Topic: Reginald Arthur William Calvert (Service # 4/1901)

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Reginald Calvert was a soldier in the First World War whose family had lived in the Wharenui, Riccarton area

Reginald was born in Christchurch on 29 August 1895. HIs parents Annie Florence Maria Calvert (nee Perry) and William Richard Calvert were married in Holy Trinity Church, Avonside in February 1895. They had three children; Reginald, Maevis Ethel Crosbie Calvert (born 1898) and John Walter Perry Calvert (born 1908). The Wises Directories at the turn of the century place Richard Calvert at various central Christchurch addresses the last of which, in 1907, was 50 Andover Street in St Albans. William's occupation was electroplater.

Reginald began his education at Elmwood School in Papanui reaching standard three level. His father enrolled him at Wharenui School (the 330th pupil)  on 5 October 1908. Richard gave the family address as Junction Street. Exactly where this was is difficult to determine as there were several roads referred to as Junction Road. However the 1910 to 1920 Street directories all have the family address at 29 Wainui Street, Lower Riccarton. Reginald attended Wharenui until 1910 after completing standard four and the School's 'Register of Admissions, Progress and Withdrawls' records his intended destination simply as 'work'.

Reginald enlisted in the army on 9 October 1915 just after his twentieth birthday. The medical examination which was carried out in Christchurch that day noted a small scar on the left side of his upper lip. By the time he filled out his attestation form on 18 November Reginald was in Trentham Military Camp to commence his training. He recorded his family address at 42 Wainui Street and his occupation as Draper's Assistant working for J. Armstrong. He also stated that he had previously served in the Volunteer Corps of Engineers and so he was duly assigned to the Tenth Company of Engineers at the rank of Sapper. He must have made a good impression with his superiors as on 10 December he was promoted to Temporary Lance Corporal followed by Corporal Orderly on 22 January 1916.

Once training was over Reginald sailed from Weelington with the Tenth contingent of reinforcements on 4 March 1916. He was on board Transport no. 47 'Willochra' which sailed for Albany, Australia (arriving on 13 March) then to Colombo (26 March) and finally Suez where the troops disembarked on 8 April. The magazine which was put together on board the Willochra and which was formally published after the war by the Christchurch Press Co was named 'Willochra Tatler or The unvarnished truth of some companies of the 10th Reinforcements, N.Z.E.F.'. It contains an embarkation roll at the back and Reginald's name appears on page 17 with the Field Engineers.

Within three days of landing at Suez, the boys were embarked for France on HMS Kinfauns Castle. On 24 April Reginald was in the New Zealand Depot at Etaples where further training was undertaken. Just before departing for the front he sent his father a cablegram which informed him that he was now in France and adding "Riccarton boys all well". On departing Etaples on 29 July Reginald was attached to the 2nd ANZAC Entrenching battalion and he joined this unit in the Bois Grenier sector on 2 August 1916. Perhaps the stark reality of having authority in the trenches set in for Reginald because a week after his arrival, he relinquished the rank of Corporal just as he was posted to the No 2 Field Company of the New Zealand Engineers.

The 2nd Field Company moved out to the Hazebrouck sector on 13 August before moving by train (from Arques near St Omer) to Limercourt near the mouth of the Somme for training. They were then sent to an area between Fricourt and Becourdel on 27 August. Their task on the Bazentin Ridge was to repair the old German second line trenches which had collapsed inwards. The Carlton and Savoy trenches were particularly sodden with mud and water but the sappers made them serviceable. In early September the Engineers were give the task of improving the roads between Mametz and Montauban and to dig 4000 yards of communication trenches. The sappers had to dig what was known as French Lane. All this was in aid of improving the access routes up to the front lines for the infantry who began arriving from the 11 September for their part in the Somme battle.

When the New Zealand Division entered the Battle of the Somme they were given the objective of capturing the village of Flers. This was duly accomplished on 14 September. Reginald's 2nd Field Company worked feverishly to consolidate the captured Switch Trench by constructing a new trench with strongpoints just beyond this. They then had the vital task of putting all the fresh water wells in Flers back into working order. The rest of September was spent building new deep dugouts for the forward HQ, special companies (signallers, transport companies etc) and first aid posts. Their final job was the construction of a new road for bringing up heavy artillery shells from Longueval to Delville Wood. With the German artillery in Delville Wood firing on them the 2nd Field Company suffered many casualties. They, along with the entire New Zealand Division, were pulled out of the line for rest and reinforcement on 3 October.

The next assignment for Reginald's company was in the Sailly sector along the River Lys. Here the river and it's subsidiaries often flooded the trenches and so the sappers ahd to lower the level of the river and streams. They also constructed many small shelters in the forward trenches and larger deep dug-outs in the rear trenches. All this was achieved under constant shelling by the German artillery. By January 1917 frost had turned any remaining flooded trenches into hard ice and the ground could not be worked so the next two months were spent enjoying sports and recreation.

By March 1917 the New Zealand Division had moved to the Le Tocquet - Ploegsteert sector where, once again, it found the trenches in an appalling state with collapses, flooding and mud. But 2nd Field Company was able to drain and greatly strengthen the trenches by the middle of March. The next several months saw the 2nd Field Company in the Ploegsteert - Wulvergehm sector preparing for the Messines attack. A massive effort was undertaken to ensure the smooth flow of troops and supplies to and from the front lines, including constant maintenance of roads that were damaged by German shelling, repair of tramlines, construction of communication trenches and sheltered aid posts. Extensive screens were erected along the road sides to conceal troop and vehicle movements from German eyes.

On 6 May a German bombardment caught the 2nd Field Company near Neuve Eglise where the horse transport lines were concentrated causing many casualties. In the week before the attack the Germans bombarded Hill 63, where the Field Companies restted at night, with gas shells. This added to the fatigue of the sappers and engineers who on the eve of the attack had to patrol the forward trenches and remove any obstacles that would impede the movement of the troops.  The Messines attack went off as planned in the pre-dawn hours of the 7 June and the New Zealand Division attained all it's objectives within two hours. The 2nd and 3rd Field Companies had the job of quickly creating a series of strongpoints along the length of the new line, all while under continuous German shelling. After the war Reginald claimed he was involved in the tunnelling operations to establish huge mines under the German trenches. The official history of the Field Companies does not mention if the companies were involved in this task.

On the 7 May it was discovered that the wells in Messines were either destroyed or had been poisoned by the Germans, so the 2nd Field Company dug several new freshwater wells outside of Messines. During June 2 Field Company was placed in reserve and given responsibility for repairs and new works in the areas behind the front lines including repair and extension of roads, tramlines, digging wells, bringing up supplies and establishing new supply dumps. At the end of June the Field Companies were pulled back into rest away from the strain of prolonged service in trying conditions. 

After a brief spell of rest the 2 Field Company, along with the Rifle Brigade and the Pioneer Battalion, were sent to Woesten to assist the 1 French Army with construction of gun pits, roadds and other works. This was a relatively peaceful and unspoiled sector. The work of the New Zealanders was so prodigious and rapid alongside the more leisurely pace of the French soldiers that they soon attracted attention from legions of other French soldiers. Before long the New Zealanders were feted as honoured guests and treated to enterainment and a daily ration of wine. In mid July, the work was complete and the 2 Field Company went back to their previous positions at Ploegsteert.

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Reginald Arthur William Calvert (Service # 4/1901)


First Names:Reginald Arthur William
Last Name:Calvert
Place of Birth:Christchurch, New Zealand
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Reginald Arthur William Calvert (Service # 4/1901) by Sepia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License