Stop fighting children
Stop fighting children. I shouted
Some days when I came
Across a scuffle in the classroom
And instantly they’d freeze
Creating the Centena
My father was born in 1917, which has always resonated with me as being the year before the end of World War One. Unfortunately, he never spoke about what his own father did in the Great War. And then because my family and I have lived in New Zealand since late 1990, I have become interested in the role that New Zealand soldiers and nurses played during the conflict.
When I was invited to contribute to the 26 Armistice project, as one of only two writers from New Zealand, I wanted to focus on a New Zealander from that time. New Zealand’s most famous World War One tragedy occurred at Gallipoli where 2779 soldiers were killed.
But I decided to find someone whose war was not a Gallipoli story.
I have no New Zealand relatives who were involved in WW1. Therefore I originally decided to look up people with the same surname as mine (White) who would have been alive at the time, and who would have been around the same age as my grandparents on my father’s side in the UK.
White, like Smith, is a rampantly common name in Britain and its former colonies. Not surprisingly then, when I investigated the Online Cenotaph at Auckland War Memorial Museum, I found a great number of New Zealand Whites, men and women, who served in the armed forces and the medical corps during WW1.
While scouring through the details of over 350 Whites, one person’s story lodged in my mind – that of Kenneth Robert White.
Kenneth Robert White was born on August 10th 1889, the third son of David and Catherine Ann White of 61 Calliope Road, Devonport in Auckland. He later attended Auckland University College (now the University of Auckland) and qualified as a teacher. By the time he was only 26 (1915) he had been appointed as Headmaster of a rural school in Awanui, in the far north of New Zealand’s North island (Te Ika a Maui).
Just one year later though, on 12 June 1916, he felt the Empire calling him to do his duty, and he enlisted. He joined the First Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment and was immediately promoted to Second Lieutenant because of his profession.
I found out later that Second Lieutenant is the lowest rank for a commissioned army officer, and that Robert Kenneth White was given next to no training on how to command his men. That fact remained with me as I began writing about him.
And then I discovered a letter that Kenneth Robert White had written to the children of the school where he had been headmaster. He wrote it five months before he arrived at the western front in France.
Kenneth Robert White was killed in the first onslaught of the third battle of Ypres (better known as the battle of Passchendaele ) on October 4th 1917, aged 28. It was the letter he wrote to ‘My Dear Children’ that has led me to writing this centena.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.