Hugh was born in Wellington in 1890. He was the youngest of ten brothers, a fact that gave him his middle name and nickname, ‘Deci’. They grew up in Oriental Bay, where Hugh attended Roseneath School.
He was a member of the Wellington Football Club and of the Star Boating Club, and sang with the Wellington Operatic Society, where he met his wife, Joyce Jackson.
Joyce and Hugh were married in Wellington on the 9th of April, 1914, four months before World War One began on the 4th of August. They lived in Queen’s Drive in Lyall Bay.
It is probably because of his marriage that Hugh did not immediately enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, unlike his brother Lance, who signed up in the first week of the war, and his other brothers Cyprian and Lionel, who began active service in September 1915.
When Cyprian and Lionel had been gone a year, however, Hugh left his newborn daughter Audrey Leonore (known as “Peggy”) and his job as a clerk at the company that would become Guthrie Bowron, and sailed for England as a member of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
He disembarked in Devonport on the 21st of November, 1916, and marched into Sling Camp.
...it was really Hell.
In a letter to his uncle after the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917
When he left for the Front on May 26, 1917, it was to join the New Zealand troops who would die in such great numbers in the Belgian mud in the Battle of Passchendaele on October 12.
Hugh wrote to Joyce about the battle, being careful to leave out any details that he thought “would make [her] hair stand on end”, and noting merely that “never before has there been so many casualties to NZers”. In another letter to his uncle in London he confessed that “to those at home” he had “made light of everything but it was really Hell”.
Hugh’s letter to Joyce after Passchendaele reassured her that her “old man [was] safe and sound and there is no doubt will be home with you and Peg [their daughter] one of these bright days.” Little more than a month later, Hugh was dead, killed by sniper fire. He was 27 years old.
Hugh is buried in Belgium, in Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood, West-Flandaaren. He is remembered on the memorial outside Roseneath School, along with his brother, Lance.
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