ROLAND LUCIEN CASTAING – Regular soldier’s WW2 medals found in a Whitianga op-shop after his donor brother dies.

63387 & 31018 – ROLAND LUCIEN CASTAING   

A box of hats left at a Whitianga 2nd hand op-shop some months ago led to the discovery of a set of WW2 and long service medals in the bottom of the box.  The op-shop finder passed the medals to Roger Beasley, the Support Adviser at the Mercury Bay RSA in Whitianga, to return to the owner or family.

Roger contacted me in April regarding the find and said he would first try advertising them in the local paper to see if anyone came forward to claim them.  If not, he would send the medals to MRNZ  for us to research a possible owner.  My initial thoughts were – WW2 medals, un-named (yes), likelihood of finding an owner – next to nil.

It was then Roger told me that with the medal bar with four WW2 medals attached was a loose NZ Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal which, if officially awarded, are always named.  Around the edge of the medal was the name: 63387  S/SGT R. L. CASTAING  RNZA.  Whew ! – the chances of reuniting all five medals with an owner or family just improved 10 fold.  Un-named medals can rarely be reunited with rightful owners or families unless accompanied by some other item that by association may prove a relationship/ownership.

Unknown to Roger at the time, the owner of the medal’s, Roland Castaing and his wife Rosalind who were both Auckland residents, had passed away in the mid 1980s. 

In addition to the medals Roger sent was S/Sgt. Castaing’s Artillery ‘Old Comrades’ Association lapel pin and  his NZRSA membership badge.

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To start this search for descendants it would be helpful to know: who and how the medals arrived at the Whitianga op-shop? and, was there still an owner or family around the medals could potentially be returned to? The name “CASTAING” was indeed an unusual name in New Zealand and, I suspected, was probably limited in number and regional spread – this assumption proved to be correct.  As I discovered the name “Castaing” and Tauranga in the the Bay of Plenty had been well known in the fledgling port town of the late 1800s.

Edouard Francois (Edward Francis) Castaing had been born in Bordeau, France in 1839.  Edward, a carpenter by trade had sailed into Akaroa sometime between 1858-64 on the“Roland”  a French whaling ship that frequently made passage between Tasmania and Akaroa.  An earlier “Roland” migrant had been Emile Borell who and settled and married in Tauranga in the mid 1840s.  Rumour has it that Edward Castaing jumped ship when it reached Akaroa and eventually made his way up to Te Awamutu where he settled.   The Borrel and Castaing families were to be linked by marriage.  Emile’s daughter Earke MERITA, ka Rachel Clara BORELL, who had been born at Rangiawhia Pa (Doubtless Bay) in Northland , married Edward at Maketu in  Oct 1866 and moved to settle in Tauranga.  Eldest son Henry Henry Theodore Castaing and his father Edward were merchants of clothing and drapery and ran a large store for many years in Tauranga.  

Henry Theodore Castaing married Mabel HICKS at Tauranga and their family of six was started in 1902 with the birth of Edward Francis Jnr (died at 7 mths), followed by Henry Theodore Jnr (1903), Walter Louis (1904), Reginald Percy (1905), Alisa May (1909) and last was Roland Lucien Castaing (1912) – named after the whaling ship his grandfather Edward Castaing had arrived in NZ on.  

The Castaing name also became well known in Auckland property circles in later years, largely as a result of Henry Theodore Castaing Jnr.’s development projects during the 1950s to the 1970s.  One development in Te Atatu South bears the street name of “Castaing Crescent”, after Henry.  

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BQMS S/Sgt. Roland Castaing and wife Rosalind , c1941

63387  Gnr. Roland Lucien Castaing had several jobs as a young man, Post office worker, clerk, labourer however had been attracted to the Army’s Artillery unit at Devonport which had been close to his home.  Roland had joined as a volunteer/territorial part-time soldier as soon as he was of age.  In 1934 he had been seconded to the 2nd NZEF meaning he was now a full-time soldier and involved in the preparations for what appeared to be a looming war.  Gnr. Castaing’s domain was the Quartermaster’s Store for the New Zealand Artillery’s (NZA) 1st Heavy Artillery Group HQ (13th Heavy Battery).  By the time war had been declared in 1939 Gnr. Castaing  (ka ‘Rolly’) had also married Rosalind Elizabeth Margaretta ROADS.  Gnr. Castaing was responsible for the requisitioning, issue and maintenance of artillery stores, ammunition and equipment required by the units of the Heavy Artillery Group.  By 1941 he had worked his way up to the position of Battery Quartermaster Sergeant (BQMS) and was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant (S/Sgt.).  In April 1941 S/Sgt. Castaing was drafted into the Artillery Reinforcements for overseas service with the NZ Division in North Africa.

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Rolly’s nehew 3031 Pte. William Aubrey Castaing  (ka ‘Bill’), the son of Roland’s brother Walter Louis Castaing, had also been drafted for service.  22 year old Bill Castaing had embarked the SS Orion in 1939 with the 1st Echelon as a member of the 18th (Auckland) Battalion, almost two years ahead of his uncle Roland.  The 18th Battalion was the first NZ battalion to see service in North Africa.  

Pte. Bill Castaing returned safely to Tauranga in Oct 1941, married Shirley ALDWYN and started a family. Bill worked variously as a postman, laboratory assistant, metal worker, cargo worker (with Roland), a fettler (one who trims & cleans rough edges off metal casings) and finally the Camp maintenance attendant for the Lake Manapouri Dam project which was completed in 1971.  Bill Castaing died in 1978, aged 61 years.

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S/Sgt. Roland Castaing embarked for North Africa (via Suez) from Auckland on 07 April 1941 (just as his nephew Bill was about to arrive home).  Once the Artillery Reinforcements had disembarked at Suez they would move by train to Cairo and then  on to Maadi Camp, the 2NZEF’s concentration and training base (approx 1500 troops) located some 20 kms south of downtown Cairo.   S/Sgt. Castaing was added to the roll of the Divisional Artillery which would support actions of the 2nd NZ Division on the island of Crete (May 1941) and in North Africa.  

Having completed an uneventful 12 months of active service in North Africa, S/Sgt. Castaing returned to NZ on 05 April 1942, remaining seconded to 2NZEF whilst returning to work at Devonport until 31 December 1943.   The following day, 01 Jan 1944, S/Sgt. Castaing was re-posted to the Regular Force (RF) of the Royal New Zealand Artillery.  In effect the only thing that changed was his regimental number, from 63387 to 31018.   S/Sgt. Castaing joined the ranks of what were known as “Fortress Troops” – those RF soldiers who manned a chain of defence posts (‘Forts’) around New Zealand , e.g. Fort Cautley, Narrow Neck, Fort Dorset etc.  The  soldiers posted to these locations maintained a level of coastal defence readiness by training territorial troops, stockpiling ammunition, and maintaining the holdings of weapons and support equipment they held for their units.  

S/Sgt  Castaing returned to his pre-war post in Devonport Artillery Yard as the Battery Quartermaster Sergeant.  The Devonport based Artillery units had grown and now housed two Headquarters and their units, that of the 1st Heavy Artillery Group (13th Heavy Battery), and a new unit HQ, the 1st Anti Aircraft Group (18th Anti Aircraft Battery and the 1st Searchlight Company).  He served on as the BQMS at Devonport for another 10 years before finally being discharged on 03 May 1954, having completed 20 years of pensionable military service.  S/Sgt. Castaing had also qualified for the award of the NZ Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal for having completed 18 years of irreproachable service.

After the war Rolly Castaing worked for the port of Auckland as a cargo worker/controller for the best part of 20 years until he permanently retired.  S/Sgt. (Rtd.) Roland Lucien Castaing RNZA died in 1985 aged 73, one year after his wife Rosalind had passed away.  Rolly and Rosalind did not have any children; both are buried together in the Purewa Cemetery, Auckland.

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Awards:  1939/45 Star, Africa Star, War Medal, 1939/45, NZ War Service Medals, 1939/45, NZ Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal (also entitled NZ Defence Service Medal, Clasp: REGULAR)

Overseas Service:  07 Apr 1941 –  04 Apr 1942 =  1 year 3 days

Total Territorial, 2NZEF & Regular Service:  May 1934 – May 1954 = 20 years

Footnote:  In the course of researching Roland Castaing’s service history it became apparent he is (posthumously) eligible for the award of the New Zealand Defence Service Medal (NZDSM) with Clasp: REGULAR.  This medal was instituted in 2011 and is awarded to every eligible NZ military service person who completes qualifying service of 3 years full-time Regular service, or 3  efficient years of accumulated (TF) service at anytime after 03 September 1945.  Lyn and Tania Castaing will be applying for Roland’s NZDSM to add to his medal bar.

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The fortunate part of researching this family was the uniqueness of the ‘Castaing’ name and so I was hopeful it would be relatively easy to trace.  The first thing I established was where Rolly Castaing and his wife had last resided prior to their deaths, and worked back from there.  As Auckland residents there was no evidence of a connection to the Coromandel.  With only two traceable Castaings in NZ (Nelson and Auckland) the chanves of a quicj return of the medals was looking good.  The Nelson connection was the son of Rolly’s brother Percy however he was not interested in having custody of the medals.   The Auckland Electoral Rolls assisted me to locate the second connection, another of Rolly’s nephews and son of his deceased brother Walter Louis Castaing – Michael Henry Castaing.  Michael had been the owner of a landscaping business and according to the phone book was living in Howick.  

It was the evening of 19 April when I telephoned Michael’s home number.  A foreign accented gentleman answered and after confirming that I had the correct number, was told there was no-one of that name there – not much help at all in fact.  Odd I thought? – perhaps Michael had moved and his new address and phone had not yet been published on-line, or maybe he only used a cell phone (phone books will soon be redundant!)?  Back to ‘Mr Google’ – checking businesses, directorships, contractor provider lists etc – nothing useful other than some which were well out of date.  

Given Michael was now in his seventies I considered perhaps he may have moved elsewhere, maybe a retirement village but without any evidence of a phone link I was stuck.  How about Australia perhaps?   I did find quite a few “Castaing” families in Queensland, a few in New South Wales and two in Western Australia so took a punt and thought I would see if any NZ links existed across the ‘ditch’.  But where to start ? – ‘Mr Google’ had first thrown up the name Jarrod Castaing, a world famous fine arts landscape photographer, born in NZ and now living in Sydney – this seemed a good start as he had come from NZ and could be linked to the same family ?   I resolved to see if Jarrod could help.  I was about to send him an email when it struck me that as Michael Castaing had been born in 1944 he was now about 73 years of age – apart from the possibility of him living elsewhere, or relocating to a rest home in NZ or to Australia, their was also that possibility he may have passed away.  I would check for an obituaries just in case, and then send my email to Jarrod.

Michael Henry Castaing (1944-2017) standing beside the grave of his uncle & aunt, Roland and Rosalind Castaing – Purewa Cemetery, Auckland

It was around 11am on the 20th of April when I went back to ‘Mr Google’ for an obituary search – SNAP ! – a Funeral Notice in the on-line NZ Herald for Michael Henry Castaing appeared before me. Michael (73) had passed away in the Waikato Hospital jus two days before, on the 18th of April, after battling Parkinsons Disease.  As I read the notice I also noted that his funeral service was due to begin in Auckland in exactly two hours time !!  I was stunned – what a coincidence.  No wonder I had received a somewhat quizzical responses from the foreign voice when I telephoned Michael’s home – the house must have already been let or sold, and I was obviously talking to its new occupant.  

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Fortunately the funeral notice provided enough detail for me to ascertain that Michael’s son David, and daughter Tania (both resident in Australia) would be attending.  Not a very opportune time to discuss family memorabilia however I contacted Davis’s Funeral Services and asked them if they would pass a discrete personal note from me to either Michael or Tania, after the service…. and waited for a reply.

Having heard nothing after a couple of weeks I checked with Davis’s if they had had any response to my request from the family – no, and then sought to make contact with David or Tania.  I called David’s number in Western Australia – disconnected, however no such difficulty in contacting Tania.  I learned from her that their father Michael had been in care for some time and that after the funeral Michael’s former wife Lynette May STEWART, was staying with her daughter Tania in Sydney.  Tania and her brother David have lived in Australia for some years, as have a number of the Castaing family descendants born in New Zealand – this accounted for the absence of Castaings currently living in New Zealand.   

Lynette and Tania have since provided me with confirmation of their ancestral links to Roland Castaing and they are now in receipt of Roland’s medals. 

Footnote:  Roland Castaing’s nephew, Michael Henry Castaing, had been unwell for some time prior to his death on April 18th this year and had been assisted by a full-time caregiver during his illness.  The caregiver, quite out of the blue, rang Roger Beasley at the Mercury Bay RSA as I was about to send the medals to Australia.  The carer told Roger that she had accompanied Michael on the day he took a box of hats to the Whitianga op-shop.  Michael had been staying in the area and was disposing of  stuff he no longer wanted whilst putting his affairs in order.  It is likely Michael was completely unaware that his uncle Roland’s medals were in the bottom of the box – how easy it is to lose medals permanently if not secure or into the custody of a family member.  

The Castaing family are very fortunate these medals were able to be reunited.  Were it not for the fact that one medal was named, there would have been no chance of identifying to whom the medals had belonged – they would have been lost to this family forever !

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Thanks to Mercury Bay’s NZRSA President, Roger Beasley for sending MRNZ the Castaing medals and associated badges.  

The reunited medal tally is now 147.

 

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