‘The men fell everywhere’
Second Lieutenant Hami Grace’s World War I diary was recently given to Wellington College by his descendants.
In a quiet moment Hami Grace went to Walker’s Ridge and looked out. To one side was the beauty of the Aegean Sea but, turn around, ‘‘and all the horrors of war greet you’’.
Two months after writing those words, the former Wellington College boy would have fallen victim to the horrors of war – another New Zealander dead at Gallipoli.
World War I Second Lieutenant Thomas Marshall Percy Grace, of the Wellington Infantry Battalion, was killed in action on August 8, 1915 in the second year of World War I at Gallipoli, Turkey.
He was, the wonderfully comprehensive Auckland Museum online cenotaph notes, also known as Hemi.
Hemi Grace might have been largely forgotten but for his notable sniper skills – so good that Lieutenant Colonel William Malone hand-picked him for those skills – and a remarkably preserved diary was recently given to Wellington College by his descendants.
And now he is the subject of one of six four-minute Ma¯ ori and Pacific-focused Great War Stories complied by AC Productions’ Anna Cottrell to screen tomorrow, Armistice Day, on Ma¯ ori TV.
Grace – a grandson on one side of Ngati Tuwharetoa Paramount Chief Te Heuheu and Church Missionary Society Reverend Thomas Grace – was born in 1890 beside Lake Taupo¯ but moved to Newtown, Wellington.
At Wellington College, Hami Grace played for the first XV rugby team and first XI cricket team, the Auckland Museum biography notes. His bowling record was the stuff of legend but it was the skills he acquired as part of the college’s shooting team that would serve him most in war.
After his school years, he went on to play the New Zealand Ma¯ ori rugby touring team but events a world away were about to significantly alter – and eventually end – his life.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo and soon the Great War was under way.
Grace signed up under Lieutenant Colonel Malone and – in those more-racist days – it was notable that he joined the Wellington Regiment as a second lieutenant.
‘‘Hami’s commissioning as a second lieutenant in a regular army regiment singles him out as a truly exceptional character,’’ the museum’s biography states.
That exceptional talent soon showed itself at Quinn’s Post – above what is now Anzac Cove – where he formed counter-sniper teams against Turkish snipers.
According to historian Richard Stowers it was in June 2015 that Malone grew increasingly worried about the Turkish snipers on Dead Man’s Ridge who picked his men off regularly.
‘‘Malone assigned the task of subduing these Turkish snipers to his very capable Lieutenant Grace, who was well respected amongst his men as an accomplished marksman.
‘‘Grace organised a group of hand-picked marksmen and positioned them in twos in strategic hiding places known as pot-holes, mostly within Monash Gully facing Dead Man’s Ridge . . .
‘‘Within a few weeks, the enemy’s sniping had been so completely suppressed that traffic in the valley went uninterrupted throughout the day.’’
Grace’s own words paint the picture of a humble man amid an horrific – and sometimes banal – battle.
On April 27 – 103 days before his death – he wrote: ‘‘Casualties yesterday were about 450 killed and wounded – the officers suffering heavily especially Auckland . . . [8am] We went like blazers up a steep hill (400 feet) practically under fire the whole way!
‘‘When we reached the top . . . the bullets were flying in all directions – the men fell everywhere it was awful! The wounded and dead lay in clusters. It’s trying when men are shot alongside you.’’
And the next day – a Friday and 102 days before his death: ‘‘Had a bathe today under rather remarkable conditions! Some snipers had somehow worked right up on our left flank and from their position could pip at us swimming!
‘‘No-one paid much attention to them and continued their respective operations! Some were washing their clothes and rinsing them afterwards in a barrel of disinfectant to chase out those man eating beasts commonly known as ‘lice’. Four men were hit before the snipers were cleared out. It’s marvellous how careless one becomes.’’
Fifty-eight days out – Friday June 11, 1915: ‘‘In my rambling, I often come across some lonely grave with either a rifle butt as a tombstone or two crossed sticks! It’s all very pathetic + sad!
‘‘In one spot there is a regular cemetery of N. Zealanders + Australians all together. At the top of Walker’s ridge if you turn and look seawards the beautiful Aegean Sea stretches for miles, with an island here + there all signifying peace + rest.
‘‘Turn about and all the horrors of war greet you.’’
Grace was killed in action at Chunuk Bair. He has no known grave but his memory is commemorated at Chunuk Bair (New Zealand) Memorial Panel 17.
And, of course, in his own words in a small and time-worn diary behind glass at Wellington College.
AC Productions’ story of Hami Grace and others screens on Ma¯ ori TV at 7pm tomorrow.
Ma¯ori soldiers in the trenches during World War 1. Many were part of the Wellington Infantry Battalion and were killed in action on August 8, 1915 in the second year of World War I at Gallipoli, Turkey. Ace sniper Hami Grace