Stewart Callaghan was born in Canterbury in 1886. He was farming near Methven when he enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in September 1916.
After training at Trentham and Featherston military camps, Callaghan left New Zealand with the 21st Reinforcements in January 1917.
Arriving in the United Kingdom in March of that year, Callaghan marched into Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain – the main New Zealand base in England.
He was not impressed, and wrote home to his sister Margaret – known as Tot.
Just a few lines to let you know we arrived safely. The whole journey took 9 weeks and 4 days. Tot this is a rotten hole. It has snowed 3 nights and I have not had dry feet since we arrived. We are forming a new Battalion called the 5th Reserve.
I am in C Company. If you had seen us going out in 8 inches of snow you would have said New Zealanders were a silly lot. England is a very poor country to fight for…
Callaghan went on to describe his training at the camp.
We have to do a 14-mile route march every day and then do Battalion drill. I got a marksman badge for the shooting. A1 was the highest mark and I got an A. We all threw live bombs. You are in a sort of a trench with a sod wall about five feet high in front of you. There are trenches about 40 yards in front of you which you have to try and throw the bombs into.
Callaghan arrived in France in July 1917, joining the First Battalion, The Auckland Regiment near Ploegsteert Wood.
After surviving the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October, he later fell ill in January of 1918 with suspected ‘pleurisy-pericarditis’. He was hospitalised in Boulogne, and spent three months on the ‘dangerously ill’ list.
Eventually evacuated to the No.2 New Zealand General Hospital at Walton-on-Thames in late March, his condition fluctuated between ‘grave’ and ‘improving’ over the next three months.
During his time in hospital he continued to write to his sister, Tot.
I suppose you know I have been ill all this while with pleurisy and pneumonia. It was the poorest Christmas ever I did have. I lay in the tent shivering.
I have not been on my feet all that time so I will have to learn to walk again. I have had a pretty tough time but the worst is over now.
This is the 3rd hospital I have been in. The 1st one was a pretty poor affair. The doctor did not know what was wrong with me and sent me to another hospital.
Callaghan was finally diagnosed with tuberculosis, and, in July 1918, a medical board declared him ‘permanently unfit for active service’ and recommended that he return to New Zealand and be discharged.
Back in New Zealand, Callaghan’s health continued to deteriorate. In April 1919, he was admitted to Featherston military hospital for further treatment. Callaghan’s parents, Alexander and Sarah Callaghan, travelled to the Wairarapa to see him, and wrote to Tot to keep her informed. Callaghan failed to recover and died on 9 July 1919. He was 23 years old.
Stewart Callaghan was the first returned soldier to be buried in Methven Cemetery, and his name also features on the Ashburton War Memorial.