratt’s column operating in the Eastern Transvaal and north-east of the Orange Free State. During June 1901 there was constant skirmishing with the Boers with casualties inflicted on both the 6th and 7th at places like Blesboxspruit, Kaffir’s Spruit. In July 1901 they captured a Boer commando at Koppjiesfontein. 11 Boers were killed or wounded, 25 captured along with 34 wagons, 31 carts and 1240 cattle.
 
More successful capture of material and men continued in August 1901 at Bultfontein, Spannerberg. These clearing operations continued seriously weakening the Boers  and the final major contact was in February 1902 where the British forces attempted the capture of key Boer leader De Wet. A report was sent as a dispatch on the night of this action, 23rd February 1902 at Langverwacht. The action is also known as the Bloody Battle of Bothasbergat.[ii]
 
‘De Wet adopted the plan of advancing under cover of a large mob of cattle, which were
rapidly driven up by natives to the point where the rush through was to be attempted.
This expedient met, it is true, with a part of the desired success, for there is little doubt
that De Wet, Ex-President Steyn, and a number of their men thus managed to break out
of the toils. As a whole, however, the Boer force was very severely punished by the
New Zealanders of Lieutenant Colonel Garratt's column, who displayed great gallantry
and resolution at a critical moment in resisting and in part repelling the attack. The
conduct of the New Zealanders upon this occasion reflects the highest credit upon all
ranks of the contingent, and upon the Colony to which it belongs. Nothing could have
been finer than the behaviour of the men. The whole of the Boer cattle and vehicles were
captured, and 31 of the enemy, together with over 160 horses, were killed at the point
where the attempt to penetrate our line was made. Our own casualties were also severe,
2 officers and 18 men being killed, and 5 officers and 33 men wounded, the large majority
of whom belonged to the New Zealand 7th Contingent’
 
Darcy’s brother SA4645 Farrier Len Retter was fatally wounded during the attack and was comforted by Darcy and other Johnsonville men while he died. The impact of the battle was reported in the Evening Post on 20th April 1902.[iii]
 
            ‘ In  a  letter  just  received  by  his  parents
            in Johnsonville. Trooper Darcy Retter gives
            an account of the death of his brother, who
            fought so gallantly  at the Bothesberg fight.
            He  says  that  he  was  close  by  when  his
            brother  fell,  and  that  he  and  three  other
            Johnsonville   comrades  were  with  him  to
            comfort   him   in  his   last  hours.  Trooper
            Retter,  before  his death, said that he abso-
            lutely  felt  no  pain, and  he  spoke  to  his
            comrades  to  the  last  in a cheerful manner.
 
The 7th Contingent after burying their dead and sending the wounded to hospital, continued through March 1902 with
the sweeps of the Veldt but with little to show as very few Boer combatants were seen.
 
The 7th Contingent in late March after the year of operations, started their journey to Durban and the return to New Zealand. At Newcastle the 7th Contingent was addressed by the New Zealand Premier Mr Richard Seddon. The 7th Contingent sailed from Durban, South Africa on the 22nd May 1902.
 
Trooper Darcy Retter returned to New Zealand on the 25th June 1902 and was finally discharged from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles on the 15th September 1902. For his service with the 7th Contingent Darcy was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps 1901, 1903, Orange Free State and Transvaal.
 
Darcy returned to Johnsonville and to blacksmithing, working for his father. In 1906 he  
married Louisa Jean Andrew and the couple had three daughters. The family moved to
Napier, Levin then Auckland. Darcy and Louisa divorced in 1932.
 
 
In 1938 Darcy travelled back to South Africa to visit the battlefields and
reported on the state of the graves of the 7th Contingent 
 
 
 
New Zealand Herald 16th July 1938 - Report on Graves 
 
 
 
 
 
Darcy Harold Retter died in Palmerston North, aged 59, in 1940.
 
 
Notes:
SA4207 Trooper Robertson and SA4643 Trooper Robinson and possibly
SA4609 Trooper Brown were the three from Johnsonville.
 
Private and Trooper are used in Military Files and newspaper articles for
consistancy Porirua stories uses Trooper. 
 
References:
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA4644 Farrier Darcy Harold Retter
Papers Past Online
NZ History Online – South African Wars
NZ Births, Deaths and Marriages Online
 
Photos:
7th Contingent breaks camp early in their campaign 
 
 
[i] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA4644 Farrier  Darcy Harold Retter
[ii] Boer War – 7th Contingent: NZ History online
[iii] Letter from the Front (23rd April 1902) Otago Witness
  
 
 
 
 
 
Men of the 7th Contingent on the Veldt  1901