Page 1: Biography
Tuck, George Albert
Builder, soldier, diarist
This biography, written by Bill Gammage, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
George Albert Tuck was born at Cambridge, New Zealand, on 13 February 1884, the son of Charles Tuck, an accountant, and his wife, Mary Josephine Gallagher. He attended school in Cambridge and, later, Te Aroha. Although well read and well educated, his 'rebellious spirit' took him from home early, and by 1902 he was working, probably as a carpenter, in Rotorua. Without his parents' consent, that year he enlisted in the Tenth Contingent for the South African War, arriving as the war ended. On his return he was first a sawmiller in Taranaki and then a carpenter and later a partner in the firm of Smith and Tuck, building contractors, in Rotorua. On 1 November 1911 he married Fanny Matilda Cossey at Hunua: they seem to have separated soon after, and divorced in 1930.
In a state of 'suppressed excitement', on the outbreak of war in August 1914 Tuck immediately volunteered, and was accepted into the 6th (Hauraki) Company of the Auckland Battalion. He was a corporal at the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, was evacuated wounded in the thigh on 8 May, and rejoined his battalion in July; apart from a period of hospitalisation for bronchitis he served with it until the evacuation to Egypt in December 1915. In March 1916 he was appointed a sergeant major in the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment, then being formed; he served with it for the rest of the war.
The New Zealand Division arrived in France in April 1916, and Tuck fought in every major battle in which his battalion took part. He was promoted to lieutenant on the field of Passchendaele (Passendale) in October 1917 and became battalion adjutant and a captain in March 1918. He was wounded twice on the Somme: on 15 September 1916 and on 10 August 1918. He was twice mentioned in dispatches, and was awarded a Military Cross in 1918.
Tuck's wartime diary is one of the best accounts of a New Zealander in the First World War. Written in clear, idiomatic prose, it shows a talent for narrative and description in his accounts of conditions on the western front, the effects of artillery barrages and gas attacks, and hand-to-hand trench warfare. It has, too, occasional passages of introspection, as when an overheard fragment of a hymn momentarily returns Tuck from his dugout to scenes thought forgotten: 'one pauses almost frightened at the memory of time, place & incident so utterly foreign to that which is'; the memory remains until 'a word, a sound, something seen, not so much destroys it as submerges it in the swift flood of fiercer present passions.' Mainly, though, the diary concentrates, in a matter-of-fact way, on the daily experience of war. Tuck knows that under the pressure of war ordinary men behave in extraordinary ways, and he has a gift for recording the illuminating detail: 'I heard again the whine of shell cases & fragments which landed freely about our billets. I slowly doubled my knees in an instinctive effort to decrease my height.' His description of the battle of the Somme in 1916 is so densely detailed as to belie the fact that it was written from memory a month after the event.
Tuck returned to New Zealand in April 1919 and went back to building in Rotorua. In 1920 he was asked to become adjutant of the Hamilton area unit of a right-wing anti-Bolshevist organisation; he seems not to have accepted. By 1931 he was working as a journalist in Auckland. On 26 September 1939 he volunteered for service in the Second World War, aged 55, but was rejected.
George Tuck was of medium height (five feet eight inches), lean and active, with grey eyes and an alert and upright stance. He spoke as he wrote, clearly and effectively. Forthright and independent, in battle and on dangerous patrols he was enterprising, brave and competent. His comrades admired him immensely. At the war's end in 1918 he wrote, 'Oh! The joy of being one's own man again', but his work as adjutant showed him to be a good team man and a highly professional soldier. His last years were lonely, but in old age, living in New Lynn, Auckland, he was still forthright and self-reliant, and retained a lively interest in contemporary events. A volunteer for three wars, he opposed the Vietnam War. He died at Auckland on 27 June 1981, aged 97.