Monday, 19 November 2018

67954 Private William McNeill 7/7/1887-20/11/1918

Six days before the Armistice which ended the Great War, Private William McNeill was wounded with a bullet in his right thigh.  Did he pray for an end to the pain during the twelve days he spent in hospital?  Unlikely - his records show a rarity, with "none" recorded against "religion."

William served in the 4th Company, 2nd Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment.  He was with the Battalion as it joined the enveloping movement around the town of Le Quesnoy preparatory to calling on the German garrison to surrender or, if that failed, assaulting the walls and bastions of the medieval defences.  From the Official History of the Otago Infantry, covering November 5, the day that William was wounded:

At 1.30 a.m. on November 5th, 10th and 14th Companies of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment advanced from Herbignies to take up positions 200 yards in rear of the foremost troops of the 1st Battalion of Wellington. At 4 a.m. 4th Company, in support to 10th Company, and 8th Company, in support to 14th Company, followed suit. Three objectives were assigned to the Battalion—first, a road running north and south 3,000 yards from the starting point; second, a road running north and south 1,700 yards further ahead; and third, a road extending across the eastern edge of Mormal Forest; involving a total advance of approximately 7,500 yards, and the whole of it though densely wooded country.
The attack was renewed at 5.30 a.m. The supporting artillery barrage descended along a line 200 yards in advance of the foremost troops, lifted 500 yards and rested there ten minutes, repeated the lift and then died out. The leading Companies advanced in the formation of patrols supported by platoons; the support Companies followed on a three-platoon frontage. No enemy resistance was encountered until Forester's House was reached. The enemy was found to be occupying this position and the high ground in rear in some strength; the machine gun and rifle fire from these points causing a temporary check. At an earlier stage the direction and speed of the advance had been seriously threatened by the dense undergrowth. Lieut.-Colonel Hargest having then with characteristic dash galloped forward and personally restored the situation, continued with the leading troops until the original impetus of the advance had been regained and the resistance at Forester's House and locality overcome. To bring about the destruction of the enemy at this point, 10th Company threatened it from the right and 14th Company from the left. A patrol from the former Company succeeded in reaching within 50 yards of the house, but there came under machine gun and rifle fire, the patrol commander, 2nd-Lieut. R. A. Savage, and one other rank being killed. An attempt was then made against the left flank, and two platoons from 14th Company worked their way to the rear. It was now observed that the enemy was preparing to evacuate the position. At 11 a.m. its capture was effected, two machine guns and about 30 prisoners being accounted for.
The Headquarters of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment were now established at Forester's House. It was not long before the building became the target of accurate shell fire. Lieut.-Colonel Hargest was standing at the entrance as one of these shells burst, and was momentarily stunned; almost as he withdrew a second shell demolished the front of the house.
When Companies were reorganised, the advance was resumed. The line of the second objective was reached without material opposition. At this point there was occasion for further reorganising, the heavy undergrowth having made it host impossible to maintain connection and direction. It was also decided by the Commanding Officer to adopt a new formation. In accordance with this decision, the Battalion was disposed on a three-company frontage, with one Company, the 8th, and the attached Vickers guns in support. At 1.30 p.m. the Battalion advanced to the capture of the final objective. The left and centre Companies encountered very little opposition, but the right Company, the 4th, was obstructed by machine gun fire until the enemy was driven from his ground.

Mrs B. C. Presland received word on Thursday that her brother, Private William McNeill, died of wounds on the 20th. Private McNeill left New Zealand with the Otago section of the fifth Reinforcements. Within a few days of the, deceased soldier s arrival in England, his elder brother died of sickness in Walton-on-Thames Hospital.   -Temuka Leader, 30/11/1918.


Sunday, 18 November 2018

13864 Private Cyril Begbie 2/2/1894-19/11/1918

13864 Private Cyril Begbie, late of D Company, Otago Infantry Regiment, Fourteenth Reinforcements, died at the Napier Hospital on November 19 from influenza. He was a discharged soldier, 24 years of age, and single, next-of-kin being his mother, Mrs M. Begbie, Old Caledonian Hotel, Dunedin.   -Evening Post, 23/11/1918.

Cyril Begbie was a jockey when he joined the Otago Infantry Regiment in March, 1916.  He was posted to the 2nd Battalion and arrived with 169 other reinforcements at Armentieres on November 12.  They moved into the line on the next day and Cyril's introduction to trench warfare is described in the Official History: 

"Two days later, when in billets at Armentieres, over 170 reinforcements arrived and were posted to the different companies. When the Battalion returned to the line on the 13th the tour then commenced proved by no means as uneventful as those that preceded it. On the 14th portion of the front line trench system was badly damaged by minenwerfer fire; and on the following day at 5.20 p.m. the enemy commenced an intense bombardment of our front line, extending from Hobb's Farm to the River Lys. Minenwerfers were again largely employed by the enemy, resulting in serious breaching of the parapet. The bombardment was maintained for half an hour, and on ceasing the enemy, to the number of about 30, penetrated our line and worked along in the direction of 14th Company Headquarters and the entrance to our underground workings, where they appeared in some numbers. Five minutes afterwards they returned to their trenches on a given signal, leaving behind two demolition charges. Very considerable damage was occasioned to our trenches, which was increased by a second bombardment commencing at 6.5 p.m. and lasting until 6.20 p.m. Several huge craters were left in our lines and Irish Avenue was badly blown in. Our casualties, due mainly to the severity of the bombardment, were unfortunately heavy, amounting to nine other ranks killed, one officer and 25 other ranks wounded, and two other ranks missing. One of the raiders was shot by a company cook, and the body being left in our lines was identified as belonging to the 9th Bavarian Regiment. There were several aspects of this raid which, from our point of view, were considered as unsatisfactory. An inquiry held subsequently disclosed the fact, among other things, that the S.O.S. signal had not been put up, and that the wire between Company and Battalion Headquarters had been cut, and that no artillery support was available."

Cyril was wounded in action on December 12, 1916, suffering bullet wounds to his chest and leg.  He was evacuated to hospital and, in April of 1917, back to New Zealand.  It took nine days for him to be transported from the front to an English hospital.  The Official History on this period:

"On December 2nd the 1st Battalion of the Regiment returned to the line in relief of Wellington, and continued to garrison the trenches until the 10th. The weather was now exceedingly wet and cold, hard frosts alternating with rain and snow. The issue of gum boots and frequent changes of socks considerably alleviated the hardships of the winter months; but nevertheless the parades of sick on returning to billets became increasingly large and for some time occasioned grave concern. The low-lying, fog-laden country of Flanders, and the never-ending mud doubtless contributed to this condition of affairs; but for the major portion of it the primary cause was to be found elsewhere. It was now that the severe strain and exposure to which the Regiment had been subjected during the course of the Somme fighting was making itself felt among those who had come through it, but had never properly recovered from the effects. Thus many had been reduced to a state which left them unable to withstand the severity of the winter months, and when this was realised a more generous policy in the matter of timely evacuations was decided upon and given effect to."

A vessel which airivcd in Auckland on Friday morning had on board 238 wounded and invalided soldiers. A special train left Auckland at 2,50 p.m. with the southern men, and those for Otago should reach here by this evening's express. The following are the Otago men who have reached New Zealand:—  -North Otago Times, 9/7/1917.
Cyril was discharged as unfit for military service in August, 1917.  A year later, for some reason, he was in Napier where he succumbed to the Spanish flu.

BEGBIE. —On November 10, 1918, at Napier, Cyril Walter, dearly beloved youngest son of Mary and the late James. Begbie, 534 King street, Dunedin; aged 23 years. (Late 14th Reinforcements). R.I.P.  Otago Witness, 20/11/1918.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

8/1612 Bertrand Victor Rendall 24/11/1892-18/11/1918

Bertrand Rendall was a carpenter, working for Briscoes, when he joined up at the end of 1914.  He went to Gallipoli with the Otago Infantry Regiment but developed synovitis, a painful inflammation of the joint membranes similar to arthritis or gout.  He was hospitalised in Egypt and brought home in the "Tahiti."

The men comprising the Dunedin section of Otago's quota of the third reinforcements of the Main Expeditionary Force took their departure for Wellington yesterday by the first express. From Wellington they will proceed to Trentham, where a camp is being formed. The Dunedin men paraded at the Garrison Hall at 6.45 a.m. for their instructions and railway orders, and went to the station some twenty minutes before the advertised time of departure or the train. The men were then allowed full liberty to bid good-bye to their friends. When the order "All aboard" was given the train speedily filled, and when the departing signals were given lusty cheers rent the air, handkerchiefs and hats were waved, and snatches of patriotic songs could be heard as the train steamed out.
The following is a complete list of the men who left:...-Evening Star, 15/12/1914.


The second big batch of sick and wounded soldiers to return to New Zealand arrived by the troopship Tahiti today. The grey painted liner made port shortly after midnight and anchored in stream, where she remained until she could be cleared by the authorities. The medical and records staffs went off at 7.30 a.m., and were soon busily engaged in examining the men, arranging their conveyance to various parts of New Zealand, and paying them, etc. With some 491 men on board all told this was no small task. The total included 27 hospital cases and 59 convalescents. Later in the morning the Tahiti was visited by the Hons. James Allen (Minister of Defence), A. L. Herdman (Minister of Justice), and G. W. Russell (Minister of Public Health), Brigadier General Robin (Officer Commanding the Forces), Surgeon-General Henderson (Director of Medical Services), and Lieutenant-Colonel Pilkington (Adjutant General). At 11 a.m. the press, representatives followed in the Janie Seddon. ' The Tahiti, per arrangement, berthed at the Glasgow Wharf at 3 p.m.  -Evening Post, 11/9/1915.
Bertrand was discharged from the army after his return, in February, 1916.  I have no information on what he did between that event and his death.
Private Bertrand V. Rendall, who died at the Hospital on Wednesday, was buried at Anderson's Bay Cemetery on Thursday afternoon. He left New Zealand with the Third Reinforcements, and after being wounded on Gallipoli, was invalided home. He was a son of Mr W. Rendall, of St Andrew street, Dunedin. The body was buried with military honours.  -Otago Witness, 27/11/1918.


RENDALL.—In loving memory of Private Bertrand Rendall, who departed this life at Hospital on November 18, 1918. 
When Death's dark shadow hovers near, And all thy days with pain are rife,
Tis well to know, in all your fear, A hero's glory crowned his life.
—Inserted by his loving mother, sisters, and brothers. 
RENDALL.—In loving memory of Private Bertrand Rendall, who died 'in Dunedin Hospital, November 18th, 1918. Sadly missed—Inserted by his loving brother Bill and sister-in-law, Jean Rendall.  -Evening Star, 18/11/1919.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.  Allan Steel photo.

RENDALL.—In loving memory of Bertrand Victor, who died from bronchial pneumonia at Dunedin Hospital on November 18, 1918, youngest son of Mr and Mrs William Rendall, Dunedin. R.I.P.—Inserted by his sister.   -Otago Witness, 25/11/1919.

9/1693 Gunner Walter Alexander Tolmie Jopp 6/4/1886-18/11/1918


Mr and Mrs A. Jopp, Arrowtown, were last week notified of the death of no less than four relatives, viz., Mr Donald Henderson (uncle of Mr Jopp), Mrs J. J. Cotter (cousin of Mrs Jopp), Mrs Boyd, Queenstown (aunt of Mrs Jopp), and Private W. A. Tolmie Jopp (cousin of Mr Jopp).  -Lake County Press, 28/11/1918.

Walter Jopp was in the Eighth Reinforcements of 1915.  He was enrolled in the Pioneer Battalion when he reached England and wounded in action in January, 1917 - a slight bullet wound in his right leg.  Slight is the initial description and perhaps there were complications since it took some months before he was fit enough for service again.  

On his return to the army, Walter was transferred to the artillery in November, 1917.  He was with the 3rd Battery when he was wounded on October 7, 1918.  The Official History of the NZFA includes this account of the day's action: "The brigade's rest was of the briefest possible description; twelve hours after the guns had been withdrawn from the line, orders were received for the support of an attack by the 63rd Division on October 7th. On the 6th, positions were selected just east of the Canal, north-east of Noyelles, and these were occupied and stocked with ammunition by 6 p.m. Word was then received from 57th Divisional Artillery Headquarters, under which the brigade was grouped, that the attack had been postponed for twenty-four hours. The 9th Battery had been heavily shelled, and had lost one gun, and as the shelling of batteries became general, all the personnel at the guns, except one man per gun and one officer per battery, were sent back to the waggon lines for the night. The day before the attack was spent in improving the positions. Hostile artillery was consistently active, and every night enemy aeroplanes came over and bombed the whole area."

Walter's injury this time is described as "gunshot wound, back penet abdomen"  His cause of death is listed as "spinal toxaemia" - what is "toxaemia?" I wondered and found it was blood poisoning from an infection.  It must have been a painful way to die for Gunner Walter Jopp.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.  Allan Steel photo.

Friday, 16 November 2018

William and Annie Norman. An unimaginable (these days) occupational death

In Dunedin's Southern Cemetery is an ordinary-looking headstone whose details chronicle an extraordinary story.  William Henry Norman died in 1918, just after the end of the Great War.  His wife Annie lived for nearly 80 years more.

William Norman worked in the wax vesta match factory in Caversham and lived in Fitzroy Street, not far from work.  He and Annie met in their early twenties and married after knowing each other for three years and being engaged for one.  They married at home and hired the MacAndrew Rd gymnasium for their wedding reception.

They had twins, which was a difficult proposition for a working-class couple, as they were then living on William's wages only.  Nevertheless, in her later years, Annie would describe those years as the best of her life.

In 1915 William fell ill with a disease which was then an occupational hazard of match manufacture - something known as "phossy jaw."

Phossy jaw occurs when the victim comes into contact with the vapours produced by white phosphorus.  It enters the body through decayed portions of tooth and begins with toothache and swelling of the gums.  It progresses with abscesses, tooth loss and, after about six months, necrosis of the jawbone.  The affected and dying area of the jawbone glows a greenish-white in the dark.  Eventually the dead portions of the jawbone fall off.  Brain damage is also an effect.  And, as you can imagine, it smells very bad.

Annie nursed William for three years while his condition worsened; slowly, painfully and inevitably.  Just before his death the upper jaw, William's skull, began to be affected by the creeping destruction.  Many might have felt that his death came as a release and a relief.

The following words are from Annie herself, interviewed in 1982 by Professor Tom Brooking for "the Caversham Project" - a study of the southern suburbs of Dunedin between the years 1881 and 1940.

"So anyway we got a roll of this, and my sister-in-law, she'd come down, that's one of my other sister-in-laws, and she did the dressing, rolled it, she had to pack all this stuff underneath here, and then he had a bandage right round his head, for - to keep the packing up, and all his food, it had to be minced, he couldn't bite, he had no jawbone you see.  But oh, he suffered terribly."

There was no compensation in those days for workers who died from the jobs they did.  Annie engaged a lawyer to extract 160 pounds from the company.  They lived on that and groceries and coal from the local Charitable Aid Board.  The local butcher helped out.

William and Annie's troubles weren't lessened by the fact that their last days together coincided with the Spanish influenza epidemic.  

"So on the Saturday Dr Carswell come in and he said, I'm not feeling well myself...He said, but if you need the doctor, he says, you put out a white cloth on the gate, try and knock it on to a bit of stick.  So my sister was there and she put it out and a doctor came in and he says to my sister, he says, how did you know about the white cloth on the gate?  She said, well Dr Carswell told us yesterday, he said, well that's just come out yesterday, the doctors were told to tell the patients.  And so anyway my husband died at night, and well, it was just as well because the poisoning was going into the top jaw...But it was very sad, but we couldn't do anything about it."

NORMAN.—On November 17, at his residence, 46 Fitzroy street, Dunedin, William Henry, dearly beloved husband of Annie Norman (after a long illness); aged 31 years. '"At rest." Private interment. "They grieved most who knew him best."—C. J. Thorn, undertaker.   -Evening Star, 18/11/1918.

For Annie and the children, there was little respite after William's death, they all became ill with  the Spanish flu.

Annie and her children moved in with her parents.  She lived in Caversham the rest of her life, only moving out to the Salvation Army retirement home Redroofs at the age of 103 and living there for another four years.  She was survived by a daughter, a son, six grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

Eventually, the white phosphorus "strike anywhere" match was replaced with the now-familiar red phosphorus "safety" match.  Phossy jaw was forgotten by the world, only to return in recent years as a side effect of phosphorus-based medication for osteoporosis and treatment of bone cancer.

Southern Cemetery, Allan Steel photo.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

28889 Private James August Kane 6/8/1892-14/11/1918.

James August Kane was the son of Peter Kane of Merton.  Peter has featured in this blog before - he featured in the murder and suicide involving the McPhee family of Caversham, before James' birth.

James joined the Canterbury Infantry Regiment and wasn't the best of soldiers.  His records show him being punished in Featherston Camp for overstaying leave and in France for falling out during a route march.  Further offences are recorded after his return to New Zealand.

He was wounded in action on August 11, 1917.  At that time the CIR was in the line in France and being shelled heavily by the Germans.  The Official History of the CIR describes it: "Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion had left Neuf Berquin on July 19th, and had returned to its old quarters at Romarin, from where it supplied working-parties to the front line. After the capture of La Basse Ville, it carried up the wire and standards required by the Pioneer Battalion for the work of wiring in front of the new positions. On the night of August 5th/6th, the battalion relieved the 2nd Otago Battalion in the outpost line at La Basse Ville and to the left of that village, having the 1st Canterbury Battalion on its immediate right.

"The 13th Company occupied the newly established posts to the east and north-east of La Basse Ville, with company headquarters in the village; and on its left the 1st Company held other new advanced posts, with company headquarters in what had been the front line before the capture of the village. The 12th Company was in support, in the neighbourhood of Au Chasseur Cabaret, while the 2nd Company, in reserve, occupied the old German trench-system near St. Yves, Battalion headquarters was still further back, in the deep dug-out underneath St. Yves post office.
The conditions of weather and mud were the same as the 1st Battalion was experiencing, but as the enemy's shelling was concentrated mainly on La Basse Ville and its immediate neighbourhood, the 2nd Battalion's casualties were heavier than those of the 1st Battalion. Inter-company reliefs took place every three days: particulars of these, and the reliefs of the 1st Battalion, will be found in Appendix "B,"

"In the middle of the spell in the line the enemy's artillery fire slackened considerably on the 1st Battalion's area; but the 2nd Battalion had no respite, and it was the general opinion that this period in the line was the worst in its experience on an inactive front. For the twelve days in the line the casualties were one officer (Captain M. J. Morrison, M.C.) and thirty-three other ranks killed, one officer and one hundred and thirteen other ranks wounded, and thirty-five other ranks evacuated to hospital."

James was wounded in the arm, leg and thigh and found himself in the New Zealand hospital at Brockenhurst in England.  He was classified as unfit for service by a Medical Board in October, 1917, and left for home on January 19. 1918.  He was at the convalescent hospital on Quarantine Island in the Otago Harbour in August of 1918 when he is recorded as "Disobeying a lawful command given by his Superior 11am, 25/7/18 refused to continue heavy fatigue, (to wit carrying material from wharf to buildings) when ordered by SM Rendall."  He was given 24 hours' detention and forfeited three days' pay.

The number of cases of influenza in the Hospital were increased by half a dozen yesterday, and three of the patients died, their names being James Kane, Charles Bourke, and James O'Leary. Over 80 patients suffering from influenza are still in the Hospital, including a large number of nurses. The Hospital authorities say that they will be able to manage to find accommodation for a day or two yet.  -Otago Daily Times, 15/11/1918.
Hawksbury Cemetery, Waikouaiti.

James had three brothers who also served - in all, four of the fourteen sons of Peter and Margaret Kane went to the war.

57801 Trooper John Smith McBride 5/2/1891-14/11/1918.

John Smith McBride, a Stratford farmer, left New Zealand on the "Tofua" at the end of 1917.  He was posted to the Imperial Camel Corps on January 5, 1918, but shortly after that fell ill with appendicitis.  In April he was diagnosed as suffering from acute nephritis and was sent home in July.

I have no information on John's wherabouts between arriving home and his death.  I assume that he remained ill with nephritis until the Spanish flu took him in November.


Advice has been received that 57,801 Private John S. McBride, died at Stratford Hospital on November 14. Deceased was a returned undischarged soldier. He was 27 years of age and single, his next-of-kin being Mr. J. McBride (father), Stratford.   -Dominion, 28/11/1918.

Koptuatama Cemetery, Stratford.  Photo, Stratford, DC.

McBRIDE.—In ever affectionate remembrance of 57801 Trooper J. S. McBride, who died in the Stratford Hospital, November 14, 1918. So loved; so mourned. “At rest.” —Inserted by his friend, Gladys Rogers, Fitzroy.