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A singer in the Somme
A singer in the Somme
Alfred Hodge was one of eleven children of Mary and Edward Henry Hodge, from the small town of Riversdale, in Southland. He was a quiet, gentle person, called Alfie by his friends and family. One of Alfie’s passions was music; he taught himself how to play the mouth organ, the concertina and the cornet. He also had a beautiful tenor voice, singing in the Riversdale Presbyterian church choir with his sisters and some of his brothers. He worked as a ploughman, a difficult job through the tussocks of Southland, and would sing while he followed his team of horses, cultivating the soil.
On the 14th of January 1916, Alfie began his military training in the Infantry. In May he sailed to the Suez, in June to Southampton, and on the 20th of August he sailed to France. They assembled as Etaples base camp, where he was posted to the 10th Company 2nd Battalion Otago Regiment, and sent to the Somme. The Battle of the Somme was New Zealand’s first major battle on the Western Front. It was a bloody and devastating battle; New Zealand suffered 8000 causalities, and lost 2000 souls. On the 12th of September 1916, the artillery began the attack and after three days of fire it was time for the Infantry to join in. At 6:20am, on the clear and sunny morning of September 15th, the New Zealand division went over the top. Wave after wave of infantry were mown down. At the time, this day was considered the single worst day in New Zealand military history in terms of loss of life. Alfie's family, back in Riversdale, received a cable to say Alfie was wounded in battle. They didn’t hear anything more until December, when another cable arrived to confirm that Alfred Hodge, at the age of 23, was missing, killed in action. The family story goes that Bently Clearwater, a schoolmate of Alfie's at Riverside school, returned at the end of the war.
Bently told Edward and Mary that amongst the din and the turmoil of battle, among the dead and wounded around him, he saw a soldier lying on his face, his familiar light auburn hair shining in the sun. He turned the soldier over and found to his grief and horror it was Alfie Hodge, his rifle lying beside him, not a shot fired. It was Alfie’s first day of action. Bently cried when telling Alfie's parents the story, saying he did not know that Alfie had joined the army and left New Zealand; no one had told him in their letters. Alfie’s mother Mary passed this story onto the next generation; his father could not bear to speak of it. The grief in the family ran deep. When the stretcher bearers went around later to gather up the wounded and the dead, they did not find Alfie. He has no known grave, but is commemorated in the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in Caterpillar Valley, near Longueval, France.