Wednesday, 30 April 2014

In Remembrance of Private Charles Thomas Fox

Private Charles Thomas Fox, Wellington Infantry Battalion, NZEF

Private Charles Thomas Fox, of Waipukurau, was one of many New Zealand soldiers who took part in a major offensive at the Somme in France. On 15 September 1916 an attack was made on the Flers-Courcelette line and this was the first time that tanks were used in a combat role. The New Zealanders main objective was to attack to the left of the village of Flers and to try to capture its trench network. This was approximately 3kms in front of the New Zealanders line. 

Tom was posted to 1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment, 7th (Wellington West Coast) Company in the field on 8 September 1916. He joined his battalion at a bivouac near Dernancourt, and on the morning of the 9th September the 1st Battalion marched on to Albert where they stayed in another bivouac just outside the town. General Godley inspected the 1st Battalion troops whilst they were stationed there. Tom’s battalion then marched out to Fricourt Wood and by the 13th September the New Zealand Division was ready and waiting for their destined role in the Battle of Somme. Operation Orders for the attack scheduled for the 15th were made available to the troops that same day.

The 1st Battalion was in Carlton Trench in Brigade reserve on 14th September. When zero hour (6:20am) struck on the 15th September a massive artillery bombardment was placed on the enemy lines and the 2nd Battalion moved forward. Just two hours later the Brigade had captured its second objective. Later that afternoon, Tom along with the rest of the 1st Wellington moved forward to Check Trench and took up position about 1,500 yards north of Montauban. With the 2nd Battalion and Rifle Brigade having advanced through the village of Flers, the Germans prepared for their counter attack. However the New Zealand Artillery pounded the advancing German soldiers and the attack failed.
The next morning was Tom’s last day alive and the day before his 23rd birthday. His battalion encountered much difficulty advancing through the poor light, broken ground, and shell fire on their way to Flers. At 6:30 a.m. on the 16th September, the 1st Battalion was set into position on a line from the north west end of Flers to Abbaye Road – Flers Trench – Cross Roads. 

They advanced further and the Hawke’s Bay Company confronted a German counter attack which they managed to quash through machine gun and rifle fire. The 1st Battalion then continued on with the attack with the objective of gaining Groove Alley. They achieved this but not without taking heavy casualties from enemy machine gun fire on both flanks.

It will never be known how Tom lost his life and at what stage of the advancement over the Somme Battlefield on the 16th September. The 1st Battalion’s strength had been 25 officers and 784 other ranks going into action on the 15th September. Three days later on the 18th they had lost 10 officers and 282 other ranks. Tom's older brother George Douglas Fox was killed at Messines nine months later (please see blog post

A small portrait photograph of Tom Fox appeared in the ‘Auckland Weekly News’ on 4 January 1917 (seen above) and the caption read “Private C.T. Fox of Waipukurau, wounded”. No record of Tom being wounded has ever been found and judging by the date of the ‘Auckland Weekly News’ report and knowing he was killed on 16 September 1916, the caption probably should have said ‘Killed in Action’.

Private T. Fox's grave at Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2, France.
Photograph courtesy of D & S Brackfield, taken Anzac Day 25 April 2014.

 A view of Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 from the road.
Photograph courtesy of D & S Brackfield, taken Anzac Day 25 April 2014.

A view of Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 looking toward the entrance.
Photograph courtesy of D & S Brackfield, taken Anzac Day 25 April 2014.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Portrait in France

The identity of this New Zealand soldier is unknown. He is pictured here up against a canvas backdrop in a photographer's studio in France. This young Kiwi's dishevelled appearance is given away by his tired sunken eyes and muddy boots and he has likely found a brief moment from the front lines to get this photographic postcard taken to send home to loved ones. What has he seen? What has he experienced? Did he ever return home to New Zealand? I hope he found some solace and peace beyond the tragedies of war.

"In France.

The silence of maternal hills
Is round me in my evening dreams,
And round me music-making bills
And mingling waves of pastoral streams.

Whatever way I turn I find
The path is old unto me still
The hills of home are in my mind,
And there I wander as I will."

By Francis Edward Ledwidge, 1916.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

In Memoriam - Edith Cavell part three

"Nurse Edith Cavell. Patriot & Martyr. Funeral Procession, May 15th 1919." published by Beagles postcards.

After the war Edith Cavell's body was removed from the Execution burial ground and returned to England. Her body was transported by rail from Dover to London and a State Funeral was held at Westminister Abbey where thousands lined the streets of Westminister to pay their respects. Following the service she was re-buried on home soil at Norwich Cathedral.

Real photographic postcard of London & North Western Railway Company locomotive 2275 named "Edith Cavell" and dressed in patriotic splendour with a sign that reads "Lest We Forget".

Nurse Cavell is remembered the world over. Numerous memorials bear her name including this steam locomotive pictured above. Some of the memorials in New Zealand include;

Edith Cavell Hospital, Paparoa
Nurse Cavell Lane, opposite Edith Cavell Hospital in Paparoa
Edith Cavell Home & Hospital Ltd, Sumner, Christchurch
A plaque dedicated to Nurse Cavell unveiled in May 1917 at Maniopoto Hospital in Otago
Edith Cavell Bridge built at Arthur's Point between Queenstown and Arrowtown, and which stands over the Shotover River. Constructed between 1917 and 1919.
Cavell Street, Dunedin
Cavell Street, Reefton
Nurse Cavell statue sculptured by Captain William Henry Feldon, NZEF for St Mary's Hospital, Auckland
One of the trees planted in an avenue of trees on Hall Road (now Halver Road) in Manurewa honours the memory of Nurse Cavell. Sadly, the trees on this road no longer exist.

Patriotism is not enough - Edith Cavell part two

Real photographic postcard of the graves of Nurse Edith Cavell (centre) and architect Philippe Baucq, Belgium.

Belgian born Philippe Baucq was caught by the German authorities and convicted of spying. Nurse Cavell was caught and accused of treason. Cavell and Baucq were transported by German military vehicles from St Gilles Prison to Belgium's national shooting range at Schaerbeek on 12 October 1915. They were both shot dead by firing squad and buried at the execution ground as seen above.

Nurse Cavell's execution was widely publicised throughout the British Empire and the Dominion of New Zealand. Both true and fictional accounts of the execution spread through the world's newspapers. Cavell's death quickly led to her recognition as a hero, and the propaganda machine began (as seen by the smoking gun  held by the German officer in the fictional depiction of her execution below).

On 4 December 1915 the New Zealand Herald reported "the execution of Miss Edith Cavell, the English nurse, on a charge of harbouring in Brussels, has greatly shocked the Belgian community in that unhappy land, and they call it the bloodiest act of the whole war".

The Martyr Nurse - Edith Cavell part one

"Abide with me; fast falls the eventide. The Martyr Nurse." by artist Alfred Pearse.

British nurse Edith Cavell put her own life at risk during the early stages of the First World War. She assisted Belgian, British and French soldiers to escape German occupied Belgium for the safety of neutral Holland.
On 3 August 1915 German authorities arrested Nurse Cavell having discovered she had been hiding allied soldiers from them, and had committed treason. She was put on trial and condemned to death. Hours before her execution, she was given Holy Communion by Reverend Gahan and Nurse Cavell told him "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." 
A firing squad of eight German soldiers shot her dead at Schaerbeek on 12 October 1915.

This postcard was painted by London born artist Alfred Pearse. He had earlier visited New Zealand in June 1901 and was the illustrator for G.A.Henty’s book "Maori and Settler. A Story of the New Zealand War". He was also artist for the popular publication the “Graphic” during the King and Queen’s royal tour in 1901.

Pearse, age 61, enlisted as official New Zealand War Artist and commenced duty on 11 September 1918 at the rank of Honorary Captain with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. He was attached to Brigadier-General C.W. Melville’s headquarters. On 27 September he left Headquarters in London for the battlefields in France and worked on a number of sketches and watercolours. By November the war had ended and in March 1919 Pearse was demobilized and discharged from military service.
Some of his work was reproduced and printed on postcards during the war including the postcard shown here “The Martyr Nurse", and "Heroic Nuns at Rheims” from a set of Gallant Deeds postcards, and also a set entitled “It’s a long, long way from Tipperary”, “Rescuing a wounded comrade under fire” and “Tank in action” for the King.

Alfred Pearse died in 1933 in London age 77 years.

Monday, 17 March 2014

War in the Air

"Brought down in flames", by British artist C.T. Howard.
Postcard no.1749, printed and published by J. Salmon, Sevenoaks, England. 

Whilst many young New Zealand men served in infantry and mounted regiments during the First World War, some saw active service in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

William and Rainsford Balcombe-Brown are the sons of Edward and Eliza Mary Balcombe-Brown, of Upper Hutt. Lieutenant William Balcombe-Brown of 68th Battery Royal Field Artillery was killed in shell fire in Belgium on 29 June 1915, age 22 years. His brother, Rainsford Balcombe-Brown became an airman and served in the Royal Flying Corps. Rainsford was promoted to Major and given command of 56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. He was decorated with the Military Cross for shooting down a German observation balloon in 1916.

In 1918 he was last sighted in the air in combat against four German triplanes. Sadly, he was reported missing on 2nd May and declared killed in action in France at the age of 23. Major Balcombe-Brown was the highest ranking New Zealand airman to be killed during the war. He is buried at Carnoy Military Cemetery located at the Somme in France.

Source: Otago Daily Times, 8 June 1918

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


"Armentieres. - La Rue du Pont de Flandre." published by Louis Levy ("L.L."), Paris.

The New Zealanders arrived in France in April 1916 and by May they were stationed in the Armentieres sector. New Zealand soldiers quickly discovered that the French town of Armentieres was a 'hot spot' for enemy shelling and the town and its outskirts would long be remembered by them as the scene for some of their first experiences of trench warfare and heavy bombardment.

Armentieres is located in northern France very close to the border of Belgium. To the west of the town, 453 New Zealand soldiers' graves lie in the largest New Zealand military cemetery in France, the Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery. One of the soldiers buried there is Private Robert John Cook, an 18 year old Wellingtonian who died of wounds in May 1916 and whose name is inscribed on the bell "Armentieres" at the National War Memorial Carillon in Wellington, New Zealand.

The French town is also famously referred to in the popular war song "Mademoiselle from Armentieres". There were many verses and all were sung with such vigour by soldiers on their march to war;

Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
Mademoiselle from Armentieres, 
She hasn't been kissed for forty years!
Hinky-dinky, parlez-vous?

Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, 
Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, 
You might forget the gas and shell
But you'll nev'r forget the Mademoiselle!
Hinky-dinky, parlez-vous?

Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, 
Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, 
Where are the girls who used to swarm
About me in my uniform?

Hinky-dinky, parlez-vous?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Saucy and Censored

Postcard by artist Douglas Tempest. Published by Bamforth & Co. Ltd, England; "WITTY" Series no. 329.

Refreshingly saucy and witty, British artist Douglas Tempest does his best to provide some light relief for a population of people worn down and saddened by war. Tempest worked for the prolific postcard publisher Bamforth and Co. from about 1911, and this became a working relationship that lasted for some 40 years.

The risque image and message of a naked young lady in a bathtub to "come just as you are" no doubt helped this postcard to become a popular purchase among the hundreds of thousands of soldiers on leave, in camps and hospitals or on duty away from the front lines.

The jab at censorship is also evident in the postcard message. Postcards, letters, gift cards, telegrams, photographs and newspapers were all scrutinised by censors during the war. Anything that reported the location or movement of shipping and troops was likely to be censored. Items thought to harbour coded messages was censored. And communication with enemy nations, or disloyalty to one's own government were also caught by the censor.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Gallantry Medals of WW1

This postcard printed in England by Gale & Polden Ltd., London, Aldersot, and Portsmouth. No. 1355.

This postcard shows three very important medals that were used during the First World War to recognise special deeds of bravery. On the far left is the Military Cross, made of silver, which was instituted on 28 December 1914. It was awarded to commissioned officers of captain and below, and Warrant Officers in appreciation of distinguished and meritorious service in time of war. Some of the New Zealanders to receive this award include; Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Stewart, Captain NH Prior, Captain S Natusch, the Reverend C Houchen, Captain T Hiroti, and Captain Harold Eric Barrowclough.

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for all ranks awarded "For Valour" in the face of the enemy. This medal (pictured in the centre of the postcard) was introduced in 1856 and is made from metal of guns captured from the Russian army in the Crimean War. New Zealanders to win this prestigious award for valour during the First World War include; Leslie Andrew, Cyril Bassett, Donald Brown, James Crichton, Samuel Forsyth, Samuel Frickleton, John Grant, Reginald Judson, John Laurent, Henry Nicholas, and Richard Travis.

The Legion d'Honneur is the highest decoration in France and was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The award is made from a selection of five categories; Chevalier (Knight), Officier, Commandeur, Grand Officier, and Grand Croix. Some notable New Zealanders to receive this award during the First World War include; the New Zealand Prime Minister (1912-1925), William Fergusson Massey awarded the Grand Officier; Major General George Napier Johnston, Commander of the NZ Division Artillery; Major General Sir Andrew Hamilton Russell, Commander of the NZ Division on the Western Front; Doctor Leslie Cecil Lloyd Averill, first up the ladder during the liberation of Le Quesnoy in 1918, and many others. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

NZ Army Band

This post is inspired by the wonderful and highly entertaining display put on by the New Zealand Army Band at the International Rugby 7's tournament held at the sports stadium in Wellington over the weekend.
Military bands had a very important duty to fill during the First World War. Grief and a sense of loss was widely felt among soldiers on the frontline. Some of the simple pleasures to help restore some normality to the lives of our soldiers coming out from the battlefield was listening to music. Military bands entertained troops in this way. They helped to raise morale and roused patriotism among the ranks.

 New Zealand Army Pipe Band c.1918

"Victory March Through London, 3rd May 1919. The New Zealand Pipers." Printed and published by Beagles, England.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

One More Shell For The Front

"One More Shell For The Front" by British artist 'G.A.S.'

"One More Shell For The Front" - back of the postcard written by Private Reg Simson whilst On Active Service in 1918.

This postcard was one of many artistic humoured cards whose meaning intentionally ran much deeper. Artist 'G.A.S.' popular with silhouette postcards during WW1, produced this card of a cheerful looking chicken wearing a soldier's cap. By all appearances, the artist has succeeded in providing a little humour but has also strongly emphasised the patriotic fervour to push out "one more" deadly weapon to support the allies fighting at the Front line.

Private Reginald Fowler Simson of Dannevirke wrote the above message from Sling Camp in England during the latter stages of the war in 1918. Reg addressed this postcard to his older brother Frank Luckins Simson (pictured) now back in his hometown Dannevirke. Frank was on active service in France when he was wounded in the head and legs in June 1916. He was declared no longer physically fit for war service and returned to New Zealand on the hospital ship Maheno in March 1917.
Reg mentions his older brothers Bertie Ambrose and Louie Harry Simson in the postcard message above. Bert was declared no longer physically fit for war service on account of suffering from neurasthenia (shell shock) in 1918, and returned home to New Zealand. Louie came through the war relatively unscathed and returned to New Zealand after the war ended.

Lance Corporal Sydney Simson of 1st Battalion Wellington Infantry Regiment was Reg's older brother. Reg, Bert, Frank and Louie never saw their brother Sydney again. He was killed in action in France on 16 September 1916, age 23 years.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

100 Years Ago...

At time of print and publication these 1914 Calendar post cards were intended for sale and to help spread the message of a bright, promising and happy New Year to many around the world.

Few would predict that later in the year the World would go to war.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The "Leaning Virgin" of Albert

After the New Zealand Division had come through the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916, many New Zealand troops left the front lines on the Somme and passed through the French town of Albert. A very noticeable landmark was the bomb-damaged statue of the Virgin Mary holding a child which was fastened to the top of  the town's cathedral or "Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières". The most remarkable thing about this statue that caught the soldier's eye was that it had fallen over in to an almost horizontal position as a result of a German artillery strike in 1915.
As the New Zealanders passed through the town on 7 October 1916 many stared up at this unusual sight and pondered on local legend that said when the statue should finally fall, the war will come to an end.
New Zealand Brigadier General Herbert Hart commented "It looks most weird, and one would expected it to fall any moment."
The statute was reported to have finally fallen to the ground after a bombardment on Albert in April 1918, some seven months before the war ended.
Many photographs and postcards were taken of this surreal skyline scene, and what follows is some examples of these postcards c.1915 - 1916.

An early artist's impression of when the bomb struck the base of the statue in 1915.
French Red Cross postcard published in Paris.

Real photographic postcard of soldiers passing through Albert under the "Leaning Virgin" statue. c.1916

Another postcard image of this famous scene before the statue finally fell in 1918.