When the boys came home

Lambton Quay

Dear Kid
This is a view in our capital. It is a fine town, plenty of hills and good Bays not far out to take on the sea bathing. I am going to go down to Dunedin on Sat next and start work the following week. They don’t want me to start for awhile at home but it is nearly a case of have to. I want to make some dollars you know if I am thinking about that trip to U.S.A. What do you think. I have not met my mate yet to give him your friends address but I will write to him one of these days. How is your friend, give her my best wishes. I have been very crook [ill] this last few days. I caught a bad cold coming over from the North Island the other night on the ferry steamer. Our boys are still coming home in great numbers. I suppose it is the same with your boys.
Alex.

This postcard from New Zealand to the United States has no date or post mark but the last lines about the boys still coming home suggests it was written a hundred years ago in 1919. It’s a reminder on this Anzac Day that, although the shooting stopped on 11th November 1918, the peace treaty wasn’t signed until the following June and the business of returning troops to their homeland was a long, drawn-out affair.

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The news that’s fit to print.

It is estimated (says the London correspondent of the “Age”) that there are over 300 war correspondents attached to the armies now in the field in Europe, but they are under strict supervision, to prevent them despatching to their papers any information which might prove of use to the enemy. Most of the war correspondents of the English Press are with the French army, but some have been sent to Russia. Of course, no English, French, or Russian correspondents are allowed into Germany or Austria.

French pontoon bridge

French Engineers building a pontoon bridge. From a stereo card by the Keystone View Company.

The regulations issued by the French War Office with respect to newspaper correspondents forbid any message being sent by telegraph. All despatches must be written in French, and must be submitted to the military censor before being sent off by post. None of the correspondents will be allowed to go to the front. They will be placed in charge of an officer, somewhere on the lines of communication, and the information they obtain regarding the actual fighting will be supplied by staff officers.

The regulations regarding Press photographers are even more severe, as the military authorities are even more anxious to discourage photographers than correspondents. They will be kept under supervision, and their pictures will have to be shown to the censor.

The expectation of film manufacturers, that they would be allowed to film a great war in all its details has been shattered.
‘Christchurch Press’, New Zealand. 16 October, 1914.

H.M.S. President

Coming along the [Thames] Embankment from Westminster, we notice the change on the lamps, which now bear the City arms, and there is a medallion of Queen Victoria where the famous Square Mile begins. On the right we come to the training ship President, which rises and falls with the tide so that sometimes, walking down Temple Avenue, we see it rising up in front of us and at other times hardly see it at all.

HMS President 2

At times we may see an Admiral’s flag flying from this training ship, for every Admiral appointed to the Admiralty for any special work is officially appointed to H M S President, the nearest ship available.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

HMS President 1

You won’t see the President at all now, at any stage of the tide. This WWI submarine hunter, launched in 1918, was sold out of the Royal Navy in 1988 and after several years in private ownership was moved to Chatham dockyard two years ago. Since then a preservation society has been trying to save her from the breakers but, checking their website, it looks like their battle may have been lost and this historic ship will be reduced to scrap. Recent news is hard to find. The society’s last message on their Twitter account was posted in September.

Photos © Mike Warman, 1970.

A Survivor’s Story

E_Hilder's hospital

Hilder’s Military Hospital, Haslemere, England, photographed in 1915.
Postcard by Francis Frith.

Dear Pat
This is the hospital I am in [at] present. I am still in bed Nov 11th 1918. But getting on alright.
Jock

It was Armistice Day and John (a.k.a. Jock) Eastwood of ‘A’ Company, 3rd Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade had survived the Great War. Damaged but still alive.

Jock didn’t fit the popular modern image of a WWI soldier – a naive 20-something who thought it would be an adventure and all over by Christmas. It was 1917 when he pulled on the uniform by which time all such romantic notions had disappeared, along with the supply of 20-somethings to recruit or conscript. Armies involved in the conflict had been forced to raise their age limits. Jock was a 37 year-old self-employed “merchant” when he was called up.

Described as having fair hair, blue eyes and standing 5 ft 7 inches tall, he was a bachelor who lived with his unmarried sister (two years his senior) in Collingwood Street, Ponsonby, Auckland. She was not his “dependent” so may have been a partner in the business. Her given name was Martha but Jock always greeted her as Pat.

In an undated postcard of Featherston Camp he wrote, We were marched to Featherston on Saturday for shower bath. We have had no leave yet.

E_Featherston

At the time of writing it is blowing like the devil. The place is the last created. The food is very good. We expect to leave here in 2 weeks.

Jock had been passed “fit for service” on 8th June with no problems except for his teeth. Their condition was stamped “For Treatment”, a fairly common ammendment to army medical forms at the time.

With military training behind him and, evidently, minus several teeth, he boarded the troopship Tahiti on 16th November 1917 and left Wellington as part of convoy 97 next day.

E_Tahiti

Alls well
Having good trip. Have not been sea sick. Getting teeth when we land.

The voyage lasted seven weeks and Tahiti disembarked her passengers at Liverpool on 7th January 1918. They went straight to Brocton Camp in Staffordshire, which was no great improvement on Featherston if these postcard images are any indication.

E_Brocton 2

Jock wasted no time sending this card to his sister, posting it on the day he arrived.

E_Brocton N

Both cards look like they were produced quickly and cheaply. No message on either, just his name, army number – 62527 – and new address.

This would be luxury accommodation compared to what lay ahead. Jock was sent to France in late March, “attached Strength” at Abeele, and assigned to ‘A’ Company on 5th April. Ten months after signing up, he had finally arrived at the front.

Six months later, on 8th October, Rifleman John Eastwood suffered a gunshot wound to the head and was evacuated to the 83rd military base hospital at Boulogne where he was put on the danger list for over a fortnight. When judged well enough to travel, he was transfered to Cambridge Military Hospital at Aldershot in England. Hilder’s isn’t mentioned in his army record but it was an auxiliary hospital under the control of Cambridge and we know from Jock’s own hand that he was there when peace broke out.

Hilder’s had been a private house before the war, the residence of Lady Aberconway who donated it for the benefit of war casualties. She converted her London home to a hospital as well. Ironically, given the Ottoman Empire was on the enemy side, that building now houses the Turkish Embassy.

Jock was moved once more, to Walton-on-Thames in December, before being sent home on the ship Maheno in March 1919. His official discharge papers didn’t arrive until August, bearing the standard rubber stamp “No longer physically fit for war service on account of wounds received in action”. It seems like a heartless way to end the relationship. A simple “thank you” or “we appreciate your sacrifice” would not have gone amiss, but in 1919 Rifleman Eastwood was seen as just another British subject who had done his duty for the Empire.

Jock and Pat tried to return to normal life, now in a different house a couple of blocks away from Collingwood Street, at 34 Franklin Road. It was not to be. Pat died there on 27th December 1921, aged 44.

Jock died at Auckland Hospital on 7th July 1941 “in his 62nd year” leaving two brothers, a niece and two nephews to mourn his loss.

John/Jock Eastwood, and others like him, is unlikely to feature in history books. He was one of the faceless thousands given a number and a rifle and shipped off to a battlefield on the other side of the world, to endure conditions most of us can’t even imagine. A middle-aged man literally minding his own business who was plunged into a nightmare.

Jock was one of the lucky ones who managed to cheat death, but should be no less remembered for that on Armistice Day.

Text © Mike Warman.

Sources: NZ Army records, 5 postcards in my collection, Auckland Star and New Zealand Herald of various dates.

Note: Jock was a stranger to punctuation, and capital letters popped up at random. I have edited his words to make them easier to follow.

 

 

Sacrificial Horses

So overwhelming has been the thought of human suffering in Europe, so anxious has the world been to relieve it, that little thought has been bestowed on the dumb sufferers. Various war photographs have shown us the novel sight of the dogs of Belgium impressed into service for dragging the smaller guns; but all contestants use horses, and when we reflect that the average life of a cavalry horse at the front is not more than a week, if that, we gain some idea of the sacrifice of animals which modern warfare demands.

H_Albert

King Albert of Belgium at the Front, 1914. Image from a vintage postcard.

One of the pleaders for the horse is John Galsworthy, the English novelist, who gives in the London Westminster Gazette this moral aspect of the use of the horse in warfare, with the attendant obligation:

H_cavalry“Man has only a certain capacity for feeling, and that has been strained almost to breaking point by human needs. But now that the wants of our wounded are being seen to with hundreds of motor ambulances and hospitals fully equiped, now that the situation is more in hand, we can surely turn a little to the companions of man. They, poor things, have no option in this business; they had no responsibility, however remote and indirect, for its inception; get no benefit out of it of any kind whatever; know none of the sustaining sentiments of heroism; feel no satisfaction in duty done. They do not even – as the prayer for them untruly says – ‘offer their guileless lives for the wellbeing of their countries.’ They know nothing of countries; they do not offer themselves. Nothing so little pitiable as that. They are pressed into this service, which cuts them down before their time.”

That the European war threatened to deplete the stock of horses even in the United States is emphasized by a careful computation which fixed at 185,023 the number of horses shipped to the warring nations from July 1, 1914, to March 31, 1915.

Buyers representing the British, French and Russian governments were reported as searching the country for more, and, according to estimates made by shippers, at least 120,000 animals were to be shipped to Europe during the summer of 1915.

Shippers were deeply interested when it became known for a certainty that the German government had representatives purchasing horses in the West. Wood Brothers, the largest horse dealers in Nebraska, were asked to bid on a 25,000-head shipment. Ruling prices for the grade of horses desired by foreign buyers have ranged from $175 to $200 per head.

H_munitions

A German postcard of a munitions train.

The last step before placing the horses on shipboard was to adjust special halters to them, so that, as in the case of many horses purchased by France, it was only necessary, when the animals reached the other side, to snap two straps to his head-stalls and make him instantly ready to be hitched to a gun limber or a wagon of a transport train.
‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’, Captain Logan Howard-Smith. John C. Winstone Co., Limited, Toronto Canada. 1916.

The Liner that sank a battleship

Cigarette card image of the White Star ship Arabic.“The twin-screw steamer “Arabic,” 16,786 tons, is engaged in the White Star Line service from Mediterranean ports to Boston and New York, and is the largest liner regularly plying in this trade. This ship is noted for her graceful lines. She is 590 feet in length, and has a breadth of 69 feet. The “Arabic” public rooms are features of architectural splendour and luxurious furnishings. She has a verandah cafe and a photographic darkroom, which latter is of special service to camera lovers cruising the Mediterranean.”

This caption from a cigarette card printed in the 1920s doesn’t mention that Arabic began life as the Nordd. Lloyd’s s.s. Berlin. Best not remind the White Star company passengers that their luxury ‘British’ liner once had a short, but very successful, career as a German minelayer in the First World War.

Arabic 37479v

ggbain 37479 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.37479
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Built in 1909, the Berlin worked the Genoa to New York service until the outbreak of war when she was fitted out as a minelayer for the German navy. On the night of October 23rd-24th, 1914, she laid a large field off the Ulster coast and headed home around the north of Scotland where she was damaged in a storm. The ship took refuge at Trondheim in neutral Norway and, unable to complete repairs and leave in the required 24 hours, was interned for the rest of the war.

Meanwhile, on the morning of 27th October, the almost new dreadnought battleship H.M.S. Audacious was preparing for gunnery practice off the Irish coast, along with 2nd Battle Squadron, Royal Navy, when she side-swiped one of Berlin’s mines.

Audacious

© Imperial War Museum (Q 75212)

The explosion blew a hole in her port side near the engine room and she began to take on water. The initial suspect was a torpedo from a U-boat so the squadron scattered until the real culprit was confirmed. Then a rescue flotilla, including the White Star liner Olympic, descended on the stricken ship despite the threat of more mines. For the rest of the day, while all but essential personel abandoned ship, there were attempts to tow Audacious to shore, but all lines snapped as the heavy battleship wallowed in the swell.

audacious sinking

© IWM (Q 75584)

Eventually, in the darkness with no one left on board, Audacious turned over and, 45 minutes later, an explosion in the magazine sent her to the bottom. You can read a more detailed account on this Royal Navy site and a short, vivid, eye-witness description by Lieutenant Thomas Galbraith is worth your time. He writes about the “horrible feeling” when the engines stopped – “one felt she was dying”. Which underlines an odd quirk of human nature.

Anyone who has ‘been to sea’ for more than a ferry trip will come to regard “their” ship as a living entity and they’ll experience an emotional response to it, sometimes bad but most times good if luck holds. Size doesn’t matter. It can be a fishing trawler or a bulk carrier. Aircraft, trains, and cars “crash” and are written off. Ships “die”, and it’s a difficult thing to watch.

But I digress.

After the war, Berlin was one of many German ships confiscated by the Western Allies to replace lost tonnage. Refitted and renamed Arabic, she took her first White Star sailing from Southampton in 1921 and was scrapped ten years later.

H.M.S. Audacious lies upside down on the seafloor at a depth of 200 feet and is considered an accessible wreck for experienced divers. She was the only British dreadnought sunk in World War One.
By a passenger liner.
Remotely.

A London Excursion

This undated vintage postcard is part two of an unknown number of cards written as a letter and posted in an envelope.

Regent Street

“2/  Yesterday Will Humphries, another and I went into London – Had a fine ride on the Motor Busses & Electric trams which are very cheap to ride on – we went all the way from Barking to Victoria Station for 6d & from here to Barking for 5d. Last week we had a day at Southend by the sea – it is a great place for picnicers. Crowds go there from London. We have been getting a lot of rain since July – hardly any summer.

We get fairly easy times here, about 20 minutes light exercise each morning & half hours on “Arts & Crafts” at Y.M.C.A. – either basket making, carving, drawing or writing (illuminated etc). I chose the latter, and others if we like we can please ourselves. There are fine Recreation Rooms – Y.M.C.A. & War Contingent Assn. – Miss Mira McNab is helping in the latter!
Please give my kind regards to Mrs & Mr Wensley & family”.

The writer and recipient are a mystery but this fragment may tell us more than just the price of London bus fares. The second paragraph reveals these three men were undergoing rehabilitation at an army hospital in England during the First World War. Assuming the Association is for the New Zealand Contingent (not Australian or Canadian), then we might have an identity for Will Humphries.

The most likely candidate, from a short list of three, is George William Humphries who was a 20 year old farm worker when he enlisted in 1915. He was posted to Egypt first and then to France where he was wounded in the back two months after arrival. Patched up and stabilised in Boulogne, he was transferred to a hospital in Sheffield, England, on 27th June 1916 where he stayed until September. He arrived at Hornchurch convalescent hospital in Essex on 20th.

This fits in with the fact that their route to London approached from the east – “from Barking to Victoria Station” and “from here to Barking” (see map for Hornchurch). Humphries shipped out to New Zealand on 13th November, giving us an approximate date of October 1916 for the postcard.

George William Humphries was discharged from the army on 17th March 1917, unfit for service due to wounds received. He died in Napier in February 1961.

If anyone knows more about Miss Mira McNab, and why she deserved an exclamation point, please leave a comment.