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Object: Portrait of Harold John Batten

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Title Portrait of Harold John Batten
Production Berry, William (photography studio), 1917, Wellington
Materials photographic gelatin, sheet glass, silver, photographic plates
Classification studio portraits, portraits, black-and-white negatives, gelatin dry plate negatives
Format half plate (1/2)
Credit line Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds
Registration number B.045970

Rifleman Harold John Batten, service number 44182, New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Harold Batten, son of Alfred and Lucy Batten,  was 24 years old when he commenced service on 5 January 1917. At this time he lived in Otaki and was working as a horse trainer and jockey.

After training  with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, he  embarked on the troopship 'Pakeha' from Wellington on 26 April 1917 as a member of  'G' Company, 24th Reinforcements. At Sling Camp in England he re-joined the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Harold’s unit endured the terrible fighting at Passchendaele in October 1917, where he was wounded in his lower left forearm  by an  exploding  shell on 12 October.  This was the worst day of the entire war for New Zealand when 845 men died and over 2700 were wounded. The high casualty figures stemmed in part from the failure of the Allies' creeping barrage during the attack on Bellevue Spur: this was an attempt by the artillery to give close-range cover to advancing infantry, but many of the shells fell short and hit the New Zealanders.  

Batten was lucky to survive. He was hospitalised in England with the wound, first at Lewisham in London, then at Walton-on-Thames. A compound fracture of the humerus was suspected, but an X-ray revealed no breaks.  Harold's detailed medical case records describe the surgeons' work on 4 December: first to search for foreign bodies, then to mend the tissue damage. 'It was found impossible to bring the severed muscles together', the report reads, adding that the skin edges were 'brought together with considerable tension - one small part being left uncovered as the edges would not meet.' An inspection of the arm a week later found the 'upper wound looking beautiful', but the skin over the lower wound was sloughing due to tension and required further surgery; the area was prepared for a skin graft, but there is no evidence Harold received one. In January, he need a further operation to treat abscesses.

After returning to New Zealand on the 'Maunganui' in February 1918, Harold was discharged from military service on 13 August, deemed 'no longer physically fit on account of wounds received in action.' Later that year, he married Bessie Olive Taylor; they had two children, Patricia and Ernest. Harold Batten lived in Hamilton until his death on 1 April 1955, aged sixty-one.



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