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The Death of Henry Sutherland at the Somme

The Death of Henry Sutherland at the Somme

Harry Sutherland was the 2nd of 8 children of William Sutherland (formally Paganini) and Martha Matilda Sutherland (nee Burley). He was born in the settlement of Blue Spur near Lawrence on 31st January 1895. He worked as a railway cleaner before the war and was drafted into the Otago Regiment on 24th August 1915 at the age of 20.

After basic training he embarked for Europe and the Middle East on 13th November 1915. After an uneventful trip aboard Her Majesty's New Zealand Transport Willochra he disembarked in the Suez on 20 December 1915. What a place for a naive Otago boy to spend his first Christmas away from home! He probably had an enjoyable January 1916 in Egypt as he was not assigned to a unit until early February. The Otago Regiment left Alexandria, Egypt for Marseilles, France on 5 April On the 11th April, 1916 as the first units of the New Zealand Division were disembarking at Marseilles, and, after an all too fleeting glimpse of the glowing colour of the Pays Lumière—then in full radiance of Spring they were hurried on by rail through Paris to the cold wet plain of Flanders, concentrating near Hazebrouck. By the last week of April, the whole division of three infantry brigades and supporting arms and services, had concentrated in Northern France in villages to the west of Armentieres. In a fortnight it was to take over the Armentieres Sector of trenches.

On 13 May 1916 the infantry relief of 17th Division was commenced by 1st Brigade. The weather was very wet and cold when the troops arrived. Those who had just arrived from Egypt were issued a second blanket. In contrast, the acclimatised British troops just used one blanket. The New Zealanders, not yet accustomed to the rather ragged billets, in farm yards, barns, lofts and byres, were, at first, rather uncomfortably housed in their novel surroundings. The Otago Regiment had scarcely seen any action to date and in one of their first actions in the Great War a raid attempting to take trenches opposite its position took place on night of the 13 and 14 of July. Fifty four men in the 1st Otago were killed and 104 wounded. Only 6 escaped without injury. Henry Sutherland was not one of them. He probably died on the night of the 13-4th. His body was immediately recovered and he was listed as missing in action for most of July. This was the beginning of the battle that would become known as “The Somme”. This skirmish was described in the official history of the regiment as “the high water mark of our reverses”.

To the best of our knowledge Henry was the only member of the family to serve in the Great War as most of the family were either too young or married. The family were highly mobile as Henrys father worked for the railways and unfortunately the medals did not get to his mother Martha till the 5th October 1923.