National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Rifleman Fights in the Desert

Leslie Garnet Hookings

Leslie Garnet Hookings

Leslie Garnet Hookings was born in Broken Hill, NSW, Australia on 19 September 1889 to parents James and Eliza Hookings who moved to New Zealand in 1900 and settled in the Hawkes Bay.

At the outbreak of World War One, Leslie Hookings was working as a Carpenter for J. Hill in Napier and was living in Greenmeadows. He had completed Territorial service with the Napier Guards Rifle Volunteers.

Leslie enlisted on 31 May 1915 and completed training at Trentham and Featherston before embarking from Wellington on 9 October 1915 aboard the Aparima bound for Suez, Egypt.

As a Rifleman (Private) with the New Zealand Brigade, it would be expected that Leslie Hookings would be bound for France however he was transported aboard the Clematis for Mersa Matruh to serve as part of the Western Frontier Force (WFF).

To the west of British-controlled Egypt, Arab and Berber tribes were being ‘recruited’ by German and Turkish forces to engage the British and their allies in North Africa and various hostile acts began to be committed against the frontier posts. 

On 21 December 1915, the 2nd New Zealand Rifle Brigade, one company of 15th Sikhs, a detachment of the Bikanir Camel Corps, an Egyptian Army Machine Gun Section and an armoured train garrisoned by 1/10th Ghurkha Rifles, moved to hold the Alexandria – Debaa railway, and to patrol to the Moghara oasis.

On 19 January 1916, aerial reconnaissance revealed a large enemy camp; 100 European and 250 Bedouin tents approximately 25 miles from Mersa Matruh, at Halazin.

On 23 January 1916, Leslie Hookings and the rest of the 1st Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade engaged the Senussi tribesmen in battle.

The Senussi had around 5000 infantrymen, along with Turkish artillery and machine guns. The WFF attacked the camp through thick mud, killing 200 and wounding 500 for the loss of 31 of their own. One of those killed was 23/784 Rifleman Leslie Hookings. He was 26 and was one of the first NZ Rifle Brigade casualties in World War One.

Leslie Hookings was buried with two other riflemen but after the grave was looted, a special expedition went out and brought the bodies back for re-internment at Mersa Matruh.

Leslie Hookings’ body would be later moved to the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt, grave E. 116.

Leslie Hookings is also commemorated on the Taradale War Memorial.