Printed from the Auckland Museum New Zealand web site on Thursday, 23 May 2013 2:47:01 a.m..
Henry Herbert Gill
If there was ever a soldier with a strong resolve to return home, it was Private Henry Herbert (Bert) Gill. Newly married to Sophia and the father of six-month-old Nancy, Gill was reluctantly conscripted by ballot to military service in 1917.
Bert Gill’s Canterbury Regiment hat badge
The 33-year-old carpenter embarked with the C Coy 30th Reinforcements and served in the mud-filled trenches of the Western Front. As a soldier on the frontline, Gill was to endure enormous hardships and often his only solace were memories of home life.
“Had a lovely dream the other night. I dreamt I was back, if it was only true, and I was talking to [our daughter] Nancy, what fun I was having with her, just how she would be now too. I can picture her to a T. I woke up and suddenly discovered I was laying in France, with a dam lump of dirt sticking in my back, and a couple of dam shirt rats giving me hell…I could’ve cried.”
Bert would often write to his beloved wife while sitting in the trenches and between breaks in the fighting. “We go into the front line tonight for a few days, never stay long in one place here…”
In a cruel twist of fate, Bert was wounded not at the frontline, where he’d gone “over-the-top” six times, but while taking a tea break many kilometers from the battlefield action. Bert was transferred to hospital with severe gunshot wounds to most of his body, although he valiantly disguised the extent of his injuries to his family. In his final letter home, dated 30 September 1918, Bert was still optimistic about returning home to New Zealand.
“Still in the same old place and same position, but doing allright, the Dr told me today I will most likely be able to get out in a bout a week so that is allright isn’t it, they have knitted splendid.”
Two days after writing this letter, Bert died in hospital, leaving behind a grieving wife and an 18-month-old daughter.
30th Reinforcement cap and collar badges and shoulder title
Bert Gill left New Zealand with the 30th Reinforcements on 30th October 1917 aboard HMNZT 93 Corinthic. The last group to leave New Zealand in late 1918 was the 43rd Reinforcements.
Collection Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, presented by Mrs CN Weir, 1980.19, W2354