Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Private Robert William Leaf - Matakohe Memorial

Robert William Leaf known as "Willie" was the eldest of 5 boys and 1 girl.  Born and raised in Matakohe his father had been one of the pioneering 'Albertlanders', the name given to a thousand immigrants who arrived at Port Albert in the Kaipara harbour in 1862. 

Prior to enlisting Willie had been sheep farming with his younger brother Toin in the Kaipara region and together they enlisted at the beginning of October 1916,  embarking from Wellington on 2 April 1917.

They marched alongside each other into Sling camp, England,  Etaples camp, France  and then on 25 July 1917 joined the 2nd Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment at Messines.  Less than a week later the brothers were separated by death,  when Willie was killed in action on 1 August 1917.   Months later on 27 March 1918 Toin was seriously wounded, receiving injuries to his face and right arm.  He ultimately lost an eye and was invalided back to New Zealand a few days before the Armistice was declared.

Willie's body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium.   His family back in New Zealand struggled with the fact that Willie had no known grave.  A line from a memorial poem placed regularly by the family on the anniversary of his death in the years following the war, shows the depth of their feeling and grief. 

 "But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow" 
They also placed notices in the New Zealand Herald asking returned servicemen for any information on Willie's death in the hope that his body would be located and given a proper burial.

New Zealand Herald, Volume LIX, Issue 18157, 1 August 1922, Page 1
Back in New Zealand Toin's suffered poor health as a result of the injuries he suffered in the war.  He died in 1929 of pulmonary tuberculosis.

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Auckland Star, Volume LX, Issue 154, 2 July 1929, Page 5
A further brother Alfred also served in World War One enlisting on 9 March 1917 and embarking on the 'Ulimaroa' on 26 July 1917, only days before his brother was killed in action.  Before departing he married Phyllis Grice on 19 June 1917.  Alfred survived the war but not unscathed.  

There is a note on his Cenotaph database record stating he returned to New Zealand with a nervous disorder caused by a train accident.  After looking at Alfred's service record I concluded the accident he was involved in was the Bere Ferrers train accident which took place on 24 September 1917.

A train carrying disembarked New Zealand troops from the 'Ulimaroa' and 'Norman'  was on route from Plymouth to Sling camp on the Salisbury Plain. The train stopped for signals at Bere Ferrers in Devon, when troops mistakenly got off the train thinking  they had reached their refreshment stop in Exeter.   The soldiers were hit by an oncoming express train as they alighted from the wrong side of the train.  Ten New Zealand soldiers were killed as a result of the accident.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lance Corporal Edward Angel - Matakohe memorial

Corporal Edward Angel was the youngest of three brothers who together embarked on 14 February 1915 aboard the 'Warrimoo' as part of the 1st Maori Contingent.  According to newspaper reports Edward was only 15 years old or thereabouts when he enlisted.  In James Cowans' book 'Maori in the Great War' Cowan tells us how:

" was the custom of the Maori to enter the firing line in the early teens.  Many a man of the old generation went on his first war trail at the age of twelve."

How old Edward actually was is open to debate, I could not find any official entry of his birth and on his Commonwealth Grave Commission record it states he was 19 years old when he died of his wounds in December 1917.  Before embarking Richard the eldest of the three brothers would most likely have promised his parents William and Mary Angel, that he would watch out for his younger brothers.  

The Maori contingent was not at the initial landing at Gallipoli in April 1915,  instead they were camped in Malta awaiting orders.  Finally after a frustrating wait and watching troops come and go from the Gallipoli Pennisula the contingent left for Gallipoli in June 1915.

On 6 August 1915 at the Battle of Sari Bair, William was wounded and subsequently medically evacuated back to Malta and from there to England.  In February 1916,  he returned to New Zealand minus a finger and with a bullet wound to the leg.  He was medically discharged on 10 May 1916.  In his service record I found evidence that he attempted to re-enlist at the beginning of June of the same year, however I could find no evidence that he was accepted.

The Angel brothers may well have been together when Richard led a section out to clear barbed wire entanglements from Chailak Dere,  before the main attack on 6 August 1915.  When the battle was over Richard was promoted to Corporal and awarded the Military Medal for bravery as a result of his actions, his citation reads:

'Bravery in attack on Turkish trenches on Bauchop's Hill and removing wire entanglements in Chailak Dere, Gallipoli, on August 6th.  Led his section with the utmost dash.'

After the evacuation of Gallipoli Edward and Richard embarked for France at the beginning of April 1916.  In July 1916 Edward was admitted to hospital suffering from debility, today  debility would be known as chronic fatigue syndrome.  Edward was at the most only 17/18 years of age and had been exposed to all the horrors of war while still a boy, witnessing more death than life.  This must have had a profound negative effect on his physical and mental health.  Yet less than a month after hospitalisation he was back at the front until he contracted mumps in May 1917. After recovering he returned to the front again and spent a short spell at the casualty clearing station with influenza, before going on leave on 18 July 1917.

Edward returned from leave at the end of July and was promoted to Lance Corporal on 8 December 1917.  Shortly after his third Christmas as a soldier away from his home and family in New Zealand he was fatally wounded on 28 December 1917.  He was buried at Ramparts Cemetery. Lille Gate, Ieper, Belgium.

Richard survived the war and when the armistice was announced on 11 November 1918, he was on leave in Paris.  Despite the celebrations followed his thoughts would most likely have been of is younger brother Edward. Richard returned to New Zealand in February 1919.

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New Zealand Herald, Volume LV, Issue 16760, 29 January 1918, Page 5