'It was like hell on Earth'

‘Some of them were mere boys of about 16 or 17’.

‘Some of them were mere boys of about 16 or 17’.

WAITING: 2nd NZ Field Ambulance hospital interior during an offensive (Solesmes, France). Taken during World War 1 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Picture courtesy of RNZRSA Collection, National Library of New Zealand
TIME OUT: Soldiers from a New Zealand field ambulance brigade waiting for dinner outside the mess room, France. Photograph taken 1917 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Picture courtesy of RNZRSA Collection, National Library of New Zealand
CHAMP: World War 1 medic Owen Paltridge was a Poverty Bay sprint champion in the 1920s. Picture supplied

Diana Lucas visited the Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley to speak about her grandmother’s brother Owen Paltridge and his World War 1 experiences — just in time for Anzac Day commemorations. She brought with her a frontline letter from the army medic, and a booklet put together by soldiers as they sailed home in 1919 . . .

Gisborne army medic Owen Paltridge was among the bloodshed that claimed the life of Private William Ham, the first New Zealand combat fatality of World War 1 when the British and Ottoman empires clashed in Egypt in February 1915.

The military censors must have been AWOL as Paltridge’s letter of February 25 to his parents Frederick and Henrietta was not sparing in graphic details of the human carnage. Neither was he ashamed to admit he was scared.

British, Indian, Egyptian and New Zealand troops repelled the Turks during the Battle of Suez Canal fought near Ismailia where Paltridge was based.

“The four days I had in the trenches was quite good enough for me,’’ wrote Paltridge.

“I was attached to the Lancaster Field Artillery and I can tell you, those boys had a tough time.

“The Turks brought bigger guns across the desert than those the British had and consequently our guns were outranged.

“Anyhow what saved the situation was the warship Swiftsure which had been in the Suez Canal since the war started.

“We had only been there (on the frontline) about four hours when bang went a shrapnel shell over our own heads.

“What a scramble there was for the trenches.”

The Turks started firing again the next morning.

Paltridge was “safely stowed away” in a hole in the sand with sandbags on top.

‘‘The noise inside was deafening.

“What with the Turks’ shells bursting, our 15 pounders and the warship’s 10 inch guns firing, it was like hell on earth.

“When a shrapnel shell comes along it simply rains bullets, or should I say lead pellets.

“The shrapnel makes a far worse wound than an ordinary rifle bullet.”

Paltridge said he had to look out for ‘‘a chap” who had been hit.

“When I got to him, I can tell you I began to get scared.

“Poor fellow — he had received part of a shell in his side and you could almost put your hand inside the hole it had made.”

Blood was “squirting out and he was in an awful mess’’.

“Anyhow another chap bandaged him and the Indians and I took him to the hospital.

“He only lived for two hours after reaching the base.

“The next thing of note was another chap killed by receiving a bullet through the brain.

“By this time most of the gunners had been more or less wounded. But they stuck to their guns. Some of them were mere boys of about 16 or 17.

“Thank goodness it was only an artillery fight or else a good lot of Tommies would have bit the dust.”

Paltridge wrote that he would like to have seen the Indian troops make their bayonet charge “when they killed hundreds of Turks”.

“Our battery in 15 hours fired 375 shells, the Egyptian battery close to us was completely wiped out.
“Anyway my work was only beginning.”

Paltridge tended to both wounded “Tommies’’ (the English) and Turks.

He felt sorry for the Turks.

He wrote that most were Bedouins forced to fight at the point of a bayonet without boots and dressed in rags.

Many officers were Germans who treated them ‘‘awfully”.

The Turkish prisoners were ‘‘in an awful mess as the Indians who charged them used their big knives when they got among them”.

“Some had their arms blown off or a leg almost hacked off by an Indian.”

One Turk with four bullet wounds was still alive.

“I reckon the worst thing I saw was that Tommy who had a hole blown in his side.

“Poor chap kept saying all the time, ‘my mother, my mother’.

“I looked at my mate who was helping me to bandage him up and he had tears in his eyes.

“Both of us knew he had a mortal wound.”

Shipboard booklet offered light relief

Tainui Tidings is a unique booklet and likely rare document recording the experiences of New Zealanders as they sailed home after World War 1 on RMS Tainui.

The publication presents the musings of up to 380 officers, ‘‘war workers of the navy’’, other branches of the services and nurses.

There is no commentary on the war or expressions of patriotism or jingoism, only drawings, jokes and a wide range of articles.

As the editorial says, “It will be obvious to the thinking person that the Tainui Tidings does not aspire to be the ambitious book some people would wish it’’.

“Yet considering the crude means of production, it can only be a medium whereby folk may briefly express themselves and assist themselves in the compilation of a souvenir of their return home.’’

The booklet notes that entertainment has been arranged by “an energetic committee” with other activities including sport, an orchestra and education “with all classes totalling 200”.

There were lectures including one about New Zealand ‘‘for the benefit of the ladies on board”.

A debate on the respective merits of the two islands with officers speaking for the North Island and NCOs for the South Island, resulted in victory for the South.

Tainui stopped at the US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, where the Kiwis had “a jolly time”.

“But for the Yanks’ generous hospitality, many of us (for all the pay office cared) would have slept in the gutters and starved in the streets!!!”

An article entitled Crossing the Line is about “the time-honoured ceremony of crossing the equator’’, which happened on Tainui on September 2.

Some of the thoughts included in a column entitled Things We Want to Know include:

  • Would this paper have appeared earlier if the bar had been closed earlier?
  • Who is the forlorn bride who waits for hours at the foot of the companionway?
  • Do some ladies offer bribes to lucky instructors in order to miss classes?
  • How many “smooging parties” in Hyde Park were disturbed by the last full moon?

Answers to Correspondents include:

War Bride: No! You cannot get a divorce on Tainui. Wait til you reach NZ!
Digger’s Wife: To get rid of the red marks on your face — forego kissing in Hyde Park for a day or so!
Lily N: Wants to know how to cure insomnia. We advise her to get married and visit the boat deck after 10pm.

The Tainui Tidings, formerly belonging to Owen Paltridge, Diana Lucas’ great uncle, may be the sole surviving copy.

The cardboard cover is signed by seven soldiers but only the signatures of G E Thompson of Pakuranga and L Cohen of Wellington are easily made out.

Paltridge enlisted on August 10, 1914, six days after Britain declared war on Germany.

According to army records, he was already in the New Zealand Medical Corp.

He was born on October 1, 1894, lived at 2 Elizabeth Street, Ponsonby, Auckland, and worked as a clerk for Sharland and Co. His parents lived at 207 Ormond Road in Gisborne.

The property has a different street number today.

Paltridge had served his compulsory military training while living in Gisborne.

He was in the army for four years and 341 days, serving in Egypt, Gallipoli and Western Europe.
Paltridge arrived at Alexandra in Egypt on an unknown vessel on December 6, 1914.

The medic sailed home on RMS Tainui from Portsmouth and arrived in Wellington on October 19, 1919. He was discharged that day as a sergeant.

According to Poverty Bay Herald articles Paltridge was a well-known sportsman in 1920s Gisborne.

He is described as the Poverty Bay sprint champion and appears in many advertisements as secretary, official measurer or handicapper at athletics and swimming events.

Paltridge also gave lectures on sprinting, middle distance running and relay race training.

In 1930, it is reported Paltridge had moved to Sydney. Little is known of the rest of his life except that he died in 1974.

Diana Lucas visited the Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley to speak about her grandmother’s brother Owen Paltridge and his World War 1 experiences — just in time for Anzac Day commemorations. She brought with her a frontline letter from the army medic, and a booklet put together by soldiers as they sailed home in 1919 . . .

Gisborne army medic Owen Paltridge was among the bloodshed that claimed the life of Private William Ham, the first New Zealand combat fatality of World War 1 when the British and Ottoman empires clashed in Egypt in February 1915.

The military censors must have been AWOL as Paltridge’s letter of February 25 to his parents Frederick and Henrietta was not sparing in graphic details of the human carnage. Neither was he ashamed to admit he was scared.

British, Indian, Egyptian and New Zealand troops repelled the Turks during the Battle of Suez Canal fought near Ismailia where Paltridge was based.

“The four days I had in the trenches was quite good enough for me,’’ wrote Paltridge.

“I was attached to the Lancaster Field Artillery and I can tell you, those boys had a tough time.

“The Turks brought bigger guns across the desert than those the British had and consequently our guns were outranged.

“Anyhow what saved the situation was the warship Swiftsure which had been in the Suez Canal since the war started.

“We had only been there (on the frontline) about four hours when bang went a shrapnel shell over our own heads.

“What a scramble there was for the trenches.”

The Turks started firing again the next morning.

Paltridge was “safely stowed away” in a hole in the sand with sandbags on top.

‘‘The noise inside was deafening.

“What with the Turks’ shells bursting, our 15 pounders and the warship’s 10 inch guns firing, it was like hell on earth.

“When a shrapnel shell comes along it simply rains bullets, or should I say lead pellets.

“The shrapnel makes a far worse wound than an ordinary rifle bullet.”

Paltridge said he had to look out for ‘‘a chap” who had been hit.

“When I got to him, I can tell you I began to get scared.

“Poor fellow — he had received part of a shell in his side and you could almost put your hand inside the hole it had made.”

Blood was “squirting out and he was in an awful mess’’.

“Anyhow another chap bandaged him and the Indians and I took him to the hospital.

“He only lived for two hours after reaching the base.

“The next thing of note was another chap killed by receiving a bullet through the brain.

“By this time most of the gunners had been more or less wounded. But they stuck to their guns. Some of them were mere boys of about 16 or 17.

“Thank goodness it was only an artillery fight or else a good lot of Tommies would have bit the dust.”

Paltridge wrote that he would like to have seen the Indian troops make their bayonet charge “when they killed hundreds of Turks”.

“Our battery in 15 hours fired 375 shells, the Egyptian battery close to us was completely wiped out.
“Anyway my work was only beginning.”

Paltridge tended to both wounded “Tommies’’ (the English) and Turks.

He felt sorry for the Turks.

He wrote that most were Bedouins forced to fight at the point of a bayonet without boots and dressed in rags.

Many officers were Germans who treated them ‘‘awfully”.

The Turkish prisoners were ‘‘in an awful mess as the Indians who charged them used their big knives when they got among them”.

“Some had their arms blown off or a leg almost hacked off by an Indian.”

One Turk with four bullet wounds was still alive.

“I reckon the worst thing I saw was that Tommy who had a hole blown in his side.

“Poor chap kept saying all the time, ‘my mother, my mother’.

“I looked at my mate who was helping me to bandage him up and he had tears in his eyes.

“Both of us knew he had a mortal wound.”

Shipboard booklet offered light relief

Tainui Tidings is a unique booklet and likely rare document recording the experiences of New Zealanders as they sailed home after World War 1 on RMS Tainui.

The publication presents the musings of up to 380 officers, ‘‘war workers of the navy’’, other branches of the services and nurses.

There is no commentary on the war or expressions of patriotism or jingoism, only drawings, jokes and a wide range of articles.

As the editorial says, “It will be obvious to the thinking person that the Tainui Tidings does not aspire to be the ambitious book some people would wish it’’.

“Yet considering the crude means of production, it can only be a medium whereby folk may briefly express themselves and assist themselves in the compilation of a souvenir of their return home.’’

The booklet notes that entertainment has been arranged by “an energetic committee” with other activities including sport, an orchestra and education “with all classes totalling 200”.

There were lectures including one about New Zealand ‘‘for the benefit of the ladies on board”.

A debate on the respective merits of the two islands with officers speaking for the North Island and NCOs for the South Island, resulted in victory for the South.

Tainui stopped at the US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, where the Kiwis had “a jolly time”.

“But for the Yanks’ generous hospitality, many of us (for all the pay office cared) would have slept in the gutters and starved in the streets!!!”

An article entitled Crossing the Line is about “the time-honoured ceremony of crossing the equator’’, which happened on Tainui on September 2.

Some of the thoughts included in a column entitled Things We Want to Know include:

  • Would this paper have appeared earlier if the bar had been closed earlier?
  • Who is the forlorn bride who waits for hours at the foot of the companionway?
  • Do some ladies offer bribes to lucky instructors in order to miss classes?
  • How many “smooging parties” in Hyde Park were disturbed by the last full moon?

Answers to Correspondents include:

War Bride: No! You cannot get a divorce on Tainui. Wait til you reach NZ!
Digger’s Wife: To get rid of the red marks on your face — forego kissing in Hyde Park for a day or so!
Lily N: Wants to know how to cure insomnia. We advise her to get married and visit the boat deck after 10pm.

The Tainui Tidings, formerly belonging to Owen Paltridge, Diana Lucas’ great uncle, may be the sole surviving copy.

The cardboard cover is signed by seven soldiers but only the signatures of G E Thompson of Pakuranga and L Cohen of Wellington are easily made out.

Paltridge enlisted on August 10, 1914, six days after Britain declared war on Germany.

According to army records, he was already in the New Zealand Medical Corp.

He was born on October 1, 1894, lived at 2 Elizabeth Street, Ponsonby, Auckland, and worked as a clerk for Sharland and Co. His parents lived at 207 Ormond Road in Gisborne.

The property has a different street number today.

Paltridge had served his compulsory military training while living in Gisborne.

He was in the army for four years and 341 days, serving in Egypt, Gallipoli and Western Europe.
Paltridge arrived at Alexandra in Egypt on an unknown vessel on December 6, 1914.

The medic sailed home on RMS Tainui from Portsmouth and arrived in Wellington on October 19, 1919. He was discharged that day as a sergeant.

According to Poverty Bay Herald articles Paltridge was a well-known sportsman in 1920s Gisborne.

He is described as the Poverty Bay sprint champion and appears in many advertisements as secretary, official measurer or handicapper at athletics and swimming events.

Paltridge also gave lectures on sprinting, middle distance running and relay race training.

In 1930, it is reported Paltridge had moved to Sydney. Little is known of the rest of his life except that he died in 1974.

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