First World War

Message from an ANZAC

On 25th April 1915, New Zealand and Australian forces landed at what would become known as ANZAC Cove.  It wasn’t the first time that New Zealanders went into battle, and it wouldn’t be the last, but the exploits of our soldiers in that campaign have become legendary.  It is sometimes easy to forget that these were all real people, each there for their own reasons and each expecting that they would make it home.

For many the journey to the front would’ve been their first overseas experience and many of them scrawled excited messages on the back of postcards to send home to loved ones.  As a collector of vintage postcards I keep an eye out for any that may have been sent by soldiers.  Like this one here sent from Egypt.

Postcard sent by New Zealand Soldier in 1915 Lemuel Lyes Collection

Postcard sent by New Zealand Soldier in 1915
Lemuel Lyes Collection

Postcard sent by New Zealand Soldier in 1915 Lemuel Lyes Collection

Postcard sent by New Zealand Soldier in 1915
Lemuel Lyes Collection

Here is a transcription:

Dear May,

A card I promised, I am here and well having the time of my life, this is a wonderful place, did not know I was alive till I got around here.  This will be my last letter till after firing line.

With best wishes to all, Jim Cotterill

In the top left corner he adds.

Goodbye.  Good luck May, Jim.

The message is dated May 27th, it is marked with a NZ Expeditionary Force postmark on May 31st and arrived in Wanganui on July 15th 1915.  Jim was on his way to Gallipoli along with other reinforcements for the Wellington Infantry Battalion.

It is easy to imagine how awe-inspiring a place like Egypt would’ve been for soldiers on their way over to the war.  It is a sentiment that is often expressed in the messages sent home to loved ones.  Unlike the first New Zealanders to have arrived in Egypt, Jim would’ve had a fair idea of what lay in store for him at the front – the landing at Gallipoli had taken place just over a month earlier, and many of the bloodiest battles were still to be fought…

On 18th August 1915 the Wanganui Chronicle posted a list of the latest N.Z Casualties and Private J. G. Cotterill is on the list of those wounded in action.  He was evacuated to Cairo hospital with a severe head wound and sent back to New Zealand on the hospital ship Willochra.  Of the 8556 New Zealanders that landed at Gallipoli; 2721 were killed and 4852 were wounded.  Today we remember not just their sacrifice, but also that of those who fought in every other war.

© Lemuel Lyes

2 replies »

  1. This is a very cool piece of ephemera – and one that pretty much sums up the way many soldiers viewed their overseas venture, at least at first. Soldier-tourism. They learned – but the lure of exotic locations remained. We forget that Egypt was actually the bonus. They weren’t meant to stop there, but when war broke out with Turkey, the ANZAC convoy was on the way and quickly diverted to bolster British forces in Egypt. When they got to the Suez Canal they feared attack and had riflemen stationed on deck – but nothing untoward happened. And so our first big overseas venture as New Zealanders began…

    • That is an interesting picture – ANZAC’s on watch while going through the Canal. If my memory serves me correct wasn’t there a skirmish with the Turks somewhere along the canal before Gallipoli?

      The ANZAC experience of Egypt is something that I find fascinating. Very much a shared experience between those who went to both world wars and they of course all sent home many many postcards, photos and souvenirs. As would anyone who had the fortune to visit Egypt! I’m quite keen to go there myself, not just for the ancient history but also to see some of the places mentioned by the Kiwi soldiers that went through there.

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