Sent to action: The World War I diary of Herbert Harold Stephens, of Sydenham, Christchurch

Diary
The last entry in Herbert’s diary

Monday 10 July 1916: Was hit this morning. Got it in the left hand ear and neck. Parapet came down on top of me; was buried for about an hour… on Nov 6th sent to Monckworth.

Nov 14th – sent to action.

And there ends the War diary of Herbert Harold Stephens. I got a bit teary-eyed as I thought that meant he was lost in battle, but then read about the provenance of this diary, and how it ended up being digitised in Christchurch City Libraries’ collection:

This war diary is a small pocket diary donated by H.H. Stephens’ family some time after his death about 1968, and deposited in the Canterbury Public Library by Mr R.C. Lamb, 27 April 1978.

The diary is full of the everyday stuff of war and hospitalisation – shipboard life, clergymen visits, lady visitors, and the joy of meeting other Kiwis, especially Cantabrians:

… saw 4 NZ men there. One was from Belfast, and knows Rangiora and Chch well. Had a long yarn with him … he has lost a leg above the knee.

Private H.H. Stephens from Sydenham, Christchurch, joined up and was stationed in C Company, Infantry, of the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He departed for the war zone from Wellington on Saturday 14 August 1915, as a member of the Sixth Reinforcements. Private Stephens’s war quickly became a personal battle against dysentery which took him to England and hospital. On 9 May 1916 Private Stephens arrived at the Western Front near Armentieres. On 10 July he was wounded and again evacuated to the Middlesex Hospital in England.