Albert Branton Doidge

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Eight Stoke men are known to have died fighting in World War One.  Seven of these are listed on the Stoke Memorial Gates, but Albert, for some reason is not. He was the first of the men to die, in July 1915.

Albert Doidge. Auckland Weekly news 1915Albert Doidge. Auckland Weekly News 1915
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Albert Branton Doidge was born on 5 August 1894 in Stoke, the only son of James Branton and Annie Hester Doidge (née Johnson).  He attended Stoke School, followed by the Central Nelson School from1907 to 1909 then left for work.  At the time of his enlistment in 1914 he was working as a carpenter with Chamberlain & Stannard Ltd, builders and contractors, and he may well have served an apprenticeship with this company.  His parents were living at 38 The Port in Nelson at this time. 

On 15 August 1914, Albert enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and became 6/217 Private Doidge in the Canterbury Infantry Battalion.  His attestation form describes him, on enlistment, as being of a fair complexion with brown eyes and light coloured hair; he was 5 ft 5 inches tall, weighed 113 lbs and had chest measurements ranging from a minimum 32 to a maximum 36 inches.  Albert records that he was a member of a local cadet corps and had joined the Territorials in H Company of the 12th Nelson Regiment.

At Lyttelton on 22 September, Albert boarded the Athenic (His Majesty's New Zealand Transport 11) as part of the Main Body, meeting up with other contingents in Wellington harbour on 24 September.  Some three weeks later, on 16 October, after the naval escort had been appropriately strengthened in the face of possible German submarine attacks, Albert was one of some eight thousand five hundred soldiers of the NZEF’s Main Body and First Reinforcements who sailed for the theatre of war on the other side of the world.  The flotilla joined up with the Australian Force and went by way of Hobart, Albany, Colombo and Aden, the men disembarking at Alexandria in Egypt on 3 December.

 According to his military file, Albert’s stay in Egypt was uneventful.  This “Egyptian Interlude” is described as follows:

Albert DoidgePrivate Albert Branton Doidge (1894 - 1915). Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 95080
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“While the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) crossed the Indian Ocean, the Ottoman Empire (a multi-nation empire in which Turks and Arabs were the largest groups) entered the war, dramatically changing the strategic situation and threatening the imperial lifeline: the Suez Canal.  This, and the better climate Egypt offered over wintry England for further training, led to the temporary disembarkation of the New Zealand and Australian forces.  The New Zealanders camped at Zeitoun, near Cairo.  Some elements of the NZEF took part in the defence of the Suez Canal against a Turkish attack in January – February 1915.” 1      

The next thing we know about Albert is that he was on his way to Gallipoli on 12 April 1915.  He would have taken part in the Anzac offensive later that month and appears to have survived unscathed.  However, on 1 July he was admitted to the 15th[British] Stationary Hospital at Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, in the north-east Aegean Sea, having, like hundreds of other men at Gallipoli, fallen sick with dysentery:

“The island of Lemnos was the advanced base for Gallipoli as it was relatively close to the Dardanelles, being only about sixty miles away, or four hours sailing time.  It was initially rejected as a hospital base in March by Colonel Maher who concluded that there was not sufficient water, but from the end of May it was built up until it eventually held at least 18,000 beds…The chief advantage it offered, apart from its proximity, was the deep water harbour of Mudros which was always in full use by large numbers of ships.” 2    

“In face of a vigorous Turkish response, no significant Allied advance proved possible.  The fighting quickly degenerated into trench warfare, with the Anzacs holding a tenuous perimeter.  The troops endured heat, flies, the stench of rotting corpses, lack of water, dysentery and other illnesses, and a sense of hopelessness.” 3                            

“There was a total lack of accurate figures for those who were sick – and any numbers given would certainly have been an underestimation of those suffering from ill health.  On occasions 1,000 men a day were evacuated sick.” 4   

By 7 July Albert was reported to be “Dangerously Ill”.  He died on 10 July “of enteric” (dysentery) and was buried in the East Mudros Military Cemetery on Lemnos.

In June 1916, according to the Public Trustee, the only property Albert left was £54.9.0, which represented pay accrued to his death.

Albert Doidge gravestoneAlbert's gravestone at East Mudros Military Cemetery. Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
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Albert’s name is not recorded on Stoke’s Memorial Gates but he is remembered on:

  1. The memorial marking the site of Methodist churches which stood at the intersection of Songer Street and Main Road Stoke from 1852-1964
  2. The family’s gravestone in Seaview Cemetery.

A note on Albert's family history

Albert’s grandparents were John and Ann (née Branton) Doidge, pioneer immigrants from Launceston in Cornwall, England, who arrived in Nelson on board the Inchinnan in 1856 with five children: William, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, John and Thomas.  Albert’s father was their sixth child and the first New Zealander in the family, being born in Taranaki in 1858.   John and Ann went to New Plymouth but returned to Nelson in the wake of the Māori Wars.  John was a well-known, successful sheep farmer in Stoke.  Ann lived to a ripe old age as recorded in the local newspaper on the occasion of her 97th birthday.  Both of their daughters married into the Ching family of Stoke.  Along with the Chings, Cresswells and Jellymans, the Doidges were stalwart members of the Stoke Methodist / Wesleyan community.

Albert’s only sibling, Christina Irene May, was born in 1897.

2014

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  • Albert's maternal grandparents were Christina (nee Lovell) and William Sven Johnson.

    Christina was a daughter of Benjamin and Hester Lovell who arrived on "Lord Auckland" in 1842. Christina is reputed to have been the first European girl born in Nelson Province in May 1842.

    According to his obituary in the Nelson Evening Mail on 24 October, 1907, "The late Mr William Johnson, whose death occurred on Sunday, was a very old resident of the Port. He made one of the party which, with the late Mr Rochfort, surveyed the track from Nelson to the West Coast. He was also a member of the expedition from the Nelson Naval Brigade which in 1877 proceeded to the French Pass to rescue the passengers and crew of the barque Queen Bee, which was wrecked on the Sandspit. He was coxswain of the pinnace "Aurora" at the time. Mr Johnson was for 12 years in the pilot service under the late Captain Cross, and in later years he was custodian of the Marine Baths. He was also a waterman and tide waiter for the Customs Department."

    Posted by Fiona Gilliver, 06/01/2017 2:02pm (10 months ago)

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