34658 Private Leo Ashley Gardiner – Auckland Infantry Regiment

Leo Ashley Gardiner was born in Dunedin on 30th September 1896[i] the eldest child of Frances (Fanny) Eleanor and
Victor George (George) Gregory Gardiner, Leo had four younger siblings[ii].

The Gardiner family moved from Dunedin to Christchurch in the early 1900’s as Leo was labouring for Sir Charles Bowen[iii], Riccarton
and his mother, listed as his next of kin, was living in Lowe Street, Addington, Christchurch[iv] when Leo enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF).

Leo entered camp on 23rd August 1916, just before his twentieth  birthday. 34658 Private Gardiner
was assigned to C Company , 20th Reinforcements, Canterbury Infantry Regiment. Following basic
training Private Gardiner left Lyttelton for overseas service. On arrival in England Private Gardiner
was ‘marched into’ Sling Military Training Camp but then spent two weeks in hospital with scabies.
Discharged from hospital Private Gardiner was transferred to the 4th Brigade then to on
15th April 1917 to the 6th (Hauraki) Company, 3rd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment. 
Training time was short, on 28th May 1917 Private Gardiner was sent to France. The New Zealand
Division was preparing for the Battle of Messines starting 7th June 1917. Private Gardiner was sent
back to the reinforcement’s camp on 28th September 1917 and did not rejoin the Auckland Battalion
until 25th October 1917 so was not involved in the Battle of Passchendaele.

                                                                                                                           Leo Ashley Gardiner 

On 5th December 1917 Private Gardiner was evacuated by NZ Field Ambulance to the
2nd Casualty Clearing Station (CSS). The Auckland Battalion had been ‘Wintering in the Salient’
where reported[v] i

' The Divisional area stretched back over miles of the dreadful battlefield, from the Polderhoek Chateau to the ruined town of Ypres and
the village of Dickebusch. An ugly dreariness was the prevailing feature. The outlook was sordid and revolting. Skies were grey, and the                                                                                                          damp mists hung low. Everywhere was a sea of mud. The whole atmosphere was dispiriting                                                                            and distressing. Men lived in comfortless iron huts, in old gun-pits rotting with age,                                                                                                         grimed with smoke and swarming with rats, and, further up toward the line, in the                                                                                                           captured German pill-boxes. Few of these had escaped altogether. Even where the
                                                                                              walls and roof were secure the foundations had been cracked, and the water was
                                                                                              rising. Often beneath the floorboards were horrors unmentionable, and the stench                                                                                                        rising was sickening. Yet these fearful dungeons where the German machine-gunners                                                                                                    had fought, died, and after that been buried were the only shelters in the wide muck
                                                                                              of desolation. Men lived in them, and so utter was their need that these horrible
                                                                                              places were looked upon as homes. 

                                                                                             German pillbox 1918: NZ War art 

                                                                                             It is unclear what happened to Private Gardiner up until 6th May 1918 when he was                                                                                                       transferred by sea from France to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley with mental                                                                                                             conditions. In July 1918 Private Gardiner was assessed as being mentally defective a condition that was aggravated by active service and arrangements were made to return Private Gardiner to New Zealand.

Private Gardiner was shipped on HMNZHS Marama from Southhamton on 31st July 1918, he was assessed onboard on 28th September
1918 with the same diagnosis and a recommendation that a Private Gardiner was permanently unfit for military service and that he been retained under observation for a further three months[vi].

On 4th February 1919 Private Gardiner was living in Anzac House,
Seacliff Mental Hospital, Dunedin when he had a final military
assessment the recommendation was that Private Gardiner be
discharged  but be considered for a war pension, at 25%, for two
months. Private Gardiner was finally discharged on 4th March 1919
as ‘no longer physically fit for war service – mental deficiency.’
Leo is listed in the 1919 electoral roll as living in Christchurch working
as a ‘ labourer’ and there is an entry in 1928 as a ‘rouseabout’ still
in Christchurch. It is probable in the 1930’s that Leo was institutionalised
he recorded as dying in Porirua on 11th June 1967, aged 72, and
is buried in the old Porirua Cemetery.

                                     Leo's grave marker Porirua Cemetery 

Leo’s younger brother John Henry Gardiner serves as
68404 Private John Henry Gardiner, 2nd Battalion Canterbury Infantry Regiment.  John joined at 19 but his parents sign a consent form for him to join the NZEF.

Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files
The Auckland Regiment: NZ Electronic Text
Porirua Cemetery Records Online

34658 Private Leo Ashley Gardiner: Onward Project
German Pill Box: Nugent Welch – NZ War Art, Archives New Zealand
Grave: Melanie MacDonald 

[i]    Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 34658 Private Leo Ashley Gardiner
[ii]   NZ BDM
[iii]  Sir Charles Bowen – Speaker of the Legislative Council
[iv]  Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 34658 Private Leo Ashley Gardiner
[v]   The Winter in the Salient: The Auckland Regiment: NZETC
[vi]  Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 34658 Private Leo Ashley Gardiner. 

German Pillbox: Nugent Welch (NZ War Art collection)