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SA4645 Farrier (Len) Leonard Greenwood Retter – 7th  Contingent, NZMR
 
Leonard Greenwood Retter was born on the 19th December 1878 the fourth 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 brothers, Claude, Leonard and Darcy all being listed as farriers when the enlisted in the New Zealand Mounted Rifles to serve in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Farriers were vital keeping horses well shod and able to be used in the very mobile cavalry campaign that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were committed to.
 
(Len) Leonard’s older brother Claude had enlisted in the 4th Contingent and was in South Africa when Len and Darcy both enlisted in the 7th Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
 
Len’s enlistment papers, signed on the 13th March 1901, noted that he was working for his father as a blacksmith. [i] On the 6th April  1901 SA 4645 Farrier Len Retter, his younger  brother SA 4644 Farrier Darcy 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 sailed as part of the 7th Contingent for South Africa.
 
 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 the captured a Boer commando at Koppjiesfontein where 11 Boers were killed or wounded, 25 captured along with 34 waggons, 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 the final major contact being in February 1902 where the British forces attempted the capture of key Boer leader De Wet the report on the action sent as a dispatch on the night action on the 23rd February 1902 at Langverwacht. The action is also known as the Bloody Battle of Bothasberg.[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’
 
SA4645 Farrier Leonard Greenwood Retter was fatally wounded in the attack and as reported later by his brother SA4644 Farrier Darcy Retter at a memorial in New Zealand attended by not only the Governor General but also Mr W H Field parliamentary representative for the Otaki District which included Johnsonville..[iii]
 
‘   Among those present at Wednesday’s
ceremony,  was  Trooper  D’Arcy  Retter,
Len’s  brother, who fought side –by -side
with  Len  in  the  trench  at   Bothasberg.
D’Arcy  tells  of an incident of  that  wild
night.    During  the  engagement    Len,
after  being  hit  lost  his  rifle.   Empty-
Ing  the cartridges out  of  his  bandolier
Into  his  hat,   Ken  said  to  his  brother,
“I’ve got some fight in me yet –  give me
my rifle!”   Mr  W.  H.  Field’s  comment
was  that   “if  a  man  had  to  die, what
better  death  could  he  have  than  Len
Retter’s?”
 
The 7th Contingent sent their wounded to hospital and buried their dead
on Jan Lambards Farm. Farrier Len Retter is commemorated with other
members of the 7th in Vrede Cemetry, Vrede, Free State, South Africa.
 
 
 
Memorial at Jan Lambards Farm 
 
 
 
Farrier Retter’s effects were packaged to be returned to New Zealand but in
transit, like a number of other casualties, the effects were rifled in transit
with a wrist watch being stolen and his family would have received a  packet
of ‘ one knife and one fork.’[iv]
 
The family would also receive the Queen’s South Africa Medal with year clasp
1901 clasp and provincial clasps for Rhodesia and Transvaal.
 
Following the return of the 7th there were throughout New Zealand celebrations
for the returning Troopers and ceremonies for the casualties. In Johnsonville
there were two commemorations, lead by Governor Ranfurly, was at the school where the Retter family had attended. [v]
 
 
 
            ‘    The  Retter  family,  of  Johnsonville,
            has had much  sympathy extended to it
            over  the death of  Len  Retter, who was
            a   trooper  with  our  Eight  Contingent,
            and  who  lost  his  life in  the   famous
            “  drive  ”  at  Bothasberg.   His  Excel-
            lency the Governor bought tears to the
            eyes of the members of the family who
            were present at the Johnsonville School
            last Wednesday afternoon by his touch-
            Ing references to the dead trooper when
            unveiling   the   tablet   erected  by   the
            scholars as a memorial to Len.  ‘
 
 
 
The second commemoration was the erection, by public subscription, of memorial in the main street of Johnsonville. The advertisement, below, was inserted in the Evening Post – Date
 
 
 
Johnsonville Memorial 
 
 
 
 
The memorial, suitably given the families trade, was a cast iron lamp standard that originally powered by kerosene, then by gas and finally by electricity. The memorial was moved in 1985 and now stands in Moorehouse  Avenue, Johnsonville.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Len’s grave in South Africa was visited by his younger brother Darcy in 1938 and
found in a neglected state as reported by the Auckland Star in 1938.[vi]
 
 
 
 
Notes:
Farrier is a rank used rather than Private / Trooper where a man has responsibility
for veterinary and blacksmith skills.
Both Trooper and Private are used in military files and newspapers so for Porirua
stories the rank of Trooper has been used.
 
References:
Papers Past Online
NZ Births, Deaths and Marriages Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: SA4645 Leonard Greenwood Retter
NZ War Graves Project
Up in the Hills- One Hundred and twenty five years of Villiage Cricket
(Johnsonville Cricket Club 1886-2011) Alan Isaac
NZ Units in South Africa 1899 – 1902: NZ History online
 
Photos:
Background - the 7th break camp on the Veldt
Memorial for the 7th - NZ War Graves Online
Retter memorial at Johnsonville - Goggle  
 
 
 
[i] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA4645 Farrier  Leonard Greenwood Retter
[ii] Boer War – 7th Contingent: NZ History online
[iii] New Zealand Free lance 14th October 1902 
[iv] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA4645 Farrier  Leonard Greenwood Retter
[v] New Zealand Free Lance 14th October 1902
[vi] New Zealand Herald 16th July 1938
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
Men of the 7th Contingent NZMR on the Veldt