HoC - Roll of Honour - Archibald Frank Mortimer

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Trooper 7/881 Archibald Frank Mortimer

Canterbury Mounted Rifles, New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Archie, as he preferred to be called, was born in Brentford in 1884, the son of Francis William and Ellen Esther Mortimer.

Archie’s father, Francis, was a bank clerk. His mother, Ellen, worked for a time as an employment agent. The Mortimers had 8 children, Jessie (firstborn) 1881-1960, Frances 1881-1948, Winifred 1883-1921 (dying of TB), Archibald 1884-1915 (Gallipoli), Dorothy 1894-1974. Both Rudolph, born in 1888 and Harold, born in 1891 died in infancy. Richard, younger brother to Archie, died in 1907 at the age of 17.

In the early 1880s, the Mortimers lived at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings for a short period but then returned to west London, living in Brentford, Hounslow, Ealing and finally, Chiswick. Several of the children were baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Hounslow.

The family settled at 36 Fauconberg Road. A domestic servant, Mabel Gray, from Littlehampton, stayed with them for many years, caring for Winifred’s orphaned children at number 36, following the deaths of Winifred and her husband, Herbert, in 1921 and 1920 respectively.

Mortimer senior was evidently keen on his children staying on at school and getting as good an education as possible. Archie and his sisters Jessie and Winifred became clerks, following in the footsteps of their father. Jessie and Archie were commercial clerks and Winifred worked for the Church Army. Frances Marion became a schoolteacher, like her paternal grandparents.

In 1901, Archie was living in as clerk at the Avondale Hotel, 51 Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, where he worked as a clerk. By 1911, he and his older sister, Winifred, still single, were in lodgings, nearer to the family. Archie was with the Collins family at 83 Stilehall Gardens and Winifred was at 10 Heathfield Gardens.

Archie stayed single and emigrated to New Zealand in 1911 at the age of 27. He went by ship from London to Wellington, his occupation listed as ‘farmer’. By the outbreak of, the Great War, he was living at a grand establishment set in beautiful gardens: ‘Marino’, York Street, Parnell, Auckland. Possibly he was working as a hotel clerk there. In 1912 there had been a very grand garden party held, in honour of the Reform League with in excess of 850 guests, including the New Zealand Prime Minister of the day, the Hon. W.F. Massey. He was in good company!

In 1914, Archie signed up, as did many non-indigenous New Zealanders who considered themselves British, keen to fight for the mother country. He joined the Canterbury Mounted Rifles (CMR).

The New Zealand Mounted Regiments (NZMR), including the Canterbury, Otago and Wellington Mounted Rifles, formed a significant part of the ANZACs- the Australian and New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He embarked for Egypt on February 14th 1915, on 1 of the 3 troop ships taking men and horses.

The NZMR were in training in Egypt in preparation for intended action in defence of the Suez Canal. However, all were to be diverted to the Gallipoli Peninsula, where they served as members of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). The aim was to take control of the Dardanelle Straits from the Ottoman Empire. The bulk of the NZMR left Egypt for Gallipoli in early May, without their horses- now deemed inappropriate as the proposed ANZAC beachhead was so small. Only a few of the heavy horses were taken- for transportation.

This military operation at Gallipoli lasted from May to December 2015 and between the ends of May and August in that one year, the Canterburys were to lose more than half their total of casualties for the entire war.

Archie was involved in the final stages of the Battle of Chunuk Bair, which began on the 6th of August. This proved to be the biggest offensive undertaken by the Allies at Gallipoli and endured for most of the month- an uphill battle on difficult terrain. The pattern was established: small areas of land, and trenches, were taken, lost and taken again, with significant numbers of casualties. On the 27th, there was a second attack on Kaiajak Aghala, the infamous Hill 60, where the intention was for the NZMR to take the Ottoman trenches at the top. The Canterbury Rifles went for the first line of trenches and the other units followed. But the NZMR had been unaware of the strength of the Ottomans in the second line of trenches. The Canterburys came under heavy artillery fire. On the 27th, Archie was listed as ‘missing’ and then, on the 28th, ‘killed in action’. By the time the CMR were relieved, of the 16 officers and 280 other ranks, making up the unit at the start of August, only 1 officer and 39 other ranks remained.

At the end of the Great War, writing about the battle for Hill 60, General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the MEF, referred to ‘heroism that did not achieve success’ and regiments ‘let down by a lack of artillery fire. These men had lived for months on hard rations and were weakened by dysentery and fatigue’.

Archibald Frank Mortimer’s name is commemorated at Hill 60 (New Zealand) Memorial, Gallipoli, where he was buried, at St Paul’s Church, Symonds Street, Auckland and at St Michael’s Church, Chiswick. His name was included in the Roll of Honour in September 21st’s editions of the New Zealand Herald and in the lists of casualties published in the Evening Post, Auckland.

In Chiswick today lives Helen Tremain and her family. She is the great granddaughter of Archie’s sister, Winifred. She is a member of the congregation of St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park, where her great grandparents had been married, just before the Great War.