National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Quiet Bank Clerk Heads to War

Hugh McDermott

Hugh McDermott

Hugh Kenneth McDermott was born in Cambridge on 3 December 1895 and had been involved with school cadets while at Cambridge High School from 1908 to 1910, and then as a Senior Cadet from 1912 to 1913 while he was working as a bank clerk at the Bank of New Zealand in Kaponga.

At the outbreak of World War One, Hugh McDermott was completing Territorial service with the 16th Waikato Regiment and eager to enlist, lied about his age, saying he was 21 when in fact he was only 19.

Hugh enlisted on 23 October 1915 and after three months training at Trentham and Featherston Camps, embarked from Wellington on 8 January 1916 with the Otago Mounted Rifles. Upon reaching Egypt, he quickly transferred to the Wellington Infantry Regiment on 11 March 1916, and proceeded to France on the Knight of the Garter on 9 April 1916.

On 14 August 1916, Hugh McDermott was wounded in action, possibly when patrolling or completing a night raid. He was transferred to the No. 8 Stationary Hospital in Wimereaux and then the No. 1 Convalescent Depot in Boulogne.

In early September, Hugh was transferred to the NZ Base Depot in Etaples for training and administration work before returning to his unit on 5 February 1917.

Hugh McDermott saw further action at the front including the battles at Messines and Passchendaele and following some leave in Paris in February 1918, he was back at the front, involved in the ‘final push’ against the Germans.

On 16 September 1918, Hugh was once again admitted to hospital in France with trench fever, and he was then sent by ambulance train to Le Treport and then on to England.

On 1 October 1918, he was admitted to the No.1 NZ General Hospital at Brockenhurst. On 20 December 1918, with the war being over for five weeks, he was discharged from hospital and reported to the convalescence unit at Codford.

Hugh McDermott returned to New Zealand on 19 May 1919 aboard the Ruahine and was discharged from the Army on 5 August 1919 as “no longer fit for war service due to illness contracted while on active service”. Hugh then served with the Territorial Force Reserve from 6 August 1919 until 31May 1924 and at the outbreak of World War Two, would again lie about his age, this time lowering it, so he could serve with the Home Guard.

Now a Bank Officer in Browns Bay, he enlisted on 15 April 1940 and served as a Staff Sergeant with the 9th Heavy Regiment, NZ Field Artillery at North Head.

Hugh was awarded the NZ Service Medal for long and efficient service (12 years) in August 1944, and was discharged on 3 November 1944 as officially “over age”.

Hugh McDermott died in 1981, aged 86.

His photograph album is held in the archives at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.