Thomas Denniston, known to family as Gibson Denniston, was born in Central Otago in 1892. Denniston was working as a bank clerk at the National Bank in Wellington when he enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in November 1915. After a period of training in New Zealand, he embarked for Egypt in March the following year.
From Egypt, Denniston went to France, where he joined 2nd Battalion, The Otago Regiment. His battalion was one of the first New Zealand infantry units to go into action on the Somme during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916.
While advancing on Switch Trench – the Otago’s first objective – Denniston received a gunshot wound to the chest. He was first evacuated to No.2 New Zealand Field Ambulance, and then the British 45th Casualty Clearing Station. After spending time at a British Hospital in Étaples, he was transported back to England, and arrived in September at the 1st London General Hospital at Camberwell.
In early November, Denniston wrote to his mother from hospital.
As I suppose you have already heard, I’ve been landed at last with a little hole thro’ my chest, in just below the right breast & out somewhere about half-way down my back – nothing at all to worry about & not a bit painful, as there was fortunately no probing to be done for the bullet, it having gone on its way rejoicing.
Of course, it got my lung but already my breathing is quite easy, though I am to be X-rayed to see if any ribs are broken.
Denniston was sent to the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch, Essex, in mid-December to complete his recovery. He wrote home after Christmas complaining about the gloomy English winter.
I’m still here [at Hornchurch] though I’m feeling so well that I don’t know how soon I’ll be kicked out….The weather is desperate, fogs, mists, frost, rain, snow & no sun for days. Tonight is so thick outside that you can’t see a man more than four or five yards away.
Discharged from hospital in mid-January 1917, Denniston spent a few months at the New Zealand Command Depot at Codford, regaining his physical fitness. By March, he had joined the newly formed 3rd Battalion, The Otago Regiment, and he returned to France in late May 1917.
After a short spell in hospital, in September, suffering from scabies, Denniston was back with the 3rd Otago Battalion in time for the battles of Broodseinde and Passchendaele in October.
Later wounded by mustard gas, he was sent back to hospital in England. Once recovered, Denniston spent the remainder of the war in a reserve battalion at Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain.
He was on leave in Edinburgh, Scotland when the Armistice came into effect in November 1918.
Even though people were prepared for it, they seemed to go quite mad. All hands stopped work and turned out to parade the streets with flags and tin whistles in bands of anything up to a hundred.
Traffic was almost at a stand-still. In the evening it was even worse. The crowds were almost an impassable barrier to anyone who wanted to get along the street, and fireworks were added to the other terrors of the streets.
Denniston spent the next 11 months at Sling Camp waiting to go home. He finally left the United Kingdom and arrived in Auckland in mid-November 1919.
Discharged from the army soon after arriving home, Denniston re-enlisted in the New Zealand Navy during the Second World War.
Gibson Denniston died at Blenheim on 16 August 1988 aged 96.