Passchendaele information sought

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    Trevor Hobbs, of Invercargill, shows a framed display of his great-uncle William (Bill) Appelbe's army buttons, badges, medals and photographs. Photo: Hayden Williams

    SOUTHLANDERS are being asked to supply the University of Otago with their family stories, photos and letters about the disastrous World War 1 campaign at Passchendaele, in Belgium.

    University of Otago historian Professor Tom Brooking said he was supervising the collection of the information, which would be used to create a blog, Passchendaele Stories, where the stories would be told.

    “The Otago Regiment, which included soldiers from Southland, was particularly badly knocked around and worse hit than other units [in Belgium]… put simply, they were in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

    October 1917 – the month of the Broodseinde and Passchendaele offensives during the Third Battle of Ypres – was one of the bloodiest months in New Zealand’s military history.

    Official figures vary, but between 1500 and 2000 New Zealand soldiers died in these battles or from wounds sustained. More than 3000 more were seriously injured.

    A friend of Trevor Hobbs points out his great-uncle Albert (Bert) Appelbe’s name on the Tyne Cot Memorial, in Belgium, during a 2014 visit to the monument. Photo: Supplied

    Military historian Dr Aaron Fox, of Greenvale, said the battles in Belgium were where the Otago Regiment, which included many Southlanders, got their nickname, “the unlucky Otagos”.

    The failed attack on Bellevue Spur on October 12 was “hellish”, he said. Nearly 200 Southland and Otago soldiers were killed when the Otago Regiment led the first wave of assault against at least eight German pillboxes, without adequate artillery support.

    “Troops with mud up to their waist moving slowly carrying 40kg of equipment – it was a slow march to death.”

    Many Southlanders are looking into the history of their relatives’ experiences in Belgium during World War 1.

    Invercargill man Trevor Hobbs is still hoping to have his great-uncle Albert (Bert) Appelbe , who was killed in action in Belgium on October 4, 1917, properly commemorated.

    Mr Hobbs said it would have been fitting for Albert’s name to be included on the Maheno war memorial’s plaque in Otago in time for the 100-year anniversary of his death, but instead of Albert’s name appearing on the plaque, Albert’s younger brother, Eddie Percy Appelbe, is mistakenly listed as having died overseas.

    Eddie enlisted along with his brothers Albert and William, but was turned down for overseas service.

    Waitaki District Council recreation manager Erik van der Spek said since he was notified of the mistake in early 2015, further research indicated there could be as many as six more wrong names on the monument.

    Dr Fox said war memorials were “notoriously inaccurate” since they tended to have been erected by small and often self-appointed groups relying on hearsay and memory.

    He believed an additional plaque acknowledging the known errors and explaining how they happened would be appropriate.Stories and images can be submitted by email to passchendaele-stories@otago.ac.nz

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