Home' Greymouth Star : April 24th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
Armstrong was born in
Kokiri and was working
as a grocer’s assistant
for J Walker in Cobden
when war broke out on
August 4, 1914.
Patriotic feeling was very high at the time
and when war was declared many young
men rushed to join up, even in distant
corners of the West Coast.
Alexander was just 20 when he enlisted
on August 14 for the 13th Regiment in the
Canterbury Infantry Battalion.
Just two months later his company
embarked on the troop ship SS Authentic
for ser vice overseas.
Monday, October 26, 1914
Today was a bit more lively than usual.
Held a boxing tournament this morning. No
parades. Was paid one pound in a kind of
cheque to be cashed at the canteen. We all
lined up today for a burial ser vice of a young
man called Gilchrist of Dunedin who died
on the Ruapehu. Buried at sea 3.30pm. O ur
band played the Dead March. All the ships
stopped engines while the Ruapehu steamed
between the two lines of ships. Weather
Monday, November 8
Good news today. Emden (Germany)
sunk by the Sydney while Miimatau
was pursing. Great excitement on board.
Anniversary of King Edward VII birthday.
Very hot, sea calm. A supply of lime juice
was given out today. Reported appearance
of Turkish warship in our rear last evening.
Unconfirmed. Started to write to dear Gert
(future wife) and finished nine pages. Sydney
got back about 6pm.
Sunday, December 6
Left Alexandra at 3pm in train to Cairo.
Arrived in camp at Zeetown at 12pm about
5 miles from Cairo. Were given a roll of
bread, a cup of chocolate and a piece of
cheese. All the New Zealand men in camp
here on desert. Did not get baggage. Night
very cold. Some Tommies also camped close
here. Nearly all the same tent mates as at
Monday, December 21
Had company drill this morning from 7.30
to 8.30am. Done outpost duty the rest of
the morning. Had a good sleep while lying
in the sand awaiting orders. General leave
after dinner until 7.30pm tonight. Wrote
post cards to Suzie, Madge, Dave, Lizzie,
Sophie. Kay. Did not go out of camp. Going
out on outpost duty very shortly. Met Willie
Kettlety tonight. Received several papers
from Kaye today.
Friday, December 25
Xmas Day the first I have spent away
from home. Went to pyramids this morning
with Lu and three others. Had photo taken
on camels at the foot of sphinx. Returned
to Zeitown to have Xmas dinner with the
Greymouth boys. Fairly decent. I had to
respond to the toast of the “ ladies”. Photos
taken there also. Returned to camp at 5pm.
Went to Heliopolis tonight. Was on scenic
railway twice and I spent the rest of the
evening at skating. Leave all day for the
April 25, 1915
(Alexander Armstrong took part in the
Anzac landing at Gallipoli on April 25,
1915, but due to security regulations in 1915
the private use of cameras and keeping of
dairies was discouraged. The active ser vice
casualty form records he was wounded in
battle and admitted to the hospital ship
Gascon on May 3, 1915 with gunshot
wounds to his arm and right thigh. On May
12, he was admitted to the 1st Australian
General Hospital at Heliopolis, Cairo.)
May 13, 1915
It is rather difficult to write, but I’ll do my
best to send you a line or two. I daresay you
know by now that the Turks have knocked
me out of tune for a day or two, and you will
be very anxious to hear from me.
The last note I wrote you was from Lemnos
Island while we were waiting for the troops
to muster. The censorship was very strict, so
that is why it was so very short.
Well, I’m not going to try to describe
anything about our landing and subsequent
fighting. I was there eight days when I got
hit. It is so painful writing for long. I have to
take a spell every now and then.
My right arm is injured rather badly,
although no bones were hurt thank
goodness. The wound is in the muscle which
is practically blown out. The doctor tells me
it may be a little stiff, but I shall get on very
It was one of those despicable explosive
bullets, or a dumdum, I’m not sure which,
that hit me but it made a nice mess.
I have another wound on my left thigh,
but it is comparatively nothing. The bullet
went through without any fuss, and only left
two holes where it entered and came out. I
can hop along all right although I’m quite
surprised I am alive at all. I was in a mighty
warm show for a while.
I had no less than five bullet holes in
my clothing when I came to examine the
damage; one tore my cap across, another
through the flap of my top left pocket,
another a little lower down, and then the
two hits, so that made five altogether. I
also got my left knee peppered with some
fine shot which must have come from an
explosive bullet that hit the ground near
me. I picked them out with a knife, they
having just pierced the skin.
I was hit just after daylight on the 2nd of
May, was put on the hospital ship Gascon
about noon and arrived in Alexandra on
Friday morning, and then put aboard the
hospital train and arrived in Cairo nearly
Then the ambulance cars brought us to
Helicool hospital — the large hotel which I
think I mentioned in one of my letters has
been converted into a hospital and it is full
I won’t dare mention who has been killed
and wounded of the Coast boys, because I’m
not sure. Zig was all serene when I saw him
last, also Fred Ford. There were not many of
our convoy with us at the time I got hit, only
about 20 or 30. The whole lot ought to have
been there. We held out as long as possible
and the word came to clear out.
It was a close shave to being cut off.I’ve
lost my diary and everything, I only have
boots, puttees and socks. My hat was so
badly damaged that I left it at the dressing
station on the beach: my coat was lost on the
hospital ship, my underclothing and trousers
were cut off. Now I’ve only my pyjamas to
wear, and also a smile. Just note that, I mean
the smile, I’m quite well and happy — happy
to be alive.
Do not worry about me because I’m all
serene. My wounds don’t give me much pain
except when they are getting dressed, and
that only lasts a little while. I can generally
screw up the courage to say when the sister
asks if she hurt much, “No”— but it’s an
awful big fib.
This is the first day I’ve attempted to use
my fingers, so you see I’m getting along first
rate, although it has taken a long time to get
so much written.
Well, I shall have to stop writing (supper is
Love to all at home.
Alexander Armstrong recuperated at Cairo
and when fit enough was invalided home to
New Zealand on June 9, 1915.
He had seen 273 days of foreign ser vice,
the latter part of which was to change his
life. He was discharged on November 26,
1915, no longer fit for war service.
Following his rehabilitation Alexander
commenced temporary work in Greymouth
on December 16, 1915, remaining there until
He married his sweetheart Gertie (nee
Cheverton) on February 13, 1919 and they
made their home at 24 Palmerston Street,
Greymouth. He continued his occupation
as a grocer, firstly in Greymouth and later in
Hokitika, where he also took up the position
of Editor of the Hokitika Guardian for a
Alexander Cameron Armstrong died on
March 16, 1951 and is buried in the soldiers’
plot at the Hokitika Cemetery.
Monday, April 24, 2017 - 7
West Coaster Alexander Cameron Armstrong was shot five times at Gallipoli. He survived to
tell his tale, recorded faithfully in his war diary. To mark Anzac Day, with the permission of his
descendants we produce diary excerpts to show one man’s story of war, injury and rehabilitation.
Lest we forget
1914: “This is a photo of some of the Grey boys, yours truly among them. It was taken on board the day before the Emden was sunk. Notice the regimental haircut of the front rank.”
Private Alexander Cameron Armstrong, 13th Regiment,
Canterbur y Infantr y Battalion , NZ Armed Forces, Regiment
The Armstrong home at 24 Palmerston Street, Greymouth.
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