Sunday, April 24, 2011

Welcome Home from the War! Soldiers home on furlough - 23 July 1943

In July 1943, Pat Nidd returned from North Africa.  Pat had been the first man in Ellesmere to go away to War.  The following is an account, reported in the Ellesmere Guardian on 23 July 1943, of the welcome he and other servicemen, returning on a furlough, received in Ellesmere.  Then a Captain, Pat responded to the numerous welcoming speeches on behalf of the servicemen, with interesting comments about the conditions abroad and the ongoing war:


The Southbridge Town Hall has been the scene of many large gatherings of Ellesmere residents, but for enthusiasm and attendance, that which was held on Wednesday evening must hold pride of place.  The occasion was the welcome home to soldiers from all parts of Ellesmere county and the two town districts who have returned from the Middle East on furlough.  Fully six hundred people were present, large contingents representing each area of the county and the town districts, while there was a good sprinkling of uniforms, indicating the presence of service men and women.  The hall was crowded in every part and the atmosphere of the gathering was in keeping with its nature, bright, cheerful and confident.  The large hall and the supper room had been decorated with greenery, flowering shrubs and patriotic bunting in honour of the occasion, in which the "V for Victory" sign was prominent.  Suspended over the stage and again in the ante-room were large signs bearing the word "welcome."  The official ceremony was marked with much enthusiasm and applause and in an unmistakable manner the people of the district showed their pride in the New Zealand Division and their representatives in it and their great pleasure at seeing them  home again.

Dancing was a somewhat difficult task with so many taking part, and even the large hall was cramped by the number dancing or looking on.  The card tables were also well patronised, while there were many people who were content to watch proceedings form the gallery.  The serving of supper to this large crowd was a big job in itself, but it was efficiently and expeditiously tackled by the ladies who made their usual good job with satisfactory results to the people they catered for.

At the official welcoming ceremony, Mr J. Goss, president of the Ellesmere sub-branch of the Returned Services' Association, which had organised the function, presided.  He was associated with representatives of three of the local bodies of the district.  The guests of honour were the servicemen back from the Middle East, Captain W.T. Nidd (Southbridge), Lance-Corporal A.J. Ormandy, Lance-Corporal Don Armstrong (Leeston), Private W. Graydon (Southbridge), Gunner E.C. Pearce, Gunner C. Merriman (Doyleston), Trooper E. Marshall (Killinchy), Private C. Balloch (Dunsandel).  Apologies were received from Corporal L. Reese (Southbridge), Private J. Ede (Leeston), and Sergeant R.W. Richards (Killinchy).  Servicemen who had returned to civil life, who were also the guests of the evening were Messrs R. Dyce, L. Moriarty, W. Simpson (Southbridge), H. Baylis, and R. Young (Leeston).

Mr Goss said that the R.S.A. greatly appreciated the action of the local bodies of the district in co-operating with the association to make the function the great success it was.  He added that it was gratifying to note such a cheerful atmosphere, of happiness and gladness to welcome their soldiers but at the same time this must be tempered by the memory of those whom they would not be able to welcome, those who would not come back.  Their guests had been away from New Zealand for more than three years and it was very pleasing to see them looking so fit and well.  When they were farewelled the Mother Country was in distress and had called for help from the Dominions.  The guests were among those who had volunteered and had offered everything they had for the defence of their country and the empire.  They had answered the call gladly and in their period of service they had been through experiences and difficulties which would never be appreciated except by those who had shared them.  They had held their morale high even after reverses and such campaigns as Greece, Crete and the first Libyan campaign.  To have kept their morale high under those initial difficulties and then to have come back with such a sweeping success as the last campaign in Egypt and Libya showed what splendid material the New Zealanders and their comrades in arms were made of.  Given equal equipment and opportunity, the men of the Dominion were definitely superior to the enemy and the fighting in which the division had been engaged proved this without a doubt.  He quoted Brigadier Kippenberger as stating that no matter what the New Zealand soldiers were asked to do they never let down those who made the request.  Mr Goss said that there were some of their men they would not be able to welcome for a while.  He referred to those who were prisoners of war and said that they would have a great reception when they returned home.  The people were also looking forward to welcoming those from the district who were with the division but whose duties prevented them from returning.  However, they were hoping to see them before very long and asked the guests when they returned to the Middle East to assure their comrades of the great welcome that was awaiting them at home.

Mr Goss went on to say that when the soldiers went overseas they were made honorary members of the R.S.A., which had pledged itself to do everything it could to help the men and their dependants.  There were now over 200 honorary members in this district.  The association would stand by its pledges 100 per cent and he added that the greatest part of the work of the executive now consisted of that in connexion with men of the second expeditionary force. 

Mr A. Anderson, chairman of the Ellesmere County Council, said that he was very pleased to be present to offer to the guest, on behalf of the residents of the County, a very hearty welcome.  He added that he had received a communication from the Prime Minister wishing to be associated with the welcome and announcing that the Government had made funds available to assist with the entertaining of the men on furlough.  The people of the district appreciated to the full the services which the guests and their comrades had given overseas and he was sure that the welcome which they had received would not be by word of mouth only but that in every way possible would the people show their pleasure at their return.  The people were proud of their soldiers and what they had done in Greece, Crete, Libya and Egypt.  they had fought against terrific odds, had been brought into battle to stem the enemy advance into Egypt.  Everywhere they had fought they had done so splendidly and had made an undying name for themselves.  The people did not forgot those who had made the supreme sacrifice and sympathised sincerely with the wives, mothers, sweethearts and relatives of those who would not return.  They did not forget those who had been prisoners of war for so long, or those who fought in other theatres of war in other services.  The people of the district had been busy in raising money and providing comforts for men who were overseas or were prisoners of war.  He was very pleased to be able to announce that the district quota for patriotic funds had again been oversubscribed by about 200 pounds.  Although the district was a little down on its quota for the third Liberty loan, the result had exceeded the brightest hopes of the committee which had worked for the loan.  Mr Anderson also referred briefly to the work of the Home Guard and to the presence of American servicemen in the Dominion and of the cordial relations between the Americans and New Zealanders.  Continuing, the speaker said that the progress of the war was good and her hoped that it would continue to be so and that it would not be necessary for the men now on furlough to return to the front.  Everyone was sure that they had done their bit.  Men now in New Zealand should volunteer to take their places.  If he were standing for Parliament one of the planks of his platform would be the giving of the guests a trip to Great Britain after the war.  

Mr R.B. Willis, chairman of the Southbridge Town Board, on behalf of the residents extended a hearty welcome to the soldier guests.  He said that no amount of words could express the gratitude of the people for what they had done.  Although they had seen great changes in their service abroad, they would find no changes at home.  He, too, hoped that the war would continue to develop so favourably for the United Nations, that the men now on leave would not be asked to go back again, and that others would come forward to take their places, and that the guests would resume their lives in the community.  There was a great need at the present time in civil life for men who were not afraid to make decisions and who had shown the high qualities of manhood which the New Zealand soldiers had shown in battle.

Mr J. Purser, chairman of the Leeston Town Board, also extended a hearty welcome to the soldier guests.  He said that the residents fully appreciated what the men had done, and wished them a very pleasant holiday and every good fortune.   He extended to them a hearty welcome to any functions which were held at Leeston, and thanked them for what they had done while overseas. 

Mr J.E. Millar, chairman of the Killinchy Patriotic Committee, also spoke.  He said that the people of the district were proud of their soldiers when they were away, but they were now prouder of them for the great job which they had done.  He was very pleased at being able to associate the Killinchy people with this welcome.

Mr Goss also welcomed the guests on behalf of the Doyleston district.  

The guests were accorded a rousing reception and given enthusiastic musical honours. 

Captain Nidd responded on behalf of the guests, thanking the people for their welcome home.  They had had a wonderful welcome.  After being away from New Zealand for so long there were many rumours going about amongst the men as to what was happening here and they were beginning to be worried.  Then Mr Jones, the Minister for Defence, met them at Tunis and told them how things stood.   The speaker said that he believed at first only a small number of men were to return home, but thanks to Mr Churchill a much larger draft was sent.  It was unfortunate that such a large number was left behind but there were duties for them to do.  They were unlucky in the ballot, but he was sure that they would be able to come home later on.  He very much hoped that they would, for they deserved it in every way.  Speaking of the New Zealand Division, he quote General Freyberg's reference to them and his high admiration of them as soldiers.  There was no doubt that they were the finest soldiers in the world.  That was also the opinion of other men capable of judging.  There was still a great job to be done before the war was over and they really should not be here.  The United Nations had yet only nibbled at the enemy, and had not by any means conquered him. The Germans had only lost one army in Tunisia.  There were tough there and would be tougher still.

Captain Nidd referred to the admiration of the New Zealanders expressed by Mr Winston Churchill and to the confidence and admiration of the men shown in General Freyberg, who, the speaker said, was a wonderful leader.  New Zealand troops had experienced heavy casualties, but not so heavy as some of the other units and in this the wise and capable leadership of General Freyberg had a bearing.  It should not be forgotten that there were other troops as well as New Zealanders who had distinguished themselves in the fighting in the Middle East, and he referred particularly to the British divisions with whom the New Zealanders had been associated.  These included the famous 51st Highland Division, consisting of such redoubtable regiments as the Camerons, the Argyle and Sutherland, the Seaforth, the Black Watch; the 4th Indian division, particularly the Gurkhas and the Sikhs, and then those magnificent English regiments, the Guards, the King's Royal Rifles, and the Rifle Brigade.  They were every bit as good as fighters as the Kiwis, but the latter were a little bit better in many other respects.  

Captain Nidd spoke in high terms of the private soldier, who was the officer's best friend.  It was he who got all the rough stuff, but he could always be relied upon to do his best, and especially in a tight corner.  In this respect the New Zealand private soldier was a little ahead of the others, for he possessed a greater intelligence, more initiative and plenty of courage and ability to stick it out.  Unfortunately a war could not be fought without casualties and the New Zealanders had lost some very fine men.  They missed their comrades and would like to express their sympathy to the relatives who had lost loved ones.  

The speaker paid a fine tribute to the padres and Y.M.C.A. workers for their unremitting care for the men under all conditions.  They did a marvellous job of work and were a fine body of men, he added.  The New Zealand division had suffered severely by loss of men as prisoners of war.  Some of the men who were captured were taken to Italy, but the Italians had apparently made no provision for the reception of a large body of men - there were men from South Africa and other Dominion forces as well.  They were sent to the North of Italy and for two or three days were kept out in the open, and during a fall of snow.  The food was poor in both quantity and quality and consisted of cabbage and weak soup.  A few days later they were placed under cover but their food was no better.  No one would known what those men suffered during those days and many would have died but for the Red Cross.  it was doing a wonderful work in helping the prisoners, and their food parcels were the means of keeping them alive.  The men were grateful for all that the patriotic organisations were doing for them but admired greatly the magnificent work being done by the Red Cross.  It was an organisation which deserved the greatest support by the people at home.

Captain Nidd paid a tribute to the people of Greece and Crete.  Many New Zealanders were left behind in both places and were fighting with the guerilla forces.  The Greeks especially were a splendid people but were suffering acutely from starvation.  He hoped that New Zealand would be able to send a ship load of food for their relief, in recognition of the way in which they looked after soldiers from this country and were still caring for some.  Reference was also made by the speaker to the receipt of parcels from the Women's Institutes.  These came to hand regularly and were very much appreciated.

Private C. Merriman, Trooper Marshall and Lance-Corporal A.J. Ormandy also returned thanks.  Trooper Marshall also referred to the magnificent work which the Red Cross was doing for prisoners of war and for the sick and wounded.  

Music for the dancing was played by Lambie's Band, with Mr W.J. Ormandy assisting.  Extras were played by Misses Lacey, M. Greenan, Messrs Ormandy and G. Coe.  Winners of the Monte Carlo were Miss A. Maw and Mr D. Young, of the R.S.A. Monte Carlo, Mrs P. McMillan and Mr D. Paterson, of the soldiers Monte Carlo, Miss Brown and Corporal McDonald.  Messrs T.J. Carter and H.D. Jones shared the duties of masters of ceremony.  Most successful players at cards were Mesdames J.E. Millar and G. Hill, Messrs A.H. Brown and T. Denton.  The R.S.A. Ladies' Auxiliary looked after the decorations of the hall and the arrangements for supper in which they received assistance from many willing helpers. 

Pat went on to give a talk to the Southbridge District High School students a talk about the Middle East later that week. 

The Nidd family were lucky in the war effort.  All three sons, Pat, Frank and Mickey served during World War II and all came home again.  They were often mentioned in the local paper along with the Goulden family, who also had three sons at war, unfortunately only one of the Goulden boys came back to Southbridge alive, by all accounts.  

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