Monday, 11 November 2013

A Remembrance Day Tale

It being Remembrance Day, I've been thinking of family members who were caught up in the world wars. My father-in-law, Bill Ward, served as an artillery officer in Italy with the New Zealand forces in World War II, Jude's uncle was killed in a bomber over Germany and my Dad, who got his wings in New Zealand, trained here in Alberta where he met my mother, and got to England just in time to miss it all.

My paternal grandfather served in World War I. Some years ago I applied to the New Zealand Defence Force for his New Zealand Expeditionary Force service personnel file. The photocopied file came quickly and at no cost. Like so many veterans, he didn't talk about his experiences much. The file gave me some tantalizing details about his war years about which I wish I'd been able to ask him. I thought he'd served at Gallipoli, but when I took a closer look at his file today, I found he hadn't. The dates don't work.

Darcy Syia Packwood enlisted on July 1st, 1915. His occupation was listed as Drover (as in sheep), his Religion: Petone (a city) Salvation Army (I don't think I ever saw him go to church), his Unit: Wellington Mounted Rifles, Rank: Trooper. That is then crossed out and replaced with NZ Field Artillery, Gunner.

In September he shipped out for what the service record calls the "Egyptian" theatre of the war. His NZ Field Artillery Casualty Form—Active Service (which, despite its rather ominous title is only the record sheet that travelled with a soldier from posting to posting) records that he was "posted to unit" on October 4th, 1915. Not sure which unit, but it was stationed in a place called Mudros on the island of Lemnos which looks like it was a supply area for the Gallipoli campaign (which ran from April 25th, 1915 to January 1916). He was there for five weeks before being admitted to hospital to be treated for diarrhoea.

Sarpi Rest Camp & Hospitals on West Mudros peninsula from Dr. Herschel Harris' war photographs in France and Lemnos in the State Library of NSW (PXA 403) Actually taken in November 1915 when he was there!

After three and a half weeks in the hospital he was "discharged to duty" and embarked on the SS Princess Ena to travel to Salonika where he was attached to 12th Corps HQ as Batman for Brigadier General George Spafford Richardson.

SS Princess Ena: Kingsway (W.H.Smith) postcard

After three months in Salonika, he returned to the artillery and shipped to France, arriving January 22nd, 1917.

After just over a year in France, during which time there are no details of what he was doing, he was "detached on leave to UK" for three weeks returning in February, 1918, for just two days before being evacuated to hospital with (and I've only just noticed this this afternoon!) venereal disease!!! (Grandfather!!??). He was discharged from hospital in early April before rejoining his unit in France on April 23rd.

On September 29th, he was "Wounded in Action," gunshot wounds; arm, right, and knee, left. This could have been in the Fifth Battle of Ypres. It was the end of the fighting for him. After another spell in hospital which looks as if it may have lasted several months, on February 7th, 1919, he embarked in Liverpool on the SS Ajana for New Zealand where he was discharged from the army on April 23rd, 1919, having spent three years and 224 days overseas.
SS Ajana

My mother told me Grandpa was engaged when he went off to war. I don't know the woman's name, but I understand that when he got home he walked over the hill from Wellington and Petone into the Wairarapa, where she lived, only to find that she'd died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. I don't know the story of how he and my grandmother met, but I do know that she had also lost her first fiancé in an accident. Hard beginnings.