Monday, 23 December 2013

Carry On at Christmas

British postcard published by B.B. (Birn Brothers) Ltd, London. 

This is one of a number of designs produced during the First World War to help bring hope and good wishes at Christmas. Whilst the verse on the card was written with all good intention the lines "Be sure to keep hope in your line of sight" and "...face the music with all your might" make very light work and seemingly undermine the seriousness of the effects of war. Nevertheless, festive postcards with verse were popular expressions of the era.
On the back of this postcard a New Zealand soldier has written a brief message to family;

"Dear Joe and Annie,
Just a line to let you know that I am still in good health and having a good time. Hoping this small card finds you both in the same way. The Christmas cards here are very poor, but I know you will think just as much of this as if it were an expensive one. Well Joe and Annie I told you all the news in my last letter and as I have a lot to send tonight I will have to conclude with best wishes. From your loving brother, A.E. Sutton."

What became of soldier A.E. Sutton is unknown. I hope he was able to 'carry on' and restore some normality to his life after the war.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Killed on Christmas Day 1915

The village of Mersa Matruh about 200 miles west of Alexandria was used as a British advanced base for operations against the Senussi. In December 1915 the threat of an increasing Senussi force just eight miles away from Mersa Matruh led to a call for reinforcements, and the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade arrived to strengthen the allied advanced base. On Christmas eve Operation Orders were given to various allied units revealing plans of their involvement to make an attack on the nearby Senussi forces on Christmas Day. The attack went ahead and was deemed successful with some 370 enemy soldiers killed and 82 taken prisoner. The cost to the New Zealanders were six men of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade killed, and fourteen wounded. The six to fall on Christmas day were;

Corporal Ernest Charles Beresford Wilkinson

"Killed in Action.
A Short Career.
Who amongst us will not be grieved to hear of the death in action of Mr E.C. Beresford Wilkinson, late of the Warden's Court, Paeroa? His parents, who reside in the South Island, received this sad news by cable, and Mr H.R. Bush received a telegram in Paeroa yesterday announcing the fact. 
Private Wilkinson left with a number of others in Earl Liverpool's Own, about six months ago, full of life and vigour, fearless and determined. He was the life of his regiment, and enemies he had none. From what we can gather from official sources his death took place in an engagement with the Arabs in Egypt, shortly after his arrival there. Seventeen New Zealanders made the attack on Christmas Day, in which the unfortunate young fellow fell at the hands of the enemy. 
Is this not another instance of how real and cruel this terrible battle is? He was one of the most cheerful recruits that have left Paeroa. We fancy we see him now waving his handkerchief and bidding farewell to his comrades at the railway station on the morning of his departure. Of the others who made the attack we have not heard whether any of them are from our district or not. We sincerely hope, however, the Arab fire ceased at the lamentable death of Private Wilkinson." 
Source: Ohinemuri Gazette, 7 January 1916, page 3.

Corporal Ernest Charles Beresford Wilkinson killed in action Christmas Day 1915.
(source Auckland Weekly News 27 January 1916, page 47)

"Corporal E.C. Beresford Wilkinson.
Corporal Ernest Charles Beresford Wilkinson, N.Z. Rifle Brigade, one of those to sacrifice their lives in the action at Mutrah on Christmas Day, was a nephew of Mr Colin Ballantyne, of this city. His mother lives at Reefton, where the young soldier (he was 24 years of age) was born, and entered the Government service in the Post and Telegraph Department. He was moved to Wellington, and was later transferred to the Justice Department at Paeroa. Corporal Wilkinson had passed both junior and senior civil service, and was studying law. His mother is the proprietress of the "Inangahua Herald" and his grandfather was the late Mr Charles Mirafin, journalist, of Reefton. The deceased soldier was of magnificent physique, standing 6ft 3in in height."
Source: Auckland Star, 12 January 1916, page 6.

Real photographic postcard of Mrs Maud Beresford Wilkinson 
and son Gunner Arthur E. Beresford Wilkinson (Ernest's brother). 
February 1916, Reefton, New Zealand.

Company Sergeant Major Robert Charles Purkis

Company Sergeant Major Robert Charles Purkis killed in action Christmas Day 1915.
(source Auckland Star 14 January 1916, page 5)

"Sergeant-Major Robert Charles Purkis who is reported to have been killed in action at Mutrah, Egypt, on Christmas Day, left Auckland as a corporal to join the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Trentham. Whilst in training he was promoted to the rank of sergeant-major. He was a member of the old Victoria Rifles Volunteers in Auckland. He was the eldest of three sons of Colour-Sergeant George Purkis, late of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, who served 21 years with that regiment and who is at present employed with the Admiralty Office in England. Deceased leaves a widow, who resides in Nelson Street."
Source: New Zealand Herald, 10 January 1916, page 6.

Rifleman John Matthew Todd

Rifleman John Matthew Todd killed in action Christmas Day 1915.
(source Auckland Weekly News 20 January 1916, page 47)

"Rifleman John Matthew Todd, who is reported to have been killed in action at Mutrah on Christmas Day, was serving in the 1st Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. He was the husband of Mrs E. Todd, Newton, Auckland, and was a well-known contractor. Rifleman Todd was born at East Taieri, near Dunedin, and was one of the sons of the late Mr James Todd, one of the early Otago settlers. Rifleman Todd took two nephews with him on active service, sons of different brothers. He himself had no children."
Source: Colonist, 13 January 1916.

Sergeant Stanley Francis Weir

Sergeant Stanley Francis Weir killed in action Christmas Day 1915.
(source Auckland Weekly News 20 January 1916, page 47)

"Sergeant Stanley Francis Weir, killed in action on Christmas Day while serving with the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, was a son of Mr Gavin Weir, Bonnie Glen, Upper Orewa. He was born in Taranaki, and educated at the Auckland Technical College, and followed up electrical engineering. He took an interest in football, and was a member of the Mount Albert team. At the age of 17 years he was Assistant Scoutmaster for the Grange Road Troop, and during his term was successful in winning competitions. From this he joined the volunteers for a short time, and then he had five years' training in the Territorials, with A Company 3rd (Auckland) Regiment. He was one of the representatives from Auckland at the Christchurch Carnival, in 1913, and since war broke out he was one who went to the Awanui wireless station on duty. Shortly after his term at Awanui he enlisted in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, which left for the front on October 9. It was at the battle of Mutrah, on December 25, that he fell."
Source: Auckland Star, 14 January 1916, page 6.

Corporal Archibald Woollatt

Corporal Archibald Woollatt killed in action Christmas Day 1915.
(source Auckland Weekly News 20 January 1916, page 47)

"Corporal Archibald Woollatt, who fell on Christmas Day in the first fight of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Mutrah, was popular among a large circle of acquaintances in Auckland. He was employed at Messrs Smith and Caughey's. Going into training with the 1st Battalion of the Earl of Liverpool's Own, he was early promoted corporal and he gave every promise of making an unusually efficient soldier. Corporal Woollatt was a native of Otago, but he received his education in England. After leaving school he went to Burmah where he resided for about six years. Then he entered business in Colombo, but finally returned to his native land. After living in Feilding for a few years, he came to this city. Corporal Woollatt was well known in athletic circles, and was especially fond of walking. He was also a billiard player and he was often seen in the recreative departments of the Y.M.C.A."
Source: New Zealand Herald, 20 January 1916, page 8.

Rifleman Thomas Flint York

Rifleman Thomas Flint York killed in action Christmas Day 1915.
(source Auckland Weekly News 20 January 1916, page 47)

"Rifleman Thomas Flint York, of the 1st Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade who was killed in action against the Senussi, on the Egyptian border, on Christmas Day, was a son of Mr Thomas York, of Woolston, Canterbury. He was 36 years old, and was educated at Christ's College. He had been engaged in farming in the Wairarapa, and latterly at Waimate. Rifleman York married a daughter of the late Mr D. H. Brown, of Fendalton. His wife and two children live at Waimate."
Source: Dominion, 11 January 1916, page 5

"Six members of the First Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade fell in action in the engagement with the Senussi Arabs near Mersa Matruh on Christmas Day. Their bodies were carried back to Matruh and on the following Sunday were buried on the side of the hill which overlooks the pretty harbour. The funeral was attended by most of the garrison then stationed at Matruh, and was most impressing in its simplicity. About two weeks later a stone was erected with the following inscription: Killed in action on Christmas day, 1915, Sergeant-Major Robert Charles Pudkisi, Sergeant Stanley Francis Weir, Corporal Ernest Charles Beresford Wilkinson, Corporal Archibald Woollat, Rifleman John Matthew Todd, Rifleman Thomas Flint York. Erected by their comrades of the N.Z.R.B." 
Source: Feilding Star, 15 June 1916, page 2.

Another New Zealand soldier who lost his life from the Christmas Day attack on the Senussi was Rifleman Edgar Norman Davis. He died from wounds on 28 December 1915 age 20 years.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Christmas Pudding - Another Serving

From the early stages of the war it became apparent that the world trade markets would be affected by the widespread conflict. Here in New Zealand, food supply was just one example of  this;

"The Xmas Pudding.
It is only six weeks till Christmas, and many housewives have the idea that Xmas puddings should be made early, and allowed to improve with keeping. Here another small problem presents itself. The entrance of Turkey into the war means that the market for dried fruits, already bare, is going to be pretty well cleaned out. Sultanas, figs, and dates in particular are going to be in short supply, and prices are going up accordingly." (Auckland Star, 10 November 1914).

Auckland Weekly News 7 October 1915.

Despite these setbacks, Xmas pudding remained on the menu. In Wellington the Mayoress roused considerable support for the Christmas Pudding Fund. School children in particular, were keen fundraisers and contributors to the Fund. In July 1918 the Mayoress and her committee set to work on making a large number of the puddings. The Meat Export Company who operated out of Ngauranga Gorge kindly provided the committee with large enough premises to work in. The company also extended further support to the pudding makers by providing them a well earned lunch. The ingredients for the pudding were made possible by many supporters and donors; butter from D.J. Nathan & Co. and McEwen & Co.; bread from Messrs Kellow, Denhard, James, Raven, Lawrence, Flint and the Wellington Bread Co.; flour from Messrs J. Macintosh, Wright, Stephenson & Co.; eggs sourced from Carterton per the Mayoress, and Pahiatua per Mrs Thomson; suet from the Gear Company, E.Barber & Co., and the Wairarapa Farmers' Meat Company; and sugar from the Colonial Sugar Company in Auckland.
The preparation of these Christmas parcels also included thousands of signed postcards enabling the troops to easily post acknowledgement back to the school children who helped to make it all possible. Final send off of the parcels had to be made by about August to enable suitable guarantee of delivery of goods by christmastime to the war zone.

British postcard published by A.W. Ford & Co. Ltd, Printers, Bristol. Postmarked December 1914.
Printed on the back is the following message "Extract from Officers Letter At The Front. 'What I should really like are several large Plum Puddings sent out at different times so as not to be too heavy; we absolutely crave for something sweet out here.' "

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Christmas Pudding

Postcards, letters, items of clothing such as socks, gloves and scarves, cake and the traditional Christmas pudding were all sent from friends and loved ones at home in New Zealand to their soldiers thousands of miles away. These simple pleasures of home brought to New Zealand soldiers at the frontline trenches meant the world to these men. Our men in khaki were spending their livelihood in and out of danger, focussed on survival and of course with a mind to win the war and see peace finally restored. Christmas was a particularly difficult time for many. The season was meant to be festive and joyous, bringing goodwill to all men, and a time for family coming together. War brought an end to that.
Christmas gifts from home gave the soldiers a momentary distraction from the war causing them for that brief moment to reminisce and make a special heartfelt connection with the sender.


This British postcard was used and sent by the "Daily News" in London to acknowledge and thank all those who financially contributed to a subscription which helped supply soldiers with Christmas Pudding in December 1916. On the back of this postcard, the subscriber receiving thanks is a Miss Edith Mont of Willaston School in Cheshire. The message indicates that she donated 1 shilling which provides Christmas pudding for 2 soldiers at the Front. Recorded in finer print on the card is the various financial subscriptions which are proportioned to quantities of Christmas pudding from a single soldier to many;

"6d. supplies one man; 2/6 five; £1 1/- fifty; 31/6 a platoon; £3 3/- a squadron or battery; £5 5/- a company; £9 9/- an artillery brigade; £12 12/- a cavalry regiment; £21 an infantry battalion."