Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 12, was the cen­te­nary of the bat­tle of Belle­vue Spur, when 846 New Zealan­ders were killed, the sin­gle great­est loss of life on any day in New Zealand’s his­tory. Re­porter Koren Allpress talked to some who have re­searched the trau­matic eve

The Timaru Herald - - WORLD -

It was the black­est of many black days in New Zealand’s war his­tory. How­ever for the fam­i­lies of the more than 800 Ki­wis, of the nearly 70 South Cantabri­ans, who died in bat­tle, or as a re­sult of wounds suf­fered, in the First Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele, on Oc­to­ber 12, 1917, the news they dreaded ev­ery day would not ar­rive for up to a month.

Con­cerned moth­ers, fa­thers, spouses, sib­lings and ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers, wouldn’t find out for some time that a loved one had made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice for their coun­try.

Nowa­days, news can be shared on­line, and within sec­onds reach many, many peo­ple right around the world. In 1917 things were con­sid­er­ably slower.

One can only imag­ine the tor­ment fam­ily mem­bers ex­pe­ri­enced on learn­ing a son, brother, un­cle, spouse had been wounded, not know­ing how he was far­ing, the gut-wrench­ing agony of hear­ing later that he had died, or the re­lief of find­ing out he was ok.

For­mer Ti­maru Her­ald news edi­tor Carol Bell is a mem­ber of the South Can­ter­bury branch of the New Zealand So­ci­ety of Ge­neal­o­gists.

In 2014, Bell said she had the ‘‘bright idea’’ of putting to­gether a tabloid about the start of World War I 100 years ear­lier.

She worked with the South Can­ter­bury Mu­seum and a crew of other in­ter­ested par­ties to put it to­gether and it was pub­lished that Au­gust. She has also been in­volved in the South Can­ter­bury Roll of Hon­our (SCRoll) project, which can be viewed on the Ti­maru District Coun­cil South Can­ter­bury Mu­seum web­site

Bell said WWI left a gen­er­a­tion of South Can­ter­bury men not wiped out, but ‘‘badly bent’’.

She be­lieved the obit­u­ar­ies for the South Can­ter­bury men who died at Pass­chen­daele would have ap­peared in the Her­ald a day or two af­ter fam­i­lies were no­ti­fied.

‘‘It ap­pears it was well into Novem­ber be­fore South Can­ter­bury be­came aware they had suf­fered the loss.’’

She said de­tails of a loss would have taken a lot longer to ar­rive than they did now, as tele­grams would not have been sent un­til of­fi­cials were ‘‘ex­tremely sure’’.

Bell said it wasn’t un­til the Viet­nam War, when jour­nal­ists ven­tured fur­ther than they had in the past, that the world re­ally started to see war up close.

‘‘The world started to re­alise just how hor­ri­ble ev­ery­thing was. I don’t think they had much idea in World War I of the ter­ri­ble de­tails of what their fam­i­lies were go­ing through.’’

Help­ing to com­pile the bi­ogra­phies of sol­diers had been a huge project, she said.

‘‘It’s ex­tended not only to those who died but those who sur­vived.’’

She said those who sur­vived had their sto­ries to tell and de­served recog­ni­tion.

She had com­piled hun­dreds and hun­dreds of bi­ogra­phies and said some of them were ‘‘re­ally sad’’.

‘‘Most of the guys who died don’t have de­scen­dants,’’ be­cause they went to war so young, she said.

It was nieces and neph­ews who were do­ing the re­mem­ber­ing at memo­rial events a lot of the time, as the men who died were of­ten not old enough to have started fam­i­lies of their own, she said.

‘‘They didn’t have the chance to have chil­dren. It’s sel­dom grand­chil­dren [at the events].

‘‘There were men, of course, there with chil­dren, but few in the scheme of things.’’

Look­ing at the SCRoll project would show peo­ple the re­al­ity of just how many men South Can­ter­bury had lost in the war.

‘‘South Can­ter­bury isn’t a highly pop­u­lated district, and it was cer­tainly a lot less highly pop­u­lated 100 years ago.’’

On the bat­tle­field

South Can­ter­bury Mu­seum cu­ra­tor so­cial his­tory Chris Rap­ley said con­di­tions were wet and sod­den at Pass­chen­daele.

The Bat­tle of Belle­vue Spur, on Oc­to­ber 12, was the most dis­as­trous event in New Zealand’s war his­tory, Rap­ley said.

‘‘The Ki­wis at­tacked strong de­fences across bog-like ground,’’ he said.

The mas­sive of­fen­sive known as the Third Bat­tle of Ypres, had started at the end of July, with the over­all aim of driv­ing to­wards the Bel­gian coast, but progress had fal­tered and rain soaked the bat­tle­field.

New Zealand at­tacked early on Oc­to­ber 12. The mud-clogged ar­tillery could not break through the barbed wire and hit the Ger­man strong points. ‘‘The re­sult was slaugh­ter.’’ Between Oc­to­ber 1917 and the end of the year, 141 South Can­ter­bury sol­diers died there.

A re­port in the Ti­maru Her­ald, pub­lished on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 15, 1917, stated there was heavy rain as troops pro­gressed along the front.

‘‘Fight­ing was es­pe­cially se­vere on the slope of the main ridge south­ward of Pass­chen­daele.’’

Heavy rain con­tin­ued with ‘‘in­creas­ing vi­o­lence’’ all day, im­ped­ing progress, the re­port said.

An­other re­port, on Oc­to­ber 16, out­lined fur­ther what had hap­pened on Oc­to­ber 12.

‘‘The Ger­mans on Fri­day af­ter­noon opened an in­tense bar­rage, last­ing all night ... the en­emy has never massed so many ma­chine-guns on his front.

‘‘Ma­chine-gun fire and ri­fle fire never ceased for an in­stant dur­ing the at­tack.’’

‘‘Our men, floun­der­ing in bogs, were un­able to keep up with the bar­rage, and the Ger­man snipers and gunners shot with cool aim while our men strug­gled for­ward.’’

A Her­ald re­port on Oc­to­ber 20 out­lined how New Zealan­ders were proud of how they got their wounded out on stretch­ers in spite of the mud.

‘‘A for­mer guide at Mount Cook was among the bear­ers whose courage and en­durance saved many lives.’’

The re­port noted how Ger­man and New Zealand troops alike gave each other safe pas­sage while re­mov­ing their wounded from the field.

One of the first men­tions of a South Can­ter­bury ca­su­alty was the death of Cap­tain Les­lie O’Cal­laghan.

The re­port in the Her­ald on Oc­to­ber 22 said the news had been de­liv­ered to Ti­maru on Satur­day and was re­ceived with ‘‘pro­found re­gret’’.

‘‘At the same time it did not oc­ca­sion sur­prise, for ev­ery­one who knew him felt when he left as of­fi­cer com­mand­ing his com­pany that wher­ever the fight was hottest there he would be.’’

O’Cal­laghan had fought in the Boer War in South Africa, be­fore start­ing up busi­ness in Wai­mate as an auc­tion­eer, and grow­ing it to Ti­maru. His wife and daugh­ter re­turned to Eng­land when he left for war, while his par­ents re­mained in Ti­maru.

‘‘The de­ceased Cap­tain was a son to be proud of, and his par­ents and widow have the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing that he died as he lived – gal­lantly, in the ser­vice of oth­ers.’’

In the Her­ald of Oc­to­ber 24, there was an­other re­port about Oc­to­ber 12.

Lieu­tenant Grat­tan Guin­ness – Killed in Ac­tion

‘‘MR E. R. Guin­ness, of Ti­maru, has re­ceived ad­vice that his sec­ond son, Lieu­tenant Grat­tan Guin­ness, was killed in ac­tion.’’

Guin­ness was in his late 20s, and ed­u­cated in Ti­maru be­fore at­tend­ing Christ’s Col­lege. He worked for Messrs Guin­ness and LeCren, later on in Geral­dine, the re­port said.

‘‘He was an all round sport, and a keen en­thu­si­ast at cricket, swim­ming, golf, and ten­nis, in all of which he ex­celled.

‘‘He was a young man of ex­cep­tional prom­ise and made a warm friend of ev­ery­one with whom he had to do.’’

In­for­ma­tion sourced from the SCRoll project, com­piled by SC Ge­neal­ogy So­ci­ety mem­bers Liz Shea and Janette Clarke, showed Gui­ness’ fa­ther was Mayor of Ti­maru between 1914 and 1919.

Some South Can­ter­bury fam­i­lies lost mul­ti­ple chil­dren to war.

On Oc­to­ber 29, a re­port in the Her­ald said Mr M Den­nehy, of North St, Ti­maru, had learned that his son, Pri­vate T Den­nehy, had been wounded, the sec­ond of his sons to be wounded dur­ing war. He had a third son who died in ac­tion on Gal­lipoli.

SCRoll states that Den­nehy was killed in ac­tion on Oc­to­ber 12, but does not say where.

On Fri­day, Novem­ber 2, 1917, the Her­ald re­ported that two broth­ers had been killed in ac­tion dur­ing the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele.

‘‘Mr and Mrs A Hight, of High St, Ti­maru, re­ceived word on Wed­nes­day evening that their two sons, Pri­vates Leonard and Ce­cil High, had been killed in ac­tion.’’

Ce­cil was 22, and Leonard ei­ther 25 or 26.

‘‘Both were ed­u­cated at the Ti­maru Main School and Leonard con­tin­ued his ed­u­ca­tion at the High School.’’

Ce­cil be­gan work­ing at Messrs Priest and Holdgate’s shop, in 1910, where he was still work­ing at the time of his en­list­ment in 1916, the re­port said.

Leonard Hight was an em­ployee at Beck­ing­ham’s Ltd as an uphol­sterer.

‘‘Both men were of quiet dis­po­si­tion and they were great hockey en­thu­si­asts.

‘‘They won es­teem and friend­ship of all with whom they came in con­tact.’’

Great sym­pa­thy was ex­pressed in the re­port for Mr and Mrs Hight in their dou­ble loss.

One Ti­maru man made it from the 1915 Gal­lipoli of­fen­sive, to fight at Pass­chen­daele, with a bul­let lodged near his heart.

On Satur­day, Novem­ber 3 the Her­ald re­ported that Cor­po­ral R N Hawkes, of Welling­ton, but for­merly of Wil­son St, Ti­maru, had re­ceived word that his son, Cor­po­ral Richard Neville Hawkes, had been killed in ac­tion dur­ing bat­tle on Oc­to­ber 12.

‘‘Cor­po­ral Hawkes, who en­listed at the early age of 17 years, left with the Otago draft of the 3rd Re­in­force­ments. He was present at the land­ing at Gal­lipoli, where he was se­verely wounded.

‘‘As a re­sult of his wounds he was in hospi­tal for four months, but the bul­let which hit him was not ex­tracted, it be­ing too near his heart.

‘‘He par­tic­i­pated in all the fight­ing in which New Zealan­ders took part, from the evac­u­a­tion of Gal­lipoli right through ev­ery ac­tion in France, un­til his death on Oc­to­ber 12.’’

Be­fore de­part­ing for the war, Hawkes was em­ployed by Messrs Wal­lace and Cooper as an en­gi­neer, the Her­ald re­ported.

A SCRoll list­ing com­piled by Shea states he was the son of Richard Neville Net­tles and Christina Janet Hawkes nee Russell (mar­ried 1892). Cpl. Hawkes’ name also ap­pears on the grave­stone be­long­ing to his grand­mother, Jean Hawkes, who died in 1919, in Ti­maru Ceme­tery.

Also listed on the same head­stone is Jean’s son, Sa­muel Gib­bings Hawkes, who died on 7 Novem­ber 1917 (served in AIF, ser­vice no.5861) .

Also on Novem­ber 3, it was re­ported that Mr and Mrs Hop­kins, of Otipua and Hur­d­ley Streets, were told their son, Les­lie Gary Hop­kins, Field Am­bu­lance, had been killed dur­ing the Pass­chen­daele bat­tle on Oc­to­ber 12.

‘‘Pri­vate Hop­kins was a na­tive of Syd­ney, and ed­u­cated at the Opawa school, Christchurch, and was in his 25th year.

‘‘He was well known in the Geral­dine and Kakahu dis­tricts, where he was part­ner with his brother in a chaff-cut­ting plant.’’

The re­port said he was the sec­ond son Mr and Mrs Hop­kins has lost to war.

Flick­ing through the Ti­maru Her­ald between Oc­to­ber 12 and early Novem­ber, it’s hard not to no­tice the dra­matic in­crease in the length of the rolls of hon­our re­ported each day.

Ini­tially they were a cou­ple of inches long, be­fore be­com­ing the full length of the page on Oc­to­ber 19, twice that length on Oc­to­ber 23, and three full col­umns by Novem­ber 2.

It should be pointed out that not all of those deaths were from Oc­to­ber 12, some came from other bat­tles around that date, but it’s shock­ing nonethe­less.

Sun­day com­mem­o­ra­tion

The South Can­ter­bury WWOne Cen­te­nary Com­mit­tee is hold­ing a memo­rial event in Ti­maru’s Botanic Gar­dens at 2pm on Sun­day. The com­mit­tee has com­mem­o­rated all ma­jor bat­tles South Can­ter­bury ser­vice per­son­nel were in­volved in dur­ing WWI, start­ing with a ser­vice in Au­gust 2014 to re­mem­ber the men and horses that left for the war, through to the Bat­tle of the Somme, com­mem­o­rated in 2016. Source: South Can­ter­bury Mu­seum - com­piled by Mc­Gre­gor Simp­son.

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