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 had been digging a trench 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 since it bore the words: FOR BRAVERY IN THE FIELD on one side. 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 Roger kept the medal and as time passed forgot all about it, as is often the case with such finds. Roger recently re-discovering the medal and now fully appreciating its significance wanted to do something meaningful by attempting to have it returned.
I knew immediately what Roger had described to me was a gallantry medal – the Military Medal. It was the first gallantry medal MRNZ has 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 major milestone – 100 medals returned to 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.
Albert Henry Everitt had been born in the small Waikato hamlet of Wairongomai in June 1896. His unwed mother, Mary Ann ( EVERITT (known as ‘May’) born in 1877, was the eldest of the 15 children of Charles and Mary Everitt (nee TOOMEY). My first problem was that Albert Everitt’s father was “NR” – not recorded in the BDM database.
Charles Everitt and his bachelor brothers William and Albert left Cambridgeshire, together with Charles’s South African born wife Mary and immigrated to New Zealand in the mid 1880s, initially settling in the small rural Waikato hamlet of Wairongomai, near Te Aroha. By 1890 the Everitts had moved into the growing town of Te Aroha. The town being located on the banks of the Waikato River and with poor road access in those early days, the river became the primary means of transportation, an arterial for people and goods. The skills of Charles – a cabinetmaker and boat builder, William – a cabinetmaker/undertaker, and Albert – an engineer were in high demand and so town living was considered to be a potentially lucrative move.
Young Albert Everitt had received some rudimentary schooling in Wairogomai however was soon put to work labouring on local farms. It was here he learned the skills of a cheese maker. his listed occupation at enlistment into the NZEF. With the onset of WW1 the engineering skills of Albert Everitt (snr) necessitated his move firstly to Tauranga and then to Rotorua. At that point young Albert was co-opted from cheese making and farm labouring to help his uncle with his growing wartime workload.
Since the Everitts move to Te Aroha young Albert had volunteered to join the territorial militia, the Te Aroha Rifle Volunteers, as soon as he was old enough. The New Zealand Land Wars were still underway and the potential for hostilities to break our remained ever present for some years, particularly for exposed rural settlements. 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 establish themselves financially,
In this environment it was probably not too hard to imagine perhaps how young Albert’s birth had eventuated to his 18 year old mother May? By the time Albert started schooling he was under the guardianship of his grandmother, Mary Everitt. For an unwed mother, Albert’s birth and subsequent upbringing were not that uncommon at the time as was the practice of grand-parents informally ‘adopting’ such children to discourage nosy neighbours and/or avoid a public scandal. Likewise the practice of the unwed mother to be ‘going on holiday’ or ‘visiting a relative’ in another town for a few months until the child had been born. Once Albert had been born (in Te Aroha or Auckland?) May Everitt went to live in Auckland and was known to be living alone. Little was known of her life thereafter until her mother Mary went to live with her after Charles Everitt’s death in 1908.
The first born and youngest son of Charles and Mary Everitt to be called to fight for King and Empire was 9/1544 Trooper Arthur James Everitt, Wellington Infantry Regiment, 7th Reinforcements 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. He had cited as his next of kin “Mother: Mrs M. Everitt, 120 Nelson St, Auckland”. Arthur eventually recovered, married Olive ROLLERSTON and worked for the New Zealand Post & Telegraph as a postman in Tauranga until his death at 1953 at 60 years of age. Apart from Arthur & Albert (jnr) WW1 service their two remaining younger brothers Richard James Everitt and Ernest Edrick Everitt would also see military service during WW2, Richard with 2NZEF and Ernest with the RNZAF.
Next to enlist was 20 year old 20979 Rifleman Albert Everitt (he did not use his middle name “Henry” and it did not appear in any Army references). Albert was enlisted into the 4th Battalion of the NZ Rifle Brigade, 16th Reinforcements in August 1916. Albert had listed his grandmother’s name as his ‘Mother’ as his next of kin on the enlistment application “Mother: Mrs M. Everitt, 120 Nelson St, Auckland” which tends to confirm that Mary Everitt was his ‘adoptive’ mother, possibly the only one he knew – whether he ever knew that Mary Ann Everitt was his biological mother can only be speculated upon – possibly not I suggest.
Rflm. Albert 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 Rflm. 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, Rflm. 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.
Cpl. 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 Rflm. Everitt’s battalion was about to be engulfed a battle which would result in the single greatest loss of New Zealander soldiers lives in WW1 – Passchendaele. Rflm. Everitt sunk himself into his work with a combination of both fear and determination. He particularly excelled in the attack on Passchendaele Ridge during the main attack sequence, which was noted by his seniors and as a consequence Rflm. Everitt was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field, on 31 October 1917.
The Military Medal citation reads:
“20979 Pte. Albert Everitt NZEF, Military Medal – For conspicuous good work during the attack on Passchendaal (sic) 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.”
As a result of his brave conduct Rflm. Everitt was also promoted to Lance Corporal two weeks later, and again promoted to full Corporal in March 1918 however any thoughts he may have had of attending a parade to receive his Military Medal from the King were about to evaporate. During an operation by the 4th Battalion on June 7th 1918 Cpl. Everitt was mortally wounded by gunshots to his head, chest and right thigh. Albert was immediately evacuated from the front to No.3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Etaples however he died the next day of his wounds.
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 receiving his gallantry award).
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.
NZ Herald, 11 June 1919
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. Gpl. 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. Grev Lynn. ……
Source: Papers Past – National Library of New Zealand
Having received her grandson’s Military Medal at the Auckland Town Hall in 1919, it was not until 1921 & 1922 that Mary Everitt would received all of Albert’s other war medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal and commemorative mementos from the NZ government. The two medals together with a Memorial Plaque (‘Death Penny’) & Memorial Scroll, the King’s Message, and a photograph of his grave were posted to his Mrs Everitt.
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 biological mother Mary Ann Everitt and grandmother Mary both remained in Auckland until both of their houses were demolished as part of the expansion of the town center. Albert’s grandmother Mary died in Gisborne in 1925 and his mother returned to Te Aroha. Mary Ann ‘May’ Everitt had never married and died at Te Aroha in 1950 aged 73 years.
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 as 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
As Cpl. Everitt’s Military Medal was in an unusable state I contacted the NZDF Medals Policy Adviser to seek advice regarding its possible restoration. 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.
Our thanks also to the NZDF Medals Policy Adviser, Jack Hayes, and Karley C. of PAMS for their kind assistance in facilitating the restoration of the medal.
The reunited medal tally is now 100 !