Thursday, 12 October 2017

New Zealand's Darkest Day

George Edmund Butler's watercolour 'Bellevue from Gravenstafel', shows the hill on which 843 New Zealanders died as it appeared circa 1918.

Image courtesy of the National Collection of War Art, Archives New Zealand. Reference: AAAC 898 NCWA 431
"On two days in October 1917, in the farmlands of Belgium, New Zealand suffered two of its greatest tragedies. On 4 October, 490 New Zealand servicemen were killed. Eight days later on 12 October there was an even greater loss. Of 3000 casualties on that day, more than 840 young New Zealanders lay dead or dying in the mud and uncut wire before the village of Passchendaele."

Excerpt taken from here.

In New Zealand, the battle of Passchendaele is less well known (along with most of the NZ involvement in the Western Front) as focus is always around Gallipoli. The number of deaths eclipse those from any natural disasters or other events in our history.

With it being a hundred years later, I figured I would complete a short post about it as remembrance.

Further images can be found here and more detail on the battle here.

I am currently researching and trying to understand my Great Uncle George Chappell's involvement in the war.

He'd signed up as a Private in May 1917 and arrived in Europe in July 2017. From what I can decipher of his records - arrival was at Sling Camp where he would be part of the reinforcement force.

Unfortunately these battles look like the reason why he was then sent to the Wellington Infantry Regiment in early November 1917 for active service.

Reading the NZ history, this was a relatively quiet period due to the mauling the Division had taken in Passchendaele with 3 weeks out of the line before moving into the Polygon Wood area for the winter.

He was back in London in March due to bronchitis / pneumonia (arriving the same day as the Germans commenced the Spring Offensive in 1918).

From here, its gets a little tricky to decipher the movements. I can see he was on board the hospital ship "Maheno" in August 1918 and (I think) eventually back to NZ in October 1918 (dates seem to match for when "Maheno" was back in Auckland for repairs). I can't quite figure out movements between March and August.

He was later discharged from service due to illness contracted on active service. Unfortunately I can't decipher what is written as the cause, but we believe it was both through surviving gas (contracting a form of tuberculosis) and some physical wound.

He was 38 years old on arrival at the front. The same age as me...  On return, he had a career in the railways and lived until 1977 (just over a year before I was born). Not a bad innings in the end.

Lest we forget.