Artefact of the Month: Walking Stick, WWI
Thursday, September 28th, 2017
A walking stick made with debris from the well-known Cloth Hall in Ypres during WWI is September’s Artefact of the Month.
This walking stick was made by 42461 Sergeant Charles Cameron Begg, from Dunedin and was gifted to his father, Thomas Begg. The stick is made from debris from the Cloth Hall in Ypres, which had partially burnt down from being shelled during the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. A 1917 French coin and part of a German plane propeller were also used to create the walking stick. Charles likely picked up these items while either travelling to the front or on his return after assisting in the Third Battle of Ypres as part of the No 4 Field Company of the New Zealand Engineers during the Battle of Passchendaele.
The Cloth Hall in Ypres
Completed in 1304, the Cloth Hall in Ypres, known also as Ieper in Belgium took over 100 years to build. The Hall was a major commercial centre for the flourishing Flemish cloth industry at the time. In 1914 shellfire set wooden beams within the ceiling alight and the building was partially burnt down. By 1918 and as a result of continued artillery bombardment in the Ypres area throughout WWI, much of the original Cloth Hall had been reduced to rubble.
Images of the Cloth Hall in Ypres, dated 1912 (left) and later (right).
The New Zealand Engineers at Passchendaele
The New Zealand Engineers (NZE) were a specialist unit formed as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force that supported the movement and communication of the Allies during WWI. Their work included building bridges, walkways, roads and railways to support the transport of soldiers, artillery and supplies.
The No 4 Field Company began assisting with building walking and mule tracks forward of Ypres from late September 1917. The mud made it so difficult to walk or drive through that the only way to shift supplies and the wounded was to carry them by foot. German artillery targeted these supply routes, so constant repairs were needed.
On 4 October the New Zealand Division pushed forward and captured Gravenstafel spur, but there were few places of protection from enemy gun fire in this newly gained ground. Men from the 4th and 3rd Companies of the NZE pumped water out of captured German dugouts and repaired them for Allied use.
On 12 October, the NZE awaited to move forward and assist with the Passchendaele attack as they had done on the 4th, but no call came. Instead they were instructed to repair communication lines. The next day, NZE assisted with the search and transport of wounded who remained on the battlefield. On 21 October the NZE were relieved by the 3rd Divisional Canadian Engineers.
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