Friday, 21 April 2017

ANZAC Day Remembrance 25th April 2017 - A Serviceman's Story

Henry George Edward Simpson 8/2132
Note the badges shown below.
Wakefield's Photo, Chiswick & Brentford
[From my own collection]

ANZAC Day, the 25th April 2017, "broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served."

As a tribute to these men and women I am, by bringing together artefacts, photographs and information from a variety of sources, telling the story of a New Zealand World War One serviceman with a strong connection to both Otago and Southland, being Henry George Edward Simpson 8/2132.

14th South Otago Rifles Regiment Badges
The bird is a New Zealand Kea.
[From my own collection]

Being my Grandmother's cousin and with both being brought up by a mutual Aunt in the small Southland district of Wreys Bush they kept in close contact, along with my Father, Uncles and Aunt, until George's death in 1950. This means that I have a number of records relating to George (as he was known). While I do not hold his war medals or badges I do however also hold a number of photographs and postcards which he wrote to my family while overseas. Together with his digitized military record this has enabled me to built up a picture of his war service which includes, Egypt, Gallipoli, and the Western Front in France. So ANZAC Day provides me with the perfect opportunity to bring all these items together and give a brief overview, as best I can, of a soldier whose record of service to King and Country would otherwise likely continue to be forgotten. This also shows how a combination of sources of information, where little else is known, can be used to build up a useful picture of a person's life and, in this case, war service. When a detailed family history was professionally commissioned by the extended family some years ago no further information on George was discovered other than what is quoted here.

George, the son of William Henry Simpson and Agnes Brown was born at Havelock in the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island on the 13th September 1877. But in 1882 his mother died and he was then separated from his brother Albert and sent south to Wrey's Bush in Southland to live with his Aunt, attending the local Annandale Public School. Initially moving to Invercargill and working as a railways employee, George had by 1907 changed careers and entered the teaching profession working for the Southland Education Board, initially at Raes Junction School then in 1910 at Woodlands School.

On the 12th February 1915 George, and at the age of 37, enlisted as a Private with the 2nd Batallion of the Otago Infantry (14th South Otago Rifles Regiment). His overseas service commenced on the 13th June 1915 and he would spend a total of one year and 336 days overseas, returning to New Zealand in May 1917 before being discharged, his total war service being 2 years and 118 days.

His quite detailed Army Casualty Form gives the most accurate listing of his various placements in the various theatres of the war. Additionally, his postcards confirm this information and give confirmation of various dates.

We know that George was initially posted to Egypt and to Zeitoun Camp near Cairo. While the postcards may appear somewhat vague and lacking in detail one must remember that all mail had to pass a censor to ensure that no information was divulged which could prove useful to the enemy. But the frustrating thing is not having a clear record of his week to week postings, day to day life, and what specific enemy action he may have been engaged in such as at Gallipoli and the Battle of the Somme. This can only be estimated from regimental records but his own personal observations would have been invaluable.

A postcard from Zeitoun Camp,
Egypt dated 1st August 1915
and sent to my Aunt.
[From my own collection] 

"Zeitoun [Camp near Cairo, Egypt] 1st Aug 1915, We do most of our training in the mornings and evenings, as it is too hot during the day. It never rains..."

By the 9th August 1915 George had been posted with the ANZAC's to the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli Campaign but was admitted to hospital on the 2nd September due to "dysentry" before being transferred to a hospital in Malta via H.M. ship "Nile" so it must have been quite serious.

"Panorama of Floriana, Malta"

A Postcard from Malta,
and sent to my Aunt,
Sept - Oct 1915
[From my own collection]

"Dear Dott, You have a post card of one of the best parts of Malta, some of the parts where the poorer people live are very squalid, while some of the hovels in the country are miserable almost beyond description. I have not been able to have a look round Malta yet, but I would like to. I am getting better now...

Entrance to Grey Towers Barracks, Hornchurch, England
[From my own collection]

On the 8th October he was transferred by H.M. ship "Italia" to the 5th Southern General Hospital at Portsmouth in England, being classed as "slightly sick", then on the 7th February 1916 we find him at the NZ Base Depot at "Grey Towers" Barracks in Hornchurch, Essex. He left here to re-join his unit on the 1st March.

George Simpson, no date
[From my own collection]

On the 13th March George joined the 14th Company Battallion of the Otago Infantry Regiment at Moascar Camp near Ismailia on the Suez Canal. The Ottomans had attacked nearby in February 1915, hence no doubt, the strategic placement of a camp here.

A postcard sent from "The Desert, Egypt"
to my Father, dated 2nd April 1916
[From my own collection] 

"The Desert, Egypt, 2nd April 1916, ...We are out in the desert among the flies, the heat and the sand and we enjoy life immensely...".

But his time in the desert would be very brief as on the 9th April 1916 George embarked from Alexandria for France on the 'Llandovery Castle'. After the Gallipoli withdrawal the New Zealand forces had been re-organised into the newly formed New Zealand Division prior to leaving for France and the Western Front.

While serving at Houplines (near Armentieres) in Northern France, he was reported sick on the 31st May 1916 and sent to hospital but rejoined his unit on the front line on the 4th June. This was during an initial three month period where the New Zealand forces guarded a quieter section of the front in order to gain valuable front line experience.

A silk embroidered postcard sent from France, 12th July 1916
[From my own collection] 

A postcard sent from France, to
my Aunt, dated 12th July 1916
[From my own collection] 

"July 12th, 1916, France. Dear Dott, I hope you are all well, the morning note [?] and the daily strafe are tiresome at times but they will soon end..." [By "morning note" I am unsure if George is referring to a morning bugler. Any suggestions are welcome!]

But on the 13th August he fell sick again "In the Field", being attended to by the 3rd NZ Field Ambulance before being admitted to the 8th Casualty Clearing Station the same day. His affliction this time was a hernia which indicates heavy lifting. From here he was admitted to the 35 General Field Hospital in Calais on the 15th August. It is likely he was operated on here. From here he was transferred yet again, this time to the No1 Convalescent Depot at Boulogne on the 19th August but was "Discharged to Base" the following day.

On the 23rd August 1916 George joined the New Zealand forces "In the field" at Etaples on the 28th August, having been transferred from the 14th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment to the 14th Company of the 1st Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment".

Early September 1916 had seen the New Zealand forces enter the 'Battle of the Somme', taking part in the third great push to break the enemy lines. It would be during this extended battle that George was wounded. By the end of September a decisive breakthrough had not yet been made but already at a huge cost in lives and injuries.

"Eighteen thousand members of the [New Zealand] division went into action. Nearly 6000 men were wounded and more than 2100 lost their lives. Over half the New Zealand Somme dead have no known grave".

After being "Wounded in action" on the 16th September George was attended to by the No1 NZ Field Ambulance then taken to the 38 Casualty Clearing Station the following day. On the 18th August he was admitted to the 23rd General Hospital at Etaples before embarking for England on H.M ship "Dieppe" on the 24th September. After just over three weeks at the 2nd London General Hospital at Chelsea he was then transferred to the Convalescent Camp at Hornchurch on the 17th October 1916. His service record only states "GSW [gun shot wound] elbow-severe". But from around this period George appears to have a wound to his head which may have been caused by flying shrapnel. Thus he was probably very lucky not to have been killed from this event alone.  At this point his active service was effectively over.

Servicemen recuperating from war injuries at the New Zealand
Convalescent Hospital at "Grey Towers" Hornchurch, England,
an unpublished photo taken circa late 1916 - early 1917.
George Simpson is the 3rd man from left at rear.
Unfortunately no other men are named.
[From my own collection]

A close up of the above photograph
showing George Simpson at the back

A folder of printed images of Hornchurch
sent by George Simpson in late 1916
to my Aunt in New Zealand.
[From my own collection]

On the 22nd January 1917 George Simpson was classified as unfit, "placed on NZ Roll", and transferred to Codford Camp on the Salisbury Plains before departing for New Zealand on H.M.N.Z.T. "Maunganui" on the 17th March 1917, his discharge being on the 11th June 1917. "Discharged in consequence no longer physically fit for war service on acct of pre-enlistment disability aggravated by active service." At all times during his service his rank had been that of a Private. He completed his military service with a completely unblemished record.

Henry George Edward Simpson 8/2132
Wakefield's Photo, Chiswick & Brentford
[From my own collection]

After the war, George was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. After George's death in 1950, and with the lack of an immediate relative, these were, with the approval of the Secretary of the NZ Army in Wellington, and indeed the Minister of Defence, sent by the Public Trustee to his niece Miss Jean Simpson. All I know is that Jean married John Dennis Daly, a veterinarian, in 1965 but had no children. It would be good to track down the current whereabouts of George's medals and to ascertain if any other records pertaining to George's military service may exist.

George Simpson,
taken at home, circa 1950
(The lady is unknown)
[From my own collection]

Returning to teaching George is known to have been at Winton Primary School in 1919, at Waitahuna Primary School in 1926, then appears to have lived in Dunedin from at least the 1930's but often visited and stayed with my family in Southland as they did with him in Dunedin. He retired to 62 Signal Hill Road in Dunedin where he died on the 14th December 1950. George appears to have been an intelligent man with, I note, a great love and appreciation of English poetry. With no immediate family of his own he requested in his will that the bulk of his estate be paid over to the Anglican Melanesian Mission. I know that at least one photo that had been in George's possession at his death came to our family as my Uncle mentions this in a letter. 

Gravestone of Henry George Edward Simpson,
Havelock North cemetery
[Image : Hastings District Council] 

Despite living most of his life in the south George Simpson chose to be buried with his parents, brother Bert, and family members in the Havelock North Cemetery. 

Copyright : 

Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Images may not be used for commercial purposes without my express written permission.

Sources :

- Family papers and photographs (held by the writer)
- Archives New Zealand / Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
- Simpson Family History, 2006
- New Zealand History / Nga korero a ipurangi o Aotearoa
- Hastings District Council Cemetery Records


  1. My grandfather was also in Cairo and then Palestine, as a Russian-English-German translator. But he was still shot and lost a kidney.

    Your family is so fortunate to have photos, documents and relics intact.

  2. Your Grandfather sounds like he had a very interesting but also unfortunate time in service but such a shame if you only have his service record from this time

  3. Thank you for your commemoration of what must have been an awful time for your ancestor. Well done


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...