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.
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.
A recent addition to our digital collection: Letters and memorabilia from the Clarkson family. This small collection of letters and memorabilia from Frank (William Francis) Clarkson to his sister Margaret Clarkson (Garton), 1918 and a letter written by Emerson Clarkson, Palestine, to his sister Lydia, in 1917.
Librarian Sue Colyer has inside knowledge of these letters:
I have always treasured these letters as they are all I know of these particular uncles. Sometime after Emerson returned from the war and the time he died in 1948 he quarrelled irrevocably with the rest of the family and his name was never mentioned again and everybody who might have known what it was about is now dead. I only discovered looking at his military record that he had received commendations in the field. He sounds like a man of action as in his letter he is grumbling about how boring it is behind the lines, how far they have to walk to get water for the horses and how they “all” prefer it at the front (yeah, right!).
Emerson Clarkson served from September 1914 to September 1919, in Eqypt and the Balkans and was awarded the British War Medal (1915) and the Victory Medal. He died in 1948.
One of his letters talks about practising fighting techniques such as bayonet fighting and live bomb throwing:
“…they are giving us plenty of work to refresh our memories before going back to the front line where we do nothing but patrols. We all think that being in the front line is a long way better than here.”
Poor old Frank, his younger brother, was killed shortly after these letters were written, but it is nice to know he had such a good time in England visiting rellies and clearly drinking too much. I would love to know what the advice was he sent to George (my father, and the youngest of the very large family). In January 2016 I was bemused to find Frank’s medals on sale on Trade me by an Australian vendor and have no idea how they got there but the family never had them as far as I know, although I do have a copy of his “soldier’s penny” – the bronze plaque that the next of kin of every British empire service person received.
Frank Clarkson was born in Christchurch in 1896 and died in France 27 March 1918. He enlisted in April 1915. He was wounded on September 1915, in the Dardanelles, then in October 1916 and again in 1917. Each time he convalesced in London and Boulogne and returned to the front. By 1916 he was fighting in France. At his death he was a Lance-Corporal with the First Battalion of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment.
Of more interest to me – as they were a huge part of my childhood – were their sisters, one was a school teacher and three lived very adventurous lives as nurses travelling overseas from the 1920 to the 1950s. They specialised in the private nursing of wealthy patients, including royalty, in Europe and the USA and eventually lived through the Blitz in London, nursed on ambulance trains in France in WWII, before returning to New Zealand and opening a popular cake shop on Strowan Road.
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.
The National Army Museum Te Mata Toa has put together a travelling exhibition: Heartlanders New Zealanders of The Great War. This free exhibition will be touring the South Island and will be in Christchurch on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st February in Market Square, The Arts Centre. The exhibition has been built in containers and tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary New Zealanders of the First World War.
Heartlanders tells the stories of those who went to war and returned home afterwards; as well as the stories of those who went to war and never came home. Original film footage sourced from New Zealand and overseas, battle sounds and music from the time will complement the artefacts that will be on display. Heartland will also feature an Auckland War Memorial Museum Artefact Digitising Unit which will enable visitors to search the Cenotaph database for information on soldiers.
After you visit this exhibition, you might like to look at some of our resources that will help you find information about your ancestor’s war record and learn more about the First World War.
Check the library’s catalogue for books, DVDs and other items.
It will be a change to do something instead of sitting in a trench. I believe it will be our last scrap here as the men need a month’s or two month’s holiday and I believe the General has definitely promised the NZ & A troops a spell. They need it.
(Priest’s diary, PCol-Priest-084)
A diary kept by Arthur Francis Lester Priest (1893-1915) from late 1914 to August 1915. The diary documents his experience in the first World War. The collection includes some memorabilia kept with the diary: a letter, newspaper clippings, postcard and photograph.
After weeks of anxiety Mr and Mrs J. S: Priest of Chorlton have found that their youngest son, Lieut Lester Priest was killed at Gallipoli on August 8th. It appears that Lieut Priest was wounded in the terrible action held that day and was being carried down to the base hospital on a stretcher when a shell wounded the two stretcher bearers and wounded Lt Prtest mortally. He lived for a quarter of a hour after the disaster and asked for a cigarette while smoked. Chaplin McMenamin who returned by the Willochra last week was with him when he died and speaks in high terms ol his great bravery. He said he knew he was dying, but it was the death he would have chosen above all others. In June last his death was reported and he read his own obituary notioe. The sad part of the whole thing is that in some way his real death was not officially reported and his relatives were only told he had been wounded a second time. Since that date they had been enquiring in every hospital and naturally were unable to locate him. The late Lieut Priest was 21 years of age …
Johnny Enzed is part of New Zealand’s official First World War Centenary History and is an in depth social history of our soldiers in the war. It takes a comprehensive look at what everyday life was like for them in Egypt and Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in Palestine, plus their experiences on voyages to the different fronts and during training in New Zealand and the UK. Many topics are covered including gas attacks and what happened to the wounded, food and smoking, and swearing.
In the talk Glyn will provide a flavour of the book, helping to bring to life the diverse experiences that New Zealanders went through during the war.
While we remember the Gallipoli landings on 25th April every year, some major parts of the campaign took place in August. As the initial assault on the peninsula and subsequent fighting had turned into a nightmarish stalemate, it was decided to land more (mainly British) troops and attack again.
Once again New Zealand and Australian troops were heavily involved. It was in this part of the campaign that the famous battles of Lone Pine (6-7 August) and Chunuk Bair (8-10 August) took place. The Wellington Battalion took and occupied the summit of Chunuk Bair, but suffered huge casualties. Amongst those killed was the battalion’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone.
Find out from the WW100 website what is happening around the country to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Chunuk Bair
Check out this Australian War Memorial article Lone Pine
I believe that my great-grandfather landed at Suvla Bay on or around 10th August as part of the Suffolk Regiment. He survived, but caught malaria. Do you have any connections to the later stages of the Gallipoli Campaign?