Oliver Joseph Doidge was born in Thames on the sixth of December, 1896. His parents were Clara and Joe. He had a brother Charles and two sisters, Emily and Ruby. They all lived at 505 Bowen st, now Rolleston st, and went to Thames high school. In this school photo from 1912, Oliver is 15 years old. His brother Charles is on the far left of the photo.
Oliver’s school report from 1912 (above) shows he was an able student and because of this, he became a N.Z. Railways Cadet, training as a civil engineer. Being a cadet meant that he had to travel to the West coast of the South Island. From there, he enlisted in the army in 1916 and was mobilised in the Twenty-sixth Reinforcements on February 8th, 1917.
After basic training at Featherston in the Wairarapa, Oliver left Wellington for England on the troop ship ‘Turakina’ and nearly 3 months later, he arrived in England at Plymouth, Devon. Many relatives of Oliver’s mother and father lived in and around a small town called Bere Ferrers, not far from Plymouth.
Food was very important to soldiers like Oliver but in England, rationing meant food was often limited. On the battle front, the soldiers were always hungry but the food was very poor and often not available at all. The support of family in New Zealand and aunts, uncles and cousins in England made a difference for Oliver. The Thames community in New Zealand supported overseas soldiers, and Oliver received food parcels sent by the Thames schools while he was in England.
Lance Corporal Oliver Joseph Doidge initially served on the ‘Ypres salient’ in Flanders, Belgium. He arrived at Ouderom camp on the 25th January 1918, joining B company of the 1st Battalion N.Z. Rifle Brigade. Because he was a civil engineer, he was sent for further training as a 'first class' signaler. Here he learnt morse code, electrical wiring and mending telephone wires broken by shells and bullets. He also ran messages between the trenches so it was a dangerous speciality.
Oliver wrote an extensive diary about his experiences during WWI. Photos of the pages can be seen on Facebook by signing in and then searching for Malcolm Doidge to find them.
1 February 1918 FridayPacking up etc in morning. Left Howe camp about 2 pm by train (light railways) & came up to Biv Cross Roads. Detrained & 'padded the hoof' - full pack up. Caught a shell for two on entering the planked road - 1 officer killed, got wind up somewhat but cooled down as advanced. March along duckboards through shelled land very dreary - devastation everywhere. Land in terrible mess. Arrived at the Butte safley (sic) & then on through the supports -very muddy going to frontline. Took over from 1st brigade about 6pm. Saw Ralph Jenkin. In Bivvie for while, few stray shells knocking round.
After 2 months on the Ypres front, Oliver went into hospital on the 22nd of March. He had 'Scabies', a common ailment in the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the trenches . Scabies is cause by a mite infestation that spreads as a contagious skin condition.
In April 1918 , the German counter offensive along the Western front meant he had to move with the hospital.
Fritz aeroplanes over at night for considerable time - in two relays… Marquee in 7th Canadian set on fire also quarters of 1st Canadian staff. Good few casualties both killed and wounded. Excitement pretty high in ward during raid, one bomb sending shower of dirt on roof - shrapnel from anti aircraft also falling about. Nurses amongst killed and wounded.
Casualties from this raid were 1200 wounded and 90 killed.
In June 1918, Oliver was transferred to the New Zealand Cyclist Battalion, a highly mobile infantry. Originally this was an ANZAC force of Australians and New Zealanders. In 1918, a shortage of horses and transport difficulties on a now fast-moving war front meant cyclists were needed to travel long distances quickly and often beyond supply lines.
Soldiers still received parcels from home. On the 3rd of June 1918, the day that he officially joined the Cyclists, Oliver received a parcel from a Thames school.
Monday. On fatigue most of the day, trench digging. Pictures in the evening. Got a parcel from Parawai school. Grand day.
'Buckshee parcels' were also issued to soldiers - a sort of a doggie bag that could include cigarettes, rice and tinned ox tongue. Oliver also received these. Later when Oliver was on the move, with the Cyclist Battalion, getting enough to eat became a problem, for example;
Monday 8th July 1918 Signalling practice all day. Swim (in canal) and writing in the evening. Ration of bread missing in the morning. Pig accused.
3 July 1918 Wednesday Morning off to get ready for afternoon. Inspected then - along with OMR's - by Mr Massey & Sir Joseph Ward. March past etc - official photographer being there. Short speeches given by each - Joes's being very short indeed.
The Battalion was on the move from the 14 to the 22rd of July. They left Belgium and traveled south through France, past Paris, and onto the Marne front near the German-occupied city of Rheims.
14 July 1918 Sunday…Passed through Abbeville about 9 pm. Started to go to sleep on top of wagon but rain coming on had to get into truck underneath wagon. Showery all day.
15 July 1918 Monday Woke up at Serqueux. Travelling in train all day arriving at Pont-sur-siene about 7.30 pm. Riding on top of wagon all day, so had good view of country, which seemed to get better as we got further south.
When Oliver went into battle at a village called Marfaux. The German army had exhausted its big ‘push’, started when he was in hospital. American troops had now just entered the war and had arrived in the Marne about the same time as Oliver.
22 July 1918 Monday Woke up about 9 am Bivvied at edge of Forest of Rheims on edge overlooking Rheims. Had day off. Near Italian battery of artillery. Got into full fighting order in evening and left bikes there & marched several kilos thro forest & along valley to our position in front of village. Took up position along edge of cornfield and had sleep. Fritz shells flying about but nothing much else doing. Fair day.
23 July 1918 Tuesday Barrage opened 6 am so hopped up and followed it. Not too bad going, though irregular, fair no. of wounded. Got to village all right - no resistance - Huns captured in dugout on road. Good few shells hanging around village (Marfaux). Saw Len Newman just after he had been killed. Got in shell hole beyond village to wait for barrage & got a smack in face. Bandaged by Corporal Slaughter & had to wait about 3 hours for stretcher - bearers. Got another smack on leg when put on bearer. Carried out safely to & went to a couple of F.D.Ss then taken a good way by car - to Sezanne I think where I spent the night. Do not remember much after getting both eyes bandaged up.
Oliver was wounded on 23 July 1918 near Rheims in France. He was then taken over several days westward towards the English channel to Rouen where he had his first surgery three days after his wounding. From Rheims to Rouen is roughly 300 kms. Oliver went from Rouen to Portsmouth by train and Hospital ship. By coincidence he met his cousin, Dudley Doidge on the train to No 1 General NZ Hospital in 'Blighty'. Dudley was an artillery gunner who had been wounded at about the same time in fighting on the 'Butte' at Ypres. Oliver noted, '..he was walking case, crook head (wound) and breaking out (scabies) in body.'
Oliver knew Len Newman from his school days at Thames High. Len was a popular Thames Rugby player. He had been gassed at Messines some months earlier and died 23rd July 1918, just a few days before Oliver had his first operation on 26th July at the hospital in Rouen, France.
Later, when Oliver was in hospital at Walton-on-Thames, London on Christmas Eve 1918, he received a present of toffee from Thames High school – a bright spot in a routine hospital day.
Oliver lost his left eye from his wound received in the Second Battle of the Marne. Over the next two years, he underwent twelve operations in England and in New Zealand to reconstruct his cheekbone.
Before Oliver left England to return to New Zealand, his mother Clara died of a stroke in Thames, New Zealand, in December 1918, just before his birthday. When he returned to Thames, he spent some months with his father, brother and sisters, catching up. He was examined at the Thames Hospital before being transferred to Dunedin.
Thames Star 24 December 1918
Oliver was admitted to the Montecillo Facial and Jaw Hospital in Dunedin where he had the first operation on his face on 12 March 1920. This surgery was done by the pioneer plastic surgeon and jaw specialist, Colonel Henry Pickerell. After five operations, Oliver was finally discharged from Montecillo on 23 March 1921.
The list of operations he received were as follows:
Discharged 23 March 1921
Resumed duty Dunedin 4 May 1921.
The above list is from a list that Oliver wrote in his wartime diary (the original of this diary can be viewed on Facebook by searching for the timeline of the author, Malcolm Doidge.)
Oliver was discharged from the Army on the 28 March 1920. He had served three years and twenty eight days in uniform. Over two years of that were spent overseas.
Oliver resumed duty with the New Zealand Railways in Dunedin on 4 May 1921. He continued his training as a civil engineer, and had passed the entrance exams for The Institute of Civil Engineers in London by January 1925. This was a great achievement, considering the extent of his injuries and the loss of one eye.
Soon after arriving back in Thames, Oliver was recuperating in the Thames hospital and met a nurse Isabel Vincent. She had trained at the Thames Hospital and became a fully qualified Register Nurse in January 1919. In November 1918, she had been one of the Flu nurses at Thames hospital and had survived contracting the flu during the epidemic. An article entitled The 1918 Flu Epidemic in Thames elsewhere on The Treasury website tells the story.
Oliver Doidge and Isabel Vincent were married on the 18th April 1922 at St Paul's Church, Auckland.