Sunday, October 4, 2015

William Haigh Seaton - Devonport Memorial, Auckland

The Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October 1917 was a comprehensive victory for the allies.  The New Zealand division was given the task of capturing the Gravenstafel Spur on the Broodseinde Ridge.  They fulfilled  their task admirably but at a cost.   At the completion of the battle the New Zealanders had 1,700 casualties including 350 deaths.

Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1917 - No known copyright restrictions 

William Haigh Seaton was born in Grimsby, England the eldest son of Kemp and Jane Seaton.  

He had emigrated to New Zealand with his parents and brother James in 1912.  The family set up home in Devonport and at the outbreak of war William was employed as an engineer working for the Union Company in Auckland.  William enlisted in November 1915 and embarked with the Auckland Infantry Battalion on 4 March 1916.  He marched into camp at Etaples, France on 24 April 1916.    At the end of July 1917 he was granted 10 days leave to the UK.  By this time his younger brother James had enlisted and embarked from Auckland earlier during the month of July. 

Sadly the two brothers were not reunited in the UK as James disembarked in Plymouth on 24 September 1917 and William by then was already back at the Front.  Tragically William was killed in action on 4 October 1917 at the Battle of Broodseinde.  He was 27 years old.

James finally marched into camp at Etaples on 28 October 1917, this must have been a difficult time for him knowing that only weeks earlier his brother had been killed in action.  Even harder would have been the fact that William's body was never recovered so James had no grave to visit.  

William is remembered along with the hundreds of other New Zealanders who lost their lives in Belgium during October 1917 and have no known grave on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.


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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lance Corporal Edward Angel - Matakohe memorial

Corporal Edward Angel was the youngest of three brothers who together embarked on 14 February 1915 aboard the 'Warrimoo' as part of the 1st Maori Contingent.  According to newspaper reports Edward was only 15 years old or thereabouts when he enlisted.  In James Cowans' book 'Maori in the Great War' Cowan tells us how:

" was the custom of the Maori to enter the firing line in the early teens.  Many a man of the old generation went on his first war trail at the age of twelve."

How old Edward actually was is open to debate, I could not find any official entry of his birth and on his Commonwealth Grave Commission record it states he was 19 years old when he died of his wounds in December 1917.  Before embarking Richard the eldest of the three brothers would most likely have promised his parents William and Mary Angel, that he would watch out for his younger brothers.  

The Maori contingent was not at the initial landing at Gallipoli in April 1915,  instead they were camped in Malta awaiting orders.  Finally after a frustrating wait and watching troops come and go from the Gallipoli Pennisula the contingent left for Gallipoli in June 1915.

On 6 August 1915 at the Battle of Sari Bair, William was wounded and subsequently medically evacuated back to Malta and from there to England.  In February 1916,  he returned to New Zealand minus a finger and with a bullet wound to the leg.  He was medically discharged on 10 May 1916.  In his service record I found evidence that he attempted to re-enlist at the beginning of June of the same year, however I could find no evidence that he was accepted.

The Angel brothers may well have been together when Richard led a section out to clear barbed wire entanglements from Chailak Dere,  before the main attack on 6 August 1915.  When the battle was over Richard was promoted to Corporal and awarded the Military Medal for bravery as a result of his actions, his citation reads:

'Bravery in attack on Turkish trenches on Bauchop's Hill and removing wire entanglements in Chailak Dere, Gallipoli, on August 6th.  Led his section with the utmost dash.'

After the evacuation of Gallipoli Edward and Richard embarked for France at the beginning of April 1916.  In July 1916 Edward was admitted to hospital suffering from debility, today  debility would be known as chronic fatigue syndrome.  Edward was at the most only 17/18 years of age and had been exposed to all the horrors of war while still a boy, witnessing more death than life.  This must have had a profound negative effect on his physical and mental health.  Yet less than a month after hospitalisation he was back at the front until he contracted mumps in May 1917. After recovering he returned to the front again and spent a short spell at the casualty clearing station with influenza, before going on leave on 18 July 1917.

Edward returned from leave at the end of July and was promoted to Lance Corporal on 8 December 1917.  Shortly after his third Christmas as a soldier away from his home and family in New Zealand he was fatally wounded on 28 December 1917.  He was buried at Ramparts Cemetery. Lille Gate, Ieper, Belgium.

Richard survived the war and when the armistice was announced on 11 November 1918, he was on leave in Paris.  Despite the celebrations followed his thoughts would most likely have been of is younger brother Edward. Richard returned to New Zealand in February 1919.

Article image

New Zealand Herald, Volume LV, Issue 16760, 29 January 1918, Page 5

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Matakohe Memorial - Northland

Article image 

Article image 
New Zealand Herald, Volume LIX, Issue 17980, 4 January 1922, Page 4
Papers Past 

I came across the Matakohe war memorial by chance on a drive back from the Far North last year.  The memorial is well place on a hill overlooking the land beyond, on which many of those inscribed on the memorial would have farmed on before enlisting and embarking for war.

The memorial was unveiled on 3 January 1922.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New look Cenotaph Database

I love the new look of the Cenotaph database from Auckland Museum.  Congratulations to all involved.  I especially like how we can all contribute to the site. Take a look. 

Private Harry McKillop - Mt Eden War Memorial

Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1916 - No known copyright restrictions 

Harry McKillop and his brother Gordon were both young boys when orphaned in 1902.  Their father Arthur, was killed as a result of a railway accident at Mt Eden in February 1900 and their mother Annie dropped dead on the street, most likely from a heart attack in 1902.  The boys were then taken into the care of their maternal grandmother and raised at 27 Virginia Avenue, Mt Eden.  

After finishing school they sought careers at sea.  Gordon with Huddard, Parker & Co. and Harry with Union Steamship Company.  When war broke out they were keen to enlist despite their young ages.

Harry (the eldest of the two) enlisted first in February 1915 aged 19.  Embarking with the Auckland Infantry Battalion on 13 June 1915.  At Gallipoli he was invalided to hospital in Malta with exhaustion in reality he was most likely suffering shell shock/shell concussion.  His recovery was slow and he was sent to England in September 1915 where he spent time at Bethnal Green Hospital. 

In July 1916 the powers to be decided, he was once again fit for military service and he rejoined his unit with the Auckland Infantry Battalion in Armentieres, France.  Shortly afterwards he was wounded in action on 27 September 1916, receiving a gun shot wound to chest.  He was admitted to the 38th casualty clearing station where he died aged 20, on 6 October 1916.  He is buried at the Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-l'Abbe, Somme, France. 

Meanwhile his younger brother Gordon despite being only 18 years of age had enlisted and embarked on 27 May 1916 arriving in England in July 1916.  Gordon no doubt was looking forward to being reunited with his brother in France.  Sadly however he did not leave for France until late in October 1916, after his brothers death.  Gordon survived the war  and was discharged in April 1920 only 20 years old.  After returning to New Zealand he married and eventually moved to Australia where he died in 1978 aged 80.

In Harry's military record I found a short typed note requesting that in the event of his death a message be sent to his Aunt (Miss L. Ross) asking that:

"If Gordon,  comes back safe give him my ring, watch and pen and tell him to always keep them"

I hope that Harry's wish was carried out and that today they are the treasured possessions of Gordon's descendants.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bert & Syd Rinaldi - Waiau Memorial, Canterbury

Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1916 - No known copyright restrictions

Herbert Edward Rinaldi and Sydney Thomas Rinaldi (known as Bert & Syd) were the two eldest sons of Edward and Margaret Rinaldi of Waiau.  Both boys were born in West Eyreton in Canterbury and educated in Waiau and after leaving school were employed on local farms in the area.

At the outbreak of war both were keen to enlist.  Being the eldest Bert was first enlisting in February 1915,  just 20 years old.  He embarked with the Field Artillery on 13 June 1915.  After a few months in the Middle East, Bert sailed for France aboard the 'Minnewaska" on 5 April 1916.  Once in France he was soon at the Front where during the first Battle of the Somme he was killed in action on 17 September 1916.  He was buried at Flatiron Copse Cemetery, Mametz, Somme.  Bert's family would have been devastated at the news of his death,  especially as their second son Syd was already on his way to France.  

Syd like his brother was also keen to enlist, doing so just after his 20th birthday on 1 May 1916.  He embarked with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion on 21 August 1916, disembarking in the UK towards the end of October.  After a spell in Sling camp he left for France on 15 November 1916.  On 7 April 1917, five days before his 21st birthday, Syd was killed in action near Messines, Belgium.  He was buried at La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.

As I have said before we can only imagine the grief felt by the Rinaldi family, losing two sons so young and in less than a year.  I came across a lovely description of Syd in 'The Press' dated 27 April 1917:

"... a young man of quiet retiring disposition, and of sterling qualities, and was most highly respected throughout the district"

Such words I'm certain could be used to describe many of the young men who left New Zealand to serve in World War One, keen to do their duty, fighting a war thousands of miles away, not knowing the horrors that lay before them.

Both brothers are remembered on the Waiau Memorial.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

2nd Lieutenant Lionel Matthew Tansey - Ohakune Memorial

Prior to enlisting in September 1915, Lionel Tansey who was 30 years old, had for several years been a solicitor in Ohakune in partnership with Thomas A. Harris.  His parents Michael & Frances Tansey were farmers at Raetihi.

Lionel embarked from Wellington on 5 February 1916 with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) aboard the 'Ulimaroa'.  His younger brother Frank Ellis Tansey embarked from Wellington on the same day also with the NZRB aboard the 'Arawa'. 

On arrival in Suez the brothers were reunited aboard the 'Alaunia' on which they embarked for France on 7 April 1916.  Once in France Lionel fell sick and was hospitalised for a short time. He rejoined his unit, the 3rd Battalion NZRB, at the beginning of July 1916 where he would again be reunited with Frank who was also part of the 3rd Battalion. 
On 15 September 1916 the Battalion took part in the the First Battle of the Somme at Flers-Courcelette.   The Battalion was part of the NZ 3rd Brigade of whom 2800 were deployed that day.  By the end of the day 308 of the 3rd were killed and 892 wounded including sadly Frank Tansey who was one of those who died.  All together 602 New Zealanders died on 15 September 1916, 43% of them from the 3rd Brigade.  Of some comfort to the Tansey family back in New Zealand was the knowledge that Frank's body had been recovered and buried in the A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers. Many of the dead that day were never recovered or identified.  Frank is also remembered on the Raetihi memorial.

Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1916 - No known copyright restrictions 

Despite his brother's death or maybe because of it, Lionel rose quickly through the ranks eventually receiving a commission in the field and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 15 January 1917 being transferred to NZ Machine Gun Corps.  On his military record he was described as a:

" Very capable officer with a good command of men"

After enjoying leave in the UK from 10 September 1917 Lionel rejoined his unit in the field on 24 September 1917.  He then saw action at Passchendaele where on 12 October 1917 he was severely wounded by machine gun fire in the left shoulder.  Invalided back to the UK the shoulder proved slow to heal and he was transferred from hospital to a convalescent home in Brighton, Sussex.  Eventually he was given 3 months sick leave and sent back to New Zealand in April 1918.   In New Zealand Lionel's health deteriorated due to him contracting TB. At his own request he was admitted to the Mona House private hospital on Carlton Gore Road in Auckland.   On 12 March 1919 at the age of 33, Lionel died at Mona House.  His body was returned to Raetihi where he was buried in the cemetery.  

After Lionel's death Thomas A. Harris, with whom he had been in practice with as a solicitor in Ohakune, made sure that whoever acquired his business at a later date would keep both the names of Harris & Tansey in the name of the firm.   This was no doubt a form of remembrance to Lionel and Harris's son Roy who had been killed in action on the Somme on 5 April 1918.  

Both Lionel and Roy are remembered on the Ohakune Memorial.

Sources: From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth, John H. Gray, 
Auckland Cenotaph Database,
Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand,