Topic: Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917)

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Hugh Carlisle Birkett (known as Lisle) survived the Somme (1 July 1916 to 18 November 1916), only to die of cerebrospinal meningitis after measles in a Belgium hospital. He was my first cousin thrice removed - Debbie McCauley.

Hugh Carlisle Birkett was born on 9 September 1895 (reg. 1895/9468) in Inglewood, New Zealand. He was the eldest of six children, and the only surviving son of James Henry and Emma Birkett (nee Nixon) who married in 1894. In 1893, two years before Lisle was born, Emma Nixon had signed the Women's Suffrage Petition. James was a Taranaki Diary Farmer and Emma a teacher from 1898 to 1914. Their children were:

  1. Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917).
  2. Hazel Birkett (1896-1976). Born on 13 November 1896 (reg. 1897/953). In 1940, at age 44, Hazel married John Wilkie who was born to Isabella Wilkie and John Collingwood on 27 August 1882 (reg. 1882/14542). John died on 13 April 1964 (reg. 1964/27100) and was buried in Purewa Cemetery on 15 April 1964 (Block M Row 16 Plot 45). Hazel died on 11 January 1976 (reg. 1976/26650) and was cremated at Purewa Cemetery on 14 January 1976.
  3. Dulcie Ellen Birkett (1904-1976). Born on 14 July 1904 (reg. 1904/4159). She never married. Dulcie died on 24 March 1976 (reg. 1976/26443) and was cremated at Purewa Cemetery on 26 March 1976.
  4. Marjorie Annie Birkett (1906-1982). Born on 21 January 1906 (reg. 1906/6306). She never married. Marjorie died on 31 May 1982 (reg. 1982/32641) and was cremated at Purewa Cemetery on 3 June 1982.
  5. William Edward Birkett (1906-1906). Born prematurely on 15 July 1906 (reg. 1906/13804). William died aged just one day, on 16 July 1906 (reg. 1906/4433).
  6. Charlotte Emma Birkett (1911-1911). Born at Opunake on 22 March 1911 (reg. 1911/2018). Charlotte died at six months of age on 11 September 1911 (reg. 1911/5961).

Somewhere along the way Hugh's middle name changed and he became known as 'Hugh Leslie Birkett', but was still known as Lisle.

In 1912, when he was 17 years old, Lisle moved to Brooklyn, Wellington, to board with relatives. He worked opposite Parliament Buildings as an apprentice motor engineer with Stanton and Evans Motors.

Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917)

On 24 September 1915 the Evening Post reported the Lisle, along with Frederick Sage, was fined £1 and 7s for being part of a group of Terratorials who 'failed in their obligations under the Defence Act' (p. 5) by 'failing to attend a military parade'.

Lisle signed up for World War I (1914-1918), becoming a Sapper (combat engineer) with the New Zealand Engineers Unit (Service No. 9/1777). He embarked from Wellington aboard the Maunganui on 8 January 1916 with the 9th Reinforcements Otago Mounted Rifles. The ship called into Albany in Australia, then sailed on to Suez, Egypt, arriving on 26 January 1916.

On 5 April 1916 Lisle was on a ship of reinforcements sailing for Marseilles in France. They occupied Armentières in Northern France. They then marched to the Somme, over 100 kilometres to the south, where battles took place between 1 July 1916 and 18 November 1916.

From 15 to 22 September 1916, Lisle took part in the Battle of Flers-Courclette. On 20 September 1916 Lisle commented in a letter home to his sister Hazel that he had no blankets and had not had a change of clothes for two weeks. 'You will know soon enough about the battle, and the tanks. I have been watching the Hun prisoners go by, they are not a happy looking lot by any means, but that can be expected after the hammering they have had from our lads. The boys have done well in this stunt. I do wonder how the boys came out of the smack up, we have no way of knowing.'

On 25 December 1916 Lisle wrote; 'Well today is Christmas, just the same as every other day but it is a holiday, and I am alive, and well. The only gift I have received so far is a tin of milk and some cocoa, and a parcel of sweets from the children of Brooklyn School, not bad for youngsters. Every soldier from Booklyn is supposed to have one.'

In January 1917 Lisle wrote; 'I get some great jobs in this outfit, bricklaying, carpentering, building bunks, bridge building, and today I have knocked up a cook-house, some experience eh! Have had lots of fun with the snow if you do not get it in the neck. We rub whale oil into our hands and feet, not bad stuff... We are having a good spell away from the trenches. I had a parcel from Christchurch branch of The Lady Liverpool Committee, so you see I am doing well.'

Lisle wrote a letter to his sister Hazel on 27 February 1917 describing his three day special leave of absence to Paris from 4 to 7 February:

Dear Hazel,

It is rather a long time since I last wrote but I am really going to tell you something out of the ordinary this time. I have been to Paris; how does that strike you. It was the surprise of my life when I was told I was to go to Paris in a day or two and I can assure you it was a trip that I will remember all my life. I reckon my lucky star was shining when I struck that trip. I am told it makes no difference to my English leave except that it will be the last of my reinforcement; so you see I made the most of my opportunity.

I was there nearly four days and three nights so we did not have such a great deal of time, but all the same I saw all the principal sights and visited some fo the theatres and so on at night. I also went over the big wheel. You have heard of the big wheel have you not. We were treated very well throughout and I must say it is very interesting being a novelty as there are very few English troops there and just the few New Zealanders who happen to get the shore holiday.

I intended buying something to send home but although I took ₣ with me it all went in amusements and travelling about. We had a Cook's guide every day so we did not lose any time getting lost - or anything like that. We had the nights to ourselves and it was always well into the morning before I got home.

It was as bad as leaving home, coming away from there. As a matter of fact I completely forgot about the war and New Zealand while I was having such a light time. What I did see of Paris has only made me want to see more; but one will have to wait until after the war to see what's doing in that direction. This is all I am going to say about Paris this trip, but I will be writing to Mum in a day or two and I will try and tell you a little more.

All the boys are doing very well as far as I know. I was with Fred Crawford last night and he is all right. All leave has been stopped or else he should have got away by this time. How is Tommy Drake getting on. I have heard nothing of him for ages.

I have only had a couple of letters during this last six weeks but there ought to be a mail in any time now so something ought to come to light. I have not heard from England lately but I suppose they are all right.

The weather has broken again and it is not nearly so cold as it was but we have got this damn foggy weather and that is worse than the cold. However the sun is getting stronger so better days are coming.

Well, I wish you all good luck and remember me to all. I am going to get you to do a little job for me, but that can wait until the next letter. Good-bye. I am, your loving brother, Lisle.

Another letter from Lisle to his mother was written almost a year later from France on 8 January 1917:

Dear Mum,

I think it is your turn for a few lines from me. I hope you are all well and going on nicely. I am well and at the present I am having a pretty good time. I suppose you see the date. Just a year today since I left New Zealand's shores or rather embarked. I remember every little detail. Ask Hazel what she remembers about it. I have been through a good bit but nothing remains so clear to my memory as that day.

You can guess how much I am looking forward to the day when I will get another glimpse of the old hills around Wellington. We sailed at daylight - I got up and went up on deck to watch the city I know so well disappear behind the hills which tower up on either side of the heads. All day on Sunday we watched the coast slip by and it was nearly five o'clock in the afternoon when the last peak faded away from our sight. I can't explain how I felt that first day out, although it is all as clear to me as if it happened yesterday. How we long for the return you can probably image.

I put in last night with Les Warner and he is doing very nicely too. I expect to see Fred Crawford tomorrow. I saw Sam this morning. He was going into the line for his spell among the mud and so on. I had a parcel from the school children and residents of Brooklyn - it was a very nice one too. I also had a parcel sent by a London firm, but I can't think who could be respon for its coming. Your parcel came to hand a week ago but I think I told you about it in my last letter. Eileen writes very regularly now and she told me Dad and herself were thinking of going to Auckland for their Christmas; not a bad place, what do you say.

I am wondering how George Short is getting on, the last accounts I had of him were not too bright - he does not want to be in hurry to get away with a complaint like that. Quite a lot of Opunahiter [?] are here. I am always meeting somebody from that part of the world, but there is such a lot that I know to come yet. Time will find them all here if reports are anything to go upon.

I am writing at the Y.M.C.A. and the table is a very rickety concern and it is constantly on the move so a chap can't write very decent.

The weather is getting more boisterious every day. We are now beginning to get pretty high winds and I reckon they are worse than snow. Up to present we have not had much to complain about as regards the weather, but it seems to have taken a change for the worse during the last week.

I have been getting papers galore this last fortnight; they are all evidently coming in heaps as I have not had any for ages previous to this lot. I have not had anything from England for a fortnight or so but perhaps something will come to light during the next day or two.

Well I think I have done fairly well to get this much written so good bye. Best wishes to all. I am, your loving son, Lisle.

On 18 April 1917 Lisle wrote about his recent stay in hospital with measles; 'Eight days in hospital, the general course of events. I should have had eight to ten days in convalescent, but I am back with my unit. They do not waste any time getting rid of you.'

At 8:30pm on 11 May 1917, Lisle died of cerebrospinal meningitis in No. 7 General Hospital in France. He had survived the Somme, only to contract measles. After recovering, he was then struck down by meningitis.

Just 18 days before he died, on 26 April 1917 (reg. 1918/42306), Lisle wrote to his mother: 'I have not done much since coming back from hospital. I am on mess orderly. But we will all have to do our bit this spring' [Battle of Messines].

Lisle is buried in the Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. He is also remembered on the Brooklyn War Memorial in Wellington, New Zealand. 

In 1992 Delysse Storey was given a tatty box of letters labelled Newspaper Clippings: Emma Birkett’s beloved son Lisle, by an antique dealer friend. Only one of Lisle's sisters married, and then it was late in life. When the youngest of the siblings died, the box of tatty letters was put up for sale as part of her estate.

Delysse has deposited the letters with the Talbot House museum (a club which thousands of soldiers passed through in Poperinge, Belgium).

Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917)




Archives New Zealand: Military Personnel File.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).
Dominion (1915 September 25, p. 14).
Evening Post (1915 September 24, p. 8).
Ministry of Culture and Heritage: Brooklyn War Memorial (New Zealand History Online).
Purewa Cemetery Records Online.

Storey, Delysse (2012). A Mother and Son (Rosetown Print ,Te Awamutu Ltd). 
Taylor, Dean (2012, April 24). Sapper Lisle Birkett (Te Awamutu Courier, p. 5).
How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2012). Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917). Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2012)


This article was archived at Perma CC in July 2016. 

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Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917)

Note:Service Number: 9/1777
First Names:Hugh Carlisle
Last Name:Birkett
Date of Birth:9 September 1895
Place of Birth:Inglewood
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:11 May 1917
Place of death:Belgium
Place of burial:France
Family Surname:Birkett
Fathers name:James Henry Birkett
Fathers date of birth:1865
Fathers place of birth:Wellington
Fathers date of death:13 October 1957
Fathers place of death:Auckland
Mothers name:Emma Nixon
Mothers date of birth:1864
Mothers place of birth:Northumberland, England
Mothers date of death:Auckland
Mothers place of death:17 May 1930
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)

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