Friday, 31 July 2020

Three generations of Zonnebekes

Zonnebeke Worsfold
Alexander Worsfold was the grandfather of Phil Martell from Auckland, who was telling me his family story.
Phil Martell was a founding member of the Passchendaele Society (PS) in New Zealand and a former PS board member & treasurer. He came to Flanders a number of times, the most recent being in 2017 with his wife Jan. While here he asked me to plant some seeds from a Hebe bush, a native flowering plant of New Zealand from his mother’s garden, in the village of Zonnebeke, if possible in the neighbourhood of the Zonnebeek and the New Zealand Memorial Garden. As former PS Treasurer he had been heavily involved in the Memorial Garden project and, what is even more important, his mother’s first name was Zonnebeke! 
Alexander, Zonnebeke end Myrtle circa 1919
 In 1915 Alexander  married Myrtle Alabaster and it would also appear that she had just become pregnant when he re-joined and left for France via the UK on 9 June 1917. It is more than likely that he was unaware that she was expecting their first child and may have remained so until he found out eventually that a daughter had been born.

  Unfortunately Myrtle tragically died at age 24, a victim of the 1920 Spanish flu pandemic.
Alexander and Zonnebeke circa 1921
 As Myrtle died so early, Phil's mother was an only child. She married Reg Martell, Phil's Dad, in 1938 and had four children Vicki, Glenys, Phil(ip) and Christine. Phil gave his second daughter Lauren the middle name Zonn as this was what his mother’s name was often shortened to (or Zonnie).Now, in the next generation, there are two of Zonnie’s great grandchildren who have her name or a derivation as a second name. The connection continues. Many members of the family, including his mother, have visited the town over the years and the trip has become somewhat of a family pilgrimage.
 They are all immensely proud, as Zonnebeke was, to have this connection and in particular to know that it grew out of those terrible times when great sacrifices were made by so many. They were the lucky ones – Alexander came home from the killing fields of Flanders. 
‘Three generations of Zonnebekes’ was taken just a few years ago before Zonnebeke’s death, in 2007. Around Zonnebeke Myrtle Martell (nee Worsfold) are from left to right, Phil's Daughter Lauren Zonn Meyers (nee Martell), her daughter Holly Zonnebeke Myers, and Phoebe Zonne Videbeck, granddaughter of Phil's sister Glenys Power and daughter of Kelley.
He was a tailor and spent his entire life in that trade, finishing up as manager for a men’s suit manufacturer. He was from a large family who were settled in the small rural town of Feilding in the lower North Island of New Zealand. His parents had emigrated from Horsham in the UK to New Zealand in 1874. Their home in Feilding was quite grand and set in magnificent gardens, as was the neighbouring home owned by his uncle. Alexander himself grew up with a great love of gardening. He also played the trumpet and there is evidence of his belonging to military bands in both Samoa and Belgium/France. He was also involved in the Lodge and rose to the position of Grand Master in Wellington where he lived after leaving Feilding. He died on 26/07/1963.

Military life of Alexander Worsfield.
Alexander Worsfold was a New Zealand soldier in the Great War and he came to Flanders from 1917 to 1918.
Alexander Worsfold in his army uniform
He enlisted in the Army in August 1914 (aged 23) at the outbreak of the war and had signed initially for the First NZ Expeditionary Force to Samoa when Samoa was freed from German occupancy. His military number was 1/429 and he served  overseas until 15 April 1915, being discharged after he came home.

When he found out that his younger brother Ron Worsfold had falsified his age to sign up and had left for the Western Front, he too decided to re-enlist. He did so on 19 January 1917 after just 18 months of marriage.
On the 9 June 1917 after training in Featherston, he sailed out of Wellington on the troop ship Willochra headed for the UK. He would not have known, but his wife Myrtle must have been around three to four weeks pregnant at that time. What happened to both of them during that next nine months is partly a matter of record borne out by Alexander’s military file, however little is known of how it would have been for a young war bride to be without her husband and expecting a baby and to be confronted daily with the news of the horrors of that time on the Western Front. She had returned to live at her parents’ home.
Alexander disembarked at Devonport in the UK on 16 August 1917 and then marched into Sling, the military training camp at Bulford, southern England, in the 2nd Battalion (Bn) Canterbury Infantry Regiment. He stayed there in training until leaving for France on 26 October, arriving in Etaples, France, three days later where he was based at the New Zealand Infantry and General Base Depot.
His brother Ronald, a watchmaker, was also in Etaples that time - until 11 August 1918 - when he was detached to No. 1 Entrenching Bn. Before Etaples he had served in the 2nd Bn Auckland and was at Passchendaele with them on 4 October 1917. He was in the same battalion as Dave Gallaher, the captain of the 1905 All Black Originals. Ronald had scabies and ICT on his right foot (ICT = inflamed connective tissue - a condition that occurred in soldiers in WWI due to all the marching and the poor weather conditions experienced for long periods in the trenches). He was in hospital several times and was, in fact, no longer fit for service by late 1917. He was, however, working in a depot at Etaples before being sent to the No. 1  Entrenching Bn on 11/08/1918. The New Zealand entrenching battalions dug trenches and carried out other earthworks. The Entrenching Group, with three battalions, was formed in February 1918 from men of the disbanded 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade. It was itself disbanded in October 1918. Entrenching battalions provided labouring parties to assist units such as tunnellers, pioneers, railways, engineers and signals.
It is possible that they met up again in France in the last 100 days of the war but in early October the Entrenching Bn was absorbed into the Infantry Brigades. He embarked on the Ajana for New Zealand in Liverpool on 07/02/1919 and the ship arrived with 37 officers, 666 men and 24 nurses in Auckland on 26 March 1919. On return to New Zealand, Ronald became a farmer. He died on 17/08/1958.
Alexander had left for France just two weeks after New Zealand’s worst ever military loss in a single day - the dreadful toll of the first four hours of battle at Passchendaele on 12 October 1917.
It was not until 1918 – January 5 – that he finally joined a battalion – the 1st Bn, 2nd Company, Canterbury Regiment. This battalion was holding the frontline at and around Polygon Wood with the New Zealand Division over the winter of 1917-1918. Polygon Wood is just a short march to the outskirts of Zonnebeke. On 26 January he was detached to the signallers until 3 February when he re-joined his battalion.

He was on duty in Zonnebeke on 5 February 1918 when his daughter was born and he asked his wife Myrtle to give her the name… Zonnebeke. His wife named her Joan. When Alexander found out about that he asked her to change the name to Zonnebeke which her birth records now attest to.
For much of the time, the soldiers spent three to six days in the frontline, followed by three to six days in the support or reserve line, all in the same region. After one or two weeks they were relieved and could go to a rest camp on the other side of Ypres. There were no “big” battles at that time but there was continuous shelling and skirmishes. Many men are buried in Zonnebeke war cemeteries and there are still many men missing. This is the reason there is a New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Buttes New British Cemetery at Polygon Wood.

On the night of 22/23 February, Alexander and his New Zealand brigade were relieved by the 1st/6th Bn West Riding Regiment and moved to West Farm Camp. 
On 23 February the brigade entrained at Ypres for Caestre, a village on the main Cassel-Bailleul road. The brigade arrived at 9 p.m to find the YMCA waiting with very welcome hot tea and biscuits. After tea, the battalions marched to their billet areas, the 2nd Canterbury Bn to St Sylvestre Cappel. The quarters were good, the weather was fine, and everyone was relieved to get away from the Ypres Salient, which had not belied its evil reputation. The rest of the month was for recreation, sport and training. In March there was more training, shooting in the St Omer region and field practices.
The New Zealand Division had been called to help in closing the gap in the frontline at the start of the German Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918.
On 23 March orders were issued to begin entraining at Caestre the next day.
The railway journey was via Calais, Boulogne and Abbeville to detrain east of Amiens, about half way between that town and Albert. When the first train arrived on the outskirts of Amiens, at  1am on the 25th, they could go no further as the track near the town had been destroyed by an enemy aircraft attack. With a great deal of difficulty they finally arrived at Hédauville, on the Albert-Doullens road, north-west of Albert. The two Canterbury Battalions left Hédauville at noon on the 26th. The 1st Battalion had assembled in a valley to the south-east of Mailly-Maillet.

At around 4pm the 1st Canterbury Battalion, on the right of the brigade frontage, moved forward, by platoon in artillery formation. The battalion met with no opposition beyond very light shelling as they crossed the ridge between Englebelmer and Auchonvillers and the ridge to the north of Mesnil, capturing all of the brigade’s objectives from west of Hamel to the south-west of Beaumont-Hamel.
The night of the 26th was a quiet one, and the troops in the line had no interference from the enemy while consolidating their position. In fact, the trenches found there were in good order, so not much work was required. During the night fighting patrols were pushed out along the whole front and the enemy was found to be occupying Beaumont Hamel, and in its 1916 frontline trenches. Several of these patrols had brushes with the enemy, inflicted casualties on them and captured machine-guns and prisoners.
On 27 March 27 there was shelling followed by an attack by the enemy at noon.
There were no further enemy attacks for the rest of the month of March. This was no doubt in part due to the rain, which began to fall on the afternoon of the 28th and continued to the end of the month. The 1st Battalion remained in the line until the night of the 30th/31st, when it was relieved by the 2nd Otago Battalion, and went into bivouacs in Englebelmer, as battalion in reserve of the brigade.
 On 2 April 1918 Alexander, a very keen and accomplished trumpet player, formally joined the 2nd Bn, 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade and the next day he was posted to the Band.
Alexander is in the middle row, 4th from right
In the vicinity (west) of Beaumont-Hamel, he was probably in bivouacs in Englebelmer (Somme) with his battalion and the 2nd Bn NZ Rifle Brigade in Colincamps. There was still heavy fighting (5-9 April) followed by a period of stationary trench warfare. On 1 June 1st they went to bivouac camp in Rossignol Farm.  At the Divisional Band Contest, held at St Leger on 27 June, the 2nd Bn Canterbury band took first place, followed by the band of 2nd Bn Rifle Brigade.No fewer than 13 bands took part and the band of the 2nd Bn Rifle Brigade came first in drill. Just before the close of their rest period the Rt Hon. W. F. Massey and Sir Joseph Ward inspected the Rifle Brigade at a parade in Warnimont Wood. On 2 July the Rifle Brigade returned to the frontline. On 22 July the 2nd Bn band was detached for duty with the IVth Corps School for a fortnight. On 4 September the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, as Divisional reserve, moved to the area between Favreuil and Fremicourt. In fact this was the beginning of the advance to victory! On 6 September the 2nd Bn was quartered east of Barastre. On the 9th there was a first attack on the Trescault Ridge and Spur followed by a second on the 12th (Battle of Havrincourt). The New Zealand Rifle Brigade remained in Corps reserve from 15 to 27 September. After this they started to move to the east and were at the  Battle of the Canal du Nord, Battle of the Selle and Battle of the Sambre until finally capturing Le Quesnoy and Mormal Forest on 4 November 1918. 

It has to be said that the band members also had duties in the regiment. In the beginning they were used as stretcher bearers but many were killed and badly wounded.
 So, it was decided to give band members more work behind the first lines as a rear guard, loading wagons and performing other logistics duties.
In December 1918 the battalion marched to Cologne (Germany) through Belgium (240 km).
On 12 April 1919 Alexander left Europe on board the “Pakeha”, departing from Tilbury in the UK to arrive in Wellington on 30 May 1919 together with 25 officers and 1329 men.

Research:  F.E.A. Declerck MNZM OAM


Phil Martell, The Story of Zonnebeke, The little Girl with the big name
Auckland Cenotaph New Zealand
Archives New Zealand; Archway
The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919
The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
New Zealand History (Ministry for Culture and Heritage)

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