Private Lewis Roy Haycock. Photo: Supplied

The final days of a local lad in WWI

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“Going into support tonight” were the last words that Private Lewis Roy Gordon Haycock, of the 12th Nelson and Marlborough Company, wrote in his diary, before heading to the front line to support battalions from Otago and Canterbury in the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium, October 10, 1917.

Nelson’s blackest day of World War One, October 12, 1917, during the battle of Passchendaele, was the day on which Nelson and New Zealand suffered the highest number of deaths, with 845 killed and a further 2,355 wounded. Of them, 40 were local boys and men, aged between 21 and 45.Among them, 22-year-old Hope farmer Roy.

Among them, 22-year-old Hope farmer Roy.

Born March 19, 1895, Roy was the youngest of nine children, five girls and four boys, for George and Emma Haycock. January 1916, ten weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Roy, who was farming on his family property, enlisted, initially training in Wellington before heading overseas.

Serving for just 22 months before he was killed in action, Roy’s two diaries have provided his family, and New Zealand, with invaluable insight into everyday life at war.

They tell the story of parades, drills, sea voyages and receiving letters from home, as well as learning to goose step, live bomb throwing, bayonet fighting and gassing instructions.

Immortalised in the 2015 book, ‘Going into Support Tonight’, written by Roy’s great-nephew, Richard Palmer, he that Roy’s diaries read more like “a man having an adventure rather than somebody in the midst of a mad world, and the straightforward words tell his story better than any historian.”

“Saturday 16 September 1916
We are being shelled like hell. The trench got blown in by a shell, Jack Andrews and I put in about one and a half hours digging the blokes out, we dug four out. Two were dead, two badly wounded. Our fellows got on splendidly in the advance, it was a walk over.”

“Wednesday 20 September/Thursday 21 September 1916
I have not had my boots off for eight days and they are wet through so I am pretty cold. We raided the Huns tonight, I got a machine gun bullet through the shoulder. I had to walk about four miles in the dark through mud about nine inches in most places.”

Injured in France while taking part in a raid on German-held trenches, he was evacuated to England to recover before rejoining his unit. From there, he was shipped to Belgium.On

On October 12, 1917, Roy was reported as missing in action during fighting on Bellevue Spur. His body never found, a NZ Expeditionary Force court of enquiry later ruled that he was killed in action, at Passchendaele, Ypres, Belgium, October 12, 1917.

Great-nephew Gerald Haycock says, “after the war his mates told family they reached the wire, a shell landed, and Roy disappeared.” But like most who returned, he says they never talked much about what they went through.

Peggy Balck, a great-niece of Roy, says, “it was so hard on families to send their young men off to war. Losing a loved one is not something you really ever get over.”

With no body found, and no gravesite, a plaque was placed on his father’s tombstone when he passed in 1926. Roy is also remembered on the wall at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium, and on the memorials at Richmond and Brightwater.

Nearly 17,000 New Zealand troops died during World War One. For a small country of then, just over one million, it was the highest per capita death rate – most falling in the mud of France and Belgium.

To mark the centenary of the battle of Passchendaele, historical theatre group Histrionics will be telling the story of five men and three women from the Nelson area who were at Passchendaele at 5pm on the Cathedral Steps.

At 5.25pm the Last Post will be played and this is to be followed by a short service in the Cathedral.

A number of commemorations are also taking place on Saturday, October 14. The RSA will be holding a commemorative service at the Anzac Park Cenotaph from 7am and the Nelson Historical Society will have a display at Founders Park on between 10am to 3pm.

You can also see Histrionics at ‘The First Taste’ on Queen St, Saturday, October 14.

Copies of ‘Going into support tonight’ are available directly through Richard Palmer at rnpalmer@xtra.co.nz.