LLOYD BURR: Searching for Uncle Artie at Gallipoli

22/04/2015

Before I left for Gallipoli, my Nana Pam gave me four knitted poppies – and I made it my mission to put them on the gravestone of her uncle, Arthur Herbert White. He was part of the Whakatane Troop of the 4th Waikato Squadron of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, and he was affectionately known at ‘Artie’ by his comrades at Gallipoli. His future brother-in-law Frank was also on the peninsula, as was Frank’s father, the Reverend John Luxford.

Artie was the only one of my three ancestors to die at Gallipoli. He was killed inland from North Beach, just before The Nek at a place called Walker’s Ridge during one of the Turks many counter attacks. The Anzac and Turkish trenches were only 8 metres apart, and men from both sides were charging out to an almost guaranteed death. Artie was one of them. The story passed down through the family tells of him being shot on May 19 and lying wounded and calling out for help in no man’s land for two days until his voice fell silent. Other stories have him being buried on the 20th. The official cable to his parents from Defence Minister J. Allen states he was “killed in action about 26 May”. So I guess we’ll never know his exact date of death, like so many fallen Anzacs.

Artie’s death didn’t appear in the papers until June 17th. This notice appeared in the Auckland Weekly News on July 1:

WHITE, Trooper Arthur Herbert of the 4th Waikato's, who fell in action on May 26, belonged to the Somersetshire, England, and came to NZ with his parents 20 years ago. Deceased when he enlisted was farming at Te Teko. He has a brother with the fifth reinforcement.

One of his good mates, and fellow soldiers was Leslie W Luxton, who was also shot on May 19 at Walker’s Ridge. Didn’t die but was taken to Albassia Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. When he recovered, he penned a letter to Artie’s parents, dated June 20:

Dear Mr and Mrs White. It is with a sad heart I write of your son being killed in action. It was during an attack by the enemy before daylight on the morning of May 19th that Arthur fell, thank God he suffered no pain. On the following day we were relieved from the trenches and buried our dead. Major Grant one of our chaplains officiated at the grave where five of our troop were buried side by side. At present I am in hospital wounded having been shot in the leg the bullet breaking the bone. I remain yours truly. LW Luxton

Ever since I found out I was covering the Gallipoli centenary, I made it my mission to try and find Artie’s gravestone, and those of the five men who were buried with him. I didn’t even know if there was one. Some websites had him buried at Walker’s Ridge, others had it at Lone Pine. His official records don’t say. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site didn’t have his record. It’s fair to say I thought I’d just wander into a cemetery and find him. I thought it would be easy. It was wrong.

I had a bit of down time one day so I borrowed TV3’s van and their driver (who doesn’t speak English – which saw us share a whole lot of laughs). First stop was the site of his death – Walker’s Ridge, where there’s a cemetery – but no luck. I was surprisingly gutted he wasn’t there. Then I tried The Nek, just up the road – no luck. Chunuk Bair – nope. Anzac Cove Cemetery, also a no.

As a last resort, I decided to check the Lone Pine site. If he wasn’t there, I’d have to end my mission – I had no time to visit the other 31 cemeteries. The driver parked up next to the portaloos, the site was a bit of a construction zone, with workers everywhere getting ready for the 8,000 Australians who’ll turn up on Saturday. I walked along the dozens of rows of headstones…no A.H White. I went to the main wall – but they were all Aussies. Then, for some reason, I walked around the back of the main monument, were a whole lot of New Zealand infantries were listed. And there he was.

I unzipped my bag, pulled out Nana Pam’s 4 poppies, and placed them at the base of the wall. It was a surreal moment. Artie was a man I didn’t know anything about, other than his war story. He didn’t share my last name, or my Mum’s maiden name. Yet I felt quite emotional, standing there at Gallipoli looking at the name of my great, great uncle who’d died for our country. I’m gutted I didn’t find his burial site – but no one ever will. I found his memorial and paid my respects, and it felt nice to meet Uncle Artie for the first time.

source: data archive

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