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We Are Remembering Them...

Ric Carlyon - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

REGINALD  LANGDALE EVATT

Served in 3 Wars

Reginald Langdale Evatt, of Wellington was made a J.P. in 1935, but he should be mentioned in this series because he participated in several firsts in the service of his country. He fought in the first overseas conflict involving New Zealand troops, the 1899- 1902 South African (Boer) War. Then in 1914 he was among the first to see active service in the First World War, a member of New Zealand’s Samoa Advance Party. Invalided out of Samoa, Evatt returned to New Zealand later to re-enlist… and he was soon off to the front in Europe. Not done when World war Two broke out, he took a leading home-role during that conflict.

Evatt was born in Dunedin in 1881 - in his youth Evatt showed great interest in the military. Aged just 15 he joined College Rifles in Wellington in 1897. He also took up rowing. Both pursuits were to be for life. His grasp of military matters was illustrated in the Letters to the Editor column of the “Evening Post” newspaper in July 1900 when he wrote correcting a previous article’s derivation of “Tommy Atkins”, at the time a name given to any hero in conflict, particularly to British troops. The original article said the name first emerged in a military handbook or soldier’s manual, a term for a soldier. The youthful Evatt set out to correct this, saying the name went back further: he quoted a reliable source which recalled that Tommy Atkins had been a real soldier serving in India in 1857. He was a sentry and, despite unofficial suggestions that he should abandon his post in the face of a strong Sepoy advance, he held to his duty, unrelieved. Atkins remained at his sentry and was killed. Thereafter, Evatt wrote, anyone distinguished by deeds of bravery was called “Tommy Atkins”, a memorial to the original Tommy which lasted far longer than medals or mentions. This, said Evatt, put “Evening Post” readers right.  The word “Tommy” survives today: generally used to describe any British soldier or items connected with the British Army, as in “Tommy Gun”. And there are other derivations of the name Tommy Atkins – one such talks of an equally brave soldier by that name who was killed during hand-to-hand fighting in Flanders in 1794.

South Africa

In September 1899 the South African (Boer) War broke out: New Zealand was fast to commit to send her troops off-shore for the first time.

Rulers of Colonies,
Stand by your guiding star;
Forget not ’twas old England
That made us what we are.

“Sons of the Colonies” … N.Z. patriotic song to encourage recruiting

Suitable soldiers were selected from permanent or part-time volunteer forces and the first contingent left just one month later, following a string of family, public and official farewells.   

Private Evatt, as a member of the College Rifles, could be expected to enlist. He did, and was drafted to the 6th Contingent due to leave Auckland at the end of January. His passion for rowing as a member of the Star Boating Club would have to be shelved, meantime.

Either as a last minute duty, or carefully planned ceremony, Reginald Evatt was best man at his brother’s wedding in Wellington on 17th January.

He embarked on SS “Cornwall” which left Auckland on 30th January 1901 transporting 602 troops to East London, South Africa. Throughout their war service they and the 5th Queensland Bushmen operated under the celebrated Lt Col Herbert Plumer in almost every part of the action. Records show the column distinguished itself by consistently good work, the New Zealanders frequently reported in close combat with the enemy, taking and capturing soldiers as well as Boer military transports.

Far from overseas our brothers flocked to join the flag
Joining us at British part was neither bluff nor brag
Foot to foot they stood with us beneath that dear old flag
When we went marching on Pretoria

- Victory Song, c.1902

 

Evatt survived the war despite repeated bouts of Malaria and returned to Wellington: he was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with five clasps for service in Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 and in South Africa 1902.


 

The Queen's South Africa Medal with five clasps

Back in Wellington…

Defence doctors confirmed the Malaria that Reginald Evatt had suffered in South Africa kept recurring and in May 1902 Evatt was discharged “on completion of service” and with “Character exemplary”.  He returned to civvy street, his occupation given at this time as warehouseman. He kept up his membership and close interest in College Rifles and resumed rowing.

In June 1909, by which time he was Colour Sergeant, he received the Volunteers’ 12 year Long Service Medal and the following year he was made Lieutenant in the Wellington Guards Rifles.

He might have had a bout of the ‘flu about this time because R. L. Evatt, accountant with the jewellers Walker and Hall’s Wellington office ,was listed in a newspaper advertisement among those who endorsed “Fluenzol”, described as “a magic remedy”.

1912, and he was promoted to Captain and recalled his many successes in rowing at local, provincial and national level by presenting his club, Star Boating Club, with a trophy  for the Junior Fours. In 1913 it’s noted that he was absent from rowing regattas, attending Army camp. Later in the year he was presented with a 16 year Long Service Medal and was made a member of the Executive Committee of the Navy League.

Conflict in Europe

Evatt as a long-serving member of the volunteer forces, and having experience at the front in South Africa was a certainty to go overseas if the looming war in Europe escalated and New Zealand troops were sent. Matters in the Northern Hemisphere deteriorated: war was declared. New Zealand would be assisting the war effort. In August 1914 it was published that Evatt would be among those officers to go abroad as part of New Zealand Expeditionary Forces. Advice of this had reached him at the same time that he received notice of promotion from his employers, Walker and Hall in Wellington, offering a position in the company’s Sydney office. Uncertain what to do in the circumstances he cabled management in Sydney and received a reply wishing him God Speed with the military and that a place would be held open for him on his return.

Shortly after World War One was declared, London asked the New Zealand Government to help with "a great and urgent Imperial service”.

Overseas there came a pleading,
"Help a nation in distress."
And we gave our glorious laddies -
Honour bade us do no less,

- W.W.1 Song - Keep the Home Fires Burning 


With great haste troops were assembled in Wellington, fitted out and, after the briefest of official farewells at Basin Reserve, two troopships sailed for war. The destination had been kept secret.   

Samoa Bound

Captain Evatt was aboard the troopship Monowai now bound for Samoa where New Zealand’s Advance Party was to seize the island of Upolu which had been occupied by the Germans, now the enemy, for 14 years. Some 1,300 New Zealand soldiers were aboard troopships Monowai and Moeraki. They were accompanied by escorting warships, and arrived off Samoa on 29th August. The first boat ashore at Apia delivered the Surrender Document to the Germans. The enemy realised the inevitability of the situation, accepted and signed. Troops stormed ashore in long boats to oust German officials, take over public buildings, and raise the Union Jack… and all without a shot being fired. It was the first time in the history of the Empire that a British Dominion overseas, New Zealand, had sent an invading force across the ocean and captured a foreign territory. And Samoa was just the second territory in the War to be seized from the Germans in the name of the King. Togoland in West Africa had been taken days before.  

But the heat, flies, mosquitos and different food in the tropics didn’t agree with all soldiers. Some had tonsillitis and the ‘flu, while others, like Captain Evatt suffered with malaria, perhaps worsened by his earlier bouts in South Africa. Like others, he could not seem to regain good health. Meanwhile some troops reckoned they were dying from boredom: once the occupation had been completed, trenches dug and observation posts created, they found little to do.

Briefly in Wellington

Evatt’s condition was much more serious than ennui - he was invalided out and he returned to New Zealand in December 1914.  He was given leave of absence by the Military and his employers, Walker and Hall, true to word, transferred him to Sydney. Evatt was attached to Australian Imperial Forces as “temporary”. He then applied to the New Zealand Defence authorities to join the Australian Forces but this was turned down. When the First World War ground on New Zealand military officials offered him a position, paying the Evatt family’s transfer from Sydney to Wellington. By February 1916 Captain Evatt was passed fit and immediately reported for further military duty.

Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit.

W.W.1 Song "Over There" 

Within weeks he was posted to the 15th Reinforcements B Company and promptly organised the formation of a company band, the instruments financed by the musician-troops and public subscription.

B Company 15th Reinforcements Cap Badge

In July came the embarkation date for the B Company of the 15th Reinforcements Wellington Infantry Battalion. The Mayor of Wellington farewelled the troops on the 25th July and next day they sailed for the front aboard SS Waitemata, arriving in Egypt on 3rd October 1916.

Waitemata… transported the 15th Reinforcements 

At the Front

Evatt found himself in the midst of the action in France. By April 18th 1918 he was in the trenches at La Signy Farm. After a quiet spell the enemy started bombardment through the fog and mist with Allies’ six inch Howitzers pounding La Signy Farm buildings with many direct hits. Wellington troops were relieved by 1st Otago and marched off to canvas camp.

You might forget the gas and shell
You'll never forget the Mademoiselle

-W.W.1 song - Mademoiselle from Armentières

During relief operations Evatt was wounded. After nearly 2 years at the front he was injured badly enough to be evacuated to England to recover and the following year, 1919, he returned to Wellington.

Never quite made it to ‘Civvy Street’

Reginald Evatt quickly resumed interest in rowing, elected to the committee of the Star Boating Club and made Life Active Member. He remained in uniform in the Reserves and in September 1918 he led the troops on parade in the ceremony to welcome the new Governor-General, Viscount Jellicoe.

In 1921 he was elected Captain of the Star Boating Club and the following year he was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration. In 1925 he was given command of the 1st Battalion, Wellington Regiment and was presented with his Long Service Award for 27 years’ in the military.

In Sept 1926 the weekly newspaper Truth, back-grounding Evatt said… “He came back with honourable scars and decorations. Although he looks a tremendously stern soldier when on parade, in ordinary life he is a plain chap with a gift of good fellowship and a fund of breezy anecdotes”. He continued administering the sport of rowing and for many years was elected to senior club positions at Star, including Captain for successive years and Vice-President. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1935.

More Conflict

In 1939 with the world at war again, the Star Boating Club enlisted a body of young men, a platoon, for military service. "The club’s showing an excellent spirit in the formation of a platoon for the Wellington Regiment,” said the Chairman, Mr. R. L. Evatt. “It is a fine gesture, and an example to all sporting bodies in the country. I am looking forward to see the platoon on parade, and I expect great things from it".

Evatt himself was not to be missing while there was any action about. He changed uniform when he was posted to command Wellington City - Poneke Battalion of the Home Guard during World War 2, leading men again in time of conflict.

Dog Stories

Colonel Reginald Evatt must have liked dogs. Starting with the last story first. Evatt, according to an article in the Evening Post, September 1939, was seldom seen without his dog “Digger” at his side. “Digger” was the regimental mascot of the First Wellington Regiment while the colonel was in charge and it accompanied him to meetings of the Savage Club where the dog was beloved of all members. "Digger" was spoken of as a life member of the Club. He had in his time appeared on the stage, marched through Wellington many times with the troops, and travelled thousands of miles by steamer, train, and car. But 15 years of a busy life meant he was getting a bit slow. In 1939 he was run over by a motor-lorry and died a few hours later.

Then there was “Nip”, but several stories about him conflict more than somewhat. Some say the dog was discovered on the “Monowai” soon after the ship sailed for Samoa in 1914. Evatt claimed the dog was his… ship’s officers said dogs weren’t allowed so Evatt proclaimed “Nip” as the Advance Party’s mascot and the dog was allowed to stay. The story goes that the pooch died in Samoa and lies at rest there under a shady palm tree.

But there’s another documented yarn that “Nip” was with Evatt in Europe during campaigns there, a brown spaniel pup that was particularly well known to troops on the battlefield in France. He was mascot of the Wellingtonians and after being wounded at least once, was eventually killed in action. He was honoured with an obituary notice in "Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F.”, the small paper published in London by Sir (then Trooper) Clutha Mackenzie.

Perhaps there were two dogs name “Nip”, both mascots and both owned by Evatt.

Reginald Langdale Evatt, J.P., soldier, died on 20th April, 1948 and rests in Karori Cemetery, Wellington.


We are Remembering Them:

+ Col. Reginald Langdale Evatt, J.P. Service number 1/553

+ Enlisted at the age of 15 in College Rifles, Wellington

+ Private in the Samoa Advance Party, World War One  

+ Evacuated, ill, to New Zealand

+ Re-enlisted B Company of the 15th Reinforcements Wellington Infantry Battalion, promoted to Captain

+ Saw action at the front in France, World War One

+ 1918, wounded in action, invalided out, recovered in England

+ 1919, returned to New Zealand

+ Remained in the military reserves

+ 1935, appointed a Justice of the Peace

+ Commanded Wellington City Home Guard 1939-45 during World War Two

+ Died Wellington, 1948, aged 66.


Sources:

Papers Past

Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

The History of the Wellington Regiment

New Zealand Defence website

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