I often wonder when uncovering the stories of the soldiers in the Berry & Co images how I would react when faced with their situation. In times of crisis and stress we all respond differently – this must have been the same for the men who went to war. For some it was an opportunity to excel and learn new skills, for others it brought out the worst. Given the army was totally intolerant of insubordinate behaviour the outcome could be disastrous for those who rebelled. Brothers Walter and Norman Scambary illustrate this point. Even though they were from the same family they were very different people and their war stories ended very differently too.
For Gunner Walter George Scambary, pictured here with his wife Ida and son George, the war appears to have been the begining of a life long interest in weaponry. When Walter began his service in 1917 he was 24 years old, lived in Kilbirnie, Wellington and worked as a salesman. He was in the New Zealand Field Artillery, 32nd Reinforcements. He specialised in the use of heavy trench mortar, a tube like weapon designed to fire a projectile at a steep angle so that it falls straight down on the enemy. The mortar was ideally suited for trench warfare which is what Walter was engaged in.
After the war, he returned home to Ida and George in Kilbirnie where he had grown up and where he lived for the rest of his life until the age of 76. He continued his interest in weaponry at the Aotea and Petone Rifle Clubs where he competed in competitions for many years.
Walter’s brother Norman William Scambary, sometimes recorded as Scambury, also served but his story sheds light on a completely different side of the war.
Norman appears to have been an unsettled and possibly troublesome character in his early life. Unlike Walter who was a high achiever at the Kilbirnie Primary School, Norman attended many schools in the South Wellington area. He had been in the courts for burglary on three separate occasions. In the New Zealand Truth, Issue 408, 19 April 1913 he was dubbed ‘Scambury the Scamp’.
He attested for service in 1915 just 20 years old and served at Gallipoli and later in France. He continued his rebellious conduct while in military service and often didn’t follow orders. His records show he was punished for insolence and disobeying orders, stealing an egg, and abusive language. The punishment for crimes like these could be harsh. Norman for example received 60 days ‘Field Punishment No.1’ which typically consisted of the convicted man being secured to a gun wheel or other fixed object. He could be left there for up to two hours in 24, for three days at a time. This punishment was often known as the ‘crucifixion’ and due to its humiliating nature was viewed by many as unfair.
During World War I, 2009 New Zealanders were convicted by courts-martial many of which were sentenced to field punishment and a prison sentence. Disobedience wasn’t tolerated, misfits and those suffering battle fatigue were not treated with compassion. Norman’s final conviction was a 10 year prison sentence for deserting. He paid the ultimate price in the end. He died while in military prison from pleurisy and congested lungs on 13 January 1918.