With the Anzac Wireless Squadron in Persia by F. L. McFarlane

<em>With the Anzac Wireless Squadron in Persia</em> by F. L. McFarlane

With the Anzac Wireless Squadron in Persia by F. L. McFarlane, circa 1918.

About the artist

Francis Ledingham McFarlane was added to the War Artists’ Section in October 1918, to record aspects of New Zealand’s involvement in the British campaigns in the Middle East. It many ways it was an odd choice. Although McFarlane had served in the Middle East since early 1916 he was never attached to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade fighting in Sinai and Palestine – he was actually part of a small group of New Zealand signallers sent to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) and Persia (modern-day Iran).

McFarlane began his service in Mesopotamia in 1916 with the New Zealand Wireless Troop, a tiny technical unit of a few dozen signallers from the Corps of New Zealand Engineers specialising in the use of first-generation portable radio – wireless – communications equipment.

After being struck down with Typhoid in late 1916 McFarlane was evacuated to Egypt where he spent the first two months of 1917 recovering in the New Zealand-run ‘Aotea’ Convalescent Hospital at Heliopolis near Cairo. He spent the next eight months in Egypt on attachment to various New Zealand headquarters units before being sent back to Mesopotamia to rejoin his old signals unit in November. Shortly after his return the New Zealand Wireless Troop received orders to move to north-eastern Persia in support of British operations against the Ottoman Turks in the Caucasus. The New Zealand signallers, including McFarlane, helped establish and maintain the British military communications network in Persia until July 1918, when the unit was ordered to France to reinforce the New Zealand Division.

McFarlane and the rest of the Wireless Troop arrived at the New Zealand Headquarters in Abbeville after a tiring two-month odyssey across the Middle East and Mediterranean. They were immediately given a month’s leave in London, where McFarlane came to the attention of NZEF Headquarters. Instead of being sent back to France he was transferred to the War Artists' Section on 11 October 1918. 

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William Leith

Posted: 24 Feb 2013

Frank MacFarlane was my great uncle and was the father of Shona MaFarlane. He was one of the two artists who made paintings of the Shellal Mosaics as they were excavated and later restored in Australia.