James Edward Morgan Interview
Today is the 13th of February 2017. I’m interviewing James and Leith Morgan of Hastings. James was the former editor of the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune. James would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family in Hawke’s Bay?
James is a retired newspaper editor, a printer, a farmer, forester and administrator, and has spent much of his spare time helping a number of community organisations. He served forty-four years in the newspaper industry, mostly in Hawke’s Bay, but some in Otago and London. His career culminated in editorship of the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune in Hastings. That paper has now closed and should not be confused with the tabloid of today.
His work acquired a passion to preserve the history of the region – he was instrumental in securing Stoneycroft Homestead in Hastings as the new home of the Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust, which was formed by him as the settler. The journey to establish the Archives Trust, or the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank as it is popularly called, started in 1985 and gathered pace twenty years later in 2005, when the Hastings District Council purchased Stoneycroft. The real work for the Trust began in 2008 and resulted with the official opening of the centre in December 2012.
James Morgan was a strong advocate of the sister city relationship between Hastings and Guilin, China, being appointed to the Sister City Board on its formation by the then mayor, Jeremy Dwyer. James became the first national administrator for Sister Cities New Zealand, and more recently took part in transforming the Hastings Sister City Board into the District International Advisory Group.
His commitment to Hastings Group Theatre and Napier Operatic Society saw him become a life member of both organisations. His wife, Leith Norma Lochhead, was also made a life member of Group Theatre, an honour which transferred to Theatre Hawke’s Bay when Group Theatre and the Hastings Musical Comedy Company merged. James was involved with the Musical Comedy Company both onstage and backstage, during its early years. In those days the productions were a feature of the annual Hastings Blossom Festival, an event masterminded by Greater Hastings, which itself was started by menswear retailer, Harry Poppelwell, and the owner of Monarch Motors Ford Dealership, Jack Jones.
James had nine sisters and brothers. There was not a year in the first decade of the Festival when the members of the Morgan family failed to take part as children, either in the fancy dress parade or assistance in building a float, or appearing on one, most often for St John Ambulance. Day after day, Morgan children cycled from their home in Queen Street East across Hastings to H E Todd Taylor’s orchard shed in Ikanui Road, to help make and glue paper blossoms to that year’s St John float. Todd Taylor was the Senior District Officer of St John. His home and orchard land are now fully absorbed into the suburb of Frimley.
James was the Founder/Chairman of the Flaxmere Licensing Trust which by the time he retired was contributing as much as $400 a year to the community. He was a Foundation Director of Trust House Limited, a $50-million-dollars-a-year operation headquartered in Masterton. He was a participant in the Headstart programme at Hawke’s Bay Hospital, and an instigator of the Joan Velvin Garden at the hospital. He was a Foundation Director of Transfusion – the Hawke’s Bay Health Trust – which transmogrified into the Community Foundation Hawke’s Bay.
In May 2013, James Morgan was one of six people named recipient of the Hastings Civic Award. Among souvenirs on his wall is a note recording him as the first Foundation member of the Flaxmere Sports Club. There’s a tablet recording him opening the Flaxmere Bottle Store which, as Chairman of the Licensing Trust, he brought about a merger with the original Flaxmere Wines, opened by Russ Bevin in the newly established shopping village.
The village was developed by an Aucklander, Mark Tansley, who regularly consulted James in his role as Founder and Editor of the Flaxmere and Western Suburbs Gazette. The Gazette circulated freely to every home from the Stortford Lodge corner, Frimley, Camberley, Flaxmere, Twyford and Fernhill.
James employed folk from region as photographers and contributors. His wife, Leith, ran an active service as Advertising Manager. They built an office on the front of their home in Flaxmere Avenue to accommodate the publication.
James and Leith ran a campaign which collected trailer loads of books, and the Hastings Council used these as the nucleus of the suburb’s first public library. This was established in an Army hut on a site adjacent to the Intermediate School in Wilson Road. Next door in another Army hut was a branch of Plunket, sustained by Leith and a committee of women who went to great lengths to gather sufficient funding to get the group established. Alongside the Intermediate School under the huge gum trees, James and Leith sponsored the establishment of Flaxmere’s first fitness trail.
There were next to no buses on the route between Flaxmere and Hastings in those formative days, thus Flaxmere, the area with a growing preponderance of young families in their first homes, became the predominant operating area of Plunket for the Hastings district.
James and Leith were wed by the Reverend Sefton Campbell in St Andrew’s Church in 1967. They lived at a flat created at the front of the old Morgan family home, 511 Queen Street East, moving in 1970 to their first home in Deal Crescent Flaxmere. There were only a hundred homes including a number in Flaxmere Avenue, which were built as a parade of homes to launch Flaxmere as the ‘dormitory suburb’ of Hastings. Somehow the powers-that-be had arrived at the conclusion that the old river shingle bed upon which the suburb is built could house a growing population, but the people there could travel five or six kilometres to Hastings for virtually all of their community services. At first there was only one telephone in a phone box in Wilson Road adjacent to no house at all. Mothers with youngsters afoot struggled with their prams through shingle and silt to queue for a chance to phone the doctor. The only shops were in Poole Street – a dairy, a fish shop and a Post Office / bookshop run by George Foulds – nearly a centenarian now, but then about fifty and widely known across Hawke’s Bay for his grocery trade and family connection.
George Foulds and James Morgan already knew each other. George had established a grocery / dairy in Duke Street twenty years earlier when James was a runner boy for the Dominion newspaper. James’ run took him from the railway crossing to St Aubyn Street, westward to Pakowhai Road and northward, incorporating every street to William Street. It was a long zig-zag across north-western Hastings, and included the Duke Street store. There young James dropped off a bundle of Dominion newspapers each day, and George sold the boy a bag of sherbet to suck on, a treat that James would pay for out of the tips he earned as runner boy. The delivery run was only possible for him because in previous years he had roamed the streets of Hastings with a wooden cart, collecting corked beer bottles for sale at McMahon’s Bottle Exchange near his home in Queen Street East. At one penny a bottle his saving was a slow process, but it gained speed when the Dominion agreed to employ him as a street seller stationed in Heretaunga Street at the foot of the town clock. There James would trade newspapers, not only for the standard threepence a copy, but sometimes also in exchange for a freshly caught and skinned rabbit which went home to his mother’s stewpot. At other times there was fresh fish, or eels wrapped in damp tea towels for the paper boy. He was careful to return the tea towels, washed and ironed by his mother, and thus his satisfied customers kept up a regular supply of game which he would take home before heading off to school.
James was selling Dominions at the clock tower in 1953 when Heretaunga Street was still a busy through road. On Christmas Eve in ’53 the Wellington-Auckland night express plunged into a flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, ten kilometres west of Waiouru in the central North Island. It was New Zealand’s worst railway accident – one hundred and fifty-one people died out of a passenger list of two hundred and eighty five. Hastings photographer Russell Orr made a name for himself by chartering a small plane from Bridge Pa and flying to Tangiwai to capture historic pictures of the tragedies. These were published in the Dominion.
The pennies earned from the sale of newspapers, and the tips that accrued from good customer service eventually raised sufficient funds for James to buy a narrow wheeled – and most unsuitable – cycle from Gordon Walker’s auctioneering hall in Russell Street. This qualified him to take on a paper round across the western quarter of Hastings.
In addition to the Dominion James also used to cycle for evening newspaper delivery, and that began a long association with the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune, first as runner boy simultaneously as a form of general hand, lifting bundles of newspapers in bundles as they rolled off the press, and distributing them to rural delivery drivers before at the end of each day’s press run, he crammed one hundred and thirty copies of the newspaper into a bag on the bike and delivered the Herald-Tribune to nearly every house on each side of Willowpark Road North – part of Grove Road, and into the newly burgeoning Mayfair area of Hastings.
Years later his youngest brother Leslie was to become Principal of Mayfair School. By then all of James’ customers, school teachers, professional people and Mr Caccioppoli, who owned a large old house in Cunningham Crescent and maintained an enormous grape vine over the terrace in his back yard, had moved on. During the season the paper boy was supplied with bags and bunches of juicy black grapes to take home to the family. The grapes were a reward for his service to Mr Caccioppoli’s front door.
Delivery of papers to the railway houses in Willowpark Road North was also rewarding. There, waiting at the gates for their paper each day, were avid doers of crosswords. The bright young James, having boned up on the answers in the typesetting department of the Herald-Tribune before heading off, was able to help his clients to the solution to 9 across or 17 down, depending on the customer’s needs.
As if two paper runs a day were not enough to keep him busy, there was an hour playing ‘hares and hounds’ with fellow Dominion runner boys, across the buildings in the commercial area of Hastings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, filling the time between five and six am before the Dominion delivery car arrived from Wellington. The rooftop outings came to an end one morning when James, fleeing from an adversary, dropped from the top of Hart Print into the waiting arms of a policeman. [Chuckle]
Included in two years more of paper deliveries were attendances at St John cadet meetings, and representing Hawke’s Bay in a cadet team trained by the late Roy Burfield, a member of a family of shoe repairs in a wee shop straight opposite the Heretaunga Street end of Tomoana Road. The team included the late Ray Baxter who was to become a St John Ambulance driver as the service provided by the volunteers was being phased out, and Robin Hickman, son of
the book retailer Ian Hickman, the man who created national interest when he proposed that Hastings close down for a siesta at midday each day.
But James wanted to leave school – Hastings High School. He was bored in the classroom, and his duties as a monitor in the science department were becoming tedious. That came about after he was banned for experimenting with unsupervised mixtures of chemicals, and for doing his own dissection of frogs during lunch hours. [Chuckle]
To James many of the masters were beyond their ‘use by’ dates. They included SI – Sydney Idabold Jones – who had done a term in Parliament as a National Party MP and had been President of the Returned Services Association. Debates on the Houses of Parliament and New Zealand’s part in the Second World War were the only topic Jones touched on in English classes. There was Charlie Forbes, maths master, who was deaf as a post and concentrated time and again on the trajectory of missiles fired from wooden rulers, in the style of larger armaments in ancient Greece. There was Major Eade, another world war two veteran, and Chook Fowler, whose forehead wound was always described as the result of a bullet during the war. French classes with “Mousie” Leslie Matheson were a farce. James’ brother Leslie was named after Mousie, a friend of the boys’ dad. There was “Camel”, a master who came from Australia. The boys gave him a tough time, and in 3P1 James Morgan organised a farewell present the day Camel left the school. A dozen or more boys cycled from the High School to the railway station to present it to him. It was a cake of Lifebuoy deodorant soap. Also boring to James was “Glamourboy” Hendry who had longish tawny hair. James and his cohorts from school would await Glamourboy at the Southampton Street-Karamu Road intersection where a cycleway had been formed in front of the site of the old Hastings Gasworks. From there the boys would cycle behind Glamourboy, doing as he did – riding with no hands on the handlebars; taking combs from their pockets and sweeping back the locks of their hair in perfect imitation of the man ahead. [Chuckle]
School was tedious. James had already been hoisted by boisterous fellow students high on a large landmark gum tree in the centre of the ten-acre playing field. They fixed his belt to a peg in the trunk. He was stuck there through three form classes until the Principal, Jimmy Tier, sent the caretaker with a tractor and a ladder to get him down.
James had had enough of school. “You can’t leave until you’ve got a job” his father said. Next day, Monday, James was up and around his Dominion run. He pedalled to school, got himself back to his two daily tasks at the Herald-Tribune that afternoon, and arrived home at six pm. “I’ve got a chance of three jobs” he told his father. “Now I have to choose. Mr Jim Drummond at Hart Print will take me on, and I’ve spoken to Mr (Noel) Wilson at Cliff Press, and he will give me an apprenticeship. Like Hart Print, they would like me to start straight away. Also, there’s a job waiting for me in the print room at the Herald-Tribune. Mr Cameron (Hec – foreman / mechanic), says I can start straight away.” The following day Principal Tier wrote a School Leaving Certificate for James, adding a note that as the boy was still fourteen it would not be valid until he reached the age of fifteen, the legal school leaving age. There was still a month to go … James wouldn’t have a bar of it. He did his Dominion paper run on Wednesday morning, and at eight o’clock reported to Don Driver, the foreman printer, and then currently the Chairman of the Hastings Home Servicemen’s Association.
James’ career as an apprentice linotype operator had begun, but nothing could be recorded for another three weeks until he turned fifteen. His wage was 7/6d (seven shillings and sixpence) a week, one third of which went to his mother as board, and another third went into compulsory savings. The wage for his six day 8am to 3pm employment rose dramatically to £5 ($10) a week a few months later, when printing trade employers aimed to attract more people into the industry. They wanted to reduce their reliance on tradesmen imported with their families from England. That was in the late 1950s, and assisted immigration had begun nearly a century earlier.
James was the first Hawke’s Bay apprentice to attend yearly courses at Seddon Technical College in Auckland, now AIT. Travel was by train to Palmerston North, then overnight to Auckland. Each time James went he carried pieces of printing plant donated by the Herald-Tribune to the Printing Trades course. Imagine travelling on a train with an extra suitcase filled with the accoutrements of hand typesetting and a heavy linotype keyboard, or a box of brass matrices, eight a side – all to save the employers and the Seddon College Board the cost of freight. It was a sign of the times. Accommodation for the apprentices was at the Mangere Immigrants’ Camp – rows of prefabricated bedrooms used by the Military during the second war.
At the completion of his apprenticeship, six months early because of the hours and the overtime he had done, he became the first lad in the province to gain New Zealand Trade Certification in the printing industry. Now a qualified printer, he was unable to talk the then editor into employing him as a sub-editor, so he went to the sub’s desk on the Otago Daily Times in 1960.
In Dunedin, although under age, he took over and operated lone-handed the busy, crowded bar of the infamous Captain Cook Hotel from midnight or one am until nine am, when the hotels opened for trade, legally.
After a year, the Tribune was happy to fly him back to Hastings – this time though as a sub-editor, a career choice that James had made because he was sensing that changes overseas would eventually revolutionise the printing trade in this country. The first computers and tape driven typesetting machines were on the way.
James spent the flight from Dunedin bouncing on his knees in the narrow aisle of a National Airways Corporation Dakota Constellation, applying oxygen and resuscitation to a man who had had a heart attack. So concerned was the air crew and ambulance staff waiting at Christchurch to get the patient to hospital, they forgot about James, the passenger who suffered sorely bruised knees as he ministered the patient during the bumpy ride up the Southern Alps, the shortest route the pilot could take. He found his own way across the tarmac to buy a cup of tea, strong with sugar, before travelling on to Wellington and Napier.
Now James, had you been part of St John’s Ambulance at that stage?
So that’s how you knew resuscitation.
A couple of years later he booked himself and sports reporter David Curtis onto the liner ‘Fairsky’ for a six-week ocean voyage to London. Curtis was later the best man at his wedding.
In London James worked for Australian Associated Press on the eighth floor of the Reuters building in Fleet Street. There the events of the day from almost every nation were reported to points all round the world. For James it was varied work, round the clock, being first with the news in a competitive world. His bulletins to Australia and New Zealand and the Pacific nations included tennis reports from Wimbledon and the French Open in Paris; rugby league from Newcastle and other centres; rugby union from Cardiff Arms Park in Wales, and from Edinburgh, Scotland; the illness then death and mourning of Sir Winston Churchill. He interviewed the Duke and Duchess of Bedford at Woburn Abbey as a prelude to their first tour of Australia, on behalf of ‘Animals’ magazine. He chatted up The Beatles at London’s Savoy Hotel on the eve of their departure for a raucous tour of New Zealand and Australia. James was on first name terms with Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt.
There was more. He got the news of the United States’ President Kennedy’s death into Australia and New Zealand before anyone in Britain knew about it – by minutes – from London. This sparked a wonderful conspiracy theory that if the leaders of New Zealand and Australia were able to hear of the death before anyone in Britain, then plainly, Kennedy was assassinated in a western plot. [Chuckle]
These were busy and exciting days. In his leisure time he travelled extensively, being arrested on the tarmac at Tangiers, Morocco, by armed representatives of a regime which wanted to control every word that was written about their country. Armed police tracked James through Morocco to Marrakesh and Fez, and the Blue Mountains as he retraced the haunts of Winston Churchill, waving their pistols to remind him of their presence.
He was arrested again in the tiny Spanish town of La Linea, from where there was a tightly guarded walkway into the English held Gibraltar. This time the arrest was the result of bureaucratic bungling. The Spaniards had mis-stamped his passport, giving the impression he’d been in Spain for two years living an undocumented life – what had he been doing? Where had he been? Now here he was, strolling every bit like an innocent traveller across the border at La Linea into Gibraltar, without a skerrick of spare clothing and no outward sign of anything more than a camera.
James you mentioned earlier being on first name terms with Harold Holt – was he the Prime Minister that drowned?
After a few hours in solitary, the Spaniards realised their error and let James go. He ran like fury and made it just in time for the plane to England, where he and all the passengers were confined for another few hours by a health scare.
The Herald-Tribune called James again, this time paying to fly him home from London via the United States, Hawaii and Fiji. After periods as deputy sub-editor and then as chief sub-editor he became assistant editor of the paper, then founding editor and manager of the Herald-Tribune’s free community paper, the Leader. The publication came about as a result of a merger between the Gazette with the Te Mata Times, at the end of its career edited and managed by Maryanne Moss.
By 1985 James was editor of the Herald-Tribune. His background as a printer, journalist and as a student of the new electronic processes of typesetting during his days in England, made him a key person in the transformation of the Herald-Tribune’s presentation at the time of moving from hot metal printing to offset printing. This lead to the introduction of processed colour into the computer-generated newspaper of today. His design for an election issue of the Herald-Tribune was awarded the first Pacific area prize for newspaper design. The award was presented to him at an industry conference in Adelaide, Australia, by Anthony Whitlock, a son of William Arthur Whitlock of Havelock North, one of the denizens of New Zealand’s newspaper industry.
James’ career came to an abrupt end in 1998 however, after thirteen years as editor, forty-three years with the Tribune. The paper’s owners closed it and the Daily Telegraph, the competing paper in Napier, enabling them to publish one paper when once there were two.
In March 1985 he and his wife Leith were made life members of Hastings Group Theatre, in recognition of his many years of service to Group Theatre, in particular as President, and to Leith for her steadfast support over the years. Group Theatre’s studio in Queen Street West was built with an insurance policy on James’ life. He directed many plays there. He directed musicals for Hastings Light Opera Company and Napier Operatic Society. He wrote and directed ‘Nostalgia’, the centennial production for Napier Operatic Society. Some of the full scale shows he directed were:
Boy with a Knife
Tea and Sympathy
Arms and the Man
The Browning Version
Under Milk Wood
The Killing of Sister George
And musicals included:
Valley of Song
The Sound of Music
Oh What a Lovely War
Fiddler on the Roof
Man of La Mancha (twice)
The Pirates of Penzance
In April 1990 he and Leith bought Waipari, an eight hundred and ninety-six acre cattle and sheep grazing block in the hills between Rissington and Te Pohue. The couple moved to live in the homestead on the block four years later. A partnership with his nephew Paul Morgan and James’ brother Craig was dissolved in 1995. James and Leith continued farming until 2004 when a decision was made to sell the property.
There were fifty acres of established pine trees on the block in 1990. James and Leith did the bulk of the scrub cutting in preparation to extend the plantings to a hundred and twenty acres by 1995, and to a hundred and sixty acres by the time they left.
In 1996 they had the homestead kitchen rebuilt and the following year, prior to daughter Hilary’s wedding, rebuilt the bathrooms and the hall. Further extensive alteration and refurbishing was carried out in 2003.
Another mark of their life at Waipari was extensive redevelopment of the fences and paddocks, conservation work, scrub clearing and re-grassing. Lambs took months to yield eleven kilos of meat in the early days, but ten years later they were coming off their mothers four to five months earlier, and were yielding seventeen kilos.
Meanwhile they bought more land – a fifteen-acre block in York Road, Hastings. It was an orchard, described by James as ‘a bit of a fruit salad’. He called in a contractor whose diggers pulled out the fully-grown trees from the ground and stacked them in heaps for four massive fires. They used this land for finishing lambs from Waipari, then switched to having it cropped by a contractor who grew squash pumpkins there for export to Japan. This property was sold in April 2004, and followed by the purchase a few months later of a ten acre orchard bearing apples, peaches and plums at Twyford. They drew their own plans for a large house and were preparing for Mark Morgan to build it in 2005.
James’ so-called retirement came to an end at the beginning of 2001 as the first national Administrator of the Sister Cities Movement in New Zealand, based on the top floor of the Hastings District Council Offices in Eastbourne Street, Hastings. He played a key role in two national conferences for the organisation before Guillain-Barré Syndrome struck him down in September 2002. He couldn’t stand or walk. A period of seven months in hospital followed, his breathing being monitored hourly, followed by two or three bouts of physiotherapy a day keeping muscles alive until movement was restored. He graduated from a long period flat on his back to a wheelchair, to a walking frame, to crutches, then a pair of sticks. Eighteen months later physiotherapy continued. His ability to walk was returning, but with a gait which he said qualified him to be a member of comedian John Cleese’s Ministry of Funny Walks. [Chuckle]
Even during the stay in hospital, James was able to do work for the Hawke’s Bay Health Trust, of which he was a Foundation Director in 1999. His efforts from the hospital bed resulted in the Flaxmere Licensing Charitable Trust, which formed under his leadership in the 1970s, giving $5,700 for a treadmill and parachute harness arrangement, which has been instrumental in aiding the recovery and improving the gait of stroke victims and the like. He also found funding for an exclusively designed pack for the special care baby unit. Nurses and specialists could now take key equipment and supplies of drugs with them when rushing by helicopter to emergency in maternity situations, or when new born babies needed treatment en route from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington or Auckland hospitals. And he raised the funding and labour for the development of a garden at the hospital which, when opened a few years later, was named the Joan Velvin Garden in tribute to the Health Board’s first and only woman chairman.
In 2004 he continued as a director of the Health Trust, now known as Transfusion, which developed into a province-wide charitable foundation. It aimed at increasing community giving and providing professionalism and support to the funding of community effort across a wide range of activities including education and welfare, as well as health.
Meanwhile James’ work on family history began to increase in importance, leading to his plan for a series of books, beginning with the Book of Morgan. A by-product was that he began to be called on as the speaker at funerals, using his broad knowledge of the family as the basis of eulogies.
Probably James’ zeal for getting things done sheets back to his father, Stanley Ernest Morgan, born in 1901 in a cottage in Elm Road Hastings, one of the crossing roads called “Knowles’ Folly”, a property development in Akina Park that defied the grid pattern upon which the town’s roading was based.
Stan’s father, Charles Edwin Morgan, was aged sixty-two when Stan was born, having been a servant boy in England with no specific skills, before migrating to New Zealand. He was finding it hard to cope with the demands of hard labour in New Zealand – bush clearing and road building.
Stan’s mother, Ada Rose (nee Collins) of Cornish origins, was thirty-eight – twenty-four years younger than her husband. And only four years after Stan’s birth, tragedy struck. It was January 23, 1905. Two of her sons closest in age to Stan – nine-year-old Sydney Francis and eleven-year-old Thomas Anthony – drowned in the Tutaekuri at Napier along Georges Drive near the Scout Hut. Neither could swim in water described as reaching three metres deep.
Stan’s father, described by the authorities at the time as being an invalid, had moved his family to Napier, to 95 Marine Parade. The drowned brother Thomas had for “a considerable period been a patient in Napier Hospital” and was not in very robust health. James’ dad Stan was to know his invalid father for only another four years, ’til he was eight. Charles Edwin died, again in a January, in Napier in 1909. He had sired nine children. Charles was buried in the same grave in Napier Cemetery as his two sons. The headstone was of timber … long gone now.
Stan’s three surviving brothers were fifteen, seventeen and nineteen years older than he, an age gap that left the boy under the influence of four women – his sisters Poppy, Louie and little Emmeline, and a bereaved mother so staunchly Anglican in their faith, that in his teen years Stan rebelled and vowed never to go to church again.
Stan was taller and more strongly built than most of his fellows at Napier Boys’ High School where he earned himself a reputation as a cricketer. His size and his cricket carried him through the years. Of necessity, he got himself a job with a hardware merchant, Henry Williams, in Hastings Street, Napier. Stan recalls a customer telling him of a huge fish towing someone’s set line out to sea from the Marine Parade frontage, dragging behind it a forty-gallon drum, which was its marker buoy. The line was Stan’s. He climbed to the top of the Henry Williams’ building and watched what he guessed to be a large stingray tow this heavy load across the horizon towards Mahia.
Another fishing exploit was in the Inner Harbour at Ahuriri before the 1931 earthquake. There was a freezing works on the Westshore side of the channel. Herrings would gorge themselves on the blood spilling from the Works into the sea. Kingfish swooped into the harbour and in turn, gorged themselves on herring. Stan decided to gorge himself on kingfish, capturing one the size of his body from a perch on a pier of the swing bridge which crossed the channel – Westshore’s link to Napier. The only grip Stan had was with his hands or round the post. He needed both arms free to struggle with the large fish, until he gained control by forcing his fingers up its gills.
Stan’s father, that is James’ grandfather, Charles Edwin Morgan, the first of the New Zealand clan, was barely one year old in Aylesbury in England, when his British compatriots in New Zealand signed the Treaty of Waitangi. During the childhood in Aylesbury of Charles Edwin, whaling was the main activity of those Europeans who had already discovered Hawke’s Bay. Thirty sperm whales valued at £9,000 were caught by the station at the bottom of the province in 1848. Most of the whalers possessed “native” or Maori wives, who generally maintained a strong influence over their husbands, often acting as mediators in drunken quarrels and promoting good feeling between the races. Hawke’s Bay was a rough and ready place on a remote side of the world.
In Charles Edwin’s Aylesbury it was a time of poverty. The workhouse and the asylums were full, some people being jailed for the crime of being destitute. In 1851 Charles Edwin Morgan was at home with his family, an eleven-year-old, already being recorded by the census takers as ‘unemployed’. The first years to this point in Charlie’s life had involved much change. His father, William, and his mother Sarah Ann, had been living in Buckinghamshire twelve years now, William’s employment being as a constable at Aylesbury and at Syresham, thirty-two miles away, had come to an end and the jobs that followed were to be short lived.
Only a quirk of history had provided William with the role of constable – until 1848 the Manor of the Rectory of Aylesbury maintained the right to employ constables. It was unusual for this period. In medieval times the local lord of each manor could appoint constables to oversee his estate and carry out law and order. But this right generally passed to the parish officials in the 1600s, and later was controlled by the local courts before county constabularies were introduced in the 1850s.
Somehow Aylesbury’s rights continued for a while. Clive Birch’s book ‘The Book of Aylesbury’ published in 1975, contains a couple of intriguing paragraphs reporting on this.
“Aylesbury’s first regular police force commenced operations following a decision by the Inspectors of Lighting and Watching to introduce three of them to guard the town night and day in December 1837.”
In the 1840s the constables were often incapable, and in one case the constable was both incapable, and drunk. His prisoner took himself to jail. Another constable fell asleep in public, and woke to find his prisoner gone and the handcuffs on him.
It might be going too far to suggest that William Morgan was one of the three incapable constables, but it seems that he was a junior of one of the three mentioned by Clive Birch; alternatively, the successor to one of them. Charles Edwin’s birth, recorded in Aylesbury in 1839 nominates his father as a constable there, a change being that two years after the birth William is still a constable on duty at Syresham, thirty-two miles away, and an area administrated by a different authority.
On the night of the 1841 census, Constable Morgan was lodging at Bridge Street Syresham, at the home of the baker James Gardner and his wife Ann. Meanwhile, he had housed his own wife Sarah and his two little boys at a place in the hamlet of Walton, a picturesque spot on the Wendover Road “without the bounds of the borough, but within the ecclesiastical parish”, meaning just out of Aylesbury town proper.
Sarah was trying to drum up business as a seamstress. Sharing the dwelling was a fourteen-year-old lace maker, the area being noted for its lace making. Subsequently, William and Sarah, and their sons William Junior, born in London, and little Charles Edwin moved to Syresham, where they were living around September 1842 when Henry was born.
At one time there were as many as seventeen shops at Syresham, but now only one general store / post office and a butcher remain. Long gone is the large country store of King’s, which boasted a fleet of lorries, vans and motorcycles serving all the surrounding villages. Kings’ ales and stouts were well known, and much sought over [after], and half the village was employed in these premises. The highlight of the year was the annual outing to the sea, when four coaches would set out at the crack of dawn.
Henry’s birth was registered at the larger Northamptonshire settlement of Brackley, but for all of his days afterwards, Henry told people that he’d been born in Aylesbury. Syresham plainly was not a momentous period in the family’s life. Charles Edwin never mentioned the place.
Around this time law and order in many a parish was effected by local men chosen by parish officials and then confirmed at the local court sessions. Each constable served for a period before resuming his normal occupation. So it was a year or so later that the family moved back to Walton Aylesbury to take over a public house. Ironically, William had been in Syresham only five months when he was assaulted by John Cowley, a victualler, farmer and operator of the Royal Lake Hotel, Syresham. Cowley’s fisticuffs cost him £1, a fine of eight shillings and sixpence with costs of eleven shillings and sixpence.
At about the time of the move Charles Edwin got another brother, Alfred James. Morgan’s Inn might have been a little closer to the centre of Aylesbury, the inn at corner of Walton Street being managed until then by Thomas Lovegrove.
Sarah Ann Morgan became pregnant again, expecting her fifth child. Her eldest son, nearing ten years, was beginning to be put to work on duties around the place, so the senior William took on the duties of a guard at Aylesbury’s newest jail, built on the Bierton Road only two years previously. His work as a turnkey is the occupation William was credited with on the occasion of the birth in 1846 of Frederick Thomas, Charles Edwin’s future travelling companion to Hawke’s Bay.
Charles Edwin was eight when William reverted to the role of publican, settling now at the old Unicorn, where another brother, Edward, was born in 1847. Aylesbury had for some time been well endowed with public and beer houses. A number of them, including the Unicorn, were leased by Messrs Parrott of Aylesbury, from the ecclesiastical commissioners who owned several properties and land in Walton.
By 1849, Sarah Ann was again pregnant – another brother for Charles Edwin and another move for the family to Cambridge Street, this time to a guest house rather than an inn. Here was very much a male household in 1851. Charles Edwin had one brother older and four younger, the smallest of whom, confusingly – Edwin – had the same Christian name as Charles’ second name.
There were three bricklayers amongst his parents’ lodgers, the eldest aged thirty, one of them married. There was a hawker aged seventy-four, and his wife.
Having fifteen mouths to feed kept Sarah Ann in the kitchen, but it didn’t generate a satisfactory income. William was obliged to line up for charity. Poor relief was administered by an elected Board of Guardians. Paupers generally received either indoor or outdoor relief. Those in need of indoor relief, generally the able-bodied poor, were sent to the workhouse where conditions were often dire. Outdoor relief in terms of payment or provisions, were granted to the old, sick or widowed with dependent children, who were allowed to remain in their homes. Sometimes it was granted to those whom the Guardians considered ‘deserving’ poor, ie those who weren’t seen as lazy or work-shy. William was apparently in this category. In 1852 he received a grant of ten shillings of May money, a payment made at least every two years on May Day by the parish overseers to the local poor from a pool of money received by the parish as charitable bequests.
Sarah Ann became pregnant yet again. The new baby in 1853, a girl at last, named after her mother, was a treasure to Charles and Fred, who looked after her all their days. They were to take special responsibility for Sarah Ann during her life once she too migrated to New Zealand.
The younger Sarah was born into life on the dole, suffering early hardships in Hawke’s Bay, but went on to modest comfort in Feilding, her sons becoming noted menswear retailers and rugby supporters in the town. Sarah was only a year old and Charles Edwin was fifteen when their father went to seek more May money, also assistance from the estate of Jacob Clements. Clements was an Aylesbury boy, brought up in poverty, eventually to become a prosperous merchant in London. When he died he left £300,000 – a fortune – and bequeathed that an annual sum of £25 should be distributed at Christmas in bread and coals to the poor of Aylesbury. Among the recipients of “bread and coals” was William Morgan and his children.
The handouts coincided with another move. The family was now living at Back Street, around the corner from their accommodation house in Cambridge Street. William received a further 10/- (ten shillings) of May money in 1854, but by 1856 and 1858 the sum was reduced to 7/6d (seven shillings and sixpence). William and Sarah stayed at Back Street – since renamed New Street – until 1858 when Charles’ newest brother, Arthur Robert, was born. This child was not in good health; neither was his father.
By the beginning of 1859 William, unable to work, found himself listed as “formerly a private soldier, now on parish relief”. He, Sarah Ann, Edward, Edwin, little Sarah and baby Arthur moved into an alms house in Church Row, opposite the church of St Mary where since William’s arrival in Aylesbury, each of the new children was christened at the church’s famous font. Church Row soon became known as Pebble Lane, the street’s current name. Here William and Sarah caught up with friends Mary Ann Lester and her husband Thomas. Mary Ann was a sixty year old sick visitor, living nearby whilst her husband was a shoemaker and local preacher, possibly a Methodist. They will have known the Morgans well and provided some support when, within months of their arrival, sixteen-month-old Arthur Robert died of acute bronchitis. Mary Ann was the informant on the boy’s death certificate, and performed the same duty for William senior ten years later. The boy’s death certificate recorded his father’s occupation as “late police officer”.
From Pebble Lane in 1861 little Sarah was being given an elementary schooling. Edwin, aged eleven, by day was a farmer’s boy; Edward, aged fourteen, was a baker’s boy. The oldest brothers had been sent out in the world, each to make his way. Frederick at fifteen had lodgings as a servant to the butcher, T H Mitchell, in nearby Silver Street, formerly Butcher Row. It was an unusual setup – there were no women in Mitchell’s house, his wife having died. The place was run by Mitchell and Fred, and five children, a mixture of girls and boys Fred’s age or younger. There was also an apprentice butcher aged fifteen. At least being a servant on call round the clock in a house without a woman was a job and it put a few pence in Fred’s pocket.
His brother Alfred, sixteen, was currently using his second name, James. He was ensconced in a house in Walton Street occupied by two elderly gentlewomen, Misses Caroline and Elizabeth Goodall. Caroline, aged sixty-five, and her sister Eliza, two years younger, were maintained by a household of a cook, a gardener, a housemaid and a footman – Alfred James.
Henry, eighteen, had moved seventeen miles southward to Chepping Wycombe – now High Wycombe, Oxford – where, as a chair maker, he had lodgings with a Joseph Worley, a fellow-craftsman ten years his senior. There was a population of eight thousand three hundred and seventy-three people in the region. Appropriate to Henry’s calling, Wycombe was renowned for furniture making, and the town’s football team is still nicknamed ‘The Chairboys’.
The boys’ mother Sarah Ann had by 1861 accumulated the extraordinary name “Windowpane”, creating the assumption that at the age of fifty she was moving each day from the alms house with a bucket and rags, eking small coinage in the community, cleaning the grimy windows of those who could afford to have them tended.
When possible, Henry the chair maker also brought Sarah some additional work, upholstery. This she happily advertised by describing herself on the census form as a chair maker, in this instance meaning ‘upholsterer’.
Our man, Charles Edwin, thirty-two, was a tiger – a liveried groom at Broughton House, the home of James Trevor Senior, gentleman and magistrate, not far from the family’s most recent abode in New Street or Back Road. Mr Senior had a large family and a large household – twenty-two people in residence, nine of them his children. There was a governess, a nurse, a general servant, a cook and two housemaids, a shepherd, a groom, an ag labourer aged sixty, and Charles, the liveried groom. Also a seventy-four-year-old visitor.
Charles’ experiences in this grand place were to provide many an anecdote for his own children years later in the back blocks of New Zealand. “There was a family crest on the gates of the residence” he told them. The magistrate’s children, eight girls and one boy, were brought up exceptionally strictly. The children were dressed, including James junior, in velvet suit and patent leather, silver buckled shoes, and brought downstairs each day by Nanny Emma Hill to say ‘Good morning Papa, good morning Mama’, and were then handed over to the governess, thirty year old Miss Groom.
Magistrate Mr Senior introduced changes as the youngest of his girls entered their teens. Four domestic staff, the governess, nurse, general servant and one of the housemaids went from the payroll. So too did the outside staff, including Charles Edwin.
Jobs were as hard as ever to find; two of his brothers had followed Charles Edwin into short terms as a groom prior to their obtaining posts in the Army – Grenadier Guards. One of these soldiers, Alfred James, goes down as Charles Edwin’s larrikin brother. After a year he enlisted in February 1863. Alfred was elevated from Private to Corporal, but managed to blot his copybook twelve months later and was demoted. He was locked up in the barracks’ cells for a couple of days in June 1867 for being absent for a day. Between April 1868 and March 1869 he managed to go absent without leave for twelve days in total, and spent five days in barrack cells as a consequence. In the following two years, ten absences but no terms in jail. Maybe one of the days he took off in 1869 was extra time for his father’s burial. Alfred wasn’t a deserter – he just failed to come back on time. His infringements were sufficient once to earn six days in succession behind bars. There are eight more incidents of absence before Alfred managed four clear years of service. He decided then that he’d had enough of Army life and went to Southampton, unmarried, and found work as an attendant in a lunatic asylum.
Charles’ father had found a small role as a cattle seller, possibly replacing the elderly man employed by the magistrate, Mr Senior, on his two hundred and eleven acres. This fellow died in 1867 leaving William an opportunity to earn a penny. As cattle seller, his job was to take a beast from time to time, perhaps a cow and a calf, to the market held in the centre of Aylesbury. William would spend as much of the day in dusty or muddy Market Square on sale days that it was necessary to bargain the best price for the beast. But at the peak of winter 1869 William succumbed to severe bronchitis. He died in the alms house. Mary Ann Lester was there. There were only two weeks to go ’til Christmas. Many people in this period couldn’t afford a stone headstone and made do with a wooden one, if that. The parish would step in if people couldn’t afford to pay for the burial. Aylesbury Cemetery opened in 1857 as St Mary’s graveyard had run out of room, so it is quite likely that Arthur Robert and his father were buried in St Mary’s graveyard.
The new circumstances following William’s death meant that Sarah Ann (Windowpane) was unable to collect William’s last piece of charitable relief. The entry for May money in 1871 states “Morgan, Sarah, Church Row, widow of Wmm, 5s” (five shillings). A line is drawn through the entry which could be interpreted that Sarah didn’t receive the payment – perhaps because she had already left Aylesbury.
The two Sarahs, mother and daughter, couldn’t stay in the alms house. In a reversal of roles the younger Sarah Ann was seeking work as a seamstress, and was nominating her elderly mother, who trained her, as her assistant. Rules were however, that an alms house was not the place for an employable eighteen-year-old woman. London called.
Three years earlier Edwin, the farm boy with fresh complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair, had graduated to groom, then enlisted on February 22, 1868 with the Grenadier Guards at Chelsea Barracks. He was now a corporal. Alfred James had also joined the Grenadier Guards and was based with the 2nd Battalion at Wellington Barracks, St James’ Park. Edward was in London, now a journeyman baker at Finsbury in an area these days lost to the offices of finance houses. Henry the chair maker was practising his craft at Lambeth. He had taken his wife Susanna at High Wycombe, sired a son there, moved to London, where they produced a couple of daughters (with another to come), and set up home at Number 43 Clayton Street, only a couple of hundred yards from a oval piece of ground they called the cabbage patch – due to become one of the most important general sports grounds in the world – The Oval.
The Oval opened as a cricket ground in 1845 and has been the Surrey headquarters ever since. Perhaps in the 1870s Edward took his brothers to see matches on this open oval ground, dominated then by gasometers to one side and not provided with a pavilion for another twenty years until 1890. This is a historic venue where the legend of ‘The Ashes’ was born in 1882, by which time Charles Edwin, who passed a passion for his cricket to his boys in New Zealand, was living half a world away. But maybe there was a men’s day out there for all the Morgan boys when the first ever FA soccer Cup final was staged at The Oval in 1872; again the following year for the first England International against Scotland.
Clayton Street became the focal point for Morgan’s. The elderly Sarah Ann (Windowpane) and her daughter perambulated in that direction when room was no longer available at the alms house. In time Sarah Ann (Windowpane) moved back to the place of her birth, Chatham, Kent, and there she was of assistance to her newly wedded cousin Mary A Cook and her family.
After that it was back to Buckinghamshire, to High Wycombe, to support Edwin’s wife Eliza Parker, while Edwin served in Egypt from July 31, 1882 to November ’15. Edwin received the Egypt Medal with the Bronze Star and the clasp of Tel-el-Kebir, a British battle that was completed much more efficiently than either of the two subsequent world wars.
The younger Sarah found a friend, Ellen Crowhurst, living a couple of blocks from Edward Morgan’s Clayton Street place. Ellen Crowhurst was to be bridesmaid when Sarah wed Frank Chappell at Holy Trinity, Vauxhall Bridge, best reached by train from The Oval at Kennington, but relatively handy to family by London standards. Frank Chappell’s parents lived in the region of Vauxhall Bridge, and Sarah Ann had digs nearby at 37 Beneborough Place, but importantly to the New Zealand story, when Sarah was first there in 1871 Frank Chappell was training as an agricultural pupil at Cottonwoods Farm in Kent.
Thus, left behind in the wake of the Morgan’s thirty-five years in Aylesbury were the two brothers, Charles Edwin and the red-headed Frederick. Both had few skills and were finding it hard to land satisfying jobs and providing an income to live on. In the early 1870s Frederick was five miles away from Aylesbury at the Rose & Crown Inn, Aston Clinton, population three thousand. Aston Clinton is the area after which car designer Martin named the sports car Aston Martin.
Charles Clark, proprietor of the Rose & Crown, a farmer and a butcher, was taking advantage of Frederick’s previous experience in the motherless household by using him as his resident staff, labelling him a general servant, the only staff member in a dwelling occupied by butcher Clark, his wife and nine children. This seems to have been Frederick’s fate. There was a spell years later when he was blending butchery with domestic support for his sister and her children at Kaikora (Otane), New Zealand.
Life in utopian New Zealand had been portrayed by John Davies Ormond of Wallingford, Hawke’s Bay, in his advertising to Britons in the Midlands. His message was beginning to register with the bachelor brothers. Registering more so was the message from a series of events historically labelled ‘The Revolt of the Field’, into which Sarah’s friend Frank Chappell was being drawn.
The revolt was industrial action by agricultural labourers through the Midlands. Farm workers over a wide region were determining in large number that they would migrate to New Zealand, Canada or elsewhere rather than tolerate the wages and conditions of the day. New Zealand offered free or assisted passage for migrants.
Charles Edwin and red-headed Fred Morgan duly arrived in New Zealand ill-prepared for what they would find. Neither Charles, aged thirty-five, and Fred, aged twenty eight, had any experience of an outdoors life, nor much practise at manual labour. Migration was high in 1874; money and jobs were scarce. A total of thirty-one thousand seven hundred and seventy-four newcomers were introduced to the colony, another eighty thousand three hundred and twenty-four in the following year, to a country covered by bushland and well short on infrastructure.
The brothers were to encourage the folk tale that they had been together in Victoria, Australia, where the authorities were pursuing bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang. The Kelly gang hangout was the Glenrowan Inn near Benalla, Victoria. The hill behind the Glenrowan Inn was called Morgan’s Lookout, named after an associate, but rest assured, by this time our Morgan’s were safely in New Zealand, having arrived six years before Kelly’s demise. It is easy to see the association of ideas – Kelly plus Morgan in Australia.
By then, Charles Edwin Morgan was in partnership with a Kelly running the Bridge Hotel in Wallingford. The partnership began in the near still-born town around 1877 but was not long lived. In 1878 John Kelly saw another opportunity and moved to Waipawa. There, and also at the Te Aute Hotel, Kelly furthered a career which made him a wealthy man. The Bridge Hotel in Wallingford did not make Charles rich; neither did Frederick become well-off. Coincidentally, Fred’s life later features around the Te Aute Hotel.
John Kelly moved on in 1880 to Hastings, to build an architect designed hotel known at first as Kelly’s, then the Hastings Hotel. The Anglican Church in Hastings and the town’s hospital were subsequently beneficiaries of the wealth he accumulated.
Charles Edwin and John Kelly maintained their association in the Hastings years, at least as parishioners of the Anglican Church, St Matthews’. Some of the children were baptised there, and Morgan connection with the church continued with christenings and weddings until the 1930s, years after Charles Edwin and his family had become residents in Napier. Second son George returned to Hastings from Napier to be wed there.
Henrietta, one of John Kelly’s four daughters, was born at Wallingford, or Porangahau, only three years before Charles Edwin was to meet the family in that region, became the organist at St Matthew’s. Her sister Albino sang in the choir and furnished the Lady Chapel, and another sister Mrs Thomas Bishop, wife of one of the town’s land and estate agents, left a legacy to the church.
Alas Henrietta was stuck on the first floor of Napier’s Masonic Hotel when the 1931 earthquake struck. The hotel was reduced to rubble and Miss Kelly’s body never found, presumably buried with earthquake rubble on the Westshore embankment or the extended Marine Parade. But the large sum of £37,498 which she left in her will enabled Hastings’ cottage hospital – itself by then a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the First World War – to be expanded into a full hospital. Many of Charles Edwin’s descendants were born at this hospital, and continue to be treated on the site today, now the site of Hawke’s Bay’s major regional hospital.
James Edwin Morgan, grateful for the treatment he received there while he recovered from the devastating Guillain-Barre Syndrome, was instrumental in a community project to redevelop a garden for recovering patients. It was named after Joan Velvin, [the Hawke’s Bay Hospital Board’s first woman chairperson].
Another example of the Morgans’ Hastings connection was the death from typhoid on May 1, 1882 of Francis Wells, Charles Edwin’s brother-in-law. Wells’ demise led to the formation of the Hastings Town Board. It was a few days after hairdresser Wells died that Robert Wellwood, who moved from sheep farming to auctioneering and business in the fledgling town, mayor in 1886, tried to induce the county council to abate a very serious and yet nuisance in the shape of a deep ditch in the township. The deep ditch was right in the centre of town. People needed to cross it to get to shops or the opposite side of Heretaunga Street. “Two or three deaths” Wellwood said, “could be traced to this ditch.” On this occasion he was alluding to the death of Wells.
Things were to worsen before they got better. Sixty typhus cases were reported in Hastings twelve years later in 1895 while Charles Edwin Morgan and his family were resident.
Then there was the Hayes’ connection. Florence (Fanny) Wells, sister of the woman who was to become Charles Edwin’s wife, remarried at the Bridge Hotel in Wallingford after the death of Frank Wells.
Fanny did a strange thing. It was June 23, 1884, almost the last day of the Morgan tenure of the hotel. Fanny used the surname Botchett when signing her marriage papers. This could hardly be so she could escape Wells’ debts, because she kept up regular residence in Hastings and would easily have been found. And it could hardly be because people might have recognised the name of Wells and consider her a potential carrier of typhus. She would have been known to everyone – there were only six hundred and seventeen inhabitants of the area. There is no doubt everyone within a few square miles of the settlement knew who Florence (Fanny) Wells and her two little children were, so why the name Botchett?
This was Fanny’s second experience of people’s worries about survival in small town New Zealand. Fanny and Frank Wells, who had married in England, arrived at Ahuriri, Napier on the ‘Renfrewshire’ from Plymouth on January 4, 1878. There were reports that there had been scarlet fever aboard. Ashore, members of the populace didn’t want the potential carriers loose in their community. The father of “a large family residing at Taradale and in perfect health at present” told the Hawke’s Bay Herald he was “horrified to find a number of immigrants from the quarantine station in our midst on Sunday last.” He described the great care taken in landing the immigrants.
“The boats were towed from the ‘Renfrewshire’ by steam boat at cable’s length and piloted by a young steward across the bay so as not to have communication with the shore. After that they are left under the charge of an infirm man to look after them. As it is I would not be surprised if some of the immigrants could be twenty miles inland in a very short time, which would give the disease a good chance of spreading its deathly venom among our healthy settlers.”
Fanny’s baby girl had been one of five children who died on that voyage, four of them from diarrhoea. Despite this the passengers delivered a testimonial to the ship’s surgeon superintendent who supervised their wellbeing. It read:
‘We, the undersigned, feel great pleasure in presenting this testimonial to you as an acknowledgement for the very efficient manner in which you have executed your duties.”
Having been crammed onto a tiny ship at sea for fourteen weeks, Fanny and Frank were now confined to another thirteen days’ quarantine. Only then were they allowed out to stay from January 17 to 21 in the migrants’ section of the Napier Barracks, before embarking on a new life in New Zealand.
The second husband whom Fanny took at Wallingford was George Hayes, a contractor who was forming roads when not farming land near the railway line south of Hastings. Hayes’ father was T A Hayes, a retailer, who sold the store he had established in the main street in Hastings early in the 1880s to the Roach family. The Roach name features on the solitary shop in a photograph taken in 1894, believed to be one of the first taken of the new settlement. Roach’s home in Southland Road became the site of Royston, Hawke’s Bay’s largest private hospital. Charles came to New Zealand in 1874, twenty years prior to the photograph being taken, indicating that he’d been living in the district of Wallingford since his arrival, apparently not initially as a hotel keeper. Perhaps he had found work with John Kelly and moved on to partnership in hostelry.
Charles was the first man to hold a firearms’ licence in Wallingford – an early indication of the marksmanship which was to manifest itself amongst his heirs in later years. An Acclimatisation Society notice published in the Waipawa Mail on June 12, 1880 listed C Morgan as one of those entitled to kill game.
The marriage of Charles Edwin to his much younger bride took place at the Bridge Hotel in September 1881. He was forty-two; his bride, Ada Rose Collins, was nineteen. She had arrived in the country only a couple of years earlier. Witnesses to the wedding were Isabella Bruce, Wallingford – wife of the township’s blacksmith across the road from the hotel, and Frank Chappell, grocer of Wallingford. Frank Chappell was the former farm cadet who had married Charles’ and Fred’s sister Sarah in London, five years earlier. Chappell, Sarah and baby daughter Violet were among the nineteen steerage class passengers on the ship ‘St Leonards’ which arrived at Wellington on Monday September 13, 1878 after a thirteen-week voyage from Gravesend. They no doubt repaired straight to the Bridge Hotel, and from there Frank operated the village’s tiny store as a grocer. They produced a son, a nephew for Charles, while they were in the hotel. Charles’ mother, Sarah Ann Windowpane Howard Morgan, was recognised in the boy’s name, Frank Bainard Howard Chappell.
The Chappell quartet remained at Charles’ hotel until Frank found one of his own to lease – the eighteen room Junction Hotel at Norsewood, plum in the heart of the Scandinavian settlement sponsored by J D Ormond. Chappell and Sarah took over in May 1882, running the place according to their own rules. Within twelve months there were two complaints against them for refusing accommodation to travellers. The condition at the time of the displaced travellers was not reported, but the Licensing Committee cautioned the applicant Chappell as to his future conduct.
Back at the Bridge Hotel in November, a son was born to Charles Edwin Morgan and Ada Rose. At the age of forty-three Charles’ thinking turned to dynasty. He began by annotating a family Bible, one of the few possessions he had been able to bring from his home country. In it he named his son, Charles Edward Collins Morgan. The ‘Charles’ was after himself; the ‘Edward’ was after his brother, aged thirty-two, settled in St George, southern London as a journeyman baker; the entry ‘Collins’ perpetuated his wife’s surname.
Even more satisfying for Ada Rose was the name connection with her brother, nineteen-year-old Charles Edward Curtis Collins, who arrived in Napier on the ‘May Queen’ on November 7, 1879, another assisted migrant. The lad spent only one day at the immigration barracks on Napier Hill according to the Barrack master’s book, before going to Mr Wells’ brother-in-law at £1 a week – good money.
The new father, Charles Edwin recorded only the births of his first three children – Charles EC and George and Frederick in this bible, an indication that from 1886 his life was beginning to fall apart. While he continued to produce more children, ideas of dynasty dampened as times got harder. The Bible, inscribed ‘Charles Morgan, Wallingford, New Zealand, 1881’ has survived, passing from Ada Rose to their second son George who is named in it, to George’s eldest son Ted, and latterly it has been held by Ted’s eldest child Carolyn.
There at Wallingford on May 6, 1882, six months after his son’s birth, Charles Edwin found himself prosecuted for refusing to provide a mean for two men late one night, an incident arising at a time of significant social change for both Maori and European in New Zealand’s liquor laws. The event was reported in the Waipawa Mail:
‘Charles Morgan, of the Bridge Hotel Wallingford was charged under Section 129 of the Licensing Act 1881 with refusing to supply meals to bona fide travellers on 4th April last. Mr Guy appeared for the informants, two natives named respectively Nepe Te Apatu and Paul Ropiha. It appears that on 4th April the natives were journeying from Porangahau to Waipawa. They arrived at Wallingford about dinner time, and stopped at the hotel, when Nepi asked for some dinner which was refused. The natives then went to a private house and got the offer of some dinner there. In the meantime, the natives saw some drovers arrive at the hotel, and on going over, saw that they were sitting down to dinner. The natives again asked for dinner which they stated was refused, also food for their horses. For the defence, Morgan stated that the natives were offered bread and cheese if they required refreshment, but that he had no dinner ready for them. A witness named Hill stated that he heard Morgan offer the bread and cheese, but he did not know whether this was their first or second demand for refreshments. He did not hear them ask for dinner at all. The Bench decided to dismiss the case with a caution, and were of the opinion that the parties being respectively Maoris and Europeans, they had evidently misunderstood each other.’
A separate article in the same issue of the Waipawa Mail carried a warning from the Magistrate to all publicans. It read:
‘The Licensing Act’
‘On dismissing the charge against Morgan on Wednesday last for a breach of the Licensing Act, the Bench drew attention to a factor not generally known – that the Act of 1847 restricting the sale of liquor to persons of native race, was repealed. Natives therefore have equal rights with the Europeans with respect to the purchase of liquor in public houses.’ One month later the Licensing Committee renewed Charles’ liquor licence without comment.
Nonetheless, the Temperance Movement in New Zealand, which had strong support among women in the countryside in southern Hawke’s Bay, caused Charles Morgan’s licence at the Bridge Hotel to be revoked, almost overnight in June the following year, 1883. Among the victims of the closure one week before Fanny Botchett Wells’ wedding, was the matron of the Napier Hospital. She was on her way to Wellington. The Hawke’s Bay Herald reported on July 19, 1883 that:
‘Miss Stenson, the matron of the Napier Hospital, has met with a severe accident as a result of the sapient action of the Licensing Committee in cancelling the licence of the Wallingford Hotel. When the coach arrived at Wallingford from Waipukurau on Monday, it was dark, but as the hotel was closed the passengers, including Miss Stenson, had perforce to proceed on horseback. Some object, imperfectly seen in the darkness, caused Miss Stenson’s horse to shy suddenly, throwing his rider and breaking one of her arms.’
A later report said Miss Stenson had ‘dislocated her elbow and suffered bruises innumerable, after her horse stumbled in a hole in the road near Mr Ormond’s gate.’ The Waipawa Mail reported her injuries ‘so serious as to necessitate immediate surgical attention’. It said the party had intended to stay at Wallingford.
Indignation at the closure of the Bridge Hotel at Wallingford filled columns at the Hawke’s Bay Herald, the Napier Daily Telegraph and the Waipawa Mail for months.
‘July 10, 1883’
‘The Wallingford Hotel is one of the oldest in the provincial district. It has always been considered a necessary house, and no humane man could consider taking his horse from Waipukurau to Porangahau without giving him feed, and probably taking a little refreshment himself. “Wanstead is altogether too short a stage for the same remarks to apply, and had this house been closed and the licence for Wallingford renewed, I think few travellers would have taken up the cudgels” said a writer to the Hawke’s Bay Herald.
‘We understand that great discontent exists at the action of the local Licensing Committee, lately held by Mr Morgan, Lessee of the Wallingford Hotel’ the Daily Telegraph reported.
Said the Waipawa Mail:
‘The Wallingford district has a grievance, and so have travellers. The hotel has had its licence cancelled by the district Licensing Committee – why, no one seems to know, as it was a great convenience. Travellers cannot now get accommodation as formerly, and the mail contractor, who had to drive to Wallingford whether he likes it or not, over the most execrable roads, cannot get stabling for his horses nor accommodation for himself.
A would-be wit suggests that ‘the horse can be stabled in the coach and that the driver can sleep underneath it, wrapped in his innocence’. The puzzle is why the licence was taken away. The only probable suggestion that I have seen is that the house was not in a sufficiently good state of repair.’
A month later on August 27, 1883, a writer to the Herald said: ‘
‘There is also another view, viz. that by having a grog shanty at Wallingford, large numbers of the horny-handed will be induced to knock down their cheques there, and so supply that which is very much required – a local supply of cheap labour. An accommodation house will never be equal to the wants of Wallingford. It requires a liquor saloon – a mantrap.’
Charles couldn’t afford to wait around penniless while people argued the rights and wrongs of liquor licensing, mantrap or no.
The debate was still raging the following year, 1884, when the Chappells in turn lost their licence at Norsewood on the grounds that the sale of intoxicating liquors was “not required in the neighbourhood”. The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent reported on June 24, 1884:
‘Temperance is a grand cause, but it is an intemperate band that has burst upon the Bush licences. The extreme action which we have seen of late has been rather that of fanatics than of earnest men.’
Two months later, August 29, 1884:
‘On Tuesday last police made a raid upon three houses seizing large quantities of spirit notwithstanding the taking away of the licences.’
Both Charles Edwin Morgan and brother-in-law Frank Chappell had been close to the rebellion in England during the Revolt of the Field, and Frank Chappell and Sarah Ann had witnessed sudden and bureaucratic ruination of Charles Edwin’s career at Wallingford twelve months earlier. In no way would this couple take things lightly. They were angry at the confiscation of their stock of liquor. It showed in the happenings in the Ormondville Court on the day of August 29, 1885.
‘At a special sitting of the Ormondville Resident Magistrate’s Court today, Chappell, the former licensee of the Junction Hotel, was charged with selling liquors without a licence to John Shearman and Alexander Campbell on the 18th and 19th of this month. Major Scully conducted the case for the police, and Mr Lascelles appeared for the defendants. At the commencement Mr Lascelles made some allusion to the ‘Irish informers’, to which the Major warmly retorted. Evidence was given by John Shearman, a labourer and Alexander Campbell, a constable, both residing in Napier, in proof of the defendant having supplied them with one glass of beer and one glass of whisky respectively. The defendant had told them that he did not sell liquor but that they could have biscuits, and they had taken some biscuits out of a tin after which they had been served with the drinks, for which they paid by laying money on the table.
‘In the second charge the same witness deposed that on the morning of the 19th instant after they had paid for their board and lodging they called for another drink each when the defendant asked “are you hungry again?” and they went into the same room in which they’d been supplied on the previous evening, and the defendant again supplied them with drinks. This time they did not take any biscuits but paid for the drinks only. Mr Lascelles addressed the Court with such an eloquence that when concluded he was greeted with loud applause. On His Worship enquiring if any of the police could single out the authors of the disturbance, Constable Leach captured Mrs Chappell and a baby and marched them out to receive a reprimand.
‘The court adjourned for thirty minutes according to the newspaper, when the hotel’s “sweet chiming bells” invited the hungry out to lunch.
‘That afternoon Shearman and Campbell gave evidence against the proprietor of the Matamau Hotel on the 19th, following their visit to the Chappell’s. Campbell and Shearman deposed to playing euchre for drinks, for which, on losing, Campbell paid; and in the second charge on the 20th to paying for two drinks which were charged to Campbell in settling for his bread – be it at breakfast. This was denied.
‘D Smith, Makotuku was then charged with a like offence on the 21st and 22nd. Campbell and Shearman in both these cases swore to calling for drinks, to being told to help themselves and to put the money in a box kept for that purpose. This was on the 21st, and on the defendants ‘shouting’ on the 22nd, Campbell returned the shout, placing money in the box in front of the defendant on the counter. The publican’s wife stated that one shilling and sixpence was found lying on the counter after Campbell and Shearman and her husband had left the bar.
‘There was another adjournment for an hour and a quarter while the Magistrate considered the issues. On returning His Worship said that “as the defendants had lost their licences with very short warnings, and through having a quantity of liquor on their premises, they had been exposed to great temptation”. He went on to say that “as there appeared to have been some trickery used in obtaining the liquor from them, he would deal lightly with the defendants”. In Chappell’s case he imposed a fine of £5, costs seven shillings and witnesses’ expenses nine shillings and two pence in each case – in default, fourteen days with hard labour in jail.’
When totalled, this cost Frank Chappell and Sarah more than a quarter of the year’s earnings, and he had legal fees to pay in addition – deprived of nearly six months’ income and their livelihood in one fell swoop.
After dealing with the cases of the other men, the Magistrate ruled upon the liquor impounded by the police the previous day. The defendants could have the liquor on condition that they paid the cost of transit to Ormondville by coach from their hotels, and removed the liquor from the district within a week.
All was still not over, according to the Herald:
‘The cases lasted from the arrival of the midday train on which Mr Lascelles and the Magistrate travelled from Napier, until nine in the evening, and the strain seemed to tell on Mr Lascelles, for he was at one time so ill that he had to sit down. It was not until a glass of the seized liquor had been drawn for him and applied inwardly, that he recovered.’
Applied inwardly – I love that.
‘The faintness quickly yielded to the vilifying influence of the liquor vitae.
‘The witness Shearman was again overwhelmed with Mr Lascelles’ delicate attentions, which must have made life pleasant for him through the course of the six cases, and made him familiar with the terms “vile informer”, “scum of the earth”, “despicable liar”, “scoundrel” and such-like endearing terms hurled at him by learned counsel.
Side note: The delicate Mr Lascelles who was in need of alcoholic sustenance was the same lawyer, Arthur Lascelles, who six years earlier through his office at Sainsbury, Logan & Williams back in Napier, drew up a will for Te Hapuku, a prominent Hawke’s Bay Maori Chief, who opposed the Maori King movement and fought against the Hau Hau and Te Kooti. He appears to have been a tough man who was involved in a horse whipping case in which he was attacked at Clive by a woman who took offence at his insinuation in the court that she was a man’s mistress.
On August 6, 1885 the Waipawa Mail recorded that the name of Charles Morgan of Wallingford had been struck from the electoral roll for the region. He was well out of it.
Kaikora, now Otane, attracted the Chappells in the wake of their Norsewood adventure. Simultaneously with the striking out of Charles’ name, the newspaper was carrying a little one-liner advertisement placed by our Sarah. It read:
‘Mrs Chappell, Dressmaker and Milliner, Kaikora’
It is where her son, Ross Valentine Chappell was born, and died before reaching the age of three. Frank Chappell was trying to establish a grocery there, and he had inveigled Frederick Thomas Morgan to apply skills picked up in England by running a butchery.
After Wallingford, Charles and Ada Rose moved to Hastings. Then they took a hotel in Mohaka. They departed from Napier at five thirty am on July 18, 1884 for the thirty-mile sea voyage aboard the steam launch ‘Bella’. Ada Rose, carrying twenty-month-old Charles Edward in her arms, was four months’ pregnant. The birth of the second son, George Frederick, took place at the Provincial Hotel, Mohaka, in November.
One hotel at Mohaka, built by John Sim who also had Wallingford connections, had sixteen rooms exclusive of those required for the use of the family. There wouldn’t have been much money to support two pubs in a district where there were only twenty-five ratepayers – Europeans – at the time.
Charles operated the Provincial, the rival hotel, opened by William Bartlett Stevens, a former partner of Sim but by now owned by George Bee, a noted Mohaka name. The Licensing Committee had been arguing constantly with John Sim to provide stables at his hotel. Simultaneously, in June 1885, it set a three-month deadline for re-roofing the Provincial. The deadline wasn’t met. In it’s place, presumably because Charles refused to contribute to the cost of re-roofing the building for his landlord, there was a threat that Bee would seek to transfer the licence to a John Watt. This change happened on December 5 and Charles found himself at the age of forty-six out of work – an inexperienced man slogging for a living in the bush. He felt robbed.
Christmas got worse – he was robbed. A parcel of six pairs of expensive trousers imported to the province by Ringland & Thomas, Hatters, Hosiers and Gentlemen’s Mercers of Hastings Street Napier, via an emporium in Wellington, was on its way to Charles aboard the coastal trader from Napier. The trousers didn’t arrive.
Then in May, mysteriously, the Provincial with its deficient roof was lost in a fire. There was considerable insurance on the building according to the Napier Daily Telegraph.
On June 9, the culprit who stole Charles’ trousers appeared in court. Here is a report of the case:
‘George Foster was charged with stealing six pairs of trousers and other articles, the properties of one W H Green, on 11th December. Accused pleaded not guilty. The parcel was made up by Ringland & Thomas and delivered to a carter with instructions to take it to the agents of the ‘Bella’ to be transmitted to Mr Morgan, Mohaka. The parcel was delivered to Mr Green, the master of the vessel. On arrival, 13 December, the parcel could not be found. Foster, who had been charged on the 12th, disposed of some of the trousers at Awatoto that day, at Clive the next, and at Pakipaki on December 17 when he was arrested. Twelve months’ imprisonment with hard labour.’
At two am the next day, Tarawera erupted. It had been dormant for nine hundred years. Because New Zealand was so sparsely settled at the time, only a hundred and fifty-three people perished. The same outburst in a settled area today would bring a death toll of thousands.
A surveyor caught in the eruption, J C Blythe, had been commissioned by the government to survey a site for a hotel right alongside the world-famous Pink and White Terraces – seven and a half acres of fan-shaped stairways and geysers – that were destroyed.
The volcano, thought to be extinct, a mountain with three craters, was shattered to its base. Millions of tons of earth and rock were flung skyward. Liquid ash and incandescent rock, forked lightning and fiery balls leapt in all directions. Trees growing in the crater two hours before were seen dropping into the lake like coals of fire. They looked at first like brightly lit canoes.
The ground shook and quaked severely; then came total darkness. The moon was hidden; tremendous quantities of mud and stone fell with great force. Such buildings as there were for miles around started to bend from the weight of mud on the roof. It was not until late morning that daylight managed to penetrate the cloud of ash that filled the air.
Just what happened in the Maori villages of Moura and Te Ariki, almost beside the mountain, will never be known. Moura slipped bodily into the lake, carrying its forty inhabitants with it. Te Ariki, at the foot of the volcano, was overwhelmed, probably before its inhabitants realised what was happening. Its people and their houses soon lay under ten acres of mud, light grey and sticky. The picturesque village of Te Wairoa bordering Lake Tarawera, nine miles from the volcano, was buried in a scene reminiscent of a time far back in history when Vesuvius woke from its long sleep and engulfed Italy’s Pompeii.
Aucklanders were startled by a noise described as distant artillery fire. People in Nelson three hundred miles south of the scene were awakened by booming noises. In several places a hundred and fifty miles away, explosions were taken as ships’ guns booming close at hand. And a lot closer at Mohaka, sixty miles as the crow flies, Charles Edwin, Ada Rose and their wee boys were wakened, at first fascinated by events around them, but becoming increasingly frightened as ash rained down, spreading its debris over six thousand square miles of New Zealand’s farmland and forest. The dark cloud from Tarawera turned daylight into darkness that day in Mohaka. Ash was recorded as spreading as far as Maraekakaho, to the west of Hastings settlement. Communication was such that the family had to wait twenty-four hours before they began to hear garbled messages about the monumental disaster that had occurred not far from their home.
A week later Charles marked his forty-seventh birthday. He had already been contemplating constant rumours that the Maori guerrilla leader Te Kooti, responsible for a number of the conflicts central to the New Zealand wars, was planning to return to Mohaka and other scenes of his massacres years earlier. Te Kooti was always closely pursued by members of opposing tribes and government troops, and although he had finally been granted an amnesty in 1883, the Ngati Porou people of this district actively opposed his return. They stood to arms in protest each time the idea was raised. Mohaka was an unsettling place to be.
Jobless and showing signs of stress, Charles Edwin packed his family back on board the smelly little boat ‘Bella’, and she steamed across the bay for eight hours to return them to Napier, thence to Hastings by train where they took a place in Knowle’s Folly – a quaint pair of streets laid in an ‘X’ pattern in the south eastern quarter. Here at least, when it was available, there was labouring work with his roading contractor brother-in-law.
His son Frederick was born in December. Note that just as the name Edwin repeats itself in the Morgan household of his father in England, so to here in New Zealand, Charles had three children, two of them with Frederick in their names. This Frederick, as opposed to George Frederick, was to marry into a family steeped in the history of New Zealand’s West Coast.
Charles’ struggles forced Ada Rose to be adaptable, ingenious and independent in situations where she could not depend on outside help. Not only was she doing her own cleaning, cooking and shopping when the opportunity presented, she was making clothing for herself and the children, spending time in the garden to produce vegetables for the table, and attempting such tasks as home decoration and simple upholstery. As much as anything, she was the children’s tutor. No wonder she and her fellow pioneer women yearned for emancipation. Ada Rose was one of thirty thousand women that signed a monster petition demanding that parliament give women the vote. They got the vote – the first women in the world to do so in 1893. It was as if to reward her for her first daughters, Ada Florence (Poppy), and Louise Lucy (Louie). These children were christened at St Matthew’s Hastings, the girls’ names all reflecting her Collins family.
In the meantime, Charles Edwin had lost another companion. His feisty brother-in-law, Frank Chappell, died in 1888 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Taradale where he’d been working at times as a clerk; at other times applying his agricultural skills on an orchard.
There was news from “home”, for Edwin and Ada Rose still referred to England in that way after a quarter of a century of residence in England. Charles learned that after a lifetime as a journeyman baker, Edward in London had stopped rising early to bake the day’s bread. He and Rebecca had moved to St Pancras, where Edward had taken the work of a furniture porter. His soldier brother Edwin had also changed occupations and was now a club steward in Ealing.
Charles Edwin added two sons to the family – Thomas Anthony, 1893, and Sidney Francis, also known as Phillip, 1896. Both were also christened at St Matthew’s.
But now Charles needed financial assistance. He was nearing sixty and must prove his age to qualify for a pension. This sparked correspondence to the church back at Aylesbury, asking the minister oblige with a form of certificate of his birth. Meanwhile he was dependent on the offerings of his two eldest boys, the first-born, Charles, was taking work where he could get it, as a labourer on the roads or in the fields, sometimes as a bushman further south of Hastings. George, aged fourteen, was making his way to the Masonic Hotel overlooking the sea at Napier, there to do duty as a bellboy.
More news from England. Edward, the baker, has died, but his spouse Rebecca is still at St Pancras, taking in boarders. Down near The Oval, Henry the chair maker has died; so has Alfred in Southampton. There’s only one of the family left in the UK – that’s Edwin. He has returned to the Midlands. He is now at Woburn Abbey, home of the Dukes of Bedford since 1550. Edwin is living in a lodge working as a gatekeeper. The vast estate is surrounded in the years ahead by Britain’s largest safari park, making it Bedfordshire’s biggest visitor attraction.
Here in New Zealand, Frederick Thomas is back wielding his axe, making slate from his abode in a quarry beside a stream filled with crawfish. It is at a sawmill in or near Anaroa Road, Raukawa. He’s a bachelor who walks some distance over the hill to the little Te Aute store to make purchases – often bottles of cough mixture which had alcohol high on the list of ingredients. Fred finds his company at the Te Aute Hotel, formerly operated by John Kelly. Fred is known to put his pay packet on the bar and enjoy the company up there of his fellow bushmen and farm labourers, just for as long as his purse holds out.
Then there’s his sister Sarah Ann Chappell. She has taken her daughter and sons first to Dannevirke, then to Palmerston North, and next to Feilding. There the newspaper was to record her as “one of Feilding’s best known residents of many years’ standing.” No doubt this was an association of ideas – her comfortable house on a rise overlooking the town, and her sons’ Manchester Street business, well known for it’s sponsorship of rugby.
Back in Hastings, Charles sires his eighth child, Stanley Ernest, who is not quite a year old when the eldest boy heads from Knowle’s Folly to the Boer War in South Africa, the eighth of ten sets of reinforcement sent by New Zealand in support of the British. He was taking on work as a gardener in 1906, age of sixty-seven, when his youngest girl, Emmeline, was born. The girl’s name also reflects a Collins, Ada Rose’s sister Emmeline Stephens, a pioneer in Hereford’s antique industry.
Charles Edwin and family were living on the top floor of a shop building in Dickens Street, Napier in 1909 when he had a heart attack and died there. In attendance again was Dr Henley. Canon Tuke, Church of England, conducted the burial service. Charles Edwin was never to know of the years of continuous bravery his first-born son, the first true New Zealander, was to display in the First World War. A gnarly, macrocarpa and other scrawny trees grow around the spot that in the remote part of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, where Charles Edward Collins Morgan took his first breath in 1882.
About twenty thousand kilometres away on the other side of the world, poppies grow around the spot in Flanders’ Field Belgium, where the thirty-five-year-old Charlie took his last breath in 1917, a century ago this year.
Charlie grew up with no great expectations of life; he grew up with economic stringency in an environment where virtually the only jobs available were as bushmen, roadmakers or railway gangers. He had the barest of educations.
Charlie was a volunteer with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles during the Anglo-Boer War. Later he found himself drawn into most of New Zealand’s historically important actions of the First World War, not as a famous general but as one of the ground forces, unflinchingly giving blood, sweat and tears.
Only two days into Gallipoli, Charlie held on grimly with bayonet and rifle in a no-man’s land, in part a solo effort as the Anzacs’ teetered on the brink of defeat. Two weeks later he was recommended for a bravery medal at the Daisy Patch at Cape Helles, but was denied it by a Command that didn’t wish to reward bravery in battles that were lost.
Only weeks afterwards, Charlie was in the front line in Chunuk Bair. He was badly wounded as one of Colonel Malone’s men. It took eight months, including surgery in England, to get him well. The recovery came in time for Charlie to go out and be seriously wounded again at the Somme, an historic battle in which New Zealand played an important role.
A second long period of recovery in England was rewarded with his being sent to Messines, Belgium, where Charles Edward Collins Morgan received the Military Cross for not one but two acts of bravery.
Charlie died one month after that, on New Zealand’s most successful day at Passchendaele. It was a day in which he played a special but unsung role. We know he succeeded in his work before he died, because that day New Zealand conquered the Heights of Abraham.
After Wallingford, Charlie’s parents needed a new roof and a new means of sustenance. A coach and four horses carried them from the now closed hotel to Waipukurau where a steam train, belching sparks and smoke, took them north to the emerging township of Hastings, then with a population of less than fifteen hundred.
At last the lad’s father registered the birth of the boy, who was now fourteen months old. The timespan between birth and registration apparently troubled the registrar in the courthouse. Written in large entries across the entry in the registry book are the words (entry) “Illegally Made”.
Charles’ dad couldn’t find work, so as soon as the opportunity arose, Charlie’s mother and father took their boys on the train from Hastings to Napier, and from there they sailed on board the coastal steamer to Mohaka river mouth. They found themselves tending another hotel in another settlement, where there were two hotels serving a population even smaller than Wallingford. The period in Mohaka included the birth of George, a little brother for Charles, again in a hotel bedroom, but otherwise life at Mohaka was calamitous to the family fortunes and the health of the senior Charles.
The Morgans retreated to Hastings; Ada Rose was again pregnant; Charlie’s next brothers and sisters were born in Hastings and there he received his limited primary school education. There was only one public school in the settlement, a twenty by forty-foot building of sawn boards with a totara shingled roof in St Aubyn Street. The room was divided by a curtain with the school master on one side and a young woman appointed as pupil, teacher and sewing mistress, holding court on the other.
Charlie’s headmaster was J A Smith, a happy, jovial man and a strict disciplinarian, who strove energetically for twenty-one years to make his school one of the foremost in the province. Lessons ranged over reading, handwriting, spelling, arithmetic, English grammar, history, geography and the use of maps. The lessons had some impact on the lad, for he developed a fine style of writing and a useful way with words despite only six years of study. There was no library in Hastings and when the town finally did get one, subscriptions were five shillings a child each year, money his parents would never be able to spare.
The school committee tried to enforce regular attendance, but children were often needed at home to help with milking cows and harvesting. Minor epidemics of low fever were persistent due to the lack of drainage and primitive sanitation. In wet weather the roads were quagmires. For Charlie, fires were a common site in a town built entirely of wood, and a district where grass, crops and plantations became tinder dry during long hot summers. Hastings was known as the “town of blazes”. At age ten he awoke one morning in February 1893 to learn that the main blocks of the town on both sides of the railway line had burnt out. Nine shops and the Hastings Hotel on one side, the Bank of New Zealand, Maxwell’s Restaurant, Maddison’s Drapery and Williams & Kettle’s large store on the other. The heat was so ferocious metal on the firemen’s helmets melted and their ladders caught fire. Secondary education wasn’t on his agenda. That required a thirteen-mile train journey to Napier, and as with most Hastings’ households, his parents lacked ability to pay for that. The lad’s schooling was followed by work as a labourer and as a bushman.
Chance for adventure arose in 1902 when he was nineteen years old, as Number 5226, Private Charles Edward Morgan of ‘B’ (North Island) Squadron, he saw eight months’ active service in South Africa as a member of the Eighth Contingent of the Royal New Zealand Mounted Rifles. The thousand-strong Eighth Contingent was commanded by Colonel R H Davies, one of the outstanding New Zealand officers to emerge during that war. New Zealand’s political leaders, military personnel and public were concerned about the way previous New Zealand units had on many occasions been split amongst other forces in South Africa and had lost their national identity. This time Prime Minister Seddon and Colonel Davies impressed upon Britain New Zealand’s strong desire that the contingent known as the Eighth New Zealand Mounted Rifles be kept intact. Consequently this unit did operate as a separate entity in the Cape colony and Transvaal. One squadron served in Orange Free State. It started on February 1, only three weeks before his youngest brother Stanley Ernest turned one year old at their home in Oak Road. Charlie found himself on the deck of the ‘Surrey’ on an expedition to South Africa, a country he knew little about, to fight on behalf of England, a country he had never seen but which was still being called home by his parents.
The Anglo-Boer war began in 1899. It was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops. It was fought between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) and its Orange Free State ally, the culmination of long standing tensions in South Africa. There were political considerations, and Britain was keen to gain control of gold and diamonds in the Transvaal. New Zealand sent mounted troops to assist the British. Each of the first soldiers who went in 1899 were selected on the basis of whether he could provide his own horse. Accordingly, the first two of New Zealand’s ten contingents paid their own way. The third and fourth contingents were sponsored by businessmen in Christchurch and Dunedin. Successes enjoyed by these troops fostered the idea that ‘New Zealanders were good soldiers requiring only a modicum of training to perform creditably’.
New Zealand willingly agreed in January 1902 to a British request for an additional contingent – the eighth from this country. Only four weeks later Charlie was one of a thousand volunteers rapidly assembled and dispatched to South Africa. In order to qualify he exaggerated his age by three years, and the length of his service with Hastings Rifle Volunteers. He got away with it. His examining doctor confirmed on his enlistment papers that Charlie ‘looked the age declared’.
There were more than four thousand volunteers for those thousand places. Experience horsemen from the country areas were preferred, yet Charlie, who never owned a horse, was amongst them, one of the seventeen Hawke’s Bay men who made up the hundred member ‘B’ Squadron. Including Charlie, four young men were from Hastings, three from the more populated Napier area, and the remainder from the rural areas. One was a farrier. Charlie had, however, attended twenty-three drills on week nights and attended ten daylight parades in the previous year with the Hastings Rifle Volunteers. He had scored an average eighty-eight points at target practise. He was entrusted with a New Zealand issue rifle, number 2404. He weighed into the Hawke’s Bay Company at 10 stone 8 lbs (69kg), standing 5 foot 7 inches tall and with a chest measurement of 371/2 inches (95cm) – healthy enough, but not large by present day standards.
The town cheered the departing Hastings men and cheered them again on their return. There was another Morgan on board the ‘Surrey’ as it steamed out of Auckland Harbour on February 1 – the man who was to be his drill instructor, William Arthur Morgan, a lieutenant from Inglewood, Taranaki. William Arthur was no relation, the surname and the rank Charlie was later to acquire being the only coincidences.
Drill exercises took place on the ‘Surrey’, also aboard the ‘Cornwall’ which left Christchurch with the South Island portion of the contingent a week later. Both steamers arrived at Durban from where on March 15 the men were carried by train into the Newcastle district. Colonel Davies had praise for the farriers for the dispatch with which they shod one hundred and thirty six horses in seven days. The horses had travelled unshod on the ships as a safety precaution.
The force of one thousand trekked to Konigsberg on April 3, then to Muller’s Pass and other passes in the heart of the Drakensberg range. Beyond the mountains a drive was taking place against the Boer guerrillas so the New Zealanders were placed to guard block houses and to intercept the enemy being driven towards them. None managed to break through.
The New Zealand contingent were then ordered back the Newcastle, there being trained for Elandsfontein where they were heading for Klerksdorp. The station master at a small hotel, named Machivie, on the line between Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp gave the wrong signal, indicating the line was clear. An empty goods train was hidden around the curve, and one of the troop trains coming down the incline on April 12 collided with it. Sixteen Kiwi’s, all South Islanders, were killed and eleven seriously injured. Angry New Zealanders were stopped in time from lynching the station master responsible. Authorities eventually did arrest him. The killed were buried at Klerksdorp where an immense number of troops attended an impressive military funeral; detachments of the Seaforth’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and Royal Artillery present; about two hundred Canadians; six hundred Australians; nine hundred men from one of the regiments quartered nearby; seven hundred Boer refugees; Generals Wilson and Barker and many officers and civilians attended. The Highlanders’ Pipes and the South Wales Borders’ Band played the Funeral March and the Last Post.
Charlie, among the members of the Eighth Contingent, left Klerksdorp on April 22, trekking westward toward the Vryburg-Mafeking Railway to assist again in a drive against Boers. They dug in every night, placing redoubts along the way. One redoubt was dug to hold twenty men every one hundred yards on a front of six miles. Colonel Davies cabled New Zealand from Vryburg: ‘Four hundred Boers taken prisoner. In addition three hundred and twenty-six horses, ninety-five mules, 1 hundred and seventy-five wagons, sixty-six cape carts, three thousand six hundred and twenty cattle, one hundred and six oxen and seven thousand rounds of rifle ammunition were captured.’
By the end of May the Eighth Contingent had returned to Klerksdorp to await the results of peace negotiations, during which time Charlie and his companions paraded before New Zealand Prime Minister Richard John Seddon. On June 2 Colonel Davies cabled New Zealand’s Acting Minister of Defence: ‘Column is at Klerksdorp. New Zealand brigade is with me. General health is good. Peace was proclaimed yesterday’.
Charlie was home aboard the ‘Britannic’ by August and out of the army by September. The active part of his service amounted to only twelve weeks but it was enough to qualify him for a small pension.
Back in New Zealand Charlie went to share his soldiering experiences with his parents and brothers and sisters at their new address, Miller Street, Napier. There was little in the way of social security to make up for their father’s lack of income. New Zealand had only four years earlier introduced an old age pension – £18 a year, one third of a working men’s wage. Applications were required to go through ignominy of public scrutiny in the local Court to ensure they qualified for the pittance. This was the process Charlie’s father was going through. He had had to write to England to obtain a copy of his christening certificate from St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury in order to prove age – a process on its own that took at least four months. The senior Charlie also needed to prove to the authorities his time in New Zealand. Witness records were needed for this because record keeping at the New Zealand borders in 1874 was haphazard. There was no official notice of his having landed on these shores. His finances, or lack of them, underwent scrutiny before a magistrate. The pension system from which he’d sought a meagre sustenance was the last in New Zealand for four decades, to 1938, beyond also Ada Rose’s death and also young Charlie’s.
Miller Street was the Morgan’s Napier home for only a year. Next came rented accommodation in nearby Hastings Street, also for only a year. Then Charlie, aged twenty-one, and his mother and father and seven brothers and sisters moved to 95 Marine Parade, a short distance from the spot that was to become the guesthouse of his brother Frederick some years later.
Three months after the drowning of his younger brothers Charlie, reverted to normal age, enrolled in the Napier Guards. He had had three and a half years with the Hastings Rifles and his stint in South Africa. He was issued with rifle number 1986; he had grown an inch in height and his chest had expanded to thirty-eight inches (97cm). A year’s service with the volunteers qualified him for the annual gratuity of £2 10s. The money was needed – it supplemented his wages and small pension from South Africa.
From the next home upstairs in a two-storey wooden building in Dickens Street, Charlie went out as a milkman. This was the fourth move in a little over three years. There were shops on the street level of the building. His brother George, who was also to serve in the First War, worked with him in those days as a milkman.
In 1906 the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony and South Africa 1902 finally arrived at Dickens Street. Receipt of the medal required the signature of his mother, Ada Rose. She was upstairs nursing a new baby, three-month-old Emmeline Daphne.
By 1907 Charlie was proving a marksman with the Napier Guards, the Napier Defence Rifle Club and the Okawa Rifle Club, Hastings. These voluntary units, first called volunteers and later territorials, proved popular with the young men of the day. Britain had long abandoned sending its armies to protect the tiny colony at the bottom of the world. New Zealand was on its own.
George had enrolled in the Hastings Rifles and transferred to the Napier Guards, and Fred signed up a couple of years later. In competition, Charlie sometimes beat Frank Joey James, one of New Zealand’s outstanding rifle shots. Joey’s successes overseas marked him as one of the top riflemen of the British Empire. In time Joey and his sister moved into the Morgan home as boarders, and later Joey would marry Charlie’s sister, Louie.
George, aged twenty-three, married Margaret Desmond, a farmer’s daughter five years his senior, in 1907. Margaret had moved to Napier from the Wairarapa; George brought his bride too into the rented family home.
The tiny settlement of Napier was starting to move ahead; a municipal baths was being built and there were plans for a municipal theatre. In 1908 the community banded together and staged a ten-day carnival.
The Morgans moved to a new address in Herschell Street above shops again. Ada Rose was tending her ailing husband and wee Emmeline; Louie and Poppy were set to do needlework when opportunities presented, and George was taking young Stanley down to school a few blocks away. A friend introduced Charlie to the Masonic Lodge, Victoria 21, which he joined in 1908. He would eventually rise to the office of a junior deacon. A connection formed with Lodge Black Andrew in Sydney, Australia in 1911, and with a Lodge in Scotland once Charlie reached Britain. Some members of the Morgan family are still Masons a hundred years later.
A year after the death of Charles Edwin in Herschell Street, George’s wife Margaret became pregnant. It seemed that as fast as space was being created in this household, something arrived to fill it. Charlie was discharged in July from the Napier Guards, having served the required term as a voluntary soldier. Margaret’s baby boy, George Charles Desmond Morgan, named after his father George and his uncle Charles, arrived in March 1911, but Margaret was wretchedly afflicted by galloping consumption and died in December the same year, leaving her baby son in the care of an overcrowded but proud family. Charlie’s mother, Ada Rose, now nearing fifty, continued to set the standards of dress and bearing, exemplified in portraits – the first she could find the money for in 1912.
Despite care and attention, George’s thirteen-month-old son, Charlie’s nephew, died in Napier Hospital in April that year. He’d been diagnosed with tubercular meningitis four days previously, lapsed into a coma and died eight hours later. He too was buried in a plot on the hill.
The following month, sister Louie wed Joey James. Charlie gave the bride away and brother George was the best man.
There was much excitement in the household in 1913 – Joey James won the King’s prize and Ballinger Belt Championship at Trentham, near Wellington, while a member of the Okawa Rifle Club. On his return from Wellington, Joey was accorded a tumultuous welcome both at Hastings and Napier. The mayor and mayoress, the Citizen’s Band, and citizens, crowded the Town Hall where speeches were made by prominent people. He was carried shoulder high from the train to the Town Hall in both towns. Charlie was there to hold his brother-in-law shoulder high.
Between 1911 and 1914 Charlie returned to work in the Hastings area where he became an electrician, pioneering supply for the Havelock North Town Board. Havelock was negotiating with the Hastings Borough to take electricity to its residents from the diesel plant that was to be installed in Eastbourne Street. Until then there was no electricity. Lines were needed to carry power to the homes and proposed street lamps of Havelock North, a project which captured the imagination of Charlie.
Influenced by his experiences in South Africa, Charlie was one of the first to enlist for service after New Zealand declared war on Germany on August 15, 1914. Troop ships started sailing from Wellington on October 15, and within days of that Charlie was sworn into the Second Reinforcements. By December ’14 Charlie had been to training camp and was on his way. He enlisted at Hastings although because his next of kin, his re-married mother, now lived with her family and her new husband at 229 Hastings Street, Napier, the records tend to have him as a Napier soldier.
After only four days Charlie was promoted to sergeant. The training at Trentham went on for seven weeks. There was infantry drill, bayonet fighting and musketry. The men marched to the Hutt River every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon to swim. Washing and bathing arrangements were primitive at the Camp; tents provided roofs over their heads. But as Sergeant Morgan boarded the troop ship ‘Willochra’ along with others of the Second Reinforcements to add strength to the Wellington infantry Battalion, he firmly believed that he was heading to a fight that would soon be over.
Charlie and fellow Kiwis were confidently heading for Europe to fight once again a war for the country they had never seen. They believed the expedition was more of a chance to see the world. Not one gave thought to the proposition that war meant death. In truth, New Zealand lost more men per head of population than any other nation involved in the 1914-18 conflict.
As the first ships carrying the New Zealanders approached Suez, they were ordered to divert from their original destination of Europe to land in Egypt where the men were to help repulse a Turkish attack on the canal. So the ‘Willochra’ discharged the reinforcements for the Wellington Infantry at Suez on January 28, and the men travelled by train to camp at Zeitoun, east of Cairo. As Charlie absorbed the sights of the blue Nile, one of the stations he passed through was Tel-El-Kebir. Here, thirty-two years earlier, just as Charlie was entering the world in remote New Zealand, Edwin, his father’s brother, a colour sergeant in the Grenadier Guards, was completing a sixteen-week stint of service. Ironically for participants in the First World War, Sir Garnet Wolseley’s campaign of 1882 had been completed in just four and a half weeks. It was an almost textbook operation, carefully planned and executed with masterly competence.
Training for the New Zealanders began in earnest in Egypt. Early every morning the infantry battalions paraded in full marching order, one platoon lead by Sergeant Morgan, and they trudged through miles of sandy desert. The columns of men with full packs on their backs swung out along the sands, the long treks winnowing out the unfit. If a man had a bad knee of a weak chest, those weary sweltering marches and misty nights, sought out the weak, some of whom were sent to Alexandria preparatory to a long sea voyage home.
Sundays became the mens’ day of letter writing, and on a Sunday afternoon they wandered – perhaps to the pyramids of Ghizeh to pose on a camel or alongside the Sphinx; to buy souvenirs such as those Charlie sent home to his mother. One of his souvenirs was a scabbard containing three knives. It was fashioned from the head of a crocodile. The scabbard was hanging on the wall of his nephew’s home in Auckland nearly a century later. Charlie also bought an embossed brass table mounted on folding wooden legs. That too continues to be held in the family. The items were carried to New Zealand for him by one of the soldiers invalided out of the force. Other men sent home walking sticks or swagger canes, dainty little fly whisks or pieces of the “true Cross” which hawkers offered by the thousand. It all seemed like good fun at the time.
While Charlie was in Egypt the Turks were not showing a great inclination for a fully-fledged attack around the Suez Canal. The enemy maintained a certain measure of activity, advancing and digging in just out of range. The Turks showed no anxiety for a closer acquaintance, appearing content to throw a few shells at the posts and occasionally at the shipping on Lake Timsah. Twice the division was inspected on the desert, first by their Commander, English General Sir Alexander Godley, and later by Sir Ian Hamilton. Both occasions were memorable to the troops for the amount of dust they swallowed – faces were so coated with dust as to be unrecognisable.
Sergeant Morgan set out from Zeitoun on April 12, 1915. He and the troops in their flotilla did not know where they were heading. The Turks had spies in Cairo; no one was to know the New Zealanders’ destination. In fact, the New Zealanders had been chosen to be part of an assault on the Gallipoli peninsula. Charlie was thus a pawn, only one of seventy-five thousand men from New Zealand, Australia, Britain and France who were to be sent to gain control over the strategically vital Dardanelles Straits. The Allies believed that if the Straits could be taken the way would be open for an attack on the capital, Constantinople, forcing Germany out of the war, reducing the pressure on beleaguered Russia and threatening Germany with allied pressure from the rear. Planners felt an assault on Gallipoli offered an escape from the deadlock, the trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front. The decision to invade Gallipoli was made only after repeated attempts by British and French warships in February and March that year failed to neutralise the line of Turkish forts guarding the narrow seaway.
Charlie was a member of the Hawke’s Bays; his military number was 101295. He was one of Colonel George Malone’s men in the Wellington infantry. Charlie travelled on the transporter ‘Achaia’, a captured German trench ship, uncomfortable for three days’ transport to the Greek Island of Lemnos. Men were crammed on board; sleep on Achaia’s iron decks covered with rivets was anything but easy. The troop transporter weighed anchor in Port Mudros, a sheltered bay at Lemnos where, over the next ten days, a flotilla of ships gathered bringing French, British, Australian and New Zealand troops and their gear. The time was taken up with incessant pack drill, climbing – up and down the ship’s side on rope ladders with rifle and in full marching order and trying to keep comfortable on the deck.
Sunday April 25, 1915 is a day notorious for its muddlement. According to Colonel Malone’s diary it began as ‘a lovely calm and in nature, peaceful day.’ ‘Huge fifteen-inch guns of the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ could be heard at sixty miles distance, bombarding forts at Cape Helles and Sedd El Bahr’ on the Turkish Gallipoli. ‘We did not steam nearer than about six miles, but with glasses could see what a great and furious fight was going on’, Malone reported. The ‘Wellington’ sailed ‘ten miles north of Cape Helles’ to Ari Burnu, Anzac Cove, where they found that Australian troops had begun ‘landing at 3.30 am’ in an operation ‘most gallantly, nay recklessly, carried out’. The Australians had carried the heights surrounding the bay, but instead of being content with that and digging in hard and fast, they ‘scally-wagged for miles into the interior, got scattered and so became a prey to the Turks who had been surprised in the first place and had, it is said, only five hundred defending troops at our landing place.’
Colonel Malone’s frustration has since been challenged by historians. They believe the furthest inland Australia got over that rough terrain would have been a mile. It has even been suggested that the soldier who might have been ‘scally-wagged’ the furthest inland was a New Zealander.
Malone recorded that ‘New Zealanders were ‘rushed to the heights as they landed, mixed up higgledy-piggledy among themselves and with Australians, with the result that ‘my men (in my opinion anyhow) were in serious avoidable loss. At 4.30 pm my first troops went ashore. I went with this consignment’ he said. When we got within one mile of the shore we got into our ship’s boats and rowed ashore. The Turks welcomed us with shrapnel and sprayed up the sea all about us. Very few of us got out [hit]’.
From the deck offshore, Charlie saw a ‘beach crowded with all sorts of beings, men, mules, donkeys, horses, ammunition supplies, and naval beach parties. In getting out of the boats many men got a salt water bath all over. They had full packs, two hundred rounds of ammunition, three days food … so easily slipped and fell.
Anzac Cove where it transpired that the New Zealanders and Australians had been wrongly landed, was barely eight hundred yards long and roughly a pyramid shape above them was four hundred acres of ridges and gullies on a hostile coastline. At the top were the Turks with backup and supply, and all the vantage points. ‘There didn’t seem much organisation on the shore, in fact it was disorganisation.’ ‘The Naval people for some unknown reason knocked off disembarkation.’ Malone got General Godley to wireless a ship to carry on, ‘and about midnight the remaining one and a half Companies in ‘Itonus’ got ashore and were sent to hold a ridge just above the beach. They had no tools.’ ‘The Battalion’s equipment was on the ‘Achaia” along with Charlie and ‘the other half ‘of the ‘Battalion.’
In the small hours of Monday morning, Malone sent some of his headquarters staff to wend their way ‘along the beach, collecting all the tools they could. They got quite a number, and then I sent them up the ridge to enable the men to dig in. I had rather an amusing incident. I was going along the beach close to the cliffs where there were crowds of men sleeping, finding out who they were so as to help reorganisation of units. Quoth I to one group: ‘who are you fellows?’ Lo and behold they were Generals Birdwood, Godley and Bridges and their staff. And lo and behold there were quite a number of picks and shovels in their quarters. I soon got all the tools and sent them up to my men.’
Monday April 26: At last, while the tools were being gathered, Wellington West Coast Company and the Hawke’s Bays landed. They were on the crowded beach by 5.00 am, having been awakened at 3.40 am. The men had waited sixteen hours aboard ‘Achaia’ off Gapa Tepe for their turn to come ashore. They were the last men on the thirteen ships in the Anzac fleet to be unloaded. They were gladdened to be ashore and by the sight of Malone, cheery as ever, but growling at the disorder which prevailed. The Hawke’s Bays, Charlie among them, were ordered into Reserve alongside Army Headquarters. The ‘gully’ was ‘narrow and steep, full of scrub, and they remained there ’til 4.00 pm’ when they ‘were ordered to go up the gully’ from just above sea level to Plugge’s Plateau, a steep climb to three hundred and forty feet. There, according to Charlie, the Australians and some of the New Zealanders were ‘having a hot time with the enemy.’
All the while ‘the big ships’ guns were booming, also quick firing howitzers, mountain guns and rifles. There was endless fighting. Shrapnel was bursting on and close to the beach, boats and barges going to and from the ships and beach landing all sorts of men and things. Charlie said “the climb with our heavy load was very hard, and we were glad to rest ourselves near the top, being almost exhausted. Bullets were humming sweetly over our heads, and the concussion of the big gunfire shook the hills. We were withdrawn soon after dark and went down to the beach again”. Commented Malone: “We had been up the hill and down again. Still, we are all philosophers now.”
Tuesday April 27: ‘After we gleaned enough wood and water to make ourselves some tea, and had munched our hard biscuits’, Charlie wrote in his diary, ‘we were ordered to move along the coast.’ The troops drew two days’ rations, and nearly one thousand of them marched north in single file to Walker’s, a big ridge coming down from the high country surrounding the bay. West Coast Company let the way, followed by Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Ruahine. Shells passed overhead, bursting at the water. There was shrapnel everywhere. Little did Charlie know that he would soon find himself in no man’s land, hanging on for grim death after rescuing one of New Zealand’s machine guns.
At the foot of the ridge they found General Walker of the Infantry. They also heard a roar for reinforcements coming down the hill. “Irresponsible men”’ said Malone. “Australian privates, passing the word for “Reinforcements at the double!”. General Walker told us at once to send a Company up, packs to be left at the bottom. I enquired what they were to do … where to go. I was told that they would be met at the top and put right. So away they went. No sooner gone than more yells of the same sort from the Australians. Another company of men ordered to follow the first one. The companies were (first) Wellington West Coast, (second) Hawke’s Bay. Some four hundred and fifty of the best soldiers in the world.
Charlie was one of the ‘best soldier men in the world’. He described the first full day in the firing line:
“We soon knew that whatever doubts we’d had about seeing the grim and awful sights of war were to be dispelled. Never shall I forget the dreadful scene which met our eyes – a scene that called forth all the emotions of which the human heart is capable. At one point we would meet two stretcher bearers carrying the mangled and bleeding form of a soldier; at another, a single bearer would be assisting a soldier whose torn and bloody face made me avert the eyes, for fear of seeing the torn mechanism of what was once a strong man. Or one would meet a bearer carrying a soldier on his back, and leaving a red trail to mark his path, while one or both feet dangled from legs as though they had almost been severed from them.”
And so they came, dripping with blood and mangled and torn, in some cases almost beyond recognition, a procession to haunt the memory of man ’til the end of time. Many a man shrank with dread at the awful sight and thought seriously, perhaps for the first time, about what was in store. “We were heavily laden, and the climb was terrible. We threw our packs up about half way up the ridge, and then pushed on again. When near the top I sank down sobbing for breath, and all the time hearing the cry for reinforcements.”
Lower down, Malone heard more yells for reinforcements. I took on myself to stop the yelling and say no more reinforcements should go up in that irresponsible way. I went up myself to find out the position. A long climb along and up a ridge. I struck a sort of natural fort along it, entrenched and occupied by about forty Australians and two machine guns, one Major, a fat chap. I asked him what he was doing merely sending down yells for reinforcements. He said he was passing the yells on. I asked him why he did not go himself and take his men with him. He said he had orders to stay. I went on, passing a score of Australian men wounded, lying all along the track. Finally I got to a Colonel Braund who said he was in command of the show. I asked him for some explanation of the position and why he had left his own men down the ridge and called for reinforcements from the New Zealanders. He didn’t know and knew nothing. He had no defensive position, no plan, nothing but a murderous notion that the only thing to do was to plunge troops out of the neck of the ridge into the jungle beyond.
Malone observed that the Turks were lying down shooting down all the bits of track that led from the ridge outwards; having range marks fixed, and dropping the New Zealanders wholesale. Majors Young and Cunningham grasped the situation soon and told who they could to dig in. But Colonel Braund came along and ordered the Platoon Commanders to go on and plunge into the jungle further and further. On their protesting he claimed as Senior Officer, their obedience to his orders, and so on and on they went and got slaughtered.
Angrily, Malone went back to the Brigade Headquarters to report and was told to bring up his ‘remaining one and a half Companies to the fort. After getting them up I started to go forward again up the track to get a grip of things but was met by a lot of Australians tearing down the track yelling “Fix bayonets, the Turks are coming.” I whipped back to the fort and put two machine guns on front slope and sorted the other men out in readiness to hold back the Turks. I really believed we were in for a solid thing and told the men we would have to stick it out at all costs. I then went forward and found that the panic, for such it was, had been stopped, thanks mainly to Major Hart, who was leading the Hawke’s Bays. He, like the good chap he is, steadied the men.
Wounded were being brought down by the score and laid along the track, all sorts of wounds. The stretcher bearers couldn’t cope with the number and soon there were no stretchers.
There were Turkish snipers all over the hillsides. The Australian C E W Bean described it thus: “I don’t know how many snipers there are, but hundreds are reported. The whole camp are seeing snipers. The 9th I think it was, got leave to go out and look for a sniper who they think had been shooting at them in their rest camp. They had found the cubby hole of a sniper and the sniper himself, with a thousand expended rounds of ammunition, three hundred unexpended, three weeks’ rations and a little well of water in it. I found Major Brown with his face all over spots from shrapnel or bullet burst gravel on him. He had been hit three times and looked as if he’d tumbled down the gravelly hill most of the way on his face.”
Malone got a demand from Colonel Braund for more reinforcements immediately, but sent him a firm refusal. He – Braund – then said as I would not send him up more reinforcements he would have to retire to his first position. I told him he ought never to have left it. Malone then revealed “Colonel Braund, on my asking why he had been doing as he had, said that the truth was he feared that if he didn’t go on, his men would run away”. I said that was no reason to sacrifice my men.
I reported to General Walker and asked that the whole of the Australians be withdrawn. He came back with me to the position. We struck lots of Australians who hadn’t moved. I ordered them up and drove them ahead, pelting the leading ones on the track when they stopped with stones, and putting my toe into the rear of others. By this time wounded men were being brought back in scores (my Battalion’s casualties out of two and a half Companies, say four hundred and fifty men, were about forty-five killed and a hundred and fifty wounded in about that first hour of action) and left on the track, no stretchers being available. They were all very brave. No cries or even groans. One man kept say ‘Oh Daddy’, ‘Oh Daddy’ in a low voice. Many greeted me cheerfully “Well Colonel, I’ve got it.” Many smiled.
The track on which Charlie staggered up Walker’s Ridge was precipitous. The sun poured down with its midday heat. After two or three minutes heat near the top, Charlie staggered on. The troops, on a front of only eighty to a hundred yards, were being sniped at from Baby 700 and shelled from batteries beyond Chunuk Bair. “There’s only one of my section left now, and we ran on, not knowing where the others were or where we should go”, Charlie said. “At last we came to a gully beyond which it seemed impossible to go. We dropped down, and on seeing the Turks in the scrub on the opposite side, started firing.” They were on a narrow piece of hill subsequently known as ‘the nek’. It was only sixty paces wide. They were in the middle of heavy and severe fighting, bullets whipping through the scrub from an invisible enemy putting up the toughest fight that any New Zealander faced that day. There were men lying dead all through the scrub.
“As I was digging up a bit of dirt for cover, a bullet tore the centre out, missing me by an inch or two. The man on my right was shot through the throat, side to side. I pulled him under cover and tried to stop the bleeding, but he was done”.
Charlie was alive, terrified for his life, the food and water to sustain him, back there down the ridge where he had abandoned his pack. He dared not close his eyes for fear of being pounced on by the enemy. He dared not stand for fear of being shot. “I crawled to my place again”. He edged his way forward, firing to the opposite side whenever action or sound indicated the presence of a sniper. In this way he happened upon the remnants of one of the two machine gun crews ordered by Braund over Malone’s head, right up to the front. They were between the lines, tragically exposed, in the open among the scrub facing the Turks, desperate to survive. So was Charlie.
The machine gun officer, Lieutenant Edmond Robinson Wilson, had been shot in the first few seconds of reaching this place. One of the machine gun sergeants was killed and the other wounded, all within the space of a minute or two. Both corporals were killed before the guns came into action. The men were being killed around them. Charlie moved in to give a hand. “I was helping the machine gun men when number two was shot dead, and the gun jammed. Helped number one to get the gun away and as I did so I saw the gun officer writhing in his own blood. A bugler was shot dead just behind me, and as I was lying beside the gun a bullet covered the side of my face with dirt, and also the man by my side. Neither of us was hit.”
The officer writhing in his own blood was Lieutenant Edmond Robinson Wilson, mentioned in dispatches for his valiant work that day. The bugler was George Francis Bissett from Hawera, who lay with his face downward, his bugle on his back, shot in his tracks. Charlie and the man by his side, unnamed in his diary, could not get the jammed gun to function, so they hid it. “After we had got the gun into safety I found myself alone” said Charlie, “so fixed my bayonet and waited for the Turks to come on.” He hugged the ground and used the remainder of his two hundred rounds of ammunition against an unseen enemy as sparingly as he dared. He waited for the worst. “Then a machine gun came up on my right under charge of Captain Wallingford.” This probably was the second of the two guns ordered forward by Braund.
Englishman Major Jesse A Wallingford was assistant Adjutant of the Auckland Infantry Brigade. He was an expert with rifle and machine gun and was everywhere the line was threatened. Military historian Christopher Pugsley says it was an impossible situation that day. The Anzacs, Charlie amongst them, scattered amongst the dead on a ridge, holding on by their fingernails.
A Turkish advance at any point meant disaster. Two hundred yards on the left flank at Russell’s Top, or three hundred yards at the centre of the Quinn’s Post would mean destruction of the Anzacs. Wallingford had decided to follow the machine gunners, twenty yards forward; thirty yards the Turkish fire became very hot. He charged carrying just his revolver, further forward into a partially dead pocket of ground between the lines. Here to his surprise, a machine gun jammed; beside it was Private Edgar Preston Thomas, one of the Wellington’s, trying to put it right. “Well, failing to see the charging Turks I got the gun, put it right in a couple of minutes, got it into a depression behind some bushes, put its water condenser right, got the lad to observe the men and just as I was ready out on the opposite side came the Turks, forming up to charge”, Wallingford wrote. “Lord, it was murder. I cut down either nine or eleven. That started my fight”. And Charlie’s nearby. Wallingford fought with the gun for four hours. The Turkish lines I prevented forming up. Between times I dealt with the snipers. Charlie was to his left, firing through the foliage. At 5.45 pm Wallingford handed the machine gun to the remains of Wilson’s crews who had by then come up to the gun. Wallingford was to be awarded the Military Cross for his action.
Behind him, Charlie himself crept back to my old position to try to shoot a sniper, but I could not see him. The scrubby slopes opposite were full of snipers, dead shots. They were picking off even the Wellingtons’ periscopes.
As dusk fell Major Hart came forward to rally the troops and reorganise them. He was wounded in the left thigh while moving along the firing line. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his work that day.
Meantime, Charlie took charge of his little party who had gathered there, and persuaded the staff sergeant to move the hidden gun back down the ridge for fear of losing it. Under cover of darkness Sergeant Morgan moved among the troops and found where most of his platoon were. On the day of his first action of the first war, three of his section had been killed, and one badly wounded leaving him only six men in the field.
Before dawn on Wednesday April 28, the Turks made another attack, and Charlie and the survivor of his platoon fell back in the trenches as had been arranged. From this time on for the next week it was all trench fighting. ‘We gave the Turks some of their own medicine. We had only one day’s spell on the beach and had a glorious time in the sea, risking death from the Turkish shrapnel to do so’.
Pugsley says in “Gallipoli – the New Zealand Story” that Malone and his men secured the left flank of Walker’s Ridge and Russell’s Top during that savage, senseless first week. As a result the ridge would never again be seriously threatened by the Turks. Charlie’s effort at holding on at the machine gun post in no man’s land ’til Wallingford arrived was a major contribution. During the week the troops learned that one of the snipers was a Turkish girl of sixteen who had killed many of the New Zealand officers and men before being captured.
Charlie was among the infantry men rowed out of Anzac Cove on naval cutters and taken south by torpedo boats to reinforce a British attach near Krithia in the hilly sector. “We marched along the coast and were taken on board and moved on to Cape Helles, arriving there about dawn on May 6. The place we are in – the Daisy Patch at Cape Helles – is very pretty, being an old Turkish cultivation patch. It is now full of holes and trenches which are now occupied by colonial, French and English soldiers. We moved northward in a diamond formation, and got into a bushy ravine. A lot of English terriers wounded by shrapnel were being brought down, and also a few Scottish Borderers, the latter very cheerful and the former very despondent. After dark we moved up out of the ravine and entrenched ourselves”.
In the absence of pack animals the men carried reserve boxes of ammunition and machine guns, plus ammunition for these, along with their own packs, two hundred rounds of their own ammunition and picks and shovels, causing at least sixty five pounds of extra hardship to the men who had had no rest for a fortnight. There was a small, dirty stream to wash in and a good supply of water from a well. For one moment the men were eating a little better. “I must now tend to our stew, which is swimming in a mess tent which is hung on a stick”, Charlie wrote.
Sunday May 8: “We advanced the attack at 10.30 am and were soon met by a hail of bullets. My section was up in front on the right side of our position, and Sergeant Rule on the left half with Colonel Charles Bruce Stuart Menteath in the centre”. Menteath instructed his platoons to try to dribble across to a fern hole. “We advanced at a walk for two hundred or three hundred yards, and then broke into the double”, wrote Charlie. “The boys were beginning to fall now, but they did not flinch, and we advanced in rushes until we’d covered about nine hundred yards and were within three hundred yards of the enemy. The boys were going down pretty fast now, and we had to scrape up cover with our entrenching tools, not having sufficient cover to use the handles. Lieutentant Colonel Menteath was hit, and while one of the boys, an officer named McKinnon, was crawling with him to safety, another bullet struck him in the head and killed him. We now have only Major Cunningham and Captain Cross left, all the others being killed or wounded”.
Was it Charlie’s turn next? “The order was passed down the line to charge at 5.30, and we went forward on the double. Through some misunderstanding the left flank did not advance. I found myself right on the left flank, and when I stopped there was no one in sight”. He was alone again. “I was fired on by both Turk and British. How I escaped God alone knows. I lay until dark and then crawled down into a gully and got back to our front trench. On the way I saw dead and wounded everywhere, and some of the sights almost made me cry. With the help of some of the others we helped some of the wounded, but could not do much as there were no stretcher bearers and no doctors. I spent the night near four wounded men, so to protect them from the Turks”.
Charlie and a few men spent next day in one of the trenches. “I’ve heard that the rest of our boys are entrenched on my left front. I’m going to try to join them tonight”. Later: “I reached the trench in safety, although some shells burst near me. The boys were pleased to see me as they thought I was killed or wounded. I had only been in the trench half an hour when poor Turner was badly wounded by a shell. All that could be found of his rifle was a piece of the magazine and the bayonet standard. We had an anxious night. I’ve been recommended for the DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal], but do not know if I shall get it”. And as he pondered the events which had befallen him Charlie was amused at the story confided in [to] him by another Charlie, Sergeant Charles Sciascia from Porangahau, close to Charlie’s birthplace in Wallingford.
Sciascia, who got no medal that day but was awarded a Military Medal in Messines early in 1917, spoke of his attempts to get a message back to the trench at Cape Helles. A sniper focused on him. Sciascia made several rushes and the Turk got on to him each time. Sciascia decided to lie for a while and not take another risk of getting shot. Sciascia had to get on, though, so decided to count to ten before making a move; then he got to twenty … and finally to five hundred. Then a shell landed near him. He started at once”.
Four days hence, Charlie noted in his diary how his fellow New Zealanders faced up to death as they marched under orders at Krithia.
The men had moved forward, each man in line and fifty paces between successive lines, according to Richard Stowers in “Bloody Gallipoli.” They soon came under extensive long-range machine-gun fire, but kept moving forward holding their lines.
“I have been looking back on events,” wrote Charlie. “I thought of the way our boys faced death in the advance, through the hell of fire, line after line in extended order. Jackman taking his interval and dressing from the right, and so each line moved with cool precision and steadiness such had never been excelled and seldom equalled, even when on parade”.
“It was a sight to fill even the most critical expert with admiration. English soldiers who saw the advance mistook our boys for old trained regulars and were amazed when they knew who we were — New Zealanders.”
Charlie admitted: “My nerves have been shaken by what I have gone through and the same may be said of most, if not all of us.”
There were nine hundred killed and wounded among the New Zealanders alone, eight out of Charlie’s section of ten.
“I feel that the work our troops have done in which I have played a modest part and earned for our dear little homeland a place of honour that can never be entirely lost even though we are not called upon to take the firing line again.
The place of honour has been too dearly bought and we scarcely realise yet how great the sacrifice has been.
Should anyone read these simple notes, I trust they will not deem me guilty of boasting, for such an inclination is far from my mind.”
Perhaps wryly, Charlie concluded his notes of events in the Daisy Patch with: “We received a message of thanks and congratulation …”
Along with this vote of thanks was a summons back to Anzac Cove; up the coast on minesweepers, under darkness.
Tuesday, May 24: This was the day New Zealanders, Australians and their opposing Turks staged a ceasefire. Both sides agreed on an armistice so they could bury their dead. More than three thousand Anzac and Turkish bodies had lain in no-man’s-land between their lines. Some had been lying there for four and a half weeks.
Richard Stowers reports that whenever the wind blew from the Anzac side toward the Turkish, the troops would machine-gun the bodies, allowing putrid gas to escape and drift toward the enemy. Whenever the wind blew in the opposite direction the Turks would do the same. The truce was arranged when the smell got so bad that both sides suffered beyond endurance.
It allowed Malone to go out to the spur on the Nek where Charlie had fought for his life on Day One. There Malone was personally able to bury Lieutenant Wilson and Bugler Bennett.
So much feeling did the Turks have for the young men who had come from round the world to kill them that when the killing stopped to give soldiers time to bury their comrades there were gifts of fruit. The Turks gave each man in the burial parties, who had had no fresh food for weeks, an apple, a fig or an orange.
May 24 was also Empire Day throughout the British Empire. Charlie fancied himself as a bit of a singer and on this day the Hawke’s Bays gathered at 7pm for a concert. However, the resumed rifle fire was so noisy the men sang “God Save The King” and went to bed at 7.30pm.
As commander at Courtney’s Post and Quinn’s Post between June and August, Malone put into practice his policy of digging in and of sound preparation. He used his men to consolidate the precarious position at Quinn’s Post. He fought superiors for building material and basic comforts for his men as fiercely as he fought the Turks only 20 yards away. His diaries chart a growing disenchantment with impractical British regular officers, and a growing love for his men.
He would not take no for an answer, and this led to a clash of wills between him and his New Zealand Infantry Brigade commander, Colonel F E Johnston. Malone survived with the support of Johnston’s superiors, Major General Sir A J Godley, commander of the New Zealand and Australian Division, and Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, commanding the Anzac Corps.
But by August, the picture around Anzac Cove remained of dirty, unkempt bearded men surviving on a diet of salted beef and rock-hard biscuits, bacon fat, rotten cheese and jam that ran like watery juice.
The most valuable item on the battlefield was not a rifle or helmet or more ammunition. It was a full water bottle.
Water was brought ashore in four-gallon tins. The tins were guarded once on shore. The job of getting their precious contents to the troops was an endless and dangerous chore. There was never enough. Water was so short troops were rationed to quarter of a litre a day.
One of the Hawke’s Bays said it got to the stage where if someone was killed, all others were interested in was his water bottle.
Men ill with dysentery would crawl toward the latrines. Some were so weak they were unable to return. They simply gave up and died there.
Jam tins were used to make grenades. Periscopes, a popular target of the Turks, were fashioned from the glass filched from ship’s mirrors. They were an invention from the trenches of Gallipoli soon adapted by forces throughout Europe.
The stench of the dead would be with the survivors for the remainder of their lives.
In early June, the Hawke’s Bays were assigned to creating safe terraces for reserves at Courtney’s Post. The men found themselves continually digging into the graves of Australians buried all over the place. The Australians who preceded them had no system for burying the dead and working the post generally. They left the post in “a most unsanitary condition,” stated the Wellington Infantry’s war diary.
The Wellingtons were doing ninety-six hours a week in the trenches and beyond that doing fatigues. They were gaunt, physically and spiritually drawn taut.
Little wonder that Malone, a lawyer, rebelled on his and his companions’ behalf.
It was Saturday, August 7. It was the lead-up to the one night on Chunuk Bair regarded in history as New Zealand’s greatest moment on Gallipoli.
Historian Les Carlyon records that more than six hours behind schedule that day, New Zealanders were sent to capture Chunuk Bair. Rhododendron Ridge was only a useful way to Chunuk Bair if the attackers had surprise on their side. It was too narrow, as the Nek was, for an assault against an enemy that had time to prepare.
The Aucklanders, who were sent first, began to fall ten yards past the Apex. Leading Auckland platoons were simply devastated. About a hundred Aucklanders reached an unoccupied Turkish trench at the Pinnacle and hastily began to deepen it. Every time a shovelful of earth rose in the air the Turks let fly with a machine-gun in the direction of the shoveller. Behind the Pinnacle the dead and the wounded lay in the sun, perhaps three hundred of them, nearly as many as at the Nek.
Carlyon records: “And now he [Johnston] wanted the Wellington Battalion to follow the Aucklanders. Malone refused. The men crowded around the Apex, five hundred yards from Chunk Bair, heard him do so.
Corporal Charlie Dark was nearby. “There was a big row,” Dark recalled. “Malone said: ‘No. We are not taking orders from you people. Wellington is not going up there. My men are not going to commit suicide.’ Malone said he would take responsibility for his action. “I will take all risk and any punishment.” The Wellingtons would take Chunuk Bair at night, not in daylight, he said.
As the arguing continued, tired infantry were slumped in the scrub over the 60-metre width of the Apex, many sucking pebbles to moisten dry mouths. One hundred yards ahead, across a similarly narrow ridge, was the Pinnacle splattered with the bodies of Aucklanders. From there was a frontage to Chunuk Bair that the men would be forced to attack platoon by platoon.
Some reports say Johnston was a sick man that morning and drunk from rum in his water bottle. He decided to attack again at 4.15am next day, after a forty-five minute barrage. Malone’s Wellingtons and the Gloucesters would lead the attack.
Thus, in the dark below the surly hump of Chunuk Bair, Malone prepared to rush the summit with his Wellingtons, Charlie among them. They advanced 16 abreast along the ridge linking the Apex to the Pinnacle, past the dead Aucklanders from the previous day’s battle, past the shallow unoccupied trench at the Pinnacle, then up toward the summit itself, spreading out as the hill opened in front of them. Behind the Wellingtons came the Gloucesters and Welch Pioneer battalions.
Not a shot was fired as the Wellingtons climbed.
At 5am, when Johnston’s barrage ended, the Wellingtons charged the summit. They went forward in lines of platoons about twenty-five yards apart.
Infantryman Jimmy Swan, one of Charlie’s colleagues, recounted: “Hawke’s Bay, that is my company, has the honour of leading and, me being scout, leading them … our silent advance and prompt attack won us the trench before the Turks were awake to the fact that we were on them, so we had very few casualties.”
Charlie was at the summit. There was only a Turkish machine-gun crew below the summit. The Wellingtons knocked that out, and most of the defenders higher up had fled the artillery barrage because their trenches were too shallow to protect them. Kannengiesser, their commander, had been carted off wounded the previous day, his replacement had been wounded shortly after.
A bearded Turk, who looked to be about seventy, went for his rifle. “We had to shoot him, poor old joker,” Corporal Dark said. Two sentries who threw bombs were killed. Twenty Turks, and a German petty officer from the Goeben, were taken prisoner.
When dawn came, Malone and his men saw that Chunk Bair was going to be hard to hold on to. The summit wasn’t a sharp peak so much as two humps with a saddle between them. The ground was rocky and hard; that’s why the Turkish trenches were so shallow.
Worst of all, the summit was open to fire from both north and south. The Turks on Battleship Hill to the south could fire across Sazli Dere into the back of the Wellingtons. The Turks to the north on Hill Q, at nine hundred and seventy-one feet above sea level, were slightly above Chunuk Bair’s seven hundred and fifty feet.
The Wellingtons and the New Army troops behind them suddenly came under heavy fire, from three sides, from Hill Q, Battleship Hill and Chunuk Bair. When the haze lifted and the Turkish riflemen could see their targets, clinging to that summit became one of the epics of the Gallipoli campaign.
By 6am the Turks were starting to pick off the Wellingtons. Rifle fire was intense, a sheet of bullets coming over almost at ground level. Turkish marksmen could creep to within yards before being seen. The New Zealanders’ front trench, which was too shallow anyway, became clogged with dead and wounded. By 6.30am it was a tremendous battle.
Jimmy Swan saw the British battalions who were to back the Wellingtons break and run. The jam tin bombs supplied to the Wellingtons had already all been thrown.
Charlie, Jimmy and fellow-soldiers stripped the dead and wounded of ammunition and used that, too. Turkish grenades were hurled back. Even stones were thrown.
Jimmy was wounded, shot through the right elbow. He became part of the trickle, then flood, of New Zealand wounded heading back down the hill.
Behind him, the Wellingtons fought off Turkish attacks all day that were announced with a shower of grenades. Wounded were everywhere behind the Wellington line, hundreds of them, Wellingtons, Gloucesters, Welch Pioneers. Many crawled into Sazli Dere. They called out for water and died in the blazing sun.
Private Vic Nicholson, a twenty-year-old motor engineer from Masterton, said of the Turkish trench on the downhill side that it was not very long, probably two or three hours, before the trench was too full of dead or wounded bodies to use, and so “we finished up really standing on them.”
Rifles became too hot to hold. Some of the Wellingtons used three or four rifles. Wounded men reloaded them. Bayonet fighting seemed to last weeks, although “I suppose it was only minutes,” Nicholson said.
“I don’t remember any charges. It was all stand and defend with the bayonet, just a mad whirl. In the back of my head I could hear the words: ‘Get the bastard before he gets you. Get him or he’ll get you! I don’t remember bayonets going in. Perhaps I shut my eyes. I don’t know who I killed and who I didn’t.”
Only yards away, Charlie Morgan was fighting just as desperately. Get the bastard before he gets you.
“The Turks were heaving bombs at us. And it was hot, hard and thirsty. It’s only when your tongue actually rattles round in your mouth that you can say you are thirsty. That’s no fable. Actually rattling round in your mouth. We stripped off our tunics and we were fighting in singlets and in the buff,” Nicholson said.
“The Turks were the same. Soon it was so you could only identify a Turk by his hat, his whiskers and swarthy complexion.”
The Wellingtons made short bayonet charges at the advancing Turks. Those who made it back to the trench found themselves walking on dead and wounded, so that if they stood upright the trench protected them only to their knees.
“The only respect we could give our dead and wounded that were piled in our trenches was to try not to step on their faces,” Nicholson said.
Malone resorted to using a bayonet himself. A bullet buckled his bayonet. Malone said this proved that it was lucky and kept it with him. An officer told him he should not be leading bayonet charges. Malone replied: “You’re only a kid. I’m an old man. Get out yourself!”
About 5pm Malone was hit by a misdirected shrapnel burst fired either from an Anzac battery or a warship. According to an officer present, the shrapnel made a swishing noise. “Col. M was killed the other side of me. He collapsed into the adjutant’s [Harston] or Cunningham’s arms.” Harston thought the shell came from a destroyer. He had seen the puffs from her guns just before Malone was hit.
So died one of the grand and original figures of the Gallipoli campaign.
Of the seven hundred and sixty Wellingtons who had arrived on the crest that morning, only two officers and forty-seven men were not wounded or were slightly wounded. They looked like the nightshift leaving a clandestine abattoir. Their uniforms were torn and spattered with blood. They had drunk no water since dawn and hardly slept for two days. They talked in whispers, trembled and cried.
Wounded lay on the crest itself, in Sazli Dere, on the saddle back towards the Pinnacle, and between the Pinnacle and the Apex. Hundreds of them — including Charlie Morgan –– lying in pain on earth that was dull browny red, the colour of blood, dried blood.
Men bled to death and others went mad with thirst. Wounded were everywhere, looking terrible sights and begging for water, but there was none. Some asked when the stretcher-bearers were coming and were told they weren’t. Others prayed or hallucinated or passed out. The problem wasn’t merely that there were so many wounded and so few stretcher-bearers; it was also how to carry so many men to the beach.
Charlie lay among this mass of wounded, his right lung ruptured, ribs and spine damaged. A bullet was lodged in his body. There was great pain in his shoulder. Internal organs were herniated.
As they clung for dear life to the ridges and slopes of Rhododendron Ridge, the New Zealanders could see British troops who were to relieve them playing cricket, taking rest and recreation, on the beach at Suvla Bay to the north.
Daniel Curham, the only survivor of sixteen men in the machine-gun crews, held on to his battered gun. But he had no tripod and no ammunition. All he could do was bury himself flat in a shallow trench until nightfall. While he hugged the ground hoping for survival as fighting raged around him, he looked down on Suvla Bay where the British had landed, and, although there was open ground in front of them they made no attempt to advance.
“I could see the British soldiers down on the beach, chatting and bathing.”
Turkish guides today put it sardonically: “The commander of the British, General Stopford, decided his men needed a rest. It was a long cup of tea … the rest lasted for three days.”
Enemy snipers were watching the British too. When they finally came, the Turks were ready for them. Britons turned and fled under a hail of bullets.
According to some reports, New Zealand machine-guns were brought into action to try to turn the fleeing Britons.
Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford, elderly beyond his years, had never commanded men in battle before. He had been brought out of retirement to serve in Gallipoli. His specialty was ceremonial duties. He was sacked just three days after his failed attacks.
According to Major Arthur Cecil Temperley of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair were for forty-eight hours at the throat of the Turkish Empire.
Had support been forthcoming at the right time and place the Turkish Army would have been beaten, Constantinople would have fallen and the war might have been shortened by two years, Temperley said.
Some of the wounded from August 8 took three days to be brought down Chailak Dere, attacked by flies the whole way, thirsty, covered in dust and with bloodied clothes stuck to their bodies.
Six men were sometimes needed to carry one stretcher over the rougher parts, often under shrapnel fire. Sometimes, when these broken men, some now showing the first black blotches of gangrene, were finally lifted on to a lighter, they had to be shopped around the ships. The difficulty was to find a surgeon with free enough from present duties to hack off arms and legs in a few minutes because that was all the time the wounded man had. The limbs were tossed into baskets and burnt.
Charlie, injured on the 8th, struggling for air through a damaged lung, pained by a smashed rib cage, without water or anything resembling food since the 7th, struggled his way down the ridges and valleys to the beach, keeping low by day, moving through the night. He, and another of the Wellingtons, got there about about daylight on August 10. “I became separated from my mate as he had to be carried. But that did not trouble me, hearing he was all right.”
During that day Charlie and other wounded were helped off the crowded “cricket-pitch-wide” beach to an overcrowded lighter which took them from there to a small steamer which took the wounded men to Imbros.
“Here we were put on to a fine steamer, the ‘Andania’. I shall never forget how kind everyone was to us, and God alone knows the gratitude that filled my heart.
“The Turks farewelled us with some shells just as we left the peninsula, but fortunately did not hit us.”
In the back of his mind as he struggled with his pain were visions of British troops relaxing down below on Suvla Bay.
Major William Cunningham, second in command of the Wellington Infantry Battalion, wrote: “The whole brunt of the heavy fighting was borne by our boys and it is disappointing to find so little credit given to them.”
Two great memorials now stand among the trees near that site — one in recognition of the New Zealanders, the other recognising Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the great Turkish leader.
So much regard did the Turkish have for the New Zealanders in the battle for Chunuk Bair that they passed a law ensuring the New Zealand memorial was the only one inside their country that could match in size and location their tribute to their own national hero, Ataturk.
‘Andania’ arrived at Lemnos on the night of the 11th. Two days later, Charlie was transhipped to the Cunard liner ‘Aquitania’.
His wounds were troubling him a good deal. He was snatching sleep on his feet. “I can not lie down for the pain in my shoulder.”
‘Aquitania’ paused at Naples for part of a day, where Charlie’s sightseeing was a view of Mount Vesuvius from the deck of the ship. Next he caught a glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar, where there was another pause while two destroyers arrived to escort ‘Aquitania’ to England.
And, as he looked at Gibraltar for the first time, “a wonderful sight and very pretty,” Charlie imagined “an envious and wrathful Kaiser when he saw or thought of that famous rock.”
August 23, 1915: “We reached Southampton this morning and after a long wait, we were entrained for Clapham Junction. Here we were put into motor cars and taken to King George Hospital.
“The train passed through Kent and the people cheered us all the way along the line. We were treated with great kindness and put into beautiful clean beds.”
Sixteen days after Charlie led his section of the Hawke’s Bays into the murky morning on Chunuk Bair, he at last was able to receive proper medical attention — something more than a clean dressing and a pain killer.
In all there were five X-rays. Charlie was ordered to remain in bed. The X-rays showed that a bullet fractured a rib, then passed near the spine leaving casing and a mass of fragments on its way. The lead core, not yet located, was somewhere near the spine.
His mother Ada Rose’s family in England swung their network into action.
“Received a telegram from Uncle John Stephens, letter following …
“A letter from Cousin Frank in which he invites me to stay at Uncle and Aunt’s home in Hereford as soon as I am well.”
John and Emmeline Stephens were significant antique dealers with an emporium and warehouse near Hereford Cathedral. Emmeline was his mother Ada Rose’s sister. This was new family to meet and history to experience. But for Charlie, recovery took a long time. He was in and out of King George for operations until the last week of December, when, having celebrated Christmas in the ward, he was transferred to the 2nd London General Hospital, St Mark’s College, Chelsea.
According to Charlie, this was not such a good move.
“I like this place least of all I have been in. It’s like being in a prison and makes me feel like doing something desperate to get out … If one could smoke it would not be so bad. Why a man should be victim of some stupid snob after one has gone through such awful danger and privations is more than I can understand,” he complained.
Grumpiness prevailed, for, on January 5, Charlie was transferred to Richmond, where “everyone is kindness itself and consequently life looks much brighter.”
Of course life was brighter. Charlie had found a lady.
The place in Richmond he is referring to is the New Zealand Military Hospital at Walton-on-Thames near Shepparton. It was but a short train ride away from Richmond, the home of Lilla Emily Holden Smeeton.
Charlie was on leave from hospital when he met Lilla at a whist drive on November 4. He went back to Richmond to have tea with the Smeetons. She came to visit him on the sixth and he managed a trip to the pictures on the eighth . . .
He had more outings, including one to see his cousin Emily Marsh (nee Collins) near Battersea Park, where no doubt Lilla came into the conversation. Charlie was smitten, but it was back into hospital.
Friday, December 17, 1915: “I am to be operated on today. My bed chum is more worried about it than I am.”
The bullet was removed from his spine.
Saturday, December 18: “Lilla called to see me.”
Sunday, December 19: “Cousin Emily and husband, but I was asleep. They left me some beautiful parcels.”
As Charlie slept he was unconscious to the evacuation of Gallipoli. The British campaign had failed. His companions in the Hawke’s Bays, last to arrive at Anzac Cove on that first fateful day in April, were among the last to leave, at two am on December 19. Many of the men wanted to stay. They could not understand two things. One was withdrawing in the face of an enemy and the other was leaving their comrades behind.
But they were under orders. After presenting arms to their dead comrades, they moved down the trenches, the ground frozen solid. It was quiet. The men felt alone. Not a word spoken, not a match was struck. They filed down along the pier covered by sacks to cover their footfalls, on to a lighter and out to their transport ship. It was all over.
Wednesday, December 22: “Lilla and her mother came for the visitors’ Christmas Day on the wards. The wards looked beautiful with holly and mistletoe and flowers, and we are having a nice time.”
January 11, 1916: “Lilla went to Chelsea on the day I left (January 5) so had another journey for nothing. I was very sorry but could not send her a note in time.”
Discharge came on January 28, celebrated by the purchase of some clothes, including a jacket from a tailor for which he paid 16/- (sixteen shillings). He stored his bag with Cousin Emily and went to King George Hospital to thank the nurses there.
Next day there was a visit to see “Mac and Bryan” at the New Zealand military hospital at Walton-on-Thames, then a short trip to Richmond to stay the night at Lilla’s home, 70 Sheen Park.
For a fortnight, Charlie was a free man, on leave from the Army. He used the time to visit Hereford to meet his aunt and uncle, to visit their large antiques emporium to see their beautiful collection of old furniture and other relics in the middle of the city; to have a ride for miles in the sidecar of a motorcycle; to see the colleges of Oxford University and Windsor Castle; to travel to Portsmouth with Emily Marsh to meet his uncle, John Collins, “a jolly old naval man” and to have a look at Nelson’s old ship Victory.
He managed to fit in an additional visit or two to the Smeetons in Richmond, even cribbing a day or two off after returning to barracks in the grounds of Hadleigh Castle.
Another new experience, snow, on February 15 got to the soldier. “Had a very cold night, no mattress, it was snowing outside. Snow, followed by heavy rain and wind. I decided to try to join the draft that was going out [to warmer climes] in the morning. The Sergeant-Major says he can fix me up.”
Charlie slept with his clothes on and was up before reveille and down to the Hornchurch Station with the others at 7.15am. By now most of the two thousand Kiwis convalescing in England were being housed at Hornchurch.
Charlie reached Southampton and boarded the Olympic in the early afternoon. There were a couple of alarms when submarines were sighted but most of the voyage back to Mudros harbour in Lemnos was taken up with drill and team games on deck. There was also a moment when he helped the boys in the cabin opposite catch two chickens.
On March 1, 1916, he found himself among the New Zealand forces at Ismailia, Egypt: “It is a pleasure to be back in the bright warm sunshine and see the date palms again.”
The New Zealanders were regrouping there after the evacuation of Gallipoli. Charlie was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of Wellington Infantry Regiment and three days later granted the temporary rank of Sergeant-Major of the Hawke’s Bay Company, which presented a better line of sight on Sunday, March 21, when he wrote: “We have seen the Prince of Wales and are now lining the road and waiting for him to pass. Ah, here he comes. Well, he, the Prince of Wales has passed and a wee peachy complexion old boy he looks”.
“No doubt he was affected by his reputation for he looked as though he was on the verge of tears. The Maoris gave him a haka and we could hear their cries quite plainly although we were at least a mile away.”
March 23: “Jack Galbraith came in and gave me a piece of his mind. The reason was that the Regimental Sergeant-Major had gone to Cairo for a few days and a sergeant-major from another company was put in his place. Jack contended that as I am sergeant-major of the senior company I should have been called to do the work.
“There is something in what he says but I told him the matter did not worry me.
“I feel proud, however, to learn that my boys are sticking up for me. This is the second time this has occurred and the boys have spoken up for me.”
March 30: “I got a surprise a few days ago when old Jack Galbraith called to see me and wearing two crowns. He is now a sergeant-major in the new training battalion. I am pleased to see him getting his dues at last.” His friend was now of equal rank.
Monday, April 3: “We have had a fairly heavy day. The whole New Zealand Division marched past in review order. I suppose this was the largest gathering of New Zealand troops that have ever been brought together and it was an impressive sight.”
It put a warm glow the heart of General Godley, who found praise for the “fine turn out and soldierly bearing” of the division. “The steadiness and good marching of the troops were all that could be desired, and the staff arrangements were excellent,” he crowed.
With which the New Zealanders boarded sixteen transporters and Charlie was on his way back to Europe. The New Zealand Division was being reorganised under the leadership of Hawke’s Bay’s Major-General Andrew Russell.
Charlie found himself promoted to Warrant Officer, confirming his rank as sergeant-major, just in time for a second voyage within weeks.
After an uncomfortable journey in open trucks on a train on Sunday, April 9, 809 troops boarded almost at once a beautiful little steamer called the Llandovery Castle. Charlie was promoted to be the regimental sergeant-major for the voyage.
“I, being warrant officer, have a beautiful cabin berth. I think there is no doubt we are going to France and will soon hear the guns booming.”
He called a meeting of warrant officers to arrange activity for the men, whereupon he found himself convening the “bun and treacle” race committee. “It was hard to get all the boys going at first, but once started the fun was fast and furious. The sight of those chaps scoffing the sticky buns made the crowd roar with laughter. This event is the best on the programme so far, and will take a bit of beating.”
Life with Lilla in London had decided Charlie that he needed to improve himself. “I have been studying part of the King’s Regulations this morning. I find that some knowledge is very necessary if one is to get on.”
In addition to the ordinary routine, emphasis was laid on lectures about gas warfare and gas masks were issued.
“ . . . We passed a large island yesterday. I think it was Cyprus but no-one seemed to be sure as our course is so erratic.
“. . . We passed Malta this morning and it looked very pretty in the early-morning sunshine. The buildings are mostly of stone and all the sections are surrounded by stone walls.
“. . . We were within sight of the Spanish coast yesterday and expected to reach Marseilles this morning.”
In fact, the New Zealanders arrived at Marseilles, on France’s Mediterranean coast, a day later, on Sunday, April 16, 1916. Unannounced, the ships had been taking different courses to the destination. There had been no lights on deck at night. All ranks worked, ate and slept in lifejackets. A submarine guard was on duty throughout on each vessel and there were twenty-five men armed with loaded rifles on each side of each ship.
At Marseilles all seemed rosy. Members of the population extended a welcome to the troops.
“The water in the harbour is of a lighter blue than the rest of the Mediterranean. We do not expect to disembark until tomorrow,” Charlie wrote.
Next day’s train journey began rough for several miles, but then passed through “one of the biggest tunnels I have ever been in, coming out in the most-beautiful country I have ever seen. Mile after mile of country seemed a blaze of colour and over-run by beautiful, smiling women. The boys simply went mad and would have cheered anything from a cup winner to a broken leg.”
The boys passed through the exquisite scenery of the Rhone Valley, past riverside mansions and trim villages on a journey that took them the length of France..
“We were on the train from Monday afternoon until late on Wednesday night,” when the sightseeing from a railway wagon came to an end, at a station near Steenbecque, west of Armentières, right on the Belgian border. “We marched out in pouring rain, and very cold. We had about five miles to go.”
It was all of that. Shelter was in a billet arranged for him, a smelly cowshed in the region of Wittes two miles north of Aire. Unfenced fields in this place were intensively cultivated by women and old men on what the New Zealanders thought were slatternly farms with clay-walled byres and unsanitary manure heaps in the courtyards.
There was some indifferently clean straw for Charlie to lie on. “I am now completely installed in a stable! If biblical history speaks true, I am not the first man so situated.
“We are about twenty miles from the firing line, somewhere near Ypres.” This was an area regarded as a nursery sector, which suited Major-General Russell’s purpose of yet another step up in the level of training for all ranks –– including miles of route marching, seen as an exercise in both discipline and fitness.
It was cold and wet. “We felt the change very severely,” said Charlie. The weather necessitated the issue of a second blanket.
On Sunday, two days short of the first anniversary of the fateful landing on Gallipoli, the New Zealanders assembled at Morbecque for a church parade, a seven-and-a-half mile march from Wittes. Charlie, mind full of memories and lost friends, remained behind and partook of Holy Communion. Next day, he roused the non-commissioned officers in his unit at 6.30am for a brush-up.
“I think it did a lot of good.”
Charlie was taking his new role seriously. Here was an opportunity for him to have an influence, perhaps shape the fates of men for whom he had been given some responsibility.
In this quest for order, he reflected traits of his father, reputedly a stern disciplinarian but none-the-less a man with humour; the sense of the ridiculous often brought on by association of ideas.
Charlie’s own irony showed through. On the afternoon of the brush-up the bluff new disciplinarian went on to order another route march. Afterward he recorded: “The boys are very tired. I feel very well — tres bon, as the French say.”
Appropriately, on April 25, the day yet to be designated Anzac Day, the New Zealand military hierarchy announced a plan to allot leave for the men across the channel in England, proportionately among the units, in accordance with ferry capacity.
With Lilla firmly in his mind, Charlie welcomed the prospect of that joyful bonus. Meanwhile, more training; musketry, outpost work and a compulsory swim. “Three men did not want to go in and the Major ordered us to get six good men and give them a good wash; when they found it was no use trying to escape, they went in quietly.”
April 27: “We are now awaiting a gas attack — not from the Germans but one of our own. This is to test our gas helmets and get used to the gas.”
Sunday 30: “Orders are now out for shifting to a fresh billet tomorrow. We expect a long march.” First, though, there’s Sunday’s march to Divine Service conducted by the Methodist chaplain, Major Arthur Mitchell, a Cornishman who reached New Zealand in 1893.
Foot drill took its toll on Charlie, a strained tendon, “very painful.” Monday’s march which followed took eleven hours, starting at 6am over pavement tough for the most-hardened troops. Rounded uneven stones which made up the pavement in France were torture to march on. Many of the men’s boots were inadequate. The army introduced chiropodists to its ranks.
Charlie tried to disguise his hobble as he stepped out fully laden at the front of his men to a camp within eight miles of the firing line, near Doulieu on the seven-mile stretch between Bailleul and Estaires.
He knew he had to set an example, and he knew, as taught by William Malone, commonly called “Molly” Malone in his quest for fastidiousness on Gallipoli, that planning and preparation for the events ahead were essential for success. Thus there was some settling-down to do. Sergeant-Major Morgan who had some responsibility for the company’s stores had to talk to the company ordinance sergeant and corporal “like a Dutch Uncle,” then men for field punishment were paraded before him.
On this day Charlie’s warrant, bringing him closer to the rank of a commissioned officer, was announced by way of an official Gazette notice.
He and his colleague celebrated later with a couple of bottles of wine, but first the now formally-established Company Sergeant-Major paraded every available n.c.o. and marched them all to headquarters in Estaires –– to be reviewed by the Regimental Sergeant-Major. That over, Charlie demanded more marching, from Estaires into Doulieu, for a lecture on bayonet fighting. Afterward there was a bit of practice.
“. . . And still the guns boom.”
Another celebration next day came with the arrival of a letter from Charlie’s mother written, thirty weeks previously on October 13. That’s while Charlie was a patient in King George Hospital in London. The mail had not caught up with him since. “A little late to be sure.”
This time, a more leisurely march, of CSM Morgan and the quartermaster-sergeant into Estaires to find an “illuminated” watch. Presumably he was looking for a light or luminous dial for night-time work. It soon went wrong. “This is the second.”
He heard a night later that his name had been sent for a commission. Honours were few and far, but promotion with its incumbent responsibility and stress was not.
On May 14 the men of the 2nd Battalion marched to the front line at Armentières, a four-mile stretch of the line in the “quiet” sector.
On arrival at midnight, they were instructed to march further, on to Houplines, another two miles north. They advanced in artillery formation as they were within range of the German guns. It was raining and the sky was brilliant with star shells.
Warrant Officer Morgan’s job when they arrived soaking wet about 1am was to set out four guards for bridges and gas alarms. The area, only 52 feet above sea level, was a made up of low-lying flats, criss-crossed by canals fed by the sluggish River Lys, and railways. The fields were crossed by bands of barbed wire and seamed with trenches. Farm implements rusted where retreating Belgian owners had abandoned them in the German advance.
It was near daylight when Charlie lay down. German shelling continued throughout the day as he tried to catch sleep on a mattress in a ruined house which they had taken up for quarters. The Boche were bombarding again the wreckage of what was once the village of Houplines.
That night the men took up positions in the second line trenches, guided by Tommies, members of the West Riding, 9th Duke of Wellington Regiment, who spoke interestingly of their experience in these parts. “Fortunately we escaped being hit.”
“We are subject to rifle and machine-gun fire. While I have been writing, a monster British gun has been shelling the Boches and shakes the ground. Shells around me are bursting with an awful crash.”
Contact with the British regiments made him new friends. One gave the address of the Legion of Frontiersmen at John Street in the Strand, London. He discovered another legion man, “one of the London troop; a very nice chap. Spent an enjoyable evening.” Lodge contacts were coming to the fore. One night “I discovered a Mason.”
There was a multitude of things to attend to, and with new troops to handle “one has to keep on the ‘qui vivre’.”
“I had to check and take over the trench stores. There is such a maze of trenches and saps that I had a busy time and even now have not got the hang of the place.” Responsibility was heavy. The only stores not handled by quartermaster-sergeants were the trench stores.
Regimental sergeant-majors took them over, supplied them as required, and handed them over to forces which relieved them. It was a characteristic of the Wellington Battalion that those handling transport and stores did everything conceivable so that troops in the line were spared as far as possible.
Charles continued optimistic. “I am surprised to find such comfortable trenches here, as the country is very flat and we have had rain. I have a splendid steel-lined dugout in which are two chairs, two bunks, a table and some shelves.
“I must now have a wash as my batman has brought in some water and will soon have tea ready.”
Outside, things were different. At 3.15 in the morning, having been on standby for more than an hour, Charlie was still attending to detail, fatigue parties to go into the front trench for the purpose of repairing the parapets and other defence works. The condition of the trenches made it imperative that they be built up and strengthened, but the work attracted the curiosity of the enemy, who endeavoured to satisfy their curiosity with shellfire. On May 17, enemy shells came within five hundred yards of the 2nd Battalion’s headquarters, two men were wounded.
On another occasion, not far away, a shell caught Sergeant Hugh Gilchrist, one of Charlie’s charges, and wounded five other men. Sergeant Gilchrist died on the last day of the month in a large brick building in Armentières being used as a hospital. A German shell hit the place next day, but owing to the gallantry of the medical orderlies, the casualties were, according to the regimental history, “happily very small.”
Another day Charlie was disgusted at the “bad observation and sniping” done by our troops at the front line.
Some tiny finches flew over.
Two men, White and Wells, opened fire at the birds with their rifles, revealing to German snipers nearby that the Kiwis were in position ready to go.
“The officer commanding was very angry and ordered me to take their names and bring them up to the orderly room tomorrow. That is why I have the above names in my diary, it being the only book I had at the time.”
The regimental history recorded after the war that it reflected the greatest credit on the officers in charge of these snipers for the manner in which they “gradually and intrepidly” asserted their superiority over the Germans.
For eight days Charlie’s young charges, most of the new ones recruited from the 8th and 9th reinforcements from New Zealand, got a spell in Armentières . . . the sergeant-major got an hour off, to buy a pair of trousers. “The price steadied me up in no time, 75 francs. I hope they will last the war out, they certainly ought to at such a price.”
Divisional baths were located in buildings that once formed part of a textile factory on the high road to Bailleul and had been used for bleaching and dyeing. Here, fifteen hundred men bathed each day. Here too forty thousand garments were washed and mended each week by two hundred women employed by the New Zealand Division.
This was virtually the only source used for issuing underclothing, thus, while Charlie bathed, his tunic and trousers were cleaned of vermin.
Many of the other civilians, predominantly the poorer classes who remained in Armentières, opened shops and restaurants. Armentières was a contrast to Gallipoli, providing momentary respite which was never available on the slopes above Anzac Cove.
Five military schools were established by the New Zealanders in the region, grenade school, gas school, trench warfare school, physical and bayonet training school and machine-gun school. Such was not possible at Gallipoli.
On June 2. Charlie and his men went back to the front line to relieve the Dinkums (Australians). It was dark when they went in and quiet, except for an odd rifle shot. Next day the big trench mortar got to work and the crash of the big shells was terrifying.
“The worst things we had to deal with were the aerial torpedoes and rifle grenades. These we could not see until they burst, and then it was too late.
“My poor clerk, Corporal Williams was caught that way and two others with him.”
Charlie had again just missed death. That was on June 3.
“They were close in front of my dugout. I had only just left to go up the line when the beastly thing landed. It killed poor (Fred L) Norris outright. Private (Albert E) Allaway died in a few minutes and Williams was badly smashed up.”
Albert H Williams died of wounds sixteen weeks later. “After that we lost several of our men and lived in a continuous state of dread.
“I made as light as I could of the situation and the boys were wonderfully cheerful, but we were glad to go back into the support trench on the night of the 8th.”
All of which caused Charlie to write on June 13: “I have . . . not entered anything here for so long a time, but when one can see no reason for not being blown to atoms at any moment it hardly seems worthwhile.
“Of course men would pull out a book and pencil and make a note of their sensations during such a period, but all I want is to forget them as much as possible.”
Charlie was in a dour mood because “the officers” had taken the fine dugout he had when he was there before. Now he was sharing “a poor wee place with Mr Cannan.”
June 15: “The colonel gave us orders into the front trenches again and relieve Taranaki. They had had a rough time and were getting played out for want of sleep and nervous strain. The Huns opened up on us with grenades, French mortar and guns, yet except for a Hun bullet catching one of our sniper’s rifles and wounding two snipers, we had no casualties.”
A mortar landed among some of the dugouts but Charlie’s men were further up the line and although there was an awful wreck to clear, no-one was hurt.
“The men, cold, weary and often hungry, complain very little. Even when a big shell lands near and explodes with a rending crash that makes the bravest silent with dread, they soon recover and make jokes out of the war.”
Charlie went souvenir hunting, scouting about a place called Hobbs Farm at a risk of being potted by a Hun sniper.
But he secured two fine specimens of German grenade.
“It was a ticklish job taking the charges out and I was glad when it was over. I shall be pleased to get them home.”
On the 20th, the men were relieved and marched into Armentières. Charlie lost a pair of waders and his shaving gear on the way.
In Armentières, a shell landed in the street near his billet, killing one civilian and wounding several others, including women. Only one soldier was wounded.
Charlie was feeling off colour and a doctor ordered him away for a few days’ rest. He was taken to the 2nd Field Ambulance and from there to the Morbecque rest hospital, further west near Hazebrouk.
He was there until June 30, on which day he wrote: “I am closing this book and opening another which I hope to keep more up to date.”
No other diaries survive. Unlike the Second World War, when soldiers were discouraged from keeping diaries for fear that information could end in enemy hands, the Kiwi troops of 1914 had been encouraged through the issuing of The Soldier’s Diary, small pocket books complete with pencil.
The supply of diaries, many donated by the New Zealand printers and publishers Whitcombe and Tombs, petered out as what had begun as an adventure overseas for the Kiwis revealed itself as a prolonged and nasty war.
The New Zealanders had staged eleven major raids in three months and countless patrols on its eight-mile front south-east of Armentières and when relieved in mid-August, had lost two thousand five hundred men, nearly four hundred of them dead.
Charles Edward Collins Morgan was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant eight weeks later on August 26, and transferred on September 9 to the 1st Battalion Auckland Regiment, just in time for the New Zealand infantrymen to join the battle of the Somme, which the British had begun around the area of Albert.
News of his promotion did not reach New Zealand for three months when it was announced in the November 30 issue of the Auckland Weekly News. By this time, while the folk at home were celebrating recognition for Charlie, he was back in hospital in England badly wounded again.
The New Zealanders took over the lines between the grimly contested charnel house of High Wood and Delville (“Devils”) Wood in the Somme on September 11. Their first action was the Flers-Courcelette battle between September 15 and 22.
“Anyone on September 15, 1916, on the battlefield of the Somme, who at zero hour looked back and saw the whole torn earth filled with the files of the New Zealand Division moving on to the Switch Line and Flers was lifted into a certain ecstasy. He was caught up in a movement of people – for behind the men and about them were the hope and fears of all New Zealand,” wrote Ormond Burton, also a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Auckland Regiment, Charlie’s new outfit.
What Burton saw, Charlie saw.
Black smoke from bursting explosive rose constantly from among stark trees in the woods. The place was pockmarked with shells holes and an entanglement of wire. From the “start line” (Leaf Trench and Wood Lane) Ormond and Charlie were faced by three formidable trench systems, the Switch, Flers and Gird lines.
The first objective, Switch trench can be identified in modern days by the path currently taken by high-tension power lines. The second, the Germans’ heavily armed Flers trench and its support trench dissected the mid-point of their view, from Eaucourt l’Abbaye to Flers, just south of Abbey road. The third, Gird, was more or less on the horizon beyond Flers.
Much of High Wood to the left was still in German hands. So far it had resisted nine attempts to take it.
Longuevel, near where Charlie and Ormond Burton stood, is the Somme village with which New Zealand is most closely associated. Each year the country’s ambassador lays a wreath on the nearby New Zealand memorial.
It was an historic start on September 15, the first time British tanks were used tanks in battle, four of them setting out from Delville Wood. Two weighed twenty-seven tons and were armed with six-pounder guns and four machine-guns. The others each carried six machine-guns. The day proved these cumbersome machines were not fit to be used over terrain pockmarked with shell holes, a wasteland of stumps and pulverised trees, and saturated by rain.
The tanks were soon out of action. The stir they caused was more for their novelty value than their menace. Immediate official German reaction was that the machines could be beaten rather than rush into production of their own.
By nightfall on the 15th the New Zealanders and the 41st British divisions on their right won the village of Flers. The village was already in ruins. Raids and bomb attacks were to continue for several days, sections of the trench system regularly changing hands.
The New Zealand Division fought for twenty-three days, uninterrupted. By the time they were relieved on October 4 the New Zealanders had advanced three kilometres and captured eight kilometres of enemy front line. More than 6000 had had their bodies torn by shrapnel and gas. Another fifteen hundred and sixty were killed.
The Kiwis had taken prisoner more than one thousand Germans, and a lot of machine-guns. Only twenty New Zealanders were captured.
For Charlie, this was truly a “fog of war.” Time had become mixed up. Charlie, 1st Auckland’s new officer, was hit by shrapnel on the 18th, only three days into the battle. A shell burst close to him near the junction of Goose Alley and the Flers trench system.
Stretcher-bearers were not able to get to him. They risked being killed in the attempt.
For a second time Charlie waited in pain in the field for help. He lay injured in pouring rain until No 63 Field Ambulance picked him up the next day. Germans within firing distance of the zone were not to be subdued for another forty-eight hours.
Medical men stabilised Charlie by September 20 and transferred him to No 8 General Hospital in Rouen. This was principally a hospital for officers in a large country house and grounds at Boisguillame, a north-eastern suburb. This was a new experience but not one Charlie really wanted. Both an arm and a leg were shattered.
He was out of the war again, only nine days after introducing himself to his new regiment.
His body held rigid by bandages and wooden splints was carried on a stretcher two days after that to the hospital ship Panama which invalided him back to England. There he was admitted to the New Zealand forces’ Brockenhurst Hospital in the luxuriant woodland scenery of the New Forest, a dozen miles or so from Southampton.
All hoped that his constitution would pull him through, but the injuries to his limbs again were such that Charlie was, even in those demanding times, declared unfit for general service for three months.
We can anticipate that Lilla visited him at Brockenhurst when time allowed her to make the eighty-eight-mile journey for Charlie was not discharged from hospital until December 2. He was granted a fortnight’s leave until December 18, in which he took time to catch up with Lilla in Richmond and his English cousins in London.
He bought a sapphire and diamond engagement ring and placed it on Lilla’s finger. He sent a studio portrait home to his mother so that Ada Rose could see the girl he was going to marry.
On the last day of the year 1916, Charlie was summonsed from light duties at the communications depot at Codford on the Salisbury Plains to nearby Sling where he was back into training prior to a return to battle.
Charlie’s New Year resolution was plainly that if he wasn’t to be allowed to go home, he wanted to get this war over and get back to Lilla.
2nd Lieutenant Morgan ferried across the English Channel on January 22, 1917, one hundred years ago, to work with the New Zealand Division at the base depot Etaples on the coast near Le Touquet until he rejoined the men in the field three weeks later. The 1st Auckland Battalion had been back in the Flanders region of Belgium since the battle of the Somme. The unit was less than four miles north of Amentiers.
Between spells serving his unit Charlie was sent for further training at a grenade school in Armentières. A bombing team usually consisted of nine men at a time: a leader, two throwers, two carriers, two bayonet-men to defend the team and two spare men for use when casualties were incurred.
As an attack or raid reached an enemy trench the grenade or “bombing team” would race down the trench, throwing grenades into each dugout they passed: this invariably succeeded in purging dugouts of their human occupants.
Some hours of these eight days had their enjoyable moments, a form of cricket practice. Charlie was being educated in the use of the Mills bomb – in the Battle of Passchendaele yet to come, his platoon was to be issued with about a hundred of Mills bombs, along with apparatus to use some of them as rifle grenades.
The Mills became the dominant British grenade of the war. It weighed 1.25 lb and the exterior was serrated so that when it detonated it broke into many fragments: thus, a fragmentation bomb.
To use the Mills bomb the thrower first removed the safety pin while holding down the strike lever beneath it. When the grenade was actually thrown the strike lever ejected and a four-second fuse was set off.
Charlie was instructed to lob the Mills bomb using a throwing action similar to bowling in cricket. Classes were held on how best to prime the bomb then bowl it.
Refining the niceties of leading his men up trenches throwing grenades into the faces of the enemy, along with practice of effectively bowling Mills bombs while charging at concrete blockhouses harbouring well-equipped machine-gun completed the month of March.
April and May were spent applying these skills and passing his knowledge to the men of his platoon at the front line, mainly around Wulverghem. This period involved much trench digging, officers joining in with the men, mainly in the middle of the night. The labourer-bushman from New Zealand could cope with that.
However, the hand-to-hand combat, along with survival techniques with jam-tin bombs and stones at the top of Chunk Bair coinciding with experiences of that murderous rifle charge, bayonets drawn, into the face of an enemy across flatter land at the Daisy Patch made Charlie an invaluable instructor.
He was detached for three weeks to a Reinforcement Camp. There his role was to introduce new batches of men arriving from New Zealand to the art of surviving a war.
Something was brewing. Training was intense. Charlie and two other second-lieutenants were detached to a different school of instruction on June 30. It was at Kortepyp Camp, south of the village of Neuve Eglise, and Red Lodge, on the southern slopes of Hill 63. It was west of the famous Ploegsteert Wood that will go down to Britons for all time as “Plug Street Wood.” At Kortepyp for four weeks they rehearsed battle procedures in paddocks laid out with mock trenches.
Twelve days into their task, they were joined by their fellows in the 15th company, assigned to “Special Training” according to the regimental diary.
Major E. H. Orr, the commander of the 1st Auckland Regiment, had himself been back in England for a long spell the previous month at what was nominally called a school of instruction.
Special training ended on July 27 and the men marched nearly three miles back to Red Lodge. Charlie’s mind brimmed with what he had learned.
Notes in London annotate the next two of Charlie’s actions as taking place in the Warneton sector, between Ploegsteert Wood and Messines.
The battalion was based at Red Lodge near Hill 63. Wheeled traffic was impossible in the region at daytime if it were not to be blasted off the face of the earth. Any work was visible to German observers on surrounding high points, so parties moving up to the trenches had to move at intervals, and in single file. What a wonderful view there was from the place became fully appreciated once New Zealand took Messines in June, and could look back over its own territory.
Shelling was heavy and continuous. The Huns were making liberal use of poisonous gas. Hyde Park Corner, between Hill 63 and La Basse Ville, was beginning to look as brown and torn as parts of the battlefield. The New Zealanders wept copious tears even in their respirators.
Overnight on the 28th/29th July. Germans staged a hostile raid on trenches and advanced posts in the Prowse Point sector, preceding the raid with an intense bombardment –– frequently an announcement that infantry is following. It was.
About 60 German troops drove two groups of Aucklanders out of their advanced posts. The centre post held. The Germans used flammenwerfer (flame-throwing tanks) against the right post. Two New Zealand officers and two troops were killed; 20 wounded. The Germans penetrated the front line. One German was injured and taken prisoner.
Charlie would not accept defeat. There was a confused and bloody fight in the darkness. Revolver, bayonet and bomb were busy. In the face of the heaviest shelling 2nd Lieutenant Morgan led his party up the trenches fighting furiously and drove the enemy out of position. His commander, Captain Coates, reported to Major Orr that all posts were re-established in practically the old localities by 5am.
Nine Germans were dead.
Two days later, Charlie and company, ninety men in all, were sent on attack.
2nd Wellington was to capture La Basse Ville. The Aucklanders were to push forward to Wellington’s left, establishing a new front line only 50 yards from the Germans, but two hundred and fifty from our own front line.
It was raining heavily. Charlie, members of the 15th Company, and a party of 2nd Auckland Battalion raided German positions V11b and V11d in a triangle between the railway connecting La Basse Ville and Warneton, the Douve and our own front line. The explosion of the bombs, the British Mills bomb being distinguished by its metallic ping, could not drown the grunts of the sweating, fighting men, the groans of the wounded and the screams of those in their death agony.
The raid was successful, eighty enemy killed and five prisoners taken. The soldiers established a new line of posts up forward in positions previously arranged, with the exception of one to the left. Here the Germans were resolute in their defence, fighting doggedly to hold on to bunker and machine-gun positions.
Major Orr reported to his superiors that Charlie commanded a portion of the raiding party, displaying splendid leadership and fearlessness in attempting to capture the enemy strong post, “which he could have done had there been sufficient time.” Charlie went forward repeatedly regardless of his own safety, doing “everything that was possible for a man to do.” When operations were over he carried a wounded man back five hundred yards under severe machine-gun fire.
Part of the text of Orr’s subsequent letter to Lilla survives. It reads: “I had the pleasure of recommending . . . this medal and it was very well earned.”
The medal was the Military Cross, the citation noting “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty,” not for one act of bravery, two.
Almost immediately Charlie was sent to another training school.
Then, at last, came his turn for a promised break –– in England.
The day after the reward for his heroism was announced on August 31, Charlie proceeded across the channel to London. There, on September 5, 1917, the near-thirty-five-year-old wed Lilla. She was aged one month short of thirty years.
An Anglican vicar, the Rev. Hancock, conducted the service at Holy Trinity, Richmond, not far from Lilla’s home. Even if no family members were able to attend, the best wishes of brother George would have been high in the couple’s minds. The two men’s paths crossed on the other side of the British Channel only a couple of weeks earlier. The chance for a meeting was when 1st Auckland relieved 2nd Otago with whom George served as a corporal.
Proudly displayed on Charles Edward Morgan’s chest on his wedding day was a new ribbon, that of the Military Cross.
Another recipient of the Military Cross announced on August 31 had been his colleague, John Gordon Coates, freshly promoted from lieutenant to captain of one of the Auckland companies. At home in Rodney, Coates had been a young county chairman. In 1925, he was to become New Zealand’s Prime Minister.
Demands of war permitted Charlie and his bride only a few days for a honeymoon, a real instance of love you and leave you. Charlie and fellow officers knew that the big push against the enemy was planned for some time soon.
It was. Secret orders drawn up for 1st Auckland’s part in this singled out Charlie – the only man to get specific mention. Thus the newlywed rejoined the unit in Belgium on September 12, 1917, took part again in one of New Zealand’s greatest moments of the first war, and was dead within hours – one month to the day after taking Lilla as his bride.
Charlie’s next battle was ten kilometres as the crow flies from the site of his earlier bravery. Now he was near Polygon Wood, Gravenstafel. The target for capture was nearby Abraham Heights, a sector of Broodseinde Ridge.
The action took place close to the site at Zonnebeke that the Belgians were later to select for its memorial museum to the battle for Passchendaele. The fighting was also close to where one of New Zealand’s significant memorials now stands at Gravenstafel.
And as Charlie moved forward to take his place east of St Julien, his path crossed brother George’s again.
George’s unit was being relieved, with the result that, if they did get a chance to speak, George’s greeting was the last he was to receive from his family in New Zealand — and it was to be two more years before George returned to Napier to tell everyone about Passchendaele.
Afterward, one medical man wrote of this battle: “I doubt if anyone who has not experienced it can have any idea of what it was like. The bombardments of the Somme last year were nothing to those round Ypres. Batteries jostled each other in the shell-marked waste of mud, barking and crashing night and day. There were no trees, no houses, no countryside, no shelter, no sun.
“Wet, grey skies hung over the blasted land. In the mind a gloomy depression grew and spread. Trenches disappeared. Pill-boxes and shell holes took their place. We never went up the line with a working party with any real expectation of returning.”
Only a few pages of the orders for the 1st Auckland Battalion remain, in the vaults of New Zealand’s National Archives. Instructions were to attack on a 600-metre frontage, the men having formed on tapes in two lines of companies in single rank with forty paces between lines. The tapes were necessary in the absence of regular and continuous trenches.
Charlie’s special task was to approach enemy territory to lay out the tapes for this jump-off line, undetected and precisely positioned so that 1st Auckland, moving forward at a calculated pace with lines of men accurately separated, could be supported by their own artillerymen’s shells. The new training that he had been passing on meant the troops must proceed forward in countless single files each of six or eight men. The gaps between the sections were intended to minimise the risk of casualties from falling shells.
The shelling was to clear the space immediately in advance of the infantrymen. The artillerymen were to lift their guns’ sights further up the slope and drop their shells at strategic intervals and the infantrymen were expected to follow at a distance of fifty yards close to where the shells landed, “mopping up” as they went any enemy that hadn’t been caught in the artillery fire.
It was intended that there be an element of surprise for 1st Auckland’s opposition, men from Bavaria, many of them only sixteen years old, others past retirement age. There were to be no give-away preliminary barrages. Artillery and infantry action was to be simultaneous.
The 6th Company was to be on the right of the leading line and the 15th Company on the left of the leading line. The 16th Company was to be to the right of the second line and 3rd Company to the left.
The 6th and 15th companies were each to send forward two platoons of 50 men abreast in two lines in extended order. The rear line was to be 20 paces behind the front line. These platoons were to be extended over the whole of the 600-metre frontage allotted to the company, and following the barrage endeavour to reach the objective in the same formation.
The third of the 15th’s four platoons, fifty men again, was instructed to mop up Vale Trench and pillbox. The final platoon was to follow the two front platoons as reserve, armed in readiness to assist in the capture of Vale House.
One platoon of the 3rd was to be ready to assist in the capture of Winzig pillboxes, again being ready to assist in the capture of Albatross Farm. Yet another of the 3rd was directed to Aviatic Farm. The two remaining platoons of the 3rd’s troops were to remain on tapes, standing by as one or the other of the commanding officer’s reserve force or the company commander’s reserves, until the road in front of Boetleer had been passed.
As well as the two platoons at the front, 6th was to provide two platoons for mopping up at Deer House and Boetleer Village on the way to the objective of the attack: The Red Line, between one hundred and two hundred yards short of the crest of Broodseinde Ridge.
There were similar instructions for each of the 16th’s four platoons.
At the Red Line the men were given one hour to dig a continuous wavy trench across the entire sector. The width to be three feet, depth four feet. “Drainage to be attended to.” Coping with the rain which bucketed down over Flanders Fields that month would have been sufficiently daunting without the additional hazards of a hail of shells, shrapnel and bullets. Hanebeek, Stroombeek and Ravenbeek creeks were all flooded. One vehicle actually sank out of sight in the ooze beside a track.
The task for 1st Auckland was to pave the way for the Wellington Battalion to leapfrog over them and advance to the Blue Line, the ultimate objective between twelve hundred and nineteen hundred yards from the start.
Zero hour was 6 o’clock on the morning of October 4, when the barrage would begin and infantry would advance simultaneously
Charlie was in the front again, leading one of the platoons on the left, those most threatened by Bavarians of the 10 Ersatz Division in pillboxes and trenches just outside Auckland’s boundary.
During the afternoon of October 3 Charlie saw to it that the posts to support the tapes were surreptitiously dug into place about 150 yards short of where the New Zealanders’ first artillery shells were to fall. Enemy spotter planes flew while this work was progressing, meaning it had to happen in a manner that gave no forewarning to the spies overhead. As darkness fell, 2nd Lieutenant Morgan returned to the area with some scouts to lay the tapes and wires around these posts.
In the darkness New Zealand companies were guided forward to their positions without noise or confusion. Most of the men lying cuddled up to the line had to endure the rain in shell holes with waterproof capes drawn over their heads. They were already exhausted from a long march up to the line.
The suspense was nerve-racking. All night long shells crashed around them, causing 80 casualties among 1st Auckland’s men before the battle began. The whine of flying fragments in the darkness, the wailing cry of “stretcher-bearer”, the mud, the inky blackness and the uncertainty of what lay ahead all added to the horror of the night. The smell of dead not yet buried from previous pushes permeated the atmosphere for more than two miles.
The ground was covered with shell holes as close as pebbles on a beach. The men laughed as they tried to stop the movement of their quivering hands.
A grey misty light enveloped the battlefield. The barrage opened. It was tremendous. Men had never heard the likes of it. The ground shook like jelly from the firing of hundreds of guns. The infantrymen could see only a curtain of shells ahead and through that atmospheres of only smoke and drizzle. Shells fell continuously among them but the ground was so soft that most of them, sinking deeply in, blew geysers of mud into the air.
According to the planners there were Scots troops on the left of the New Zealand battalions and Australians on the other flank. Sections became mixed up. Australians ran among the Aucklanders, having passed through the Wellingtons on the way.
At some time Germans advanced with bayonets fixed. Machine-gunners in their concrete pillboxes on the left flank kept up their rain of bullets as the New Zealanders rushed forward, Charlie among them, to make a capture. Amid the smoke, noise and shellfire a seething mass of men pushed forward, not knowing who had been hit or where the next enemy onslaught was coming from.
Early in the attack, men of Charlie’s 15th and the 3rd companies were drawn to the left, north of 1st Auckland’s line, because there was heavy fire from the pillboxes, trenches and farmhouses at Dear House, Aviatik Farm, Vale House, Winzig and Albatross Farm.
In fact, they had not gone more than two hundred yards when they came upon the first lines of the enemy, who had been assembling for an attack of their own. In time 1st Auckland managed to subdue the pillboxes one by one with flank attacks and Mills bombs, the tactics Charlie and his men had been in training for. On the Auckland front alone at the end there were about five hundred corpses, three hundred in the remainder of the New Zealand zone. 1st Auckland’s battle took them as far north as Winchester Farm, which they captured, and the Red Line all the way to it.
The Scots to Auckland’s left also suffered heavy casualties from the same distant gun fire which harassed Auckland. Machine-gun bullets beat against them in a steady driving hail from Yetta Houses and the Bellvue Spur where pillboxes looked commandingly down the whole Stroombeek Valley. The Scots were not able to fill the line and so 1st Auckland men stayed put some yards north of their boundary. Eventually, it seemed, the whole of the company was drawn by fighting into the territory the Scots were unable to occupy.
Wellington moving wider across Auckland’s patch of the New Zealand zone fought successfully all the way to the Red Line. Other New Zealand companies leapfrogged over the soldiers holding forth in new trenches in the red line to a new objective, the Blue Line, further on.
The attack on this first day of Passchendaele was highly successful. The aggressive Kiwis moved the front line in their sector nineteen hundred yards forward and took eleven hundred and fifty-nine prisoners of war.
But the battle was costly. Stretcher-bearers and dressers of the field ambulance worked 60 hours without rest. Utterly exhausted, the men fell asleep at their relay post, in total disregard of the cold, and drizzling rain which got heavier as time went on and the harassing shellfire of the enemy.
Somewhere on the northern side of the brigade boundary, probably in the territory in which the fighting had been most ferocious, between Winchester and Albatross Farm, a shell got Charlie. The stretcher-bearers had an appalling job extricating him from the mud and slush. Wounded men were providing an extra burden that freezing day: coats, clothing and blanket were soaked with water and weighed down with mud.
Stoically the bearers “rushed” Charlie two thousand yards on a stretcher to the regimental aid post at Schuler Farm. It had been established especially to receive Auckland’s wounded from this battle and was still much in the firing line.
Unexploded shells were still being unearthed there in 2006, only days before the writer called. In all, some thousands of live shells still are unearthed each year around Ypres. The Belgian Army employs a squad of specially-paid collection men who do rounds of the region much like New Zealand’s weekly garbage collectors.
Charlie’s right thigh was badly battered. He was in shock and losing copious quantities of blood. According to the records it would have taken four men manning the stretcher anything up to and four hours to get him from where he fell to Schuler Farm. Even mules became bogged in the mire. The stretcher-bearers had more men with thigh injuries to carry than previously experienced, particularly among the men of the Auckland Battalion. Stretcher-bearers themselves suffered high mortality from shellfire.
One New Zealand padre at a regimental aid post said: “We were going hard nearly all day long. I helped to place in splints I can’t tell how many broken thighs and found at last I could be really useful if given the opportunity.”
The “useful” padre was G H Gavin, a quiet selfless man, who was at Schuler Farm when Charlie was brought in. He’s the man who placed a Thomas splint on Charlie’s leg and helped the stretcher-bearer apply a tourniquet. Padre Gavin stood by while Charlie was given a sip of brandy, and he promised Charlie that he would send Lilla his love.
Next day, Pastor Gavin did just that. His letter said: “I understand he did good work in the fight.” Ominously the padre added: “It would be wrong to hide from you the fact that he is severely wounded.”
The injured man was evacuated on the light railway, open wagons drawn on a network of tracks maintained by a corps of New Zealanders assembled for the purpose only the previous February. The light railway was created to cart ammunition and gear up to the front, collecting and returning with scores of injured only as and when the enemy and upward traffic allowed. It also operated a daily run with rations.
Initially, derailments were the order of the day, and it was nothing to have every engine on the system off the tracks at the same time. In some cases crews found themselves walking the whole length of the system to their depot at Poperinge. In addition to derailments or the hazard of shelling by the enemy, lack of water for the engines was a drawback. Crews made many a trip to shell holes with buckets in order to keep steam, no easy matter when frogs and insects blocked an engine’s injectors.
Mule trains were often in the habit of operating on the same unlit line at night, with suddenly dire results when a mule and an engine came face to face.
It was some time before outsiders became educated to the fact that the light railway was being organised by a properly organised outfit.
Within months, however, the tracks were accommodating six hundred and fifty wagons and fifty-six locomotives, the nature of some of them earning the description of tractors. The network extended to the Hanebeek, which passed across the frontage of Schuler Farm so that on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele, the little trains carried a huge portion of forty-five thousand tonnes of ammunition to the battlefields and brought back five thousand men from advanced dressing stations for treatment at the casualty stations in and around Ypres.
Charlie, with stretcher-bearer beside him applying the tourniquet as necessary, was delivered in this manner to the Australian Casualty Clearing Hospital at Poperinge, west of Ypres, a journey which at its speediest in the day would have taken at least an hour. The town was surrounded by a sprawling array of camps, hospitals and supply depots. It was also a favoured recreational area, location of the famous soldiers’ rest place, Talbot House, more popularly known as Toc H run by Tubby Clayton.
By now the war had taken Charlie’s best. It had sapped his spirit. He stood up to the ordeal of Gallipoli in the first year. In the second, he stood up to shellfire and further injury at the Somme. In the third, losing blood copiously, he tried again to hang on.
From his stretcher Charlie saw a great light on dirty faces of men as they sat on wooden forms, their arms bared to a doctor who pricked flesh with his inoculating needle to carry its serum to attack the tetanus germ. And Charlie heard the screams as broken bodies were lifted on to the tables for surgeons’ knives. They were working in tents and an area described by some as little more than a tunnel attached to a trench.
Getting around as efficiently as she could under the light of overhead lamps was the matron, Australian Ida O’Dwyer. She had enlisted for war service an age ago it seemed, late in 1914, only days after Charlie. In Australia then, as it was in New Zealand, an expedition to the battle zone sounded much like an adventure in the offing.
Now she was moving among stretchers and pallets bearing the wounded and the dying. They were crammed into every available space.
She saw that Charlie was “quite collapsed and suffering from shock and loss of blood.” Immediately she saw to it that everything possible was done to revive him and as soon as possible he was operated on.
It was Charlie’s turn to scream as he was lifted on to the operating table. His body was a mess – severe compound fracture of the thigh, leg below it badly shattered.
The surgeon’s work late on October 4 was of no avail. He sank rapidly and died at 2.30am next day.
“I am afraid it is so very little to tell you but it might be some small consolation to you to know that he was in hospital where he had every care and attention and all that was possible was done for him,” Matron O’Dwyer wrote to Lilla.
“Your husband was buried this morning at a military cemetery just out of Poperinge and all his small personal effects will eventually be sent on to you.”
The cemetery is Nine Elms, created on September 17, the same week as Charlie returned from his honeymoon. He was among the first to be buried there, plot number 111, row A, grave 8.
Three rows away in the cemetery lies a noted rugby player, Sergeant David Gallagher, captain of the 1905 All Blacks, shot in the face in much the same territory near Gravenstafel Spur as Charlie.
So it was that New Zealanders had won Gravenstafel, but Charlie had lost. He and a number of the other 117 Kiwi soldiers buried in this cemetery never knew that some writers believe the fight on October 4 was one of New Zealand’s most successful in the war. Abraham Heights had been conquered.
Weeks afterward, Lilla went from Sheen Park, Richmond, to attend the formal presentation at the War Office of the Military Cross won by Charlie. The occasion was reported in the London papers under headings such as “Military Cross for gallantry” and “A New Zealander’s fearlessness.”
It was one of a number of occasions over the next years that the administrations of both Britain and New Zealand caught up with Lilla as they tidied up in the aftermath of the war.
In New Zealand, the Army discovered that it still owed Charlie £47/7/9d, the residue of his military pay. This required the bureaucrats to go to court in Wellington on June 28, 1920. There permission was obtained for the Public Trustee to distribute the funds to Lilla.
On July 25, 1921, three years and nine months after Charles died, the military despatched a scroll commemorating his service to the woman who had enjoyed his marriage for barely a week.
When Lilla died sixty-five years later in 1982, Charlie would have been one hundred years old. His bride, blind for a few years and unable to move without the guidance of a seeing-eye dog, carried his memory to the grave. She was faithful to the end.
She wrote first to Charlie’s mother in 1917, and continued correspondence with his sisters, especially Louie in Napier; then Louie’s daughter Marion after Louie died in 1967.
Lilla opened her house at Richmond to Charlie’s New Zealand nephews who served in the Second World War. She welcomed them as visitors whenever they were on station nearby. She was happy to offer a gin and while they sipped she spoke fondly of Charlie and asked often about his life before she knew him.
Kiwi nieces visited her, first in Richmond then in Brixham, Devon, whence she moved with her spinster sister for their retirement years. Lilla died in a nursing home at Brixham. Her death notice paid tribute to her husband of only a short time and her will asked that the sapphire and diamond engagement ring, Charlie’s lasting gift to her, be sent to a friend in the United States.
Her other great wish was that Charlie’s medals and ribbons be sent to New Zealand, where they could be cherished by Morgan descendants.
Charlie’s grave in Belgium is still visited by nieces and nephews who have journeyed, just as he did, all the way from Hawke’s Bay.
Nowadays, the name of Charles Edward Collins Morgan is among the 94 commemorated behind an eternal flame at Napier’s War Memorial Hall in New Zealand and on a roll of honour at the Napier Returned Services Association. He is also listed on the wall of the First World War Hall of Memories at Auckland Museum.
His Military Cross was passed in 2004 by his sister Poppy’s son, Charles Douglas (Chook) Fergusson to Chook’s son Martin. His brother George’s grand-daughter, Carolyn Morgan, held the surviving parts of Charlie’s two diaries, also his Masonic papers. She and brothers John and Chris had one each of his gold and silver shooting medals. Brother Stanley’s son, James Morgan, held a pair of Charlie’s gold engraved cufflinks. Another son, Mark, held a shooting medal.
Most special amongst all of this, however, was a gold shooting medal from the Hawke’s Bay Rifle Association. It was taken from Charles’s tunic after Passchendaele and returned to Lilla in London.
Lilla in turn sent it to New Zealand early in 1919 in the care of Charlie’s brother George, who himself was returning home, his health ruined for life by German mustard gas in the Somme the previous year.
As instructed, George delivered the medal to Charlie’s mother, now Ada Rose Harrison, suggesting that Ada Rose wear it as a brooch. That’s exactly what she did, linking to it a gold muff chain. That medal and muff chain were held in 2017 by George’s grand-daughter, Carolyn.
And on the hand of the compiler of this story, James Edward Morgan, Charlie’s nephew, is a wedding band made from the case, the only part of Charlie’s gold watch to survive the First World War a hundred years ago. The watch was also sent back to Hawke’s Bay by Lilla to Ada Rose, the mother-in-law she never met.
Well, I have never heard a story like that. Was this from his diaries?
It started with his diaries which only went so far, and was filled in then by research which went on and on and on, and has reached this long narrative from which I read today.
Well I really have never heard such an in-depth, personal story. Thank you for that, James.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
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