Cecil Malthus in WWI: The teacher in the trenches

Nelson teacher Cecil Malthus left for war in 1914 as a private in the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Battalion. He was on his way to Gallipoli and then onto the Western Front, including the Somme, as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). 

Cecil was an accomplished linguist with an MA in French and English from Canterbury College in his back pocket. Just 26 years old, he landed in Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Cecil would remain there until the troops were moved off the peninsula in December of that year. 

Cecil Malthus
Cecil Malthus as portrayed in Gallipoli: The scale of our war exhibition at Te Papa, Wellington. 12 November 2015. Photo by Donna Robertson. File reference: 2015-11-12-IMG_1088

In September 1916 Cecil was in the thick of the battle of the Somme. He was wounded while deepening a trench when his shovel hit an unexploded bomb. Luckily the shovel took most of the force but his right foot was shattered. This injury meant he was declared unfit for service in December 1916 - three months later, in March, he arrived home to Timaru. 

Cecil wrote about his war experiences. The touching forward in ANZAC: A Retrospective highlights the lived trauma of war and the shared experience of war veterans as a result.

“I offer nothing but the truth for those who want to know what the war was like for the average man. Readers can believe that whatever I relate of my own experience is very nearly the same as what happened to their own uncle or grandfather.” (from ANZAC: A retrospective)

The library has digitised letters Cecil wrote home to Hazel Watters, who was later to become his wife. His dedicated letter writing provides us with a unique insight into life as a soldier.


Further reading and events

Local History Librarian, Tuakiri | Identity, Tūranga