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

Remembering a disastrous day – The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme lasted from July to November 1916. The New Zealand Division became involved on 15 September at Flers-Courcelette, which was their first major action on the Western Front.

New Zealand trench mortar officers on the Somme. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013112-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.New Zealand trench mortar officers on the Somme. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013112-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130341
New Zealand trench mortar officers on the Somme. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013112-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130341

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.

Cover Cover

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?

Our newspaper and magazine archives are a great way to explore historic events as they unfold. Log in with your library card number and password / PIN.

Lawrence of Arabia: not just a WWI hero!

The mystique of the East and all things Arabian have always intrigued me. As a younger girl part of that for me was learning about Lawrence of Arabia, and I feel compelled to introduce him to those who may know little of him, his adventures and his actions during WWI.

Cover of The Golden WarriorSome of you may have seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia which was first shown in 1962. It was described as an epic adventure film amd won several Oscars. The image that comes to mind is of Lawrence in his eastern robes astride a camel in the shimmering desert – a rather romantic, exotic image. I was saddened when I learned that Lawrence, at the young age of 46, was killed riding a motorbike, like a perfectly ordinary bloke, not such a romantic image I have now! My young girl fantasy shattered.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales on 16th August 1888. As a young man he enjoyed travel. After a study trip to Syria he decided to become an archaeologist. He studied medieval castles in France and Syria and was to use his experiences to write his thesis (published in 1910 as Crusader Castles); in doing so he gained first-class honours in History. His knowledge of Arabic gained during his time in Syria became a useful tool when he returned to the Middle East to fight for the allies against the Turks in WWI.

Cover of Lawrence of ArabiaOn all accounts Lawrence could be described as a colourful character. He has been depicted by George Bernard Shaw as a “literary genius” and yet blasted by an Oxford historian as a “charlatan and fantasist”. He was also accused of being a spy, something that some may still believe today. One thing that cannot be disputed is he came out of the First World War as a hero for his efforts in the Middle East and is still seen as such. As a matter of interest, over twenty new books have been written about Lawrence between 2000 and 2010.

What do you know of him? Have you read about him? If you would like to know more about Lawrence, check our catalogue. We have several interesting books about him and also have the original soundtrack to the movie made about him. Further to this we have many eResources, such as Biography in ContextOxford Dictionary of National Biography, Britannica Library Adults, and History Reference Center, to name just a few for you to enjoy.

Cover of Young Lawrence Cover of Hero Cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom Cover of Lawrence of Arabia

Women in wartime

I recently heard a story about an elderly lady living in a rest home who had played a significant role during the First World War. She had lived in the rest home for some five years or so and no one had a clue of her incredible background. This got me thinking about how many untold stories there must be of women who contributed in so many ways to the  war effort.

During the war, girls were engaged on a wide range of jobs [between 1940 and 1945] <a
During the war, girls were engaged on a wide range of jobs [between 1940 and 1945] CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0082
On research I have found that there is little written about the efforts of women, yet they had their own challenges and hardships.

One book I discovered, Women in Wartime: New Zealand Women Tell Their Story edited by Lauris Edmond, reports many personal accounts of women during both the first and second world wars. This quote from the book, from the story “A Memory from Poukawa”, is a fine example of the struggles of a mother during the First World War.

Mother, although barely fifty years old, was a grey-haired, worn out old lady striving to manage on our meagre income… with a large house to care for and numerous farm chores to attend to, because farm labourers were not to be found, she must have, with her indifferent health, worked to the limit of her endurance.

And from “Post Office, Tokomaru Bay”:

…women were doing men’s work on the farms. others were driving the buggies and wagonettes to meet the passengers off the steamers… The women handled great baskets of mail… sewed for the hospital ships and packed parcels for prisoners-of-war.

Cover of The Other AnzacsThe Other Anzacs: Nurses at War, 1914-1918 by Peter Rees is a must read also.

Over 600 nurses served in the New Zealand Army Nurses and many  others for the Red Cross. Many received medals and awards.

The book has many extraordinary  stories and tells of sacrifices, dedication, and sadness.  However, I felt it also uplifting in the description of how the nurses comforted injured soldiers, who they describe as “their boys”. This book is a thoughtful read and is available in hard copy as well as well as an eBook.

Have you read any books about women’s role in wartime?

Dear Mum, I received three letters this week

During World War One, many soldiers sent a weekly letter full of news to family, friends and loved ones back home. Many of those letters didn’t arrive, but those that did were kept. The letters lived on, long after the writers and recipients had passed away. Eventually the letters were stashed away in boxes in attics.

In recent times, these letters have been recovered and read for the first time in decades. Some families decided to keep these letters private, but others have chosen to have the letters published. These letters do not glorify war, telling instead of young men far from home ‘doing their bit’ for king and country.

But what happens now? In an era of Facebook and Twitter, cellphones and email, do soldiers still send letters home, and if so what do they say?

Do they tell you that the cook is not as good as Mum? Were they pleased to hear that you won a prize at the local A&P? Do they want to know how your exams went? Will they tell you that is is snowing hard and they had a snowball fight? Will they tell Mum and Dad not to worry, and all is going well? Will they tell you that they will be home soon?  And will they ask you to wait?

95 years ago today: Armistice Day in Christchurch

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

Armistice Day marks the anniversary of the agreement that ended the First World War (1914 – 1918) and commemorates the sacrifice of those who died serving New Zealand in this and all wars and armed conflicts. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marks the moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front in 1918, with the signing of the Armistice.

The 2013 Armistice Day Commemoration in Christchurch will be held from 10.50am to 12pm at the Sergeant Henry Nicholas Statue in the Park of Remembrance on Cambridge Terrace.

Today also marks 89 years since the Bridge of Remembrance opened on 11 November 1924.