by Niki Francis
Article reproduced by permission of author
copyright held by author
My great-uncle Tui died 35 years before I was born yet the fine thread of his absence is woven into the fabric of my life.
Tui was one of 103,000 New Zealanders who fought overseas during World War 1, one of the 18,500 who were killed in action. When he died in Palestine in November 1917, my grief-stricken great-grandmother implored my grandmother “please, name your next child after him.”
The next child was a girl, my aunt Gordon. Tui’s official names were Hugh Gordon Haswell; he whistled like a tui and the name stuck. My aunt was stuck with a man’s name that even now at 89 she rues.
In a photo dated 1915, Tui, in his Auckland Mounted Rifles uniform, stands contrapposto, in the relaxed, harmonious style of classical sculpture, bandolier pouches slung across his chest. His face soft, his mouth stretched into a nascent smile, he looks past the camera, almost sad. The collar badges and buttons on his khaki tunic reflect the photographer’s magnesium flash. Puttees, immaculately criss-crossed from ankle to knee, secure his jodhpurs above gleaming boots.
Tui’s military file says he is 5 feet 7 inches, 10 stone 10 pounds, hair brown, eyes blue, complexion fair. He is 28 years and 9 months old at enlistment.
Tui was born in Whangarei on 7 March 1887, the eighth child of Henry Haswell and Elizabeth Lang, both part of the migration of Gaelic-speaking Scottish Presbyterians who settled in Waipu. He began to ride early on his grandparent’s farm at Langs Beach where he and his brothers learnt the skills of master horsemanship essential later to join the Mounted Rifles.
When the Governor, Lord Liverpool, announced the declaration of war in August 1914 New Zealand responded swiftly out of loyalty to Mother England and concern to protect New Zealand’s growing agricultural exports to Britain.
"TUI" a computer colourised reproduction.
Tui enlisted on 15 December 1915 and began training at Trentham army camp. The Mounted Rifles training was tough and only the fit master horsemen got through.
According to my aunt who remembers stories from her mother, Tui’s closest sister, Tui was a gentle person. Perhaps it was not in his nature to jump in as soon as war broke out, but by late 1915 he thought he should "do his duty". Public disapproval of men who had not enlisted increased with mounting losses of troops overseas.
On 1 April 1916, Tui and his fellow members of the Auckland Mounted Rifles’ 11th Reinforcements sailed out of Wellington Harbour on the troopship Maunganui; they disembarked in Suez a month later. Master horsemanship included love of the animals that were their partners in war so during the long voyage the men stayed busy caring for their horses.
After further training in Suez, Tui and his squadron went to war in the desert. By late January and early February 1917 there was a lull in activity and the Mounted Rifles enjoyed daily football games between regiments. Most soldiers had leave, including Tui who overstayed his by 24 hours and forfeited a day’s pay.
Back into the fray, the Mounted Rifles were among those New Zealanders who “captured the important redoubt of Tel el Saba,” and “watched the famous Australian Light Horse charge into Beersheba.” They were then sent to wrest Ayun Kara, on the road and railway linking Jaffa to Jerusalem, from the Turks. The battle took place on 14 November 1917 amidst orange groves and vineyards.
On that day, Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll, records in his diary “I sent for the 3rd Squadron [Tui’s squadron], they came up at the gallop, dismounted within 100 yards of the position. We now come under terrific fire and later artillery found us. Movement was impossible and we scratched into the sand. We were loosing (sic) men and most of my regiment was engaged.” There was little cover between the orange groves and sand dunes andthe New Zealanders were outnumbered.Fighting was fierce and at close hand; 14 November was recorded as “the worst single day in the mounteds’ war since Gallipoli, with 44 men killed and 141 wounded. 41 horses were also killed.”
By the time darkness fell, the New Zealanders had defeated the Turks and the battle was over. So was Tui’s life.
He was buried the following day on top of a hill on the Gaza Road with a prayer from Padre J.D. Wilson. One of the few fallen who could be identified, after the war Tui was moved to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Ramleh near the modern Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
Tui left no diaries or letters, only acronyms and file references in multiple hands in his military file.
A list of movements is squashed between two vertical lines. The list lacks circularity in the absence of two letters at the bottom; those two letters that appear at the bottom of his brothers’ movements lists; the ‘NZ’ that meant they made it home:
Trentham, Wellington, Suez, Bir et Maler, Port Said, Choubra, Abbassia, Heliopolis, Port Said, Bir et Maler, Masaid, Ayun Kara.
On Anzac Day 2008 I stood with other New Zealanders at memorial ceremonies in Flanders. I came home to Brussels and tried to write in homage about those who died, those who mourned and those who made it home changed forever. I could not do it. It is not in generalities that we live; it is in the specifics of our lives.
That Anzac night, a tui sang in my dreams and when I woke I thought of my Tui.
Tui is not confined by the Palestinian soil. Nor is he limited to his name etched on the marble wall in the lofty Sanctuary at Auckland War Memorial Museum. He is more than his name intoned at the roimata pounamu, tears on greenstone, memorial at the army museum at Waiouru.
He is in the tui’s clicking, creaking song at the going down of the sun and in the morning; he nestles in faded scraps of memory; he sits quietly in shaded corners of history. Tui has been hidden in the great well of grief for the thousands who paid with their lives for the security of our trade and borders.
I inherited his absence. Grief for Tui was in the air our family breathed. It is time to lift that grief to the sun. The thread of his absence is aglow with the fact that Tui lived, loved and was loved.
Lest we forget.
Auckland War Memorial Museum, Cenotaph database, URL:
Retrieved 13 May 2008
Ministry for Culture and Heritage nzhistory.net:
1. ‘New Zealand and the First World War’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net/nz/war/firstworld-war-overview/introduction, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Feb-2008
2. ‘Origins of the war – First World War overview’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war-overview/origins, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15-Jun-2007
3. ‘Preparing for war – First World War overview’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war-overview/nzs-contribution, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 7-Apr-2008
4. ‘New Zealand goes to war – First World War overview’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/new-zealand-goes-to-war-first-world-war, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Oct-2007
5. ‘New Zealand goes to war – First World War overview’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/new-zealand-goes-to-war-first-world-war, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Oct-2007
6. ‘The war at home – First World War overview’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war-overview/defending-our-shores, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Oct 2007
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association www.nzmr.org:
Terry Kinloch. Devils on Horses: The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. Retrieved from: http://www.nzmr.org/brigade.htm on 21 May 2008.
The Diary of Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll, 11th North Auckland Mounted Rifles, NZMR, URL: http://www.nzmr.org/mccarroll4.htm. Retrieved 22 May 2008.
3. Briscoe Moore. The Mounted Riflemen in Sinai and Palestine, 1920. Retrieved 21 May 2008.
Paul Sanderson: http://www.army.mil.nz/at-a-glance/news/army-news/368/tah.htm. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
“Personal Paragraphs – the Haswell family” in Auckland Weekly News, 3 May 1917, retrieved from New Zealand Maritime Index – personal record, URL: http://www.nzmaritimeindex.org.nz/, 14 May 2008 (NZMI)
Military file for Trooper Hugh Gordon HASWELL, 13/3161, Auckland Mounted Rifles, 11th Reinforcements. Acquired from Archives New Zealand, 2007