In war, love matters. It keeps you going in the hope things will get better and you'll have a chance to indulge in it when the ugly day-to-day stuff (hopefully) recedes. I am sure that was the case for Sergeant Reginald Hird as he opened the letters from Nellie Dean, who was initially writing to him as something women did for the war effort. But with time, a relationship grew. He would write to her regularly, often about the hellish existence he found himself in.

Reg, a farmer from the Karamea in Westland, arrived on the Western Front with the 25th Reinforcements in September 1917 and was posted to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry (Rifle) Brigade.

His first experience of war was the horrific dark days of Passchendaele, where he survived but was wounded badly enough at Bellevue Spur on October 12 to be taken off the front lines for a few weeks.

His war would see him back in Belgium for the winter of 17/18, plugging the gap in the Somme as part of the Spring Offensive of March 1918, and then come the last 100 days of the war, marching across Northern France in the "Advance to Victory".

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He'd be wounded again in the battle of Bapaume in August and be back in the front line in time for the last battle of the NZ Division at Le Quesnoy on November 4, 1918.

New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird married his sweetheart Nellie after the war. Photo / Hird family collection
New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird married his sweetheart Nellie after the war. Photo / Hird family collection

During this time, he'd write to Nellie about his war-torn days, often about losing men he knew, and she'd write back about the pedestrian nature of her days - be it relating news of the everyday, the turn of the season, or the local happenings.

They were letters that he loved receiving. Besides writing to Nellie, he also wrote letters to relatives of men who'd died. And those were love letters too – telling the relatives how much he missed their beloved boy, who had been a great mate.

One letter would have been very hard to write. It was to Arthur's mum, Kitty. Arthur had already lost two brothers and set off for war, certain he was going to die too.

Reg talks of '"cheering him up" in the early days of their active service together and looking after him, hoping he would get though.

Arthur was invalided out in the end, so I imagine Reg felt his job was done and his mate was safe. However, Arthur died in Wellington Hospital just two days after the hospital ship docked.

A postcard from New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird to his sweetheart Nellie. Photo / Hird family collection
A postcard from New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird to his sweetheart Nellie. Photo / Hird family collection

Reg had happier letters to write too – such as about the last day in battle at Le Quesnoy, when the NZ Rifle Brigade liberated the locals in the fortified, German-occupied town on November 4.

He described the danger of getting to the inner wall. He and a mate had volunteered to place a ladder on one of the outer walls and writes of the Germans: "He spotted us and opened out on us from the top of the wall with machine guns and rifles and not more than 40 feet from our heads. How he did not kill the pair of us, I do not know."

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A letter from New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird to his sweetheart Nellie. Photo / Hird family collection
A letter from New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird to his sweetheart Nellie. Photo / Hird family collection

There was love, though, from the grateful residents once his battalion had scaled the ladder to get in.

"Little boys and girls hung on to our hands and it was utterly impossible to march along. Young and old put their arms around our necks and it was quite embarrassing but, poor souls, they had been harshly treated". Now that's love.

New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird. Photo / Hird family collection
New Zealand sergeant Reginald Hird. Photo / Hird family collection

And Nellie, the true love? The sustainer of his mental health through hard times?

First thing he did when he got back in 1919 was turn up with a ring and ask her to marry him. And they lived happily ever after. True.

And it all started with a love letter in a war zone . . .