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.