BORN: Carterton, 1st June 1886.1
DIED: Rossignol Wood, France, 18th July 1918.2
At the entrance of Queen Elizabeth Park in Masterton is the Wairarapa Soldiers' Memorial erected in 1923 in memory of those who died in the First World War.3 The soldier on top of the marble plinth was the work of Frank Lynch and modelled on a photograph of his own brother. It shows a dishevelled soldier, with laces and tunic undone, and symbolises our view of the good soldier as well as how we like to think of ourselves: not great on spit and polish, but reliable in the face of difficulties, capable and down to earth. Over the many years I walked past the memorial I always felt stirred by the statue of the "untidy soldier".
Among the names of the dead is an A. Cross. While I may have taken notice of the soldier on top of the memorial, I don't remember being very curious about this name. It has only been in later years, when I was interested in finding out more, that I came to realise that very little was known about this man, Arthur Cross, my great uncle. So, almost a hundred years after his death, here is his story...
The people who knew Arthur personally have long gone and he left no letters or postcards. Many soldiers had their photos taken before they left for overseas, as did his two brothers, Frank and Percy. But Arthur either did not bother, or the photo hasn't survived, and we have no other photos of him. Other than his birth certificate, his army service record remains the only source of information we have of him. What we can do, however, is to use the reminiscences of other men, written up in the many dairies that still survive, to get an idea of what Arthur might have experienced.
Beginning army service:
Arthur volunteered for army service and enlisted on 6th March, 1916, "for the duration of the war". From his enlistment record we find he was slightly below average in both height (5 feet 6.5 inches or 169cm) and weight (133 pounds or 60kg). Research into New Zealand soldiers at this time shows their average height was 5 feet 8 inches (172.7cm) and the average weight was 151 pounds (68.6kg)4. He was 29 and a half years when he enlisted, slightly older than the average age of 27 years. He was described as having a dark complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. His religious profession was Anglican. He was unmarried and employed as a farmer by W. Cooper of Masterton5.
In the medical examination, the Medical Officer noted that Arthur had undergone an operation for varicose veins at some earlier time, and that the condition of his teeth was bad and added the directive, "See Dentist". Given the dental techniques of the time, it is likely that the Army's approach to poor dental health would have been full extraction and fitting for dentures. New recruits were also examined to see if they were free of hernias and varicocele (a usually harmless swelling of the veins of the scrotum); the Medical Officer wrote Yes, declaring that Arthur was free from these two conditions. However, a close examination of the document suggests that the Medical Officer may have originally written No, indicating that Arthur was not free of these, but then over-wrote No with Yes. The Medical Officer seems to have changed his mind. He may have thought these conditions were not serious enough to cause concern (or, more probably, he was instructed to pass all but the unfittest of men due a shortage of recruits at the time), but the impression is that Arthur was not particularly healthy on the whole, especially for a man not yet 30.
Arthur entered Trentham training camp as part of the 14th Reinforcements and was assigned to B Company. On their first day they were addressed by the Camp Commandant:
Members of the 14th Reinforcements who have been mobilised at Trentham were assembled this morning and addressed by the Camp Commandant (Lieut.-Col. H. R. Potter). Camp life, especially military camp life, is a new experience to most of these men, and unless they are advised they are prone to overlook points which are essential to their own welfare and the health of the camp. Col. Potter talked in direct language, which all could understand, of the necessity for discipline and attention to regulations, explaining to the men how by strict regard for these matters they oould assist the officers in maintaining the standard of health and conduct of the camp. (Evening Post, 13th March, 1916)
The new recruits spent the first few weeks drilling and going on route marches. Rifle exercises began when they were given their rifle and bayonets. On Sundays, they had to fall in for Health Inspection and Church Parade. Once they had their uniforms, groups were permitted leave in Wellington where many got hopelessly drunk.
Jesse Stayte (19th Reinforcements) from Auckland, describes the sense of bemusement felt by the new recruits:
Discarded all civilian dress and commenced drill in real earnest and I am afraid some of us must have just looked what we were, a lot of Duds and instead of drill I think we wandered about like a lot of sheep.
However our Officers are lenient and after a while we began to get on better and get our minds on our work, then we forged ahead although I fear very slowly at first.6
However, Arthur may have had more trouble than most in adapting to life in camp. At the end of March he went before the camp Medical Board "for the purpose of examining and reporting upon the present state of health of Private Arthur Cross". The document produced at this hearing (see pages 15 and 16 of Arthur's Service Record here) makes fascinating reading. The Board, having examined Arthur, found that he was "mentally slow & incapable of learning drill" and in their opinion was permanently unfit for "general service" and should be discharged. What is extraordinary, however, is that these comments have then been crossed out, so that the phrase above, that he was mentally slow and incapable of learning drill, has been replaced by the phrase "he is fit". The recommendation that he be discharged has also been crossed out and replaced by the word "Service".
It is unclear how the decision of the Medical Board could be over-turned in this way, but presumably a senior officer, in reviewing the report, decided (or had been instructed) that the Army needed all the men they could get, however unfit. It suggests that the Army was getting desperate for men. In fact the Army was critically short of new recruits. When the war with Germany broke out in 1914, men in their thousands flocked to enlist. By 1916, however, the seemingly endless toll in lives and maimed men began to impact on public sentiment. Intensive campaigns to encourage enlistment failed to meet their targets, with only 30 percent of men eligible for military service volunteering. Some recruiting districts had considerable difficulty raising their quota of men for the 14th Reinforcements, so that by the beginning of March the quota was 200 short.7 In Dunedin especially, it was reported that "Recruiting is painfully slow...at the present time" and eventually the Otago quota left for Trentham fully 100 men short. 8 and men from other areas were sent to make up their numbers.
In order to maintain New Zealand's supply of reinforcements, conscription was introduced with the Military Service Act 1916 that required all men of eligible age (20 to 45 years of age) to enrol in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force by 16th September. It is possible that Arthur might have been discharged if he had enlisted earlier when there were large numbers of volunteers available, or if he had enlisted later when conscripts were entering the system.
We don't know how well Arthur did with the rest of his training. He may not have been good at drill, but we can hope that, as a farmer, he had enough practical skills to get by. Training continued at Trenthen for the next three months. At the end of May he was transferred to a machine gun company, possibly for specialist training, before rejoining B Company. On the 7th June, Arthur and the rest of B Company was transferred to the new camp at Featherston. At this advanced stage of their training they would have honed their skills in bayonet fighting, outpost & scouting work and entrenching, attacking under artillery fire and night marches.9
At the end of training in Featherston the men of the 14th Reinforcements were marched over the Rimutaka Range road back to Trentham camp. It was quite an occasion whenever a group of reinforcements marched off, with a band accompanying then from the camp to the foot of the Range. After working their way up the winding road they were met by groups of women who provided a welcome lunch and cups of tea.
The march was reported in the Evening Post:
As the result of their three days' trek from Featherston to Trentham, which they concluded on Saturday, the 14th Reinforcements are pronounced by experts to be a good lot and very fit. They stood the test well, and when marched into Trentham were very cheery. They experienced beautiful weather throughout, though the night spent in bivouac, two miles north of Kaitoke, was very cold.10
Before embarkation, the men were given leave and no doubt Arthur took the opportunity to visit his mother, Annie at Homebush, his brothers and younger sister, Eliza. Many of the men took the opportunity to have their photographs taken, but unfortunately we have no surviving photo of Arthur. On the 21st June, the 14th Reinforcements were reviewed by the Governor:
The 14th Reinforcements were reviewed by His Excellency the Governor, tho Earl of Liverpool, at Trentham racecourse this morning, in the presence of a fair representation of the public. The weather was fine, though threatening. The ceremony was carried out in such a manner as to earn for the 14ths the reputation of being one of the smartest drafts yet turned out at the New Zealand Reinforcement Camps.
After the parade had given the salute, His Excellency inspected tho troops, and they were then marched past in column of platoons, presenting a very fine sight. Their marching was particularly good, each platoon preserving perfect allignment.
Later His Excellency addressed the officers, and complimented them upon their smart turnout. (Evening Post, 21 June 1916)
We can assume from these comments that Arthur's marching had improved somewhat in the preceeding three months. At least he did considerably better than the instuctor who blew himself up in front of the Governor just a week earlier while giving a demonstration of bomb-throwing11.
It was customary for each Reinforcement to march through the streets of Wellington prior to embarkation. The Evening Post describes the occasion:
The 14th Reinforcements, together with reinforcements for the Maori Contingent and the Tunnelling Corps, who engaged in a route march through the city this afternoon, created a reputation for themselves by their excellent marching and soldierly bearing. They all appeared exceptionally fit, showing the value of the test they had gone through in Trentham and Featherston camps and in crossing the Rimutakas. The Infantry looked particularly well, and the same may be said of the Maori and Tunnelling drafts, who showed themselves worthy to rank beside the men who have gone before.
The column, with a total strength of some 2400 officers and men, assembled in Bunny Street, and at 2.30 p.m. moved off and marched into Lambton Quay with bands playing throughout its length. The troops passed along Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Manners Street, Lower Cuba Street, Jervois Quay, and Waterloo Quay, and then proceeded to their quarters. Major F. B. Brown was in command. The line of route was thickly thronged with spectators, who gave the men a good reception as they passed, cheering them frequently. There was a fine display of bunting in honour of the occasion, and the weather, through threatening, was fine.(Evening Post, 26 June 1916)
The voyage to England:
Later in the day, 2287 men boarded two ships, the Maunganui (NZ Troopship 56) and the Tahiti (NZ Troopship 57). Arthur and B Company were on the Maunganui. Both ships left together that evening and sailed in convoy to England, arriving at Devonport on 22nd August after a voyage of 58 days. Was Annie and the rest of the family there to wave him off?
In 1915, some men of the 5th Reinforcements aboard the troopship Apirama dealt with the tedium of their long voyage by producing a ship's magazine, The Oily Rag. This was the first of some 50 shipboard magazines that were produced during the many troopship voyages to England over the next few years. Following this tradition, the 14ths aboard the Maunganui produced The Kit Bag, and on board the Tahiti was produced The Tahitian Truth.12
The Tahitian Truth talks about the emotions of leaving New Zealand:
Vivid impressions linger in our minds of the parting scenes at Wellington on the eventful day of June 26th, 1916, when the Fourteenth Reinforcements left on it's mission from "God's Own Country". Handkerchiefs were waving, relatives, sweethearts, and friends calling their last goodbyes and as the troopships slowly drew away from the crowded wharf the excitement reached its highest pitch and we were gone. Since that evening the vessels have steamed far over the oceans, but the memory of the farewell will never be effaced...
At daybreak the next morning New Zealand's shores were dim in the distance. The ships sailed through rough seas during the first two weeks and many of the men suffered from seasickness. It was a great relief to arrive at Freemantle on 7th July.
The men were given leave for the day. They entrained to Perth where they spent the day sight-seeing and the evening strolling up and down the main streets, thoroughly enjoying being on land again, the fine weather, the hospitality of the Australians and being out of New Zealand for the first time in their lives. All too soon it was 8.30pm and they returned to Freemantle and the ships.
The next stage of their voyage took them to Durban, where they arrived on 22nd July. As in Freemantle, they were given shore leave for just the day, and were away again the next. After three more days they arrived in Cape Town where they spent a week waiting for other troopships to form a convoy for the next stage to England. The delay gave the men ample opportunity to explore Cape Town. They departed Cape Town on 1st August. On Arthur's service record we notice that, on 3rd August, he was fined 4/- and required to forfeit a day's pay. This was to be the first of many scrapes with Army discipline. His record doesn't say what the infraction was.
Four hundred miles out from England destroyers picked up the convoy, escorting them through the dangerous waters to Plymouth. The German U-Boat campaign was in full swing against Allied shipping so the men were required to wear life jackets and took turns on submarine lookout duties. The Maunganui and Tahiti finally anchored in Devonport (the naval area of Plymouth, formerly named Plymouth Dock) on the 22nd August, 1916. We can easily imagine the excitement of the men on seeing England for the first time.
After disembarking they were transported by train to Sling Camp, the largest and best known camp of the New Zealand training camps. Sling Camp was situated in the heart of the Salisbury Plains near the village of Bulford and just a short distance from Amesbury and Stonehenge. Reinforcement troops were subjected to a hard regime of drill, lasting from 6.30 a.m. until 9 p.m., often seven days a week, marching, bayonet fighting, shooting, grenade throwing, trench and gas warfare training and lectures on the latest tactics. The long hours, the strenuous training and the stringent discipline provided a rude awakening for troops who were accustomed to a comparative laxity of discipline in New Zealand and had passed through two months of idleness on board ship. The camp was almost universally disliked. The discipline, especially, could be brutal for the slow, the incompetent and those who tried to buck the system. The weather on the exposed Salisbury Plains could be bitter and the winter of 1916 was commonly regarded as the severest season experienced for over 30 years.
Once he was in camp, Arthur was posted to the 1st Training Battalion, first to Otago Company and then a few days later to Wellington Company. By November he seems to have moved back to Otago Company again. We don't know how Arthur did; presumably he suffered it as best he could like the others. However, some indication of the toll it took is given by the fact that on 4th November he was again in front of the Medical Board, this time at the Codford Command Depot13 (a short-term rehabilitative centre for men returning to their units), a few miles from Sling Camp. The Codford Medical Board seem to have come to the same conclusion about Arthur's fitness for general service as the Medical Board in Trentham and he was posted to a "PU" (permanently unfit) section. Here he remained for the next seven months. Codford was a busy place with an expanding farm and vegetable gardens to supply Sling Camp. There would have been plenty to occupy a man with Arthur's farming skills.
However, in June 1917 this relatively comfortable life came to an end. As in Trentham, "permanent" was less than it appeared; Arthur was again declared fit for general service and, on 4th June 1917, returned to Sling Camp and assigned to A Company, 4th Reserve Battalion, Canterbury/Otago Regiment. This time, shortage of reinforcements may not have been the reason. Instead, the return to Sling may have been punishment for a series of infractions committed two weeks earlier, when Arthur was absent from the 9.30 roll call. There is also a reference on his record to being absent from the "Tattoo Roll Call", but it is unclear if this is same or a second infraction. There may also have been another infraction at about the same time (again the record is a little unclear), which was, "Failing to attend medical parade when ordered to by his superior officer". Arthur was sentenced to 168 hours (7 days) detention. Arthur's offence was obviously considered serious for the punishment of detention to be given.
Chris Pugsley, in his book on military discipline in WW1 14, describes the purpose of the detention barracks was to ensure that those sentenced to detention had no wish to come back: "...no cards, no smoking, and no drinking... No lights allowed...No communication with outsiders... Everything done on the double... Slightest offence, up to three days on bread and water."
Arthur may have been discouraged by his experience in the detention barracks, or discipline in Sling Camp may have been tightened up. Whatever the reason, Arthur spent 19 days during July being "Confined to Barracks" (CB) for a series of infractions. CB was a lesser punishment than detention, but still be to avoided and usually included cancelling of leave or time off, excessive amounts of drill, doubling (running) on order, and constantly reporting to the orderly Sergeant to ensure men didn't leave the camp. The first infraction, on 8th June, for which he received 3 days CB was for being "improperly dressed on parade" for wearing his webbing incorrectly. The very next day he received another 4 days CB for "Having an untidy bunk in that his blankets were wrongly folded and spare clothing lying about". He received yet another 5 days CB on 15th June, for "Disobedience of standing orders in that he communicated directly with Headquarters Southern Command". At the time of writing the meaning of this infraction is unclear, or even identifying exactly where, or what was, Headquarters Southern Command. Does this mean he was making a complaint to senior officers when he should have been approaching his own company officers? Then a week later, he received another period of CB, this time 7 days, for again "Having an untidy bunk in that his blankets were wrongly folded".
Probably the only high point during this period was meeting up with his younger brother Frank who had marched into Sling with the 23rd Reinforcements on 6th June. We can imagine what a joyful occasion it would have been for Arthur. By this time he had been almost a year away from home.
Finally, on 21st June, 1917 Arthur headed for France with the Otago Regiment reinforcements. They landed at Boulogne and were then marched 32km to Etaples Base Camp which was the reinforcement training centre for the British armies in France. Frank was already in Etaples with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Soldiers passed through another rigorous training course, covering all aspects of trench warfare before being sent to the New Zealand Division in the field.
The general objective of the British Army in the Northern Sector of France had been to eliminate the "bulge", or salient, around the town of Ypres (named Ieper on modern maps) and to secure the high country to the east, which overlooked Ypres, in order to improve their defensive position (see Map 10). To this end, the New Zealand Division had particpated in the successful capture of the village of Messines (now Mesen, 9 km south of Ieper) on the 7th June15. When Arthur joined the Division on 9th July, the Division was in the area between Messines and Ploegsteert (or "Plug Street") Woods to the south. The Otago Regiment was resting and training in a quiet area away from the front line so that Arthur and the other newcomers had at least a couple of days to settle in. He was assigned to 4th Company, 1st Otago Battalion.
It was not always easy for new men to fit in. One soldier recalls:
We were not received with any degree of enthusiasm. We were looked upon by the old hands as something new and inexperienced; new boys in fact. It was plainly indicated by the company sergeant-major and platoon sergeant that we had much to learn, and that we should conduct ourselves with humility until such time as we had earned our lessons. 16
In addition, the weather at this stage was exceedingly bad. Owing to the low-lying nature of the ground and the difficulties of drainage, the trenches were in places almost thigh deep in mud and water, all movement calling for the expenditure of a great deal of energy. Even behind the front line, the New Zealanders were subject to constant enemy shelling, gas attacks and low-flying aeroplanes.
On the 19th July, the 2nd Otago Battalion relieved the 49th Australian Battalion in the front line and Arthur's 1st Battalion moved to Hill 63, an area of high ground near Ploegsteert Wood. Their role was to provide support to the 2nds by bringing up supplies, sending out working parties for the construction of new trenchs, improving the system of communication trenches and laying wire. All this was hard physical labour, undertaken in atrocious weather, at night and under constant shell-fire. Despite being in a support role the 1st Battalion continued to suffer casualties. The day after they moved to Hill 63 they suffered five killed and eight wounded, including the Commanding Officer of the Regiment. The 1st Otagos continued to provide work parties throughout most of the month of August, one of the wettest on record.17
At the end of August, after a week of rest, the Battalion moved away from the forward zone, towards the coast and spent the greater part of September in intensive training where particular attention was paid to practice in trench and open warfare, wood fighting, attack and counterattack, and musketry. On 6th September Arthur earned another 3 days CB for "appearing on parade improperly dressed".
The battle for Passchendaele:
Early in the morning of October 12th Arthur received gun shot wounds to the shoulder during the Battle of Passchendaele. He was just one of over 3300 casualties suffered by the New Zealand Division that morning in one of New Zealand's greatest catastrophes. Since we don't have Arthur's words, I have described the battle and the lead up to it in some detail, in order to give some idea of what he might have experienced. It is a tale of horror, suffering and great courage in the face of impossible conditions.
While the British Army had taken most of the high ground overlooking Ypres, the ridges leading to the villages of Passchendaele and Broodseinde remained firmly in German hands. Broodseinde was the main enemy stronghold and an observation post which overlooked the whole salient. By September preparations were well underway for the final push to take this high ground before the onset of winter and before the arrival of German reinforcements diverted from the Russian front.
On 24th September, the New Zealand division was ordered, at short notice, to move to the area north east of Ypres. This meant a six-day trek for most of the 23,200 troops of the Division, marching more than 20 miles per day (Photos 11 and 12). While the weather was good, the roads were hard and dusty and tested the men's endurance.17 They eventually arrived in the town of Wieltje on 29th September and that night both the 1st and 2nd Otagos moved into the front line.
During the march north, the New Zealanders were shocked by the degree of destruction around them. The ruins and deserted streets of the once beautiful town of Ypres "suggested some city of the dead".18 The front-line positions had an equally powerful impact on Arthur's cousin, Brigadier Herbert Hart:
The ground is covered with shell holes as close together as pebbles on the beach; the dead from the last two pushes being buried at half a dozen places en route, but were still lying about the battle front in large numbers, a dreadfully gruesome sight, and the smell struck one forcibly at least two-and-a-half miles away.19
Private Leonard Hart (no relation to Herbert Hart), who also belonged to the Otago Regiment, described the area in a letter to his parents:
...nothing but utter desolation, not a blade of grass or tree, here and there a heap of bricks marking where a village or farmhouse had once stood, numerous "tanks" stuck in the mud, and for the rest, just one shell hole touching another. 20
The New Zealanders found the trench system had been badly damaged in earlier fighting and the ground was so water-logged that it was impossible to dig good dugouts unless they were properly engineered, and timbered and drained. Where they had been constructed, they were damp and evil-smelling, and constant pumping was necessary to keep them habitable. The only things that seemed to have escaped destruction were the squat "pill-boxes" which were distributed all along the ridges, giving protection to the Germans against everything but very heavy shells. 21
To add to the desolation and discomfort, Arthur and his mates had to contend with persistent shelling from the Germans over the next couple of days. The 1st Battalion was relieved by the 3rd Battalion on 2nd October, but even in reserve behind the lines, they were subject to constant shelling.
The next step in the taking of Passchendaele and Broodseinde was an attack by twelve ANZAC and British divisions along an eight mile front on 4th October. The New Zealand Division was given the task of capturing two spurs that ran down from the main Passchedaele ridge: the first was Gravenstafel, the smaller of the two, and then the higher Bellevue spur, which would be taken in a subsequent push. In Map 13 the road through the villages of Gravenstafel, Bellevue and beyond shows the line of the ridge and the planned advance of the New Zealanders.
Both the 1st and 2nd Otago Battalions were in reserve so Arthur did not take part in this attack. It proved to be a stunning success and, at the time, was considered one of the greatest victories of the war. The New Zealand Division captured all its objectives, advancing the British line by nearly 2,000 yards and taking 1,159 German prisoners, although at a cost 1,853 casualties, including 330 killed, a 25% casualty rate.22
The new British front line was established beyond the village of Gravenstafel. Today there is a New Zealand monument on the Gravenstafel cross-roads as a memorial to those New Zealanders who died in this battle (see Photo 15). Photo 14 shows the view from a high point near Gravenstafel, Abraham Heights, towards the Bellevue spur, which was to be the New Zealanders next objective.
Despite the worsening weather and the lack of time to prepare, General Haig and other senior commanders were keen to renew the attack towards Passchendaele. However, Haig in his enthusiasm seemed to take little account of the difficulties faced by the soldiers and his decision to continue after October 4th is one of the most questioned of his career.23 Since October 4th continuous heavy rain had turned the ground into thick, glutinous mud. It was impossible to keep dry and the mud penetrated everything. Despite a prodigious effort, amid constant shelling, the road up to the front line remained a "shakey bog", making it extremely difficult to bring up supplies and ammunition. In these conditions, the men's health and morale soon plummeted and most soldiers believed that, with the heavy rain, the chance of a decisive, knockout blow had vanished.24
Nevertheless, the next attack on October 9th went ahead. The plan was to take the Bellevue spur and advance some 600-1000 meters to the slope in front of Passchendaele village, with the final push occuring on the 12th. The New Zealand Division was in reserve, so the attack was made by the 49th (West Riding) Division, along the front secured by the New Zealanders on October 4th. It proved to be as difficult as feared. The first difficulty was the long march to the start line through a quagmire of mud and slush; those who did make it were exhausted by the time they were in position. The 49th Division then had to cross the flooded Ravebeek stream, now 50 meters wide and waste deep. Once across they were confronted by uncut barbed wire and deadly machine gun fire from the German pill boxes on the slopes above them and almost no further progress could be made. The 49th Division suffered more than 2500 casualties in the abortive attack, many of whom were left in the mud and rain on the battlefield and would not be retrieved until days later.
The New Zealand Division was ordered to relieve the exhausted 49th Division during the night of the 10th/11th and prepare for another attack on Bellevue spur on October 12th. From the outset it was clear that the whole enterprise was ill-conceived. The men had great difficulty making their way through the rain and sea of mud, often getting bogged down to the waist. Many got lost during the night. Once in position, all they had were water-filled holes for protection against German shelling. The lack of passable roads made it impossible to bring much of the artillery forward, as well as supply sufficient shells for those guns in position. It also proved impossible to construct a firm firing platform; many guns became useless after firing a few rounds because the recoil pushed them deeper into the mud (see Photo 16). There was great concern that the attack would be made without sufficient artillery cover. Worst of all, patrols reported that the artillery bombardment had been insufficient to cut the massive barbed-wire entanglements protecting the German machine gun posts on the Bellevue spur.
To add to the sense of doom was the reminder, all around them, of the failed attack a few days previously. Leonard Hart wrote to his parents:
During the night after we had relieved the Tommies prior to our attack on the ridge we were surprised to hear agonised cries of "stretcher bearer", "help", "For God's sake come here" etc, coming from all sides of us. When daylight came some of us, myself included, crawled out to some adjacent shell holes from where the cries were coming and were astonished to find about half a dozen Tommies, badly wounded, some insane, others almost dead with starvation and exposure, lying stuck in the mud and too weak to move. We asked one man who seemed a little better than the rest what was the meaning of it and he said that if we cared to crawl about the shell holes all round about him we would find dozens more in similar plight.
We were dumbfounded, but the awful truth remained. These chaps, wounded in the defence of their country, had been callously left to die the most awful of deaths in the half frozen mud while tens of thousands of able bodied men were camped within five miles of them behind the lines...Those that were still alive had subsisted on the rations and water that they had carried with them or else had taken it from dead comrades beside them. I have seen some pretty rotten sights during the two and half years of active service, but I must say that this fairly sickened me.
We crawled back to our trenches and inside of an hour all our stretcher bearers were working like the heroes that they were, and in full view of the enemy who, to his credit, did not fire on them. They worked all day carrying out those Tommies of whom I am afraid some will be mad men for the rest of their lives even if they do recover from their wounds and exposure. 25
The map of the Passchendaele battle field (see Map 13) shows the positions of the various New Zealand units. On the left of the New Zealand sector, the plan was for the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (2nd Rifles) to lead the attack and seize the first objective (the red line on the map), with other Rifle battalions leapfrogging through to the next objectives (the blue and yellow lines). In the 2nd Rifles was Arthur's brother, Frank. On the right of the sector, the 2nd Otago Battalion (Leonard Hart's battalion) would carry the red line, with Arthur's 1st Otago Battalion passing through them to the blue line. Further to the right, across the Ravebeek valley, were the Australians. In the disaster that followed, none of these targets was reached.
The attack opened at 5.25 a.m. on a cold, miserable morning. As was feared the opening barrage was weak and erratic. Many of the shells dropped short, as the guns sunk into the mud, killing men of the 2nd Otagos. Some of them dropped among Arthur's battalion, even though they were still 100 metres behind the start line. Leonard Hart recalls:
It was a truly awful time - our own men getting cut to pieces in dozens by our own guns. Immediate disorganisation followed.26
Without the protection of an artillery barrage in front of them the 2nd Otagos, with Arthur's battalion behind, moved forward, struggling across the area area known as Marsh Bottom, waist deep in mud, unable to move beyond a slow sfuffle. The Germans were expecting an attack that morning and were well prepared. As the New Zealanders moved forward enemy artillery and machine-guns burst into life, cutting down men by the score. Against all the odds, many of the Otagos reached to top of the first ridge only to be confronted by large entanglements of uncut wire around the Gravenstafel-Bellevue road, protected by machine-gun fire from undamaged pill-boxes. The wire proved to be impenetrable and many men died trying to get beyond it. Again, Leonard Hart is our witness:
What was our dismay upon reaching almost to the top of the ridge to find a long line of practically undamaged German concrete machine-gun emplacements with barbed wire entanglements in front of them fully fifty yards deep...Even then what was left of us made an attempt to get through the wire and a few actually penetrated as far as his emplacements only to be shot down as fast as they appeared. Dozens got hung up in the wire and shot down before their surviving comrades' eyes.27
By 6.00 a.m. it was clear they could get no further. The men of the 1st Otagos came up to join them at the wire and also tried to push through, but with no more success. In Arthur's 4th Company was Gerald Beattie, a teacher from Gore. He recalls the German snipers:
You couldn't see any enemy...never even saw a German there. But they were there and the German snipers were just having a field day...They were on the alert all the time and any man that moved, I must have seen a dozen men killed that way just dodging to what they thought was a better position.28
When the men of 4th Company were able to withdraw under cover of darkness only thirty-four remained of the morning's 140. One of the wounded was Arthur. Somewhere between the start line near Marshy Bottom and the wire around the Gravenstafel-Bellevue road he was wounded in the right shoulder. There is very little detail in his service record other than it was a "GSW [gun-shot wound] right shoulder", so we have to make some guesses about what happened. The fact that he didn't receive multiple wounds suggests he was shot by one of the German snipers rather than a machine gun. We also know that he was off the battlefield the same day. He was probably able to make his own way back to the regimental aid post (RAP) which provided the first-line medical treatment. Here he would have had his wounds attended to and his arm put in a sling, before being sent back with other wounded men to the nearest casualty clearing station. Arthur's service record tells us only that he was admitted to the 12th casualty clearing station, but we know that there were casualty clearing stations at Waterloo Farm and Kron Prinz Farm. Since Waterloo Farm was the nearer one, this is probably where he went.
Meanwhile, Frank and the 2nd Rifles on the left had progressed as far as Wolf Farm, but could get no further. They experienced the same combination of mud, wire entanglements, deadly machine gun fire and lack of artillery support that had frustrated the Otago battalions, and were ordered to dig in. Frank came through the battle unscathed. The Australians to the right of the New Zealanders became bogged in the mud of the Ravebeek Valley and also suffered heavy casualties.
Astonishingly, orders came through to renew the attack at 3 p.m., but good sense prevailed and it was called off at the last moment. All that remained was the nightmare task of evacuating the thousands of casualties from the battlefield. An informal armistice was arranged and with the help of more than 3000 reserve troops, the Army Medical Corps went forward to remove the wounded. However, it was gruelling, heart-breaking work as Photo 17 shows and it took four days before all the wounded were finally cleared. The casualty clearing stations became overwhelmed with wounded men; later at Waterloo Farm there were over 500 men men lying around in the mud and rain, "just dying where they were dumped off". Some of these lay in the open for three days.29
Arthur was fortunate to have been evacuated so promptly. On the same day as he was wounded he was tranferred to the ambulance train, and on the following day he was admitted to the 22nd General Hospital in Camiers, near Etaples. On October 16th, he boarded the hospital ship, Pieter de Coninck and sailed for England.
Recovery in England:
The hospital ship docked at Dover and Arthur was admitted to the 2nd NZ General Hospital in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, about 30km south-west of London. He spent two weeks here before being transferred to the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch.30 The convalescent hospital, about 30km north-east of London, was for medical cases requiring no further active treatment when the wounds were nearly healed. Each man was given the necessary massage, "medical electricity", remedial exercises, or other treatment that was deemed suitable. The fact that Arthur was Hornchurch just two weeks after being wounded suggests his wounds were not serious. Men who are able were expected to attend parade and go on route marches each day (with the aid of the camp brass band), starting with small distances, and increasing gradually until a limit was reached.
During his stay at Hornchurch Arthur again fell foul of army discipline and was was required to attend Defaulters' Parade. We don't know what the infringement was, but Defaulters' Parade was a fairly low-level, if unpopular, punishment requiring "drilling", mostly at the double, (that is, marching in quick time) with full equipment. It may also have included doing the dirty jobs around the hospital. Then, to make things worse, Arthur was late for Defaulters' Parade. He also refused to obey an order. He was fined two days' pay. Because Arthur's service record offers nothing but the barest detail it is hard to understand what went on in these situations. Very few of the men managed to avoid army punishment and Arthur's infringements were probably not out of the ordinary. Nevetheless, there remains the possibility that Arthur, with his limited mental capacity, may have been less clever than many in avoiding punishment or may have been an ideal victim of army bullying.
By the end of November, Arthur was considered fit enough to be transfered back to the Command Depot in Codford, to further improve his fitness before returning to his unit. More than a year had passed since first arriving in England. On November 30th he was granted two weeks leave until December 13th.
London, as the centre of the British Empire and famous for its buildings and history, was the place of choice for many New Zealand soldiers on leave. We can imagine Arthur sharing a train with others on leave from Sling Camp and Codford, making their way to London, full of anticipation of some freedom and a good time. Their first night in London would have been spent at the New Zealand Y.M.C.A. hostel in Bloomsbury or the New Zealand Soldiers' Club in Russell Square. Both provided cheap, clean and safe accomodation and an ideal base for London sightseeing. New Zealand soldiers were enthusiastic tourists and family visitors. Men travelled far and wide over the British Isles to be with relatives, usually never met before. However, we have no evidence that Arthur or his brothers ever met up with their father Daniel, or with any of their other relatives. Sadly, they probably did not, since Daniel seems to have kept his New Zealand marriage and family a secret from his new wife and seems to have made no effort to stay in touch with his children.
While discipline in the United Kingdom was generally good, not all New Zealand soldiers had good experiences while on leave. Many had difficulty adjusting to a life without fighting and the familiar structure of the army. They had their share of villans, although the New Zealanders did not suffer the hooligan image of the Australians, partly because they were happy to be mistaken for Australians in times of trouble. Others fell prey to excessive drinking, prostitutes and pickpockets. Veneral disease was a major problem.
By mid 1917 the VD rate had reached epidemic proportions with some 400 VD patients per month at Codford. The Canadians and Australians managed to reduce their rates by distributing prophylactics, but the New Zealand approach was to convince the men to go to an early treatment centre as soon as possible. The commander of the New Zealand troops in the UK hoped to be able to "reduce the infection without making an absolute free issue [of prophylactics] which might encourage unrestricted vice". 31 However, the vast majority of men did not go to an early treatment centre. With the rising rate of infection and under pressure from campaigners such as Ettie Rout, the army gave way and ordered the issue to each man going on leave, "a complete prophylactic outfit and...full instructions regarding the use of the same. Each man will give a receipt for the outfit."
Arthur returned from leave three days early. This seems an unexpected thing to do. We can only guess at the reason: he may have grown bored with too much free time on his hands, he may have run out of money or been robbed, or he may have had some other unpleasant experience. We do know he spent time with a prostitute since two weeks later he was admitted to Codford's VD hospital. Presumably he was of the many who didn't take, or didn't use, the prophylactic outfit on offer, and didn't go to an early treatment centre.
A number of huts had been set aside for the venereal hospital and enclosed in a barbed wire entanglement. There was considerable shame in being isolated in this way. In addition, each man forfeited 2/- per day while under treatment. Arthur spent almost two weeks here before being discharged, but was then admitted again. He wasn't finally discharged until March 26th, 1918.
On April 17th he left Codford for the last time and entered Sling Camp where he was assigned to the 3rd Reserve Battalion, and spent the next month training and improving his fitness. In mid-May he was shipped to France and marched into Etaples Camp on May 17th.
Return to France and the German March Offensive:
In Etaples Camp Arthur was transferred to the 2nd New Zealand Entrenching Battalion. This formation was comprised of reinforcements for Otago and Canterbury Regiments and included wounded men like Arthur who had at one time or another been active members of either the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Battalions of the Otago Regiment in the Field, as well as new reinforcements due to be drafted to the Regiment. Typically, newly arrived soldiers or those recovering from wounds would be assigned to an entrenching battalion. They were involved in building/repairing trenches and other work, under the supervision of an engineer. It gave the new recruits a chance to experience some of the sights and sounds of war without starting off in the frontline.
When Arthur joined Entrenching Battalion in the field, on May 26th, 1918, the New Zealand Division was no longer in the Ypres Salient; in March the Division had been ordered south to the Somme area to help stem the onslaught of the German "Spring Offensive". The background to this phase of the war, and the New Zealand Division's role in it, is as follows:
By November 1917, Russian resistance in the east had entirely ceased and the Germans, instead of having to conduct a war on two fronts, were now able to concentrate all their forces in Belgium and France. The Germans planned a great spring offensive in order to take best advantage of of these reinforcements before the arrival of US troops. The plan was to sever the connection between the British Army in the north and the French in the south, and capture the vitally important railway city of Amiens.
When it became evident that the Germans were trying to exploit a weakness in the Allied defences to the north-east of Amiens, the New Zealand Division was ordered to entrain to the south and to plug the gap against the rapidly advancing Germans. As New Zealand battalions, exhausted after forced marches and nights out on the road, began to arrive in the early hours of the 26th March, they were organised into makeshift "brigades" and pushed forward to engage the enemy. They were confronted by streams of fleeing refugees and retreating British soldiers. Later in the morning of 27 March the New Zealand artillery began to arrive and by evening most batteries were in position. The guns went into action without delay on arrival. The gap had been closed in the nick of time. Maps 19 and 21 show the area held by the New Zealand Division.
The New Zealand sector of the front was under almost constant attack in the days following. Despite cold weather, lack of adequate clothing, food and water, the New Zealand Division not only consolidated its position, but on the 30th March was able to launch a significant attack on the Germans, so that by the 31st, they were in a fairly positive position on the high ground overlooking a faltering German advance.
On the 5th of April the Germans made a last desperate effort to break through to Amiens. The day started with the heaviest and most sustained artillery bombardment the New Zealand Division experienced during the war. Despite the intensity casualties were surprisingly light. The rest of the day was spent dealing with infantry attacks which died away in the afternoon, effectively bringing the German offensive in that area to a halt.32
On this same day, Arthur's brother Percy joined the 2nd Battalion of the Auckland Regiment, who were in reserve in the village of Courcelles-au-Bois, about 3 km miles behind the front line. His first taste of the front line came when his battalion relieved the 2nd NZ Rifle Brigade (his brother Frank's battalion) on 9th April. On the 23rd of April Percy was evacuated sick with an acute ear infection, but rejoined his unit on the 9th of May. When Arthur arrived on May 26th, all three brothers were at the front. However, because the various battalions were being constantly rotated between different positions on the front line and then in reserve at different villages, it would have been difficult for the three to spend time together.
This situation changed at the beginning of June when the whole Division went into reserve for three weeks. Arthur and the Entrenching Battalions were near Pas-en-Artois, Percy and the 2nd Auckland Battalion were in Vauchelles. Frank and the Rifle Brigade were in tents, or billeted in the villages in the same area. Along with the training, the men enjoyed sports, a horse show in Vauchelles and re-establishing friendships. Authie, a considerable village, with a fine chateau in the middle of it, was the centre of reunions of all sorts, and where the men went to celebrate pay-day. The beautiful countryside and sunny weather did much to lift spirits.33
On Friday, June 7th, Arthur was absent from camp without leave for about 24 hours, between 7.15am on Friday morning until 5.30am on Saturday. Since this was the same day that Frank's battalion was relieved, could it be that this was the day that the brothers finally got together? He then missed the unpopular but compulsory Sunday Church Parade. Neither Percy nor Frank were charged for being absent, so we can't be sure, but we can be certain that they did spend some time together during these weeks.
For being absent Arthur was "awarded" 7 days Field Punishment No. 2 and forfeited 2 days pay, plus another day's pay for being absent from Church Parade. Field punishment was standard for offences committed on active service, taking the place of detention so that the soldier could remain within his unit and continue with training and operations. It was carried out in view of the men and served two purposes: public humiliation for the man being punished and a visible deterrent to the unit. The sentence required Arthur to parade in full marching order with his pack and rifle, morning and evening and did at least one hour's drill a day. He wasn't allowed to smoke or have his rum ration, and he was given all the worst jobs. At night he was confined to camp.
More serious offences, and contientious objectors such as Archibald Baxter, suffered Field Punishment No. 1. 34 This differed from FP2 in that it included soldiers being "put in irons" and secured to a wall or post. This punishment was often carried out by securing a soldier to one of the wagon wheels in the NZ Division's transport unit. FP1 was open to considerable abuse and was hated by the soldiers.35
At the end of June, as the Division was readying itself to return to the front line, Arthur was transferred back to his old 4th Company, 1st Otago Battalion.
On July 1st the Division took over the sector from Rossignol Wood to Hebuterne, thus shifting the divisional front further north. On July 9th the Otago Regiment took over old trenches between the battered village of Gommecourt and the outskirts of Rossignol Wood. The Germans still occupied Rossignol Wood which provided them with cover, high ground and good observation points, so that any work on the trenches had to be done under cover of night. On July 15th the New Zealand Division managed to push the front line forward a short distance in front of Hebuterne and closer towards Rossignol Wood, and on the night of July 17th the Otago Regiment relieved the Canterbury Battalion right on the edge of the wood. Eventually, the constant pressure from the New Zealanders forced the Germans to evacuate the woods on the night of the 19th.
Killed in Action
Sometime during July 18th (a Friday) Arthur was killed. We have no details of the time of death or the circumstances. His service record states only that he was "killed in action in the field", and the history of the Otago Regiment provides no clues. Frank related later that the three brothers were together and going forward when they were attacked. Frank said they all headed for a pond of water nearby; Percy and Frank made it but Arthur didn't and they never saw him again.35 However, there are some problems with this description of his death. The first is that the three brothers, being in different regiments, were not fighting together. Arthur's Otago Regiment had moved into the front line the previous day and was positioned at the north of the New Zealand line, at the edge of Rossignol Wood. Frank's Rifle Brigade was relieved from the front line on the same day and moved back in reserve to Chateau de la Haie, where they remained for the next eight days37. Percy's Auckland Regiment was also in reserve, near the village of Sailly38. Since the Germans were constantly shelling the New Zealand lines, he may have killed by shell fire. Or he may have been killed in one of the many small-scale raids undertaken by the New Zealanders as they continued to push forward against the German positions. We will probably never know how he died, but his record states he was buried by the Rev. David Herron in the Gommecourt Chateau cemetery. Since Paddy and Percy were both in reserve, it is highly probable that they were given permission to attend their brother's burial.
Photo 22 shows the Rev. Herron conducting a military funeral at a newly dug grave at Gommecourt, with the burial party of soldiers looking on. A total of 8 burials took place here on this day, Friday 26th July, 1918. This is probably not a photograph of Arthur's funeral, since the information we have on the photo states that the men being buried are from the 2nd Otago Battalion, whereas Arthur belonged to the 1st. In addition, these burials occured eight days after Arthur's death and it is unlikely that he would have remained unburied for that length of time. However, it is most likely that he was buried in this same place, by this minister, attended by these men, or men like these that Arthur knew. He was later reburied in the Gommecourt New Wood cemetery, where he lies today. We will never know the exact details of his death and burial, but this photo brings us as close to these events as we can possibly get.
We don't know enough about Arthur to say how good a soldier he was, or how well he lived the ideals embodied in the statue of the "untidy soldier". From the little we can glean from his service record it could be easy to conclude that he probably wasn't up to much. However, what we do know is that, on the morning of October 12th in the dreadful conditions at the bottom of Bellevue spur, with the knowledge that all the odds were stacked against them, he along with all the others did what was expected. That must stand for something.
Ormond Burton, a sergeant in the Auckland Regiment (and the author of the Regiment's history), in writing about how the men in his company dealt with the fear among them, and how the least likely could rise to the occasion, recalled Clarrie, "...a very simple affectionate country lad who just could not stand fire - one of the very few...who in an emergency simply panicked. Amongst us he was just found what innocuous jobs were possible - there were always a few. Generally he was looked after and was carried by the strong." Despite this, Clarrie insisted on taking part in the Gravenstafel attack with the company and was killed in the assault. Burdon wrote, "The really brave man is he who knows fear and overcomes it, Clarence had known it very dreadfully and to make things harder had fallen to it time and time again. Now he had the victory."39
- Birth Certificate
- Army Service Record
- The history of the Memorial is available online at the Kete Masterton: Wairarapa Archive site.
- Inwood, K., Oxley, L. & Roberts, E. Rather above than under the common size? Stature and Living Standards in New Zealand. Paper for presentation to UCLA Von Gremp Workshop in Economic and Entrepreneurial History. 16 November 2009. Retrieved from http://www.econ.ucla.edu/workshops/papers/history/roberts_rather_above_than_under.pdf
- It seems as though W. Cooper may have been a very well-off farmer who had a passion for thoroughbred horses. In 1918 a Mr. W. Cooper of Masterton paid an extraordinary 6000 guineas for the horse Straga at the Karamu stud sale (Hawera & Normanby Star, 30th January, 1918)
- Miller, Ross, From Within the Ranks. The World War One Dairy of Private Jesse William Stayte. Ross Miller, 2003. p23.
- Evening Post, 10 March 1916
- Evening Post, 9 March 1916
- Ira Robinson described his training at Featherston camp in: Ward, Chrissie (ed). Dear Lizzie. A Kiwi Soldier Writes form the Battlefields of World War One. HarperCollins, 2000. p13.
- Evening Post, 13 June 1916
- Evening Post, 16 June 1916
- Embarkation of Reinforcements from New Zealand 1914-1918
- A "Command Depot" was designed for the rehabilitative training of soldiers too fit for Convalescent Camp, but not yet fit enough to be returned to their unit. The system was instituted in order to free up hospital beds. Classification of the men was held once a week by the Medical Board. Many recovered from their wounds but remained unfit for active service and might be sent to head-quarters for allotment to duties as "permanent" (PU) or "temporary unfits" (TU) or to Torquay for return to New Zealand. Look here for more information on the Codford Command Depot.
- Pugsley, Christopher, On the Fringe of Hell. New Zealanders and Military Discipline in the First World War. Hodder & Stoughton, 1991.
- See the The Ypres Salient website for a good overview of the 1917 campaign.
The New Zealand History Online: Passchendaele-fighting for Belgium site also gives an excellent overview of the campaign from a New Zealand perspective.
- Mckeon, William, J., The Fruitful Years. Privately Printed. Quoted in Pugsley, Christopher. On the Fringe of Hell.. p221.
- Byrne, A. E., Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918. J. Wilkie & Company, 1921. pp 195-201.
This is also online at here.
- Byrne, A. E., op.cit. p.202.
- Crawford, John (ed.) The Devil's Own War. The First World War Dairy of Brigadier-General Herbert Hart. Exisle, 2008. p.197.
Herbert's mother, Mary Ann Reid was the younger sister of Arthur's grandmother, Catherine (Kate) Reid.
In March 1917 Hart was made a temporary brigadier general and given command of the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, which performed particularly well during the New Zealand Division's successful attack on Gravenstafel Spur on 4th October 1917, but disbanded in January 1918 due to manpower shortages. He then took command of the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade. It is interesting to speculate about how much contact a man in his position had with his many cousins in the ranks.
See also Herbert Hart's biography at the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography site.
- Harper, Glynn, Massacre At Passchendaele. The New Zealand Story. HarperCollins, 2003. p.31.
- Byrne, A. E., op.cit. p.203
- The details of the battle are covered in Harper, G., op.cit. Chapter 2.
Also The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records, Chapter VII: Gravenstafel and the Bellevue Spur, p.248.
- Harper, G., op.cit. p.54.
- Harper, G., op.cit. Chapter 3.
- Phillips, J., et.al. The Great Adventure. New Zealand Soldiers During the Great War. Allen & Unwin, 1988. p.148
The full text of Leonard Hart's letter, dated 19th October, 1917, is also available on the New Zealand History Online web site here
- loc. cit.
- loc. cit.
- Harper, G., op.cit. p.71.
- Harper, G., op.cit. p.83.
- See this site for details, with further links, about the New Zealand hospitals during WW1.
- Pugsley, Christopher, op.cit. p.159.
- Harper, Glyn, Spring Offensive. New Zealand and the Second Battle of the Somme. HarperCollins, 2003.
- Burton, O. E., The Auckland Regiment. Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1922. pp. 213-9.
This is also online at here.
Burton's account, which is written in a less official style than other regimental histories, offers interesting insights into life at war.
- Baxter wrote his story in, We Will Not Cease Caxton Press, 1965. An electronic copy is online here
- Pugsley, Christopher., op.cit. p.92.
- As recalled by Frank's daughter, Shirley Hawthorn (nee Cross)
- Austin, Lieut.-Col. W. S., The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. L. T. Watkins Ltd., Wellington, 1924. p.339
This is also online here
- Burton, O. E., op.cit. p225.
- Pugsley, Christopher., op.cit. p.272
- A history of Trentham Camp, with photos, is online here
- Photo from Gray, John, H., The New Zealand Division in France and Flanders, May 1916 to November 1918. 2005. p51. Also available online here.
This is a dairy of travels around the battlefields of France and is an excellent source of information on the New Zealand Division's campaigns. It has been rewitten and published as From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth The New Zealand Division on the Western Front 1916-1918. Wilson Scott Publishing, 2010.
- Photo from Gray, John, H. op.cit. p48
- Photo from the World War One Battlefields site. This site also has a brief history of the cemetery and a map of the locations of other nearby cemeteries.
See the Commonwealth War Graves Comission site for a cemetery plan (follow link at bottom of page). Arthur's grave is at III D3.