Stirling officer among casualties at chateau

ALANA DIXON
Last updated 15:53 23/04/2012
Southern war memorials
SUPPLIED/South Otago Museum
LOCAL TRIBUTE: The war memorial at Stirling.

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The order to attack came through on December 1, 1917. Two days later, the men of the 1st Battalion of Otago and the 1st Battalion of Canterbury found themselves leading the assault on Polderhoek Chateau, a run-down Belgian estate turned German stronghold and headquarters.

The plan was to begin the assault in broad daylight – zero hour was noon on December 3 – to take the Germans by surprise. Machinegun fire and mortars would provide cover for the two-pronged attack, with the battalions crossing into enemy territory in separate waves, backed up by reserves ready for the German defence.

But the brutality of war had no intention of letting things run to plan.

Two companies at the front of the assault, the 4th and the 10th, were caught in the firing line.

The eldest son of James and Margaret Bryce, Stirling man Colin Bryce entered the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces as a Lieutenant in the 16th Reinforcements, Otago Infantry Battalion, D Company. He was eventually made Captain.

Before the war, Colin Bryce was a farmer.

On June 26, 1905, he married Jane Draper at her parents' Milton home, and the couple went on to have four children together.

But then war came, and Colin Bryce set off for Devonport, England, aboard the Navua on August 20, 1916. The troops making the journey aboard the ship called into port at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, before reaching England on October 24.

A piece by war correspondent Malcolm Ross, published in the Ashburton Guardian on March 22, 1918, recounted how the chateau and a pillbox prevented the advance of "the Otagos".

"But their officers' gallantry strove against the odds, setting a brave example to their men, till two of them were killed and no fewer than six wounded ... three Otago officers were killed or wounded in an endeavour to take the chateau, and several of their men fell gallantly fighting by their side ... while the attack was held up, more especially on the left, the Canterburys, according to plan, formed a defensive flank on the right facing the Ghelevelt position. But all attempts were in vain and by 1.40pm ... it seemed as if little further ground could be won. Reinforcements failed to make the necessary impression, and the chateau remained in German hands. The New Zealanders then settled down to consolidate the little ground they had won."

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Captain Bryce was one of those who lost his life that day at Polderhoek Chateau. He was commanding the 10th Company when he fell.

Among the names in an article in the Evening Post on December 17, entitled: `While doing their duty: casualties at the front', Captain Bryce's death is reported.

"The deceased soldier was well known and greatly respected in the Stirling district, where he was engaged at contracting work prior to enlistment with the 16th Reinforcements. He was the elder son of Mrs and the late Mr JBryce (Stirling), and had lived most of his life at that township, receiving his education at the local school. Captain Bryce was a keen rifle shot and a member of the old volunteers and the Kaitanagata [sic] Rifle Club. He had secured many trophies as a result of his marksmanship, and was the possessor of quite a collection of cups, medals, and shields," it read.

He is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery in Belgium, and is also commemorated on the war memorial at Stirling, near Balclutha. – Sources: Gary Ross at the South Otago Museum, Archives New Zealand, Evening Post, Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database, Ashburton Guardian.

STIRLING WAR MEMORIAL
The memorial at Stirling commemorates the loss of 33 lives in World War I. Engraved on the memorial are the words: "Memorial to Stirling's fallen soldiers who died under the flag during the Great European War 1914-1918. In honour of these deathless dead who died that we might live."

The death of one other man from Stirling, WEA Inglis, who died in World War II, is also commemorated on the memorial. – Information: New Zealand History Online, Ministry for Culture and Heritage

- The Southland Times

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