Monday, June 1, 2015

"She faced them gentle and bold" - Nurse Edith Cavell

 Edith Cavell by Laurence Binyon

She was binding the wounds of her enemies when they came—
 The lint in her hand unrolled.
They battered the door with their rifle-butts, crashed it in:
 She faced them gentle and bold.

They haled her before the judges where they sat        
 In their places, helmet on head.
With question and menace the judges assailed her, “Yes,
 I have broken your law,” she said.

“I have tended the hurt and hidden the hunted, have done
 As a sister does to a brother,        
Because of a law that is greater than that you have made,
 Because I could do none other.

“Deal as you will with me. This is my choice to the end,
 To live in the life I vowed.”
“She is self-confessed,” they cried; “she is self-condemned.        
 She shall die, that the rest may be cowed.”

In the terrible hour of the dawn, when the veins are cold,
 They led her forth to the wall.
“I have loved my land,” she said, “but it is not enough:
 Love requires of me all.        

“I will empty my heart of the bitterness, hating none.”
 And sweetness filled her brave
With a vision of understanding beyond the hour
 That knelled to the waiting grave.

They bound her eyes, but she stood as if she shone.        
 The rifles it was that shook
When the hoarse command rang out. They could not endure
 That last, that defenceless look.

And the officer strode and pistolled her surely, ashamed
 That men, seasoned in blood,        
Should quail at a woman, only a woman,—
 As a flower stamped in the mud. 

As we continue worldwide to mark the centenary of the First World War, The Royal Mint in the United Kingdom has chosen to remember one of the most prominent female casualties of the First World War – Nurse Edith Cavell – on a new coin.

Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was executed in 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape German-occupied Brussels during the First World War. Her death was highly controversial at the time.  

On the coin are words from the poem above by Laurence Binyon called 'Edith Cavell' "she faced them gentle and bold"  I have not reproduced the whole poem and the link below will take you to a copy of the full version.  Laurence Binyon is well known for his First World War poem 'For the Fallen'.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Great War Exhibition - Dominion Museum Wellington

Last weekend I visited 'The Great War Exhibition' at the Dominion Museum in Wellington and I have to say I was suitably impressed.

The highlight of the exhibition for me was the colourisation of World War One photographs which shone a new light on many images that I had seen before, making the war itself all the more vivid 100 years later.

I highly recommend a visit.


The Great War Exhibition
Dominion Museum Building
Pukeahu National War Memorial Park
New Zealand

Poignant WWI Photos to See Light of Day Online

The National Army Museum has received a grant which will enable it to digitise most of their WW1 photographs, this is great news for researchers (like myself). 

“This is exciting news for us” said Director Jeanette Richardson ONZM. “The eve of the World War One Commemorations is such a good time to know that we will be able to bring a range of very poignant images directly to the public of New Zealand”.

Saint Kentigern Boys' School ANZAC poppies

Inspired by the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, every boy at Saint Kentigern Boys' School made a poppy, which were then placed around the school as part of their ANZAC day 2015 commemorations.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cyril Patrick Melbourne Jackson - Picton Memorial

Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1917 - No known copyright restrictions 

The handsome man in the photo above is that of Cyril Jackson, the second son of George and Martha Jackson of Picton.  In his days in Picton Cyril had been a valued member of the local cricket club and a member of the Holy Trinity church choir.   

At the outbreak of war Cyril was employed by the New Zealand Railways as a clerk at Waihi station in Coromandel.  He enlisted on 20 October 1915 at Waihi and embarked with the 10th reinforcements attached to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade on 4 March 1916.

Cyril was promoted to Company Sergeant Major on 11 July 1916 at Sling Camp, England.  His posting to the Western Front was delayed as he contracted Mumps early in March 1917 and was admitted to hospital in Glasgow for treatment.  By the begining of April he had recovered and was marched back into Sling camp and on to  Codford camp where he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment.

He arrived in France in May 1917.  However his tour of duty on the front was short.  Cyril was wounded in action at Passchendaele most likely on 4 October 1917 at the Battle of Broodseinde and died of his wounds the next day.  He was buried at the Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No 3, Vlamertinge, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. 

The news of Cyril's death back in New Zealand added to the grief that his family were already suffering,  this due to the death of Cyril's father in June of the same year.

Cyril is also remembered on the Waihi War Memorial Gate (pictured below).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Private Robert William Leaf - Matakohe Memorial

Robert William Leaf known as "Willie" was the eldest of 5 boys and 1 girl.  Born and raised in Matakohe his father had been one of the pioneering 'Albertlanders', the name given to a thousand immigrants who arrived at Port Albert in the Kaipara harbour in 1862. 

Prior to enlisting Willie had been sheep farming with his younger brother Toin in the Kaipara region and together they enlisted at the beginning of October 1916,  embarking from Wellington on 2 April 1917.

They marched alongside each other into Sling camp, England,  Etaples camp, France  and then on 25 July 1917 joined the 2nd Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment at Messines.  Less than a week later the brothers were separated by death,  when Willie was killed in action on 1 August 1917.   Months later on 27 March 1918 Toin was seriously wounded, receiving injuries to his face and right arm.  He ultimately lost an eye and was invalided back to New Zealand a few days before the Armistice was declared.

Willie's body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium.   His family back in New Zealand struggled with the fact that Willie had no known grave.  A line from a memorial poem placed regularly by the family on the anniversary of his death in the years following the war, shows the depth of their feeling and grief. 

 "But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow" 
They also placed notices in the New Zealand Herald asking returned servicemen for any information on Willie's death in the hope that his body would be located and given a proper burial.

New Zealand Herald, Volume LIX, Issue 18157, 1 August 1922, Page 1
Back in New Zealand Toin's suffered poor health as a result of the injuries he suffered in the war.  He died in 1929 of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Article image 
Auckland Star, Volume LX, Issue 154, 2 July 1929, Page 5
A further brother Alfred also served in World War One enlisting on 9 March 1917 and embarking on the 'Ulimaroa' on 26 July 1917, only days before his brother was killed in action.  Before departing he married Phyllis Grice on 19 June 1917.  Alfred survived the war but not unscathed.  

There is a note on his Cenotaph database record stating he returned to New Zealand with a nervous disorder caused by a train accident.  After looking at Alfred's service record I concluded the accident he was involved in was the Bere Ferrers train accident which took place on 24 September 1917.

A train carrying disembarked New Zealand troops from the 'Ulimaroa' and 'Norman'  was on route from Plymouth to Sling camp on the Salisbury Plain. The train stopped for signals at Bere Ferrers in Devon, when troops mistakenly got off the train thinking  they had reached their refreshment stop in Exeter.   The soldiers were hit by an oncoming express train as they alighted from the wrong side of the train.  Ten New Zealand soldiers were killed as a result of the accident.