HE ALSO WENT TO PASSCHENDAELE – by Michael Thoms
I relate in part the story of my Father-in-law, Ivor Norman Fleet, service #31249 who volunteered in 1916 and went off to war in Europe.
He was commonly known as Norm by all, at 27 he was a bit older than the average volunteer when he enlisted at Petone on July 25th 1916.
The accompanying photo shows Norm prior to his injury, we believe prior to embarkation.
After training both in New Zealand and at Sling Camp in England, he was shipped out to the continent on March 1st 1917, being posted to the 1st Battalion Wellington Regiment NZEF on the 9th June.
His records show that he was involved in action in Belgium at Passchendaele and survived the main battle on October 12th, only to be wounded there on October 22nd 1917 while his unit was taking Belle Vue Spur as part of a cleanup operation.
Norm related the story that he and a mate were sheltering in a shell hole when they were both hit by shrapnel, in his own words he said he was “smacked”, apparently a common term used at that time.
In later years, Norm always spoke highly of the Canadian soldiers who then stretchered him out, he told us that the litter was never level, they were always going down into or climbing out of a shell hole.
He was assessed at No 7 field Hospital in France as having serious GSW fracturing both legs. The initial assessment was that his left leg was the leg with the least chance of recovery from the blast (GSW) and the medical effort was directed towards his right leg. He was transferred to 44th Causality Clearing station, his records are somewhat vague but suggest his right leg had to be amputated above the knee on 9th November 1917.
He left France on the “HS St Andrew” from Boulogne on October 23rd and was listed as seriously ill on the 1st January 1918 when he was admitted to Tooting Military Hospital London. After transferring from Tooting to No 2 NZ General Hospital, he spent the next 16 months recuperating at Oatlands that was an extension to the No 2 NZGH at Walton on Thames.
Oatlands was for the Kiwis who were amputees and/or TB patients. A large number of rehabilitation skills were taught there, shoe repairs being one such skill….Norm always did his families shoe repairs for the rest of his life until he died in 1972.
Gardening, raising animals and other practical skills were also taught…Norm always had an excellent garden to support the household, he always dug the garden himself.
Norm returned home to New Zealand, disembarking at Wellington July 1919 from the “HS Marama”, returning draft #264.
He moved back to Petone, though we also know he travelled around the family at times. Which is how he met his wife to be – Elsie Petley in New Plymouth. They married in 1928, following which he built their home at 51 Nelson St in Petone, just a few houses down from No 75 the home in which he was born. His daughter Kathleen Frances Fleet, my Wife, was born in 1940.
Norm lived out the rest of his life till he died in the residence at 51 Nelson St. He had gainful employment for many years, he only ever used a walking stick for assistance in later years, he used to repair his own artificial leg even when he was entitled to a new one. He was a keen and active bowler for many years, a sport he enjoyed to the fullest, he was a member of the Petone Workingman’s Club and the Petone RSA.
Like so many of his fellow soldiers he did not speak much of his war years, Kathleen says she only saw him in tears once and that was when he was farewelling his Nephews and some mates after their final leave ready for embarkation in WW2.
At the time of writing this brief intro re Norm (January 2017), Kathleen and I reside in Fiji as we have done for the past 48 years, we intend to be in New Zealand to attend the Passchendaele Commemoration 100th anniversary events in memory of her father, as well as his many comrades who still lie in Flanders Fields, Belgium.