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The soldier left for dead

Ernie Arcus, left, riding a camel in Egypt. PHOTOS/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

William Ernest Arcus

William Ernest “Ernie” Arcus was born in late 1893, the son of carpenter Thomas Arcus and his wife Elizabeth Shaw of Carterton.

Ernie Arcus was shot in the head and chest, but survived the war and died in 1980,aged 86.

He was among the first Wairarapa soldiers to enlist, joining up in August 1914, and leaving for Egypt in October.

He is recorded as being confined to barracks for three days for insolence to a NCO, and his family recall he spent time confined after a riot in Cairo.

By May 1915 he was on the Gallipoli peninsula and taking part in the attack on the village of Sedd El-Bahr.

He was caught in machine-gun fire at a site called ‘the Daisy Patch’ by the Kiwi soldiers.

He was shot in the chest and the head, one bullet flying through his ear while another lodged inside his skull.

His wounds looked terrible and unsurvivable.

The medical staff assessing him thought he was dead and he was put aside for burial. Fortunately, someone heard him groan and he was quickly transferred to a hospital on a nearby island then transferred to Cairo, before being returned to New Zealand on the ‘Willochra’.

A letter back to his parents as he recovered said: “They have operated twice to try and get the bullet out of my head but up to now they have not succeeded”.

Arcus was among the first soldiers to leave Wairarapa, and also among the first to be returned injured from the Gallipoli campaign in mid-July 1915, being welcomed to Masterton in style, with a brass band-led procession forming in Queen St.
In December 1915, Arcus was discharged from the army.

After the war he drew a ballot for a returned serviceman’s farm near Martinborough which he called El-Bahr after the village where he nearly died.

He had another memento of that dangerous day – until the day he died in 1980, aged 86, he had the Turkish bullet still lodged inside his head.

– Gareth Winter

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