The Third Battle of Ypres, often known as Passchendaele, began 31 August 1917, 100 years ago. The Battle continued until 10 November 1917, with over half a million casualties.
Among the Casualties was Second Lieutenant Guy Bridgeman, Regiment Number 9/15, who initially served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Main Body, Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment and with the Rank, Sergeant, transferred to New Zealand Field Artillery, 26 March 1916.
A related story is told in the following Citation:
“15 October 1917 ‘HQ NZEF – Awded the Military Medal for acts of gallantry – NZEF Ordrs List 53 (49.424)
VINE, S.J. 15/92
M.M. Sergeant, Field Artillery, L.G. 17 Dec 1917, p 13201 [Rec 1449, 15th Battery, 1st Brigade]
For gallant conduct. When word was received at the Battery that the F.O.O. (Lieutenant Bridgeman) was lying wounded in a shell hole forward, this N.C.O. and another immediately got out and after a long search under heavy fire, found hit and brought him safely back to a Dressing Station.
Sergeant S J Vine was my Grandfather.
The battle scene is well described in “The History of the New Zealand Artillery” – p181 which records:
“On 10 October 15th Battery was in the vicinity of St Julien.
It took 5 hours of daylight on the 10th to bring forward a single gun of the 1st Battery and another of the 13th. In the afternoon 2 howitzers of the `15th were bogged beyond St Julien and the teams and men trying to extricate them were subjected to heavy shelling.”
Very heavy casualties had been suffered by both Brigades of Infantry which took part in the attack; the losses in killed and wounded numbered 2730.
Communications were utterly disorganised, the greatest difficulty was experienced in getting rations and water to men in the forward areas and the condition of the wounded was pitiable in the extreme. Many lay all night in the mud, exposed to the hail and rain and the bitter cold. On the night of the 12th-13th 1,200 men of the 4th Infantry Brigade and every spare man from the Artillery and the Army Service Corps were engaged in getting out the wounded, a battalion of the 147th Brigade having also been loaned to the Division for the same purpose. Six or eight men were required to carry a wounded man on a stretcher over that veritable morass and it took hours for each party to flounder down to the dressing stations.”
My research revealed that Lieutenant Guy Bridgeman had been awarded the Military Cross on 1 January 1918:
“Lieutenant Guy Bridgeman
Military Cross (MC)
Award Circumstances: London Gazette, 1 January 1918, p53, Rec No 1248: February 26th to September 20th 1917. An exceptionally plucky young officer. He has done very good work as Forward Observation Officer at different times. He was F.O.O for his battery at Messines and established an Observation Post well forward when the infantry reached their final objective. During a counter attack the enemy put down a barrage which wounded one of his two telephonists, and, under fire, 2nd Lieutenant Bridgeman dressed the mans wounds and carried him back to a dressing station.”
The Battle of Messines (7 – 14 June 1917) was an offensive conducted by the British Second Army on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium.
My search for relatives of Second Lieutenant Bridgeman opened with the discovery of his burial site in the Servicemen’s section at the Featherston Cemetery, Wairarapa, New Zealand, and to my delight in February 2014 I received an email from Tim Neill Harrow of London, England, a cousin of Lt. Bridgeman.
“So it seems that your grandfather saved my cousin’s life in Ypres, amazing that in the ocean of stories from the War, most forgotten or buried in records (or destroyed in the Blitz), these two stories cross paths. I am sure you are fully aware of how difficult it can be to trace such things beyond vague action reports and war grave records, so it is pretty amazing to suddenly find your article and the information within. I have attached a photo from the Library of New Zealand of Guy, taken during the Gallipoli campaign where he served for 5 months before being shot through the lung by a sniper. The photo was taken immediately after by an unknown photographer as he was carried from the front lines by stretcher bearers… again a pretty stunning find beyond the usual portrait photos we see on family walls. After he recovered from this first injury he was transferred to the Field Artillery where I suppose he met your grandfather, was commissioned, earned the MC you mentioned in your article, and was cut down by machine gun fire on the fateful day your grandfather saved his life. It is also interesting, and very sad to note, that like your grandfather, Guy succumbed to influenza, and only 3 days before the armistice was signed… he was back in NZ helping to train his new unit to return to the front a third time… they were really a different breed back then weren’t they? Anyhow, I have visited the battlegrounds of France and Belgium a few years ago when I finished Uni, with the main objective being to be the first in my family to visit the grave of my great grandfather Lt. Col. Robert F. Ingham DSO, Royal Garrison Artillery, who also fought in the Somme and Ypres, and died of his wounds. It was a wonderful, sobering, and very emotional experience to walk the land, and pay my respects to my forefather and all the other young men who fell long before their time. I have been trying to piece together more of a picture of Bob’s life in the war for a long time now but keep hitting walls, and thought you might have some good tips on researching such things.”
Since receipt of Tim’s email I have also been able to establish communication with a nephew, David Bridgeman who resides near Otaki, New Zealand and coincidently had a son serving at Trentham Military Camp where my wife was employed by New Zealand Defence Force for close on 30 years.
There is a story also about how I was able to find nephew David Bridgeman. Through a Genealogy Group I found mention that on a recent ANZAC Day flowers had been left on Guy’s Resting Place in the Featherston Cemetery. The following year just before ANZAC Day I left a note on the Headstone seeking contact with relatives of Guy and circulated this to neighbouring branches of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. To my surprise I received a quick response from David who had been present as a visitor at a meeting of one of those Branches I had contacted.
On 1 February 1918 Guy had been “placed on NZ Roll on account of ill-health caused by wounds. Unfit for 6 months.” and posted to Featherston Military Training Camp. His Service Records show that he died of Bronchial Pneumonia at Featherston Hospital on 14 November 1918.
Soldiers who died at the Camp were generally buried at Featherston Cemetery.
About 20 soldiers had been interred here by October 1918. The influenza epidemic added greatly to the cemetery’s soldier inhabitants – over 160 in November and early December 1918. Most were trainees but there was a nursing sister and other members of the medical and permanent staff among the dead.There are now 182 military graves from World War One in this Cemetery.
In my first communication with nephew David he told me of his impression that Sydney was the “rescued” rather than as I understood, the “rescuer”.
Upon further study it has been found that we are in fact referring to two incidents. The first at Messines where Guy Bridgeman was the rescuer and Passchendaele with Sydney Vine in this role with Guy the rescued.
More about Lt. Guy Fayen Clive Bridgeman may be found at:
- Sam Neill finds family while searching for the Anzac Myth
(Stuff – Simon Day, April 19 2015)
A life story of Sydney John Vine may be found at:
Passchendaele and The Third Battle of Ypres resonates with me at any mention of World War 1 and in particular with thoughts of my Grandfather who sadly I was never to meet, but who resides in my memory as the foremost member of the Vine Family originating in Dorset, England to be “Remembered” on occasions such as this, the commemoration of the Third Battle of Ypres.