Worser Bay - Beethoven (Beet) Algar

Beet Algar joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles in 1915 and served in Egypt and the Middle East. He survived the war, played rugby for the All Blacks in 1920, and died at the age of 95 in 1989.

 

Beethoven Algar was born in Wellington on the 28th of February, 1894. His musical mother named him after the German composer, but throughout his life he was known simply as ‘Beet’.

Beet’s family initially lived in Taranaki Street, but when his parents separated in 1901, he moved with his father and siblings to Worser Bay, where he went to school.

Beet was a joinery apprentice at his oldest brother’s sash and door factory in Kilbirnie when the First World War started in August 1914. He went to Buckle Street to sign up and join the advance party of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force bound for Samoa, but because of an error in registering his date of birth he was rejected as too young. He had to wait until the following year to enlist.

Egypt and the Middle East

In August 1915 Beet joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles, and on the 13th of November he sailed with the 8th Reinforcements for Egypt. He narrowly avoided being sent to Gallipoli, and instead remained in Egypt where his job was to look after some of the 10,000 horses that went to war with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

In July 1916, Beet transferred to the Imperial Camel Corps, in the hope that he might see more action than he had done with the Wellington Mounted Rifles. His wish was granted: he subsequently fought in the battles of Magdhaba (23 December 1916) and Rafah (9 January 1917). These Allied victories were part of the successful campaign to push the Turks out of the Sinai peninsula.

Beet then went on to fight in the Palestine campaign, which had as its aim the capture of Ottoman-held Palestine. After two unsuccessful attempts, in November 1917 the Allies gained control of Gaza, and not long after that the port of Jaffa.

Injury and discharge

It was in an attack on their ultimate goal, the city of Jerusalem, that Beet was shot in the buttock on 30 November 1917. Jerusalem fell nine days later, but Beet had already been evacuated by camel back to Cairo.

Infection in his wound meant that Beet risked having his leg amputated; however, unlike many others, he avoided losing a limb. Nevertheless, the pain and stiffness he experienced as he recovered in Port Said rest camp meant that he was declared no longer fit for active service, and was invalided home to New Zealand.

After the war

Beet was finally discharged from the army on the 27th of November, 1918. He returned to Wellington where he ran a building company with his brother in Coutts Street in Kilbirnie, and in 1920 married Kathleen Norman.

The same year as his marriage, Beet – always a good athlete, despite his war wound – was picked to join the All Blacks. He played several matches in both New Zealand and Australia before deciding to focus on his work and family commitments. However, Beet never lost his passion for rugby, and for the final decade of his life he was patron of the Poneke Football Club, the club in Kilbirnie that he had played for before the war.

Beet was one of 84 WW1 veterans who agreed to be interviewed by oral historians Nicholas Boyack and Jane Tolerton about their memories of the war. When Beet was interviewed for the project he was 94. He died a year later, on the 28th of November 1989, in Levin.

Algar family archives

 

Find out more

  • Beet's son Neil Algar presented a speech about his father at the Matamata Historical Society on 23 September 2014 - Beet Algar - soldier and All Black (39KB PDF)
  • Details of New Zealand soldiers’ activity in World War One can be found by examining their digitised defence personnel file, most of which can be accessed online via the Archives NZ catalogue
  • More detail about the New Zealand horses who went to war can be found on NZHistory.net
  • The New Zealand Expeditionary Force and Beet's involvement with the Force are featured on our Story Map.
  • Further background on New Zealand’s involvement in campaigns in the Middle East during the war can be found on NZHistory.net 
  • A transcription of Nicholas Boyack and Jane Tolerton’s interview with Beet can be read in 'Beet Algar' in In the Shadow of War: New Zealand soldiers talk about World War One and their lives, by Nicholas Boyack and Jane Tolerton (Penguin Books: Auckland, 1990), pp. 111-130.

Image references

  1. Courtesy of the family of Beet Algar.
  2. Wellington District Education Board Class Schedule, Worser Bay School, 1905. Accessible at Archives NZ.
  3. Poster, ’The Empire Needs Men!’, January 1915, United Kingdom, by Arthur Wardle, Straker Brothers Ltd, Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. Gift of Department of Defence, 1919. Te Papa (GH016383)
  4. New Zealand transport on beach near Alexandria, Egypt. Martin, W W :World War One albums of Mr Laurie C Mackie. Ref: PA1-o-309-04-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  5. Palestine. circa 1917. Camel cacholets being used for transporting wounded Allied soldiers during fighting in the country. (Donor Major A.E. Machin). Accessible at the Australian War Memorial
  6. Page of Beet's Defence Personnel Record, digitised and accessible online via Archives NZ.
  7. Courtesy of the family of Beet Algar.
  8. Courtesy of the famly of Beet Algar.
  9. From In the Shadow of War: New Zealand soldiers talk about World War One and their lives by Nicholas Boyack and Jane Tolerton (Penguin Books: Auckland, 1990).