Profile

SYMON, Robert Charles
(Service number 6/1996)

Aliases
First Rank Corporal Last Rank Corporal

Birth

Date 13 October 1891 Place of Birth Oamaru, New Zealand

Enlistment Information

Date 7 January 1915 Age 23
Address at Enlistment 26 Leonard St, Waimate
Occupation Baker
Previous Military Experience School Cadets & D Coy 2 (SC) Regiment
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Donald Symon (brother), 26 Leonard St, Waimate
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information 5 foot 6 inches tall, weight 142 pounds (65kgs), chest 34-36 1/2 inches, fair complexion, grey eyes, brown hair, teeth good (false), hairy mole above right hip

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation 4th Reinforcements
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Canterbury Infantry Battalion
Date 17 April 1915
Transport HMNZT21 Willochra
Embarked From Wellington, New Zealand Destination Suez, Egypt
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With 1 Battalion Canterbury Infantry Regiment

Military Awards

Campaigns Egypt, Balkans (Gallipoli), Western Europe
Service Medals 1914-1915 Star, 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 25 December 1917 Reason No longer physically fit for active service on account of wounds received in action

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

22 July 15 - admitted to Casulaty Clearing Station (CCS) - colic & urethritis - evacuated to Malta, 28 July - 11 Aug embarked for Alexandra; 25 September 16 - gun shot wound, left foot - admitted to 15 CCS - transferred to 36 or 38 CCS - 28 September admitted to 6 General Hospital, Rouen - 4 October embarked for UK - 7 October admitted to Red Cross Hospital, Dublin Castle - 12 December transferred to 2 NZ General Hospital, Walton - 29 December transferred to NZ Convalescent Hospital, Hornchurch - 1 January-28 March 1917 admitted to VD Hospital, Codford.

Post-war Occupations

Baker & Confectionist

Death

Date 23 July 1972 Age 80 years
Place of Death Christchurch, New Zealand
Cause
Notices Dept of Internal Affairs 21 Aug 1972
Memorial or Cemetery Salisbury Park Crematorium Timaru
Memorial Reference RO216
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

Robert was born at Oamaru on October 13, 1891, the second son of James and Elizabeth (nee Ballantyne) Symon. His father, James, was born at King Edward, Aberdeen, Scotland in 1858, and came out to New Zealand about 1884, where he married Elizabeth. James along with his brothers, later operated a Bakery & Confectionary business in Queen Street, Waimate, and later died at Dunedin in 1924. Elizabeth was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1859, and died at Oamaru in 1894, at the young age of 34.

Robert probably served his apprenticeship within his father’s bakery, and was to continue in that trade the rest of his working life. Educated at the local primary and high schools, he was a member of the school cadets, and was very involved in local sporting clubs, playing football for Zealandia, cricket, and was in the local harriers. Prior to enlisting on January 7, 1915, he was a member of D Company, 2nd (South Canterbury) Regiment, and gave his occupation as a self-employed baker. Robert, along with three other Waimate men, was farewelled at the Waimate Hotel on the night prior for leaving for camp and were all presented with a Loewe pipe. At noon on Wednesday 6 January, after a hearty send off at the Waimate Railway Station, they left for Trentham via Lyttelton. Robert’s enlistment papers described him as being aged 23, Presbyterian, single, 5 foot 6 inches in height, weighing 142 pounds (65kgs), with a chest measuring 34–36 ½ inches, having a fair complexion, grey eyes, brown hair, good (false) teeth, and a hairy mole above his right hip. He nominated his brother Donald of 26 Leonard Street, Waimate, as his next of kin.

Shortly after arrival at Trentham on 16 January Robert he was promoted to Corporal. At Trentham he undertook basic infantry training, followed by more advanced training locally, and at satellite camps in the lower North Island. Corporal Symon left from Wellington on 17 April 1915 with the 4th Reinforcements aboard HMNZT21 “Willochra”, in convoy with HMNZT22 “Knight Templar” and HMNZT23 “Waitomo”. A total of 2,254 men travelled in this convoy, and after a short stop at Albany in Western Australia, arrived in Egypt on 25 May. At this time Egypt was having the hottest period for many years when they marched in to camp at Zeitoun. Training continued in the desert even so, punctuated with the odd spot of leave in Cairo. By now the main part of the Battalion was on Gallipoli and Robert joined them on 8 June, reverting in rank back to Private. At this time the Canterbury Battalion had moved to relieve the Wellington Battalion at Quinn's Post.

After five or six weeks on the peninsula Robert was admitted to a Casualty Clearance Station on 22 July, suffering from colic and urethritis. Evacuation followed on SS “Sicilia” to Malta on 28 July, where he was admitted to hospital. On 11 August he was transferred to All Saints Hospital until embarking on the Hospital Ship “Karoa” for Alexandria. Originally Malta was only set up for about 3000 beds for the Gallipoli wounded but that number soon grew to over 20000. During the campaign 57900 men were treated and the medical teams were rapidly expanded to cope with 85 separate medical and convalescent facilities being built. These facilities served Robert well, as on 5 October he embarked from Alexandria to rejoin his unit at Mudros ten days later. The Canterbury Battalion was at a rest camp at Sarpi at this time, but embarked on the “Osmanieh” on 8 November, landing at Anzac that evening. Over the next two days they took over the Cheshire Ridge trench from the Australians. To add to their misery of being back on the front once again, the weather broke at the end of the month and heavy rain and snow fell, followed by heavy frosts. At the same time the troops suffered badly from dysentery causing many more casualties than enemy fire. Finally, on 8 December General Birdwood received orders to proceed with the evacuation of ANZAC and Suvla. By December 20, the last of the Battalion had left the peninsula, and had joined the rest at a camp near Mudros where they were to spend Christmas. On Boxing Day they boarded “Ascania”, reaching Alexandria on December 29. From here they left for Ismailia where they set up camp behind the Moascar Camp railway station.

On 24 January 1916, Robert was promoted back to Lance Corporal then again to full Corporal on 4 March. January and February 1916 was fairly quiet for the Battalion, supplying guards for the reservoir, Railway Bridge and aerodrome, plus re-organising and re-equipping after the Gallipoli campaign. From 6 to 21 March they were guarding a portion of the Canal at Ferry Post before returning to Moascar. On 8 April 1916 the unit embarking from Port Said on SS “Franconia” for the move to France to join the NZ Division already on the Western Front, arriving at Marseilles on 11 April. From Marseilles they immediately proceeded to Armentieres, a so called “quiet area” to learn the art of trench warfare. During this period Robert was again promoted - to temporary Lance Sergeant on 9 August, and then to temporary Sergeant on 6 September 1916.

In September 1916 Robert’s unit took part in the third phase of the Somme Battle with an attack on Flers. At 12.35 p.m. on 25 September, under cover of a strong creeping barrage, the Battalion was tasked with capturing Factory Corner. It was during this day’s attack that Sergeant Symon received gunshot wounds to his left foot, and was admitted to the 15th Corps Dressing Station. His rank was reverted back to Corporal the same day. The following day he was transferred to 36 or 38 Casualty Clearance Station, before admittance to No.6 General Hospital at Rouen on 28 September. On 4 October he embarked for the UK on the Hospital Ship “Kingorm”, and was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital at Dublin Castle on 7 October. As his treatment progressed he moved to No.2 NZ General Hospital at Walton on 12 December, the to the NZ Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch on 29 December. New Years Day 1917 also came with a transfer to the VD Hospital at Codford, where he remained until discharge on 28 March, when he transferred to the NZ Command Depot. On 19 May 1917 he was sent to the Discharge Depot at Torquay where he was medically classified as unfit for active service, and on placed on the New Zealand Roll. Finally on 23 July he boarding the SS “Ionic” at Plymouth for his return home, arriving at Auckland on 26 September 1917.

Back in New Zealand, Robert was admitted to the Queen Mary Hospital at Hamner for follow up treatment from 3 October to 25 November, until he was discharged for further treatment by the Public Health Department. After having served a total of two years and 353 days, he was finally discharged from the army on Christmas Day 1917, as no longer physically fit for active service on account of wounds received in action. Later he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medals.

After the war Robert married Miss Mary Jane Egglestone at Dunedin on 27 October 1919. The couple went on to have had five daughters. Robert was to continue in his trade of Baker and Pastry cook. In 1919 they lived at 27 St Andrew Street, Dunedin, from 1918 to 1935 at Dee Street, Invercargill, from 1938 to 1963 at 28 LeCren Terrace, Timaru, and then in 1969 lived at 15 Elizabeth Street, Timaru. Robert died at Christchurch aged 80 years on 23 July 1972, and was later cremated at the Salisbury Park Crematorium, Timaru. A brother, 35566 Sapper James Ewart Symon, also served in England with the Engineers.

Sources

Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [June 2019]; Assorted records at Ancestry.com [June 2019]; New Zealand ANZACs in the Great War 1914-1918 (University of New South Wales) at https://nzef.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=249189; 'Soldiers' send-off' in the Waimate Daily Advertiser 6 January 1915, 'Local casualties' in the Oamaru Mail 17 October 1916, 'NZ Casualties' in the Wanganui Chronicle 23 December 1916, and 'Returning soldiers' in the Sun 25 September 1917 courtesy of Papers Past at https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG, Ted Hansen, SC branch NZSG

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