Uncle Gus, or more correctly, my Great Uncle Gus wartime experience was possibly very typical of a lot of people’s in the second world war, especially those that went off to serve, and even though he was my was my great uncle, I believe his experience of the war would make a great short story, especially with the twist in the tale that he experienced in the end.
Essentially the timeline goes like this:
Gus was enlisted in the NZEF 23rd Battalion, A Company on the 11/01/1940 and then sent overseas on the 1st May 1940.
He served on the southern English coast (Kent) in 1940 as part of the defense for the invasion of Britain
He was deployed for the defense of Greece in March and April 1941 and evacuated to Crete in April 1941
He came down with dysentery and invalided off Crete onboard the hospital ship ABA on the 16/05/1941, three days before the battle of Crete started
The ship he was on is attached by 8 planes 50 miles south of Crete on the 17th May
Gus, who was lying on the deck of the ship recovering from severe dysentery, was wounded, receiving multiple shrapnel wounds to the left side of the chest
Gus doesn’t recover from the wounds, after basically bleeding out, and dies on board of the ship @ 2055, 17/05/1941
He is buried at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on the 18/05/1941 @ 1755, Location – 33”14’N, 32”42E
Gus Waters name appears on the El Alamein War Cemetery Memorial Wall Egypt and also the War Memorial Cenotaph in his home town of Temuka, New Zealand
The whole irony is that he may not have even fired a shot in anger at the enemy in his whole war time experience, for the closest he would have came was in Greece, and whether he was in the front line or not, cannot ascertain, and the other irony of the story is that his last name was Waters and he was buried at sea.
And it’s amazing what one can find when looking around doing research, for I came across a Private Nicholls who was serving on the Hospital Ship ABA at that time, and he kept a diary, and three particular days in his diary of interest I came across was the 16th May when the ship called into Suda and picked up 605 patients, the 17th when the boat was attacked by dive bombers with 6 injured on board, and the one reference that has to be about my great uncle being:
18/05/1941 (Sun) – One of the injured dies and is buried at sea
And that has to be in reference to my great uncle, for he was the only one to have died on board the hospital ship ABA that day.
Private Nicholls Diary Entries on board Hospital Ship ABA for 1940’s
And if you click on the following link, you’ll find Evan Augustus Waters name at the bottom of the page about the Al Alamein Cemetery
And if you click on the following link, you’ll find a picture three quarters down the page so that one can put a face to the name of Evan Augustus Waters
It was an interesting exercise doing the research about Gus’s War time experience, and it came together very quickly for it was built upon a number of areas, including the family story, his official service records, other servicemen’s diary records, photos of the boats he traveled on, Crete, War cemeteries, NZ War history books, and a story from start to finish emerged of a journey undertook.
We all hear about the great “heroic” war stories, but sometimes it’s the personal stories of the ordinary soldier’s and their connected families which paints a truer picture of the suffering that was undertook, for:
The one’s who talk about and push the narrative of the “glorious war dead” usually have an agenda to push, for my great uncle’s death in war wasn’t upon some great battle field, it was upon the deck of a hospital ship suffering with dysentery and bleeding out through shrapnel wounds sustained to the upper chest, a glorious end indeed – not