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


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.

One hundred years on from the outbreak of war

For the past few months interest in the centenary of the outbreak of World War One has been growing. This major anniversary is now upon us and over the next four or so years we have the opportunity to reflect on and discover all aspects of this global conflict at a local, national and international level.

A month after the assassination on 28th June 1914 of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Over the next few days other countries and empires declared war on each other, with Britain declaring war on Germany on 4th August. This news was received in New Zealand on 5th August. Many New Zealanders had close ties to Britain and there was strong support for the war. The conflict we now call World War One or the First World War had begun.

Cover of From the TrenchesBefore the month of August was out the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) sent to capture German Samoa had succeeded in their objective – this was the second Germany territory to fall to the Allies in the war. The main body of the NZEF set sail in October 1914, seeing service at Gallipoli, on the Western Front in France and Belgium and also in Egypt and Palestine.

In Canterbury on 12th August 1914 men started to report to the mobilisation camp at the Addington Showgrounds to establish a mounted rifle brigade. Many had brought their own horses and where suitable these animals were taken into service by the government and then re-issued for use to their former owners. Many more reported than were taken into the regiment and the medical test was a significant reason for large numbers to be turned away.

The regiment was equipped and trained at Addington and Sockburn until 23 September 1914. In the early hours of the morning the Canterbury Mounted Rifles left the mobilisation camp for the last time and rode to Lyttelton. Their route took them across the Avon where they watered their horses, on over the Heathcote Bridge, Ferry Road and through Sumner to the transport ships. They were taken first to Wellington and in October that year they sailed for Egypt via Australia and Sri Lanka.

Want to know more about the outbreak of war or about how to research those who took part?

Want to find out about projects to commemorate the war?

WW100: Anniversaries, Antarctica and aviation

Cover of On a wing and a prayerA couple of interesting 100th anniversaries are coming up in the next few days, both of which have connections to the First World War and which have made me think about other related topics. The centenary of the First World War is an ideal time to discover war stories and make connections between them.

On the 30th July 1914 Tryggve Gran became the first person to fly the North Sea, crossing from Scotland to Norway. Not surprisingly this event was overshadowed by the start of the First World War – Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia two days before. Gran had been Captain Scott‘s ski expert on the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although he was Norwegian he wangled his way into the Royal Flying Corps and flew with distinction during the war, seeing service over the UK, the Western Front and in North Russia.

It was in 1909 that Louis Blériot became the first person to fly the English Channel, five years later that the Royal Flying Corps – some using Blériot type aircraft – crossed the channel to go to war. Aerial warfare was then very much in its infancy – in 1914 aeroplanes were mainly seen as being useful for reconnaissance – but the next four years saw enormous innovation and development. One of those making the crossing was the future ace James McCudden, then an Air Mechanic.

On 1st August 1914 Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition set sail from London, hoping to become the first explorers to traverse the Antarctic continent. Still in British waters 3 days later when Great Britain declared war on Germany, Shackleton volunteered his ship and men to the war effort. However, the Admiralty told the expedition to proceed. Apart from a few ports of call on their way south, they were not to hear news of the war again until the middle of 1916.

Have you discovered any First World War stories recently? What connections can you make?


That war – reading about World War 1

cover for Memoirs of a fox hunting manI recently sat down to make a list of recommended reads for World War 1. I was thinking of the novels and first hand accounts that I had read (and re read) and four really stood out for me.

My all time favourite would be J. L . Carr’s novella A month in the country. First published in 1980, it tells of two veterans who meet several years after wars end in a small Yorkshire village as they work as restorer and archaeologist at the village church. War is a haunting memory still affecting their lives even in a peaceful and idyllic countryside.

Somehow I stumbled over Robert Graves’ Goodbye to all that and I have read and reread this powerful account of the experiences of the front line in the Great War.

Memoirs of a fox hunting man by Siegfried Sassoon follows the life of a young man most interested in hunting and cricket who is caught up in the hysteria of the early war, before grim reality set in. His following two novels – Memoirs of an infantry officer and Sherston’s progress are autobiographical, charting disillusionment and loss as the war progresses.

Birdsong  by Sebastian Faulks is a modern novel which traces the impact of the war on a young man’s life. When it was published in 1993 I remember it being very popular in our libraries – largely due to an amazing word of mouth effect.

My list is very much a personal selection – other classics you might think of like Erich Maria Remarque’s All quiet on the Western Front is there as well as that New Zealand tale of the sufferings of conscientious objectors – Archibald Baxter’s We will not cease. I have popped in some good histories and poetry selections as well as War horse by Michael Morpurgo.

Do you have a World War 1 novel, poem or history that you would recommend?

Anzac Day 2014

Friday 25 April 2014 is Anzac Day. Christchurch is currently celebrating Anzac Day with a Dawn Service in Cranmer Square (where a temporary cenotaph is erected) and a Citizens Service at the ChristChurch Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square. The details for each service are available on the Christchurch City Council website. For the locations and times of other commemorations around Christchurch details can be found on the RSA website.

Each year many wreaths and bouquets from the Dawn Service end up at the statue of Sgt Henry James Nicholas V.C. M.M., northwest of the Bridge of Remembrance on Cambridge Terrace.

Wreaths by statue of Sergeant Henry Nicholas

Sergeant Henry NicholasHenry Nicholas was the first soldier from the Canterbury Regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He died in action on 23 October 1918 aged 26. He was awarded the Military Medal posthumously for his bravery during the fight for the bridgeheads at the River Ecaillon near the village of Beaudignies on 23 October 1918, 12 days before the New Zealanders’ capture of the town of Le Quesnoy.

All of our libraries are closed on Anzac Day.

New Year’s Resolution (2)

In my haste to get going on my resolution to read seven books from the Guardian Best Books of 2013 list, I reserved all seven at once. First to arrive was The Great War: A Photographic Narrative. It’s a biggie, 500 pages with 380 black and white photographs chosen from the half a million in the archives of the Imperial War Museums.

I was gripped from the first image, a colour double page spread of a greatcoat worn by Kaiser Wilhelm II in Russia Cover of The Great War by Mark Holbornbefore the war, when he was a colonel-in-chief in the Russian army. “Its provenance is confirmed by the imperial ‘W’ on the inside lining beneath the collar and by the fact that one sleeve was shorter than the other. Photographers and tailors were required to disguise the Kaiser’s withered left arm, the result of an accident at birth”.  There is nothing like an historical item of clothing – elsewhere in this volume there is a photograph of the jacket Archduke Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was assassinated. Complete with bloodstains. You have to go to Vienna to see that though.

On the opposite page is a photograph of the Kings of Norway, Portugal, England, Greece, Belgium, Spain, Denmark and Bulgaria in 1910. All related by birth or marriage and all about to witness the end of the world as they knew it.

The book is as impeccably organised as might be expected, coming as it does from the Imperial War Museums. It follows an orderly and horrifying progression from the declarations of war to the Armistice and it is the incidental details that are the most affecting: a line of dogs, each pair drawing a machine gun on a small cart; men of the medical corps searching packs belonging to the dead looking for letters and personal effects that could be sent to relatives; women crying at the funeral of a munitionette. The very word munitionette upset me.  A minor concern, I know.

It was a sad and sobering experience looking at these photographs from 100 years ago, but rewarding too. We’ll all be hearing a lot about The Great War in the next four years – the images in this book probably give more of an idea of the suffering borne by those who experienced it than words ever will.

The real faces looking out down the years also reminded me of all the great literature that came out of the First World War, and after it. Unfortunately it involves yet another list, of things I might revisit if I ever finish the things on my 2014 resolutions list.

Do you have any memorable World War One works?

A hero for Anzac Day

Thursday 25 April 2013 is Anzac Day. You may have noticed last year that many wreaths and bouquets from the Dawn Service ended up at the statue of Sgt Henry James Nicholas V.C. M.M., northwest of the Bridge of Remembrance on Cambridge Terrace.

Wreaths by statue of Sergeant Henry Nicholas

Sergeant Henry NicholasHenry Nicholas was the first soldier from the Canterbury Regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He died in action on 23October 1918 aged 26. He was awarded the Military Medal posthumously for his bravery during the fight for the bridgeheads at the River Ecaillon near the village of Beaudignies on 23 October 1918, 12 days before the New Zealanders’ capture of the town of Le Quesnoy.

All of our libraries are closed on ANZAC Day.

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.

William Rhodes Moorhouse

photoWilliam Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse was a young man with a taste for speed which ultimately led to his own death in World War I, but also the deaths of two people, one on New Brighton Beach.

Although born in England in 1887, through his mother he was affiliated to Taranaki, Ngati Tama and Te Ati Awa and by marriage to the family of William Sefton Moorhouse of Canterbury.  He went to Harrow Public School and briefly, Trinity College, Cambridge.

In 1909 he obtained his pilot’s licence and when war broke out  he joined the Royal Flying Corps. He was the first aviator to be awarded the Victoria Cross.  In a tragic counterpoint, his son William was killed in World War II during the Battle of Britain, shortly after being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Truth newspaper on the 8 February 1913 reported:

Grim memories … were aroused in Christchurch when the local dailies printed this cablegram: London 29 January, W. H. R. Moorhouse, the aviator, was fined 20 pounds for criminal negligence. While motoring, he killed a farm labourer.

Moorhouse… is … William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse, who started his sanguinary career … on 22 March 1907 when, 19 years of age, accidentally it was held, he killed a boy of seven … Frederick … Gourlay, on … New Brighton beach. He was making a … trial of his motor cycle … when the child was … bumped into the next world. Moorhouse … charged with manslaughter and committed for trial … was the son of wealthy … parents and the Grand Jury, acting up to the disgraceful traditions of grand juries in Christchurch, protected one of their own … and insulted the lower court by bringing in ‘no bill’.  …. The police were prompt in laying a fresh information …. The magistrate [was] satisfied that there was a prima facie case …. At the August sittings of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Chapman devoted the greater part of his address to the Moorhouse manslaughter case ….

The Grand Jury brought in a true bill and the young man had to stand … trial like any common person although he had the best brains … that money could buy. Skerrett K. C. had with him barrister Wilding for the defence.

… The beach had been used, with the acquiescence of the New Brighton Borough Council,  for … motor bike races …. A young man named Ritchie shot past with the speed of as meteorite escaping from its creditors and Moorhouse followed …. Gourlay, apparently transfixed with terror, was biffed into Kingdom Come. Lawyer Skerrett … let … loose in a remarkable address to the jury who were asked if … Moorhouse were to start his manhood with the brand of Cain on his brow which … would give his enemies … an opportunity to point him out as a convicted felon. Moorhouse … would some day take the responsibilities of a rich man …. If he had been a poor man’s son, it wouldn’t have been thought necessary to have proceeded with the charge against him ….   The jury … returned a verdict of not guilty … “

Read more in Papers Past:

This post is by Richard Greenaway, local history expert at Christchurch City Libraries. He is always uncovering great stories from the early days of the city. This one is from early New Brighton.

Hot off the shelf: Passchendaele: Unseen panoramas of the third battle of Ypres

PasschendaeleAnton Oliver likened the atmosphere in the ABs dressing room after the 2007 World Cup disaster to Passchendaele (the quote about sport “not being a matter of life and death, it’s far more important than that” did come to mind). So what was a World War One battle field really like? We’ll never know but Passchendaele: Unseen panoramas of the third battle of Ypres gives some idea.

There are over 50 panoramas taken by specialist photographers and they are horribly fascinating as a picture of the total and utter devastation in which men lived, fought and died.

Views from the German and Allied positions are compared with what the land looks like now; the comparisons are amazing but it is the words written by the young men who fought that really make these pictures come alive.

At the 90th anniversary commemorations Helen Clarke expressed the hope that this battle, in which so many young New Zealand men died, would become better known. This book is one way of finding out just what sacrifices were made “in Flanders field in Northern France”.

Looking at these poignant images reminded me of all the great writing that came out of The Great War – poets like Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and the wonderful memoir by Siegfried Sassoon, The complete memoirs of George Sherston. They’re all worth revisiting or discovering.

Great art can come out of great suffering, but losing a rugby game probably doesn’t quite count so perhaps an anthology of loss from the 2007 World Cup All Blacks won’t be in the offing.