NELSON COLLEGE OLD BOYS AT SIDI REZEGH
Brian Cox, who served at Sidi Rezegh with New Zealand’s 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, attended Nelson College from 1930 to 1934. He was one of hundreds of Nelson College Old Boys who served in World War Two. One hundred and seventy four old boys did not return and they are remembered on the memorial plaques in the College’s Scriptorium.
Many old boys took part, directly or indirectly, in the battle of Sidi Rezegh, including the men whose story in the battle is noted below. The Nelsonian magazines for the war years contain information about old boys who took part in the campaign. While some of the magazines record decorations awarded and casualties, there is also some anecdotal material, including the following item from ‘H.H.N.’, who wrote:
‘We had an interesting and at times a fairly hectic campaign. At one stage shortly after the start of things the enemy and we spent several days just chasing each other around in small circles. We would chase one mob of Jerries while another party of Jerries chased us, and so on all over the desert. We laugh about it now, but were not so amused by it at the time. Our part in the campaign finished with the fall of Bardia and we came out after a fairly solid nine weeks. About two weeks after we arrived at our present location we had a gala day and our first wash over-all for over two months.’1
Another old boy (‘E.A.W.’) related that:
‘I am in a mobile surgical unit. During the Libyan campaign we went into action with the division and were very busy, our job being to treat in forward areas cases too badly wounded to be transported long distances. As a theatre assistant I found the work interesting though not pleasant. For one period of eight days with other medical units we were in the hands of the enemy and heavily shelled, some of the patients being killed when a tent was hit.’2
While it is not possible to establish a list of every old boy who fought there, some of the more notable included the following:
Lieutenant Colonel Clayden Shuttleworth (1920—25):3 As commanding officer of 24 Infantry Battalion he was involved in some of the hardest fighting of the campaign, until he was captured on 30 November when 24 Battalion was overrun. He was one on the many men captured, ‘taken away but refusing to acknowledge defeat by putting up his hands’.4 He was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Lieutenant Haddon Donald (1930—31):5 Donald, who had a distinguished military career, was a platoon commander with 22 Infantry Battalion at Sidi Rezegh. He was awarded the Military Cross after the campaign.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Peart, who commanded 18 Battalion at Sidi Rezegh was a master at Nelson College from 1922—1924. He subsequently died of wounds in Egypt in September 1942.6
Major Thomas Straker (1929—34): Straker served under Brigadier Hargest in 5 Brigade. Shortly before the brigade headquarters was overrun on 27 November, it was under attack from enemy machine guns. Hargest ‘ran around the partly destroyed Intelligence truck to speak to Straker, my brigade major: “Can we find some men to counter-attack these machine guns and drive them off?” He pointed to the east. There, not a hundred yards away, through the smoke of the burning trucks, I saw a line of enemy tanks coming in smartly.’ Straker was among the hundreds of men captured but he attempted to escape. He ‘dropped to the rear and, running along a shallow trench, lay down at its furthest end and covered himself with rubbish; but someone had seen him and he was fished out again. He was taken into Bardia.’7
Lieutenant Edward (‘Eru’) Mabin (1930—35): Mabin was a platoon commander with 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion. In the advance towards Sidi Rezegh on the night of 25/26 November, the platoon advanced too far forward and were left isolated, Mabin and several others were captured.8
Lance Bombardier James (‘Jim’) Henderson (1931—35): Henderson served with 29 Battery, 6 Field Regiment. He was wounded and taken prisoner when the battery was overrun on 1 December 1941. Unfortunately, his left leg had to be amputated when he was in a POW camp in Italy; in 1943 he was repatriated back to New Zealand. While in Wellington hospital he wrote an account of his experiences which were published as Gunner Inglorious. This was first published in 1945 and has since sold in excess of 100,000 copies.9
Lieutenant James Jack (1926—27): Jack was commander of 9 Platoon, A Company, 25 Battalion at Sidi Rezegh. During the attack on Point 175 on 23 November he was wounded three times. He recovered and returned to the Division in 1942, before being captured at El Mreir in July 1942, spending the remainder of the war as a POW.
Bombardier F. E. A. Fauchelle (1931—33):10 7 Anti-Tank Regiment. Died of wounds 28 November 1941.
Private N. D. Godwin (1933—34):11 18 Battalion. By 27 November, 18 and 20 Battalions had secured positions on Belhamed, but were under heavy and continuous fire. For 18 Battalion, the 27th was ‘a vile day — steady shelling from the north and west, mortaring all round the compass, machine gunning on fixed lines from the south’. The battalion suffered a number of casualties on that day and it is assumed that Godwin was one of them.12 Date of death 27 November 1941.
Private A. H. Grindle (1931—35):13 26 Battalion. (Note that while the College records suggest he was a sergeant, the battalion history records him as a private). Date of death 1 December 1941.
Private E. W. E. Heaps (1932—36):14 9 Platoon, C Company, 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion. During the attack towards the Sidi Rezegh mosque during the night of 25/26 November the platoon advanced too far forward and when dawn broke on the 26th the men were in a very exposed position. Heaps was wounded in the attack; his brother N. F. Heaps (1934—38) who was also in the platoon, tried to get over to assist Eric but the enemy fire was too intense. The platoon had to withdraw leaving Eric behind. He later suffered another wound from which he succumbed.15 Died of wounds 30 November 1941.
Private H. R. Robertshaw (1924—25):16 22 Infantry Battalion. Date of death 17 December 1941.
Corporal K. Ross (1924):17 20 Battalion. Died of wounds 3 December 1941.
Corporal R. A. Russell (1933—36):18 24 Battalion. On 25 November, 24 Battalion was ordered to attack the blockhouse, to the west of Point 175. Troops from 24 and 26 Battalions eventually succeeded in taking their objective, but suffered heavy casualties in doing so. It is assumed that Russell was killed during the course of this action.19 Killed in action, 25 November 1941.
Lieutenant J. P. Tredray (1930—32):20 Platoon commander of 11 Platoon, B Company, 25 Battalion. He led his platoon in the attack on Point 175 on November 23. The platoon came under intense machine gun fire soon after the attack commenced and Tredray, described in Murphy’s history as a ‘brave young officer’ was killed in the attack.21 Killed in action 23 November 1941.
The sinking of the S.S. Chakdina22
Captain J. V. Hollis (1929— 31) was on the minesweeper which helped to pick up survivors from the Chakdina; he was mentioned in dispatches.23
Amongst those lost in the sinking of the Chakdina were Lieutenant J. O. Burnett (1930—34)24, Lance Bombardier W. K. Andrews (1913—1915)25, Gunner A. D. Chrisp (1919—21)26.
The loss of H.M.S. Neptune
A key part of the success of the Crusader campaign was to deny the German Afrika Korps and Italian forces from receiving supplies. To achieve that the Royal Navy’s Malta-based strike forces extensively patrolled the Mediterranean to attack ships carrying supplies into Tripoli.
In May 1941 it was proposed that New Zealanders who were serving in the Royal Navy would man the cruiser H.M.S. Neptune, which would patrol the Pacific. However the ship was initially sent to the Mediterranean to join the air and sea battles there. The Neptune had been patrolling the Atlantic and sailed to Alexandria where more New Zealand sailors joined the ship in anticipation that they would eventually be heading to New Zealand and the Pacific.
The Neptune became the leader of Force K, which on 18 December sailed to intercept an enemy convoy approaching Tripoli, but Force K ran into a minefield and Neptune and the destroyer H.M.S. Khandahar were sunk; more than 800 men lost their lives.27 Among those who perished were 4 Nelson College old boys; Petty Officer L. N. Nalder (1934—36), E. R. A. T. J. McComish (1934—35), E. R. A. W. H. Gibbs (1932—35), E. R. A. R. M. Cronquest (1934— 36)28.
For most of the men noted above, the actions that they took part in are referred to in the following books:
Peter Cox, Good Luck To All The Lads — The Wartime Story of Brian Cox 1939—43, J. J. Angerstein & Associates Limited, Christchurch, 2008. [GLTATL]
Peter Cox, Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh, Exisle Publishing Limited, Auckland, 2015. [DW].
The other major source of information is the official history of this campaign: W. E. Murphy, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939—1945: The Relief of Tobruk, Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1961. All volumes in the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939—1945, including the separate battalion or unit histories are available online at www.nzetc.victoria.ac.nz.
This list is incomplete, and any further information will be gratefully received. Please email to firstname.lastname@example.org
1 The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 45.
2 The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 45.
3 Lieutenant Colonel Clayden Shuttleworth, son of Mr and Mrs F. E. Shuttleworth, of Wakefield, was at College from 1920 to 1925. He left to take up a cadetship at Sandhurst, and on his return to New Zealand in 1929 he was posted to the New Zealand Staff College. He left New Zealand as a captain in the 1st Echelon, but was picked out by Major-General Freyberg as an officer of exceptional promise, and was sent back from Sydney to take charge of a battalion as lieut.—colonel. He fully justified the confidence placed in him, and distinguished himself in the campaign in Greece. In March he was awarded the D.S.O. as a result of his work in Libya on November 23 and following days. He organised the defence of a series of difficult positions near Sidi Rezegh, and next day made a successful advance, followed by a thrust of three miles. Later he secured high ground near Sidi Rezegh that was vital to our defences, and his skill, courage and leadership were warmly praised. Since his award he has unfortunately been made a prisoner of war. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 33]. See also The Nelsonian, September 1945, p. 89. Shuttleworth’s part in the battle is fully covered in 24 Battalion’s official history: R. M. Burdon., Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939—1945: 24 Battalion, Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1953.
4 DW, p. 127.
5 Captain Haddon Valentine Donald was mentioned in dispatches after the campaign in Greece and Crete and again in January of this year. He is the son of Mr and Mrs V. E. Donald of Masterton, and was at College in 1930 and 1931. The citation accompanying his award of the Military Cross makes reference to his courage, leadership and devotion to duty near Menastir on November 24, and on a number of occasions later in Libya. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 34]. For his later military career see The Nelsonian, September 1945, p. 90 and Donald’s autobiography is available online at http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-HadInPe-t1-body-d5.html
6 For a full citation see The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 36.
7 James Hargest, Farewell Campo 12, Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Wellington, 1945, pp.20—26. For further information about Straker’s war service see The Nelsonian, July 1943, p. 62.
8 GLTATL, p. 166.
9 The Nelsonian, September 1945, p. 79. See also: https://rsa.org.nz/News/gunneringloriousgoeswest.aspx
10 Bombardier Francis Edwin Anthony Fauchelle was the son of Mr and Mrs F. C. Fauchelle, now of Tasman Street, Nelson, but formerly of Richmond. He entered College in 1931 as a member of Form IIIA, and left early in his third year to take a position as clerk in Griffin’s mill. He showed ability and perseverance above the average, for he not only passed matriculation by taking night classes, but went on to get his certificate as a cost accountant. He was a boy of steady industry and attractive personality, who always made a point of keeping himself fit. His death occurred in November of last year as a result of wounds received in an action near the Libyan border. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 37].
11 Private Noel D’Arcy Godwin, whose next of kin is Miss Harriet Bragg, formerly of Atawhai and now of Wellington, attended College in 1933-34. He took up farming after leaving school and was working in the Auckland province when he enlisted. He went overseas with the 2nd NZEF in 1940 and was killed in Libya in November, 1941. [The Nelsonian, July 1943, p. 60].
12 W. D. Dawson, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939—1945: 18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1961, p. 205; DW , p. 112.
13 Sergeant Albert Harry Grindle, son of Mr and Mrs C. A. Grindle, of Motupiko, was at College from 1931 to 1935, and was one of the best all-round athletes of his time. He was a member of the 1st XI for two years, the 1st XV for a year and was also a good track athlete. In his last year he was a school prefect and a platoon sergeant. He worked in the City Council office after leaving school, and kept up his athletic activities, representing Nelson on many occasions in both cricket and football. His modesty, keenness, and conscientious attention to training made him very popular among his fellow players. He enlisted in 1940, and was killed in Libya in January of this year. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 37].
14 Private Eric Walter Edgar Heaps, who died of wounds during the Libyan campaign, was the eldest son of Mr and Mrs W. S. Heaps, of Nelson, and a member of a family long associated with College cricket, his grandfather having been a member of the 1st XI in 1885—87. He himself was a member of the 2nd XI at College, and continued to play after leaving. He was an outstanding boxer, winning championships in 1933, 1934 and 1935. He enlisted in the 1st Echelon. [The Nelsonian, December 1941, p. 57].
15 DW, pp.94—7, 186—7; GLTATL, pp. 166—7.
16 Private Hugh Ralph Robertshaw, who attended College in 1924—25, went overseas with the 22nd Wellington Battalion. He was wounded in the fighting at Sidi Rezegh last December, and died shortly afterwards. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 36].
17 Corporal Kenneth Ross, the only son of Mr and Mrs C. W. Ross, of Mount Street, Nelson, entered the College in 1924, but owing to his father’s transfer completed his schooling in the North Island. He returned to Nelson, being stationed here for many years before being to transferred to Southland in 1939. He enlisted immediately on the outbreak of war and sailed overseas with the First Echelon. He was severely wounded in the recent operations in Libya, and died several days later. He was a young man of sterling character, with the promise of a very successful career before him. [The Nelsonian, December 1941, p. 56].
18 Corporal Reginald Arthur Russell, son of Mr and Mrs G. P. Russell, of Nelson, entered College in 1933 and left from [form] V.C in 1936. He was working in his father’s business when war broke out, and left New Zealand with one of the early reinforcements. He was killed in December, 1941, during the fighting at Sidi Rezegh. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 36].
19 DW, pp. 87—9; GLTATL, pp. 164—5.
20 Lieutenant John Percival Tredray, son of Mr and Mrs F. G. Tredray of Eketahuna, was at College from 1930 to 1932. He had a good all-round record, passing Matriculation in his third year, and obtaining his 1st XI cap. He enlisted in the Third Echelon and was killed in action during the Libyan campaign. [The Nelsonian, December 1941 p. 55].
21 W. E. Murphy, Episodes and Studies Volume 2: Point 175 —The Battle of Sunday of the Dead, Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1950, p. 2; DW, pp. 71—3; GLTATL, p. 149.
22 For information on the sinking of the S.S. Chakdina see DW, pp. 162—4.
23 The Nelsonian, July 1943, p. 70.
24 Lieutenant James Otterson Burnett, son of Mr and Mrs M. B. Burnett, Wellington, attended College from 1930 to 1934, being placed first in College House and later in Barnicoat. He had an interesting family connection with the early years of the College, being the grandson (see * below) of the late Mr Hugh Burnett, who played in the historic match against Wellington College in1876, the first secondary school football contest played in New Zealand. Jim Burnett had a very successful career at College, matriculating in 1933, and passing into the Sixth Form in the following year. In his last year he was a School Prefect, a member of the 1st XV and an N.C.O. in No. 1 Platoon. On the outbreak of war he enlisted in the artillery and left New Zealand in the 4th Reinforcements. He was wounded in the leg near Tobruk and was among those not accounted for on the same hospital ship as W. K. Andrews. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 38]. (* See also The Nelsonian, July 1943, p. 70.)
25 Lance Bombardier William Keith Andrews, son of Mr and Mrs W. A. Andrews, of Nelson, attended College from 1913 to 1915.During the fighting in Libya last December he was wounded and was taken to Tobruk, whence he was evacuated by steamer. On the second day out the vessel was torpedoed, sinking in five minutes. Bombardier Andrews was one of 79 who were reported missing and whose deaths were later presumed. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 36].
26 Gunner Arnold Dickson Chrisp, 1919—21. Formerly Shell Oil Coy, Gisborne. Lost at sea while being evacuated, wounded, from Tobruk, 5 Dec. 1941. [Nelson College Old Boys’ Register, 1856—1956].
27 RSA Review, Spring 2011.
28 The sinking of the aircraft-carrier Neptune in the Mediterranean in December, 1941 led to four Old Boys being posted as missing and later presumed drowned. [The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 38].
Laurence Newton Nalder – RNZNVR - Killed in action 19 December 1941.
Petty Officer Lawrence Newton Nalder was the son of Mr and Mrs N. Nalder of Haven Road. He was at College from 1934 to 1936, taking an engineering course. He showed ability above the average and was well known at the Port as a keen and competent yachtsman.
Trevor James McComish – RNZNVR - Killed in action 19 December 1941.
Engine-room Artificer Trevor James McComish, son of Mr and the late Mrs P. J. McComish, of Wellington, was a contemporary, begin at College in1934-35. He was a bright, capable boy, who would probably have qualified for a position of responsibility at College if he had stayed longer. He took up engineering on leaving school and was working at the Anchor Foundry when he joined the Fleet Air Arm.
William Harry Gibbs – RNZNVR - Killed in action 19 December 1941.
E.R.A. William Harry Gibbs, son of T. Tomlinson, of Bainham, entered the Preparatory School in 1932 and left from [form] V.D. in 1935. He was a boarder at Rutherford House, a boy of sound character and good ability.
Robert Magnus Cronquest – RNZNVR - Killed in action 19 December 1941.
E.R.A. Robert Magnus Cronquest, son of Mr and Mrs C. M. Cronquest, Shannon, was at Barnicoat House from 1934 to 1936. He took a prominent part in all College activities, and would probably have been a House prefect if he had come back for another year.
[All: The Nelsonian, July 1942, p. 38].