Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Tribute to my Great Uncle

Private George Douglas Fox, Wellington Infantry Regiment, NZEF
Photographic postcard taken at Lyceum Studios, 358, Strand W.C., London, England

If only the rugby fields could speak. The sportsmanship, banter among players, and shouts for the pass of the ball quickly and sadly disappeared from the playing fields throughout the country as young men embarked on their journey to fight a war on foreign soil. The fields fell quiet and their lives would change forever. 

Before the war years, George, a young man of 17 years played rugby for Waipukurau in the Central Hawke's Bay. By 1912 he had gained some success as a wing forward in the Seniors team when they went on to win the Hunter Shield and the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union Challenge Trophy that same year. 

When war was declared, George, his brothers and many of his rugby team mates enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to fight for King and Country.

George Fox's older brother Edward joined the Medical Corps and his younger brother Bob joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles. George and brother Tom both joined 1st Battalion Wellington Infantry Regiment.  

In the short space of about two years, the Fox family would endure much suffering. George was wounded in action with a gunshot wound to the chest in the Dardanelles on 8 August 1915. Trooper Bob Fox received gun shot wounds to both thighs and his right hand at the Dardanelles just 18 days later. After considerable time in hospital, Bob was sent home to New Zealand and discharged as unfit for any further war service. George on the other hand, made a good recovery and gave nothing away of his own suffering when writing to loved ones back home;

"Zeitoun Sept 11th 1915

Dear Aunt Jennie,

Just dropping a line to let you know how the Boys are all getting on. Bob is going on very well but of course he has suffered a lot of pain, he makes it very light always got a joke or a laugh ready. Bert Twiste is doing well, his will be a long job. I think the two of them will be invalided home when they are well enough to travel. I hope to go on Duty Monday and then I will get back to the Peninsula in 2 or 3 weeks time. Kind regards to Uncle & Ida. Very little news. Hope you are all well. Huray.

The 6ths will be here next week. Had a letter from Nell. Dated July 11th.

From your loving Nephew
Geo. D. Fox, Kia Ora."

By April 1916, the Wellington Infantry Regiment moved to the battlefields of Belgium and France. Tom Fox was just one day shy of his 23rd birthday when he was killed in action in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 16 September 1916. This was devastating news for George and yet he continued to show courage and worked hard at keeping good spirit in his postcards and letters sent home;

"SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE
Dec 3rd 1916

Dear Jack,
I received your very welcome post card a few days ago and I was very pleased to hear from you and that everybody was quite well. We came out of the trenches yesterday and are now in billets not very far from the Firing Line, everything is very quiet there just now.

I met Harry Green and I met Dave a couple of days ago, they were sending some Plum Duffs over to old Fritz. Buttery was down to see me today and wishes to be remembered to all at Home, he is quite well. I was very pleased to see him again. I also met Ian Mackie he is in the 2nd Brigade and is quite well. Alf Houseman is away in England on his leave. I will very likely get mine about Christmas or New Year time, won't it be Kosher? Jacko having a good old Christmas Dinner in England or Scotland. I am training Walter Ireland for a Boxing Contest, so I will very likely get a little trip with him if all goes well. Well Jack I am glad to hear that you go to school well and help with the cows, you must be the Manager now. It will soon be two years since I first went to Camp does not the time fly. 

Well Dear Jack there is not very much news to write about so you will have to excuse a short letter. I will now close hoping everybody is quite well. Love to all. 

From your loving brother
George
Kia Ora."

On 7 June 1917 the New Zealand Division took part in what was to become a decisive victory in West Flanders, Belgium. The Wyschaete-Messines ridge was strategic high ground that provided good views over the lower fields of Flanders. On the 7th June the New Zealanders advanced over no-mans land and attacked the German held village of Messines. They won this battle and occupied the remnants of the shell scarred village but the following day were targeted by heavy shellfire from the Germans. It was on this day that George was killed. Like many other New Zealanders who met their fate on this day at Messines, his body was never recovered. He is remembered on the Messines Memorial to the Missing and on the family headstone at Waipukurau Cemetery.
To George and Tom, my great uncles, rest well brave hearts.