The life and death of George Bollinger illustrate the extremes of nobility and prejudice engendered in New Zealanders by the experience of the First World War. Bollinger's father, Max, was a Bavarian who migrated to New Zealand in the late 1870s and joined the police in 1881, serving in Wellington. He later took up farming in Taranaki. In 1884 Max married an Irish-born widow, Margaret Isabella Smith (née Sproule), and they had four daughters and three sons.
George Wallace Bollinger was born at Ōmatā on 10 April 1890. He was educated at New Plymouth High School, then in 1906 joined the Bank of New South Wales as a clerk. Soon after his transfer to Cambridge in 1911 he signed up with the Territorial Force, and was appointed second lieutenant with the 16th (Waikato) Regiment. In October 1912 he was transferred by the bank to Hastings, and there on 14 August 1914, nine days after the declaration of war, he volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. At his enlistment he was described as a Protestant, with a dark complexion and black hair; at six feet four inches he was said to be the tallest man in the main body. Within nine days he was appointed a corporal.
The diary which Bollinger kept from the time he left Wellington on 16 October 1914 documents superbly the experiences and shifting attitudes of a New Zealand soldier during the Gallipoli campaign. At first there is unqualified enthusiasm for battle, expressed in his desire for a 'brush-up' with the 'niggers' of Cairo and his excitement at departing for the Dardanelles. But when he lands on the Gallipoli peninsula in the early morning of 26 April 1915, and faces the smells and the flies and the constant presence of death on a Turkish hillside, Bollinger's attitude changes. He is openly joyful to be relieved from the trenches at Cape Helles in early May, and comments that the heroic images of war in the New Zealand newspapers serve to conceal the ghastly reality. When he returns to the peninsula in mid August, after a month recovering from gastritis in Egypt, he is 'very quiet', and by the time he is evacuated to Mudros (Moúdhros) Bay on 15 September he has become bitter about mismanagement and the betrayal of his mates' self-sacrifice.
However, of Bollinger's continuing loyalty to the British Empire there can be no doubt. This had become a matter of some importance, for within a month of his enlistment the Defence Department had received a complaint about his supposed German sympathies. The following year, after asking a Hastings detective to investigate, the army decided that Bollinger was of 'very good' character. Certainly his officers at Gallipoli recognised his loyalty and value as a soldier: he was promoted to sergeant in early May 1915, to regimental sergeant major in January 1916, and soon after was sent back to New Zealand for training as an officer. In April 1916 he became a second lieutenant and took up a post as an instructor at Trentham camp. Publicity about his promotion once more sparked anti-German insinuations from two members of Parliament and the Women's Anti-German League. The army held firm, with the minister of defence, James Allen, explaining that Bollinger's commission had been given 'for exceptional gallantry and faithful conduct…in the face of the enemy'.
Bollinger himself was more affected by the campaign against him. To quieten the rumours, so his family claims, he once more offered his service overseas, although under no obligation to do so. In August 1916 he embarked and in November joined the 2nd Battalion of the Wellington Infantry Regiment in the field. On 8 June 1917 he was wounded in action during the Messines (Mesen) offensive, and died two days later. He was buried in the Bailleul military cemetery. His brother Herman, another Gallipoli veteran, died of wounds in March 1918. George and Herman had eight cousins who also died on the western front – fighting for the other side.