He was a carpenter, a sportsman – a boxer – went to Christchurch Normal School (local boy), his photos show a nice face, and he wasn’t married. Just an ordinary kiwi bloke, maybe. But he did extraordinary things.
Henry Nicholas enlisted in February 1916 with the 1st Canterbury Battalion, and landed in France in September 1916. With his Regiment was involved in fighting at The Somme, Messines and Polderhoek, (Belgium).
It was from the action at Polderhoek on 3 December 1917 that he was awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty… exceptional valour and coolness”. He destroyed an enemy strongpoint that was inflicting heavy casualties and overpowered a sixteen-man enemy garrison, capturing four wounded prisoners and an enemy machine-gun.
While on leave in England in mid-1918 he was invested by the King, the first solder in his regiment to be awarded the V.C., and he returned to France in September 1918, promoted to sergeant.
The Regiment had the duty of holding the town of Beaudignies, near Le Quesnoy. A skirmish on 23rd October with a German patrol cost Nicholas his life, and earned him the Military Medal.
6.30am: Service begins centred around the Memorial Cenotaph
7.15am: Service concludes with Mayor Lianne Dalziel laying a wreath on behalf of the citizens of Christchurch.
Organised by the Canterbury Branch of the Malayan Veterans Association in conjunction with the Christchurch Branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA), and the Christchurch City Council.
There will be a volley of shots fired and a fly-over by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The New Zealand Army Band will be in attendance and a bugler will play The Last Post.
The service runs for about 30–45mins and will be projected on two large screens.
The Citizens’ Service is organised by Christchurch City Council in conjunction with Christchurch Cathedral and the RSA. An address will be given by Air Commodore Andrew Woods, RNZAF and representatives of the NZ Defence Force, Consular Corps and various Christchurch youth groups will be attending.
In 2015, the Canterbury Province Field in Cranmer Square contained 632 crosses commemorating the men and women of Christchurch who died in 1915. A further 825 crosses were added in 2016 and the field will gain more crosses again this year.
Exhibitions, displays and events
Heathcote WWI Soldiers Remembered – 31 March to 30 April at Linwood Library at Eastgate Mall. The soldiers from Heathcote Valley who died in WWI are individually remembered in an exhibition at Linwood Library.
Eastside Gallery: Anzac Exhibition 2017 Opening Wednesday 19 April – Friday 28 April. A multi-media participatory experience on the theme, “We honour, we remember, we reflect”. Photographs, artworks, installations, memorabilia, talks, readings, poetry and prose, printed and audiovisual material. With a poetry evening on Friday 28 April.
There has been a lot happening recently with the centenary of the First World War. I have been exposed to many stories of the brave men and women who went to ‘fight for their country’.
However there is another side to this and that is those who decided to become conscientious objectors. The conflict came from their beliefs, what their conscience demanded of them and the expectations of government and the beliefs of society.
Looking back on the massive loss of life and at times questionable “intell” and propaganda that has led to many these conflicts it could be said that pacifism is now more widely embraced. Also the massacre at Gallipoli is still widely discussed to this day. Not only were you going to a foreign country to fight but also your life ant trust was place in the hands of your commanding officer.
Little is mentioned these days of conscientious objectors and the courage it took to stick to their convictions, but those that chose this position were degraded, despised, accused of being traitors, and ostracised.
People who say conscientious objectors were cowards are crazy. They were so brave… they put their lives on the line without participating in the war system and killing other people. North & South magazine, Aug 2016 Issue 365, ‘Cowards end?’
The Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.
Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.
It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.
Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.
The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.
Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.
That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.
Imagine a concrete lined room, hazy with cigarette smoke and lit only by a few shaded lamps which hang from the ceiling. In the centre, women in uniform surround a large table, atop of which a map of the Canterbury region is spread. Occasionally one of the women might adjust her headset and then, using a stick similar those wielded by croupiers at gambling tables, move a marker into a new position on the map. From a gallery above, officers look down in silent concentration. A runner enters the room and wordlessly passes a note to one of the officers. Then, from over the radio, a frantic voice breaks the tense atmosphere.
“Godley Battery has fallen. Japanese troops have taken Lyttelton.”
Defence of the South Island
For many nights the residents of the hillside suburb of Cashmere had been woken by the sound of blasting accompanied by ground tremors. The war was in its third year and New Zealand was under the threat of an invasion from the Empire of Japan. Throughout most of 1942 black out practices had become a common occurrence in Christchurch. Those living on the hill simply assumed that the military was conducting yet another clandestine operation.
The New Zealand military already had a presence in Cashmere. In July of that year the Government had commandeered Cashmere House, the property of John Frederick Cracroft Wilson, to act as Combined Headquarters Southern Command.
Built in 1909 to designs by Samuel Hurst Seager, Cashmere House was set in a depression atop the Cashmere Hills. Reached via a long driveway which wound its way up the hill, the house overlooked an expanse of trees, lawns and gardens. Within, the house contained more than thirty rooms, enough to accommodate the different departments of the Air Force, Navy and Army that were required to oversee the defence of the South Island. Yet while it provided adequate office space, a civilian house was not designed to withstand the threat of aerial bombardment, nor was a house of that size likely to remain unnoticed by any invading troops.
In preparation for its war with Germany, Britain had established subterranean control stations so that the nation’s defence could be coordinated during aerial bombardments by the Luftwaffe. Anticipating the Japanese invasion, Southern Command adopted the same approach. No sooner had the military taken over Cashmere House than it started the construction of what was intended to be a secret, underground command bunker.
To the northeast of the house two separate adits (passage tunnels) were dug into the hillside. Throughout the excavation, the soil and rock was taken via a purpose built rail and disposed of in a nearby valley. Initially proceeding southward, the adits then curved westward, so as to offer protection against external explosions. From there the adits opened into a large U shaped chamber which had been excavated from the bedrock.
Pre-stressed concrete ribs, constructed at a Public Works Department factory at the Birches near McLean’s Island, were used to brace the chamber. To set them in place a specially designed machine was manufactured at a workshop in Temuka. It was not necessary to set all the ribs in place, only those that were needed to stabilise the caverns. As a result most of the walls remained natural rock
A communications tunnel, intended only for the use of officers, was built to connect the chambers to Cashmere House. The tunnel was accessed from the basement in the house and descended on a slight gradient to the chambers. A ventilation shaft set at the midway point in the tunnel provided fresh air to the chambers.
Initial plans drawn up by the Public Works Department show the extent of the military’s aspirations. The plans show that the northern wing of the chamber was to house an office and separate rooms for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, along with a telephone exchange and cypher room. The southern chamber wing was to house another cypher room and a room for teleprinters. The two wings were connected by a western chamber and a further corridor.
The western chamber was intended to consist of two levels. The northern end would be the combined operations room. The southern end was the plotting room. Ladders would provide access to the upper floor. There, a gallery would allow observers to watch the movement of air force units being co-ordinated on the plotting table. It was proposed that the bunker would also contain kitchens, bedrooms and toilet facilities.
Work on the chambers continued until April 1943 when the war in the Pacific turned against the Japanese and the threat of an invasion was no longer considered a possibility.
Fire and concealment
By the end of 1944 the Army and Navy services had already vacated Cashmere House, leaving only the Air Force to occupy it. In November, plans were arranged for the Air Force to hand the building and its grounds back to the trustees of the Sir J.C. Wilson estate by the start of December. Yet before this could take place, on 12 November 1944 at 11:40pm, the building caught on fire. Although the fire was eventually brought under control, by 2am much of the building had been lost. The cause of the fire was never discovered.
By January 1945 details of the caverns had been leaked to The Press. The resulting article was accompanied by photographs which showed not only the district engineer of the Public Works Department inspecting the interior of the chambers but also the machines used to construct them. As it was still wartime, the defence force refused to discuss the existence of the caverns and no further information was made public. The tunnels were sealed and the owner of the property bulldozed the entrances to discourage any members of the public from attempting to enter them.
Following the conclusion of the war in September 1945 the existence of the caverns soon faded from public memory. Sworn to secrecy, those who had assisted with the construction or who had served as guards at the Cashmere property never spoke openly about what lay hidden beneath the grounds of the former house. As generations passed, even incoming members of the military seem to have remained unaware that such a project had ever been undertaken.
A chance discovery
The caverns may have remained hidden from the public for longer were it not for the retirement of a nurse at Princess Margaret Hospital. In 1987, while attending a farewell function being held for his mother, TVNZ reporter Jeff Field was told of the caverns by the hospital gardener.
Intrigued, he visited the Ministry of Defence library where he found the aforementioned Press article. Since he was due to take up a new role, Jeff assigned the investigation to another reporter, Bill Cockram. Following the 1944 fire, a new house had been erected on the site of Cashmere House. Upon visiting the owner, Bill Cockram learned that the building was experiencing problems with drainage. As such, the owner was interested to discover what lay beneath his house and gave Bill permission to proceed with his investigation.
Given that the former grounds of Cashmere House had been redeveloped, the only sign that anything lay hidden beneath was the protruding end of a pipe which marked the location of the ventilation shaft. After breaking the seal with a jackhammer, Bill next contacted Tim Williams of the Canterbury Caving Group. Together, with fellow caver, Bud Chapman, a television crew, and the property owner, they abseiled down the ventilation shaft and entered the caverns.
It was the first time that anyone had done so since they were sealed.
The television crew filmed the experience and the resulting documentary was screened as part of The Mainland Touch. Bill Cockram’s discovery, coupled with the release of the documentary, led to renewed public interest in the caverns. In December 1987 the Heathcote County Council’s planning committee even considered listing the bunker as a historic place.
The university moves in
The University of Canterbury, however, already had a vision for the caverns. Initially their ring laser laboratory which measured variations in the earth’s rotation was set on the top floor of a building on the Ilam campus. Yet such a location meant that the experiments were constantly being disturbed by wind, heat, and the movement of people. After considering the military tunnels in Lyttelton and a seismological station at Gebbies Pass, it was eventually proposed to make use of the caverns.
So it was, for the first time since they were excavated from the earth, the caverns came to be formally occupied. Yet rather than being used to co-ordinate a desperate defence against an enemy invasion, the caverns became a temporary home for numerous PhD students and international scientists who joined together to perform research that might benefit humanity.
In 1995 the Christchurch City Council took ownership of the caverns and in the following year the university installed the CII ring laser. The university continued to use the caverns as their laboratory, installing new equipment, and producing new results. Open days were also held for those members of the public who were curious.
Although they were built to withstand the impact of an enemy bombardment, the facility was rendered unsafe by the Canterbury Earthquakes. They have remained closed to the public ever since.
This year marks 98 years since “The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” – the moment when First World War hostilities ceased on the Western Front in 1918, with the signing of the Armistice.
The 2016 Armistice Day RSA service in Christchurch is at 11am Friday 11 November on the Bridge of Remembrance. This is the first Armistice Day service on the Bridge since the earthquake of 2011. It’s a most appropriate location, since the Bridge of Remembrance was opened on Armistice Day 11 November 1924. The Bridge is dedicated to the memory of those who took part in World War I, with further plaques added later to commemorate the battlefields of World War II.
More about Armistice Day and the Bridge of Remembrance
September the 15th marks the day the New Zealand infantry joined the battle of the Somme, and this year marks exactly one hundred years from that catastrophic day. It was our first major experience with the Western Front, a very, very different kind of battle to the ones we had experienced in Gallipoli, and would turn into the largest loss of new Zealanders lives in our post-1840 history.
More New Zealanders lost their lives on the Western Front than in Gallipoli, although Gallipoli still overshadows the Somme in the public memory. Today, let’s look at some of the local boys who lost their lives that day, and remember them, and the thousands and thousands of others that would follow them.
Frederick Everard Turner signed up in the very early days of the war in August 1914. He was an Anglican lad, who lived on Princess Street on Woolston. Though he survived the Gallipoli landings of the 25th of April, 1915, he was shot and killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When he died, he was 25 years old.
Thomas Arthur Raxworthy grew up in Upper Riccarton, and was living in London Street, Richmond, when he enlisted. He worked for the Christchurch City Council, and married his wife Margaret in November, 1912. He was killed when he was 23 years old, on the 15th of September, 1916. His two children, Edith and Thomas, were still only toddlers.
Frederick Reginald Ashworth grew up in Hornby and went to Hornby School. He and his brother John, who was also killed, were from a well known and highly respected family. Frederick enlisted in October, 1915, but less than a year later, on the 15th of September, he was killed in the Somme. He was 23 years old.
Travis Armitage grew up in New Brighton and went to New Brighton School. He had two younger sisters, Constance and Mary. When he enlisted, he was living up in the Manawatu with Ninna, his wife of four years. He was killed by a shell on the 15th of September. His friend, William Scott, witnessed his death. Travis was 27 years old.
While the casualty figures for the whole battle are horrendous for all nations involved, those for the opening day of the battle for the British Army and Newfoundland forces are truly staggering – over 57,000 wounded and more than 19,000 killed. It was truly a disastrous day and only the Fall of Singapore in 1942 saw more casualties for the British Army – although the majority of those were prisoners of war.
What makes 1 July even more devastating is that so many British and Newfoundland soldiers were going into action for the first time, many in what were known as Pals Battalions where men from local communities joined up together. Not surprisingly, this had disastrous consequences for these communities which were often in working class, industrial areas.
There are a couple of excellent and contrasting histories of this day. Martin Middlebrook’s First Day on the Somme is a classic military history which looks in great depth at the formation of the British units on the Somme and tells the story of the battle through the of a number of soldiers. Andrew Macdonald’s recent First Day of the Somme explores in great detail how the battle plan evolved and analyses the tactics of the army formations involved to show how they failed or partially succeeded.
Over the next few days and months I will be thinking of those who fought on 1 July and throughout the rest of the battle, in particular the 7th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment who went into action near Fricourt late on 2 July.
Do you have any connection to the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916?