Flying with the British

With no air force before 1923, many New Zealanders flew as part of the British Royal Flying Corps during World War One.

Before he fought in World War One, James Dennistoun had sailed to Antarctica as part of Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913). He is pictured here aboard the Terra Nova.

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James Dennistoun, a farmer, mountaineer and Antarctic explorer originally from South Canterbury, worked his way to the United Kingdom in late 1914. Initially commissioned in the North Irish Light Horse, James later joined the 23rd Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps.

On 26 June 1916, he was an observer and bomb thrower on a bombing raid on Germany. His plane was shot and the crew forced to land behind enemy lines. Thrown from the plane upon landing and badly wounded, James was taken to a German hospital for treatment. Soon after his third operation on 9 August 1916, 33-year-old James died.

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A Pilot’s Wings

Men who served in the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner to the Royal Air Force that was formed in 1918, were issued with a range of badges to denote their unit and rank. This example was issued to James Dennistoun.

During the War, aircrew like James performed covert operations, reconnaissance and aerial battles and bombardment of strategic targets. Between 1914 and 1918, he and 9,377 other aircrew were declared missing or killed.

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Lest We Forget

In 1916, British sculptor Alfred Drury created a range of small memorials that family members could purchase to remember their loved ones. Available in three sizes, in bronze, silver and gold, the text Lest We Forget was drawn from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem 'Recessional'. The phrase is now firmly associated with the loss and remembrance of war.


James Dennistoun's grave

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An Overseas Burial

The graves of New Zealand soldiers who died overseas during the war are cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. When James died he was buried in Niederzwehren Cemetery in Kassel, Germany. The temporary wooden cross was eventually replaced with a more permanent headstone.

James is one of 1,796 World War One servicemen buried or commemorated there.

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James Dennistoun, c1915

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A Force on Horseback

Not all New Zealanders joined the New Zealand armed forces to serve in the war. About 2,000 served with the British, Australian, Canadian, Indian and French armed forces around the world.

James originally enlisted with the North Irish Horse, a British cavalry unit raised in the northern counties of Ireland. Mounted units, like the four in the New Zealand army, were more mobile forces than standard infantry. They could patrol and lead reconnaissance over much greater distances while mounted, although troops were expected to dismount and engage on foot when in battle.

Telling his Family     

James’ cousin, Herbert Russell, was flying the biplane in which they were both injured in June 1916. Later, Herbert spent time in the same hospital as James. On 9 August, Herbert wrote to his Aunt, James’ mother Emily Dennistoun, to share the sad news of James’ passing and the circumstances of his death.

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Lieutenant Alexander David Boyle

Alexander David Boyle, always known as David, farmed in South Canterbury before the War.

He is the only New Zealander who served in all three major naval battles of World War One: the Battle of Heliograd Blight, the Battle of Dogger Bank and the Battle of Jutland, where he was captain of the X turret crew. Fought over two days (31 May and 1 June 1916), Jutland was the largest naval battle of the War. British and German fleets came head to head in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark. Both sides claimed victory over this indecisive battle.


Lieutenant Boyle before the War

National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy 2006.186.95. All Rights Reserved