More Stories from the First World War

More Stories from the First World War

During my internship with the Te Papa History Team, I have been working to try to identify the sitters who appear in a number of photographic portraits which are held in the museum’s collection.  Using military personnel files, databases and online resources I have tried to discover more information about the soldiers who had their photographs taken by Berry & Co. in Cuba Street, Wellington, before leaving for service in World War I.

Read more about the Berry & Co. Collection

With only a family name handwritten on the top of each negative, this has been a challenging task, but I have had some success.  My previous blog posts have told the stories of Sergeant-Major Charles Vandersluys; the two brothers Donald and John Jessen; and the New Zealand soldiers buried at Walton-on-Thames churchyard in Surrey whose names appear on another object in the collection, a memorial banner.

I have recently been able to make some more identifications, and discover more fascinating life stories:

Private Roy Houchen

Black and white glass negative (Houchen);1914-1920; Berry & Co; Wellington
Black and white glass negative (Houchen);1914-1920; Berry & Co; Wellington

This photograph is almost certainly a portrait of Roy Houchen, a soldier with the rank of Private in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Medical Corps.

Former home of Roy Houchen and his mother, 94 Constable Street, as it looks today. Photo: Kiera Gould, 2011.
Former home of Roy Houchen and his mother, 94 Constable Street, as it looks today. Photo: Kiera Gould, 2011.

Houchen was born in Wellington on the 15th January 1892.  He worked as a cabinetmaker for an S. S. Williams and lived with his mother in Constable Street, Newtown.  He was also a member of the Wellington Naval Boating Society before he enlisted for war service in 1914.  As a volunteer from the early days of the conflict, he left with the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force from Wellington in October, bound for Egypt and the Suez.

He served in Malta and at Gallipoli in 1915 but was admitted to the Fifth General Hospital at Leicester in October of that year.  When he had recovered, he served in France, but had another stay in hospital at the New Zealand General Hospital No. 2, Walton-on-Thames, in 1917.  Recovering again, he continued to serve, but became very ill in May 1918 and was again admitted to Walton-on-Thames hospital.  He was discharged as no longer fit to serve as he was unfortunately suffering from chronic diarrhoea(!!), and returned to Wellington in February 1919.

Black and white glass negative (Houchen);1914-1919; Berry & Co; Wellington
Black and white glass negative (Houchen);1914-1919; Berry & Co; Wellington

In 1921, Roy Houchen married Eileen May Lake, the daughter of Charles Jessen Lake and Jane Kirkland Lake.  The couple lived at 50 Ross Street, Kilbirnie.  In 1927 Eileen gave birth to a daughter.

Roy Houchen was a member of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows, a global fraternal organisation which was established in New Zealand in 1843.  In England, it is claimed that the brotherhood can trace its roots back to the trade guilds of the 12th and 13th centuries, but is now based in the USA and known as the Independent Order of Oddfellows.  The organisation was historically organised by membership to a particular lodge, which also operated a fund to which members contributed, and could then me used to support brethren in their times of need, for example contributing towards the cost of funerals.  Membership became less popular throughout the 20th century as governments established public welfare systems, and there was less need for people to contribute to a central fund for times of need.

However, up until his death Roy Houchen belonged to the Loyal William Bain Branch in Kilbirnie, and the Brethren of Tutanekai Lodge were invited in an advert placed in the Evening Post to attend his funeral.

Roy Houchen died following illness on 17th July 1934, aged 42.  He was buried on the 19th July at Karori Cemetery in Wellington.  His grave is in the public section in plot 496N.  His wife Eileen had a very sad year in 1934 as her mother passed away just four months after her husband had died.


Lieutenant William Gallen

Black and white glass negative (Eric Marchant);1918-1919; Berry & Co; Wellington
Black and white glass negative (Eric Marchant);1918-1919; Berry & Co; Wellington

This is probably a photograph of William James Gallen, the eldest son of Katie and Hugh Gallen.  He is wearing the uniform of a non-commissioned sergeant, which allows the photo to be dated between January and April 1917, when he held this rank.

Before enlisting, Gallen had worked as a draughtsman for the New Zealand Government.  He had joined the Public Service at Gisborne in 1910 and during his service had taken a keen interest in military matters, particularly signalling.  After working as a draughtsman for three and a half years, he qualified for the field branch of his department.  By this time he was living and working in Nelson, where he married Wanda (Vanda) Myra Natalie Ellis, the only daughter of William Alfred Ellis and his wife Emily, on the 4th July 1917.

William Gallen was Roman Catholic, and a loyal member of the Hiberian Catholic Benefit Society in Nelson.  He was elected to President of the society in 1916, where he also acted as a trustee.

On the eve of his departure from Nelson, an evening event was held in his honour at the Crown Lands Office where his colleagues made him the presentation of a wrist watch to wish him good luck and a safe return.

Gallen spent time training at Trentham Camp before embarking from Wellington on 16th November 1917 on the Tahiti, with the rank of Second Lieutenant, part of the 25th Specialist Company.  He returned to New Zealand following injury on the Kigoma and was discharged on the 13th August 1919.


Private Eric Marchant

Black and white glass negative (Eric Marchant);1918-1919; Berry & Co; Wellington
Black and white glass negative (Eric Marchant);1918-1919; Berry & Co; Wellington

This is an image of Eric Edward Marchant who was born to parents Henry Edward Marchant and Henrietta Laura Marchant (nee Freeman), both of Wellington, on 30th January 1898.

Marchant was part of the New Zealand Garrison Artillery, a voluntary service in Wellington for 8 months before enlisting for the Expeditionary Force on 1st February 1918 at the age of 20.  Medical examination judged him to be under-size and underweight, and therefore unfit for active service.  He was 5 feet and 3 inches (1.52 meters) tall but weighed only 97 pounds (about 44 kg). He was however judged to be fit to go to Samoa, but his military file contains little information about his duties during wartime.

His service was complete and he was discharged on the 13th March 1919.

It is likley that Eric Marchant and his parents left New Zealand after the war, as there is no registered record of their deaths occurring in the country, and I have been unable to discover any newspaper articles or advertisements which may refer to them.  If you know of any further information relating to the Marchant family, or any of the soldiers pictured, please leave a comment below.


  1. MARCHANT family: Try NSW (Australia) deaths for Henrietta Laura (died 28jan1953, late of Mosman, dau of Nicholas; notices in ‘Sydney Morning Herald 31jan1953 and 05feb1953); Henry Edward (died 1958 aged 87yrs, Mosman,); plus marriage in 1940, Sydney, NSW, for Eric Edward to Margaret Doreen LEDRAN. Have found no trace of deaths for Eric and Margaret to date.

  2. I will check with the Masterton Archives for the Marchant name.. and friends down in Featherston.. and let you know..

  3. Hi Adele,

    I have a feeling the Marchant you might have spotted could be Eric Lauchlan Marchant, I came across references to him quite a lot during my research and he seems to have been a fairly prominent public figure and had a long life past his war service. Sounds interesting though, so would be great to hear about it if you come across any juicy details. It’s my last week in my internship at Te Papa next week, so for now email is, but after the 30th Sept I would pass any information on to Kirstie Ross, Curator of History, at

  4. RE Marchant, am sure there is a burial at Featherston for this name, also a road called Marchant at Kaitoki…. near Rimutaka Hill… believe its a Cornish surname.. will check up on it! will keep you updated, have you an email for contact please.. thanks.. Adele

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