Tuesday, 12 March 2019

ANZAC Tunnelers in Belgium from 1916 on

Next month,  on the 25th of  April it will be ANZAC day and it will be commemorated all over the world by a lot of Australians and New Zealanders. Also here at the Western Front, there are some commemoration events for both countries. We thought it would be worth to tell another ANZAC story that, as far as I know, never has been published before.

George Stuart from Dunedin in Otago New Zealand was in the 1st Canterbury Bn. He died on 24 September 1916 age 25 and is buried in Belgium at TANCREZ FARM CEMETERY at Ploegsteert (Comines-Warneton). There are three New Zealanders buried there. 

Benjamin Herbert Needs from Alma Oamaru Otago New Zealand was in the 1st Otago Bn. He died on 15 November 1916 age 22 and is also buried in Belgium at RAILWAY DUGOUTS BURIAL GROUND (TRANSPORT FARM) at Zillebeke (Ypres). He is the only New Zealander on this cemetery.

Of course, the New Zealand Division came into Belgium only in 1917 and they left Flanders again in 1918. In total three New Zealanders are buried in Belgium in 1916. What happened and how is this possible?

William john Mitchell
The first to be buried in Belgium was William John Mitchell from Cromwell in Otago New Zealand who served in the 2nd Bn Otago. He died on 01/07/1916 age 20 and is buried at LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY in Poperinge. He was with his unit in Houplines just over the border in France and was badly wounded. He was transported with N° 4 Ambulance Train to Poperinge where there was a Casualty Clearing Station, unfortunately, he died underway.
He was wounded on the 30th, the day they did a gas attack against the enemy lines and also the day that there was a bombardment from the Germans. We really don’t know what kind of wounds he had, it could be from the bombardment of the Germans but also from their own gas cylinders. It is at high risk to install cylinders with gas for an attack the following day knowing that the enemy could shell the area and so destroy your own gas containers!

The two other New Zealanders were part of (detached from their unit) the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company and worked with those Tunnellers in Belgium when they died. 
George Stuart was at Hill 63, this is at the Catacombs in Ploegsteert (AKA Plugsteert) Wood. According to his file, he was KIA but I suppose he was wounded and brought over to Tancrez Farm (Cemetery) because there was an aid post at this place.
Benjamin Needs was at Hill 60, the Australian 1st Tunnelling Company took it over from the Canadians early November 1916. Hill 60 is very well known from the Australian film with the same name and for the Caterpillar and Hill 60 mine craters, two of the 19 mines who were fired on the 7th  June 1917. Hill 60 is also one of the main sites in Flanders to visit when on pilgrimage at the Western Front. Hill 60 and the underground work of the miners was not only a very secret part of the war but also a very cruel and devastating place.

As this story is telling you, New Zealanders and  Australians have been mixed not only in the ANZAC Corps as two different Nations but there was also an exchange of people between the different Nations of the Commonwealth.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Kiro Luke ADAM from Rarotonga (Cook Islands)

On 5 February 2019 at 5 pm we had a commemoration event at New Irish Farm Cemetery in Ieper/Ypres for Kiro Luke ADAM (born Atamu) from Rarotonga, a member of the Māori Pioneer Battalion during WWI.

In the early 1900’s Kiro Luke ADAM sailed from Rarotonga, Cook Islands to work as a gardener in Parnell, Auckland. He was the youngest of two brothers and two sisters.
He enlisted to go to war on the 1st July 1915 in Takapuna and his declared age at that time was 21 years old. He was 1,70 m and his weight was about 75 kg. His military record (one sheet) gives 1 June 1893 as the date of birth. In that case, he was 22 years old. 
 He joined the 2nd Māori Contingent. They departed New Zealand for Suez on 19 September 1915 on board of the ship Waitemata. In his military record, it appears that Kiro was attached to the 2nd Auckland Infantry Battalion on 19 Jan 1916 in Moascar, Ismailia.
On 20 February when the NZ Pioneer Battalion was authorized he became an NZ Pioneer.
On the 9th of April, he sailed from Port Said to France on board of the Canada, altogether 28 officers and 948 other ranks who arrived in Marseilles on 14 April 1916. On the 15th and 16th they were transported by train to Steenbecque, Northern France and marched into a small village known as Morbecque.
On the 17th they moved again to Sercus and later that month the NZ Pioneers were split to different places and different work. On May 15, 1916 the Battalion moved to Armentieres.
(c) IWM Q653 on the road to Armentieres

D Company of the NZ Pioneer Battalion to consist of Cook Islanders only attended to the sawmill work, concrete works and R.E. dumps for the next 2-3 months.
(C) IWM Q4735 Maori lumber workers, Forest de Nieppe

On 8 August 1916 Private Kiro Luke ADAM was appointed a Battalion Bomber – a specialist in hand grenade throwing. Mid-August the Pioneers moved away from the trenches in Armentieres to the Somme in the Longueval area. Mid-October they went back to the Armentieres sector.
Early 1917 there was a reorganization and Kiro would probably be no longer in D company. From 15 February on, Māori pioneers have been in Belgium. Most of the time until the summer they have been around the Messines area in preparation of the big attack, known as the Battle of the Mines, on the 7th of June. At the end of June they went to Vieux-Berquin, just over the border in France to rest. 
From the 3rd of July on, they came back in Flanders/Belgium in different areas for the next two months.
End of September, the Māori Pioneer Battalion came to Ypres and the St. Julian / Passchendaele sector to prepare the area prior to the involvement of the New Zealand Division in the Battle of Passchendaele.
The Battle of Broodseinde was fought as part of Third Ypres on 4 October 1917 by the New Zealanders who took ‘s Graventafel and opened up the way to Passchendaele.
On the 4th of October, the German shelling was not heavy west of Kansas Cross, and at 11 a.m. B and later A Company Pioneers commenced repairs on the road forward to Kansas Cross. The Pioneers did excellent work on the roads and artillery tracks, but wet weather on the 6th and several days afterward, and the trains of pack mules along the newly formed earth road turned it into a quagmire. For several days it was a steady fight with mud. Guns and horses were bogged everywhere. The Māori Pioneers pulled many guns out and into position but the road was in a fearful condition.
After the Battle of Broodseinde the Māori Pioneer  Battalion took over the road as far as Spree Farm, and with practically no material they had to make the road forward passable for guns.
No further attempt could be made to push forward the tram lines owing to the lack of material. Even had this been available the congested state of traffic on the road from Ypres to the Steenbeek brook made it almost impossible to get wagons with material forward.
The Pioneers did what they could do; making plank roads, dug board tracks, etc.… in the direction of Passchendaele because on the 9th October the British 49th Division had to attack and later on the 12th  Oct the New Zealand Division had to attack again. Guns had to be brought forward, supplies, ammunition, and men.
They were working around the road from Spree Farm to Kansas Cross and ‘s Graventafel and the frontline was about 400 yards over ‘s Graventafel in the direction of Passchendaele between Waterloo Farm and Fleet Cott
Sadly private Kiro Luke ADAM was killed in action on Sunday 7 October 1917 in between Spree Farm and Kansas Cross. His body has been buried in a field grave. This means that he was killed instantly. Otherwise, he should have been brought to the aid post at Schuler Galleries, near Schuler Farm (only 200 yards) or to the Advanced Dressing Station at Wieltje (3 km). The same day a Fiji Islander, Joseph Curtis was wounded and brought over to the Can. Casualty Clearing Station at Poperinge but eventually he died on the 8th and is buried there.
There was always shelling and bombarding in between the battles. The front line was about 1200-1500 yards north-east of the place where Kiro Adam has been buried. Probably he has been buried where he was killed. On the right-hand side of the road, south of Pond Farm. 
trench map area of the field grave of Kiro Luke ADAM (red point near to Spree Farm on the map)
click on the map/photos to see more details
same trench map mixed with today map with street names
After the war, in 1920, his remains have been removed from his field grave by the exhumation units to New Irish Farm Cemetery in St Jean (now part of Ypres). 

4,719 commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated in this cemetery, 3,271 of the burials are unidentified. 18 men from the New Zealand Division are buried or commemorated here, 17 of them died in October 1917.

By the end of the war; almost 2,500 Māori and about 500 Pacific Islanders had served in the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion. Of these, about 350 died on active service and about 750 were wounded. 79 men from the Māori Pioneer Battalion are buried in Belgium.
Māori also enlisted (and died) in other units of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force but also in other units of the Commonwealth Forces.

In April 2017 his grave has been visited by the Queens Representative of Cook Island, His Excellency Sir Tom Marsters and Lady Tuaine. 
His Excellency Sir Tom Marsters and Lady Tuaine
Wreath laying at the Menin Gate with H.E. Gregory Andrews, Ambassador for New Zealand to Belgium.

Only one of the 11 Cook Islanders who died during the Great War is buried in Belgium.
Sir Tom and Lady Tuaine did a battlefield tour in Northern France and Flanders/Belgium and they have been at the Menin Gate for the daily Last Post Ceremony to lay a wreath on behalf of the People of Cook Islands.
(c) Freddy Declerck MNZM OAM

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

New Zealand and the War at Sea in Belgium

Almost 700 New Zealanders volunteered for duty at sea and most went to Britain to be trained. They spent 1917-1918 serving with the Coastal Forces some (about 200 men) in motorboats and others in minesweepers. During the raid on Zeebrugge and Ostend in April 1918 a number of New Zealanders took part in the supporting forces. Leading Stoker Charles Williams from Christchurch .was one of the volunteers who steamed HMS Vindictive into Ostend under heavy German fire and sank the ship to block the harbour.

Other New Zealanders served with the Royal Naval Air Service [RNAS] that flew over the Western Front and from seaplane tenders. Three of them became 'aces'. Euan Dickson survived the war and had 14 confirmed kills. Harold 'Kiwi' Beamish flew fighters and was credited with 11 confirmed kills. Thomas Culling shot down six aircraft before he was killed in action in June 1917. Another section of the RNAS was the Armoured Car Service. This unit served on the Western Front, Middle East and in southern Russia. A number of New Zealanders joined this unit and served with it until war's end.
HMS New Zealand was New Zealand’s most tangible contribution to the war at sea between 1914 and 1918. It was paid for by the Dominion and fought in the three major engagements of the war, Heligoland Bight, Dogger Bank and Jutland, representing New Zealand in a way that no other ship could.

Dunkirk cemetery is a permanent reminder of New Zealand’s participation in the greatest operation where motor launches were involved - the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend during April 1918. One young New Zealander buried in Dunkirk is Motor Mechanic John Foster Herbin Batey who served in one of these coastal motor boats CMB 33A. His body having been washed ashore on 17 April 1918 after he had been killed in action during the aborted raids on 12 April 1918 in Ostend. He was married since 16 October 1916 and he was living in Clyde, Central Otago, New Zealand.

In the attacking force were a number of New Zealanders, including 14 officers and 15 motor mechanics from the Motor Boat Patrol, of which four officers and eight motor mechanics received awards for gallantry. Among those decorated were Lieutenant M.S. Kirkwood who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Chief Motor Mechanic Edgard Frank Chivers who received the Distinguished Service Medal and was wounded in operation in Ostend 10 May 1918.
Edgard Frank Chivers

Citation for Lieut. Malcolm Stuart Kirkwood, R.N.V.R. Distinguished Service Cross. Volunteered for rescue work, and showed coolness and courage throughout the operations off Ostend. After his vessel was damaged alongside Brilliant and the engineers gassed, he went down to the engine-room, which was full of fumes, and started the starboard engine, thereby saving the vessel from being either sunk or captured. Shortly afterwards he lost consciousness and was rescued with difficulty

Malcolm Kirkwood
Malcolm Kirkwood, aged 28, was an Aucklander and one of two brothers who joined the Motor Boat Patrol Reserve in 1916. During the raid on Ostend he was First Lieutenant of ML 532. The primary task of this vessel, one of three, was to rescue the crews of the block ships after they had sunk themselves in the harbour. During the approach the block ships, the old light cruisers Sirius and Brilliant, were illuminated by search lights and became the subject of intense fire from the shore batteries. ML 532 increased speed and went ahead of the two ships, making smoke and then returning to station on the quarter of Brilliant. The two block ships were close to the shore and with visibility reduced by smoke keeping station on them was particularly difficult and as a result Captain Benn lost sight of Brilliant. In an attempt to follow Brilliant through the smoke ML 532 came bow-on to the port side of the cruiser which
Malcolm Kirkwood
had run aground and swung broadside on. This completely smashed the bows of the ML, shifting both engines on their beds and breaking the exhaust pipes, filling the engine room with dangerous fumes. Keeping the vessel afloat was a major achievement, but only at the cost of the gassing of the engine room personnel. After rescuing the crew of Brilliant; ML 276 towed ML 532 clear and Lieutenant Kirkwood was able to get one engine restarted before he lost consciousness and was hauled free. Getting the engine restarted enabled the vessel to return to England, instead of being either sunk or captured by the enemy. His elder brother Ronald also took part in the operation against Zeebrugge. Malcolm Kirkwood was later to state that: “For three solid weeks we had the thing hanging over our heads and all of us had reached the stage where we didn’t care what became of us. It would be almost impossible to describe the feelings of any of us, but we did ache for the time to be up and doing. As for sacrifice, well ... we never thought of that.”

George McKnight
George McKnight was born in Dunedin on 6th April 1887, his father emigrated from Edinburgh in 1874. George had a successful career as runner and in 1910 he became Individual Cross Country Champion of New Zealand and won the New Zealand Cross Country gold medal. In 1920 he operated a taxi business from his home in Pacific Street and owned the first sedan taxi in Dunedin.
1910 was a big year for George McKnight. In addition to holding the National cross-country title he was married on 13 April 1910 to Alma Isobel Wheeler.
George McKnight
The couples’ first son George was born on 1st June 1910 and a second son Ian Ernest on12th January 1914. However, married life for the McKnights was about to undergo a drastic change as New Zealand called up its young men to fight for the Empire in the Great War.
George McKnight travelled to England where he enlisted as a naval Petty Officer with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (R.N.V.R.) on the Dover patrol .He would later take part in the famous 1918 “Zeebrugge Raid” one of the most gallant actions of the Great War.

At the time of the Raid George was serving as Chief Motor Mechanic McKnight on “Coastal motor boat, CMB 15.  George died on 31st March 1980 in Invercargill, at age 92.

Chief Motor Mechanic Roy Alexander DSM RNVR won the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM), while serving with the Royal Navy’s Patrol Service in the First World War in one of the largest raids carried out by the Royal Navy.

Alexander was born on the outskirts of Auckland, in February 1898, and grew up there. He was working for the well-known plumbing merchants A & T Burt[1] and living in East Tamaki with his parents, when he left New Zealand to join the Royal Navy Patrol Service in November 1916. He was promoted to Chief Motor Mechanic in November 1917.[2]
In 1918, Alexander was one of a number of New Zealanders serving with the Royal Navy’s Motor Patrol Service. He served with the ship’s company of Motor Boat 1839, one of a flotilla of 18 motor launches and six coastal motor boats based at the port of Dunkirk.[3] This flotilla was assigned the responsibility for rescue work, to make smoke screens or lay smoke floats for the raids launched at Zeebrugge and Ostend.[4] The DSM was awarded to Roy Alexander for services during the operation against Zeebrugge on the night of 22-23 April 1918.[5]

Vice Admiral Roger Keye’s report on the raid praised the small fleet of craft that supported the warships during the operation, noting the skill and coolness of the men who manned these craft while under heavy fire. Sadly, Alexander was wounded during the raid and died of his wounds in South End Hospital on 21 August 1918.[6] His award was gazetted in the “London Gazette” dated 19 July 1919, along with a number of other sailors awarded the DSM for their service on the small craft attached to the raid.[7] He is buried in Southend-on-Sea (Sutton Rd) Cemetery, UK in the Commonwealth War Graves section.[8]
In a reply card to the many people who sent their sympathy for the family’s loss, Alexander’s parents included the passage:
            “He played the game, ran the race and finished the work allotted to him.”
A fitting memorial for one of New Zealand’s naval heroes.
Roy’s medals are held by the Papakura Returned Services’ Association in Auckland, New Zealand. 

This is not the whole story of the Royal New Zealand Navy and its involvement in the War at Sea in Belgium. I'm very sure that some beautiful stories are still known in families but are not documented. If possible, please share your stories with us; it would be good to remember all those who have been here at the Western Front during WWI, Sailors included.

It's good to know that the majority of the New Zealand Sailors have been in the Royal Navy but one may never forget that the New Zealand Navy existed already as part of the Royal Navy and did good work at home.  HMS Pholomel is a good example and the history of that ship can be read here: http://navymuseum.co.nz/worldwar1/ships/hms-philomel-3/

Motorboat vessels were known by numbers rather than names, were 25 metres in length, displaced 34 tons had a speed of 19 knots and were armed with one 3 pounder gun and two depth charges. The launches operated in areas such as the English Channel, the coast of Ireland and the Mediterranean

This article was written using material first published in 1997 by Lt Cdr P.Y. Dennerly RNZN, a past New Zealand Navy Museum Director and noted Naval Historian.

The story of George McKnight was written using material from the research in 2013 by Lesley Treweek .
Photos are from the Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph. The story of Chief Motor Mechanic Roy Alexander DSM was written by Michael Wynd, Researcher - The National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

All photos credit:  Torpedo Bay Navy Museum, Devonport Auckland New Zealand and Lesley Treweek.

©Freddy Declerck Lt Cdr (Rtd) Be Navy, Hon Captain RNZN, MNZM, OAM

[1] Alongside C.H. Dryland whose personal collection holds material on his friend Alexander.
[2] C.H. Dryland Personal Collection – newspaper cutting 4 May 1918.
[3] Henry Newbolt, Naval Operations Vol. V, History of the Great War, Longmans Green & Co: London, 1931, p. 250.
[4] W.H. Fevyer, The Distinguished Service Medal 1914-1920, Polstead: J B Hayward & Son, 1982, p. 77.
[5] W.H. Fevyer, The Distinguished Service Medal 1914-1920, Polstead: J B Hayward & Son, 1982, p. 86.
[6] Dryland Personal Collection – newspaper cutting 4 May 1918 and sympathy card issued in 1918.
[7] London Gazette No. 30807 19 July 1919 p.8.
[8] See www.cwgc.org – grave reference F5847.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

New Zealand Brigadiers visit the Western Front in Belgium

Brigadier Chris Parsons, the new New Zealand Defence Attaché at the High Commission in London, visited Flanders on 17 January 2018 with his predecessor, Brigadier Evan Williams, and Navy Captain Shane Arndell, the Defence Attaché for Belgium and France.

Brigadier Chris Parsons (centre), Brigadier Evan Williams (right) and Navy Captain Shane Arndell (left)

They came to introduce Brigadier Chris Parsons  and Brigadier Evan Williams to say goodbye to the many  friends he has here in Belgium.

at Railway wood where the NZ Division was during the winter 17/18 was a fresh sinkhole from a collapsed tunnel

Frezenberg Site, very good point to start the Battle of Passchendaele tour

They did a battlefield tour in the trail of the New Zealanders from June 17 till April/May 1918.

They went to Messines, Comines-Warneton, La Basseville, Plugstreet, Wijtschate, Passchendaele, Polygon Wood, Ieper and Kemmel.

In the evening there was a wreath laying at the Menin Gate. H.E. Gregory Andrew, Ambassador for New Zealand in Belgium came to the Westhoek to thank Brigadier Evan Williams for all the work and the support he has given for the many commemoration events.
H.E. the Ambassador with the Defence Attaché

the NZ Brigadiers

It was for Brigadier Chris Parsons also the first time that he could visit the grave of a member of his family at Passchendaele New British Cemetery and pay his respect. Of course several cemeteries and memorials have been visited.

@ Passchendaele New British
visiting family, paying respect!
We wish Brigadier Chris Parsons an excellent time in Europe and for Brigadier Evan Williams we thank him for his support and friendship and we wish him all the best for his new job in Wellington New Zealand.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Honouring the New Zealand Cyclist Corps

the trophy

It was a freewheeling idea from Roger Dungan, a passionate cyclist from the NZ Embassy in Paris. He asked for help and the NZ Defence Attaché, Navy Captain Shaun Fogarty, brought us into the team.

 In the meantime Roger had contact with the directors of the Belgian Gent-Wevelgem organisation who were very interested in the story of the NZ Cyclist Corps. 
Roger knew about the cobblestones in Flanders and the cobblestone as a trophy in the Paris-Roubaix race. 
He was also aware of the fact that some New Zealand cyclists are competing in Belgium. 
HE Gregory Andrews
It was his idea to present a Mt Kemmel cobblestone to the Under-23 (year) cyclists in New Zealand as a trophy.

The New Zealand Cyclist Corps came to the war as part of II ANZAC, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
An Army Corps was a military unit that consisted of four Divisions; one of those was the New Zealand Division.

The Cyclist Corps soldiers were part of II ANZAC but not
the Mayor of Heuvelland digging up the cobblestone

of the New Zealand Division. 

They were mostly used as reconnaissance troops, like the mounted rifles, and also to move quickly to places where soldiers were needed. They worked everywhere II ANZAC was.

Liz  Southey with Griet Langedock
In early 1918 the New Zealand Division moved to France but II ANZAC was still in Belgium and was deployed during the Spring Offensive in and around Kemmel (Heuvelland).

The NZDF Maori Cultural Group
On 13 April 1918 two companies of the NZ Cyclists were ordered to establish a defence line on its south-eastern slopes.
On 14 April the Germans’ successful advance on Nieuwkerke saw the cyclists reinforced by infantry retreating from this battle. The cyclists stayed in this line until 18 April when they were relieved by a French cavalry unit. 
During this time they were shelled by the Germans and suffered a number of casualties. 
Blessing of cobblestone and wood
On 18 April they took up a new position at nearby Vierstraat, about 7 km south-west of Ypres and on 25 April they were instructed to help fill a gap in the frontline there.

During these actions the cyclists suffered over 100 casualties, including 16 New Zealanders killed (90 bikes were destroyed by enemy shelling). 
Twelve NZ cyclists were awarded the Military Medal for their gallantry during the Kemmel / Vierstraat actions – including Sergeant F. C. Matthews, who was killed at Marfaux three months later.
Indigenous blessing
In total 63 cyclists were killed; 21 in Belgium, 38 in France, 2 died in New zealand and 2 in the UK. Lt. Colin Adison Dickeson MC died on 26 April  1918 and is buried on Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. Six are on the Messines Ridge Memorial and four are on Buttes New British Cemetery Memorial, all disappeared during the period at Kemmel/Vierstraat and are buried as an Unknown Solier or are still in the fields around this place. There is about 50% they are still in the fields.

We worked together with the Mayor of Heuvelland, Gent-Wevelgem, the NZ embassies in Belgium and France, NZDF and the NZDF Maori Cultural Group , Ngati Ranana and the town of Zonnebeke/Passchendaele.
Roger Dungan with Liz Southey (her father was a member of the NZCC)
The cobblestone came from Mount Kemmel, an iconic place in Belgium for cyclists. The NZCC certainly passed over that road. The cobblestone was placed on a piece of wood from a dugout beneath the Zonnebeke church that has been opened for the duration of the centennial of the Battle of Passchendaele during 103 days. This is a real artefact, more than 100 years old, from a WWI dugout.
All together
Dirk Vanhove from Cycling New Zealand

The trophy was presented to New Zealand on the evening of November 9 at an event in Heule/Kortrijk. It was handed over to the New Zealand Ambassador Gregory Andrews and the well-known New Zealand cyclist Jack Bauer.
Ngati Ranana members blessed the art-work before it left Belgium for its trip to New Zealand.
They also performed a haka to thank the organisers and all involved for such a great work in honouring and commemorating the New Zealand Cyclist Corps. The pictures you are seeing are from October 2017 when the cobblestone has been taken from Mt. Kemmel and has been blessed by the NZDF Maori Cultural Group. 

You can read more (in Dutch) and see a picture of the handing over from H.E. Gregory Andrews to Jack Bauer: http://www.gent-wevelgem.be/nl/voorstelling-80ste-editie
you can see a film about it here: ytgent_wevelgem