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.
Grand Slam Results 11-time major champion and 4-time finalist
Bronze Medal in Men’s Indoor Singles at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games
Member of the Australasian Davis Cup Team 1905-1909, 1914
Member of the Australasian Championship Davis Cup Team 1907-1909, 1914
In 1913, while dominating Wimbledon, Wilding won world titles on clay (World Hard Court Championships), grass (World Lawn Tennis Championships) and wood (World Covered Court Championship).
The ‘dashing’ sportsman
Tennis had been a sport for ‘wealthy gentlemen’, but Anthony Wilding helped it gain greater popularity through his dedication to training and fitness. Former world heavyweight boxing champion Bob
Fitzsimmons – another New Zealander – advised him on his fitness regime so that he ran two or three times a week, skipped, and went for brisk walks, as well as playing tennis. He was much fitter than his opponents, and neither smoked nor drank alcohol (which was unusual for the time).
Described as ‘dashing’ Tony Wilding had the female spectators swooning because of his ‘manly brand of tennis’. He was reported as tall and fair, as well as ‘handsome, chivalrous and was always on the lookout for adventure’.
Wilding was born at Opawa on October 31, 1883, one of five children of Frederick and Julia Wilding. Frederick Wilding played cricket for New Zealand, was a good horseman, footballer, athlete and oarsman. Sporting interests were strongly encouraged at the family home, Fownhope, and Anthony’s sister Cora was also well-known in Christchurch circles as an artist and founder of the Sunlight League of New Zealand. Young Tony excelled at swimming, shooting, riding and cricket, but once he started at Cambridge University in 1902 he became a dedicated tennis player.
Wilding in Europe
Wilding qualified for the New Zealand bar, but didn’t work as a lawyer, preferring to motorcycle around Europe, playing in the great tennis tournaments of the Riviera, Germany, Serbia, Hungary, Sweden and Norway. Shortly before the first world war he became a pilot.
When war broke out the British-based Wilding joined the Royal Marines, rising to the rank of captain in the Armoured Car Division, where his pre-war experience of driving in Europe was valued. He was killed aged 31 during the Battle of Aubers Ridge at Neuve Chapelle in northern France, and is buried in Rue-des-Berceaux military cemetery at Pas-de-Calais, France.
I started to research the Halswell Heroes late last year, as Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre was gearing up to open. The project involves staff from nearby libraries; Upper Riccarton and Spreydon as well as the staff from the old Halswell library. We all chose a soldier from the Halswell War Memorial, and have been researching him, his family, and his war service, in order to create a biography for him on Kete Christchurch and a poster to display in the library.
It’s been an excellent project and through it, I’ve learned heaps about the Halswell area and the men who enlisted (and some who were conscripted) to fight in the First World War. I feel like I know these men, and discovering different quirks about them helps us all remember that they were very real people.
I’ve learned that the Collins family lived near Halswell school and sent three sons to the war; Archie (Sarsfield), James and Frank (who signed up in Australia). James and Frank survived but Archie is on the Halswell War Memorial because he died from influenza a few days before the war ended.
Patrick Cunningham was a farmer’s son, a quarry-man and a bacon curer, but the fact that stuck with me was that he was known as ‘Paddy White Waistcoat’ because of his snappy sense of dress. He was childhood friends with Patrick McGough, who was a ‘prominent figure at all entertainments’ (ie, he never missed a party).
Walter Bryden joined the army not long after his little brother Albert had been killed at the Battle of Fromelles, in France. Walter and Patrick Cunningham were killed on the same day, 13th of June, 1917.
Albert Wills lied about his age to get into the army, had both measles and mumps when he was away at war, and was only nineteen when he was killed in France.
Isaac Warren was a conscientious objector from a huge Cornish family, who went to war with his younger brother Abraham and on the same troopship as Douglas Guiney. Douglas edited the troopship magazine called The Link to keep himself and the other men entertained on the long voyage from New Zealand to war in Europe.
Some of the men fought in more than the First World War. George Weir Ferguson fought in the Boer War when he was still a teenager, and was killed at Gallipoli in August 1915. Herbert Moyna, Edward’s brother, survived the First World War and went on to fight in, and survive, the Second World War as well, though he was unlucky at home; his girlfriend died before he left for the First World War, his wife died two years after they were married, and his mother died just before he left for the Second World War.
There are so many more stories; some of these stories we know, and you can read about them on the Halswell Heroes page of Kete Christchurch, or in the library at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre.
I have to admit that Anzac Day has never really meant much to me, except as a day off school when I was a kid. This year, though, it seems so much more significant. You see, I’ve spent the last couple of months researching a soldier for the New Brighton Boys project, and suddenly the war became real to me. Seeing all those white crosses — I got a little choked up trying to explain to the Young Lad what it was all about. Each of those crosses was suddenly a person to me, not just a statistic, or a page in a history book, but a real person with a life, a family; a person with dreams for a future that ought to have been but never would.
I can’t think of John Frederick Haynes as anything but my soldier. My blue eyed, brown haired boy, who shares my Dad’s birthday, and lived round the corner from where I grew up — and died when he was just 23. I’d never heard of him before last November, and started out with just a name and a service number, but the more I found out about him, the more I wanted to know. The bald facts that I found in military records, electoral rolls, church registers, and Births, Deaths, and Marriages records coalesced, blossomed, and became tangible to me.
I could almost have been there in the room when his little brother Lawrence, who was just 19, came home and told his family that the attesting officer had let him enlist this time. I felt his mother’s sadness that she’d lost her middle boy to the war and now her baby had enlisted too. Was it she who convinced Francis, the eldest, that he needed to enlist to keep an eye on Lawrence? Did Francis’ wife, Reubena, try to persuade him not to go? Either way, Francis enlisted the very next day.
With the centenary of First World War taking place over the next four years, now is the ideal time to start some research into those who served in the war. This is a very quick guide to six online resources that will help you begin research into those who served in the New Zealand Forces and help you find contextual information.
Produced by Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Cenotaph database contains biographical information about New Zealanders who fought in First World War – and other wars that New Zealand has been involved in. This is still a work in progress. The length of entries varies as does the information included, but all those who embarked with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force should have an entry.
New Zealand soldiers’ official service records have been digitised and can be found on Archives New Zealand‘s Archway resource. These can provide all sorts of information about a soldier’s service and background. You can potentially find out such things as home address, next of kin, pre-war occupation, when and where they served, and wounds and injuries. Records of nurses can be found in the same way. These records are full of abbreviations, but the New Zealand Defence Force’s glossary is very useful.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after the graves of and memorials to those from the Commonwealth who died during both world wars. Their website includes a fully searchable database of graves, cemeteries and memorials, so this is the place to come if you want to find out where a soldier is buried or memorialised (if they have no known grave). Some records may contain further information about individuals.
If you are interested in war memorials in New Zealand, New Zealand History Online has a memorials register with lots of illustrations. This site is also a good place to find out more about First World War in general and how it affected New Zealand, although the number of websites and books about the war is increasing all the time.
More and more digitised material is being made available these days and one of the most useful is the National Library’s Papers Past, which contains a number local newspapers from the war years, including The Press. Newspapers can include casualty lists, letters home from soldiers and In Memoriam notices, as well as showing how the war was reported at the time.
Christchurch City Libraries has put together a dedicated WW100 page which is a gateway to lots of information about the war, both on the library website and further afield – it is well worth exploring, and includes booklists, links to further resources and details about events. If you wish to go further with your research the New Zealanders in World War One page will be of interest.
Over the next four years the amount of websites, books and digitised material will only grow, but the resources mentioned here will go along way to get you started.
A menu card from a 1914 Noel dinner at Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo. The front of the menu card has a number of signatures. A note on the inside of the card reads: Divisional Headquarters Staff, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, December 1914.
From: Archive 444 – A small collection of material relating to World War 1, collected by Oswald Norris and his family. Oswald Mark Norris served in the Canterbury Infantry Regiment, I Company, and died at Gallipoli in 1915, aged 22.
This is the last in our series for Records and Archives Week 2011.
For Records and Archives Week we’re on the theme of kai. Kiwi soldiers overseas had some interesting food experiences, as this letter to Hazel in December 1914 from Cecil Malthus shows:
The text reads, in part: “The restaurants are delightful, and I can’t understand why there are none in New Zealand. You can sit either indoors or out among the trees, and can get a light meal and very good beer and wine, all cheap.”