NORMAN BARNARD OTTO WESTERHOLM – Manawatu soldier’s ‘Death Plaque’ found buried in a Wellington driveway.

23/317 – NORMAN BARNARD OTTO WESTERHOLM    

In July 2015 I received an email from Moira G. Advising me she was in possession of a Memorial Plaque (aka ‘Death Plaque or Deadman’s Penny’) named to Norman Barnard Otto Westerholm and could I help to reunite it with family, if any.  It was Moira’s niece who had actually found the plaque about 22 years ago (2005) embedded in a dirt wall of the driveway at No. 4 Dominion Park Street, Johnsonville, Wellington.  She had given the plaque to her mother (Moira’s sister) who in turn showed it to Moira who offered to try and find a Westerholm family descendant to return the plaque to.

Memorial Plaque – Norman Barnard Otto Westerholm – Died of Wounds, 1916

Moira discovered the Westerholms had come from the Manawatu but there were no longer any Westerhoms living there or indeed anywhere in New Zealand.  She found that Norman’s mother Gerda had re-married (Mrs. W. Galloway) and died in Wellington in the 1940s.  Moira also noted that Norman’s brother Herbert had migrated to Australia so she contacted a Westerholm family in Australia however they were not connected to the NZ Westerholms and at that point, Moira let the search lapse.

20 years later (2015) Moira saw a TV1 news item that televised my very first successfully reunited medal (Dickin) handover at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.  As a result Moira contacted MRNZ to see if I could help to reunite the Memorial Plaque with a descendant.

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Norman Barnard Otto Westerholm, born  in September 1894 in Palmerston North, was working as a railway engine fireman for the New Zealand Railways in Auckland at the time men of his age were required to register for  service in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. 

23/317 Rifleman Norman Barnard Otto WESTERHOLM was in enlisted in February 1915, received his basic training at Trentham Camp and embarked with ‘A’ Company of the 1st Battalion, the New Zealand Rifle Brigade in October 1915, bound for Suez and the NZ base camp at Zeitoun.

A bout of influenza in Dec 1915 was promptly followed by the mumps confined Norman to the NZ General Hospital in Alexandria so it would be Feb 1916 before Rflm. Westerholm rejoined his unit at Moascar, Ismailia in the Suez Canal Zone.  On 6 April 1916 the NZ Rifle Brigade embarked the “Arcadian”  at Moascar for France to form part of the NZ Division that would commence operations in the Somme Valley. 

On 10 September the NZ Division was engaged in the opening battles of the Somme campaign and it was during the Battle of Le Transloy that Rflm. Westerholm suffered a gunshot wound to his head – it was bad !   He was immediately evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station for immediate treatment and stabilisation in preparation for evacuation.  On 17 Sep Rflm. Westerholm was transferred to the 1st Canadian General Hospital at Etaples on the French eastern coast and it was there Norman died of his head wound the next day, 18 September 1916, just two weeks before his 22nd birthday.  Rflm. Norman Barnard Otto Westerholm was buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.

The following Obituary appeared in the Manawatu Standard in 1916:

Obituary

WESTERHOLM.—In loving memory of my dear son, Private Norman (Herbert Otto) Westerholm, who died in France from wounds received in action on the 18th September, 1916.

Someday, some time my eyes shall see

 The dear face I hold in memory;

Someday I’ll clasp him by the hand,

Just over in the better land.

  Inserted by his loving mother, Mrs. W. Galloway of 5 Arthur St, Wellington.

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Awards:  1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal

Service Overseas:  346 days

Total Service:  1 year 115 days

Footnote:  Norman’s brother 74267 Cpl. Herbert Alexander Westerholm, 38th Reinforcements, NZEF – Jun 1918 spent 1 year 77 days overseas and was awarded the British War Medal for his service.

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The  Westerholm family

Tracing Norman Westerholm’s descendants has been a long and convoluted road.  First off, I reconstructed the family from available records from the first appearance of Otto Westerholm in the Electoral Rolls to ensure no descendant had been overlooked.  I started with Norman’s father and mother. 

Otto Westerholm, a builder by trade, had been born in Finland and worked his passage as a 25 year old deck hand/trimmer to Sydney, and then to New Zealand as crew on the SS WAKATIPU  in Decemebr 1876.  Norman’s mother was Gerda (Gertrude or Gertie) Elisabeth BLIXT born in Pahiatua in 1862, the daughter of a Swedish immigrant, Lars Petter BLIXT, and his New Zealand born wife Severina Elisabeth PERSDOTTER. 

Otto and Gerda had married in 1881 in Palmerston North, and raised a family of five children between 1881 and 1894; Severina Elisabeth (after Gerda’s mother), Oscar Nicholai Wairdmoinan, Clara Victoria (died an infant), Sydney Cornelius, Herbert Alexander and Norman Barnard Otto WESTERHOM. Unfortunately Otto Westerholm died an untimely death in 1899 at the age of 47, outside the Palmerston North hospital.  I found the following newspaper report of Otto’s death:

ACCIDENTS AND FATALITIES – Evening Post, 26 May 1899

 [BY TELEGRAPH PRESS ASSOCIATION, Palmerston North.]

…. An old man named Otto Westerholm, a well known resident in the Manawatu district, was leaving the Palmerston Hospital on Tuesday (23rd May), after having been a patient for two months on account of an accident to his leg, when he fell down in a faint at the gate. Mr. Westerholm was at once carried into the Hospital, where he died shortly afterwards.  At the inquest the jury found that death was due to syncope.

(Syncope is temporary loss of consciousness usually related to insufficient blood flow to the brain)

The net result was that Gerda Westerholm was left with five children to raise on her own, and no income !

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My research now turned to Mrs Gerda Westerholm as Otto had no other family in New Zealand.  As I continued to scan Papers Past for additional evidence of the Westerholm’s  in the Manawatu, I came across the following rather disturbing entry in the Manawatu Standard:

MANAWATU STANDARD, 16 February 1900

SUPPOSED SUICIDE

Yesterday about noon a daughter of Mrs Westerholm residing in Albert- Sreet, Terrace End, informed Constable Minogue that her mother had left home the previous evening at 8 p.m. saying that she was going to the chemist’s to get some medicine as she had not been feeling well all day, and she had not since returned, and not being in the habit of staying out at nights, some anxiety was felt as to her safety. Constable Minogue at once set to work to make enquiry, and although he visited all the chemists’ shops he was unable to discover that Mrs Westerholm  had made any purchases of medicine, nor had any of her friends seen her. Enquiries in other directions were equally futile and the fear that Mrs Westerholm had committed suicide began to grow stronger, when they were futher confirmed by her daughter receiving through the post the following letter, which, although dated on the 12th bears the postmark of the 15th :— Albert-street, February 12. — My dear children,— l write this letter to let you know that I have committed suicide. My body is in the river. I am so despondent that I cannot work, eat, or sleep. I cannot go out to work anymore. I am not strong enough. I have no hope, everything is dark. I cannot stand to see my children beg for bread. I cannot live any longer without my dear husband. Dear Lizzie, keep your work at Stubbs’. Ask Mrs Rickards to let you live at her place, you can pay her what she wants for your board; take your piano with you, you take my watch and rings, I give them to you. Ask T. Gardiner to sell this house and land and send the boys to St. Mary’s Home at Nelson and pay for the boys with the money he gets for the place. Take this letter to the police and they I will do the best for you. Good-bye, dear father and mother, brother and sister, help my poor boys to a home somewhere. Good-bye my dear children, I wish that we could all die together. I cannot live any longer.—M. Westerholm

We learn that Mrs Westerholm commenced to write a letter at home on Monday evening the 12th, which is supposed to be identical with the one above. This being rather unusual, the children were anxious to know its contents, but were not allowed to. It was about 8.15 on Wednesday night when she left the house, and her daughter wanted to go with her, but Mrs Westerholm objected, saying she would take the key of the front door and let herself in. On Thursday morning the key was found on the mat outside, and her watch and rings were left in the house.

The theory of the police is that the unfortunate woman posted the letter late on the night of the 14th, and then threw herself into the river, and in consequence of this view, Constables Minogue and Woods have been searching the Manawatu near the Fitzherbert Bridge all day, but as there is a considerable fresh on, little hope is entertained of recovering the body for at least some time.

Mrs Westerholm is about 40 years of age, and she is the daughter of Mr Blixt, of Ashhurst, who is employed by the Manchester Road Board, and Mrs T. Gardner, of Ashhurst, is her sister. She leaves five children ranging from 18 years of age to five. Her husband died in Palmerston some time ago after a long illness, a misfortune that seems to have preyed heavily on Mrs Westerholm’s mind.

While the police were searching on the banks of the river to-day at noon, they discovered a cloth jacket and a mackintosh, which have been identified as those worn by Mrs Westerholm, and they are now engaged in dragging the river at the spot immediately where the clothes were found.

It also transpires that a few days ago Mrs Westerholm was walking near the river, when the friend remarked that this particular spot would be “a good place for one to drown themself.” Mrs Westerholm made no reply at the time, but the clothes were found at the-place pointed out to the police. It is also known now that Mrs Westerholm had two letters delivered to her before the day, she disappeared, and it is thought the contents may have upset her.

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Another newspaper article appeared three days later:

February 19, 1900

THE PALMERSTON SENSATION.

MRS WESTERHOLM SAID TO BE IN THE CHRIST CHURCH RESCUE HOME.

 (Per United Press Association.)

PALMERSTON N., February 19.

The police have received intimation that the woman Westerholm, who disappeared last Wednesday and left a letter stating she intended to drown herself, is in the Christchurch Rescue Home. The police have been diligently searching the river since Thursday, and on the following day found a cape and bodice planted under the Fitzherbert Bridge, which were identified as having belonged to Mrs Westerholm.  No reason is assigned at present for the peculiar conduct.

19 February, 1900 – Evening Post

 THE WESTERHOLM MYSTERY

 [BY TELEGRAPH PRESS ASSOCIATION, PALMERSTON NORTH, This Day].

The police have received an intimation that the woman Westerholm, who disappeared last Wednesday, and left a letter stating that she intended to drown herself, is in a Christchurch rescue home.  The police have been diligently searching the river since Thursday, and on Friday they found a cape and bodice planted under the Fitzherbert Bridge, which were identified as having belonged to Westerholm.  No reason can be assigned at present for her peculiar conduct

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It would seem Gerda’s desperation to “end it all” resulted from her anxiety over providing for her family, and what ever the contents of the two letters contained.  Given the Westerholm’s were living in their own home on their own land, perhaps it was financial worry (outstanding loans?) or may be family related problems – we will likely never know.

Little is known of the family’s circumstances after this time until Norman’s death and obituary appeared the newspapers in 1916.  

Gerda WESTERHOLM – Post 1916

Gerda Westerholm had been a widow from Otto for some 15 years. Both of her youngest sons whom she had relied upon for support and income during these years had been called up for war service.  She rarely saw her eldest son Oscar once he went to work and live in Wanganui, and Herbert, having earned his architectral degree, married and went to live in Napier.  Gerda was very lonely.  Her parents, the BLIXTs, and her siblings were farming in Ashhurst however travel was something of a trial which effectively kept them apart for a good deal of the time.

Gerda’s world was again shattered when news arrived of Norman’s death on the Western Front in 1916.  She decided on a short holiday to Auckland in 1917.

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Whilst in Auckland Gerda met a gentleman with whom she hoped she might have a lasting relationship despite the disparity in their ages.  Former Warrant Officer, now 2096 Lieutenant Frederick Coates PASCOE, MC, was an infantry officer recently returned from French battlefields.  Fred Pascoe had spent over four years at war, had been commissioned in the field and been awarded a Military Cross for gallantry.  Fred was born in Auckland of Irish parents from Onehunga and had been a ship’s Purser for the Union Shipping Company in Auckland before the war.  Luckily Fred Pascoe had returned unscathed from both Gallipoli and France and this now decorated military war hero no doubt made a dashing and lasting impression on the widow Gerda.  Fred showed reciprocal interest, even if she was 54.

Unfortunately the relationship was short-lived as the still serving  Lt. Pascoe was destined to take up his next appointment as Quarter Master of the 1st Battalion Otago Regiment in Dunedin, which effectively ended Gerda and Fred’s relationship.

In 1919 Lt Pascoe, MC sought his discharge, briefly working on his family farm with his siblings back in Auckland before himself migrating to Australia.  Fred linked up with his saleswoman sister Mabel Pascoe, becoming a salesman himself in the same store.  Frederick Pascoe re-enlisted for Second World War service in 1939, was promoted to Captain and employed on a Home Service appointment training the Citizens Military Forces units in New South Wales.  Frederick Pascoe remained a life-long bachelor, eventually moved in with his sister in the later years of their lives, and died in Chatswood, Sydney in 1963.

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Gerda GALLOWAY

Gerda Westerholm’s relationship may have been short lived but she was not one to let the grass grow under her feet.  In 1917 she married an Irish/NZ chef, William GALLOWAY (15 years her junior) who was working in hotels in Wellington.  Against the odds Gerda and William spent the next 30 odd years together living in Central Wellington.  A son, Stanley William GALLOWAY was born in 1922.  Stanley worked as a hotel porter at the same hotels his father worked as chef.  Stanley married Leah Lillian and spent his working life in the hotel industry.  The couple were childless.

Gerda Elisabeth (Blixt/Westerholm) Galloway died on 18 July 1944 aged 82, and husband William on 19 Oct 1948, aged 71.  Their son Stanley died in Wellington in 1985.  The Galloway family is buried in Wellington’s Karori Cemetery.

It was late 2015 and the research went on hold until the following year.

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Feb 2016 – my next line of research to try and find a descendant was Norman Westerholm’s siblings.

First born Severina Elisabeth Westerholm (named after her grandmother) married Frederick JEPSEN in 1906 had a family three girls; Oscar was easy – he had become a carpenter and went to Wanganui to work. Oscar was a lifelong bachelor and died in Wanganui 1951; sister Clara had only survived 13 months; Sydney – died at birth; Herbert became the star of the family.  He had won the Dux Medal and various prizes at Bunnythorpe School, become a qualified architect and married Jean Mabel FRASER of Napier.   Herbert and Jean Westerholm were living in Napier at the timer of the 1931 earthquake.  As an architect Herbert was heavily involved with the re-building the city.  At one point Herbert had left the family for a period of time, this having a lasting impact on youngest son Grant – and, as it happened, our attempts to reunite Norman’s Memorial Plaque (see down).  Herbert, Jean and their three sons had migrated to New South Wales in 1936. 

The last NZ Westerholm connection

In researching Herbert Westerholm’s family for a potential plaque recipient I followed his children however eldest sons Barry and Trevor had both married but produced no children and both had passed away some years ago.  Herbert and Jean’s youngest son Grant Fraser Westerholm was found living in New South Wales and the last of that generational line.  Grant and his wife Judith have two adult children. 

MRNZ’s Australian contact Lindsay Campbell had located Grant Westerholm (then 87) in mid 2016 and made the journey from Adelaide to Grant’s home in NSW to met and advise him of the Memorial Plaque and hopefully fill some gaps for us about the Westerholm family.  When Lindsay offered Grant the Memorial Plaque he rejected the offer.  Grant spoke freely and related why he appeared to have an enduring grudge against his father.  Herbert Westerholm’s leaving the family when Grant was very young, 3 or 4 years old (not long after the Napier earthquake) was to have a lasting effect.   Grant never forgave his father for leaving them (although Herbert eventually returned) and also seemed to be somewhat aggrieved over his grandmother Gerda’s relationship with Lt. Pascoe.  As a consequence Grant had cut himself off from the family at an early age, and still wanted little to do with anything from his Westerholm past.

I decided we should let the offer of the plaque lay for a while and maybe Grant may have a change of heart at a later date.  Lindsay had gone to a good deal of trouble portraying the Anzac link and Norman’s part in that attempting to interest Grant.  He seemed to warm to the idea – briefly.  After a few months Lindsay made a couple more attempts in late 2016 and again in early 2017, to  interest Grant (or maybe his son or daughter?) – but all efforts proved fruitless.   As regards his children Grant had no idea of the whereabouts of his son whom he had not seen in years, and his daughter who was living in Japan was also an irregular visitor.  He was not inclined to find out if either were interested in the plaque anyway – so, not a very positive outcome and certainly was not for the want of trying.  Grant was resolute and I respected his position – I still had one other avenue to research for possible success.

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The BLIXT connection

It was now May 2017 and looked like we had neared the end of the research possibilities unless of course the siblings of Norman Westerholm’s mother, Gerda (nee BLIXT) – sister Elin (Ellen), Mrs Thomas GARDINER (d:1930) or her brother, Axel  William BLIXT (d:1945) had traceable family.  So it was back to the Blixt/Westerholm beginnings in the Manawatu for another attempt to find the Plaque a permanent home within the descendant families of Norman Westerholm. 

With an unusual name like ‘BLIXT’ first I checked  the  on-line White Pages, NZ wide – zero; next Electoral Rolls – no BLIXTs since 1946; Ancestry/Wiki/My Heritage etc family trees and ROOTS Chat – no BLIXT births since 1916, marriages – 3 since 1890, deaths 7 – the last in 1964; BDM records confirmed the births of Gerda’s siblings, their deaths, both of Gerda’s marriages, and those of her sister Elin (Ellen) and brother Axel William Blixt.  I chose to follow Axel Blixt on the basis that the male line perpetuated the family name, and thus his sister Gerda’s maiden name.

Axel William BLIXT had married Catherine Murray DICKSON; >> a son, Gordon William BLIXT married Frances Elizabeth CLAPHAM >> 4 children resulted, a son, Graham Gordon BLIXT who married Anne Louise HARDY was located as the author of an Ancestry Family Tree and so I sent some questions to confirm the connection to Gerda Blixt – Graham confirmed the connection. 

Graham BLIXT (76) lives in Pakenham Upper, Victoria, Australia and is Pte. Norman Barnard Otto Westerholm’s great-nephew; an entirely appropriate person to reunite the Memorial Plaque with, and happily at long last, is now in Graham’s possession.

Graham is the last male of his generation to carry the Blixt name from the ancestral line of his great-grandfather Lars Petter BLIXT (Gerda’s father) of Ashhurst, Manawatu New Zealand.  Graham’s daughter Sophie Hannah BLIXT is also the last family member to be born with the Blixt name and will eventually inherit the Plaque from her father, as the next family custodian.   Sophie (b: 2006) plans to ensure the Blixt name survives by including it in the names of her children once she marries.

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Thanks to Moira for sending the plaque to MRNZ and her patience over what has been a rather long wait for a confirmed outcome.

The reunited medal tally is now 134.

 

Hall of Memories – Auckland War Memorial Museum

 

 

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