Sam Boyer

Sam Boyer is a police reporter for the NZ Herald.

Story of hero behind the white cross

Each memorial marks a life lost, but doesn't tell of heroes' stories, hopes and loved ones

Captain Geoffrey Armstrong's cross can be seen at Devonport's Field of Remembrance on Windsor Reserve. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Captain Geoffrey Armstrong's cross can be seen at Devonport's Field of Remembrance on Windsor Reserve. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Captain Geoffrey Clifford Wilson Armstrong was a man of "strong physique and fearless disposition" who couldn't wait to enlist.

The former Auckland Grammar student gave his life fighting beside his Allied colleagues in the Battle of the Somme 98 years ago. A small white cross commemorating the fallen soldier in the Devonport Field of Remembrance's is today featured on the Herald's cover image.

Captain Armstrong had been married just a month before shipping out to first Egypt and then France on September 15, 1916.

Nine months after he left his home for a foreign war, his only daughter was born. He never got to meet her. Captain Armstrong is one of more than 120 fallen World War I soldiers from Devonport honoured in the Field of Remembrance on Auckland's North Shore. The temporary memorial comes down on Sunday.

More than 110,000 Kiwis served overseas during WWI. Captain Armstrong was one of more than 18,000 killed on foreign soil.

His cross pitched in the sod of Windsor Reserve a kilometre from the house he shared with his wife, Amy Dorothy Armstrong is a reminder of his life. But the cross, and all the others like it across the country today, don't tell the story behind the soldier.

Geoffrey Armstrong was 24 when he died. He had attended Devonport Primary and Auckland Grammar. At the time he enlisted in the Auckland Infantry, he was studying law at Auckland University and working as a law clerk at firm Earl Kent. He was a strong swimmer, an enthusiastic yachtsman and had played for the Grammar First XV. He had five years' experience as a cadet, from age 12.

When the time came he was ready for the so-called great adventure, a 1916 Herald story told. "He was always keenly interested in military work, and had obtained a lieutenant's commission some time before war was declared. Although offering his services at a comparatively early period, he had, like many others, to wait his turn ... He was promoted to the rank of captain before leaving Egypt for France. Captain Armstrong was a man of strong physique and fearless disposition."

Ten days before his death, he was appointed to command his company in the field in the Somme, making him responsible for the lives of as many as 227 soldiers. His medals the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal were sent to his widow.

- NZ Herald

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