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Breakdown: the crisis of shell shock on the Somme, 1916

AUTHOR: TAYLOR DOWNING

PUBLISHER: LITTLE, BROWN, 2016

Paralysis. Stuttering. The 'shakes'. Inability to stand or walk. Temporary blindness or deafness. When strange symptoms like these began appearing in men at Casualty Clearing Stations in 1915, a debate began in army and medical circles as to what it was, what had caused it and what could be done to cure it. But the numbers were never large.

Then in July 1916 with the start of the Somme battle the incidence of shell shock rocketed. The high command of the British army began to panic. An increasingly large number of men seemed to have simply lost the will to fight. As entire battalions had to be withdrawn from the front, commanders and military doctors desperately tried to come up with explanations as to what was going wrong. 'Shell shock' - what we would now refer to as battle trauma - was sweeping the Western Front.

By the beginning of August 1916, nearly 200,000 British soldiers had been killed or wounded during the first month of fighting along the Somme. Another 300,000 would be lost before the battle was over. But the army always said it could not calculate the exact number of those suffering from shell shock. Re-assessing the official casualty figures, Taylor Downing for the first time comes up with an accurate estimate of the total numbers who were taken out of action by psychological wounds. It is a shocking figure.

Taylor Downing's revelatory new book follows units and individuals from signing up to the Pals Battalions of 1914, through to the horrors of their experiences on the Somme which led to the shell shock that, unrelated to weakness or cowardice, left the men unable to continue fighting. He shines a light on the official - and brutal - response to the epidemic, even against those officers and doctors who looked on it sympathetically. It was, they believed, a form of hysteria. It was contagious. And it had to be stopped.

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Grave of Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop

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Grave of Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop

Robert Arthur Hislop is considered to be the first New Zealand casualty of World War I. At the age of 21, he died from critical injuries occurring from a fall off the Parnell rail bridge on the evening of the 13th of August, 1914. This was eight days after New Zealand supported Britain and declared war against the German Empire.  Six days later, he sadly passed away (Stone, 2014).

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The Month That Changed the World: July 1914

AUTHOR: GORDON MARTEL

PUBLISHER: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2014

On 28 June 1914 the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo. Five fateful weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war.

Much time and ink has been spent over the last century trying to identify the 'guilty' person or state responsible, or attempting to explain that no one was to blame, that ‘underlying’ impersonal forces'inevitably' led to war in 1914. Unsatisfied with these explanations, Gordon Martel now goes back to the human dimension, to the contemporary diplomatic, military, and political records on order to recount the twists and turns of the crisis afresh, with the aim of establishing just how the cataclysm was unleashed.

What emerges is the story of a terrible, avoidable tragedy – a mystery that can be solved only by retracing the steps taken by those who took the world down the road to war. With each passing day, we see how the personalities of leading figures such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Emperor Franz Joseph, Tsar Nicholas II, Sir Edward Grey, and Raymond Poincaré were central to the unfolding crisis, how their hopes and fears intersected as events unfolded, and how, in spite of increasing tensions and escalating fears, a peaceful resolution appeared to be within their grasp until the final moments.

Devoting a chapter to each day of the infamous 'July Crisis', this gripping account of the descent into the abyss of war makes clear just how little the conflict was in fact premeditated, preordained, or even predictable. Almost every day it seemed possible that the crisis could be settled as so many had been over the previous decade; almost every day a new initiative encouraged the hope that war could once again be avoided.

And yet, as the last month of peace ebbed away, the actions and reactions of the Great Powers disastrously escalated the situation.  So much so that, by the beginning of August, what might have remained a minor Balkan problem had turned into the cataclysm of the First World War. 

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The ANZAC Experience: New Zealand, Australia and Empire in the First World War

AUTHOR: CHRISTOPHER PUGSLEY

PUBLISHER: ORATIA BOOKS (2016 new edition.  Originally published 2004)

Lauded as one of the best works on Australasian military history, shortlisted for the Montana Book Awards 2005, The ANZAC Experience is a gripping account of the role played by soldiers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada in the First World War.

After its opening chapters, which analyse the concept of ‘Anzac’ and the contribution of colonial forces to the South African War, the book takes up the story of how citizen armies in the First World War steadily became professional – learning the lessons of Gallipoli and applying these to the battles of the Western Front in France and Flanders.  By trial and error, the New Zealand Division and its counterparts from Australia and Canada became expert in the business of war, so that by 1918 they were the fighting elite of the British armies.

Christopher Pugsley assesses how the crucible of war shaped the identities of New Zealand, Australia and Canada forever.  Replete with historical photographs and maps, The Anzac Experience is a fine blend of social analysis and military history, revealing not only the conduct of the war and its participants but the impact their actions had on the young societies they defended.

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First Day of the Somme: the complete account of Britain’s worst-ever military disaster

AUTHOR: ANDREW MACDONALD

PUBLISHER: HARPERCOLLINS, 2016

It took several million bullets and roughly an hour to effectively destroy General Sir Douglas Haig's grand plans for the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916. By day's end, 19,240 British soldiers were dead, crumpled khaki bundles scattered across pasture studded with the scarlet of poppies and smouldering shell holes. A further 35,493 were wounded. This single sunny day remains Britain's worst-ever military disaster. Responsible were hundreds of German machine guns and scores of artillery batteries that had waited silently to deal death to the long-anticipated attack.

Reviewing the day's events fully from, for the first time, both the British and German perspectives, Andrew Macdonald explains how and why this was a disaster waiting to happen. While laying the blame for the butchery squarely on widespread British command failure, he also shows that the outcome was a triumph of German discipline, planning and tactics, with German commanders mostly outclassing their opposite numbers.

Published for the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in July 2016, this is a major contribution to World War 1 history and an epic story of courage, misery and endurance in its own right.

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Standing orders 1914-1918

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Standing orders 1914-1918

This booklet belonged to Charles Peter Hamilton Neilson, a farmer of Awahou North who fought in World War One. The donors purchased the Neilson farm and found this and other articles in the house.  Charles (born 1886, died 1929) enlisted in the New Zealand army in February 1917.

In July 1917 he embarked as part of the 28th Reinforcements for France with the Wellington Infantry Regiment, B Company, rank: private. He served in France from November 1917 with 3 1/2 months sick leave (late Dec 1917 - Feb 1918, Aug - early Sept 1918), returning to New Zealand in August 1919.

Military standing orders are a directive from the military commander, binding on all personnel under their command. They include standard operating procedures for military personnel. This booklet has instructions for the mounting and relieving of guards, sentry duties, dress regulations, the layout for one's kit, and the daily timetable to be followed for billets and camps.

Booklet of Standing Orders for the Wellington Regiment during World War One, 1914 - 1918. Small 28 page booklet with yellow card hardcovers. Published by the NZ Div. PressContents include:

  • guard mounting
  • guard marching on to Regimental Parade Ground
  • relieving a guard
  • reliefs - posting sentries, relieving sentries
  • orders for N.C.O. of the guard
  • standing orders for quarter guard
  • orders for all sentries
  • special orders for N.C.O. in charge of the guard: prisoners
  • march discipline
  • dress regulations - drill order, musketry order, full marching order, heavy marching order, fighting order, working party order, walking out dress, clean fatigue dress, church parade order, general
  • laying out of kits in billets and camps
  • routine to be observed in billets and camps unless Special Orders to the Contrary are issued drill
     

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Brass "Service Wounded" Stripe

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Brass "Service Wounded" Stripe

Wounded stripes were an innovation of 1916 and followed a suggestion made by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that wounding should be recognised by some distinction. To receive the stripe, each soldier needed to have been listed in the casualty returns as 'wounded'

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To the Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials

AUTHOR: JOCK PHILLIPS

PUBLISHER: POTTON & BURTON, 2016

Over 30,000 New Zealanders have died in wars since 1840. They have been remembered in more than 1000 memorials that stand in public places throughout New Zealand. Except on Anzac Day, most people pass by these monuments without really looking at them. Yet a huge amount of social energy and resources went into their creation – the largest act of artistic patronage in our history.

This beautiful book, based on over 30 years of loving research by leading historian Jock Phillips, tells the fascinating story of who erected these memorials and why, and reveals how their diverse forms say much about New Zealand identity and the tragedy of war. The account begins with the memorials to the New Zealand Wars, explores the sculpted monuments to the South African and First World wars, and the ‘living memorials’ to the Second World War, then concludes with the many imaginative artistic responses of the 2000s.

Lavishly illustrated with both contemporary and historic photographs, To the Memory will appeal to a wide variety of people – those whose relatives are named on memorials, those with an interest in war history, those fascinated by the creative arts and built heritage – and anyone who cares about New Zealand, for this is a story that goes to the heart of our identity and our place in the world.

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Commemorative Scarves - "Fall In" and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"

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Commemorative Scarves - "Fall In" and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"

Cambridge Museum, N.Z. notes that items like these are "characteristic of the souvenirs made and sold cheaply, and easily transportable either by mail or in the post, during World War One. Such mementos were sold at both locations of the war effort: close to war zones where soldiers could buy them; and at home, appealing to families who might retain them as a keepsake of a loved one or post them overseas."

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From the Archives - "In the Firing Line", William Dawbin's Gallipoli Diary

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From the Archives - "In the Firing Line", William Dawbin's Gallipoli Diary

William Dawbin (of Awahuri) was posted to the Wellington Mounted Rifles and shipped out 15 October 1914, first traveling to Egypt and later to the Dardanelles. He was wounded on May 27th at Gaba Tepe (modern Kapatepe, where the Anzac troops landed at Gallipoli). His military record states that he suffered paralysis of the spine. Read his account of his time in Gallipoli here. 

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From the Archives - The Diary of Polly Boroughs

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From the Archives - The Diary of Polly Boroughs

This diary describes the final journey of a trooper named William Dawbin, from Awahuri, who had his spine severed at Gaba Tepe (Anzac Cove). It comes not from William himself, but from his cousin Polly, who visited him nearly every day in Netley Hospital in Southampton. To read more about William, see his own Gallipoli Diary and In Memoriam, written by his family to provide context to Polly's diary. Te Manawa Museum kindly lent all of these resources to the Ian Matheson City Archives for the Window Into WW1 project.

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From the Archives - Unknown Soldiers, Nurses and Staff at Featherston Camp and Greytown Hospital

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From the Archives - Unknown Soldiers, Nurses and Staff at Featherston Camp and Greytown Hospital

These negatives were pulled from the McKnight Collection in the Ian Matheson City Archives, though their relation to the collection is unknown. They have been damaged through poor storage - words can be seen on the negatives, presumably from being kept between the pages in a book. The building in the first image is Greytown Hospital. One figure is named at Sergeant Cunningham. The last negative in the set is labelled "Tauherenikau staff" - probably referring to the medical facilities in Tauherenikau camp, part of Featherston Military Camp.

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From the Archives - Huia Mackrell's WW1 Photograph Album

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From the Archives - Huia Mackrell's WW1 Photograph Album

Huia Heslop Mackrell (1893-1958) was an engineer, working as foreman and Clerk of Works for council and private businesses in Palmerston North, Wellington and Napier/Hastings. He worked for the Palmerston North City Council from 1936-1946. He served in the Armed Forces overseas in World War One and World War Two. His papers were donated to the Ian Matheson City Archives in 2002 and other digitised material from his archive has been added to this website already.

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