Berry Boys in the fourth ballot: Battersby and Scambary

During WWI, monthly conscription ballots were drawn between November 1916 and October 1918 to make up for a shortfall in numbers volunteering for the army. History curator Kirstie Ross shares the stories of two Wellingtonians whose names were selected in the fourth ballot.

On 13 February 1917, 100 years ago, marbles with the military registration numbers of 6867 men were drawn from this rotating box (below).

Ballot Box, 1916, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of the New Zealand Immigration Service, 1989. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH003641/1-5)

Ballot Box, 1916, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of the New Zealand Immigration Service, 1989. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH003641/1-5)

Two of these conscripts would later have their portraits taken at the same photography studio, Berry & Co, on Cuba Street in Wellington.

And while the men, Richard Battersby and Walter Scambary, both lived in the same city and had married in the same year (1915), the war for each unfolded in distinctive and different ways.

Richard Weir Battersby

Portrait of Richard Battersby and Gladys Battersby, 1917-1918, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045963)

Portrait of Richard Battersby and Gladys Battersby, 1917-1918, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045963)

Richard Battersby was a clerk employed by New Zealand Railways. He and Gladys (née Williamson) had been married for almost 18 months when he was called up in February 1917.

At his medical exam, in July 1917, the army doctor who assessed Richard’s physical fitness wrote on the official medical form: ‘Has bad cold at present. Not to go into camp for one month.’

Portrait of Richard Weir Battersby, 1917-1918, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045960)

Portrait of Richard Weir Battersby, 1917-1918, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045960)

Ordered to take this advice, Richard did not begin his training until August 1917. He then spent more than 13 months at the Trentham Military Training Camp.

A late departure

Richard finally left New Zealand with the 43rd Reinforcements on 2 October 1918. The troopships carrying this contingent arrived in London on 5 December – three weeks after the Armistice was signed.

Portrait of Richard Weir Battersby, 1917-1918, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.044939)

Portrait of Richard Weir Battersby, 1917-1918, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.044939)

Another long wait

Because he had arrived in England so late in the war, Richard had to endure a long wait before he was repatriated home. He left in September 1919 with ‘Returning Draft No. 288’, on the troopship Ionic, and disembarked at Wellington on 25 October.

Richard resided for most of his life in the Wellington suburb of Wadestown, with many of his immediate family living nearby. He and Gladys lived a long life together, until their deaths in 1980.

Walter George Scambary

Portrait of Ida, George and Walter George Scambary, circa 1917, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046399)

Portrait of Ida, George and Walter George Scambary, circa 1917, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046399)

Unlike Richard Battersby, salesman Walter Scambary got away to war relatively quickly after his call-up, leaving with the 32nd Reinforcements in November 1917. However, there was still time for family portraits to be taken with his son George Ida and his wife Ida (née George) before he left.

Sweetheart brooch

You can see that in both family photos, the ‘sweetheart brooch’ on Ida’s blouse is that of New Zealand Field Artillery unit badge. This was Walter’s unit, in which he served in France from February 1918. It is clear to see on his lemon squeezer hat in the portrait below.

Portrait of Walter George, George and Ida Scambary, 1917, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046400)

Portrait of Walter George, George and Ida Scambary, 1917, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046400)

In France, Walter specialised in the use of the 9.45-inch heavy trench mortar which was nicknamed the ‘Flying Pig’. After he came back to New Zealand, in mid-1919, he continued an interest in weaponry and was a successful member of the Aotea and Petone rifle clubs.

Six siblings

Australian-born Walter was the second to youngest of six brothers – Thomas Gregory, Francis (Frank) Lawrence, John Stanley, Arthur James (pictured below with his wife Mary), and Norman William – who served in the Great War.

Portrait of Mary and Arthur Scambary, 1917, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046398)

Portrait of Mary and Arthur Scambary, 1917, Wellington, by William Berry. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046398)

Five out of six…

Five of the Scambary brothers survived the conflict: the youngest, Norman, who had fought on Gallipoli, died from pleurisy in France in January 1918.

…and a suicide

Returning from war did not guarantee a happy ending. Of the Scambary brothers who came back, the second to eldest, Frank, was seriously affected by his war experiences. He drowned himself in the Manawatu River in 1925.

The verdict of the inquest confirmed that this was suicide while the deceased was  ‘in a depressed state of mind, contributed to by war disabilities and financial difficulties’ (New Zealand Herald, 9 December 1925).

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