92 On the honours board at Dilworth School the name of one pupil - Eric Guest Ancell - is inescapable.
He is identified as head boy at the Newmarket school for the first time in 1907, an honour which was repeated four more times. The talented young student captained the school's rugby and cricket teams and was gymnasium champion in 1909. His results would have thrilled his widowed mother Constance, who lived in Wellington.
In June 1912, Eric, while still a boarder at Dilworth, went up the hill to Auckland Grammar for his secondary education. He won prizes in maths and science, and passed the civil service exam. In 1914, he made the First XV, before leaving to work for a city law firm.
According to Grammar's records, Ancell intended to pursue a legal career - a stillborn ambition because war intervened.
The strapping dark-haired clerk enlisted in October 1915 and entered Trentham military camp. His abilities did not go unnoticed: during his eight months of training, Ancell won promotion to Second Lieutenant.
At the age of 20 he sailed for Europe, leaving Wellington in the middle of winter with the 14th Reinforcements, Auckland Infantry Battalion. The deployment reached England in August and was sent to Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains for three weeks. By late September, Ancell was in France, part of the New Zealand Division and ready to be pitched into the attritional trench warfare on the Western Front.
His first taste of conflict with the 2nd Auckland Regiment was the action around the village of Flers, part of the broader and hugely costly Battle of the Somme.
On September 15, 1916, the NZ Division, including troops from the Auckland and Otago battalions, attacked German frontline trenches along with nine other British divisions. For the first time in the war, newly-invented tanks supported the assault, while 18-pound field guns kept up a barrage on the enemy.
Under heavy German fire, the New Zealanders advanced and were successful in seizing the enemy-occupied Switch Line, a strategic trench. The weather changed, and ceaseless rain turned the battlefield into a quagmire.
The Allied forces hung in, though at heavy cost. When the New Zealanders were relieved after three weeks, the soldiers were exhausted, caked in mud and at the limits of their endurance. Ancell's regiment withdrew first to Albert in the Somme Valley before heading north to Armentieres and what seemed a more settled part of the front.
Former Dilworth pupil David Gaston, who completed a school history project on Ancell, reported on the young soldier's final hours on the night of 19 October. Ancell may have dropped his guard while on night patrol. "His one, and quite possibly first mistake -- a moment of relaxation - combined with considerable misfortune led to him being picked off by a sniper," wrote Gaston.
Ancell has a memorial at the Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery in Armentieres.
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