Presentation on theme: "Evan Gibb Hudson 18 th December 1895 to 9 th September 1918."— Presentation transcript:
Evan Gibb Hudson 18 th December 1895 to 9 th September 1918
Where did this all begin? Back in February 2010, I was with my mother, Shelah Joyce Payne (nee Hudson). Mum showed me this photo of Evan, while waiting for supper to cook. On the back of the photo was written the date of Evan’s death, the place of death and regiment had been recorded. Even the location of the cemetery that he was buried in had been noted.
This set my mind thinking on what next to do. There was too much information for me to ignore. I feared that to some extent, this could lead to a sad story, of a young man wishing to do ‘his bit’ for King and Empire. How right it turned out to be. Evan was the youngest of two sons, born to Harold and Ellen. His other brother, William, was a few years older.
Evan and his family lived at 28 Clonbern Road, Remuera, Auckland. He started at Kings College, Remuera in 1905. He then went on to Auckland University in 1913 to read Civil Engineering. Evan’s military career started when he was at King’s College. On leaving college, he joined the Territorial Army as an Engineer. At first he was a Sapper and then in June 1916 he was appointed 2 nd Lieutenant. This was in No 3 Field Company, New Zealand Engineers (Territorial Force, Auckland District). From reading his military record, he was highly recommended by his Territorial Commanding Officer to join the 35 th Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). The Military Authorities were made aware of Evan’s ability as an Engineer Officer in the Territorial Army. Evan joined the 35 th Reinforcements in May 1917, as a volunteer.
At first Evan had to join as a Private under old military regulations. You could only serve as an Officer if you were over 23 years old, which he was not. He remained in training in New Zealand at Trentham Camp. Following a month’s probation plus a lot of pleading from his Commanding Officer from the Auckland District, to the Military Headquarters in Wellington, he finally got his Commission as a 2 nd Lieutenant in the NZEF. This was in November 1917. He was placed on Active Service, as a 2 nd Lieutenant, in March 1918 and sailed with the the NZEF the same month. His destination was the Western Front, via Brocton Military Camp in Staffordshire, United Kingdom. Brocton is just north of Birmingham. It is within the boundaries of Cannock Chase, now classified as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.
There were two camps on Cannock Chase, Brocton and Rugeley. Brocton was the Headquarters for the New Zealand Army. As well as a training and transit camp for the NZEF, it was also a Prisoner of War camp. Evan arrived at Brocton in May 1918. He left for France on the 7 th August, arriving on the 22 nd. At the end of July, while at Brocton, he was promoted to Lieutenant, in the Corps of Engineers, No 3 Field Company. On arrival in France on the 22 nd, Evan was posted to A Company, 3 rd Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) as an Engineer Officer. The Old Rifle Butts, Brocton
At the beginning of September 1918, following the Battle of Bapaume (21 st August to 1 st September) and the Battle of the Scarpe (26 th August to 3 rd September), the Allied plan was one of ‘mobile warfare’. The plan was to push the German Army back towards the Hindenburg Line. The final objective was the Hindenburg Line itself. http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-NZETC-Help.html#licensing
At the time, the NZRB were part of the Allied push against the German Army, as it was retreating back towards the Hindenburg Line in the Cambrai region of the Western Front. The German Army was strongly entrenched, using the Canal du Nord as a defensive position. The villages of Havrincourt and Epehy were also strongly defended. All of theses areas had been captured by the German Army in early 1918 from the Allies. It incorporated a network of trench systems, which had to be retaken. So, Evan’s war began in earnest. The Canal du Nord as it is today. Its construction was started in 1908 and was halted in 1914. During the war, it was a natural defensive position.
Through the first few days of September, the NZRB along with other Allied Divisions pushed the German Army back towards the Canal du Nord. The main objective in the area was the Trescault Spur. This stretch of high ground gave the Germans complete control over the countryside to the west. Hence it was of major strategic importance to both armies. http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-NZETC-Help.html#licensing
The problem that the Allies had was that the countryside to the west of the ridge was a maze of old Allied trenches, so these had to be captured first, in order to complete the main objective, the capture of the ridge. The timetable was to make an initial push on the 9 th September to ‘soften up’ the German Army to the west of the ridge and to see how strong its defences were, before the main objective of the 12 th September, the proposed recapture of the ridge. Throughout the 7 th and 8 th September, the NZRB, fought its way through to the eastern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood. They arrived late on the 8 th. Eastern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood, looking north. Trench maps from 1917 show the track is called ‘Granby Street’.
Evan was part of the objective of the 9 th September. From The History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, it has been possible to ascertain exactly where he was on that morning. ‘A’ Company, 3 rd Battalion was led by Captain Slater. At 4am on the 9 th September 1918, the attack started. It became evident that the ‘tired German rear guards’ had been replaced by fresh troops, determined to hold on to the Spur. The NZRB experienced concentrated machine gun and artillery fire. http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-NZETC-Help.html#licensing
The objective of the 3 rd Battalion was a section of ‘Snap Reserve’ trench which was a continuation of ‘African Support’ trench. Some of the leading companies made the objective, but the advancing troops and reinforcements sent up to their assistance, melted away under the fierce machine gun fire from ‘Dead Man’s Corner and Snap Reserve. The view from the eastern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood. There is a clump of trees in the far distance on the right hand side of the photograph. This is ‘Dead Man’s Corner’. The course of ‘African Support’ Trench runs north/south approximately 50m to the east of the track. This is the view from ‘Dead Man’s Corner’ looking back towards the eastern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood
The 3rd Battalion were forced to hold a line, which ran roughly along the northern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood. At 9.30am, the Germans attacked with 300 spherical bombs, throwing out shrapnel and gas. At about 7pm, after a heavy bombardment with gas and high explosive, the Germans counter attacked along the whole line. The line held. The following two days passed fairly quietly. It was not until then that ‘Dead Man’s Corner’ was captured. ………………… this was Evan’s war. Northern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood. Little has changed over the ninety two years. The modern day maps still show the tracks going through the wood that are shown on the 1917 Trench Map. ‘Snap Reserve’ trench met ‘African Support’ trench somewhere in this part of the open field.
I find it hard to understand how and why men of Evan’s age wanted to do what they did, without it seems, any hesitation. I know it was the ‘world over’, on both sides, fighting for the ‘greater good’. Having researched all of this, it amazed me that until Mum had shown me the photograph of Evan, Carol and I, who are regular visitors to France, had driven through this region so many times when we were on way to other parts of France and Europe ignorant of the facts. As it so happens, it’s the only way out of northern France if you use the Eurotunnel, which we do. So here was our holiday, well part of it, to retrace young Evan’s journey from Brocton in Staffordshire to ‘his final resting place in his little corner of France’, the edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood. As well as research on the internet, it was possible with the aid of digital mapping and a handheld GPS, to precisely locate the ‘features’ on the Trench Map. The result of this was being confident that what we were experiencing was the countryside of 1918. The harder part was taking one’s imagination back ninety two years, like blotting out the combine harvester in the field.
While in the field many questions were raised, especially at ‘Dead Man’s Corner’. Why were the trees in such a deep depression compared with the rest of the field? What was the line, almost a path, doing running to the south of it? These two features were not in my amateurish opinion anything to do with the farm or what is grown in the field. The trees are in a extremely wide ditch with steep sides and you couldn’t see the bottom. The ditch was only about 20m long. This ‘track’ led straight out of the ditch.
Looking south down ‘Granby Street’ towards ‘Queen’s Cross’ (clump of trees) The answer to the ditch and path are soon easily interpreted, when you overlay the track recorded by the GPS
Of course the other purpose of the trip to Gouzeaucourt, was to go to the New British Cemetery. Little needs to be said about the cemetery. It contains 1295 burials and commemorations of the First World War. It was started by the British in 1917, taken over by the Germans in early 1918 and then passed back in to British control in September 1918.
Lionel, Evan’s Uncle and my Great Grandfather was informed of Evan’s death. We can only assume that he decided that should anything happen to him, it would be best for Lionel to let his parents know, rather than for a telegram to be sent to New Zealand.
Following Evan’s death, Harold his father, ‘lobbied’ the Military Authorities in Wellington to have his rank of Lieutenant fully recognised. My understanding is that because he was a Territorial Officer, although he had the rank while with the NZEF, he would have reverted to 2 nd Lieutenant after the war had he survived. This continued well in to 1919. When we visited the cemetery, the headstone shows the rank of Lieutenant, but the Burial Register shows his rank as 2 nd Lieutenant. Clearly, a matter never resolved. What was resolved was that when Harold died in 1949, a Scholarship in the Faculty of Engineering at Auckland University was established in Evan’s memory. His sword is on permanent display in the Faculty