History curator Kirstie Ross explores the stories of four ‘Berry Boys’ who were conscripted in the first and second conscription ballots 100 years ago.
In 1916, after two years of fighting, it was clear that New Zealanders’ loyalty to ‘King and Country’ was competing with other concerns – and fewer men were volunteering.
Conscription was introduced on 1 August that year to compensate for this downturn. On 16 November the first formal ballot to select New Zealand men for compulsory military service took place. This was to make up the shortfall of 1300 men for the 23rd and 24th Reinforcements.
But more men were needed. A second ballot was held less than a month later. The ballot boxes (see above) would be spun another 21 times before the war’s end to keep up a steady supply of reinforcements.
Balloted Berry Boys
Nine out of the 108 soldiers who had their portraits taken at the Berry & Co photography studio were selected in these monthly draws. Two were drawn in the November ballot (Harry Luckman and Herbert Freeman) and two in the December one (Jack Braddock and Cecil Coate).
Although these four men had conscription in common – and three of them fought in the Battle of Passchendaele – the luck of the draw and the contingencies of time and place meant that each man’s war-time experiences were unique.
Harry Luckman (1891-1977)
English-born Harry Luckman was working as a butcher at the Fielding Bacon Company when his name was drawn in November 1916.
Harry, however, appealed his call-up on the grounds that he already had three brothers at the front and two working in munitions factories in England. He also stated that his family would suffer undue hardship: Harry had married Ellen Denham in 1915 and their son Harry George was born in May 1916.
The Military Appeals Board dismissed his appeal, so Harry left with the 25th Reinforcements in April 1917. Although he survived Passchendaele (which included being buried alive by an exploding shell) and lived to be 86-years-old, Harry’s war experiences affected his mental health and perhaps contributed to the breakdown of his marriage.
Herbert James Freeman (1889-1950)
Another married ‘Berry Boy’, Herbert Freeman, was also called up in the first ballot. Herbert lived in Featherston with his wife Marguerita and worked there as a painter. He too appealed his conscription on the grounds that his wife was a ‘very delicate woman’ – probably because she was pregnant with their first daughter Zena (who was born a month after her father’s appeal).
Herbert’s appeal was successful and he was granted four months leave on account of ‘hardship’. At the end of his reprieve, Herbert marched into the nearby Featherston camp to begin his military training.
Marguerita and Herbert had another daughter Rita in April 1918. In August, Herbert left New Zealand with the 42nd Reinforcements.
Arriving in England a month before the Armistice, Herbert did not see active service and was back home by August 1919.
Jack Langley Braddock (1895- 1917)
Apprentice sign-writer Jack Braddock was one of the 2886 men whose names were selected during the second ballot held on 11 and 12 December. A slight 21-year-old – 163cm tall and 49.4 kg when he enlisted – Jack left New Zealand in April 1917 with the 24th Reinforcements.
He participated and survived the terrible fighting at Passchendaele in October 1917 only to die of cerebrospinal meningitis in December. Jack was buried in the Lijssenhoek Military Cemetery in Belgium and is commemorated on the memorial gates of Kilbirnie School in Wellington.
Cecil Theobald Coate (1889-1950)
It was a twist of fate when Cecil Coate – rejected when he volunteered in 1915 because of varicose veins – was called up in the second ballot. Cecil left New Zealand with the 24th Reinforcements in April, not long after the first anniversary of his marriage to Nora Furness.
Cecil, like Harry Luckman and Jack Braddock, fought at Passchendaele. Cecil, however, was ‘lucky’ to be hit in the face by an enemy bullet early on in the battle. This meant he was in hospital and out of action on 12 October – the worst day of the war for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in terms of casualty numbers.
Although he suffered from attacks of excruciating nerve pain in his face from his bullet wound, Cecil remained overseas. He was posted to a training role at Sling Camp in England. The camp was where members of the New Zealand infantry were hardened up for front line action.
Back in New Zealand by April 1919, Cecil returned to work as a clerk for his pre-war employer, the Wellington Harbour Board.
Find out more about the five other Berry Boys who were conscripted:
Read about the Berry Boys in the 2014 Te Papa Press book of the same name by Michael Fitzgerald and Claire Regnault.