In 2015, my mini quilt celebrating the war service of my paternal grandfather toured Australia and New Zealand as part of an exhibition called Lest We Forget. It’s a tribute to William Roy Robson (always called Roy within the family.) He was with the New Zealand Ambulance Corps in France from early 1916.
The full exhibition has been made into an ebook – Roy is number 151 – and you can read there how it was made.
Here are some entries from Roy’s diary which he kept throughout his military service in France.
Sat 8th July 1916
Usual number of sick today. Very few wounded. ..We had just got to bed about 10 when they started to put them (shells) over the town again, so at 10:30 we had orders to evacuate to the cellars. At 1am we returned and got into bed again with no more disturbance until Reveille at 6am.
Received 5 letters today, 18th and 25th May. My afternoon off. Answered letters. While I was writing Fritz put over 400 shells into the town, thick and heavy. Went round to cemetery after tea. Over 270 there now. Fairly busy day.
We were stirred out early this morning and on going down found things going ‘some’. The rush had started just after 4 and until 12 o’clock we never stopped. Over 130 wounded were first through, mostly with 4 or 5 wounds. Over 100 stretcher cases. For 6 hours I stood almost in the one place changing men from the trench stretchers onto clean stretchers with blankets and so on. At 12 the sick started to come in and it was 4 o’clock before we got clean and had a chance to have a wash and something to eat. Over 150 all day. Cause of this was an unsuccessful raid by 1st Otago (Battalion). 20 got back out of 190 odd, the remainder being killed. Received parcel from Hilda today.
This morning 40 of our fellows were sent down to help the Australians about 10 miles away. Owing to being on duty in the Casualty ward, couldn’t get away. I was left on my own in Ward 2. Had a very busy time. Some of our fellows returning this evening and the remainder in the morning. The ‘Aussies’ attempted an advance but were dreadfully cut up. Estimated casualties of 7000 or 8000! Very excited air duel in the evening. One of our very small planes chasing a ‘Taube’ and driving him off.
He survived, with a lung damaged by gas, was treated in England for a year and returned to New Zealand and married Hilda. His children Ken, Colin and Barbara are pictured here with him as he prepared to go back to Europe in 1937 on a business trip.
Colin was my father – both he and Ken are gone now -and Barbara now has the quilt hanging in her home in Tauranga, New Zealand.
If you’d like to read more, my cousin Nigel Robson’s excellent transcription and scan of the diaries are available from National Library of New Zealand.
I’ve been privileged to work, in a small way, with Gregory Crocetti and Briony Barr of Scale Free Network on their first two children’s books. I’m proofreading their latest book, a graphic novel called The Invisible War, over the next week or so. Roy would have known the microbiology firsthand.