These pages were held in Te Manawa with William Gallipoli diary, "In the Firing Line" and the diary of his hospital stay, written by his cousin Polly Borough.
William Dawbin was the son of William and Julia Dawbin of Awahuri. He embarked with the Main Body on the 16 October 1914 attached to the Wellington Mounted Rifles. After being wounded at Gallipoli, he was sent to England to treatment. The months that follow were recorded by his cousin Polly in her diary. The extracts below were written by the family to help explain the diary further.
WILLIAM DAWBIN; "IN MEMORIAM".
The last three months of Trooper William Dawbin's life were recorded in diary form by his cousin Polly Burrough. This helps to complete the picture of the events of his war, and the following extracts are an overview of the diary information
William's war diary set the scene for events leading up to him being wounded. Polly writes "He was wounded May 27 1915. They had driven the Turks out of the trench and they had gone over to the opposite side and had the range of it. He and his mate had a pick-axe and shovel in the newly captured trench (Willie the latter) and were trying to dig themselves in, when it happened. He fell to the ground and felt he was sinking under. He took hold of his mate's leg and said, "Save me Bill". They had been told to hold the trenches at all costs. He said it was a terrible sight where the dead had been lying for a month, and had he not been inoculated as well as vaccinated, he should have been left out there. He told me that "for days after he was wounded and on the hospital ship Gascon he felt as if he was sinking in the earth and could
not get over the feeling. He was about 9th on the ship and had to wait until it was filled. What he must have suffered ..."
Polly's first visit to "poor Willie" was on July 8th, accompanied by Uncle Walter. On talking with the doctor and establishing herself as effectively Willie's nearest relation in England, she was told 'it was a matter of time' ... there was nothing possible that could be done ... he might
be spared 6,7, or 8 weeks. Willie "did not (then) realise he was as ill as he was, and talked of coming to see us, but it would not be long, for as soon as he would be well enough he supposed he should have to go back again, which I know he did not envy" (p.7).
A pass was needed to gain entry to Netley Hospital past the policeman. Much importance was placed on the x-rays, almost as if these had healing powers, from the way they are talked about. One of Willie's letters includes "I was under the x-rays 2 days ago, and last night the doctor gave me the result as far as he knew. It seems the bullet went right past the backbone chipping off a piece of bone, and is now somewhere in my right side. They can't see how much the backbone is injured as the place is covered with congealed blood." Once this was known, the importance of x-rays was de-mystified, and an air of acceptance became apparent, although Willie was not yet put in the picture. This 'attached importance' again arises in a letter of Willie's to Polly's mother who had been laid up after a fall. He writes "What a pity they can't use the x-rays on you to find out the real cause of the trouble."
Polly and Uncle Walter shot off to the hospital. Willie could only talk with difficulty, and asked "Why did you come this time of night? Did they write and tell you I was going to die? Finally Willie had a good night that night, although he was coughing and gasping for breath in the morning. He steadily improved, and seemed to thrive on Polly's company. One of the silk handkerchiefs he was especially glad to have cleaned and returned. He said that "Sophie gave it to him before he left England." (Sophie-p.28; We had a chat about her and I took her address. She had sent him some eggs and apples.)
Willie was as considerate a patient as he was nice guy in general. An example; "He said he was not feeling very comfortable and when the doctor was gone he would ask Sister Sayers to do it. He was watching all the time and as she was just going with the Medical Officer of Health he called her. She came back and called another sister to help her move the pillows and he held my arm as well. You could plainly see how very painful it was for him but he did not say anything. You could not but admire and respect his manner with the sisters and orderlies. It seemed to command respect in such a nice way from all those around him, ill as he was."
On August 1, Willie first gave some hint that he realised a little of how ill he was, when he asked that Polly not write to his parents for him as his Mother (Julia) would then know he was not able to- demonstrating the severity of his condition. This day was also one where Willie and Polly settled down, and related on a more personal level. The visit ended with Willie
giving his watch chain to Polly. The next day Polly left for home after farewelling him in
quite good condition, but returned on the 5th to find him very weak and worse again. He appears to have stayed down until the 11th, when Polly's father visited to find him in much better spirits. August 17; Polly got back to visit Willie, finding him on the up after another down. It was on this day that his knowledge of his parents coming over to England was first disclosed. Polly was able to share with him a letter that she had received from them, although this did not mention their intention to travel over. Willie became quite emotional at this stage, and it was all Polly could do to be firm herself.
August 18; Polly spent half the morning with Willie, talking and tidying up his letters and box etc. He had just received a letter from his mother which he prized greatly. Willie had had a worse time the night before and was feeling weak. They then organised things such as his diet
supplements etc., before Polly left around mid-day. She returned to gather her things at her lodgings in readiness for spending a time at home, then made a short visit to the hospital later in the afternoon .. Willie's coughing had increased and he was quite weak. She writes "I was standing by his pillow and shall always regret not saying more as I feel sure he would have liked me to, or at least I think so by his manner."
Thank you to Te Manawa for kindly allowing us access to these important works. Visit either the Ian Matheson City Archives or Te Manawa to see the facsimiles of the diaries. Contact with the Dawbin family has been made and we understand that more of William's WW1 artefacts will be made available for digitisation by the Ian Matheson City Archives.