These letters refer to the death of the donor's brother, Archibald Frederick Robbie, at Gallipoli in 1915.
Letter 1 is from James Hector, who was present at the time of Archibald Robbie's death. Hector states that Robbie was knocked unconscious by shrapnel from a Turkish shell on Rhododendron Ridge and never recovered consciousness.
The comment by James Hector that Archibald died in the morning suggests he was killed shortly after the attack began. The battle was a slaughter of New Zealand and British troops, and the hill was won back several days later by Turkish forces. The three letters in this collection include two responses written to the Robbies in 1916 about the circumstances of Archibald's death. His commanding officer, Major Rose, made enquiries of his men; he found Archibald had been knocked fatally unconscious by the shrapnel, and had been buried on the ridge with a religious service held.
Underneath the typed text is a handwritten note that reads, "unfortunately young Hector was killed in France before we could communicate with him, Wm Robbie."
Letters 2 and 3 describe the official process of gathering this information, including a passage in Letter 3 that describes how upset James Hector was at recalling the details of the death.
Archibald was one of the six sons of William Robbie, a wealthy Palmerston North builder and his wife, Louisa Robbie. He was described by the family as 'brilliant' being both a hockey rep and prizewinning debater.
Archibald enlisted shortly after World War I began in August 1914. He was then working in Wellington as a clerk for the Government Insurance Dept. After serving eight months in Samoa, he was sent as part of the Otago Infantry Battalion to Gallipoli in August.
He was killed aged 23 by a shrapnel wound in the head at Rhododendron Ridge on the 8th August 1915. Rhodendron Ridge was part of the battle for Chunuk Bair in early August 1915 at Gallipoli. The Otago Battalion in which Archibald served were in the second wave of the attack on the 8th August, about 10.30 am.
Kate Hunter and Kirsty Ross in their book Holding onto Home comment that letters of condolence helped soldiers feel they had carried out their duties to lost friends and grieving families. Official letters from commanding officers and chaplains, as well as informal letters from soldiers mates, provided a story for families wanting to know the details of the fatal moment and burial. Letters indicated that the person did not suffer and emphasized their good personal qualities.
Unfortunately for many families over a third of the 18,000 New Zealand dead in the war have no known grave. The family's correspondence may have been inspired by ongoing official reminders of their loss. Archibald's will was probated in September 1916; his father, William, was passed Archibald's army pay. In February 1922 they were sent the 'next of kin plaque, a bronze medallion also known as the 'dead man's penny' issued to all those who had lost family serving in British and Empire forces during World War I. In 1923 the Robbies received Archibald's three war service medals, the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and Victory Medal. And some fifty years later, in 1967 the family were issued an ANZAC or Gallipoli Medallion, given to all those who had served at Gallipoli.