Athlete, scholar, brave soldier

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In 1915, Athol Hudson was the only New Zealander to receive a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. But the former Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil never got to start his studies at the University of Oxford. On July 14, 1916, he was killed while leading a sniping raid against the German frontline in the Battle of the Somme. Rebecca Ryan finds out more about a life cut short.

Athol Hudson is remembered at Waitaki Boys’ High School in many ways.

His name can be found on a stone monument at the entrance to the school and on a brass plaque in the Hall of Memories.

A cup in his name has also been awarded at the school’s cross-country in previous years.

And tomorrow night, he will be posthumously inducted into the school’s new Sports Hall of Fame.

Hudson, the son of Dr James and Beatrix Hudson of Nelson, attended Waitaki Boys’ High School from 1908-11.

He led the school’s camera club, was a senior swimming champion, a keen boxer, a lieutenant in the Cadet Corps and, in his final year, named dux of the school, receiving a scholarship to the Victoria University of Wellington, then known as Victoria College.

When he went to university, his athletics career really started to flourish.

His specialty was the 3-mile distance (4.8km), which he won at the Victoria College championships, the New Zealand university championships and the Wellington provincial championships.

The highlight of his athletics career came in 1914 when he defeated Australasian running champion James Beatson in Dunedin to become the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association (NZAAA) 3-mile champion.

A report in the Weekly Press (February 11, 1914) described his win as “the surprise of the meeting”.

“Hudson .. ran a remarkably fine race. He was going just as strong at the finish as at the start. It was a gruelling race well won. Hudson’s time was 1.25 seconds faster than that recorded by Beatson to win the Australasian championship.”

He wrapped up the 1913-14 athletics season by winning the 3-mile race at a NZAAA meeting held in honour of visiting American athletes.

Hudson enlisted for service on the outbreak of World War 1 and was a part of the advance guard sent to capture Samoa in 1914.

He returned to New Zealand in 1915 to complete his bachelor of science degree at Victoria and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship later that year.

The only New Zealand recipient in 1915, Hudson was also the first of five former Waitaki Boys’ pupils to be given the honour.

He was offered a place at Balliol College at Oxford University to study chemistry, but war service intervened and in early 1916 he joined the New Zealand forces on the Western Front as a commissioned officer.

On July 14, 1916 he was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

His death, at age 22, sent shockwaves through the Waitaki community.

“Among Waitakians, Athol Hudson was held in the highest esteem, regard and respect,” the 1916 Waitakian reads.

“His life seemed to be given up entirely to public spirited service. His unfailing modesty and his transparent unselfishness of disposition endeared him to all.”

A letter from Waitaki Boys’ old boy Cyril Rout to Hudson’s mother, published in the Nelson Evening Mail on September 15, 1916, describes how his battalion mourned the loss of “a brave man”:

“His loss is felt by us all, as he was carrying out the important work of sniping and intelligence officer. His keenness and energy in making a success of his ‘job’, as we call it, was recognised and appreciated by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Austin. We who knew him best at times feared for his safety, so great was his coolness and contempt of danger. His death was instantaneous, so he therefore suffered no pain. He was endeavouring to obtain all-important information for a raid we were making. To obtain this he made his way with two of his own men through the long grass into the German wire entanglements. He lay at full length gazing at the German parapet so near at hand. With a whisper and a slight movement he handed the glasses to his corporal alongside him, saying: ‘I can see three Germans there.’ A few seconds later he was hit, no doubt by a sniper, death being, as I stated, instantaneous. His two men endeavoured to bring in his body, but had to abandon until nightfall the attempt, on account of the fire opened on the small party. We mourn the loss of a brave man, and only hope that if death should come to us we would be able to leave behind such a record of duty and fearlessness as Athol did.”

Tomorrow night, Hudson is one of 14 former Waitaki Boys’ pupils being inducted into a new Sports Hall of Fame.

For the past year, the Waitaki Boys’ High School sports advisory council has been collating information on former pupils to feature in the hall.

Sports advisory council member and ex-pupil Roly Senior said it had been an interesting exercise.

“We went through every Waitakian from the last 130 years and found a list of guys who had represented New Zealand at age-group level or had won New Zealand championships.

“[Hudson] was a name that popped up . and it was a story that just seemed to get better and better. He’s a real example of what the kids at Waitaki Boys’ should aspire to.”

The sports advisory council has funded a new memorial cup in Hudson’s name to be awarded to the pupil who puts in the “most outstanding effort” at the school’s annual cross-country.

It will be presented at tomorrow night’s Sports Hall of Fame induction event, hosted by veteran broadcaster and former pupil Peter Williams.

Portraits of the first 14 inductees will be hung in a dedicated area in the foyer of the school auditorium.

“It will make the current boys and the ones coming in aware of these great Waitakians who have gone through,” Senior said.

The Sports Hall of Fame induction event is also a fundraiser for the sports advisory council to assist pupils to compete in their chosen sport to the highest level.

The inaugural inductees into the Waitaki Boys’ High School Sports Hall of Fame are:

Ian Hurst, Scott Anderson, Gerald Keddell, Dylan Kennett, Emmett Gradwell, Parke Harris, Gary Robertson, Russell (Rusty) Robertson, William (Bill) Smedley, George Paterson, Keith Heselwood, Winston Stephens, Athol Hudson, John (Jack) Sutherland.