Topic: Clarence Victor Palmer

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Clarence 'Cal' Victor Palmer (Army Service #6/3124) was a soldier in the First World War who lived for a while in the Wharenui area and attended school there.

Clarence was born in Christchurch on 22 September 1895 but with his mother's surname, 'Taylor'. Mary Ann Taylor was single when at the age of 26 she gave birth to Clarence. The name of Clarence's father was not revealed. Originally from Gloucestershire, England Mary Ann had immigrated with her family to New Zealand on the 'Waimate' in 1874.

Clarence Victor Palmer When Clarence was almost one year old Mary Ann married William Richard Palmer on 2 September 1896 and Clarence became a Palmer. There were ten children born after Clarence; Nellie (1897), Arthur George (1899), John Richard (1901), Emily Mary Jane 'Ruby' (1903), Walter Cecil (1904), Leonard Selwyn (1905), Ivy May (1907), Hazel Maud (1908), Edward Arnold (1910) and Roy (1913) - all of whom survived childhood to live long lives. William Richard Palmer was born  in Croydon, Surrey, England in 1869 the same year as Mary Ann. His family immigrated to New Zealand on the 'Eastern Monarch' in 1874.

Clarence began his schooling at Fendalton School in Clyde Road reaching standard two there before his father enrolled him at the recently opened Wharenui School on 3 February 1908. According to the Wharenui School 'Register of Admissions, Progress and Withdrawls' the Palmers were living in Wharenui Road, that Clarence finished standard three there in December 1908, then went on to work in Christchurch. However he was enrolled at Wharenui again by his father on 11 July 1910 and finished standard four in May 1911. The register does not say where he was destined to go after he left school but he most likely went on to work again.

When he enlisted in the army in 1915 Clarence attested that he had been working for the well known butcher G. Knight of High Street, Christchurch. There is a photograph of the interior of Knight's business taken shortly before the war and it is possible that the young man donned in butcher's apron, standing next to the counter, is Clarence. A report in the Press lists Clarence responding to an appeal for recruits in May 1915. Some of Clarence's Wharenui School mates are also listed: Herbert Victor Tregoning and Philip Arthur Lummis.

Clarence was initially in C Company, 7th Reinforcements after he was passed 'fit' in his medical examination on1 June 1915. That medical described him as 5' 5¾" tall, 129lb with brown eyes, brown hair and fresh complexion with a small goitre. On 14 June he arrived at Trentham where he was posted to Private, 1st Company, 1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment on 14 June 1915. He became sick with influenza and was admitted to the camp hospital on 6 July. He remained there for ten days before he was granted two weeks of sick leave. Once he had finished training Clarence embarked at Wellington with the 7th Reinforcements. He probably sailed on HMNZT #34 'Warrimoo' which departed with four other ships on 10 October. Their convoy travelled via Albany, Australia (19 October) and Freemantle (22 October) before the long haul to Suez (18 November) where they disembarked  on 20 November 1915. 

OnKnight's Butchers, High Street, Christchurch. Photo from Knight Family Collection and published on http://www.highstreetstories.co.nze of the first assignments for the newly arrived Canterbury Infantry Battalion reinforcements was to guard the numerous Turkish prisoners of war in Cairo. This task may have lasted until early 1916 when the reinforcements were sent to join their battalion in the New Zealand Camp at Moascar for further drilling and training. One of Clarence's Wharenui School mates, Herbert Tregoning happened to be in the same 1st Company. Whether or not Clarence was in 15 Platoon with Herbert is not known. But given that they both had enlisted for the army on the same day it is likely that they intended to serve together if they could and they may have had contact with each other in the coming months.

Clarence had to be admitted to the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital in Abbassia on 27 February 1916. He was discharged to the New Zealand Base depot at Ghezireh on 6 April and then on 20 April was sent to rejoin his battalion's camp at Moascar. The entire 1st Battalion had been shipped to Marseilles in early April while Clarence was still recuperating at Ghezireh. His army file states that he embarked for Marseilles on board the 'Caledonia', a former British passenger liner on 10 May.  Clarence rejoined his battalion in the Armentieres sector on 18 July 1916. In August the New Zealand Division was pulled out of the front line and moved towards the Somme for it's entry into that battle which was already in progress. Much training was needed for the Division as tactics had evolved significantly since the New Zealanders had arrived in France.

In September the Division moved out of their training area at Merelessart and marched towards Fricourt where it arrived on 10 September. It remained here until it entered the attack. The 1st Canterbury Battalion was not involved in the first phase of the attack but on the 14th it was ordered to support trenches near Mametz Wood but was then diverted to a position in front of Flers where on 17 September it was shelled by the Germans all afternoon and night. Coincidentally, another former Wharenui School mate, Reginald Vincent was serving in the NZ 1st Light Trench Mortar Battery in this fighting where he was wounded. On the night of 18/19 September 1st Battalion was relieved and went to Savoy Trench for rest and to receive new reinforcements. Clarence and his 1st Battalion were next involved in the Battle of Morval which began on 24 September with an artillery bombardment that lasted until the attack was launched at 12.35pm the next day. The 1st Canterbury battalion was on the right of the attack and resistance was relatively light, allowing the New Zealanders to quickly achieve their objectives with minimal losses.

A further attack was carried out on 27 September with 1st Canterbury on the right once again. Clarence's 1st Company was in the second wave of the attack which again, quickly achieved it's objectives. They consolidated their gains until they were relieved on 28/29 September and went  back to Savoy Trench to act as Divisional reserve. On 2 October 1st Battalion took over the trenches south-west of Flers for two days before moving to bivouacs at Pommiers Redoubt. This ended 1st Battalion's involvement in the Somme Campaign.

The next assignment for the New Zealand Division was back in the Armentieres sector. It was now a relatively quiet sector which the Division occupied until the end of 1916 during which they saw little action apart from a couple of successful trench raids by some of the men of 1st Canterbury Battalion. It was also punctuated by a visit and inspection by the New Zealand Prime Minister the Honourable Mr W. F. Massey and 2nd ANZAC Corps Commander Lieutenant-General A. J. Godley on 31 October. In January 1917 1st Canterbury Battalion was moved into 2nd Brigade where it would work alongside 2nd Canterbury Battalion for much of that year.

At the end of January, 2nd Brigade was ordered back into the line in the Bois Grenier Sector which again was an uneventful stint. Further billeting in Estaires followed from 26 February  to 12 March when the New Zealand Division was ordered to move to the Messines Sector. It was in March that Norman Henry Fraser, another former Wharenui school mate who had enlisted during 1916, marched in to join the 1st Canterbury Battalion. It is highly likely that the two former Wharenui scholars became reacquainted at some point since they would hereafter fight side by side.

The objective of the Messines offensive was to capture the German held high ground of the Wytschaete and Messines Ridges which was a constant menace to this sector of the British line as well as to secure the southern flank of the Ypres sector where an even bigger offensive was planned. It entailed months of meticulous planning, preparation and training. When the New Zealanders weren't in the front line they were in work parties constructing trenches and building gun platforms for the multitude of artillery being brought up for the offensive. In April the 2nd Brigade (of which 1st Battalion was part) moved to the training area near St Omer to begin training in the tactics and plans prepared for the offensive. An area that resembled the terrain over which the New Zealanders would be attacking was prepared to make the troops thoroughly familiar with every stage of the attack. This was vital since the New Zealanders would be spearheading the attack at Messines. 1st Canterbury battalion had it's rehearsals there during the last two weeks of April.

In May the 1st Canterbury Battalion were at Bulford Camp, Neuve Eglise where for most of that month they had a daily 1½ to 2 hour long march to the front lines to dig assembly trenches and construct other works before marching back to camp. Their work was accompanied by a constant artillery bombardment of the German lines to prevent them harrassing the New Zealanders at their work. On the nights of 5/6 and 6/7 May the Germans shelled Bulford Camp forcing the New Zealanders to evacuate. On 10 May 1st Battalion marched to billets at Nieppe. Further construction work of all kinds was carried out behind the front lines, laying rail, repairing roads, communication trenches, burying cable and building gun platforms as well as bringing up ammunition for the dumps. On 22 May 1st Battalion went into camp in the huts and tents on the slopes of Hill 63.

On 30 May a number of experienced, well trained men from 1st Battalion, Clarence among them, were formed into the 'B Team' and sent to Morbecque for specialised training. This B Team formed a cadre of experienced men on which the battalion could be quickly reformed with new recruits should the battalion be decimated in the attack. However the Messines attack was so successful that this "insurance" was not required. It did mean Clarence missed the Messines attack as he only rejoined his Battalion on 19 June when it had been withdrawn, much depleted in strength, from the front trenches and placed in Divisional Reserve.

When the New Zealand Division was relieved from the front it went straight into preparations for the attack at La Basse Ville, south east of Messines. 1st Battalion worked on laying water pipes at Kemmel. In July the men of 2nd Brigade (of which 1st Battalion formed part) lined the Neuve Eglise - Steenwerck Road to cheer His Majesty the King as he drove past. On 19 July 1st Battalion went back in to the front line west of  La Basse Ville where another attack would be launched to draw German strength away from the impending major allied offensive at Ypres. Although not directly involved in the attack 1st Canterbury spent subsequent weeks in the new and precarious positions enduring miserable wet and muddy conditions, with frequent shelling and gas attacks.They were pulled out of the line on 17/18 August and by the end of the month were in billets at Coulomby to begin training for the Ypres offensive. As the High Command had anticipated a breakthrough before the New Zealand Division entered the battle, the training for the New Zealanders involved fighting of a more mobile nature rather than trench to trench fighting.

On 25 September 1st Canterbury (as did the rest of the NZ Division) began their move to the area north of Ypres, arriving there on 27 September. During the night of 30 September the whole of 2nd Brigade took over the section of the front line alloted to them, which they held with light casualties until relieved on the night of 2/3 October. On 4 October the 1st and 4th New Zealand Brigades (but not Clarence's 2nd Brigade) fought in the Battle of Gravenstafel Spur, a ridge that led down from the Passchendaele Ridge. The success of this action gained a jumping-off position for the subsequent British and Australian attacks on 9 October. This attack proved a complete disaster as the rain and mud  prevented the artillery support from fully deploying into action and the German resistance in this sector was very strong and in depth. The combination of these circumstances along with inadequate time for preparations would also lead to disastrous results for the New Zealand Division when it was launched wholesale into their main attack on 12 October.

Clarence's 1st Canterbury Battalion did play a minor role in the Gravenstafel battle as the reserve to the 4th Brigade. 1st Canterbury were based in captured German trenches and Clarence's 1st Company was called up when a German counter-attack threatened. But the threat was broken-up by artillery fire and 1st Company were called-off. The 1st Canterbury Battalion spent the next week in billets at Godewaersvelde making preparations for the upcoming attack. The NZ Division were to attack a sector where the Ravebeek stream had been turned into a virtual muddy lake by artillery fire and the constant rain. Clarence's 2nd Brigade were ordered to advance on a half-mile wide sector on the right half of the New Zealand Division's sector. This sector happened to contain the flooded Ravebeek 'lake'. Clarence's Battalion had the task of securing their objectives only after the 1st Otago Battalion had secured theirs. When the 1st Canterbury Battalion moved up to it's starting positions on the morning of 12 October it came under heavy German shell fire at 5 a.m.

Tthe attack began at 5.25 a.m. but the artillery barrage had made little impact on the German defences, particularly the thick layers of barbed wire and pill boxes because the rain, mud and shell craters ensured that most of the artillery could not be brought up and deployed in time. The first wave of the attack manged to cross the Ravebeek only to be confronted with intact masses of barbed wire and a thick hail of machine gun fire.  Clarence's 1st Canterbury Battalion were in the next wave which managed to get through the first belt of barbed wire only to be held confronted by the second. This was effectively the end of the offensive for the New Zealand troops, having barely got out of the starting blocks and suffering many hundreds of casualties. One of them was Clarence.

In his personnel file it states that Clarence received a gun-shot wound to the face during the attack on 12 October and was evacuated by the 1st New Zealand Field Ambulance to the 3rd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station on the same day. It appears that the wound was not severe as, under the trying conditions of that day, the quickest to evacuate were those who were not severely wounded and perhaps still mobile to some degree. Clarence was admitted to the 2nd Convalescent Depot at Rouen on 19 October and then attached to the New Zealand Infantry and General Brigade Depot at Etaples on 15 December 1917, a relatively speedy recovery for a battle wound. He was then marched out to Division on 3 January 1918, rejoining 1st Canterbury Battalion on 22 February 1918. At this time the 1st Battalion had been in the front line for the last three months and fought in the attack on Polderhoek Chateau. They had just been withdrawn for rest and reinforcement before moving to Caestre for training and rest. There was also some sport including a football tournament between the various battalions which was eventually won by 1st Canterbury Battalion.

The big German Offensive known as the Kaiserschlacht ("Kaiser's Battle" or more commonly the Ludendorff Offensive) began on 21 March. On 24 March 2nd Brigade entrained at Caestre for the journey to Amiens. Owing to the damage of the railway near Amiens and the chaos caused by the German offensive 2nd Brigade was broken up and several routes used for the various units to travel to Hedauville where they all arrived by the evening of 26 March. The New Zealanders were rushed in to shore up what threatened to develop into a large gap between two of the British Corps with the Germans poised to exploit this. The 1st and 2nd Canterbury battalions advanced to a defensive position around Auchonvillers later that evening. This happened to be the old British trenches near Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme battlefield of 1916 and the New Zealanders had just beaten the Germans to these trenches. But on 27 March the Germans began shelling this position and then attacked it. This was beaten off but the neighbouring brigade had retreated forcing the 1st Canterbury to extend their right flank by another 250 yards. There was no further action until 1st Canterbury were relieved on 29/30 March. They were back in the line on 3/4 April when they tried to establish themselves at Hamel, only to find that contrary to reports, it was strongly held by the Germans. The following day the Germans started heavily bombarding the New Zealand Division area and launched two separate attacks on the 1st Battalion trenches, both of which were beaten off. On 7/8 April 1st Battalion were relieved and went back to Divisional Reserve. The following months were spent manning rotating in and out of the front line where they had halted the German advance.

Clarence was granted leave to the UK on 25 July 1918 but was admitted to No. 3 General Hospital at Codford on 10 August. He reamined there until he was transferred to the Convalescent section of the camp on 13 December. By this time the war was over and Clarence embarked at Liverpool on the S.S. Kia Ora to return to New Zealand on 27 March 1919. The Kia Ora arrived back at Lyttelton on 9 May 1918 bearing almost 700 South Island soldiers. With the influenza outbreak in full swing the boat was quarantined and the public were denied access to the dock when the soldieres disembarked. The entire contingent entrained at the harbour for transport to the Christchurch Railway station where the local AA had cars waiting to drive the men and their families back to their homes. Clarence returned to his family home at 52 Wharenui Road.

Ironically, Clarence had survived three and a half years of active military service abroad (a considerable and fortunate feat) to then return home and become a victim of a motoring accident. It was 10.40 pm 19 October 1919 when Clarence was struck by a motor car at the Cook and Ross's corner in Victoria Square (Msrs Cook and Ross ran a pharmacy on the western corner of Colombo and Armagh Street where the old National Bank building currently stands). He suffered injuries to his head, abrasions and shock. He was taken to Christchurch Hospital and it was reported in the papers the next day that he was making a good recovery.

What Clarence did in the years immediately after the war is unkown. He does not appear in records or directories until the Temuka Leader reported that he had appeared before the magistrate and was convicted and fined for riding a bicycle late at night without a light. The 'incident' occurred on Ewen Road on 21 May 1926 and reveals that he was a cheesemaker by profession. This would be Clarence's line of work for the next thirty years until he retired.

Clarence married Cecilia Ann (Dolly) Sughrue on 7 July 1926 and the two lived together in Factory Road, Temuka until around 1938. In that year they were listed at High Street, Temuka. They had at least three children; Leo Clarence (b. 1927), Norman Moore (b. 1928), Lenora Mary (b. 1933). Clarence passed away in Temuka on 1 October 1984 and Cecilia on 7 April 1990.

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Clarence Victor Palmer


First Names:Clarence Victor
Last Name:Palmer
Place of Birth:Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand