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

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.

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

  1. Sarndra 12 November 2011 / 9:44 am

    Excellent stuff 🙂 It’s fabulous to see more and more of these diaries being digitised.

    As you indicate here Donna, the impact of the written word is so powerful. I’m usually a mess after i’ve trawled through a few service records available via archways [ArchivesNZ] during my research on ANZAC graves for Linwood Cemetery Trust [in my own true fashion, i get sidelined in to reading so many that I don’t need to!] ….their blunt military histories can be impersonal but the information from all these sources is a goldmine!

    Thanks for sharing


  2. Sarndra 12 November 2011 / 9:52 am

    As an aside… this appears to be Herberts burial record in the Christchurch City Council cemetery database:

    Dying 22 January 1968 aged 76 and a retired school teacher and buried in Memorial Park cemetery.

    The entry states he was born in Rangiora…no wonder he mentions in his diary specifically about that area.

    Here also is his Cenotaph database record which gives further information on him:


  3. Vanessaccl 14 November 2011 / 9:22 am

    Hi Sarndra, thank you for your comments and for the additional links.

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