On the evening of 28 February 1933, a two-seater Gipsy Moth flew into Milson Aerodrome in Palmerston North. As the small biplane rumbled to a halt on the grass runway, a Wellington urologist by the name of Robert Campbell Begg climbed out of the back seat. Tall, lean and well-dressed, there was a certain air of mystery about the man and his secret late night flight.
After a well-deserved night’s rest, Begg met with a small group of prominent farmers and businessmen in the Chamber of Commerce building. His aim, he told them, was simple – to form a new national movement that would unite the country to resolve the crisis of the Great Depression. That movement would become known as the New Zealand Legion.
In total, Begg travelled 5276 miles by rail, car, air and ferry between 17 February and 26 March. He attended 42 meetings and oversaw the formation of seventeen Divisions of the new movement. Within several months, the Legion boasted over twenty thousand members and captured the attention of every major newspaper in the country. By mid-1934, however, the movement was all but defunct.
Despite such a dramatic achievement, the New Zealand Legion has attracted little historical attention. Even trusty Google has heard little about it, apart from a brief and overly simplistic wikipedia entry. One of the great things about my research, however, is that I get to shed light on movements such as these. So, in the spirit of open source, here is my little contribution to the rise and fall of the New Zealand Legion.