In my work as an intern with the History Department here at Te Papa, one of the objects I’ve had the opportunity to work on is a memorial banner commemorating New Zealand soldiers from the First World War. I have been working to add more detail to the museum’s records around the lives of the soldiers who are named on the banner, and in doing so have had the opportunity to learn more about the story behind this fascinating object.
Early in the First World War, the New Zealand War Contingent Hospital was established at Mount Felix in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. It was the first New Zealand hospital set up in England, and was soon re-named the New Zealand General Hospital No. 2.
Initially plots in the nearby parish cemetery were acquired for soldiers who died in the hospital. Expecting a large number of burials, the War Graves Commission arranged for more than one burial to take place in each grave. However, a larger plot became available in the nearby Brookwood Cemetery, and so fewer burials than was first expected took place at Walton-on-Thames churchyard. This meant that some of the grave sites which were used early-on contained multiple burials, while others remained empty.
The soldiers commemorated on the banner
The names of eighteen soldiers and one nurse of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) are recorded on the banner, which was originally installed in the Walton-on-Thames Parish Church. It also shows the date they died, their military serial number, their rank and the unit they were serving with – very useful to the History team at Te Papa for locating their Military Personnel files and finding out more information about them.
Private James Livingstone Porter served with the Otago Infantry Battalion. He worked as a moulder before joining up early in the war and departing from Port Chalmers in October 1914. He died of wounds sustained at Gallipoli in October 1916.
Corporal Thomas Wallace Phillips was part of the Auckland Mounted Rifles and the 2nd Reinforcements, he is mentioned on the War Memorial at Cambridge, New Zealand.
Private William Fox’s name is recorded wrongly on the banner as ‘Cox’. He was a member of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion with the 4th Reinforcements. The spelling mistake has been transferred once more from the banner to the modern commemorative plaque which is now installed in the church! (See photograph below).
Acting Corporal John Brian Dalton had previously had a long association with the Hawera Mounted Rifles Volunteer Force. He embarked from Wellington on 17th April 1915 to serve with the Otago Mounted Rifles as part of the 4th Reinforcements. He was slightly wounded at Gallipoli but had become seriously ill by the time he reached England, where he was admitted to the hospital at Walton-on-Thames and died on the 2nd December 1915.
Corporal Henry Hudson was part of the Main Body of the Wellington Infantry Battalion who left Wellington in 1914. He died two years later from heart failure following pneumonia.
Driver Arthur Hall was part of the Army Service Corps. He died of heart failure following an operation at Walton-on-Thames in June 1916.
Driver William Henry Russell was part of the 9th Reinforcements of the New Zealand Field Artillery, he died of his wounds in September 1916.
Rifleman Edward Rout was employed as a general labourer by J. Cole of Papatoetoe before joining the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. He died of wounds inflicted to his right shoulder and right leg in October 1916.
Private Kingi Hamana was part of the 1st Maori Contingent, B Company. He died of tuberculosis in October 1916.
Private John Lewis Boyd was part of the Auckland Mounted Rifles and the 7th Reinforcements. His injuries left him paralysed from the waist down. He remained in England after being discharged from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as his mother lived in Hampshire. He died in 1932 and was buried at Walton-on-Thames, so his name must have been added to the banner long after it was originally installed in the church, and only shortly before it was removed to make way for a more permanent memorial.
Sapper Jack Fleming was married to Anne Charleswood and had two daughters, Annie Elizabeth and Nellie. He left his family in Auckland when he embarked in April 1916 with the New Zealand Field Engineers. He died of disease in October the same year.
Private Montrose Baker from Gisbourne was a member of the Wellington Infantry Battalion and the 7th Reinforcements. He died from his wounds.
Private Ramera (Raniera) Wairau embarked from Wellington in September 1915 as part of the 2nd Maori Contingent. He died of tuberculosis in October 1916.
Private William Henry Rishworth of Dunedin was wounded by shrapnel whilst serving with the Otago Infantry Regiment in the 12th Reinforcements. He later died of his wounds at Walton-on-Thames.
Rifleman George Blinko was a cabinetmaker from Hastings who served with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade before contracting pneumo-coccal meningitis and dying on 6th January 1917.
Private Taura from Atiu, Cook Islands, joined the Rarotongans Unit of the 3rd Maori contingent, despite not being able to speak any English. He contracted tuberculosis and died in January 1917.
Private Robert Black was husband of Alice Ann Black from Rarotonga and an accountant before he joined the Wellington Infantry Regiment. He died of disease in April 1917.
Miss T. W. Bennet was a nurse in the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) who worked at the New Zealand General Hospital No. 2. Unfortunately we have so far not been able to uncover any more information about her.
Colonel Charles Mackie Begg was a surgeon in the New Zealand Medical Corps and became the Director of Medical Services for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He died at his home in Twickenham from influenza and pneumonia in 1919.
In the 1930s, Colonel Begg’s brother wrote to the High Commissioner of New Zealand with several complaints about the visibility of his brother’s grave. After visiting Walton-on-Thames, he claimed that the graves were hard to find, that he found his brother’s name quite illegible on the gravestone, and that it did not list his full honours. As the Beggs were an influential family, the High Commissioner took the complaint very seriously, and sent the Director of Works from the Imperial War Graves Commission, a Mr. Sheppard who worked for the Imperial War Graves Commission, but was also a New Zealander, and a representative from the Office of the High Commission, all to inspect the site.
A rubbing and a plaster impression were taken on the headstone and sent to New Zealand, where they are still held at Archives New Zealand in Wellington. The reports of all three officials concluded that the headstones were quite clear, and located just inside the entrance to the churchyard, so easy to find. As was standard practice with war graves, they listed only each soldiers’ rank and serial number, and were not separated into a separate section of the churchyard as so few burials had actually taken place. Still concerned that Dr. Begg would not be satisfied, the High Commission passed on all the recorded evidence to the Prime Minister in case the complaint should be taken higher!
Use of the banner
In January 1920, a ceremony was held at Walton-on-Thames Parish Church to install this embroidered banner which recorded the names of nineteen New Zealanders buried in the adjoining cemetery. After its installation, this banner was taken out of the church to the graveside once every year as part of the Anzac Day service held on 25th April.
In 1932, it was proposed that a brass tablet should be installed to replace the ageing banner. The Returned Soldiers Association of New Zealand raised money from their members to pay for the tablet, which also included the names of two further soldiers who were recorded as ‘Missing in the UK’, Captain C. K. Ward and Private W. O. McDiarmid. This was installed inside the parish church where it can still be seen today (below).
The banner eventually found its way to New Zealand where it was presented to the Dominion Museum in 1961 by Adjutant General Brigadier McKinnon on behalf of the New Zealand Army Headquarters in Wellington.
Remembering New Zealand in Britain
Today, Walton-on-Thames still celebrates its entwined history with that ofNew Zealandand the NZEF. The former site of the hospital atMountFelixis now at one end of a road built in the 1930s named ‘New Zealand Avenue’. There is also a tribute to our capital in the naming of a local pub – the Wellington!
The making of the banner
The banner was made or ‘worked’ by one or maybe more soldiers during recovery at the New Zealand General Hospital. As well as a commemoration for those who had died, the process would have acted as a form of rehabilitation and way to pass the time. The apron pictured below is another example from the museum’s collection of an object made as a form of occupational therapy for an injured soldier.