Sydney Stanfield remembers Passchendaele

Sydney George Stanfield (Stan) was born in Tinui, near Masterton, in 1900. He worked as a farmhand before sailing for war in 1916 with the Wellington Infantry Battalion. He saw action in France and Belgium and at the end of the war was still nearly two years under the age limit for service overseas.

Hear Stan describe his experiences at Passchendaele at the time of the October 1917 offensive.


These extracts of oral history have been edited to facilitate reading / listening.

On being a stretcher-bearer at Passchendaele 12–14 October 1917

It rained and rained and bloody rained, and rained and rained, see. Just like here in the autumn time, when it comes on to rain and it was cold. And we were picking them up from a gathering point as a regimental aid post. Well there were hundreds of men laying out, around. You couldn’t get them inside, it was an old German concrete emplacement and you couldn't get them all inside, but the doctors were working inside. And they were just laying around where they’d been dumped by the stretcher-bearers from off the field and at one period I believe there were 600 stretcher cases laying round the place in the wet and cold, just dying there where they were dumped off. They weren’t even laying on stretchers, just laying on the ground with an oil sheet tied over them if anyone thought to do that, or if one of their mates could do it. Just laying there, because the stretchers were used for picking up other men, you see, there couldn’t be a stretcher for every stretcher case. We just carried till you couldn’t carry any more. You just went until you couldn’t walk really, you just went until you couldn’t walk.

On how infantrymen saw themselves at Passchendaele

An ordinary infantryman at Passchendaele was a pretty dumb beast. That’s how he’s treated, you see. He was only gun fodder and when all is said, and that’s what I feel. We were pretty dumb beasts you see, or we wouldn’t have been slapped, thrown into that sort of warfare, because it was hopeless before you started. We all knew that.

How men died

And poor Jim was laying there cuddled up in a heap as men die. Don’t forget we was all young, we didn’t die easy. You don’t die at once, you’re not shot and killed stone dead. You don’t die at once. We were all fit and highly trained and of course we didn’t die easy, you see. You were slow to die and you’d find them huddled up in a heap like kids gone to sleep, you know, cuddled up dead.

Wounded men at Passchendaele

There was one place at Passchendaele … where we heard a man crying at night out in front and went out and we couldn’t find him and we heard him crying part of the next day. Calling, you know, calling, sort of crying, not screaming or anything, crying out. We just knew there was a wounded man lying down under something, you see. We never found that man. That's the only thing that's stuck in my memory. The others, I’ve seen them lay gasping and panting and scratching up the dirt with their fingernails on their face and all crawling around semi-delirious and all sorts of things.

His feelings about the misery of the war

I felt that the war was never going to end. It was going to go on forever. I felt that I would never see the end of the war, that it was not possible. I felt it was not possible that I would survive the war … I can remember feeling at times that I’d be quite happy to engage in any sort of slavery at all if I could be taken away from this, what, misery. Misery.

Sidney Stanfield

Sydney Stanfield in 1918.

Sidney Stanfield

Sydney and Lorna Stanfield.

Community contributions

7 comments have been posted about Sydney Stanfield remembers Passchendaele

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Posted: 30 Apr 2023

Wow cool to hear my grandfather's voice again,been along time.


Posted: 21 Apr 2022

This is so cool to read because Stan Stanfield one of his son Steve Stanfield is my dads dad if u know what I mean🙂


Posted: 21 Apr 2022

This is so cool to read because Stan Stanfield one of his son Steve Stanfield is my dads dad if u know what I mean🙂

granddaughter lorna-mae leonard

Posted: 26 Jul 2018

thank you so much for finding information on my grandparent. remember when it was published in the sunday magazine owned by wilson and horton back in the day - so happy that you interviewed - now i have a copy again.

Jane Tolerton

Posted: 08 Jul 2017

Hi - I do see now that you have attributed the photo to Alan Doak. That is good.
You put 'courtesy Susan Paris' for the photo of young Sydney Stanfield. This photo was, of course, collected by me at the time of interview - but never mind that.
As for using Mrs Stanfield's name, it would go against the tradition - which is that generally either first names or second names of women associated with WW1 are used - apart from NZANS nurses - while the men get correct full names, ranks etc.
So sorry I bothered you with comment yesterday. Just got rarked up because a Brit from the BBC who wants to use recordings did not do what he agreed to.

Jane Tolerton

Posted: 07 Jul 2017

Mr and Mrs Stanfield? Could you put their names?
This is a beautiful example of how we write the women out of the story. Who is she? She's a New Zealand woman - and in this case she gets a surname, but not a first name. In some examples - eg Te Papa - they get a first name but no surname.
His name was actually Sydney Stanfield - with a y.
And the photo should be credited to Alan Doak as he took it - and was paid to take it - by me!


Posted: 27 Nov 2008

really good info