56866 Rifleman Eric Keith Sarjeant – New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Eric Keith Sarjeant was born in Fordell, Wanaganui on 13th December 1896 the eldest on seven children of
Jessie (nee McLeod) and Edgar Munro Sarjeant[i].

Eric on his 20th birthday was selected in the Military Ballot and while his military service is recorded from 12th February 1917 he did not enter Trentham Military Camp until 29th May 1917. There is nothing on record but it is possible he was given Leave without Pay to complete shearing in the area. Eric’s enlistment papers note he was working as a shearer for
Mr Sharp, Fordell, Eric was  living with his mother , Mrs J Sarjeant, who is listed as his next of kin, Denlair, Fordell[ii].

56866 Private Sarjeant entered camp with the 29th Reinforcements and after two months basic training was transferred
to the 28th Reinforcements sailing with them on 26th July 1917 for overseas service. Private Sarjeant arrived in England
on 24th September 1917 and was sent to the NZ Rifle Brigade NZ(R)B at Brocton attacked as Rifleman Sarjeant,
Reserve Battalion NZ(R)B. Following training at Brocton Rifleman Sarjeant was shipped to France on 26th December 1918 joining C Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Regiment, NZ(R)B ‘In the Field on 20th January 1918. The NZ(R)B , as part of the
NZ Division was at that stage wintering in the Ypres Salient of the Western Front.  In March 1918 the NZ Division had been moved into reserve when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive, Operation Michael on 20th March 1918. The
NZ Division was pushed back into the line to prevent German forces breaking through near Hebuterne were in contact
with German forces on 26th March 1918. By 28th March 1918 the front held by the New Zealand Division was holding but still under pressure from German forces. The 3rd Rifles were in action south of Hebuterne on 28th March 1918
Rifleman Sarjeant was wounded on 5th April 1918 being evacuated to hospital with a wounded finger. The wound did not require Rifleman Sarjeant to be evacuated to England and by 11th June 1918 he was back with his company.

On 13th August 1918 Rifleman Sarjeant was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, NZ(R)B . The New Zealand Division was holding a sector east of Hebuterne but as the opposing German forces withdrew pressure was exerted to hasten the movement[iii]. In a series of assaults through August by 26th August 1918 the NZ Division was preparing to assault Bapaume.  On 26th August 1918 Rifleman Sarjeant was evacuated to hospital in Bologna with ‘debility.’ [iv]
Rifleman Sarjeant was shipped to England and on 4th September 1918 admitted to the NZ No 1 General Hospital, Brockenhurst. Rifleman Sarjeant was treated and transferred two weeks later to the NZ Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch where he remained for a month. On 5th October 1918 Rifleman was attached to the Codford Depot for redeployment but with the successes on the Western Front he was not sent back to active service. Following the
11th November 1918 Armistice the focus was to repatriate NZ forces to New Zealand. Rifleman Sarjeant remained at the Codford Depot and was made a Temporary Lance Corporal only reverting to Rifleman on 17th July 1919 prior to being moving to Liverpool and embarking on the Ayrshire on 15th August 1919. The Ayrshire was carrying 30 officers and 638 other ranks landing at Lytellton on 20th September 1919. Rifleman Sarjeant was given a month’s leave and was discharge ‘on termination of his period of engagement’ on 19th October 1919.

Eric returned to his parents’ home in Wanganui and he returned to shearing / contract work in the Wanganui / Hunterville area. On 23rd December 1933 Eric married Ethel Dorothea Benson, both were 37.

In 1957 Eric is listed as a war pensioner [v]living in Wanganui,Ethel was living in Hunterville.

On 16th April 1963 Eric Keith Sarjeant died in Porirua and was buried
in the old Porirua Cemetery.

Paperspast online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files
NZ Rifle Brigade 1914 – 1918
Archives New Zealand: NZ War Art – George Edmund Butler

Grave: Porirua Cemetery plaque Melanie MacDonald 
The dump outside Bapaume 1918 – George Edmund Butler  

[i]    NZ BDM
[ii]   Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 56866 Rifleman Eric Keith Sarjeant
[iii]  The Official History of the NZ Rifle Brigade
[iv]  Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 56866 Rifleman Eric Keith Sarjeant
[v]  1956 Electoral Roll Wanganui
The dump outside Bapaume 1918