My grandfather’s brother never came back from World War One. He’s buried in Armentières, France. My grandmother’s brother lost his leg, so the family farm in Southland had to be sold – he couldn’t take up his inheritance. My great aunt’s fiancé returned a shell-shocked alcoholic – PTSD, they’d call it these days. They parted and she never married.
In the retellings of the larger stories of war it is often these vignettes of personal loss, the consequences felt by loved ones, that speak quietly but with a universal relatability.
I found myself thinking of those members of my family, and the war that changed their lives, when listening to the beautiful lament E Pari Rā.
Written by Paraire Tomoana (Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti leader) for his relative, kuia Maku-i-te-Rangi Ellison, E Pari Rā gives a lasting voice to her pain and grief over the loss of her son Whakatomo Ellison, who died in the battle of the Somme. Its beautiful metaphor for grief as the surging tide is both deeply personal, and universal.
E pari rā
E pari rā e ngā tai ki te ākau. / The tides surge onto the seashore
E hotu rā ko taku manawa. / with each throb of my heart.
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Weeping without restraint
Ahau i muri nei / for I am left behind,
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / everyone is utterly heart-broken.
Tēnā rā! Tahuri mai! / So please come back, return
E te tau! te aroha. / my beloved, my love
Tēnei rā ahau te tangi nei. / I weep here
Mōhou kua wehea nei. / for you now far away
Haere rā! mahara mai. / Farewell! And remember,
E te tau! kia mau ki au. / Beloved! Be true to me
Haere rā! ka tūturu ahau. / Farewell! I will be true to you
Haere Rā! / Farewell!
Haere rā e tama / Farewell young man
Haere rā. / Farewell.
Haria rā te aroha i ahau / Take my love with you
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Tears fall
Ahau ki muri nei / as I am left behind here
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / the hearts of your people weep openly
So read the message placed in a bottle by four Christchurch lads off on, what many had thought, would be a great adventure.
Dated 21 October 1914 the bottle with the message had been tossed overboard from the troopship H.M.N.Z.T. No. 4. Tahiti possibly while it was docked at Hobart, Tasmania, or maybe during the ship’s voyage west to Albany, Western Australia from where it departed in November 1914 bound for Egypt.
By this time the four soldiers of the 1st (Canterbury) Regiment A Company, who had signed the message, George Lindsay, H Townsend, Sydney Rowe and R. Fitchett were on the other side of the world and about to enter a war which two of them would not survive.
George Lindsay was born in Avonside. He’d been involved in farming at Rangiora but prior to going overseas he had a touring car which he ran as a taxi. He enlisted in August 1914 and by October was on his way to Egypt. George was killed in action on 8 May 1915 in the Dardanelles.
He had been a member of the Linwood Congregational Church and after his death the Reverend H.A Job recalled George as being “of a quiet and inoffensive nature, and not what is commonly the fighting type”.
Victor Fitchett was an English immigrant who lived in Sumner, working for Gibbs Bros. It wasn’t clear when he had arrived in Christchurch but news articles indicate it was around 8 years before the war.
He was a keen sportsman involved with the Sumner Football Club, and also the Fire Brigade. Victor also served and died in the Dardanelles – his body was never found but a board of enquiry deemed he had been killed on, or about, 7th August 1915.
Henry Sydney Rowe lived in Redcliffs. On the electoral roll he was recorded as a plumber but on his enlistment forms he’d been recorded as a motor driver at Sumner Garage. He had married Janey Daly in September 1914. Henry also served in the Dardanelles, where he was wounded and then returned to NZ aboard the Maheno in December 1915, after which he was medically discharged.
After the war he and Janey continued to live in the Sumner /Redcliffs area. Henry died in 1966.
Joseph Henry “Harry” Townshend (Townsend) had been born in Mataura but moved to Christchurch with his family when he was 15, living in Spreydon. He’d worked as a draper at Strange and Co. before enlisting. He was injured at Gallipoli in August 1915, evacuated home, and sent to convalesce at the Trentham Hospital.
After the war he remained in Wellington, marrying Emily and working as a splint-maker – a skill he learnt as part of the vocational training course he undertook while convalescing – at Trentham and then Wellington Hospitals. Harry died in 1964.
George and Victor are among the many men and women who have been remembered on war memorials in Christchurch, and whose biographies have been shared on Kete Christchurch.
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.
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.
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.
Some 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.
On 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.
On 30th July this year it will be 100 years since William Wallace Allison Burn was killed in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). A pre-war member of the New Zealand Army, he had trained as a pilot in the UK and in 1915 was serving with the Australian Flying Corps in the Mesopotamian Campaign against the Ottoman Turks. He was the first New Zealand airman ever to be killed in action.
Although born in Australia, the family later moved to Christchurch, living in Hereford Street. William was educated at Christchurch Boys’ High School and went on the join the New Zealand Staff Corps.
Find out more about William’s life and tragic death:
September 23rd marks the day that the Canterbury troopships, Athenic and Tahiti, left Lyttelton in 1914. There had been rumours of the leaving date for some time, but the actual date was not publicised, some said for security reasons, but it incensed others. Public farewells to Auckland and Wellington troops were reported in the papers, but for a writer to the Star, on September 25th:
What about the farewell to our own Canterbury boys ? There is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction expressed on all sides at the treatment of the Canterbury Expeditionary Force. They were not even allowed to march through the streets that their mothers and fathers and those near and dear might get a farewell look. Into the train at Sockburn Camp and out again at Lvttelton (they might have been prisoners in a huge Black Maria from the treatment), their relatives not being allowed even on the wharf till the very last moment. As one mother remarked, “We were kept for hours, like cattle behind a barrier, and could not then call out a greeting to our dear ones, whom we had given to fight for our country.” Eventually as the ships were moving off, the barriers were removed, and helter skelter rushed the mothers and fathers of our boys to try and wave a last good-bye. What treatment is this? Is it befitting that those who have gone away, for God knows how long, should carry with them feelings of anger and disappointment? Surely an aching heart at leaving dear ones behind was enough without any addition. Of the feelings of those mothers and wives who so generously gave their boys I need say nothing. I know of several who came up by the express in hopes of seeing their only sons, but reached Lyttelton too late. The troopships had gone.
Men in the training camps were not told either. Cecil Malthus wrote on September 22nd,
I can hardly believe that the leave this afternoon was our last opportunity of seeing friends – surely we would have been explicitly told so if it was. Perhaps all we will get will be some short leave in Lyttelton, and in that case the difficulty will be to let you know
I did not get a word of farewell from any of my family: no doubt they disbelieved that we were going.
The Star (an evening paper) reported the troopships going, but the event was not mentioned in The Sun until the day following departure in a waspish editorial about the flouting of the Defence Department’s wishes by other, unnamed, local newspapers. The Press maintained silence but reported on the Prime Minister’s attendance at the Auckland farewell and the official farewell for the Wellington men, as well as New Zealand action in Samoa. After the many events and support in the local Christchurch and Canterbury district for the troops, the lack of an official farewell rankled.
Once on board the men sent letters home mentioning the farewell, and conditions on board. The following letter from a Peninsula mounted man is of interest:—
“We struck camp on Tuesday morning at 6.30 and rode through to Lyttelton via Sumner, the South Canterbury Mounted Regiment going with us. The infantry came down on Wednesday at 2.30. We spent half an hour on the Sumner beach, gave our horses a sand bath and a walk in the sea, then came on to Lyttelton. We embarked practically straight away without any excitement or fuss of any sort. Our horses and ourselves were on board in a very short time, and we were all well settled down by the time night came. The C.Y.C. have good quarters for their horses. There are 90 men all packed in one big room. Goodness knows what it will be like in hot weather. Anyhow, we all managed to sleep well on board the first night. On Wednesday, we were busy all day getting luggage on board and making things comfortable. No visitors were allowed on the wharf. People were waiting all day to get in to see us. There were about 700 people to see us off. They came on the wharf at 5 o’clock, and we sailed at 5.15, so they did not have much time to say good bye. It was a very stirring send off I can tell you. Mr C. Hay, and party from Pigeon Bay, came with us out to the Heads. I suppose they were going back to the Bay. “
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?
2014 is the anniversary of the start of World War I. Just over 100,000 New Zealanders served in the war, from a population then of barely one million. Of those, more than 18,000 died and over 40,000 were wounded. Most were young men, and nearly one in five who served did not return. The growth of attendances at the Anzac day services shows that people of all generations have a lasting interest in WWI, and a website called New Zealand WW100 has been set up by the Government as a place where New Zealand First World War centenary projects and activities can be shared, including official state ceremonies and community initiatives. Here are a few that have already started.
Christchurch City Libraries already has a presence on the website with links to our information on Conscientious Objectors and Nurses and other Medical Personnel. The library will be very much involved in these commemorations and as time goes on you will hear more about this, but in the mean time we have already started ordering some books that the publishing world, anticipating big sales and massive interest have started to produce.
Initially this book caught my eye whilst I was sorting the reserve shelves at the library. I wondered why a book about the First World War was titled An Awfully Big Adventure. This seemed a strange title for a book about war. The realities of war are conveyed through the reminiscences and reflections of eighty veterans who were interviewed for the World War One Oral History Archive. I find personal stories compelling so this book went on my reserve list.
I finally brought the book home and it sat on my table for a couple of weeks. I was holding back from picking it up. I don’t find it easy to read war stories, especially those told from a personal perspective. I thought it might be a harrowing read.
Instead of delving straight into the book, I decided to read the introduction to provide some context and a buffer to the stories. Jane Tolerton’s overview sets the scene; she describes the main motivation for going to war and ably captures the mood of the times. The veterans wanted their experiences recorded so New Zealanders knew about the war. She aptly finishes her introduction with an excerpt from veteran Gordon Neill.
If anything I’m saying now will dissuade people from human destruction and war, then I’ve spent my time well.
I was ready to begin.
I’m halfway through the book and it’s a bit of a stop / start read. I’m often re-reading to fully appreciate the stories. I was worried the excerpts may be a disjointed read but with Tolerton’s editing they easily follow on from one another. The yearly chronology, maps, and photographs add detail and insight creating a closer connection to the stories.
Prior to the quakes of recent months, my social life included an occasional visit to the cinema. With the demise of the Arts Centre cinema, which was my frequent haunt, and a reluctance to enter cinemas in shopping malls without sussing out where ALL the escape routes are (a particular behavioural trait which previously I had displayed only when flying …), I found I was watching a good deal of films in DVD format at home. Nothing wrong with this except my perceived lack of ‘a sense of occasion’ which cinema visits had previously inspired in me.
However, this all changed when the trailer for War Horse appeared on my small screen. Suddenly the TV and my lounge were too small for such an epic story… And what a story! Imagine a combination of Gone with the wind for wonderful technicolour processes; a plethora of Lassie films for pathos; and a similar storytelling format to Black Beauty, whereby a succession of characters are introduced through the short snatches of time they spend with Joey, aka ‘War Horse’, in a truly unsettling period of history.
My background knowledge of the use of horses in war, and especially during the 1st World War, was admittedly sketchy, but for all the graphic and mental horrors of this period in history, I felt the film’s editing was first rate – the futility and carnage of battle was left to the viewer’s imagination (my runaway ‘fertile’ imagination notwithstanding). Now I am going to read the book. As a general rule of thumb books come first followed by film adaptations, but not this time…
Anyone else admit to being influenced by the film first before embarking on the novel?