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"Our dear son and brother": William David Kemp

 

On 13 August, 1915, 23-year-old William David Kemp, 12/774, was killed on the slopes below Chunuk Bair on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  The W.D. Kemp collection of artefacts and archives was donated to Puke Ariki by his sisters and comprises objects carried by him in battle and those that came to record his death.  The importance of this collection is that it tells one man's story, at the same time as being a story symbolic of many Anzac soldiers involved at Gallipoli.

 
William Kemp was the eldest son of David and Alice Kemp of Roto-o-rangi near Cambridge. He was born at Normanby in 1892 where his parents then owned a farm. The Kemp's later moved back to farm at Te Wera, Stratford. William Kemp's mother died at New Plymouth in 1928 and his father at Opunake in 1944.
 
William joined the 16th Waikato Regiment, Auckland Infantry Battalion in September 1914, aged 22.
 
Kemp arrived with the Main Body in Egypt in December 1914 on the troop transport Waimana and was posted to the Suez Canal Front in January 1915.  He toured Cairo and the ancient Egyptian monuments at Luxor for several days in March.  Most of April was spent in training.  On 25 April, with many other New Zealanders, he was landed on the beach at what became Anzac Cove. Kemp's diary entry dated 24 April reads:
 
‘Preparing for disembarking tomorrow. Had lecture by our Major this afternoon. The Queen Elizabeth being the Flag Ship of our Med-Fleet left this afternoon in rout [sic] for the Dardanelles followered [sic] by smaller cruisers, Submarines, & Destroyers, and then the Transports a splendid sight we are supposed to leave here one in the morning, and may land at 8 a.m. The Major said this afternoon, that it was the biggest opperations [sic] ever performed in warfare and with God's Help we will come out victorious. Received mail from Home and two from Sue. Glad to hear received parcels and to know all are well.’ 
 
25 April was the beginning of eight months of trench warfare on unforgiving terrain in confined and squalid conditions.  The Anzacs faced heavy resistance from the Turkish forces and no part of the Allied-held territory was safe from enemy artillery fire.  While stripping off to take an infrequent bath, Kemp records shrapnel fragments landing at his feet (diary entry 15 June, 1915).
 
In May 1915, William was part of two Anzac brigades dispatched to Cape Helles to reinforce the British and French forces.  He was involved in the unsuccessful Second Battle of Krithia that saw the New Zealand brigade lose more than 800 men.  Back at Anzac Cove, in June he was promoted to Corporal.
 
Poor hygiene and sanitation, searing heat, inadequate food, water shortages, hordes of flies and decomposing corpses in no-man’s-land defined everyday life. Kemp mentions periods of weeks before taking his boots off and washing (diary entry 2 May, 1915 and 9 June, 1915), the first bread for two months (diary entry 11 June, 1915) and the armistice to bury some of the dead (24 May, 1915).  In July he fell ill with dysentery, a bacterial disease that ravaged both the Turkish and Allied forces at Gallipoli, and was evacuated to the Lemnos Island hospital.
 
The following is an extract from a letter Kemp wrote to his parents in June but dispatched while in hospital:
 
‘I am the only Roto [Roto-o-Rangi person] that has been spared through it all, the other Boys [sic] all went down the first day in action ... In one of my experiences a bullet went through my rifle and on through my cap, leaving a small wound on my head, but it is quite better now.  Our trenches are only a stone throw from the enemy and things are pretty lively at times.’ 
 
Although Kemp was not fully recovered, he returned to Gallipoli on 24 June to prepare for the offensive on Chunuk Bair.  His diary records:
 
‘Everyone is busy cleaning and oiling his rifle, and preparing for the great fray.  Every one seems happy.  Talking and laughing of what they expect to do during the night (5 August, 1915).’
 
The battle for Chunuk Bair in early August 1915 is remembered for its intensity and the tenacity of soldiers who endeavoured to hold the ground.  In the desperate days following the initial battle, the surviving New Zealand and British troops were hard-pressed to prevent the Turks overrunning their positions below the hill top.  The last entries in Kemp's diary record heavy firing and casualties in a matter-of-fact way.  He was killed somewhere on the slopes of Chunuk Bair on 13 August, 1915.
 
William David Kemp's name is recorded on the New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair. He has no known grave.
 
 

Full diary transcript PDF icon (PDF)

Tags: battle, diary, war


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