Hubert OXLEY (1882-1969)
Hubert OXLEY was born in Kilmore, Victoria, Australia on the 4th of December 1882, the youngest son of John OXLEY and Emma nee MORGAN. Emma, my great-great-grand-aunt, born in Abergavenny, Wales was the eldest daughter of my maternal 3rd great-parents, John MORGAN and Sarah nee BLOUNT.
By 1914, Hubert was living in New Zealand as in that year he married New Zealand girl Amelia Beatrice BENJAMIN. She was born in New Plymouth in 1883 and died in Auckland in 1961.
At the outbreak of World War One, Hubert was a Head Waiter working for the Royal Hotel in Auckland. His address was first written in as 71 Burnley Terrace, Auckland and at some later stage that was crossed out and recorded as Richardson road, Mt Roskill.
He enlisted into the 1st battalion E Company of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade on the 19th of October 1915 and in March 1916 was transferred to the 2nd Battalion Auckland Regiment.
On enlistment Hubert was nearly 33 years old. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall with brown eyes, fair hair and fair complexion.
Hubert’s total period of war service was 3 years and 214 days. Of these, 1 year and 85 days were served in New Zealand and 2 years and 129 days overseas. Part of 1916 he spent in the Egyptian and 1916, 17 and 18 in the Western European theatres of war.
April 1916 saw Hubert embark for France on what looks like the ship ASCANIUS.
In May 1916, he went AWOL and had to forfeit 3 days pay.
On the 21st of February 1917, according to the court of enquiry at St. Clotilde, Douai Hubert was officially reported missing believed wounded . He was captured at Armentieres.
|Photo from NZ Heritage Images|
“Wounded at Fleurbaix by bullet, during a raid on enemy line. Hit in German front line trench, and taken unconcious as a prisoner of war to Douai hospital, arm operated on by German M.O at Douai 23 Feb 1917, head of right humerus removed and also fragments of upper end of shaft of humerus. Wounds discharged freely for six months. Sent to England as “Exchange Prisoner” 6 January 1918, admitted Walton 10 January 1918.”– from War service record
Hubert was repatriated to Rotterdam, England by the central prisoners of war committee at St Clotilde Douai Germany. He was admitted to the military hospital at Tooting and later the Number 2 New Zealand hospital at Walton on Thames.
|from War service record|
|from War service record|
One of the first New Zealand soldiers to be released from captivity in Germany was Private Hubert Oxley, of the 2nd Auckland Battalion, who recently returned to the Dominion. He was severely wounded during a raid at Fleuxbaix in February, 1917, and was taken prisoner. Under the arrangements for the repatriation of disabled soldiers. Private Oxley was released at the end of last year, his right arm having been rendered virtually useless by the wounds he had received. His experience during the 11 months he spent as a prisoner of war have been related by the returned soldier.
Describing the raid, Private Oxley stated that he had just reached the German front line, or what remained of it after the preliminary bombardment when he was struck by a piece of shell and “knocked out.” Although he did not immediately lose consciousness, he was unable to move. “When the firing from our guns had quietened down,” Private Oxley continued, “about a dozen Germans emerged from their retirement and came straight towards me. Two of them came over, and, after relieving me of my bombs, half-dragged me to an advanced dressing station in their subsidiary line. There I was left lying outside for a good two hours, until the last of their own wounded had received attention.
“It was while at this place that I learned that I was not the only New Zealander who had been unlucky enough to be taken prisoner. Eventually our turn came, and in the course of a hurried patching up I found I was badly hit in legs, arms, shoulder, and body.
After this I was wheeled in a truck for about two miles to a clearing station, where I lay for the remainder of the day. At this place ample evidence of the deadly effects of our morning’s work was to be seen in the crowds of wounded Germans. It was very cold, and I lay on my plank waiting and shivering. Several times Red Cross men offered me coffee and bread, but I refused, being too ill to eat. They covered me with blankets, and in due course my turn came to be dressed.
From then on I only seem to have a hazy recollection of occurrences. I remember a motor ambulance, and some of our fellows saying something to me—a great deal of bustle and excitement, and strange faces at another stage of the journey. Also, I remember calling for water, and a kind nurse’s face watching over me as she put the drink to my lips! Next I awoke in a comfortable bed, and a very tall man in white was looking intently at me. Again I was offered food and refused.
“Later I was removed to the operating table, where two orderlies held me in a sitting posture while the surgeon proceeded to operate on my shoulder, and probe for pieces of shell. While this was in progress, three military officers appeared on the scene. Two of them plied me with questions, and the third—a good listener—said nothing, but kept his eyes full on mine. Upon receiving no satisfaction from their inquiries, one of them adopted a fierce expression and tried to bounce me into answering. His threats did not worry me, for I was thinking more about the pain the doctor was inflicting on my shoulder. Presently I heard something fall with a ring on the marble slab, and I knew I had been relieved of a piece of shell. I nearly fainted, and the doctor, after giving me some brandy, finished dressing my wounds, and I was carried into a ward near the operating room. Here I recognised Norman Faithfull, of my own company; Fred Kemp, whose leg had just been amputated; Frank Doyle, of the Haurakis; and Matthew Rasmussen, of the 101 Waikatos.
“A few days after, I underwent an operation. As I was the worst case among our boys I was given cocoa and one piece of white French bread and jam for breakfast, a good basin of minced meat and mashed potatoes for the midday meal, at 3 p.m., another slice of white bread and jam, and a cup of coffee (artificial), and at night a piece of bread, a basin of barley, macaroni, or vegetable soup, or perhaps gruel. The others received the same rations, but black bread, no cocoa, and at mid-day instead of meat and potatoes, they received a mug of soup.
“This was at Douai, France, where we remained for some weeks. I had eight wounds, and sometimes lay for seven days without having them dressed. We were visited by a German pastor, and occasionally by a Roman Catholic priest. Russian orderlies brought us water for washing, but there was no soap, and I had mud on my hands and face for many weeks. Every Sunday the French people of Douai sent us three cigarettes and somthing which tasted like plum pudding. It was just the length of one’s finger and coated with chocolate. We used to call it our Sunday tit-bit, and certainly it was very nice. There were funerals every day. The courtyard was just under our windows, we could hear the service being read in German, then the departure of the horses. The French populace always attended the funerals in large numbers.
“At the end of the fifth week most of the New Zealanders had recovered, and were sent to different camps. About the end of the seventh week I noticed a change in the Germans about the place. They were very excited, and argumentive with one another, and from what I could gather the cause of this was fresh news from the battlefront. Also I noticed some British prisoners being brought in. An orderly told us that the British were near, and, taking them by surprise, had captured much ground. The Germans began to pack up and remove the prisoners into Germany. By the end of the eighth week we were awakened one morning by a terrific bombardment which shook every window in the place. This was the Vimy Ridge
affair. Our aeroplanes, too, had been busy, having destroyed part of the railway station and other points of importance. All the New Zealanders had now been removed, with the exception of Faithfull and myself.
“On April 18 we were carried to the railway station, the hospital by this time having been practically cleared. During our journey to the station we must have presented a curious sight to the French inhabitants, as our hair and whiskers had grown very long during our confinement. The French rushed us with gifts, giving to each one a bag containing shirts, socks, towel, soap, and cigarettes, and some of the Frenchmen in their enthusiasm tore off their hats and coats and gave them to us, as we were very poorly clad. They also gave us some bread, biscuits, and raw eggs, and one lady, seeing me in my helpless condition, removed her coat and wrapped it round me. The Germans did not interfere with these acts of kindness, but in some instances they showed great brutality in keeping the crowds back. Alas, these were the last good things we were to receive for some time.
“After a journey of two days through France and Belgium, we arrived at Julich, 40 miles beyond Aix-la-Chappelle on April 20. On the journey our food consisted of grain, black bread and coffee. We were removed on stretchers from the train to the hospital, a distance of about a mile. The lateness of the hour—midnight—did not prevent a large crowd of German civilians from gathering around. There was no hostile demonstration—they merely looked on in silence. I was still shivering with the severe cold, and I indicated this to a German, who was helping to carry my stretcher, and he made it his business to procure a coat and wrap it round me. We arrived at last at the hospital, which, like the one at Douai, was for prisoners only. Here were congregated about 50 French and British and from 250 to 300 Russians, and I could not fail to be impressed with the way in which the Russians were utilised to do practically all the hospital work. There were no nurses. The British were distributed all over the place, and I found my bed situated between two Russians.
“And now for a few words about the food. I cannot speak of every hospital and camp where the Germans house their prisoners but I know of five hospitals and one camp, and they are all on a par.
When we opened our eyes in Julich, the first morning we were handed one slice of black bread. I would not like to guess its composition, but it constituted one’s breakfast, together with some vile, black coffee. What did we have for dinner? One day it would be a weak solution of macaroni, another day sauerkraut, or turnip tops. Preserved vegetables were also served out, and they were most objectionable. In the drying process they seemed to have been smothered with charcoal, or some such stuff, and these pieces were thickly scattered all through the food, and it was impossible to remove them.”
Towards the end of the summer Private Oxley had sufficiently recovered to be able to walk, and was then able to take more interest in his surroundings “Business seemed to be dead, traffic almost at a standstill, and the few motor cars I did see bore the Government crest. Old and young men alike were in uniform. Not once did I see a limbless soldier, for the Germans kept their maimed well out of sight. The men, women, and children looked pale and hollow-cheeked, although this part of the town was of the better class. It was no uncommon sight to see children begging from door to door. Before our capture we had often heard stories of the efficiency of German organisation. All I can say is that, so far as my observation went, this state of efficiency did not exist in the hospitals I have seen. At this place in particular the sanitation was disgraceful. There was vermin everywhere—in our beds, clothing, and even in the bandages covering my wounds. They were one Iong nightmare,’ and I shall never forget my feelings of relief when I was moved away. Geese and ducks were allowed to roam about the enclosure, which greatly added to the unhealthy state of the place. The Germans even used the dinner bowls from our wards to feed the poultry.”
Private Oxley again succumbed to illness, and until his recovery was attended with the most kindly care by a Scotch soldier. There was much sickness at the hospital, especially among the Russians, and many deaths occurred. ”In connection with any burials of our men, I would like to say that those of our fellows who were able were allowed to follow the remains, and were given any available khaki. To give the Germans their due, every cortege included a guard of honour and a military band, and they themselves always acted as pall-bearers.”
Hubert’s final discharge as permanently unfit was dated 20th of May 1919. He was awarded a war pension.
From 1928, he and Amelia were living in Richardson Road, Roskill, Auckland. Hubert was a gardener until 1954 he was listed as retired in the electoral roll.
|OXLEY ashes tablet Waikumete Cemetery courtesy of|
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