From time to time as we visit Wellington city we have observed the extensive construction works near the Carillon that will ultimately form a National War Memorial Park.
Part of this work has included a tunnel so that the busy road can run beneath the park. Suddenly, to my radar at least, this tunnel was nearing completion and was to be named The Arras Tunnel. The name was chosen to commemorate the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company and its significant contribution to the Allied efforts on the Western Front in WW1.
My Great Grandfather’s oldest brother was one of the men who enlisted as a Sapper in this company. Harry Morrison (registered at birth as: Thomas Henry Morrison) was born in Thames, New Zealand in 1866. His parents John and Louisa Jane Morrison, nee Jaggard had arrived as new immigrants from England earlier in 1866.
I have data that indicates that John Morrison was one of many men who purchased gold mining licences at the time of the Thames Gold field strike in 1867.
At the time of his attestation (6th October 1915) Harry recorded his age as 39 years of age but in fact he was 10 years older. His occupation was “Bushman” but I would have to suspect that he would have spent time with his father mining for gold as a young boy and teenager.
I have a copy of his WW1 record and it shows that he was with the 1st reinforcements to the Tunnelling Company and after brief training in Avondale, Auckland he was transported with hundreds of other men to England and from there to France and the Western Front in March 1916.
For greater detail about the work Sapper Harry (NZETC Army# 4/1571) and his colleagues were engaged in click here.
It is no surprise to read in Harry’s service record that by November 1917 he was admitted to No.2 NZ General Hospital in Walton, England. He was suffering from defective vision and acute delusional insanity.
Prior to this hospital admission Harry had spent a number of months on “fatigues” due to a range of unpleasant symptoms that are recorded by the Doctor at Walton. These symptoms included: “weak heart sounds, shortness of breath on service exertion, feels the cold very much, rheumatism in his knees and hips joints. Arteries somewhat thickened. And his real age recorded as 52 years.”
Harry was deemed physically unfit to continue to serve and was shipped back to Auckland on the “Willochia” from Liverpool on 1st Feb 1918. His official discharge was granted on 30th April 1918.
It is interesting that the Army described him as Senile but also thought he was still able to work, although with far less capacity than he had previously. His pension, if it was granted, was to be reviewed after 3 months. His condition was deemed to be due to “age” but active service had aggravated it.
It makes sad reading with so little information given as to the rigours and conditions that these men endured. Other accounts from personal diaries and official accounts can assist with filling some of the gaps. Many of Harry’s symptoms, for a man who was deemed very fit in 1915 could easily be attributed to gas poisoning and shell shock, aggravated by horrendous living conditions and abysmal diet.
Harry died in Auckland in November 1918 of Influenza. He was a casualty of the Flu epidemic that killed so many people around the world. He is buried in Waikumete Cemetery, Auckland in the RSA section and a proud headstone acknowledging his contribution has been erected there.
Harry never married and we know of no direct descendants. I have searched in vain for a photo of Harry.
It appears that the NZ Engineers Tunnelling Company was largely unrecognised until efforts began a few years ago in preparation for the 100th anniversary of WW1. The vast cave systems in Arras, France bear testament to their many skills and accomplishments during that ghastly war.
In addition to websites there is also a Facebook page for this Company.
Last weekend the Arras Tunnel was officially opened and the public was able to walk through it before it was opened to traffic. The walls of the Tunnel are decorated with large Red Poppies. Unfortunately circumstances prevented me attending this occasion. You may like to follow this link for more information on this.