Richard (Dick) MORTIMER

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MORTIMER , Richard

Service Number: 32031
Enlisted: 25 July 1916
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: Unspecified New Zealand Army Units
Born: Hillgrove, New South Wales, Australia, 20 June 1886
Home Town: Hillgrove, Armidale Dumaresq, New South Wales
Schooling: Hillgrove Public School, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: Miner/Labourer
Died: Wounds, France, 15 June 1917, aged 30 years
Cemetery: Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck, Nord Pas de Calais
Grave I. P. 24.
Memorials: Armidale Memorial Fountain
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World War 1 Service

25 Jul 1916: Enlisted Private, SN 32031
15 Jun 1917: Involvement Private, SN 32031, Unspecified New Zealand Army Units

Help us honour Richard Mortimer 's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Karen Standen

Richard Mortimer was born in the gold mining town of Hillgrove, NSW, on the 20th June 1886. His parents, Thomas and Margaret Mortimer, had arrived there in the early boom days. Like many young boys from the area and within his own family, Richard, or Dick as he was more widely known, would become a miner. By 1911, both Richard and his brother, Robert, were working in the Waihi gold mines in New Zealand.

Richard moved west to Raglan and gained employment with the Raglan Public Works Department as a labourer prior to the outbreak of the war. The catalyst for the move may well have been the struggles experienced by miners during the often violent 1912 Waihi strike, which dragged on for over six months and resulted in the death of at least one man.

The New Zealand Herald noted in its 12th June 1916 edition, that of 120 men who registered for service the preceding week, only 44 were accepted, one of whom was Richard. He was called up six weeks later, formally enlisting in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the 25th July 1916. Richard completed his basic training at Trentham Camp,  near Wellington.

HMT No 68, Maunganui, sailed from Wellington on the 15th November bound for England. Five days into the trip, Richard wrote a letter to his youngest sister Kit, describing life on the transport, “5 hours of drill, plenty to eat, all hands in bed by 9:00 o’clock and up at half past 5”. The letter was generally light hearted, however the more sombre note, “but the worst is still to come yet”, expressed the underlying reality. The monotony of the voyage was broken up with Christmas and the arrival of the New Year (1917), however Richard appeared to still be adjusting to army life, and was facing detention for another transgression during these celebrations.

Arriving in England, Richard and his company were transferred to Codford Camp in Wiltshire, where they undertook the last of their training in preparation for overseas service. During this time the New Zealand army was restructured. On the 2nd May 1917, Richard was transferred to the 16th Company of the newly formed, 3rd Battalion Auckland Infantry Regiment (3BnAIR or 3AR). Before proceeding to France at the end of May, the new brigade was among the Australian and New Zealand troops reviewed by King George V.

Richard arrived at the front just as the Allies commenced their preliminary bombardment of the German lines prior to the upcoming infantry assault. At 3:10 am on 7 June 1917, the detonation of 19 enormous mines under the German trenches, signalled the beginning of the week long Battle of Messines. It was the first time Australian and New Zealand troops had fought alongside each other since Gallipoli.

For Richard, the first days of the battle were spent repairing roads in the Hill 63 precinct before his Battalion was ordered to occupy the sector to the right of Le Bizet. When the Germans withdrew, putting the River Lys between themselves and 3AR, the 16th were sent forward to take the enemy trenches. Despite coming under heavy bombardment over the next two days, the trenches were eventually seized. On the 14th June 1917, the final day of the battle, Richard was seriously wounded in action, receiving a gunshot wound to his chest and abdomen.

Thirteen kilometres behind the lines, Richard was admitted to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station the following day. Australian Anglican Priest and Army Chaplain, Gerard Kennedy Tucker wrote to Richard's family, assuring them his passing had been “quite peaceful. I saw him at the last and did what I could to comfort him. He was glad to know that I would write to you and asked me to send his love. I laid him to rest in the little cemetery nearby…”. Private Richard Mortimer is buried in the Trois Arbres Cemetery near Steenwerck in France.

Richard’s service brings a unique meaning to the term ANZAC, however his wasn't an isolated case. He was among twelve Australians in the 3rd Battalion Auckland Regiment alone, who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In 1918, the Hillgrove Presbyterian Church was among the first to include Richard on their WW1 Honour Roll. His name has also been included on the Armidale WW1 Memorial Fountain and the Roll of Honour board in the foyer of the Armidale Dumaresq Council War Memorial Library. In New Zealand, Richard is remembered on the Raglan War Memorial, as well as the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s, World War One Hall of Memories.

Karen Standen, 2017.

 

Acknowledgement:
Many thanks must go to Sue Reeves author of the Shoalhaven Family History Society, Time Traveller August 2017 article, “To Commemorate Richard Mortimer (1886-1917)”, who generously shared letters and donated photographs to make this biography possible. May she find the much sought after photograph of Dick to complete her family story.

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