All of the men who represented Auckland University College (AUC) in athletics at the 1914 inter-College Easter Tournament served in the First World War - and survived.
The Athletics Club tournament team (at right) included seven law students, two trainee teachers, Lionel Grice and Jasper Olphert, engineering student Charles Forsdick and engineer Roy Ayling.1 Many of the law students were already working as law clerks when war broke out. By June 1915, the Club was severely depleted with at least 32 of its 59 members either enlisted or on active service.2
The first of the 1914 team to depart was Malcolm Stewart. As an existing member of the territorial force, Stewart left New Zealand with the Samoan Advance Party a fortnight after war was declared. Stewart served for the entire duration of the war and saw action in Gallipoli and France, returning to New Zealand from France for a short time, before returning finally in 1919.3
Charles Butler and Ernest Harston were quick to volunteer in early August 1914 and both landed on Gallipoli Peninsula with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.4 At Chunuk Bair on 8 August 1915 — New Zealand’s worst day on the Peninsula — Harston was despatched to Brigade Headquarters with a full report of the desperate situation and an urgent request for reinforcements. He ‘made short work of the bullet-swept downhill run’ and was back within the hour with a reply. He was mentioned in despatches for this display of bravery and athletic prowess, and was briefly placed in command later in the day.5 He later became an intelligence officer in France, and reached the rank of Major.6
Jaspar Olphert served with the New Zealand Medical Corps on the hospital ship Marama, a field ambulance and at the No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst.7 Roy Ayling and Charles Forsdick were both posted to the Machine Gun Corps, and saw action in Egypt and France. Ayling was part of the force that briefly occupied Germany after the war. Frederick Cox, Lionel Grice, Arthur Sexton, and Norman Russell Withiel Thomas served in the Auckland Infantry, while Clifford Jacobsen was with the Divisional Signalling Corps.
Although they survived the war, all of these Collegians suffered from injuries or illnesses that were common among those who served.
Both Forsdick and Sexton lost limbs; Forsdick had his left arm amputated after being wounded at Passchendaele in 1917 and Sexton’s left leg was amputated due to a gunshot wound in France in 1917.8 Forsdick received an artificial limb in England in 1918, and Sexton wore a prosthetic leg. Harston picked up a chronic cough and enteritis at Gallipoli, but stoically fought on until his intestinal complaints saw him hospitalised in 1917 and then sent back to New Zealand. He was appointed as a Recruiting Inspecting Officer in Otago, and then became Director of Personnel Services at General Headquarters in Wellington.9
Butler and Thomas were both gassed on the Western Front in 1917, and Grice was wounded by shrapnel in his right leg. Butler was hospitalised with burns to his buttock and thigh in 1917 and returned to New Zealand.10 Jacobsen injured his right leg playing hockey in a rest camp in 1918 and re-joined his unit a month later.11 Thomas was hospitalized in 1918 with severe tonsillitis and Olphert was discharged due to pleurisy in 1918.12 A bout of influenza in 1916 only briefly slowed Stewart, while it put an end to Ayling's service in 1918.13
After the War
Forsdick accepted an overseas ‘sailor and soldier scholarship’ to Imperial College, London, and remained in that city, where he married and had a child.14 Grice and Olphert returned to New Zealand and continued teaching. Olphert became headmaster of Napier Boys’ High School and was a long-time member of the Territorials.
Butler, Cox, Harston, Jacobsen, Sexton, and Thomas all became solicitors. Stewart returned to his father’s newly-acquired farm in Morrinsville, and it is unclear whether he continued in the legal profession. Sexton was the MP for Franklin from 1935–1938 as a part of the short-lived Country Party.15
Harston was plagued by ill health, including tuberculosis. He spent time in Pukeora Sanatorium before travelling to Switzerland to undergo treatment with Dr Henri Spahlinger. The treatment was successful and Harston took up a position with the Secretariat of the League of Nations in Geneva in the late 1920s, before returning to the legal profession in London in the 1930s. He also later served on the Marylebone Borough Council and the British Empire Service League and received numerous honours, including a knighthood in 1958.16
Jonathan Burgess, Special Collections
- It is unclear if Ayling, the team's trainer, studied at Auckland University College. He is not recorded in the Roll of Honour.
- New Zealand Herald (NZH), 30 June 1915, p.9. All New Zealand newspapers accessed via Papers Past.
- ‘Stewart, Malcolm Reid - WW1 12/2568 – Army’, R7821682, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- ‘Butler, Charles Camode - WW1 2/177 – Army’, R21890629, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; ‘Harston, Ernest Sirdefield - WW1 10/1074 – Army’, R16792441, Archives New Zealand, Wellington
- Richard Stowers, Bloody Gallipoli: The New Zealanders’ Story, Auckland, 2005, pp.175, 179, 182; London Gazette, 28 January 1916, p.1210.
- Dominion, 26 November 1918, p.4.
- ‘Olphert, Jaspar Whaley - WWI 3/1451, WWII 2/20/500 – Army’, R24062221, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- Auckland Star (AS), 29 July 1936, p.12.
- 'Harston, Ernest Sirdefield - WW1 10/1074 – Army’, R16792441.
- ‘Butler, Charles Camode - WW1 2/177 – Army’, R21890629.
- ‘Jacobsen, Clifford Mario - WW1 4/1171 – Army’, R18052650, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- ‘Thomas, Norman Russell Withiel - WW1 20940’, - Army R7825305, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; ‘Olphert, Jaspar Whaley - WWI 3/1451, WWII 2/20/500 – Army’, R24062221.
- ‘Ayling, Claude Roy - WW1 23/59 – Army’, R22271749, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- Evening Post (EP), 4 March 1918, p.7; NZH, 7 September 1922, p.8.
- EP, 16 March 1935, p.29; ‘Arthur Sexton’, James Oakley Wilson, ed., New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984, 4th edn, Wellington, 1985, p.233.
- EP, 28 October 1925, p.5; 16 March 1935, p.29; NZH, 30 December 1930, p.7; 8 April 1931, p.10; Coromandel Heritage Trust website. Sir Ernest's recollections of Gallipoli during a 1959 radio interview are available via Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.