Norman Gebbie

Norman Gebbie

Like many of the men commemorated in Berks Cemetery Extension in Belgium, Norman Gebbie was a casualty of routine trench warfare in the area north of Ploegsteert Wood in 1916/17. His death was not the result of enemy action but a tragic accident.

Norman Gebbie was born in the Hawke’s Bay town of Taradale in 1893 and educated in Waipawa and Dannevirke. In 1912, Norman’s family moved to Auckland, where he became a chemist’s assistant. On 5 April 1916 both Norman and his younger brother, Herbert, enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The brothers remained together throughout their training, serving in the same Lewis Gun (light machine gun) section of the 2nd Battalion, The Auckland Regiment. Known as a crack shot, Norman earned a temporary promotion to corporal during training.

A Court of Enquiry outlined the events that led to Norman Gebbie’s accidental death in the front line near La Plus Douve Farm on 17 April 1917:

Deceased was one of a post of Lewis gunners on duty in the front line trenches early in the morning of April 17. As they were ‘standing down’ one of the men lifted the gun off the parapet where it had been all night. He was going past it on the rack in the bay when he noticed that the cocking handle was forward but not quite down. He caught hold of the handle when it shot forward + forced one round. The bullet passing through the head of Pte Godfrey + wounding Pte Gebbie in the head, he afterwards dying.

The Court of Enquiry found that the incident had resulted from mechanical failure. A bullet had lodged in the loading chamber of the Lewis gun following its use the previous evening. This malfunction, unnoticed in the ‘intense darkness’, resulted in the tragic loss of two young men’s lives.

Two months later, Norman’s brother Herbert was killed on the first day of the Battle of Messines. The Gebbie family put memorial messages in local newspapers on the anniversaries of both brothers’ deaths until the early 1920s.

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