Ernest John Rhind – #6/3140, 1st Bn., Canterbury Regiment

Posted on May 3rd, 2017

Nobody cares – By Sandi Notredame

Nobody cares that Ernest Rhind lies in Flanders Fields on the other side of the world. He does not have any direct descendants as he died aged 25. His older brother, my Great Grandfather, survived the war, as he was turned down by the doctor due to ‘bad lungs’. Of course he has plenty of descendants including myself, so I have taken on the duty to care, to remember and to give a damn, as nobody else seems to care. Is that fair? No, so I do!

It has also been suggested to me that his death was not mourned in the family. After all, he was ‘only’ the 5th son of Margaret and Alexander Rhind. Their eldest son (and heir to the company business) was wounded at Gallipoli and awarded the D.C.M. He was a hero. Ernest was an active exuberant young lad, described as a ‘bit of a rogue’ and thus supposedly not mourned. I believe this is the way the families at home coped, after the war they got on with living and looking after the ones that did survive, there was no time to mourn lost sons lying on the other side of the world.

Before Ernest Rhind signed up to the Canterbury Infantry 1st Battalion (1st Company, 7th Reinforcements) he was ‘just a’ clerk in his father’s business. While serving, he was ‘just a’ Staff Sergeant, one of the many ordinary men used on the frontline, sometimes as cannon fodder.

Nobody cared that he was almost killed on 8th July 1916 during his first real taste of battle while defending a sector just north of Armientiers (and south of Messines) called the Mushroom.

Nobody cared that Ernest was again in the thick of it during some of New Zealand’s largest battles – the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on the Somme from September 16th to 19th 1916, then again from 25th Sept until October 2nd! Nobody cared when his younger brother died on September 16th in that very same battle – his body was never found so he is mentioned on the Caterpillar Valley Memorial. I am sure Earnest cared when he heard the news!

He was there in the Battle of Messines on 7th June 1917, his Company cleared the village of Messines, a large number of the enemy were killed, and a hundred and eighty prisoners were taken. Two machine-guns were captured in the church.

Nobody cared that he endured the hell and mud at Passchendaele where the feet of the soldiers were almost always wet. There was very little weather-proof sleeping accommodation; and though hot food was sent up from cook-houses behind the line, it usually arrived fairly cold, on account of the long distance it had to be carried.

In December the snow began to fall and the frozen ground only increased the danger zone of shells exploding on impact where previously the mud had just swallowed them up. When a frosty night was followed by a sunny day, numerous casualties were caused in the mornings by the contents of gas-shells fired during the night, which had remained in liquid form till the heat of the sun caused the gas to evaporate.

Nobody cared when Ernest Rhind died on December 15th 1917 defending the Polderhoek Spur after it had been taken. The 1st Canterbury Battalion took over the centre sector, called “Judge Cross Roads,” and extending from a point opposite “Judge Cottage,” five hundred yards south of the point where our front line crossed the Becelaere-Passchendaele road, to a point just north of “Joiner’s Rest,” and two hundred and fifty yards north of the same road. It held the line with the 13th Company on the right, the 2nd Company on the left, the 1st Company in support, and with headquarters at “the Butte.”

Due to the mud, all the traffic in the area was confined to a few duck-board tracks, the position of which was well known to the enemy, who shelled them constantly. In ordinary circumstances, these tracks would have been exceedingly unsafe; but the mud which rendered them necessary also smothered the enemy shells, and greatly reduced their danger area. However, obviously these tracks were at all times much more unsafe than communication trenches, and when the frosts came, even very badly-aimed shells could cause casualties to troops using the tracks. On the night of December 15th, his 1st Canterbury Battalion was relieved and went back to Howe Camp, but Ernest never made it and probably died on those duck-boards.

The question is often asked, “Why should we remember?” or “Why should we stop and think about those events that happened so long ago?”

Our men were sent to fight in places that many had never heard of before. It was a global struggle, the power unleashed by modern war resulted in previously unimagined losses. Over 9 million soldiers died as a result of the fighting. Nearly 6 million civilians died from disease or starvation. Almost 1 million more were killed as a direct result of military operations. In all, the estimate of dead resulting from the war stands at over 16 million. And then there were the wounded, more than 21 million! Some recovered, but most were never the same again, either in body or in mind.

By the end of the First World War there were very few people in New Zealand who remained unaffected. The war reached out and touched almost everyone’s life in some way or other. Children grew up in the shadow of battle, their fathers absent or lost. Women became directly involved, picking up the pieces of industry and agriculture as the men went off to fight. Some were killed while serving as nurses when their ship was sunk. Our society changed forever, nothing was ever the same again.

Sometimes the First World War feels like distant history. The war is slipping inexorably beyond the fringes of living memory and, as the numerous Centenary commemorations take place, we have to work harder to make sure we do not forget. If we want to understand today, we need to know and remember what happened yesterday. So I care.

Footnote: a tree has been planted as a living memory of Staff Sergeant Ernest John Rhind in the Passchendaele Memorial Forest at Whitianga. The tree is located at GPS 36.86702°S and 175.65566O°E.

 

 

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