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.

DSM
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/



FOOTNOTE:
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