Profile

AITKEN, Ernest Thomas
(Service number 12960)

Aliases
First Rank Rifleman Last Rank

Birth

Date 26 June 1887 Place of Birth Pleasant Point, New Zealand

Enlistment Information

Date 15 December 1915 Age 28
Address at Enlistment Pleasant Point, New Zealand
Occupation Labourer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Robert Aitken (father), Opihi, Pleasant Point
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information 5 foot 10 3/4 inches tall, weight 152 lbs (69kg), chest 35 -37 1/2 inches, dark complexion, brown eyes, black hair

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation 3rd Reinforcements
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 4th Battalion, H Company, NZ Rifle Brigade
Date 6 May 1916
Transport HMNZT53 Navua
Embarked From Wellington, New Zealand Destination Suez, Egypt
Other Units Served With NZ Pioneer Battalion and 13th Coy, Canterbury Infantry Regiment
Last Unit Served With 13th Companyy, Canterbury Infantry Regiment

Military Awards

Campaigns Egypt & Western Europe
Service Medals British War Medal & Victory Medal
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date

Discharge

Date 11 July 1919 Reason No longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

7 June 1917 - adm No2 Canadian Hosp - gassed - trans same day on HS St David to NZ Gen Hosp Walton, England 23 June 1917 - transferred to NZ Convalescent Hospital, Codford 8 January 1919 - sent to hospital sick - returned to England, 14 January 1919.

Post-war Occupations

Labourer & Farmer

Death

Date 24 August 1951 Age 64 years
Place of Death Springburn, New Zealand
Cause
Notices Timaru Herald, 25 & 27 August 1951
Memorial or Cemetery Pleasant Point Cemetery
Memorial Reference General Section B2, New Row 23, Plot 94
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

Ernest was born at Pleasant Point on 26 June 1887, the second of 7 children of Robert (1859-1932) and Barbara Hay (1862-1918 nee Shewan) Aitken. Both his parents were born in Scotland and had come out to New Zealand as young children. Robert’s parents Andrew and Ellen, having arrived at Lyttelton on the Lancashire Witch on 13 October 1863. They first went to work on Mr William Hornbrook’s Opuha Station but later purchased 25 acres of land at Opihi. Robert also worked on the Opuhu Station and managed it for 10 years before going in partnership with his brother Andrew, farming 225 acres on the south bank of the Opihi River.

When Ernest enlisted on 15 December 1915, he was working as a labourer for Mr S.E. Talbot, Pleasant Point. His father Robert of Opihi, Pleasant Point, was nominated as his next of kin. Ernest was described as being single, Presbyterian, 5 foot 10 ¾ inches in height, weighing 152 pounds (69kgs), chest measuring 35–37 ½ inches, of dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He first trained with the 4th Battalion, H Company, NZ Rifle Brigade, and left Wellington on 6 May 1916 with the 3rd Reinforcements aboard HMNZT 53 SS Navua for Suez, Egypt, arriving at Alexandria on 22 June 1916. His time in Egypt was short as he embarked again on 26 July for Southampton, England, where he marched into Sling Camp on 7 August and left there for France on 20 August.

After his arrival in France, on 4 September he was posted to the Pioneer Battalion. The newly formed New Zealand Pioneer Battalion had arrived in France in April 1916. In late August it became the first unit of the New Zealand Division to move onto the Somme battlefield. That bitter campaign had started on 1 July 1916 with horrendous losses among the British. Sent ahead to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the New Zealanders, the Pioneers began work on a 8 km communications trench, 'Turk Lane', leading to the front line. Some members of the infantry described this trench as a masterpiece, but it came at a heavy price. Under constant and heavy artillery fire, the Pioneers toiled with pick and spade, completing their mission around midnight on 16 September. Along with its companion, 'Fish Alley', Turk Lane became part of a 2m deep artery that gave men moving to and from the front line a degree of cover.

On 15 September 1916 Ernest was appointed as Company Cook in the field where he remained until being wounded in action (gassed) on 7 June 1917. He was admitted to No 2 Canadian General Hospital on 8 June, and then transferred the same day on the Hospital Ship St David to NZ General Hospital, Walton England. On 23 June he was transferred from Walton to the NZ Convalescent Hospital at Codford. Discharged from hospital on 18 July, he had a spell of leave before reporting back to Codford on 2 August, then back to Sling Camp on 15 November.

On 13 December 1917 he left again for France where he was attached to Base Depot before being transferred on 17 February 1918, to the 13th Company, 1st Battalion Canterbury Regiment, and appointed in the field as Cook on 16 March. From March to September 1918 his battalion was involved in the second battle of the Somme, Bapume, Havrincourt Wood and Trescault Spur. By then he had earned another short leave in UK from 7 to 26 October before re-joining his unit in France. On 8 January 1919 he was sent to hospital sick and was returned to England on 14 January.

On 15 March 1919, he boarded the SS Hororata at London for his voyage home, and on 11 July 1919, was discharged from the army as no longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service. For his 3 years and 209 days of service, Ernest was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Ernest returned to the Pleasant Point district where he worked as a farm labourer. From 1928, until his death aged 64 years at Springburn on 24 August 1951, he was listed as farmer at Kakahu. Ernest never married and is buried in the Pleasant Point Cemetery. Two of his brothers also served during the First World War. Trooper Andrew John Aitken (service no. 7/1) served in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, was wounded in the head at Gallipoli and discharged as medically unfit on 6 June 1916. Private Robert Francis Aitken (service no. 14044) served in the Canterbury Infantry Regiment and was killed in action on the Somme on 5 April 1918.

Sources

New Zealand ANZACs in the Great War 1914-1918 (University of New South Wales) at http://nzef.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=1638; Assorted resources at Ancestry at ancestry.com.au [February 2017]; Timaru District Council cemtery records (Pleasant Point) at https://www.timaru.govt.nz/services/community-and-culture/cemeteries/ [February 2017]; "Opihi" page on the South Canterbury GenWeb project at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzlscant/opihi.htm [February 2017]; Auckland War memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [February 2017]

External Links

Related Documents

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Researched and Written by

Ted Hansen, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to

Not assigned.

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