Brigadier James Hargest, 1891-1944

Brigadier James Hargest was born in Gore, New Zealand on 4 September 1891, son of James Hargest, a labourer, and Mary Prosser. He was educated at schools in both Gore and Mandeville after which he joined his father in the farming business in Mandeville. He joined the Territorial Force in February 1911, but volunteered to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in August 1914, receiving a commission with the Otago Mounted Rifle Regiment. Hargest was seriously wounded at Gallipoli, and after months of rest and recuperation, rejoined the 1st Battalion of the Otago Mounted Rifle Regiment in July 1916 in France. He quickly emerged as a very promising officer and attained the temporary rank of Major as well as winning the Military Cross. On 17 September 1917, at Christchurch in Hampshire, he married Marie Henrietta Wilkie, a Theatre Sister serving at the New Zealand Military Hospital at Brockenhurst, and eventually had three sons and one daughter. In September 1918 he was given command of the 2nd Battalion, which he led with distinction for the remainder of the war, combining personal bravery, tactical flair and great organisational ability. He was also awarded the DSO, Croix de chevalier, Légion d'honneur and Mentioned in Despatches. Marie Henrietta was awarded the Royal Red Cross, second class and Mentioned in Despatches.

The couple returned to New Zealand in May 1919. Hargest became a farmer during the interwar years, purchasing a farm at Rakauhauka near Invercargill but maintained his involvement with the Territorial Force however and became the CO of the 3rd New Zealand Brigade between 1925 and 1930. He was a Member of the New Zealand Parliament, initially for the constituency of Invercargill, then switching to the rural Southland seat Awaura, a position he held from 1931 until his death on 12 August 1944. Despite the findings of an Army Medical Board, Hargest managed to pull strings with the then acting Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, and became CO of the 5th NZ Brigade in May 1940 (Second World War). The brigade distinguished itself during the Greek Campaign for its defence of the Olympus Pass but Hargest remained strangely inactive during the initial stages of the German airborne invasion of Crete and must bear some responsibility for the loss of Maleme airfield and ultimately the island. Much of that only came to light later and he was awarded a bar to the DSO and the Greek Military Cross for his actions in both Greece and Crete. Hargest was critical of General Bernard Freyberg's handling of the campaign and made his feelings clear during their private meeting the Prime Minister Peter Fraser back in Egypt.

Hargest was captured in Libya when his HQ was overrun and sent to a PoW Camp in Italy (Campo 12), that was based in a castle near Florence, where he met a number of other senior officers, including Adrian Carton de Wiart, VC. Hargest eventually escaped along with fellow New Zealander Reginald Miles and four other officers and made his way back to Britain via France and in doing so became the highest-ranking officer to escape. He was awarded a second bar to the DSO and eventually made a CBE for this achievement. Before D-Day, he was appointed as an official observer, attached to the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and wrote perspective reports on the campaign. As the breakout from Normandy looked imminent, he was recalled by the New Zealand Government and went to visit friends before departing. While doing so, he was killed by mortar fire, being survived by his wife and three children, one son having been killed in action earlier in the year.

Books with Amazon

Davin, D. M. Crete., Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War series, Wellington, New Zealand, 1953. There is also a limited edition 1997 Reprint from the Imperial War Museum.
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McLeod, J. Myth & reality: the New Zealand soldier in World War II. Reed Methuen, Auckland, 1986
The British Army 1939 45 (2) Middle East & Mediterranean, Brayley, Martin J., Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2002, Men-At-Arms Series No. 368. Part two of a three part look at the British Army during the Second World War, this book provides a good summary of the fighting around the Mediterranean, including North Africa and Italy, looks at the special uniforms needed in these theatres and includes an overview of the British Artillery. [see more]
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Hargest, James, 1891-1944, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 16 December 2003, active as of 25 January 2005
Biographic details listed on the Hottot Les Bagues War Cemetery Website, located at, as of 2 February 2005.

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How to cite this article:Antill, P. (25 July 2005), Brigadier James Hargest, 1891-1944,

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