Strong Family Connection

When Blenheim resident Eileen Guard visited The Great War Exhibition in Wellington, she found a family connection in more ways than one. Lynne Roberts of Christchurch had booked a premium tour of the Exhibition for her mother, knowing Eileen’s father, Edgar Hammond, had served in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles during World War One—but they didn’t expect to re-establish a connection with a living relative.

As part of the premium tour package, Chris Harp, a guide at the Exhibition, researched Edgar Hammond’s history so he could tailor the guided tour to highlight Edgar’s service in the Great War. Eileen and her family (her husband Rex, and Lynne and Chris Roberts from Christchurch) all participated in the tour. It was only when Chris Harp was discussing the tour afterwards with new staff member, Eileen Mueller, that they realised the two Eileen’s were related. Edgar Hammond is Eileen Mueller’s great-great-uncle, and she had met Eileen Guard in Blenheim years before, while researching her own family history.

Enlisted at only twenty years old, Edgar Hammond commenced duty in December 1914 and arrived in Zeitoun Camp, Cairo on 24 June 1915. He served in Gallipoli from July to December 1915 and was then stationed in Sinai and Palestine in 1916–18.

“I learned a lot and felt quite close to Dad again,” Eileen Guard said. “I knew he’d been in Gallipoli, but I didn’t realise he was there for five months. I knew he’d been in hospital, but not what for. He was very ill, but not injured. When he came home, he’d lost one and a half stone. They were hungry all the time.”

The Exhibition features realistic mannequins in war-time situations, including picking their way through fly-ridden food. “Seeing those cans reminded of me how Dad never touched bully beef again, ever,” said Eileen, speaking of wartime rations. “And they learnt to smoke in the war, because they were handed out cigarettes.”

After the Armistice, Edgar Hammond was part of the Canterbury regiment that returned to Gallipoli to maintain the graves of their fallen comrades. “I knew what Gallipoli looked like because Dad had gone back to clean up the grave sites and had taken photos, so we’d seen those, but seeing the colour photos and the dioramas made everything more real.”

“It was good to talk to Eileen Mueller again and renew our family connection,” said Eileen Guard, “and it was quite special having Chris [Harp] as our tour guide, because he was from Nelson. The tour was really worthwhile and helped me feel closer to Dad. It took three hours, but I’ve been living it since.”

Eileen’s experience was featured in the Blenheim Sun here.