Week in History 17-23 July – The “Monty tour” arrives in Christchurch 70 years ago

Paton, Harold Gear, 1919-2010. Winston Churchill takes the salute as New Zealand Division marches past in Tripoli, World War II. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs. Ref: DA-02885A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23048978

Those of us who remember a certain movie from the 1990’s may jump to particular conclusions of what the “Monty tour” may be. It actually was the 1947 tour of Australasia by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Born in 1887 and active in both the First and Second World Wars, he gained two nick-names; “Monty” and the “Spartan General”.

Monty commanded many New Zealand and Australian soldiers during World War Two. He was assumed command of the Eighth Army in North Africa after the failed first battle of El Alamein on the 13th August 1942. He planned and re-strategised for the next offensive at El Alamein which began on the 23rd of October that same year. This was a decisive battle for Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership and said of the two battles “At El Alamein we survived; after that we conquered.” Approximately 200,000 Allied soldiers were involved in the fighting with 4000 losing their lives and 9000 being wounded under Monty’s command in the 12 day battle.

Monty aspired to have “The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose, and the character which inspires confidence”. Charismatic and single-minded, he was popular with the soldiers under his command as he went out of his way to meet and talk with them, but often not liked by his fellow senior offices due to his strong opinions, and particularly not with the American General George Patton. He became one of the most decorated soldiers of World War Two gaining the highest rank of Field Marshal, and was appointed as Chief of the Imperial General Staff after the war and then as Deputy Supreme Commander for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Invited by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand to visit each country, Monty was in New Zealand from the 16th to 31st of July 1947. Received with much fan-fare throughout the country, Christchurch was no exception. Arriving on the 22nd of July to reputedly one of the biggest crowds in the city’s history. People lined the streets for seven miles to catch a glimpse of Monty in his famous black beret, some had even made periscopes to get a better view. Travelling in an open air car allowed him to stand and wave as his cavalcade passed on its way to the King Edward Barracks for the official reception. Reportedly 10,000 citizens crammed themselves into the Barracks for the civic ceremony, many more remained on the surrounding streets.

Field Marshal Montgomery’s visit to Christchurch, July 1947, Albert James North, 1947. CCL-Arch978-1-040.
The “Monty Tour”, 1947 by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch Pearce_family_photos_46. Photograph taken by Arthur Pearce while working for the Public Service Garage of one of his famous passengers Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.

Visiting Coronation, Burwood and Christchurch Public Hospital’s, and attending a reception at the Returned Services’ Association were among the itinerary for rest of the day. He was presented with a Kaiapoi travelling rug and a carved walking stick as part of the R.S.A. Reception. He talked with returned service men and women, reminiscensing about countries and places visited during the war, including Captain Charles H. Upham, V. C. He also apologised for his incorrect dress, in that he was wearing a life membership N.Z.R.S.A. badge, even though he was still in active service, and that they had been comrades in war, they could now be comrades in peace.

In an interview with The Press, he said admiringly of the New Zealand soldier, “They have a very independent type of spirit…They will accept a loose framework of control, but you have to make it as loose as possible and you will get value by giving them full scope for their initiative.” The Press, Tuesday, July 22 1947.

Many photographers, both professional and amateur were out wanting to capture their permanent reminder of Monty. The National Film Unit was also there to capture some of his itinerary, and some of this footage can be seen in the following clip made available by Archives New Zealand through their Youtube channel:

Monty later wrote in his memoirs of the tour:

It would be difficult to find words to describe my feelings during my visit to these two Dominions, whose soldiers had fought under my command in the war. I was received everywhere with a depth of affection which seemed at all times to be genuine, warm and sincere. I knew that the warmth of the greeting was not meant for me personally but for that which I represented; it was an expression of appreciation of the bravery and devotion of duty to the men that I had commanded.
The Memoirs of Field-Marshal The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, K.G., 1958, pg. 460.

With the passing of time and studies by various historians, Field Marshal Montgomery as a man and a commander within the British Army has come to be viewed with a certain level of contradiction and controversy. To learn more about Monty from varying perspectives including his own, his brother’s, his aide’s during WWII and historians, search our catalogue.

If you have any images you would like to contribute to a community repository of Christchurch, please visit Kete Christchurch.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

80 years old : Citizens’ War Memorial (Cathedral Square)

The Citizens’ War Memorial is still there, hidden behind the cordon.

Citizens' War Memorial
Citizen’s War Memorial. 2007. Flickr File reference CCL-2013-01-15-DSC05887

The Citizens’ War Memorial has stood outside the  Christchurch Anglican Cathedral for eighty years. She survived the earthquakes of 2010/2011 undamaged.

On 9 June 1937 the statue was unveiled by Colonel S.C.P. Nicholls, after a service by Anglican Archbishop Julius.

Originally modelled in clay by local artist William Trethewey, the moulds for the statue were sent to England to be cast in bronze by A.B Burton.

There are six figures in the statue.

Seated with outstretched arms is a figure representing the Mothers of the Empire in an attitude of grief for her lost sons.

St George, in armour, is on the right, facing the Cathedral. He represents valour and protection. On the other side is Youth, holding a torch.

Above St George is Peace, who holds an olive Branch and a dove. Next to her is Justice, who is blindfolded and carries a set of scales, a symbol of balance.

The Angel at the top (my Dad’s favourite) is breaking a sword. She was to be called Victory, but it was decided not to name her.

Peek through the fence surrounding Christchurch Cathedral at this wonderful statue. It’s still there amongst the weeds…

Further information

Sergeant Henry James Nicholas V.C., M.M

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.

Sergeant Henry Nicholas
Sergeant Henry Nicholas, File reference: CCL-2011-11-17-November2011 358-HenryNicholas

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.

Armistice was just a few short weeks away.

The funeral of Sergeant Henry Nicholas, VC, in World War I, France. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013667-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23124751

For more information:

Anzac Day in Christchurch 2017

Tuesday 25 April 2016 is Anzac Day. All our libraries will be closed on this public holiday. Read our page on Anzac Day and Gallipoli to find out more about this commemoration.

Wreaths in Cranmer Square
Wreaths in Cranmer Square, Anzac Day, Monday 25 April 2016 File Reference: 2016-04-25-IMG_3816

Commemorative services often begin before dawn with a march by returned and service personnel to the local war memorial, where they are joined by other members of the community for the Dawn Service.

Christchurch services and events

The following information is from Christchurch City Council:

Dawn service at Cranmer Square

  • 6am to 6.15am: Gather in Cranmer Square
  • 6.15am: Parade begins
  • 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.

Citizens’ Service: 10am – ChristChurch Transitional Cathedral, Latimer Square 

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.

Find more Anzac Day services

The RSA website features a Find an Anzac Day service resource. The Christchurch City Council also has a list of Anzac Day services.

More Anzac related events

Fields of Remembrance

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.

Field of Remembrance
Field of Remembrance, Cranmer Square [2015] Flickr 2015-03-27-IMG_6781

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.
  • Remembering the Anzacs papercraft – 10.30-11.30am Friday 21 April at Spreydon Library. Poppy-making and memories.
  • ANZAC Commemoration Linwood Cemetery (Sunday 23 April)
  • 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.
  • Anzac Day Peace Vigil 6-7pm, 25 April at the Bridge of Remembrance
Bridge of Remembrance rededication
Bridge of Remembrance rededication, Anzac Day, Monday 25 April 2016. File Reference: 2016-04-25-IMG_3756

Find out more:

 

Conscientious Objectors: Cowards or courageous?

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’.

Military defaulters list, Archive 685
Military Defaulters’ List [1919?], National Peace Council of New Zealand, CCL Archive 685
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.

However in recent times opinions have changed somewhat, for example Professor Richard Jackson deputy director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago recently stated,

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?’

What is your stance on this subject?

Christchurch City Libraries have some good reading on this subject including books, eBooks, large print versions, and magazine articles. On our website you can access our page of suggested reading on WWI conscientious objectors and WWII, and our eResources – a plethora of interesting databases from all around the world you may search for information on this and many other subjects.

Or try the following:

Cover of Bread and Water  Cover of Indeterminate Sentence  Cover of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven

Gas Mask: Picturing Canterbury

Gas mask. Kete Christchurch. Pearce_family_photos_06.jpg. Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt, CC-BY-NA-SA-3.0 NZ.

One of the Pearce family wearing a WWI gas mask at the Pearce family home on Aikmans Road, Merivale, about 1919.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

The Atomic Weight of Love

Book cover of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J ChurchThe 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.

Read the novel to find out if she does.

It is an enjoyable debut novel with a poetical style and reminds me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society, The Light between Oceans and The Shipping news. If you like nature and have a slightly scientific bent you will enjoy it and even learn a little physics on the way.

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008209292

The Cashmere Caverns

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

Christchurch. 1942.

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.

Wilson family house, Cashmere House, exterior, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004979-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22772645

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.

Construction begins

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.

Entrance to Cracroft caverns, Cashmere by SueC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

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

Example of concrete ribs used to frame the chambers. Archway and Tunnel Interior, Cracroft Caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

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. 

Stairs accessed from the inside of Cashmere House. Stairs down into the Cracroft Caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

Grand designs

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.

Inside Cracroft Caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

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.

Tunnel in Cracroft caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

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.

University of Canterbury ring laser laboratory. Inside the Cracroft Caverns, November 2002 by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Members of the public tour the caverns. Group on a guided tour of the Cracroft Caverns, 2002 by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

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.

Find out more

Armistice Day 2016

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.

Bridge of Remembrance rededication
Anzac Day, Monday 25 April 2016. Flickr 2016-04-25-IMG_3756

More about Armistice Day and the Bridge of Remembrance

CoverCoverCover

Photo of Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day.
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377

Remembering the Somme

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.

Frederick Everard Turner, Canterbury Times, 18/10/1916, CCL-TurnerFE
Frederick Everard Turner, Canterbury Times, 18/10/1916, CCL-TurnerFE

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
Frederick Reginald Ashworth , Kete Christchurch

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.

In the days that followed, many more were lost. Edmund Lincoln Gate from Addington was killed the second day; Thomas Henry Ellis from Spreydon was wounded on the 19th of September and died the next day; Cyril Bigthan Cooke from New Brighton was only 20 when he died on the 1st of October, the same day that we lost Bernard Gabriel Joseph O’Shaughnessy from Halswell. The list goes on and on.

You can read more about these soldiers, and more, by searching ‘Somme’ on Kete Christchurch.

More information