"To Keep in Memory"

38325 Sergeant George Edward Wetherall.

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2nd Battalion, Canterbury Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
22nd Reinforcements.

George Wetherall
Pte George Wetherall (Courtesy of the family of Annie Cullen, Green Lodge Farm, Scholes.)

George Wetherall was born in Scholes in the fourth quarter of 1887. He was the third of four children born to the marriage of William Wetherall and Mary Ann Green. His elder siblings were Maud Mary, born in Barwick in 1882, and Percy Stephen, born in Scholes in 1886. Richard William Wetherall, the youngest child, was born in Scholes in 1889. William Wetherall and his wife came from farming families in Aberford and Barwick, and they eventually took on Green Lodge Farm in Scholes which is now more commonly known as Cullen’s Farm after the family which now farm there.

Mary Ann Wetherall died aged just 33 years in 1889 leaving William to raise their four young children alone. Although William hired domestic help, he never re-married. Richard Wetherall was brought up by members of his extended family, the Bowes, at Sawley, near Harrogate. When she was old enough, until she married Allan Mouncey Bowes in 1919, Maud acted as housekeeper at Green Lodge Farm.

In 1912, George Wetherall emigrated from England to New Zealand via Australia. He sailed aboard the SS Demosthenes which belonged to the Aberdeen Line, a company controlled by the White Star Line. The passenger list shows that he had contracted to land at Sydney in New South Wales and presumably he arranged his final leg of the journey to New Zealand from there. He listed his profession as ‘Farmer’, but once he settled in New Zealand he became a gardener.

When the Great War came in 1914, New Zealand was a country of just over a million people, and during the course of that war, 103,000 New Zealanders served overseas. The country lost a greater proportion of its service personnel than any other dominion or colony.

George Wetherall enlisted into the New Zealand Army, specifically the Canterbury Regiment, during the first week of September 1916. At this time New Zealand was considering and readying itself to introduce compulsory enlistment, or conscription, and the newspapers of the time carried notices and articles urging men to voluntarily enlist into the reinforcement drafts before compulsion was introduced. In both Australia and New Zealand the fact that a man had enlisted of his own accord carried with it a certain degree of respect and the men themselves felt proud that they had ‘done the right thing’. George enlisted for the 22nd Reinforcements, which was a reinforcement draft composed entirely of voluntarily enlisted men. The 22nd Reinforcements sailed for England in three ships and totalled 2,123 officers and men. The first ship, the ‘Mokoia’ left New Zealand on 13th February 1917, followed by the ‘Aparima’ and the ‘Navua’ which both sailed on 16th February 1917. On 26th April the ‘Navua’ landed at Devonport, and on 2nd May 1917 the ‘Aparima’ and the ‘Mokoia’ landed at Plymouth, From the ports of entry the New Zealand troops were transferred to Sling Camp, near Bulford in Wiltshire in what was called the ‘New Zealand Reserve Group’ while they trained in the latest tactics and methods of warfare and awaited further transfer to the operational areas.

CanterburyRegimentCapBadge.jpg
The hat badge of the 1st (Canterbury) NZ Infantry Regiment.

The usual period of training was a 28 day course, however during particularly hard fighting the demand for drafts of soldiers to bring depleted battalions up to strength increased, to cope with the increased demand for men the course was intensified and the training period cut to as short as 8 days. It is impossible to say how long George Wetherall was at Sling Camp for in 1917, however it is reasonable to assume that he will have been in France or Belgium by early June 1917. At this time the 2nd Battalion the Canterbury Regiment was in the sector between Messines at the southern end of the Ypres Salient in Belgium to the River Lys in France.

During the War George Wetherall was wounded twice. His first wound was listed as being accidental and happened on 23rd August 1917, and then 7 months later he was wounded again on 4th March 1918. Despite being wounded, George Wetherall survived the war, and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force concentrated back at Sling Camp prior to being sent home in drafts. There was little shipping available and the men soon got frustrated at how long it was taking to send them home. On a postcard sent by him to family at Green Lodge Farm in Scholes from March 1919, George describes how the men had ‘formed a Bolshevik movement’ and had refused to parade until they were given leave. He goes on to say that he was Orderly Serjeant and ‘had the Devil’s own job with them’.

To relieve some of the boredom while they awaited transport to New Zealand, some soldiers carved a huge kiwi in to the chalk hillside above the camp. Over the years the kiwi had deteriorated, but it has recently been restored and cleaned. Its maintenance costs are now met by the government of New Zealand.

Chalk Kiwi above Sling Camp Bulford, carved by New Zealand Soldiers.
Chalk Kiwi above Sling Camp Bulford, carved by New Zealand Soldiers.

Back in New Zealand, George returned to gardening for a living. He had lived in the Rotherham area, north of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island before he enlisted, but after the war he is recorded as living in the Hurunui district, and then in retirement he moved the Riccarton area of the city. In later life George moved to a care home called Rannerdale which was a home specifically for veterans and had been set up to care for veterans of the British Forces and those veterans returning from the Great War. The original home was purchased using money donated to Patriotic Funds during the Great War by the public of New Zealand. The home has modernised and continues to provide residential care and nursing services for New Zealand verterans.

George Edward Wetherall died at Rannerdale in 1964 at the age of 76 years.

Remembering the Fallen of Two Villages on the Eastern Fringes of Leeds.

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