History – Remembering Anzac

Ernest Martin Davies

The Albertland Museum would like to honour Ernest Martin Davies this Anzac Day. After recently opening a treasure box of his wartime diaries, photographs and letters, he now holds a special place in our hearts. Born in Devonport in 1895 to John and Mary Davies, the family moved to Wellsford when Ernest was young. He attended Port Albert School, then worked for Morrison & Sons in Warkworth as a nurseryman/orchardist, until enlisting with the New Zealand Army in December 1914. After basic training, he left our shores to fight in April 1915.

Upon reading his small pocket diaries, the entries were meticulously written, detailing his time in the NZ Field Artillery while serving in Egypt, the Balkans and France. Each entry was written in fountain pen or pencil, and he described the weather, chance meetings with boys he knew from Port Albert and the hardships he endured while being bombarded by enemy fire on the front line. He found himself, aged 21, working as a cook in the officers mess and described how he would pack up the cookhouse onto a wagon ready to shift to a new position after being woken at 3am to prepare breakfast before departing. After falling ill in January 1918, he was taken to Connaught Hospital in England and while recuperating, he helped to prepare hospital meals. Learning how to make pickled French beans gave him great delight. Visitors from the NZ War Contingent Association gave him an introduction to needle working and he spent many hours making table runners and other items to send home to his mother.

A leave pass was usually issued at very short notice and Ernest would head off for a few days, either to Paris or London, and he would take in tourist attractions such as the Grand Arch, Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, not to mention endless visits to the cinema. Ernest was a prolific letter writer and always responded immediately to anyone who wrote to him, often returning a snapshot of places he visited when on leave. His mother received packages containing his diaries, keepsakes and letters for safekeeping until his return home. Sometimes he would send a ‘whiz bang’, a field service postcard that made it easy to stay in touch with loved ones. These postcards earned their nickname from the light calibre German shells that arrived on the battlefield with little warning. The solider would scratch out phrases not required and they were destroyed by censors if anything was added to them. The last item in his treasure box was a postcard to his Mum in March 1919 to say that after three years and 364 days he was on his way home. He made it and died in 1987.