Teacher hon­ours grand­fa­ther’s story

South Canterbury Herald - - OUT & ABOUT - ES­THER ASHBY-COVENTRY

A Ti­maru teacher has writ­ten a play to mark the 100th An­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele in Oc­to­ber, us­ing her grand­fa­ther’s war diaries.

Craig­head Dioce­san School teacher Glenys Whit­ting­ton used the di­ary en­tries of her grandpa, Harry Os­borne, who was a stretcher bearer and mem­ber of the Welling­ton Reg­i­men­tal brass band as the foun­da­tion of the play.

Os­borne marked his 24th birth­day at Pass­chen­daele in Bel­gium on Oc­to­ber 4, 1917, the day known as Brood­seinde when 320 New Zealan­ders died fight­ing.

His­tory records the An­zacs cap­tured Graven­stafel Spur, one of two spurs on the ridge above Pass­chen­daele in Flan­ders, Bel­gium.

Though con­sid­ered a suc­cess­ful at­tack by war strate­gists, the sur­viv­ing troops were emo­tion­ally drained, Whit­ting­ton said.

‘‘Be­ing a stretcher bearer was an aw­ful job and very dan­ger­ous as they were not armed. It was called the hard­est job in the army,’’ Whit­ting­ton said.

He had to col­lect the in­jured on the bat­tle field and then the corpses, some lay for three days, she said.

With so many ca­su­al­ties, Os­borne wrote of hav­ing to play the Last Post many times.

The young sol­dier’s diaries de­scribe his friend be­ing killed in front of him, horses be­ing stuck in mud up to their bel­lies and soldiers drown­ing in shell holes filled with wa­ter.

‘‘They were not sup­posed to keep diaries, but most soldiers did and their let­ters were cen­sored.’’

The over-rid­ing fo­cus of his writ­ings, was the im­por­tance placed on not let­ting his mates down.

On Oc­to­ber 12, in ap­palling weather con­di­tions, an­other ad­vance failed with the loss of 845 Ki­wis. There was no respite un­til the Cana­di­ans re­lieved the An­zacs six days later and even­tu­ally oc­cu­pied the ru­ins on Novem­ber 6, he wrote.

The An­zacs then had to march 281 kilo­me­tres, car­ry­ing full kit, through Bel­gium after Armistice Day, Novem­ber 11, 1918.

Os­borne had suf­fered gas gan­grene (a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion) dur­ing the war and had weak lungs as a re­sult. Whit­ting­ton re­calls how when he got ag­i­tated he would march up and down in the kitchen and sing a war song.

‘‘Few fam­i­lies in South Can­ter­bury would have been un­af­fected (by the war).’’

Whit­ting­ton in­her­ited the diaries at age 16 when her grand­fa­ther died.

Hav­ing spent her young adult life work­ing in pro­fes­sional the­atres, this is her first at­tempt at play­writ­ing. ‘‘It’s been some­thing of a labour of love.’’

The per­for­mance, di­rected by Craig­head drama head of depart­ment Gil­lian Towle, in­cludes songs and po­etry read by two Craig­head stu­dents, she said.

‘‘I’ll play the role of my grand- fa­ther, Harry Os­borne.’’

Os­borne’s great-great nephew Lewis Os­borne will play cor­net solo in the pro­duc­tion.

Whit­ting­ton thinks her grand­fa­ther would be chuffed to know not just his story was be­ing re­mem­bered but those of the men of South Can­ter­bury.

In Flan­ders Fields Pass­chen­daele: Swear You’ll Never For­get will be staged at the South Can­ter­bury Mu­seum from Oc­to­ber 11 to 13 at 7.30pm with a do­na­tion en­try. Reser­va­tions can be made via email mu­seum@timdc.govt.nz

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

The cast and crew, from left, direc­tor Gil­lian Towle, singer Char­lotte Howe, writer/ac­tor Glenys Whit­ting­ton, ac­tor Kate Jack­son and pro­duc­tion crew mem­bers Bar­bara Mor­ris and Gareth Sut­ton.

Glenys Whit­ting­ton

PHOTOS: SUP­PLIED

Word War I stretcher bearer and bu­gle player Harry Os­borne.

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