Topic: James Horne Aitken

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James Horne Aitken (Service no. 6/4) was a First World War soldier

(Note: in some documents his middle name is given as: H o r n e, not H o m e)

Pte. J.H. Aitken, Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1915. AWMMPrivate J.H. Aitken, Service no.  6/4, Canterbury Infantry Battalion, 1st NZEF

James Aitken was born in Christchurch on 16 December 1885 (although some documents have 1875 or 1887), the fourth son of James and Jessie Aitken. He attended Christ’s College and Canterbury University College, and lived at 10 Riccarton Road, Christchurch.

He was well known in many branches of sport and field games. He was a member of the Varsity first fifteen and  relinquished rugby only because of the demands of business on his spare time. He was one of the best mile and half-mile and cross-country runners Canterbury ever had. After giving up athletics he became secretary of the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association, holding that position for several years. Other sports clubs with which he was connected were the United Tennis Club, as secretary, and the Hagley Golf Club. His life had been an intensely active one, and he had met success in every direction. The Canterbury Rugby Union would be among those who expressed their sympathy.

At the outbreak of war he was Christchurch manager of the Northern Insurance Company, chief agent of the Indemnity Mutual, and a member of the firm Aitken Bros., sharebrokers.

He was a captain in the Queen’s Cadets for some years, but relinquished the commission before the war because of work pressure. He responded to the appeal for recruits for the Expeditionary Force and enlisted as a private. At that time there appeared to be no commission available. He chose to shoulder a rifle and seek promotion from  the ranks when opportunity presented itself, rather than wait at home for a commission.

Initial training began at Addington, with a range at Redcliffs being used for musket practice. He left for the war from Lyttelton on 16 October 1914 on board the Tahiti, arriving in Suez on 3 December. The Battalion camped at Zeitoun, four miles out of Cairo in a sandy and dirty site, where further training was held. While in Cairo he helped organise a dinner at Shepheard’s Hotel for Canterbury men to celebrate Christmas, which was attended by 65. The menu card bears his signature at top left. In late January news was received that the Turks were advancing on the Suez Canal and the Battalion was ordered to garrison posts at El Ferdan and Battery Post. The Turk attack took place early on the morning of 3 February 1915 and was repulsed by the next day. The Battalion remained in the Canal area, manning a few posts north of Ismailia till it returned to Zeitounon 26 February. They embarked on 13 April and landed at Mudros on the island of Lemnos and travelled to Anzac Cove on 25 April where they were immediately involved in heavy fighting. The troops had to attack, over precipitous country totally strange to them, an enemy who was invisible to them, and who was established in formidable defensive positions. Attempts to take Walker’s Ridge commenced on 2 May and Aitken died of wounds on Tuesday, 4 May 1915 near Quinn’s Post, Gallipoli, Turkey and is commemorated on panel 74 of the Lone Pine Memorial in the Lone Pine Cemetery, Anzac, Turkey.

He was orderly to General Sir Alexander Godley who wrote to his brother, as reported in The Press:

He had been my special orderly since we landed here, and had been invaluable to me. On the 5th [according to all other references, the 4th], the day he was killed, he was with me as usual, carrying my telescope, as he always did, and with his rifle, acting as my escort. We happened to be in one of the most forward posts when it was attacked in the afternoon by a considerable body of Turks, who, in addition to heavy rifle fire, were also throwing bombs. Some of the men were rather shaken by the explosion of a bomb in their midst, and Aitken was most cool and plucky in helping to rally them. He then helped me to extend some supports that came up, and shortly afterwards, the attack having been repulsed, and having died away, I started to walk down the hill, thinking he was following me, and it was not till I reached the foot of the hill that I missed him. I then sent word back ti let him know that I would walk slowly on down the valley, and that he would catch me up, and it was not till I had gone some way, and met Tahu Rhodes, that we began to be uneasy about him, and sent back again, with the result that, to my great grief, I heard that he had been hit in the chest, and had a lacerated wound, evidently from a bomb, and had died on the stretcher on which he was being brought down the valley. My two A.D.C.’s, Major J.G. Hughes and Lieutenant Tahu Rhodes, have carried a wooden cross, which will be placed on his grave, and I can only repeat to you my deepest sympathy, and hope that it may be some consolation to you to know that he died gallantly with his face to the enemy, in the act of performing signal service in the execution of his duty.

Lieutenant-Colonel P.C. Fenwick wrote:

I am writing to send my very sincere sympathy with you in the loss of Jim. I was tremendously fond of him, and will miss him awfully. He died just splendidly, rallying the men back to the trenches. A good death, and one he would have chosen himself. We are having an appalling time, but all are doing their best, and it is a real good best.

His brother, George Grey Aitken, of 106 Hereford Street, Christchurch, was his next of kin.

Another brother, 24/670 Sergeant Edward Bouchier Aitken, 2 New Zealand Rifle Brigade, also served in WWI and was killed in action in France.

Lone Pine Memorial Lone Pine Memorial : detail

References:

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online - Registration Number Birth: 1885/2991; Death: 1918/36000

Aitken’s will, probate, New Zealand Military Forces certificate of death

James Aitken on Online Cenotaph, Auckland War Memorial Museum

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

New Zealand War Graves Project

Discovering Anzacs

Personal notes: Press, volume LI, issue 15292, 31 May 1915, page 7

Private J.H. Aitken: Sun, volume I, issue 407, 31 May 1915, page

Roll of honour: casualties at the Dardanelles: Timaru Herald, volume CII, issue 15669, 31 May 1915, page 7

Brave soldier's death: Press, volume LI, issue 15329, 13 July 1915, page 8

Canterbury men in Cairo: Press, volume LI, issue 15198, 9 February 1915, page 2

Canterbury Rugby Union sympathy resolution: Dominion, volume 8, issue 2479, 4 June 1915, page 4

Canterbury University College review roll of honour: 45th number

New Zealand war memorials and rolls of honour, Christ’s College, Christchurch, New Zealand

 Photograph with Prof. H. Stewart and Aitken in Egypt: Sun, volume II, issue 398, 20 May 1915, page 6

History of the Canterbury Regiment, NZEF 1914-1919

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James Horne Aitken


First Names:James Horne
Last Name:Aitken
Place of Birth:Christchurch