Thomas was a carpenter and electrician and the family lived for many years in Karori Road, Karori. When war was declared in August 1914, none of the older boys signed up. However, in May 1916 John and Timothy decided to do so, and they signed their attestation papers at Trentham on 16th May, and were assigned consecutive regimental numbers 24273 and 24274. Both became infantrymen with the Otago Regiment, and left New Zealand on 21st August in the 16th Reinforcements. They remained together when despatched to France on 15th November.
Their brother Thomas signed up just as his brothers were leaving New Zealand, in August 1916, and James decided to do likewise the following month. Thomas sailed for the UK in December 1916, and spent 4-5 months in camp in England before departing for France in May 1917. He also was an infantryman, and was signed up with the Wellington Regiment. James also spent a few months in England in training. He was a rifleman with the NZ Rifle Brigade, and he too was sent to France in May 1917.
So, for five months, from May - October 1917, four O'Gorman brothers were on active service on the Western Front. They all survived the Battle for Messines in June 1917, and would have been in and out of the front line and undergoing preparation for the Third Battle for Ypres which was launched on 4 October 1917. On this day New Zealand's 1st and 4th brigades took part in a successful attack on Gravenstafel Spur, which runs off Passchendaele ridge. The attack cost more than 320 New Zealand lives, including that of Thomas O'Gorman. Eight days later, on the 12th of October, buoyed by success on the 4th, but with inadequate planning and preparation and poor weather conditions, another major assault was launched, with disastrous results for the NZ troops. The 2nd and 3rd (Rifle) brigades suffered over 3,700 casualties in an attack on Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele. About 960 men are left dead or dying, amongst them John O'Gorman. Neither Thomas and John have no known grave, presumably having been blown to pieces on the battlefields. Their names are side by side amongst those inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, listed amongst the names of those from New Zealand units inscribed on panels within the New Zealand Memorial Apse located at the centre of the Memorial.
Timothy, who had been in France since November 1916 with John, had been having a hard time, being hospitalised several times for scabies and boils. He was also wounded in action but returned to duty the following day so the wound can't have been serious.
James and Timothy knew the conditions under which John and Thomas had fought and been killed, but had no option but to continue with their war service. They were joined by Cornelius in Feb 1918, so there were still three O'Gorman brothers in France. Timothy obviously found the going tough as on 23 May 1918 he abandoned his position in the trenches and ran away, being captured later the same day and court martialled. He was found guilty of going AWOL, and given 70 days of Field Punishment No. 2, which meant he was placed in fetters and handcuffs and was also subjected to hard labour and loss of pay. He was still able to march with his unit, so remained in France and available for action at any time.
On 28 August 1918 Cornelius became the third of Bridget and Thomas's sons to lose his life. He was wounded on 26 August when the Rifle Brigade was pushing forward to capture Bapaume, and died 2 days later at 56 Casualty Clearing Station. He was then buried at Bagneux Gezaincourt Cemetery.
Having lost three sons, Bridget decided her family had done enough and in September 1918 she appealed for Timothy to be returned to New Zealand. The judge hearing her appeal was less than sympathetic:
A MOTHER'S APPEAL.
A mother's appeal was made to the First Wellington Military Service Board yesterday for the return of Timothy O'Gorman, now on active service. Appellant said she had six sons; five had gone to the front, and three had been killed. There was one son, aged 17, at home. The Chairman (Mr. D. G. A. Cooper, S.M.) to appellant : You have a very good record. You ought to be proud of it. Five sons gone on active service —three of whom have given up their lives. The board congratulates you. on the military record of your family. What does your son at the front think—does he want to return? Appellant: He did not say. The Chairman: Does he not want to be in at the finish? Appellant: I do not know. The Chairman: The finish looks very close now, doesn't it? Appellant: Yes; perhaps so; but my son may be finished before the war is finished. The board reserved its decision.
(Evening Post 19 Sept 1918 page 10)
Why did she appeal only for Timothy to be returned when two of her sons were still fighting? Was James not so important? Or did she know Timothy was, or had been, a bit fragile. Sadly, her prescient riposte to the judge came true for Timothy who was killed in action on 23 October, a mere 18 days before "the finish". There is no record in his military personnel file that his recall had been actioned, so he was still in the front line a month after his mother's appeal had been upheld. He was buried in Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension, less than 10 kilometres from the fortified town of Le Quesnoy which was captured by the NZ Division on 4 November.
James returned to New Zealand in March 1919, having survived on the Western Front for 18 months unscathed apart from skin infections. His return must have been bittersweet for Bridget, Thomas, his sisters and younger brother. For some reason which is hard to fathom James signed on again when WW2 started - but he didn't last long, resigning within a matter of a few short months. He finally died in 1973, at the home of his married daughter in Mosgiel.
Thomas died in 1929 aged 68, and he was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Karori Cemetery, in a plot purchased by Bridget three years earlier. Bridget, who had “taken to her bed” (according to family lore) before the end of the war, died in 1935, and was buried with Thomas at Karori. Family lore also tells that she requested one side of the grave not be concreted so that she would have the opportunity to get out if the occasion arose! Their youngest son William was buried with them in 1957. William’s wife Louisa was last to be buried in the plot, in 1982. The headstone and the plaque commemorating the four boys killed in France were cleaned by family members in 2016, having fallen into a state of disrepair prior to being rediscovered not long beforehand.
Only a few plots away is another O’Gorman grave, for Lionel Michael, 15-year old son of John and Katherine O’Gorman who died at St Patrick’s College in November 1924. Whether the families are connected is not at this stage known.
With thanks to members of the O'Gorman family for their input. The story of the O'Gorman brothers is currently being filmed so keep an eye out for release, probably in October this year, the centenary of Passchendaele.