Major Archer Hosking (1870 – 1956), a doctor with the New Zealand Medical Corps, served during the Great War at Mount Felix Hospital in Walton-on-Thames.
Archer Hosking was the son of the first doctor in Masterton, New Zealand, Dr. William Henry Hosking – a pioneer of the use of x-rays and hypnosis in the country – and Christina Sloane Archer. Before the Great War he had worked as a general practitioner and already had a lengthy military career. He was appointed as Medical Officer for the New Zealand Rifles on 11th December 1900, a position that he held until 28th February 1903 and again from 1st August 1905 to 29th February 1908. Hosking had a third period of military service with No. 4 Field Ambulance commencing on 6th December 1912.
Hosking married Dorothy Bennett on 12th July 1912. They had three children, Christina, Owen William and Louis. On August 19th 1915 Capt. Archer Hosking was promoted to the rank of Major. In October of that year he wrote to the Director of the Military Hospital at Wellington, Colonel Valentine, complaining of numbers in the ambulance service being depleted by the war and seeking approval to recruit outside of the territorials for new members, a request that was duly granted. He also volunteered to join the Expeditionary force but this was denied due to the requirements of his post in Masterton. However, in April 1917 a further request was granted.
Major Archer Hosking set sail from his homeland on 12th June 1917 on Transport ship 87 “Tahiti”, employed as medical officer in charge, arriving at Devonport on 16th August. The arrival in England of senior ranks from home was not without its difficulties, as it could potentially disadvantage senior captains already in the country who might have been in line for promotion. A rather terse memo from the Deputy Director of Medical Services in the Expeditionary Forces, to the Surgeon General back in Wellington, R S F Henderson, specifically names Hosking “I trust you will realise the difficulties that are created by trying to place the higher rank officers where there are no vacancies….”.
Initially Hosking was based at the camp at Sling, near Tidworth on Salisbury Plain but on 27th Sept he was marched out to Brocton Camp on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, the home of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade in the UK. This was adjacent to another large camp where “six thousand Germans spent a lazy internment behind barbed wire—well fed, underworked, splendidly housed, and sometimes insolent, though, after one memorable incident, not to New Zealanders!” (Lieutenant H T B Drew, “The New Zealand War Effort” pub. 1923 Whitcombe and Tomb, Auckland).
On 16th March 1918, Major Hosking was transferred to New Zealand Military Hospital 2 at Walton-on-Thames. The glories of spring in Surrey clearly made a good impression on him, as he wrote in a letter to a friend reproduced in the Wairarapa Times newspaper of June 1916:-
“The little peeps of rockery one sees coming into bloom in this country just now make one wish to have such a patch. The gold and purple and white are making themselves evident – alyssum aubretia, etc. But the people are not doing their gardens up in the old style, and I am looking forward to a visit to Kew in the near future. When I was there late last year there was no particular show on – though, of course, the whole turn-out is magnificent, and the rockery arrangement showed what it would be in the proper season.
It would be very hard to say which was the loveliest county in England, where everything is so good, but Surrey is one of the best, and I enjoy long walks by the less frequented roads, through the woods and over the commons. Last week I took a half-day and went to Effingham, about eight miles from here, to see the flowers in the woods that are preserved there. There were acres of primroses, and among them violets in profusion, with white sheets of anemone, and there were many acres of bluebells that will be worth seeing a little later. The woods are getting a sad time with the demands made on them for trees, but the axe is, as a rule, used with intelligence, and I dare say most of the places will only be the better for their thinning out”.
He went on to express his admiration of the spirit of his countrymen in the face of adversity:-
“The war drags its weary way, Even as close as this one gets only a glimpse of what the real thing is, and I am struck with the self-satisfied tone of people and papers in the colonies – they are all too far off to imagine the minutest part of the reality. John Bull is, I am satisfied, at last awake. It has taken a lot of hammering, but he will take a lot of pacifying when it ends; and, given a proper victory, the good will overshadow the evil before long. The boys can claim now to belong to the true “bull-dog breed” – their holding powers are wonderful.
Of our own New Zealanders one cannot be too proud. I could tell you some tales, and hope I may some day, from first-rate men who saw it through, that make our boys right through worthy to rank with the best who have fought in this war. They are of the stuff that sees it out. I have now seen them as new drafts and as old hands in camps, and as wounded and sick men in hospital, and I don’t want to change our crowd for the sons of any other mothers under the sun. Before you read this you will get your telegrams letting you know how the Hun goes. At the moment it is the hardest go, and should he win through it will be harder still, but we don’t believe that can happen”.
Hosking’s sister in law, Nurse Wilmet Annie Bennett, was also stationed at Mount Felix Hospital, where she died following an appendix operation in 1918. She is remembered on the New Zealand Wall in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Walton-on-Thames. The strain on medical staff at Mount Felix can be gauged by this newspaper report published in The Dominion newspaper, 4th March 1919 –
“Dr Archer Hosking of Masterton, has for some time past been the P.M.O. at a hospital at Walton-on-the-Thames (sic). Returned soldiers state that Dr Hosking has been working very hard, and the wonder is that he has not completely broken down”.
In January 1919 his duties at Mount Felix came to an end and Hosking returned to Sling. His sailed from Liverpool on July 5th 1919, and he arrived home in Masterton on 22nd August. Hosking followed in his father’s footsteps, resuming his duties as Superintendent of the Masterton Hospital and continuing his love of gardens and nature. In 1923 he formed the “Masterton Beautifying Society”, the object of which was to encourage the planting of trees and improvement of public reserves, streets and open spaces in the town. He was official retired from the military in August 1928.