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Born in Kumara, the Byrne
brothers were living in
Wellington before the
war broke out.
Frank, who wrote the
diary, was of medium
height, and dark, quiet in manner and
responsible in character. He worked
as an engineer and was studying by
correspondence for his engineering
quali cations. He was a ne athlete,
especially in long-distance running.
For several years he held the three-
mile cross-country and track athletic
championship titles in Wellington.
is made him very much a hero in the
eyes of his young brothers. He became
deeply attached to a very handsome
and happy-natured girl, Olive King,
a champion swimmer, and they were
Vince, the second of the brothers,
was more reserved in character. But
he too was a ne athlete and held the
Wellington championships title for the
quarter and half mile as well as the one
mile. He fell in love and would have
married had nancial circumstances
en came the First World War and
Vince was one of the rst to enlist,
nephew Anthony Byrne says.
e third brother, Charlie, was di erent
again --- he was handsome, with a good
gure, vivid blue eyes, black slightly-
curly hair, and a gay, easy manner. He
became a clerk in a timber rm, Miller's
West Australian Hardwood Co.
With three of her boys on the front
in France, life became di cult for their
mother Frances Amelia Morrison
Byrne (nee Ward). She nally decided to
return to Greymouth where her husband
was still carrying on his practice as a
None of those three sons returned from
Frank Byrne entered the army in
Trentham Camp on August 23, 1915.
He was in Suez by December 20, where
he helped build two bridges across the
canal, one at Elferdan. en, he was sent
to the Western Front.
e following extracts have been
substantially abridged from the 14-typed
pages of his diary:1916
April 18: Arrive at Morbecque
May 13: Marched to Armentieres,
about a mile behind the ring line.
May 16: Started on our work in the
trenches, my rst experience of being
July 4: Big raid made by Huns after a
frightful bombardment of a portion of
our trench held by the Auckland boys.
e third and 15th companies su er
very severely. Helped to dig the boys out
and straighten up the trenches, my rst
realisation of what a heavy bombardment
July 19: Work in the trenches much
more di cult to carry out owing to
enemy activity in shelling our working
parties. Whiz bangs worry us repeatedly
during the day and one has to work with
the thought always in one's mind of "I
wonder where the next one is coming".
July 21: Met Charlie and some of
the boys. Coming home on bike was
unfortunate enough to take corner
leading o pontoon bridge too sharply
and found myself and bike in canal.
Blame Charlie and the boys for that.
July 30: Fritz (Germans) put a shell
into our bivvy just after tea --- Wallie
Danby and Tom Sullivan killed and 12
July 31: Fritz shelled our bivvy again
[On August 16 they moved about 25
miles behind the ring line: "we are well
away from the war for a bit". By the 27th
he was at Fricourt, part of the infamous
August 27: e country for
miles behind Fricourt is one huge
concentration camp and it is a wonderful
sight to stand in our present camp and
see the thousands of men and horses
camped here on every side and as far
as the eye can see. e number of guns
we have here is astounding and our rst
night on this historic ground was very
much disturbed by a couple of eight inch
howitzer batteries which were placed
almost in the back door of our sleeping
August 29: We are having war in
earnest this time. e ghting is going
on all the time and of the ercest. How
humans can stand the frightfulness of
artillery re beats me.
August 30: I consider myself very lucky
to be alive to give an account of last
night's happenings. Fritz heavily shelled
Death Valley with tear shells before we
reached it on our way in. We had a pretty
hard time nding our way over the last
stages of the track to the trenches as it
was impossible to avoid our noses and
eyes running. e tear gas had the same
e ect as wood smoke on the eyes but it
is more painful. We managed to get to
our job all right but no sooner got there
than Fritz bombarded with tear and gas
shells ... we wanted to return to camp
about 2am but in the darkness we could
not nd our way through the trenches
or overland either ... all of our section
were a ected by gas and eight went to
hospital. e remainder were very sore
about the lungs.
September 15: A big day in the history
of NZ's part in the war, and a day that
will long be remembered by those who
have come through it.
e attack was started by the Dinks
[New Zealand Ri e Brigade] about 6
o'clock in the morning ... on they went
through a perfect hailstorm of our own
shells. Not even that seemed to stop
them and on they went, Dinks and 2nd
Brigade together this time right to their
nal objective, beyond the village of
Flers, an advance of two miles without
All day we have been watched the
wounded coming in to the dressing
stations, and there have been many
hundreds of them [Germans, he says,
were treated equally in the medical
We started out for our newly won
positions about dusk ... the more lucky
wounded laying in shell holes with a
ri e stuck in the ground above to warn
bearers there is a wounded man there.
It seemed awful to have to walk on and
leave those chaps lying there in pain
waiting to be brought in, and the place
being shelled all the time at that, but it is
war, and orders are orders I suppose.
Our rst job was to consolidate a
strong point in our rst support trenches,
which run behind the village of Flers, I
myself being one of a wiring party.
e dugouts still contained Germans,
mostly dead, but one held four live ones,
two of them wounded.
We had quite a good time exploring
the dugouts and there were a great many
souvenirs to be had if one could only
get them away. e best win of all was a
bottle of gin and another of rum.
September 19: Shelled very heavily
all day after the exertions of last night
--- never felt so tired in my life before as
I did then. So tired in fact that the mud
threatened to hold me where my feet
sank into it.
September 30: Our work lately has
been the laying of light railway for
running up ammunition to the heavy
October 4: [Leaves the Somme front].
October 20: [Promoted to lance
corporal and had to take charge of work
in the frontline.]
October 21: Have quite a responsible
job now I have a stripe. Have eight
sappers and a working party of 50 to
October 23: Twelve months today
from my marriage day and I have been
wishing myself home again but it is no
use wishing --- there is still a war on.
Wrote to Kingie.
(Frank married Olive King on October
23, 1915. He sailed for WW1 on the
Willochra 3 weeks later.)
[November 6 diary stops, resumes
February 18. He remarks he has been
working at Flerbaix in the trenches and
there was nothing worth writing about.]
February 21: Today I have been looking
over the trenches we are to take over
and there is no doubt about it, was are
in for a rough time there. e trenches
are the worst it has been our lot to strike
so far, and that is saying a lot. How the
Tommies live in them I do not know.
What is supposed to be the front line
is nothing but a sea of mud several feet
deep in places and the parapets are not
thick enough to stop a bullet, let alone
February 24: ings have taken a very
funny change since yesterday and here I
am tonight at Baillieul and halfway over
a journey to the 7th General Hospital.
My face swelled a bit during last night
so I paraded sick this morning, and the
doctor passed me o to the hospital with
March 21: Back on the front.
March 30: Made a start with the
continuation of gas trench last night
and from what I can see, it is quite likely
that Fritz will blow our work to pieces as
fast as we put it up. e new trench runs
across an open paddock and runs under
direct obser vation, so the Hun is bound
to shell it as soon as he observes the
work going on.
April 29: We had a bad spring last
night: some of the working party would
persist in smoking, with the result that
Hun shelled our job. I had a pretty close
go, but all I got was a shower of earth
and a nasty bruise at the end of my back
through falling into a trench in a hurry.
May 5: Fritz ... landed a shell fair into
our orderly room. A re broke out and
ve of our huts were destroyed, nothing
being saved from three of them.
May 12: It was up on orders last night
that I have been promoted to second
May 13: It is rumoured today that our
company is going out for a spell, but I
will be much surprise if it comes o ---
there is no such thing in the army.
Frank Byrne was killed in action
on June 18, 1917 on the frontline at
Anson's farm. He is buried two miles
away at Charing Gross dressing station,
Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium.
º A full copy of Frank Byrne's diary is
held at the Hokitika Museum, which is
keen to copy other war diaries of West
Coasters so they can be added to the
collection and the museum's WW100
project, which aims to record every
West Coaster involved in the war.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Anthony Byrne
Vince Byrne, Jim Wilson, Hugh (Cunny) Wilson, Frank Byrne and Charles Byrne.
One hundred years ago, the rst of three Byrne brothers from Kumara left for World War One. Two died in 1917 within four
months of each other, and a third died in 1918 shortly before the Armistice. e eldest, corporal James Francis Byrne (Frank), wrote
a diary recording his time on the front, including at the Somme. After his death, the diary --- with his other posessions --- was
sent home by the army.
e Byrne brothers were born in Kumara. e family
moved to Wellington in 1906. eir father, omas
Vincent Byrne, had a law practice in Kumara and was
at one time the mayor.
ere were four other children --- Mildred Emma
Byrne, who married George Herbert Chapman of
Stuart and Chapman, sawmillers in Ross; and Eileen
Frances Byrne, who married William Coburn and
farmed at Marsden.
Younger brothers Norman Alexander Byrne and
Percival Sta ord Byrne were too young to enlist.
Norman became principal of Horowhenua College
in Levin, while Percival was a playwright, actor and
producer who lived most of his life in London.
º James Francis Byrne (Frank) was born in January
1890 and enlisted in 1915. He served in France with
the NZ Engineers 1st Field Company, his rank was
He was gassed and died of wounds on June 18, 1917
at Messines (south of Ypres), Ploegsteert Wood and is
buried in Strand Military Cemetery. He had married
Olive Lillian King shortly before he sailed for France.
She remarried after his death.
Frank had worked for engineering companies in
He was the rst of the brothers to die.
º Young brother Vincent John Byrne enlisted before
him, in 1914, and served in Gallipoli and France with
NZ Divisional Signals.
He died of wounds and disease later in 1918 and
is buried in Mary's Commonwealth Cemetery, near
Salisbury, England. He did not marry and had no
º Charles Alfred Byrne, born in 1893, ser ved in
Gallipoli and France with the NZ Divisional Signals
Company, his rank was lance corporal. He was
gassed and died of wounds in 1917, and is buried in
Wimereux, France. He was not married and had no
e Byrne family of Kumara
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