Wednesday, 16 April 2014

"Honouring Our Local Boys" - ANZAC Day Remembrance 25th April 2014

Featured in my 2013 ANZAC Day Blog, the schoolchildren of
the small Heddon Bush School commemorate the
"Brave ANZAC's", taken 1917
[From my own collection] 

The 25th of April 2014 again marks that rare day each year when the two sovereign nations of Australia and New Zealand both commemorate those servicemen and servicewomen who have served and also fallen in military operations for their respective countries. ANZAC Day 2014 will be even more significant as we lead up to the centenary of the commencement of "The Great War" of 1914-1918.

But how did local New Zealand communities personally honour those servicemen who both went to war and those who were lucky enough to return home safely after having done their duty for King and Country? For those who returned home the physical and mental scars were often patently obvious for all to see. I have no doubt that many communities wanted to give some tangible object of their gratitude for the obvious sacrifice these young men had made.    

My childhood rural community of Heddon Bush in the southern province of Southland New Zealand were no exception and may possibly have done more than most. I do suspect that some local and well established individuals also dug very deeply into their own personal pockets. But one also has to remember that farmers had personally profited from high commodity prices during the First World War period so this may have been a way for some community-minded folk to "give something back". Overall, the ability of the local community to raise funds for "Patriotic War Relief" was quite prodigious and the school children were also no exception. My own Father aged 12 years gave a "recitation" for Belgian Day in 1915 (in support of Belgian Relief Funds) with an additional  "voluntary" offering of his pocket money amounting to one shilling. He had gone onto High School (College) by the time the above group photograph was taken in 1917.  

Part of the Heddon Bush Red Cross Society Bed Cover of 1918.
I can find no record of where it was sent.
[From a glass plate negative in my own collection]

Under the New Zealand "War Funds Act" of 1915, the Government of the day sought to regulate the huge amounts of War Relief Funds being collected. It was more at the local level that problems arose where in the main the money from each district had been applied for the relief of servicemen and their dependents within that district. Thus, soldiers from districts who had sent many men into service but were unable to raise large amounts of relief funds were disadvantaged in regards to comforts received by those who came from areas where there was greater personal wealth or perhaps, in the case of Heddon Bush, an exceptionally well organised and well-supported Relief Committee. Thus War Relief Funds would now be applied uniformly over the Dominion "so that no sailor, soldier, or dependents, should be without relief". All collectors were required to hold an official collection card or be subject to a conviction with a fine of up to £20.  

So, working within the Act (which appears only to have related to actual financial support), the Heddon Bush community still wished to personally give those servicemen who left the district a tangible object of their heart-felt gratitude but also honouring those who safely returned. Reading local newspaper accounts of the period and reading the frequently published casualties and deaths, the Heddon Bush community were by mid war in no illusion whatsoever as to the risks their boys might face at the front. So an additional financial sacrifice for "their" men was but a small price to pay. But how could they show their gratitude and heart-felt best wishes for a safe return home?

On final leave in 1918 prior to leaving for
England, and in one last full family
photograph, my Uncle is pictured wearing
his gift from the local community.
[From my own collection]

The local Patriotic Committee generously decided that all Heddon Bush servicemen on final leave before departure for Europe (at least from mid-war) were to not only be given a decent send-off in the local hall but also presented with what I believe to be a very practical and well thought out gift - a good quality Swiss made silver 'Rolex' military wristwatch. The reverse was engraved "From Heddon Bush Friends" including the date of presentation.

The  silver 'Rolex' military wrist watch
presented to my Uncle in May 1918.
The card dial is damaged but the
watch is still in working order.
[From my own collection]

Mr W. Watson, after expressing pleasure at seeing such a large number present, called upon Mr J. Boyle to present the two young soldiers with a wristlet watch each…. Mr Boyle said the watches would act as a connecting link between soldiers and their homes, and as tokens of esteem in which they were held by their friends at Heddon Bush… [the servicemen] briefly returned thanks. Excellent music for dancing was supplied by Egan’s Band…” [30 May 1918]

I still hold the wrist watch presented to my Uncle at this event, being well-used but still in perfect working condition. He never had to face the full horrors of the war as the Armistice was signed while he was in training in England. Nevertheless he told me in 1982 (at age 85) that he still wished he had gotten to fight. He died later that year.

[Footnote : I have since had this watch manufactured in 1915 fully restored by a specialist watchmaker so that I can now occasionally use it]

The back of the (still working) 'Rolex' military wrist watch
a quality Swiss movement with no less than "15 jewels".
The reverse of the back cover is engraved to the recipient.
The way carried a date mark and serial number for 1915.
[From my own collection]

But what could the close-knit Heddon Bush community give their boys once they returned home? This gift, which would serve as a special thank you from the community, would be something quite unique and valuable. Again, some thought appears to have gone into this and the result was, I believe, a triumph. What could be more meaningful than a quality locally made and engraved gold watch chain fob? But additionally they would also receive the very useful sum of £10 in cash each as some recompense for their very considerable trouble. That converts to the equivalent of NZD $920.00 in today's money.   

I also proudly hold the 9ct gold fob presented to my Uncle. The reverse is personally engraved to my Uncle. This was given by the Heddon Bush community to all local servicemen who returned from service overseas, regardless of, as in my Uncle's case, if they actually fought.

The 9ct engraved Gold Fob presented to my Uncle
upon his return from "The Great War" 1914-1918
[From my own collection]

"A large enthusiastic and friendly audience gathered in the Heddon Bush Hall on Friday to bid welcome to six district boys [all named]. The function took the form of a dance... Mr Watson, as Chairman, made a speech of welcome and let the boys see that all present were very pleased to greet their soldiers back to their own home. He then called on Mr Tilley to make the presentation to each, which consisted of a gold medal, suitably inscribed, and a wallet of notes, value £10... The soldiers then had their say, thanking everyone for their kindness and welcome which would be dearly appreciated. It was an untold pleasure to be back, the war over, and peace reigning, and we are fully convinced there is no place like home. "For they are jolly good fellows" was then heartily sung, after which supper was dispensed and dancing continued." [A report of a similar presentation held on the 3rd October 1919]. 

The medal, comprising of crossed rifles, the letters "NZ" and engraved ferns, was designed and manufactured by Mr William James Wesney, a talented young Jeweller of Otautau and Riverton in Southland from 1916. How many of these were produced is unknown but other Southern communities are known to also have presented this "welcome home" present to "their boys". The local rural town of Otautau presented all returned soldiers, who at the time of enlistment had been resident in the district at least 12 months, with this medal, including to the parents of those who had died in the service of their country.

The Heddon Bush Roll of Honour
[Photo Credit : Vicki-Lynne Hubber]

Those pupils of Heddon Bush School who served and also fell in "The Great War" of 1914-1918 (including the Second World War of 1939-1945) are today commemorated in a large wooden 'Roll of Honour', having been purchased from the proceeds of the Heddon Bush School 68th Jubilee Anniversary Celebrations in 1949. This is now located in the Heddon Bush Hall. While seemingly an odd date to celebrate a Jubilee it was felt the time was opportune as a number of first day pupils were still alive and able to attend.

Footnote : I was very sorry to note that both Mr WJ Wesney, the designer of this wonderful medal, and his wife Mrs GL Wesney, died together in a motor accident at "Heenan's Corner" on the Hundred Line on the 30th November 1964, aged 76 and 64 years respectively. Both are interred in the Otautau Cemetery.

Copyright : All images, except the Roll of Honour board, are from my own personal collection. These may not be used for any commercial purpose without my express permission but may be freely copied for private use provided the images are suitably acknowledged and / or a link is given back to this page.

Bibliography / Rārangi Pukapuka :
  • Family Archives (held by the writer)
  • "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
  • Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa


  1. What treasured heirlooms the watch and fob are. Great that you still have them in the family.

    Also I LOVE that photo of the schoolchildren from Heddon Bush.

  2. Thank you Lemuel, much appreciated. Yes, I treasure these heirlooms but my Uncle does not appear to have treasured his war medal as it was not in his possession when he died so in that respect I am quite sorry that I don't hold it as well.


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