Sergeant David Sterritt

 

 

David Sterritt was born on 12 January 1888 at Carnamogagh, Letterkenny, County Donegal, the third of eleven children of farmer David Sterritt and his wife Margaret Jane (nee Clarke).

Sterritt enlisted in the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry between 1903 and 1907, serving in B (Londonderry) Squadron. When the regiment was disbanded at Newbridge in July 1908, Sterritt was one of the many who joined its replacement, the North Irish Horse (regimental number unknown at present). He was promoted to sergeant around that time.

Sterritt was known as a good shot, performing well in the competitions at the annual regimental camps. He was part of the eight-man teams that won the Ashley Cup for B Squadron in 1907 and 1910.

At the time of the 1911 Census, Sterritt was living at Carnamogagh with his parents and eight siblings and working on the family farm. In late 1912 or early 1913 he resigned from the North Irish Horse and emigrated to New Zealand, where he was joined by his parents and other family members. There he joined the police force and was posted to the town of Dunedin.

Sterritt enlisted in the New Zealand army on 5 May 1916 (No.22216) and was immediately appointed corporal. Five months later he was promoted to sergeant. On 16 October he embarked for England with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 18th Reinforcements, disembarking at Devonport two months later. There he joined the 5th Reserve Battalion, 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, but lost his sergeant's rank. He embarked for France in May 1917, where he was posted to the 3rd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment and promoted to lance sergeant. A month later he was once again promoted to sergeant.

On 4 October 1917 the 3rd Otago Regiment joined the fighting at Gravenstafel on the Passchendaele Ridge, part of the long-running Third Ypres campaign. According to the the official history of the Otago Regiment:

The New Zealand Division ... on this day achieved a remarkable success. It ... gained all its objectives, and captured 1,160 prisoners (covering four enemy divisions) and a considerable number of machine guns. The 3rd Battalion of Otago Regiment, as its share in the operation, had also achieved substantial and decisive success, which was the more remarkable by reason of being the Battalion's first offensive effort. The Battalion's casualties total six officers and approximately 150 other ranks; on the other side of the scale, the captures included over 250 prisoners and eight machine guns. The sodden and yielding nature of the ground, while seriously impeding advance, had certainly minimised casualties from shell fire, the shells generally burying themselves well below the surface before bursting. The majority of the casualties sustained were due to machine gun fire.

For his role in the fighting that day Sterritt was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, his citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in an attack. Though wounded he took command of his platoon when his officer became a casualty and consolidated his objectives under heavy shell-fire. He set a fine example of courage and leadership.

Sterritt's wound, to his right arm, was serious. He was evacuated to the No.11 General Hospital at Camiers, then to England, where he was admitted to the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst. It was not until 8 December that he was well enough to be transferred to the Hornchurch Convalescent Hospital.

On 26 March 1918 a medical board found Sterritt no longer physically fit for war service on account of his wounds. On 30 May he embarked for New Zealand, where, seventeen months later, he was discharged.

Sterritt married Katherine Lucy Challen Clark in Auckland on 12 August 1919. He died on 14 March 1963 - his memorial is in the Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, Christchurch, New Zealand.

 

 

 

The first image is from a photograph of regimental sergeants at the Murlough Camp in 1912. See full picture here. The second image, showing Sterritt just prior to his embarkation for Europe in 1916, is sourced from Archives New Zealand (ID:R24184842, Archway Series Number: 25044). The third image is sourced from the Billion Graves website.