Sapper to be named as first casualty

By Andrew Stone

Robert Hislop
Robert Hislop

Sapper Robert Hislop, the young soldier who fell to his death off Parnell Railway Bridge in August 1914, will be honoured by the Defence Force as the first New Zealand casualty of WWI.

A ceremony confirming the announcement will be held at Hislop's grave at Waikumete Cemetery next Tuesday - 100 years to the day after the 21-year-old died.

The Defence Force is arranging for Hislop's headstone to be restored. It has weathered in the century since his burial to the extent that an inscription on its face describing him as "the first NZ soldier to give his life during the Great War" has almost disappeared.

Hislop's grave will become an official war grave, and be cared for in future by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

The decision to recognise Hislop as the first New Zealand casualty of the war effectively amends history. Until now the Defence Force has considered Gunner Ludolph Edwin Wynn West, who died of pneumonia at Palmerston's North Awapuni camp on August 25, 1914, to be the first casualty.

Hislop's great-niece, Sue Atkins, who had been investigating her family's history, said she was thrilled he was being honoured.

"We're just delighted that his story has been told."

Mrs Atkins also paid tribute to Sarndra Lees, collection manager human history, at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, for work she had done in uncovering details about Robert Hislop.

"She has been brilliant," Mrs Atkins said.

As part of the historic commemoration, Hislop's name will be added to the Roll of Honour of New Zealanders who died in the service of their country. A junior porter with the railways, Hislop was a sapper in the Railways Engineers Corps.

On 13 August 1914, the night of the accident Hislop was posted to Parnell Bridge on guard duty. Thomas Angove, who was with Hislop, told Coroner Ernest Cutten that he was getting his final instructions from Corporal Alfred Rankin when he "turned round and saw the flash of deceased's bayonet disappearing through the bridge."

Dashing under the bridge to the road, Rankin said they carried the injured soldier to the nearby Strand Hotel.

"When we got down to him he said it was 'my own fault boys'. When carrying him he said 'for God's sake keep my legs straight'," Rankin told the court.

Next week's historic ceremony comes after the Herald highlighted the state of Hislop's grave as part of its series on casualties of World War One and published an archival image showing that the soldier was given a large military escort as his casket was conveyed through the city from Auckland Hospital.

Besides Hislop, the Defence Force is to add the names of five other WWI casualties to the roll of honour.

The other soldiers are Private Arthur Joseph Best, Private David Falconer, Trooper Mathew Gallagher, Private Percy Hawken and Private Lester Edward Quintall.

Lieutenant General Tim Keating, Chief of Defence Force, said: "It is important that these soldiers are now formally recognised.

"They, like more than 18,000 of their countrymen, died as a result of their service to New Zealand in the First World War."

- NZ Herald

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