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Cecil William Kelly  (1891-1916)

 

Wellington Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force

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Cecil Kelly is featured in the North Hill Local History Group’s publication “The Fallen of North Hill Parish”. If you have any knowledge, information, pictures or artefacts which would be useful in telling his story, please contact us.

 

CECIL WILLIAM KELLY

Cecil was born on 25th January 1891 in the house next to the Ring o’ Bells pub in North Hill village. His parents were William Kelly and Elizabeth Brown. She was a local girl and the daughter of the North Hill village postmaster. They married in St Torney’s Church in 1885. Soon after their marriage they travelled to Huelva in Spain where William was working for the British mining company, Rio Tinto. Their first child, Beatrice, was born there but shortly afterwards the family returned to North Hill, where their other two children Evelyn and Cecil were born. When he was three months old Cecil was baptised in the Methodist Chapel in North Hill and named William Cecil Kelly. He was always known in the family as Cecil.

Cecil’s father, William, was a mine engineer who spent much of his working life overseas. By the time Cecil was ten years old his father had died whilst working abroad, leaving Elizabeth a widow with their three children. Beatrice was learning the job of a postmistress with her grandfather, Charles Turner Brown, in North Hill’s post office. Cecil and Evelyn were living with their mother, who was running a boarding house at 8 Regent Street in Plymouth.

Around 1908 Beatrice went to the Far East and married in Singapore. Five years later Cecil emigrated to New Zealand and found employment as a farm worker on the large sheep and cattle farm in Hawke’s Bay known as Gwavas Station.

At the outbreak of war the 1st Wellington Regiment recruited and trained a force which was sent to fight in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, in which New Zealand casualties exceeded 7,000. Some officers and men who had become battle hardened at Gallipoli were formed into the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment and Cecil was one of their earliest new recruits. Cecil joined up on 15th October 1915 at Trentham, near Wellington, NZ and went into training there.

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Recruits arriving at Trentham Camp by Charles Buchan

On 8th January 1916 the New Zealand Expeditionary Force left for the war and five weeks later disembarked in Egypt. The training continued in Egypt and was much harder than that experienced back home. Long marches were common, navigating by compass and stars through the desert, hot by day and cold by night. Men with any sickness such as dysentery and enteritis were soon weeded out.

The company left Egypt on troopships (Cecil was on TS Llandovery Castle) and arrived in Marseilles on 18th April 1916. That same day they boarded a train for the British Sector in Armentičres in Northern France. Marching on the cobbled roads was difficult; the troops really needed heavy boots to protect their feet but boots were in short supply and the company suffered.

On 15th May the battalion entered an area of the front line with less intense fighting than elsewhere. Cecil’s experience in Armentičres was dominated by the tedium of trench warfare training, work parties and trudging along the communication trenches. In August they marched to Airaines. Training began for the coming offensive in the Somme area. Once again the cobbled roads, the weight of the men’s packs and their lack of fitness, having come from the trenches, all contributed to many men needing medical treatment. Early in September it was time for the battalion to re-engage with the enemy. They marched to Fricourt Wood close to the front line.

flers.JPGThe plan was for the Allied front line to move forward, punching a large hole through the enemy lines. The New Zealand Division was tasked with crossing the German front and second lines, and capturing the village of Flers. The resulting battle of Flers-Courcellete was the first battle in which tanks were used. The attack started at 6:20 a.m. on 15th September with an intense bombardment of German positions. Accurate counter-barrage fire from the German artillery served to increase the mayhem. The New Zealanders went over the top and ultimately Flers was captured but at great loss of life.

 

Taken from the regimental war diary

The war diary records that Cecil’s battalion advanced behind the 2nd Canterbury battalion on the 14th September 1916 in preparation for the attack on the following day. ‘Zero hour’ was set for 6:20 a.m. on the 15th September and Cecil’s company moved forward in the line to occupy a trench known as Worcester Trench.

The Wellington West Coast (WWC) Company joined with the Hawke’s Bay (HB) Company for the advance. They moved up Turk Lane and Thistle Alley before moving forward to an even more advanced position at 8:15 a.m. At 9:40 a.m. the men were ordered to be ready to assist the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade but later at 1:45 p.m. the commanding officer was advised that the Germans were counter attacking at Flers.

With the WWC on the right and HB on the left the men advanced. The WWC moved forward through Flers with HB to the left of the village. The WWC secured the trench beyond of the village with HB on their left side and two other New Zealand companies (the Taranaki and the Ruahine) in reserve in Flers. The Germans counter attacked but this attack was broken up by artillery and rifle fire and the four companies dug in and held their ground.

In this action there were 14 of the men were killed, one of whom was Cecil. There were 95 wounded, including 2 officers. No man was reported as missing which meant that one of the survivors witnessed Cecil’s death and that Cecil was buried somewhere within the area with the grave subsequently lost in later events.

The map below shows the position of trenches around Flers on 26th September 1916, just 11 days after Cecil’s death.

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Cecil was one of those killed in the action by machine gun fire. His body was never recovered and, with his colleagues, he is remembered on the Caterpillar Valley (NZ) Memorial at Longueval, France. Cecil is also remembered on war memorials at Congdon’s Shop in North Hill and at Tikokino in New Zealand.

 

The report of his death in The Cornish & Devon Post:

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KILLED IN ACTION

PTE KELLY, OF NORTH HILL

A letter from one of his chums, received on Wednesday morning, conveyed the sad news of the death of Pte Cecil W Kelly, only son of the late Mr Wm Kelly and Mrs Kelly, who is at present residing with her daughter at Newquay.

Pte Kelly left England for New Zealand early in 1915 [sic – he actually emigrated in 1913], and later enlisted in the Wellington Volunteers. After a period of training, deceased's regiment was sent to France, where he has been for the past four months. Taking part in the great push on the Somme on the morning of the 15th Sept, he was killed instantaneously by machine gun fire.

The news of his death cast quite a gloom over the village of North Hill, where he was born, and in which his aunt and uncle (Mr and Mrs G G Davey) reside. He was a bright and genial young man and a general favourite. Great sympathy is felt in the neighbourhood for the sorrowing members of his family.

 

Cecil’s name is inscribed on the Tikikino War Memorial in Central Hawke’s Bay on North Island in New Zealand.

The following images have been taken specifically for this website by Peter Butler, the Mayor of Central Hawke’s Bay. Our thanks go to Peter for his support. This is the second Tikokino War Memorial Hall which was built in 1978. The original was demolished as it was built of concrete and was, therefore, an earthquake risk!

The plaque is in the entrance lobby of the hall.

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Two posters were created to remember Cecil at the book launch of “The Fallen of North Hill Parish”. To see them click for poster one and poster two.

 

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