Friday, 26 September 2014

Reginald Watkins

Reginald Watkins in his Salvation Army Uniform
Image courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection Watkins Archive

The exhibition ‘From Tauranga to the Trenches’ tells the story of Reginald Watkins (Reg), a Salvation Army Officer who enlisted from Tauranga during the First World War. A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Val Watkins the nephew of Reg and I was struck by the pride and love that Val felt for his uncle, despite having never met him. Val told me with passion that Reg had never been forgotten and over the last year I have been fortunate to meet many more members of the Watkins family who carry on that remembrance.

Reg was a son and a brother. He was a Captain in the Salvation Army, a farmer and a fisherman. He was a fine sailor and owned a launch. He loved photography, taking and developing his own photographs and turning them into postcards for his collection. He spoke fluent Maori and lived and worked on Rangiwaea Island, his home was often a tent at Rangiwaea Pa. When war was declared Reg had been living in Tauranga since 1911, the second of two spells assisting Captain Moore with Salvation Army Work.   

For Reg the decision to enlist was a difficult one. He wrote to Commissioner Hodder of the Salvation Army, “I am the only one free in our family who is able to volunteer for the war, and my people regard it as a stigma upon the family that they are not represented”. He put forward the case that “all single young men are strongly urged to go and his St John’s Ambulance Certificate would make him useful.

‘From Tauranga to the Trenches’ exhibition
He embarked from Wellington, January 1916, with the Ninth Reinforcements on HMNZ Transport “Maunganui”. On arriving in Egypt there was little action and when an appeal for stretcher bearers was made Private Watkins stepped forward. On 12 July he wrote a few lines in the trenches “to let you know that I am safe and sound here in France… My work consists in dressing and carrying the wounded from the firing line to the first field dressing station where the Red Cross men deal with them afterwards. We need all the nerve and moral courage we possess at the task and we hope and pray that our services will soon be not required… I hope I may soon be privileged to return to New Zealand to continue the work that I relinquished”.

His dream to return to Tauranga and the people of Rangiwaea was not to be. On Thursday 20 July Reg went to the aid of a wounded soldier and while attending to him was hit by shell shrapnel. As he was rescued and taken to the Casualty Clearing Station he sang hymns in both English and Maori. A Chaplain at his beside scribbled a note to Reg’s father ‘He is badly wounded and anxious for me to send word. He sends his love to you and all”. Reginald Watkins died of wounds at 1.30pm Sunday 23 July 1916. He was 30 years old.

No comments:

Post a comment