Story: Malone, William George

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Malone, William George

1859–1915

Farmer, lawyer, military leader

This biography was written by Chris Pugsley and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

William George Malone was one of New Zealand's outstanding soldiers of the Gallipoli campaign. He was born in England at Rushey Green, Lewisham, Kent, on 24 January 1859, the third of five children of Louisa Childs and her husband, Thomas Augustine Malone, an Irish Catholic and a chemist by profession. Thomas Malone's early death in 1867 appears to have left the family in difficult financial circumstances. William, nevertheless, was educated by Marist brothers at boarding schools in England and France. Here he acquired the conservatism and determination to master anything he attempted which were to characterise him in later life. Malone continued his schooling in France until 1876, becoming fluent in French and a competent pianist. Returning to London he worked in an office, and began his links with the military by enlisting in the City of Westminster Rifle Volunteers; he also served in the Royal Artillery Volunteers.

In January 1880 Malone arrived in Taranaki, New Zealand, as a steerage passenger on the Western Monarch to join his elder brother, Austin. William joined the Armed Constabulary and served with his brother at Opunake, and also took part in the attack on Parihaka in November 1881. He resigned from the Armed Constabulary in 1882 and worked in surf-boats and lightering on the Opunake coast and took up land with Austin near Stratford. The brothers arranged for their mother and two sisters to join them in New Zealand. On 27 November 1886 William married Elinor Lucy Penn at New Plymouth. They had four sons and one daughter before Elinor died giving birth at New Plymouth on 18 June 1904. In Christchurch on 11 September the following year he married Ida Katherine Withers, 16 years his junior, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

Malone was active in local affairs as chairman of the Ngaire Road Board from 1883, and a member of the Hawera County Council (1885–1890) and the Taranaki Hospital and Charitable Aid Board. He played an important role in forming the Stratford County Council and was its first clerk and treasurer. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1892.

Malone always saw himself as a farmer and working man, and farmed a large block of land at Puniwhakau, near Stratford. About 1890, however, he began business in Stratford as a land and commission agent. He also began to study law at night while farming by day. Admitted as a solicitor on 19 April 1894, he qualified as a barrister five years later.

In 1903 Malone formed a law partnership with James McVeagh and W. D. Anderson, opening branches in several Taranaki towns. He moved to New Plymouth in the same year. Much of his legal business involved land transactions. A strong supporter of freehold land tenure, he unsuccessfully contested the Taranaki electorate as an independent Liberal in 1907 and 1908. In 1911 he sold his share of the legal practice and returned to Stratford, where he acted as solicitor to many of the town's leading businesses.

It is for his military achievements that William Malone is best known. During the South African War he assisted in raising the Stratford Rifle Volunteers and served as captain. By 1910 he had become lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of 4th Battalion, Wellington (Taranaki) Rifle Volunteers. He was a strong advocate of compulsory military training and in 1911 was appointed to command the 11th Regiment (Taranaki Rifles).

At the annual camp in 1911 he introduced the 'lemon squeezer' as the regimental hat. Malone's purpose was both to mirror the outline of Mt Egmont, and also to allow for run-off in the rain. In September 1916 it was adopted by the New Zealand military, and it remains the distinctive ceremonial head-dress of the New Zealand army.

On the outbreak of war in August 1914 Malone was appointed to command the Wellington Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The oldest man in the battalion, he was 'fit, hard & well', almost six feet tall and of solid build. Malone was determined to make his battalion the best in the force. He had spent 15 years reading military history and strategy, and was achieving a lifelong ambition by going to war. In training in Egypt in late 1914 and early 1915 he drove his battalion mercilessly and they hated him for it. He weeded out those who did not meet his standards and worked his men harder and longer than those of any other battalion in the brigade.

As part of the ANZAC Corps, the Wellington Battalion landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April. Malone immediately began to impose order. By example, determination and drive he transformed weak defences held by frightened men into ordered garrisons which dominated their Turkish opponents. He consolidated and secured the ANZAC Corps perimeter whenever it was threatened. The losses suffered at Helles on 8 May confirmed for him that 'this is the day of digging and machine guns and that prepared positions cannot be rushed'. As post commander at Courtney's Post and Quinn's Post between June and August he put this into practice by consolidating a precarious position at Quinn's Post, where an advance of 20 metres by the Turks would have forced the evacuation of the ANZAC Corps.

Malone fought his superiors for building material and for basic comforts for his men as fiercely as he fought the Turks. His diaries chart a growing disenchantment with impractical British regular officers, and a growing love for his men. Malone would not take 'no' for an answer, and this led to a clash of wills between him and his New Zealand Infantry Brigade commander, Colonel F. E. Johnston, and his staff. Malone survived with the support of Johnston's superiors, Major General Sir A. J. Godley, commander of the New Zealand and Australian Division, and Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood, commanding the ANZAC Corps.

The Wellington Battalion played a pivotal part in the August offensive. After a confusing night march, at dawn on 7 August they secured the Apex on Rhododendron Ridge some 500 metres below the infantry brigade's objective of Chunuk Bair. The opportunity was there for the brigade to push on and seize the heights overlooking the Dardanelles, but the exhausted Johnston vacillated until directed to advance by Godley. The Auckland Battalion made a daylight attack, but was destroyed by Turkish fire as it tried to advance up the ridge. Malone was ordered to continue the attack. He refused: 'I'm not going to send them over to commit suicide.' Johnston agreed that the attack be delayed until before dawn. Malone's battalion seized Chunuk Bair on 8 August; there was little opposition.

Turkish counter-attacks began at daylight and the two British battalions with the Wellingtons crumpled and some of their soldiers ran. Malone personally led counter-attacks to keep the crest clear of Turkish troops. Little communication was possible with brigade headquarters, but at midday some Auckland Mounted Rifles got forward to reinforce Malone's men. At 5 p.m. supporting artillery fire, probably from a New Zealand howitzer battery, burst over Malone's trench and killed him. By then the Turkish counter-attacks had ceased. That night, when the Wellingtons were relieved by other New Zealand units, some 70 of the battalion's 760 men remained.

The seizure of Chunuk Bair was the one success of the August offensive. It was not exploited. The New Zealanders held the seaward slopes for another 24 hours until relieved by British troops, who were then driven off on 10 August. Malone's body remained on Chunuk Bair, one of 310 Wellington soldiers who have no known graves. In death Malone unfairly became the scapegoat for the failure of the offensive.

William Malone was an outstanding battalion commander who proved in action to have the capacity for higher command. His efforts in August almost compensated for the ineptness displayed by his superior commanders. The tenacity displayed by the Wellington Battalion on Chunuk Bair on 8 August 1915 embodied the spirit of their commanding officer.