Harold Bernard Jellyman


Harold Bernard Jellyman, 1894 – 1917, was one of the eight Stoke men known to have died in World War I. He is commemorated on the Stoke Memorial Gates.

JellymanHarold Jellyman. Image courtesy of Pat Lomath
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Harold was the son of farmers John and Jane (née Cox) Jellyman of Stoke.  Harold was the sixth of the Jellymans’ nine children, being born on 22 June 1894. Harold grew up to be a carpenter and, by 1916, was working for the Nelson building firm of Johnston & Mannsen.

Jellyman familyThe Jellyman family in 1910: Harold is standing on the left, behind his father; his brother Leonard, who served in World War 1 as a Trooper with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles in Egypt, is standing on the right. Courtesy Pat Lomath
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Harold and Guy Giblin, close friends, both enlisted on 11 January 1916.  Harold became 12047 Sapper H B Jellyman of the NZ Engineers.  He is described on enlistment as being 5’ 9” tall, weighing 11 st 6 lbs, and with chest measurements 34-38”.  He was of a dark complexion with brown eyes and black hair.

Harold and Guy embarked for Egypt as members of the 12th NZEF Reinforcements on 1 May that year, aboard the Ullamaroa (HMNZT 51).  Harold was with the New Zealand Engineers’ No. 3 Field Company, while Guy was with No. 2 Field Company.   They disembarked at Suez with their units on 9 June and spent almost seven weeks in Egypt.  Then on 26 July both Harold and Guy found themselves aboard H T Invernia, heading for England where they arrived at Southampton on 7 August.  Here the two men went their separate ways.  The next day Harold marched out to the Royal Engineer Depot’s Barracks at the Hampshire town of Christchurch, some 26 km away to the south west, while Guy proceeded almost 70 km north to Sling Camp near Bulford in Wiltshire.

The purpose and function of the Christchurch base was later described by Lt.-Col. G Barclay in the New Zealand Press:

Jellyman at TapaweraHarold (standing, third from left) in training at Tapawera Camp in May 1915: the others, from left to right are Cyril Dee, Guy Giblin and Jim Trask together with Jim Holtham (crouching at front).
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In order to provide a thorough training for the individual field engineers prior to joining the force at the front it was decided to establish a training depot in England.  Christchurch, in Hampshire, was chosen as the site for the depot on account of its being the Royal Engineers’ training centre of the southern command, and consequently being fully equipped with up-to-date appliances, staff, etc.  All engineers upon arrival from New Zealand were required to undertake a nine weeks’ course of training.  This was of a most thorough nature, embracing field work, demolitions, railways, wiring, bridging, etc., and at the termination of the course an examination was held in order to ascertain the degree of efficiency attained by the men.1

As recorded in the NZ Engineers’ Official History:

Training commenced at once under instruction provided by the R.E. Station.  Trench works and mining were carried out at St Catherine’s Hill, a large shingly knoll on the outskirts of Christchurch, and a very pleasant spot for the purpose, though entirely unlike anything ever seen later in France or Flanders.  The river Stour, flowing past the foot of the Hill, gave unlimited opportunities for bridging experience, and the daily presence of large bodies of interested fair spectators is reputed to have had a stimulating effect on the work of the susceptible sappers.2 

This account goes on to explain that:

The system of training carried out was both comprehensive and thorough.  All reinforcements on arrival from New Zealand were required to go through a nine week’s course at the R. E. Training Centre, which commenced with a “refresher” in infantry training, and included instruction in trench and similar field works, wiring, demolitions, construction of hutments, tramways, light railways and deep dugouts, tunnelling and bridging of all types.  The appliances available for bridging instruction were on a particularly liberal scale, including pontoons, spars of practically all dimensions generally used, casks, decking, and great quantities of general material.3

Following the training in Christchurch, Harold found himself heading for France on 22 September.  The next day he reached the NZ Infantry and General Base Depot in Etaples and then was posted to No. 3 Field Company on 2 October.

Harold spent the autumn and winter of 1916-17, one of the coldest and wettest periods of French weather on record, with the NZ Division in the Sailly Sector of the front line, located to the south of Armentières and running from Bois Grenier to Laventie.   In October and November the 3rd Field Company were based at Armentieres itself, with the main focus of work on drainage and the improvement of the trenches:

In Armentières sector the 3rd Field Company was busily engaged on the same kind of work.  One section renewed all demolition charges on the bridges across the Lys at Armentières… On a wet and windy evening, with the assistance of 300 infantrymen and much timber and sandbagging, 12 dams were erected in selected streams with the object of forcing back the water and flooding the German trenches.4

Jellyman postcards1The last official field service postcards sent by Harold to his family. Courtesty Pat Lomath
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The 3rd Field Company’s next move was to the Sailly sector:

Early in December the 3rd Company returned from Armentières and went into billets in Sailly village, with its transport located at Bac St. Maur.  It thereupon became the Company in reserve and was employed on baths, stables, and similar works in rear, in addition to taking charge of all work on the reserve system of trenches.5

This maintenance role was relieved at intervals with raids on the enemy lines in which the sappers exploited their skills in demolition.

On 26 January 1917, the 3rd Field Company moved up to Gris Pot when the NZ Division extended its left front to take over the Right Brigade area of the British 3rd Division.

By mid-February 1917, after a snow-laden January, a thaw had set in and:

On 14th February, an infantry brigade of the 57th Division began a gradual relief of the Rifle battalions.  A similar partial relief of the artillery followed.  In the course of instruction thus given familiarising the newcomers with trench warfare, a 1st Canterbury patrol, accompanied by an officer and n.c.o. of the English troops, had the misfortune to be ambushed at the apex of the Bridoux Salient.5

The above incident is the closest account that appears to relate to the stark information on Harold’s Casualty Form that he was “Killed in Action” “In the Field” in France on 16 February 1917.  Presumably, two days later, Harold had been involved in a similar venture to the one described.  Harold is buried in Brewery Orchard Cemetery at Bois Grenier.

During his period of overseas service Harold kept in touch with his family in Stoke on a regular basis with picture postcards from Australia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Egypt, and the area around Christchurch in the south of England where he was training.  Once in France, Harold was only allowed to send official field service postcards with pre-printed messages for selection/deletion which told recipients nothing about the appalling conditions under which the NZ soldiers found themselves serving:6

These are the last personal messages the Jellymans received from Harold. On the first anniversary of his death, the family published a touching "In Memoriam" to Harold in the Nelson Evening Mail:7

Only the grave of a hero,
Only a mound of earth,
Far from the ones that love him,
And the land that gave him birth.
His King and country called him,
The call was not in vain,
On Britain's Roll of Honour
You will find our hero's name.

There is a final poignant postscript to this story. On the day that the Jellymans received a telegram reporting Harold Jellyman's death, a Constable was sent to serve a summons on the boy for not attending drill in Nelson - a drill he could not attend, because he was already serving overseas.8  Fortunately the Constable realised the oversight before delivering the summons. Apparently this was a common occurrence. A summons was also being delivered to Ernest Guy Giblin on the same day. Not only was he, Guy, serving overseas, but he had also been dead for five months. A subsequent letter from Harold Jellyman's father to the Defence Office9 was unsympathetic, indicating that it was the family's own responsibility to reply to warning notices of a summons, if their sons were already overseas or otherwise unavailable for drill - possibly because they had already been killed in action. Record keeping was obviously not efficient in the local reserves.


Updated May, 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. New Zealand Engineers (1919, August 1) Wanganui Chronicle, p.7
  2. Shera, Lt.Col L.M.  et al. (1927) Official history of the New Zealand Engineers during the Great War 1914-1919. New Zealand: Evans, Cobb and Sharpe Ltd, pp.105, 227-8.
  3. Shera
  4. Shera
  5. Stewart, H. (1921) New Zealand Division 1916-1919 : a popular history based on official records. Auckland: Whitcombe and Tombs, p.148
  6. Lomath P. & Flanagan, D. (2014) Coaley to Stoke and Beyond: The Jellymans [Upper Hutt] : [D.P. Lomath]
  7. In Memoriam (1918, February 16) Nelson Evening Mail, p.4
  8. Correspondence (1917, March 5) Nelson Evening Mail, p.4
  9. Correspondence (1917, March 15) Nelson Evening Mail, p.8

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  • Most interesting article. Martin Moore, Ireland is researching New Zealand
    Engineers in World War 1. He is at mooreaccountants@eircom.ie

    Thank you. I will forward this information to the Nelson Genealogy Society who wrote these WWI biographies. Ed.

    Posted by Martin Moore, 25/07/2017 2:45am (7 years ago)

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