If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an album must be worth millions.
Last year the Ashburton Museum had the pleasure of borrowing a very special photo album from Betty Wilson, who allowed the Museum to scan the photographs inside and keep digital copies for the community archives. (Note: this is not the usual practice of the Ashburton Museum.) The album was compiled by her uncle, Frederick Walter Thomas Rogers (Walter for short) who took his camera with him across the world during the Great War.
Walter Rogers was born on the 28th of January 1896 in Rock, Worcestershire. He was the son of Henry Rogers, who was the manager of Coldstream Estate from the time of his family’s arrival to New Zealand in 1908 until Bob Martin took over in 1920. Walter’s photos tell an incredible story of work and family life at Coldstream Estate, his wartime experiences, peace celebrations at Lowcliffe and more.
The album also tells us that Walter spent quite some time recovering from a battle wound, a fact that is made clear by numerous documents attached to his service record as well as the photos he took while invalided in hospital during the war.
From the farm to Flanders Fields
Walter’s records tell us that he enlisted for the Expeditionary Force on 3 May 1916 and left New Zealand on 16 October, en route to Plymouth. He was just 20 years old. Walter arrived just in time for New Year’s and in February 1917 he left for France.
For nearly seven months he served as part of the Canterbury Regiment, 1st Battalion in France and Belgium. According to a medical report from the No 1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst, Walter sustained a serious gunshot wound on the 12th of October, 1917. Some papers simply describe his injury as a GSW (gunshot wound) while others specify that he had been injured by a shell burst.
According to the Battalion’s war diary, they had assembled to the rear of the Ravebeek valley on 11 October. This area, just west of Passchendaele, had been contested during the Battle of Poelcappelle which took place only three days prior. Heavy enemy shelling occurred in the wee hours of the morning of the 12th before the Battalion moved to attack German targets which proved too strong owing to heavy machine-gun fire and snipers.
The Battalion ended up cancelling the attack in the early afternoon and spent the rest of the day reorganising and taking stock. It is highly likely that Walter could have received his wound at any point throughout that chaotic day. The injuries he sustained to his face, particularly around his right ear, left him with what was described as “complete facial paralysis on right side” as well as declining sight and complete deafness in that ear.
While in hospital, Walter developed pneumonia and “pleurisy of the right lower lobe” in late January 1918 and had a temperature that at one point rose to 39.5 degrees Celsius. Thankfully this all cleared up fairly quickly. A note on Walter’s medical report claims that by late February 1918, his paralysis was “improving slightly under faradism”, a treatment which involved the application of direct current electricity to cause muscles to contract and relax.
Home at last
After months of recovery and being moved around, Walter returned home aboard the hospital ship Maheno. Walter snapped some interesting photographs in Tahiti and Colón, at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, which appear to have most likely been taken during his return trip.
Despite his injury, Walter seems to not have let it get him down. At Lowcliffe peace celebrations in 1919 he won the men’s high jump with a height of 4 feet 9 and a half inches. If that isn’t impressive enough, a letter written by Walter to the Commissioner of Pensions on 25 October 1920 tells us just how headstrong of a person he really was.
He was instructed to go to the Chalmers Hospital (a ward that had opened as part of Christchurch Hospital in 1917) for a surgery either in the spring or summer. In response to these instructions, Walter wrote that this would be impossible, because in his own exact words:
“I have section 12 of the Coldstream Soldiers settlement and am dairy farming, having no help except that given by my sister and am milking over 20 cows night and morning. You will see, Sir, the case is this, if I go to Hospital until the Autumn who is going to milk and see after my section, if I neglect my cows, how is the Government going to get the rent. Paid Labour “milkers especially” are practically unobtainable, and mostly worthless round here. Therefore, Sir, you will see the impossibility of my being able to attend any hospital for treatment until next Autumn. Then I shall be only too pleased to get any treatment to do me good. Respectfully yours, ex Private F.W.T. Rogers.”
In a memorandum for the Assistant Director of Medical Services, the Commissioner of Pensions G C Fache approved the postponement of Walter’s surgery until the autumn.
At some point he visited his ancestral home of Rock, where the honours board of his old parish church, St Peter’s, still bears his name to this day: F W T Rogers.
Walter married Alice May Bristow in 1922, to whom he was married until she passed away in 1940. He held onto his land at Coldstream until the very same year before selling up and heading elsewhere. Walter is listed as having been in several places after that, including Rangiora and Hawarden, which is where he passed away at the age of 75.
Despite the chaos of the Great War and the hardships he endured at the start of his adult life, it seems that Walter found some peace of mind at Coldstream and elsewhere across New Zealand.
By Connor Lysaght
Unless otherwise stated, photographs and research materials on this page are owned by the Ashburton Museum & Historical Society Inc. This post was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 26 June 2021.