Artefact of the Month: Major John William Fletcher (MBE) and his Whistle
Tuesday, May 1st, 2018
For many, the sound of the whistle calling out along the trenches during war time is often associated with the phrase ‘going over the top’. The expression refers to soldiers climbing out of the trenches to begin a forward attack.
This whistle belonged to Major John William Fletcher (MBE), who was born in England and initially served with the Green Howards. He later joined the Gordon Highlanders, with whom he served with in the Boer War. In 1912 he came to New Zealand to work with the Military Staff in Auckland. He served with New Zealand in World War One, but was wounded at Gallipoli on the 8th May 1915 when taking part in the Second Battle of Krithia, also known as the Daisy Patch. Major Fletcher would have likely used this whistle to instruct troops to ‘go over the top’ at Gallipoli.
Major Fletcher was invalided back to New Zealand after being wounded but remained involved in the war effort, even assisting with the re-capturing of Felix von Luckner, a German Prisoner of War in New Zealand and who attempted escape.
Whistles were used in both world wars for communicating commands to troops over the sound and confusion of the battlefield. The 1914 Infantry Training Manual describes the “rally blast”, which uses short whistle sounds to gather troops together. This call was used when troops were in “wood, bush, fog or darkness”, when other signals could not be used. The “alarm blast”, a series of long and short whistle sounds, was used to call troops out of their camp and to take up positions. Artillery also used whistles to signal a gun was about to be fired, to prevent soldiers from getting hit by the gun’s recoil.
Major Fletcher’s whistle is engraved “NZEF” (New Zealand Expeditionary Force) on the side and is stamped with “The City Patent Whistle”. It has a loop which holds a split ring, where a leather cord could be attached, so the whistle could be buttoned onto a soldier’s uniform. The whistle was silver plated, but the plating has worn away, revealing brass underneath.
Written by Loran McNamara, Assistant Curator of Social History and Accoutrements
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