Mother loses three sons on Nelson's blackest day – Passchendaele, 12 October 1917

The Newlove brothers; Charlie, Ted and Leslie at the Tapawera Military Camp.
Golden Bay Museum

The Newlove brothers; Charlie, Ted and Leslie at the Tapawera Military Camp.

A Mother's Sacrifice – the Newlove Brothers

Mary Newlove waved four of her eight sons off to war.

Only one returned.

The 'Dead Man's Penny' commemorating Leslie Newlove. The families of soldiers who died in service all received these.

The 'Dead Man's Penny' commemorating Leslie Newlove. The families of soldiers who died in service all received these.

The Takaka widow lost three of her precious boys during the bloody Battle of Passchendaele, one on October 4 and two on October 12.

A fourth son survived the carnage.

The Newloves were one of numerous sets of brothers killed at Passchendaele.

Albert Hector Guy, 27 of  Ngatimoti who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Albert Hector Guy, 27 of Ngatimoti who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

The brothers were three of eight sons of Leonard and Mary Ann Newlove (nee Hitchcock) who farmed 75 acres at Central Takaka.

Leonard Charles (Charlie) was born in 1876, George Thomas in 1878, Albert Ernest (Ernie) in 1880, Oliver in 1882, Edwin (Ted), in 1884, Alfred Horace in 1886, Herbert in 1887, and Leslie Malcolm in 1895.

By June 1917 George was attached to 363rd Forestry Company, Royal Engineers as axeman, and by July his brothers were also in France.

George William Heslop, 40 of Collingwood who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

George William Heslop, 40 of Collingwood who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Charlie went missing and was subsequently declared killed in action during the 4 October offensive.

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Ted and Leslie were killed on 12 October. Leslie's body disappeared into the mud but Ted's body was found and buried.

However, as was the case for many of the battlefield graves, his final resting spot was lost or destroyed in subsequent fighting.

Ernst William Louden Mead, 24 of Kohatu who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Ernst William Louden Mead, 24 of Kohatu who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

If his or his brothers' bodies or graves were ever found again, they could not be identified and they may be among the 322 unidentified New Zealand victims of Passchendaele who were buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery, close to where they died.

Back home in Takaka, their widowed mother, Mary Ann, had to endure the heartache of receiving separate notifications of the deaths of her sons in the three weeks following the battle.

It was the custom of the postmaster to deliver the telegrams informing families their loved ones in service had died but after delivering two such telegrams to the Newlove home, he couldn't face seeing the distraught Mary Ann again and sent his deputy instead.

Ashley Charles Moore, 21 of Nelson who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Ashley Charles Moore, 21 of Nelson who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

It was another 18 months before George, her only surviving son in service, returned home safely in May 1919.

It was not perhaps surprising that when a fifth Newlove brother, Alfred, was called up for service, an exemption appeal was lodged with the Military Service Board.

The appeal was heard by the board in January 1918, and reported in The Colonist: "The appeal of Alfred Horace Newlove, Takaka, who had had three brothers killed and had one still on service, was adjourned sine die [indefinitely]".

John Thomas Oxfam, 25 of Murchison who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

John Thomas Oxfam, 25 of Murchison who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

The background

October 12 - 1917 was Nelson's blackest day. It was a day when the Nelson-Tasman region lost more lives than on any other single day during World War One.

At least 34 Nelson men died and a further nine were mortally wounded, dying over the next few days and into early November of the injuries sustained during the First Battle of Passchendaele in Flanders, Belgium.

John Roy Page, 33 of Takaka who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

John Roy Page, 33 of Takaka who died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Aged between 20 and 45, these men had been farmers, labourers, shop keepers, office clerks.

Just a few years earlier, some of the youngest had still been wearing the uniform of Nelson College.

They came from Nelson City, Stoke, Richmond, Motueka and Takaka, but the majority hailed from small rural communities across the former Nelson Province, including Tapawera, Murchison, Mapua, and Collingwood.

Percy Cyril Ricketts, 29 of Wakefieldwho died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Percy Cyril Ricketts, 29 of Wakefieldwho died on 12 October 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

Some had volunteered to fight for their country, others were conscripts.

All had left New Zealand's shores for an uncertain future on Europe's Western Front.

A number had already survived the horrors of the Gallipoli Campaign, having been evacuated in December 1915 before moving to Europe.

Nelson's dead were part of what has been described as New Zealand's greatest disaster and the blackest day in the country's post-1840 history.

Though more accurately perhaps, the high casualty rate could also be referred to as the result of a terrible blunder by the British High Command.

About 950 Kiwi soldiers died or were mortally wounded that day.

Of that number 845 men were officially listed as dying in action on 12 October, with the remaining subsequently dying of their wounds.

A further 1,750 were injured.

Put into perspective, the toll of 950 dead is more than the combined death tolls of several notable and arguably better known and commemorated New Zealand disasters: the Tangiwai train crash (151 dead), the Mt Erebus plane crash (257), the Napier and Christchurch earthquakes (256 and 185 respectively), and the sinking of the Wahine (51) - 900 in total.

It is also far greater than the death toll from New Zealand's most commemorated WWI battle – Gallipoli, during which 147 fatalities of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) are recorded as occurring on 25 April 1915 (note this figure does not include those who were mortally wounded that day and subsequently died, although the total still would not be anything like as high as the Passchendaele toll).

Locally, 105 Nelson men died on the Gallipoli Peninsula between April and December 1915.

So what happened on 12 October 1917 to cause so many deaths and injuries?

The battle that claimed so many lives got its name from Passchendaele, a strategically placed rural village the Allied Forces sought to capture from the Germans.

Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the offensive began on 31 July 1917 with the aim of breaking through the enemy line.

The Battle

On 4 October I ANZAC Corps and II ANZAC Corps, for the first and only time, attacked alongside each other to capture Gravenstafel Spur, one of two spurs on the ridge above Passchendaele.

Although 320 New Zealanders died that day (and a further 180 were mortally wounded), the British High Command misinterpreted the number of German forward casualties as meaning the enemy's resistance was faltering and decided to attack again immediately.

This time the target was Bellevue Spur.

An initial attempt by II ANZAC Corps to advance on 9 October failed in the face of strong German defence. Undeterred and without proper preparation, the men were given the instruction to try again on 12 October.

The New Zealand Division started its advance at 5.30am but ran into trouble almost immediately. The lack of preparation ordered by the British High Command meant the Kiwis faced German machine gun fire from the front and flank and were trapped by uncut barbed wire.

Added to this was the thick mud they were forced to try to move through.

Constant rain over the already heavily bombed battlefields of Flanders had reduced the ground to a muddy quagmire.

It was impossible to move pack horses and heavy artillery guns, or to stabilise those guns already in place. Many men were killed that morning as they were caught in barbed wire or sucked down into the mud, leaving them exposed to deadly German machine gunfire on the front and flank.

Others fell into and drowned in muddy bomb-crater lakes.

The injured lay surrounded by the dead and dying, at risk of being further hit by gunfire or shells (some from their own side), and out of reach of rescuers. Many died where they fell.

Orders for another advance at 3 pm were postponed and then cancelled.

By the day's end the New Zealand Division was back close to its starting line of that morning and 845 of its men lay dead or dying.

Over the next two days stretcher parties, aided by an informal truce when the Germans refrained from firing on them, entered the front line to retrieve the dead and wounded.

It was the Canadians who finally captured Passchendaele on 6 November, having relieved the II ANZAC Corps on 18 October.

They suffered 12,000 casualties (dead and wounded) but their capture of the now ruined village of Passchendaele no longer represented a strategic, nor significant, gain for the Allies.

But the fighting that year wasn't over yet for the New Zealanders, whose morale was at a very low ebb.

Three weeks later the survivors were ordered back into action in the Polygon Wood sector, just south of Passchendaele.

Here they were charged with holding the line over the winter months, existing in a cold, waterlogged and destroyed landscape.

Their misery continued with another failed attack at Polderhoek on 3 December.

The Nelson region's Victims of Passchendaele

Families throughout Nelson began receiving telegrams delivering the news none wanted to hear from Passchendaele – of loved ones killed in action (KIA) on 12 October, missing and believed killed in action, or wounded in action.

Other victims from the Nelson region included:

Brightwater: Lewis Roy Gordon Haycock (22yrs) –11661 - b. 19 March 1895 in Brightwater, son of George and Emma Haycock of Hope.

He was working on his father's farm at the time of enlistment and embarked from Wellington in April 1916 as part of the 12th Reinforcements.

He was reported missing killed in action (KIA) during fighting on Bellevue Spur on 12 October.

His body was never found.

He is remembered on the wall at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium and on the Memorials at Richmond and Brightwater.

Note some documents suggest Louis Roy Hancock.

Collingwood: George William Heslop (40yrs) – 44582 – b.29 September 1877, son of George and Emma Heslop of Collingwood, one of eight children.

His mother died in 1917, at which time his father had been dead 10 years.

On enlistment he was farming near Collingwood.

He embarked at Wellington with the 24th Reinforcements in April 1917.

He arrived in England and went to Sling Camp before reaching France in September. Wounded on 12 October, he died on 24 October.

He is buried at the Parish Church Cemetery at Brockenhurst, England and remembered on the Collingwood Memorial.

Kohatu: Lance Corporal Ernest William Louden Mead (24yrs) – 15004 – b. 3 June 1894 in Nelson, son of William and Alice Mary Mead of Motupiko.

At the time of enlistment he was working as a farm hand at Kohatu.

He embarked in June 1916 as part of the 14th Reinforcements of Canterbury Infantry Regiment.

In September he joined a Lewis Gun unit.

His record notes he was charged the cost of one mess tin lid, Government Property lost by neglect.

He 'died from wounds received in action' on 12 October and is remembered on the wall at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium and on the Memorial at Kohatu.

Mapua: John Edward Jay (32yrs) – 6/4071 – b. 14 December 1884 in Cornwall, England, son of John and Eliza Jay of Cornwall and husband of Mabel Annie Jay of Cornwall.

At the time of enlisting he was contracting at Mapua with his friend Arthur Gummow.

John trained at Trentham, then embarked in March 1916 as part of 10th Reinforcements of Canterbury Infantry Regiment.

He was reported as missing, believed KIA, on 12 October.

He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, at Liskeard Parish Church in Cornwall and may be added to the Mapua memorial.

Murchison: John Thomas Oxnam (25yrs) – 44146 – b. 22 June 1892 in Murchison, son of John and Mary Elizabeth [nee Dellow] Oxnam of Longford, Murchison.

He was self-employed, farming near Murchison when he enlisted in October 1916.

He trained at Featherston and Trentham, then embarked in March 1917 as part of Reinforcements to Canterbury Infantry Regiment. He was posted to his unit in August and reported as missing, believed KIA, on 12 October.

His body was later recovered and buried at Tyne Cot.

He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial and the Memorial at Murchison (as J.F. Oxnam).

Nelson: William Stud Bovey (45yrs) –45874 - b. 8 Mar 1872, son of John and Elizabeth Bovey, brother of George Bovey of Nelson.

Having served in the South African War, William was working in Levin with another brother (John Robert) on re-enlistment.

He embarked from Wellington in April 1917 and contracted malaria on board the 'Tofua', spending time in hospital before reaching France in July.

He was reported missing, KIA, on 12 October.

He is remembered on the wall at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium, on the Nelson Memorial and the Stoke Memorial Gates.

Nelson: Lance Corporal Ashley Charles Moore (21yrs) – 51660 – b. 1 July 1896 in Nelson, son of James Frederick and Agnes Moore of "Wharepuni" in Nelson.

He was working as an engineer for Kershaw Engineering in Nelson when he enlisted in March 1917.

He trained, then departed in June 1917 as part of the NZRB Reinforcements. He was hospitalised with measles in July and posted to his unit on 9 October.

He was reported missing, believed KIA, on 12 October and is remembered on the wall at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium and on the memorial in Nelson.

Note he is listed in some documents as Ashby Charles Moore.

Ngatimoti: Albert Hector Guy (27yrs) – 2/244 – b. 11 October 1891, son of John and Elizabeth Guy of Ngatimoti and brother of Margaret Brereton (Daisy Guy, wife of Colonel Cyprian Brereton).

On enlistment he was farming with his father.

He embarked with the Main Body in October 1914 and served in Egypt and Gallipoli.

Wounded in June 1914 he went to Netley Hospital in England and returned to active service in November.

In August 1916 he was appointed CSM, awarded a Meritorious Service Medal in June, and mentioned in despatches by General Haig for action on 1-2 October 1917.

He was killed on 12 October and is remembered on a wall at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium and on the Memorial and in St James Church at Ngatmoti.

Spring Grove: Percy Cyril Ricketts (29yrs) – 21735 – b. 5 March 1888, son of J.J. Ricketts of Spring Grove.

He was a volunteer in the Waimea Rifles for nine years.

Percy enlisted as part of the 16th Reinforcements of Canterbury Infantry Regiment.

He trained at Trentham and Featherston before departing in August 1916 as a Sergeant.

He was killed on 12 October and was buried at the Passchendaele New British Cemetery.

He is remembered on the Memorials at Nelson, Brightwater, Spring Grove and Wakefield.

He is also on the Nelson College Honour Roll.

Takaka: John Roy Page (33yrs) – 42818 – b. 17 July 1884, 4th child of James and Adeline Catherine Page [nee Cann].

John, and like many others who enlisted in Canterbury Mounted Rifles, took his own horse with him.

At time of enlistment he was responsible for the care of his parents. He left Wellington on 14 April 1917 with the 24th Reinforcements.

He arrived at Sling Camp in May and was posted to France in September.

On 12 October it is said that whilst firing a Lewis gun he was shot and killed by a sniper. Another soldier moved his body, cleaned up the gun and continued the fight.

A chaplain reported that he was buried at Bellvue Spur. John is remembered at Tyne Cot Memorial and on the War Memorial at Takaka.

Waimea West: Major Leonard James Ford (35yrs) – 6/2027 – b. 31 December 1887 in Waimea West, son of Frederick and Hannah Ford.

He embarked from Wellington as a Lieutenant in Canterbury Infantry Battalion, 5th Reinforcements.

He served in the Balkans and Egypt from 1915 before being transferred to Europe.

He was killed on 12 October and buried at Bellevue Spur and is remembered on the Memorials in Nelson, Waimea West and Brightwater.

Wakefield: William John Stone (29yrs) – 6/1990 – b. 5 October 1887 in Nelson, son of James and Sarah Stone. His wife Blanche [nee Bennett] was living at Reservoir, then Pigeon Valley, Wakefield.

They had a daughter Aileen.

William was working as a carpenter in Murchison.

He departed in April 1915 with the 4th Reinforcements, was wounded and invalided to New Zealand.

He left again with the 19th Reinforcements in November 1916.

Critically wounded on 12 October 1917, he died the following day.

He is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, and is remembered on memorials at Murchison and Nelson.

(N.B. These bio briefs researched and compiled by Peter Millward using the Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph, New Zealand military records and the MyHeritage Family History website.)

Nelson's Blackest Day – 12 October 1917, First Battle of Passchendaele

Names of men from the Nelson-Tasman area killed in action on 12 October or who later died from wounds sustained that day.

Date of Death Name Killed/Mortally Wounded

12/10/1917 Amos, Cecil Arthur K

12/10/1917 Bovey, William Steed K

17/10/1917 Clough, Enoch Edgar MW

12/10/1917 Coleman, Cecil K

26/10/1917 Coppell, John Henry MW

12/10/1917 Devereux, John Patrick K

29/10/1917 Eyles, Alick MW

22/10/1917 Flower, Frederick Gordon MW

12/10/1917 Ford, Leonard James K

12/10/1917 Green, James Leslie K

12/10/1917 Guy, Albert Hector K

22/10/1917 Hall, Horatio MW

12/10/1917 Harris, James Henry K

12/10/1917 Harris, Leonard John K

12/10/1917 Haycock, Lewis Roy Gordon K

24/10/1917 Heslop, George William MW

12/10/1917 Hooper, Roy Bolton K

12/10/1917 Inwood, Godfrey Alan K

12/10/1917 Jay, John Edward K

14/10/1917 Joynt, William John MW

12/10/1917 King, George Augustus K

12/10/1917 Kinzett, Innes K

12/10/1917 Kitching, John Arthur MW

12/10/1917 Lash, Harold Samways K

12/10/1917 Leece, Charles K

12/10/1917 Logan, James Robert K

12/10/1917 McKenna, Albert Edward K

12/10/1917 Mead, Ernest William Louden K

12/10/1917 Moore, Ashley Charles K

12/10/1917 Newlove, Edwin K

12/10/1917 Newlove, Leslie Malcolm K

12/10/1917 Okey, Joseph Thomas K

12/10/1917 Oxnam, John Thomas K

12/10/1917 Page, John Roy K

12/10/1917 Petersen, John K

12/10/1917 Ricketts, Percy Cyril K

12/10/1917 Ross, Charles K

12/10/1917 Sheary, John Edward K

13/10/1917 Stone, William John MW

12/10/1917 Tomlinson, James Daniel Branley K

12/10/1917 Warring, Joseph K

12/10/1917 Whelham, Ashley Roy K

12/10/1917 Wright, Fredrick Ballintine K

(This table was researched and compiled by Peter Millward and Mike Carnahan. Modified here to include those mortally wounded, it was originally published in 'Nelson's Blackest Day', in the Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2017.)

Centennial events and services

A number of events to commemorate the centennial of the Battle of Passchendaele and Nelson's Darkest Day will be held over the next few days.

They include:

Thursday October 12 - a tableau on the Cathedral Steps involving the Histrionics theatre group, starting at 5pm.

At 5.25pm the Last Post will play and people are invited to attend a short commemorative service at the Cathedral, commencing at 5.30pm.

Saturday October 14-15 – A number of other performances will be held at public places around the city, including the Saturday market, Trafalgar Street, and in Stoke and Richmond.

Saturday October 14 - Nelson Historical Society hosts a public information and commemorative display, including photos and stories of many of the men killed on Nelson's Darkest Day, in the Garden of Remembrance at Founders Heritage Park, 10am-3pm.

Leave a poppy on the Wall of Honour and discover the faces and stories of some of the men killed.

Peter Millward will be on hand to demonstrate how to research your WWI soldiers using the Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph and New Zealand military records.

Saturday October 14 - the RSA hosts a centennial service at the Cenotaph, Anzac Park, Nelson, commencing 7am.

Monday October 23 – Isel House opens a new exhibition, 'The Room of the Returned Solider', representing the room of a soldier just returned home from war, and paying tribute to local men who lost their lives in WWI.

 - Stuff

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