Last year, Ashburton Museum opened a new interactive exhibition, called Balls, Bullets and Boots: From Rugby Field to Battlefield.
Through video installations, ex-All Black Anton Oliver took visitors from a pre-World War One changing room, through the trenches and back home to Ashburton Station. These experiences are seen through the eyes of fifteen star players and one remarkable lady coach.
The exhibition combined two themes of World War One and rugby, both of which New Zealanders take great pride in. In looking at either story, it is sometimes easy to focus on the men who stood out – the heroic soldier or successful sportsman.
Others are relegated to the bench of history, given a brief mention or simply forgotten.
In order to rectify this in some small way, the museum included an area in the exhibition dedicated to Ashburton players who also served.
Their stories were drawn from the museum archives and from the magazines of Ashburton High School. They were written in the style of ‘pen portraits’ – a common feature of sports programmes of the time.
Over the coming weeks we will share these stories.
While not an exhaustive list, Heaven’s XV are representatives for all those who played, served and fell.
Established in 1881, Ashburton High School published its first magazine in 1908. As with many other schools, pride in past military achievements was celebrated.
In December 1913 a brass plaque was unveiled commemorating the ex-pupils who had served in the South African War. Headmaster Watters stated that eleven boys had enlisted (roughly 6%); three of whom died.
In an awful foreshadowing, Watters hoped that if ever the time came, the pupils or old pupils of the Ashburton High School would be prepared and ready to do their duties as their predecessors had been.
By December 1914, fifty Old Boys had enlisted. With no real casualties to report, the headmaster could muse on how schools at a time of national crises, play their part in the scheme of the Empire.
One way, he believed, was by playing of sport.
Headmaster Watters claimed: ‘the German schoolboy plays no games, the teachers there are enthusiastic in science and literature’.
He observed that the British schoolboy plays cricket and football, “which inspire in him the spirit that accepts success with humility and failure with cheerfulness that sees a duty in the protection of the weak, the fulfilling of a pledge at whatever cost, unswerving loyalty to ones fellows and ‘fair play’ above all things …The boys ‘fair play’ becomes the nations honour.”
By July 1915, however, the time for musing had passed. 81 Ashburton High School boys had enlisted and 5 had already died.
Eric George Smith
Born 1893 in Springburn, to John and Sarah. John was a guard on the Mount Somers train and later a foreman in Christchurch. Eric attended Springburn School before spending 1907 at Ashburton High School. He left in 1908 for Christchurch, where he trained as a carpenter. He was a keen footballer and member of the Merivale Football Club. A strong swimmer, he had a Royal Life Saving School instructor’s certificate. Eric enlisted in August 1914, and received a gunshot wound to the head in the Dardanelles, dying in May 1915.
William George Patching
Son of William Patching, the local saddler, Will was born in 1890. He attended Borough School before studying at Ashburton High School, 1905 – 1906. He worked first with his father, then took up farming in Waimate. He was a prominent member of both the Southern Cross Football Club and the Ashburton Harriers. A comrade stated that, “a stauncher or truer soldier never walker the peninsula and he was a good solider and played the game.” Will enlisted August 1914 and was shot in the head in May. He had only been on active service for a fortnight.
Leonard John Rountree
Born in 1892 to Catherine and Samuel of Tinwald. Len attended Ashburton High School, 1908 – 1910. He was said to be one of the best athletes, footballers and rifle shots the school ever had. He was a prefect and won awards for debating, shooting and athletics. A consistent member of the 1st XV, he captained in 1910. On leaving school Len farmed in Southland, then Masterton. He enlisted August 1914. An enthusiastic Old Boy, prior to leaving he spoke at the school, congratulating their football victories. He was killed in action at Gallipoli in June 1915. A past pupil of Hampstead School, on news of his death their flag was flown at half-mast.
By Kathleen Stringer
- Ashburton Harriers 1911-12, from back, left to right: S Crooks, WP Smith, WG Patching, unknown, WH Jaine, G Nottingham, JL Helem; H Culverhouse, CR White, AA Oliver, CH Mercer, C Scales, L Jobbens, A Lee; unknown, W Willers, H Ritchie.
- Ashburton High School third grade seven a side, 1909, from back, left to right: CB Harold, K Rollitt; LJ Rountree, R Jones, D Morrison; GW Dell, WR Bremner.
- Ashburton High School Prefects, 1910, from back, left to right: K Campbell, CB Harold, LJ Rountree, J Allen; DM Morrison, E Oliver, PS Crisp, HG Bell; EH Senior, RMS Jones.
- Eric George Smith.
- William George Patching.
- Leonard John Rountree.
- Ashburton High School 1st XV, 1911, winners of third grade competition, from back, left to right: Mr Stewart, CS Williams, J Allen, GL Hood, WL McIlraith, LJ Kelly, Mr Amess; T Alexander, FB Lloyd, CM Sheat, TV Hampton, SP McCallum, GM Sheldon, L Christie, RMS Jones; C Houlton, DW Smith, MW Digby.