On the way to war

This card was posted from Cape Town, South Africa, by a New Zealand soldier on 23rd February 1917.

CTparliament

Dear M.
Just a note. We have had a fine time here, and think it is a fine place. We have had the best part of a days leave and have made the best of it. The gardens are fine.
Frank Berg and I have had afternoon tea today in the Parliament Buildings. We were invited by a gentleman we met in the gardens, and who is interested in N. Zealanders. His name is Mr. Van de Reif M.P. Grahams Town.
I am sending two small ostrich feathers they are fairly cheap here. We had a good trip over and expect to leave here tomorrow.
I am doing A1. With love from Fred.

Without a second name, Fred’s identity must remain a mystery and I’ve been unable to trace a Grahamstown politician called Van de Reif so far. If you can help, please leave a comment. His generosity towards two young New Zealand soldiers must have been a real treat for them after weeks crammed into a troop ship; a last brief encounter with civilized life before the trenches of the Western Front.

Frank Berg was born in Devonport, Tasmania, on 26th August 1896 to parents Isaac and Elizabeth and moved with the family to Sheffield, west of Christchurch, New Zealand. At the time of his enlistment on 19th September 1916, he was working as a labourer at Greendale, south of the city. His father, a bootmaker, must have died soon afterwards because his estate notice appears in the Press in mid-October. There is no mention of compassionate leave in Frank’s army record.

Private Berg, Frank Lewis, 33679, was 5ft 6in tall, 140lbs., 32 inch chest, brown hair and eyes. The Mister Average of his generation, one of thousands like him who volunteered to fight in a European war under conditions they could never have imagined in their worst nightmares. After basic training, he and Fred and the 21st Reinforcements NZEF sailed from Wellington on the troop transport Ulimoroa, 21st January 1917.

TePapa_SS-Ulimaroa

The Ulimaroa leaving Wellington. Photo by J. Dickie. Te Papa collection.

They disembarked at Devonport (Plymouth), England, on 27th March and arrived at Sling Camp the same day. After more training to prepare them for what was to come, they left for France on 26th May. Frank’s record is silent for seven months until, on 26th December, he was sent to hospital suffering from enteritis and enemia. Disease was almost as deadly as the enemy in the Great War but Frank recovered quickly and was back with the 1st Battalion Canterbury Regiment by 12th January 1918, just in time to be sent to England on leave a week later.

Back with his unit by early February, Frank managed to keep his head down and was sent to a School of Instruction in late September. Where, and for what purpose, is not known. He returned to the Front on 15th October.

Frank Berg was reported killed in action on 23rd October 1918, just 19 days before the ceasefire.

Advertisements

A Triple Tragedy

Aboukir_vThe image at left comes from a postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons, published around 1908, and features the British armoured cruiser H. M. S. Aboukir. She was launched in 1900 by Fairfields of Govan, Scotland and, on completion two years later, had a short career in the Mediterranean before being withdrawn from service and laid up in reserve in 1912. The rapid development of warships at the time had made her, and the rest of the “Cressy” class to which she belonged, practically obsolete.

She was recommisioned on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and sent on patrol with the 7th Cruiser Squadron to guard the eastern approaches to the English Channel. On the morning of 22nd September, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-9 and when Cressy and Hogue closed to rescue survivors, they were dispatched in the same way. Three cruisers and over 1400 men were lost in less than an hour. You can find the crew list here. Writer Antoine Vanner gives a thorough description of the disaster on his blog.

Aboukir

This image by artist, Norman Wilkinson, was printed in ‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’ (1916). Captions in the book claim “one of the sailors described the last moment as follows: “The captain sings out an order just like on any ordinary occasion, ‘If any man wishes to leave the side of the ship he can do so, every man for himself,’ then we gave a cheer and in we went.”
and
“The horrors of modern warfare are illustrated by the notice issued after this disaster by the British Admiralty, which reads in part, ‘no act of humanity, whether to friend or foe, should lead to neglect of the proper precautions and dispositions of war, and no measure[s] can be taken to save life which prejudice the military situation.'”

Translated into plain language – in the event of this situation being repeated, commanders must put their own ships’ safety first and leave men in the water to their fate.

A Mobile Memorial

The folks over at Historic England featured 7 unusual war memorials in a blog post last week. My favourite was the Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire. But they didn’t have a memorial that moved.

engine_1

This is the Ab class locomotive “Passchendaele”, built in the Addington Railway Workshops, Christchurch, for New Zealand Railways in 1915. It was plain old Ab 608 then of course because the battle didn’t happen until two years later.

New Zealand locomotives didn’t usually have individual names but, in 1925, it was decided to rename the engine in honour of railway workers who fought and died in the Great War.

engine_2

Time, and the change to a diesel-powered fleet, put an end to Passchendaele’s service in 1967 but, because of her role as a war memorial, she was saved from the scrap yard. Many years later, the dedicated volunteers at Steam Incorporated accepted the challenge to restore the old loco to full working order – a feat they achieved in time for WWI commemorations. You can find more details of Passchendaele’s history and restoration here.

engine_3

engine_plate

On Active Service

The Belgian village of Watou, on the border with France, lay behind Allied lines during the Great War (WWI) and escaped destruction.

Vintage postcard of a street scene in Watou, Belgium. Message dated 1915.

One soldier was able to send this postcard from there while he was being rested from the front. It is marked “On active service” and was sent from Field Post Office D. 49 to a Miss M. W. “Dalzell” in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Many thanks for letter. All continues to go well. Much rain lately. Have spelt your name wrong as usual! Pardonnez!! Best wishes to all for 1916. May its early days see Britannia gloriously triumphant and the war a thing of the past.
Am still very well.
Best Rgds, A. J.

The message is dated 3rd November 1915. A. J. would have to wait another three years and eight days before his wish came true. We have to wonder if he lived to see it.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of a three-month nightmare called Passchendaele that left over half a million men from both sides of the wire dead, wounded or missing.

Pilots of the R. F. C.

RFC

Officers and Men of the Royal Flying Corps with Their Machines

On the right is a sergeant of the R. F. C., wearing the new badge of a propeller on his arm. He is saluting two aviation officers, one dressed for flying, the other wearing the flying certificate badge. On the right is an army B. E. biplane, with its four-bladed propeller and two seats for pilot and observer. This type, it is stated, is becoming more and more the standard pattern of machine for use by the R. F. C. On the left is a Bleriot monoplane and in the air a Henri Farman biplane.
‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’, 1916.

One of the first honours of 1916, if not the very first, was the Military Cross awarded to Captain W. D. S. Sanday, who went out on January 1 in a very high wind to observe the fire of a battery near Hulluch, and owing to the clouds was forced to fly at a height of no more than between 800 and 900 feet. Nothing daunted by the heavy rifle-fire to which he was continually subjected, he did not return until he had enabled our battery to score several direct hits.

One of the youngest heroes of the Buffs, Second-Lieutenant Frank Hudson, attached to the Royal Flying Corps, was similarly decorated in the early months of this year for skill and gallantry on several occasions. “This young officer”, to quote from the Gazette, “is only eighteen years of age, but has many times driven off enemy machines and twice forced them to the ground.” Once he was severely wounded in the head, but successfully completed his aerial reconnaissance, although after recrossing our line and landing at an aerodrome he at once lost consciousness.

More dramatic still was the magnificent feat of Lieutenant M. Henderson, of the Seaforth Highlanders and Royal Flying Corps, who was struck by a shell from a German anti-aircraft gun [21 Feb 1916]. The shell passed through the nacelle of Lieutenant Henderson’s machine and took off his left leg just below the knee; but in spite of this he succeeded in descending from a height of 7000 feet and landing 3000 yards behind our line, thus saving his aeroplane and the life of his observer as well. For this he received the D.S.O.
‘The Great World War Vol. V.’ The Gresham Publishing Company Ltd, London. c. 1917

The Gallipoli Invasion

River Clyde

An artist’s impression of troops landing from the s.s. River Clyde at V Beach, Gallipoli Peninsula, 25th April 1915. It was a disastrous beginning to a disastrous campaign.

Apparently we have to go back to the Walcheren Expedition [1809] to find a parallel to the circumstances in which the Dardanelles campaign was conceived. For, though the Crimean War [1853-1856] was sadly muddled, the mistakes there do not seem to have been so serious as were those which the British, Australasian, and Indian troops were asked to retrieve along the gateway between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Sir Ian Hamilton was a commander of experience, and he was admirably served by subordinate officers like Generals Sir W. R. Birdwood and Hunter-Weston, of whom it is sufficient to say that they were worthy of the men they led into action. The heroism of the troops was marvelous, and solely by their indominatable tenacity they won a narrow footing along the cliffs below the mountain fortresses, from which the Germans and Turks continued to sweep every landing-place with shell fire.

But after a footing had been won below Krithia and north of Gaba Tepe, the attacking forces could make no further progress of importance. There mustered at first scarcely two army corps of them, including the 29th Division, the Australian and New Zealand Expeditionary Force, the Naval Division, an Indian Brigade, and a French division composed of Zouaves, African troops, and some white battalions. After the losses of the landing battles, Sir Ian Hamilton must have had less than 35,000 bayonets immediately at hand for the desperate work of a thrusting attack at the seat of power of the Ottoman Empire, which could draw upon half a million or more men for the defense of the road to Constantinople.
‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’, Captain Logan Howard-Smith. The John C. Winston Co., Limited, Toronto, Canada. 1916.

Keep Calm and Carry On

National Relief Fund postcard of Admiral John jellicoe.This postcard featuring Admiral Sir John Jellicoe is one of many fund-raising cards published in Britain at the outbreak of World War One. You can read all about them, and more, at Tony Allen’s absorbing and informative site. You might think that two months after the outbreak of hostilities, when this card was used, the message on the back would be full of doom and gloom. Not so. The conflict is alluded to in passing before the writer gets on with the important stuff of family news and gossip.

21 October 1914
Dear Albert

These troublous times we like to have more letters than usual. I believe your last was dated 17th August, so I hope there will soon be another. Do you get Lloyd’s regularly.
Today is Trafalgar Day, Uncle Arthur’s birthday, and Paula’s wedding day.
They seem to be having a lively time with French people at The Arcade.
I took Hilde and Peggy O—- (?) to Bognor for a week-end. When she got back Hilde had a lot to say of the “Gardener” – Father of course! He was sawing trees.
Aunt’s new lodger owes her three out of five weeks rent, so is not an acquisition. His mother and brother live near. I advise her to give him notice.
Love from ——-[?]

This underlines the difference between how we feel about the outbreak of WWI, with the benefit of hindsight, and what it was like for people at the time. The general public, at this early stage, thought it would be a short war – “all over by Christmas”. They couldn’t see what lay ahead, as we can, and the generals, admirals and politicians who knew better were not about to demoralize them with facts.

The line about “French people at the Arcade” is a mystery. If you can shed light on it, please leave a comment.