ALBERT EVERITT, M.M. – Passchendaele gallantry medal milestone = 100 medals reunited.

20979 – ALBERT EVERITT,  M.M.       

Last year I received an email from Roger McK. of Auckland asking for assistance to return a medal he had found many years ago to the family of the recipient.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some 40 years ago (1976) Roger McK. had been digging a trench at his home to lay a power cable to his garage when he struck something metallic with his spade.  After he had cleaned what he thought was a coin he saw that in fact it was a medal of some sort as it bore the words: FOR BRAVERY IN THE FIELD.   Since the medal had no ribbon suspender bar and was tarnished black (and now slightly bent and dinged by his spade) Roger’s find could easily have been mistaken for a coin.  Roger also noted the following impression on the edge of the medal:  20979 PTE.- L.CPL. – A. EVERITT. 4 / N.Z. RIF. BDE.  Recognizing that it must be quite special he kept the medal but as time passed forgot all about it, as is often the case with such finds.  Roger recently re-discovered the medal and now fully appreciating its significance wanted to do something meaningful by attempting to have it returned and so contacted me. 

I knew immediately that what Roger had described to me was a gallantry medal – the Military Medal.  It was the first gallantry medal MRNZ had received to reunite so I was particularly keen to succeed.  Once I started research I noted this medal had a couple of attendant coincidences attached to it.  The first was that 2017 was the 100th anniversary year of award being made to Cpl. Everitt (31 October 1917), and secondly, if I were successful in reuniting this medal with a descendant it would mark MRNZ’s first significant milestone – 100 medals reunited with families.

 

 

 

 

 

Researching the Everitt family ancestry has been somewhat complex due to some large family groupings and a larger number whom are now deceased.  Added to this was the practice of ‘informal adoption’ of children born out of wedlock, particularly in rural NZ in Victorian New Zealand.  This, together with the practice of naming first born children after parents and poor birth record information, then you can probably start to appreciate the difficulty of acquiring proofs of ancestry for the purpose or reuniting medals.

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Charles Everitt and his bachelor brothers William, Albert and baby Henry left Cambridgeshire with their parents William Everitt (snr.) and Martha, nee IRELAND, and boarded the “Hanover” in London on 29 May 1862 to set sail for a new life in New Zealand.  The “Hanover” was the 2nd ship of migrants destined for ‘The Albertland Settlement’ at North Auckland.  The “Albertlanders” as they were called, arrived in Kaipara Harbour on o8 Sep 1862.  Land for these migrants was allocated on the basis of male children over the age of 5 years and so the Everitts were allotted a total of 140 acres about half way between Albertland and what is now Wellsford.   William was a carpenter/joiner by trade.  By 1873 the lure of gold in Thames goldfields which had opened in 1867 proved too great and the family moved to Shortland to try their luck.  Fortune however was not to be theirs so father and sons reverted to their trade skills for income, with William joining Charles in boat building.  It was in Thames that eldest son Charles, a boat-builder, met and married 19 year old Mary TOOMEY in 1877, a Capetown South Africa born girl of Irish parents, Richard Toomey (30) and Mary Ann Quinn (16) from Limerick.  

Charles and Mary Everitt’s first child Mary Ann (known as ‘May’) arrived in 1877, the first of 15 children they would have.  Thames by then was seething with miners and looking for new opportunities, parents William and Martha, Charles and Mary, and the two remaining brothers William and Albert moved again in the early 1880s to try their luck in the newest gold mining venture that was being established on the Waihou River in the Waiorongomai Valley, a few kilometers downstream from Te Aroha.  The youngest son Henry, now married, decided to leave the family and proceed on a different course.  He took up boat building at Scott’s Landing, Mahurangi before going to the Hokianga gum-digging in the Houhora  area of Northland some 10 years later, and then on to building at Te Kao.  For William, Charles and his brothers the building of a gold mining town and a bush railway to cart the quartz laden gold to the stamping battery, ensured plenty of capital poured in to Wairongomai and the associated industries flourished.  Charles became well known, a gregarious person and keen sportsman – boat race crewman (usually Cox) and cyclist, as well as an accomplished musician; member of the Naval Brigade Band – conductor and piano player (brother Albert also played the violin and cornet), and a popular MC when not conducting or playing the piano for the numerous town official and social events.  Whilst the clamour for the gold placed high demands on the brother’s building and engineering skills, the rewards supported the family quite well indeed – for as long as the gold lasted.  After five years of intensive mining, the gold proved uneconomical to extract and Waiorongomai Township quickly diminished  from it peak of over 2000 to a couple of  hundred residents by 1900.  

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Nearby Te Aroha at this time also benefited from the gold rush. Located further up the Waihou River and with poor road access in those early days, the river was the primary means of transportation of people and goods.  As a result the skills of Charles – boat builder and cabinetmaking, William (snr) boatbulder and coffin maker, William (jnr) – cabinetmaker & undertaker, and Albert – an engineer, were much sought after in the growing town.  The opportunities for business growth and stability versus boom/bust mining, or farming, saw the Everitt family relocate from Waiorongomai into Te Aroha.  The brothers established their workshops for cabinetry, upholstery and engineering.  Charles gained a reputation for the quality of his boat building.  The brothers also gained a licence to operate one of a number of public punts (ferry) across the Waihou River, residing at a place thereafter called ‘The Punt’.

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At this time, the New Zealand Land Wars were still in the throes of winding down but sporadic skirmishes and  the potential for country-wide hostilities to break out again remained ever present for some years, particularly for exposed rural settlements like Te Aroha.  There were many former soldiers residing in the vicinity of what would eventually expand into Hamilton with many of them attempting to settle and farm – that was the deal: the government gifted them an acreage (usually of appalling quality) as an inducement and part-payment for their voluntary war service.  In fact Charles and Mary Everitt had taken in a lodger, a soldier* and veteran of the 1881 raid on Parihaka in Taranaki, to help them financially with their growing family. 

Mary Ann (May) took on domestic work in Te Aroha during which time she met John Joseph (Jack) HILL, an itinerant miner and labourer who hailed from Nelson Creek, a riverside gold mining settlement near Greymouth.  In this environment it was probably not too hard to imagine how the birth of Albert Everitt eventuated for his then 18 year old mother May, on 24 June 1896 – Jack Hill subsequently left May Everitt and was never formally acknowledged as Albert’s father in any official records. 

Albert Everitt was to be his mother May’s only child – May never married, remaining a domestic and house-keeping spinster all her life.   By the time young Albert started his schooling he was under the guardianship of his grandmother, Mary Everitt in Te Aroha.   For an unwed mother, Albert’s birth and subsequent upbringing by his grand-parents was not that uncommon; the grand parents informally ‘adopting’ such children to discourage nosy neighbours and/or avoid a public scandal.  Likewise the practice of the pregnant, unwed mothers ‘going on a holiday’ or ‘visiting a relative’ in another town for a few months until well after the child had been born.  Once Albert had been ‘given over’ to her mother, May Everitt went to live and work in Auckland – alone.  May’s mother and son Albert came to visit and stay with her whenever they could.  After Charles Everitt (snr) died in 1908 wife Mary went to live permanently with her daughter May at 9 Hardinge Street in Central Auckland.  

Footnote:  Dec., 1881 – Regrettably the lodger, a 26 year old former soldier, James Fergusson Grant, late of the Thames Contingent of Volunteers Naval  Brigade and a Battle of Parihaka veteran, was found dead in his bedroom by Mary Everitt’s sister Catherine Toomey.  An inquest deemed that a combination of illness an excessive alcohol consumption had been the cause.

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Young Albert received some rudimentary schooling in Te Aroha however was soon put to work labouring on various local farms and learning the skills of a cheese making.  Once old enough (18)  Albert volunteered to join the local territorial militia, the Te Aroha Rifle Volunteers, which would stand him in good stead for the future.  With the onset of WW1, the engineering skills of Albert Everitt (snr) necessitated his move from Te Aroha firstly to Tauranga then Rotorua and during this time Albert Henry was co-opted from cheese making and farm work to help his uncle with his growing wartime workload.

The first of Charles and Mary Everitt’s sons to be called to fight for ‘King and Empire’ was 9/1544 Trooper Arthur James Everitt, Wellington Infantry Regiment, 7th Reinforcements who embarked in October 1915.  Arthur spent two years overseas being invalided home in October 1917 after being wounded in France by a gunshot which smashed his right elbow.  Arthur eventually recovered; he died in 1953 age 60 years. 

6/4241 Private Ernest Edrick EVERITT, NZ Rifle Brigade, 11th and 35th Reinforcements embarked for England twice, in May 1915 and Mar 1918 returning safely on both occasions, latterly in Dec 1919.  Ernest also enlisted for Home Service during WW2 and was employed as a Reinforcements Instructor in the Central Districts.  Ernest died in 1975 age 79 years.

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20 year old 20979 Private (Rifleman) Albert Everitt was enlisted into the 4th Battalion of the 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade, 16th Reinforcements, NZEF on 19 August 1916.   

Pte. Everitt embarked for England on the HMNZT 61 Aparima which sailed from Wellington on 19 August 1916, about a year after his ‘brother’ Arthur, marched into Sling Camp in October and arrived at the Etaples Admin Depot in France in Nov 1916.  During the period 10 March – 29 April 1917  Pte. Everitt managed to incur the wrath of his Battalion CO on two occasions.  On the first occasion he “absented himself without leave (AWOL) for 9.5 hours” for which he received 14 Days of Field Punishment No.1. (see below) – a very harsh punishment reserved for the worst offenders whilst on Active Service.  On a second occasion, just four weeks later, Pte. Everitt “failed to parade when warned for the trenches” – for which he received a lesser punishment, 28 Days of Field Punishment No.2. 

Field Punishment – what was it ?

Field Punishment No 1 (FP. 1): consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day. During the early part of World War I, the punishment was often applied with the arms stretched out and the legs tied together, giving rise to the nickname “crucifixion”. This was applied for up to three days out of four, up to 21 days total. It was usually applied in field punishment camps set up for this purpose a few miles behind the front line, but when the unit was on the move it would be carried out by the unit itself. During World War I, Field Punishment No 1 was issued by the British Army on 60, 210 occasions.

Field Punishment No 1 (FP. 2): the prisoner was placed in fetters and handcuffs but was not attached to a fixed object and was still able to march with his unit. This was a relatively tolerable punishment.

With both forms of field punishment, the soldier was also subjected to hard labour and loss of pay.

Private Everitt’s gallantry …

Given Albert’s age (20) and the sudden shock of being confronted with a combat environment, hardly surprising if he had been somewhat hesitant about joining the fray?  However he did and by October 1917 Pte. Everitt’s battalion was about to be engulfed in a battle which would result in the single greatest loss of New Zealander soldiers lives in WW1 – the Battle of Passchendaele.  Pte. Everitt sunk himself into his work with a combination of both trepidation and determination.  He particularly excelled during the main attack sequence on Passchendaele Ridge which had been noted by his seniors.  As a consequence Pte. Albert Everitt was recommended for the award of the Military Medal for acts of gallantry in the field on 12 October 1917.  A recommendation was initiated by Pte. Everitt’s superiors in the field and sent to the HQ NZEF on 31 October.  After review and consideration in London, the awarded of the Military Medal to Private Albert Everitt was granted on 21 November 1917 and gazetted – LG 1641 dated 28 January 1918.

The Military Medal Citation

“20979 Pte. Albert Everitt NZEF, Military Medal – For conspicuous good work during the attack on Passchendaele Ridge on the 12th October 1917.  He took a prominent part in the fighting for the enemy’s strong point known as the Cemetery, and afterwards made valuable reconnaissances under conditions of difficulty and great danger.”

For his brave conduct Pte. Everitt was promoted to Lance Corporal in Nov 1917 and given two weeks leave in England.  In March 1918 L.Cpl. Everitt was again promoted, to the rank of Corporal to replace one of ‘A’ Company’s Section Commander’s who had been wounded.  However, any expectations Cpl. Everitt might have had of being invested with his gallantry medal by the King or some other dignitary were about to evaporate.  During an operation by the 4th Battalion on 07 June 1918, Cpl. Everitt was mortally wounded by gunshots to his head, chest and right thigh.  Cpl. Everitt was immediately evacuated from the line by a Field Ambulance to an Aid Post and then to a Casualty Clearing Station to be stabilised, and then back to the relative safety of No.3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens.  The severity of Cpl. Everitt’s wounds were not survivable and as a consequence he died the next day.  

Cpl. Albert Everitt, M.M. was just 22 years of age when he was buried with military honours at the Gezaincourt Communal Cemetery Extention, France (without ever receiving his gallantry medal).

Gezaincourt Military Communal Cemetery

Gezaincourt is a village a little south-west of the town of Doullens, halfway between the main roads from Doullens to Abbeville and Doullens to Amiens in Belgium.

Te Aroha War Memorial bearing the name of Albert H. Everitt, MM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NZ Herald : — Wed, 11 June 1919

SOLDIERS DECORATED.

PRESENTATION CEREMONY.

FUNCTION AT TOWN HALL.
MINISTER TO OFFICIATE.

A presentation of decorations and medals will be made by Sir James Allen, Minister for Defence, at the Town Hall on Monday evening next.  The city territorial and cadet unite will attend the function, which will be open to the public. The recipients of decorations and medals and their next of kin will be accommodated in reserved seats directly ill front of the stage, and they will be admitted by pass from the Grey Street entrance. Seating accommodation will also be reserved for returned soldiers, who have been given permission to wear uniform for the occasion.

The following is a list of the soldiers who have been awarded decorations. In cases where the soldier is deceased, the name of his next of kin, who will receive the medal, appears after his name: — …… MILITARY. MEDAL AND BAR. Sgt. J. P. Alexander, Mount Eden. MILITARY MEDAL. Cpl. H. G. Clark—Mrs. H. Clark, Mount Eden. ………… Pte. H. B. Blakemore—J. B. Blakemore, 93, College Hill, City. L.-Cpl. W. K. Dowden—R. R. Dowden, Auckland. Cpl. A. Everitt—M. Everitt, 97, Nelson Street, City. Pte. G. F. Jupp, Australian Imperial Force—J. W. Jupp, Birkenhead.  Spr. A. Springall—P. S. Springall, Birkenhead. Pte. R. A. Wilkie. Grey Lynn. …..etc. 

Source: Papers Past – National Library of New Zealand

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Having received her son’s Military Medal at the Auckland Town Hall ceremony, May Everitt subsequently received over the following two years various memorial items awarded to acknowledge Albert’s service  and sacrifice – the British War Medal and Victory Medal, a Memorial Plaque (‘Death Penny’) & Scroll, the King’s Message of condolence, a Certificate of Services in the NZEF, and a photograph of Albert’s grave. 

Examples of the medals sent to Cpl. Albert Everitt’s mother.

Memorial Plaque, King’s Message and Memorial Scroll sent to Albert’s mother.

         

Note: The whereabouts of Cpl. Everitt’s British War Medal, Victory Medal and Memorial Plaque is unknown.  If you can help to locate these please contact MRNZ.

Albert’s mother May moved to 120 Nelson St after Albert went to war whilst his grandmother Mary Everitt remained at the Hardinge Street address until their houses were scheduled for demolition as part of the expansion of the town centre and installation of new road works in the early 1920s.  At that point Mary Everitt moved to Gisborne where she died in 1925, and Albert’s mother May returned to Te Aroha where she stayed, taking in domestic work for income, for the remainder of her life.  Mary Ann ‘May’ Everitt died at Te Aroha in 1950 aged 73 years.

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In researching the Everitt descendants I first defaulted to Ancestry Family Trees which narrowed the field of traceable descendants still living in 1981. The confusion here firstly resulted from Richard preferring to call himself Charles with only that name being recorded in early Electoral Rolls.  Once I had resolved that mystery the next occurred as his wife, whose name was Mary Ellen DONOVAN was the same as that of his eldest son Timothy’ Everitt’s wife, Mary Ellen O’SULLIVAN. Early marriage records in Electoral Rolls do not always feature in BDM records and vice versa so determining a maiden surname can be problematical.  As Timothy had deceased I was able to narrow the field on this particular family to his wife, Mary Ellen Everitt.  Just as I had confirmed her address my research stumbled when I discovered that whilst I had the correct address, Mary Ellen had died in 2015 …..   

 * this story will be conclude after the medal has been reunited with the family ….. the UPDATE has been added, 17 Sep 2017 – click >>> HERE

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As Cpl. Everitt’s Military Medal was in an unusable state I contacted the NZDF Medals Policy Adviser to seek help with restoration advice.  Given the medal was awarded for gallantry the NZDF kindly consented to the medal’s restoration (the bend however would remain since it represents part of the medals history and provenance).  Because of the medal’s gallantry significance the NZDF will also provide a uniformed officer to be present when it  is returned to the descendant family.  The medal is now being repaired in preparation for return.

Thanks to Roger McK. for sending me the medal, and to brothers Tony and Terry for their invaluable input in confirming ancestry lines.

Thanks also to the NZDF Medals Policy Adviser, Jack Hayes, and Karley C. of NZDF PAMs for their kind assistance in facilitating the restoration of the medal.

The reunited medal tally is now 100 !

 

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