Custom made dog tags
In 2015 we were asked to help with a historical special occasion – a way for one NZ family to commemorate and honour their beloved Grandfather - a soldier in WW1.
Vaughan contacted us with an idea that he had been thinking about for some years. To mark the 100 year anniversary of the ANZAC landings of Gallipoli he wanted to bring to life the story of his Grandfather who was a soldier at Gallipoli.
He would do this by writing his Grandfathers story, creating replicas of the dog tag that his Grandfather wore at Gallipoli and to have presentation boxes put together that he would then gift to the 10 great grandchildren of this remarkable man.
This is the abridged war story of that brave soldier, courtesy of Vaughan Robertson.
The Story Behind The Dog Tag
Ernest Burnett joined the Canterbury Battalion at the beginning of World War One when he was 24 years old. Married and at the prime of his life, he was the epitome of the colonial conscript.
According to his joining record his “limbs were well formed” and the condition of his teeth was “fair”. Typical of his age he appeared blasé about the dangers of war. Like thousands of young New Zealand men, he was keen to do his bit for the cause, but was also likely excited to sample the experiences of a world far from the constancy of NZ farm life.
When beginning training at Christchurch, the recruits worked hard, realizing that if they failed to reach the required standard there were many enthusiastic volunteers waiting to take their place.
Off to war
In October 1914 Ernest boarded the Athentic in Lyttleton, and set forth to represent NZ in what became known as “the Great War”.
The NZ convoy was joined by transports carrying the Australian Imperial Force. They were bound for France but Turkey’s entry into the war meant a detour to Egypt.
The Australians and New Zealanders encamped outside Cairo and operating as a joint contingent for the first time got dubbed the “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps” - ANZAC’s.
Prior to WW1, identity discs (dog tags) had not been worn – soldiers used to carry identification cards or books, but a more durable form of identification was needed and thus dog tags were introduced. They were typically made of rubber or tin and pressed with information about the soldier, including surname and initials, regiment and unit number. Some were worn as bracelets but most were hung around the neck.
At some point during his Egypt encampment, Ernest replaced his issued identity disc with a metal souvenir – he had this decorated with engravings of local icons on one side whilst retaining the requisite formal details on the other.
The original dog tags, pictured below, have been s treasured part of this family for generations.
In January 1915 elements of the Canterbury Regiment including the Nelsonians of 9 Platoon were deployed to Serapeum on the Suez Canal, and in February took part in a staunch defence which brought them commendations, together with the dubious honour of suffering the NZ Expeditionary Force’s very first WW1 battlefield casualty.
Training continued throughout February – including long marches carrying 32kg packs.
The 12th company was deployed as part of the NZ Brigade in the April 25th Gallipoli Landing. After being involved in heavy fighting at Cape Helles, the Brigade was recalled to ANZAC Cove in May. The 12th Company took up bivouacs at Monash Gully, west of Quinn’s Post.
The position was considered the most critical and exciting point in the ANZAC line, being closer to the Turkish trenches than any other part of the line.
On the 4th June a joint sortie was undertaken by parties from the Auckland and Canterbury Battalions against the Turkish trenches opposite Quinn’s Post. The plan was to capture the enemy’s front line trenches.
Two working parties of unarmed men would undertake the work, one of which consisted of volunteers from 12th Company. The working party was constantly under enemy fire.
A bullet and a miracle
Sergeant Ernest Burnett, who was in charge of a half company of men carrying sand bags to bolster the newly acquired trenches was shot in the head by a Turkish bullet.
The bullet entered close to his right eye, travelled through his face, and exited just in front of his left ear.
Having lost consciousness, and assumed dead by his comrades, Ernest was left for six hours while the battle continued. By dawn communication trenches had been cut through to Quinn’s Post, reinforcements had arrived, and the new positions seemed firmly established.
At this point the Company set about removing their dead, including the body of Sergeant Burnett.
A grave was duly prepared for him, but when reaching inside his uniform to remove his dog tag for reference of his demise, the medic discovered that the dog tag, being metal, was still warm!
This minor miracle served to have Ernest transferred to the beach with the other wounded and evacuated. He was treated initially in Malta and then invalided back to New Zealand.
Sergeant Ernest Burnett returned to his wife and went on to have children and grandchildren.
He died peacefully at the family farm in 1951.
An honour and a privilege
It has been our honour and privilege to be involved with this project, working with Vaughan every step of the way to produce replica dog tags for this brave soldiers great grandchildren.
From inception through production we collaborated with Vaughan to ensure we remained true to the idea that he had carried around for so long.
Creating the disc at first seemed relatively simple, however that wasn’t quite the case! After several thwarted attempts, we actually handmade each disc, then had each one hand engraved.
We sourced black presentation boxes and got them imprinted with silver lettering, we found silver chains that would complement the tags. The final touch was some wired ribbon that we used to sit inside the boxes for a commemorative 100 year anniversary pin.
It has been an interesting and challenging journey and one that has brought us much pleasure. Vaughan’s big smile at the end made it all worthwhile.
Photo of Ernest and his bride from the family archives
And his testimonial says we got it right!
“When after literally years of cogitating I finally started working on physical outcome, there was a surprising number of elements to pull together, and absolutely nowhere to turn to for help.
I could buy boxes and ribbons and chains, but there was nobody to “pull it all together”.
Lori and Alex not only produced the silver dog tag replicas, but also put together the presentation package that holds the dog tag, and the effort involved in this was significant.
Alex ended up hand-making each of the replica tags after unsuccessfully attempting a number of replication techniques. He commented that “they must have been very good at this sort of thing back in 1915”…
His efforts in producing the replica, and Lori’s work in pulling together the presentation package, have been very, very much appreciated. It wouldn't have happened without them, and if you want superb hand-made jewellery, I can thoroughly recommend them!"
Call us for your special project
If you have a special project or occasion coming up, give us a call 09 473 5299 - we'd love to have a chat and see if we can help - from custom made one off pieces, to small runs for a few pieces the same, we will do our very best to help you realise your dream.