54787 – HUGH DIPROSE TURNER
Turnwell de Pringle William Owens Turner (1848-1911), sometimes known as Owen Turner, was a 32 year old coal miner from Brymbo, Denbighshire in Wales when he married 25 year old Marianna DIPROSE (1857-1945) from Chatham, Kent in 1879. Prior to migrating to New Zealand Owen Turner’s position at the mine was that of “Master Wasteman”. Originally ‘Wastemen’ carried out daily examinations of the state of the workings, and to see that they were properly ventilated. They were employed in building pillars for the support of the roof in the waste area, testing for gas and keeping the airways open and in good order. A Master Wasteman worked directly to the manager of a colliery (Viewer) or his appointed deputy (Underviewer) in the Viewer’s absence. The Master Wasteman had charge of the mine waste being required to be “a steady and careful man and have some skill in ventilation”. Wages were pitiful amounting to about 2 shillings and four pence (2s. 4d. = 24 cents) per day, or about 21 shillings (21s. = $2.10) per week.
On 8 February 1884 Turnwell and Marianna Turner with their young children Alice, Mary and Lavinia boarded the Shaw, Savill and Albion Co.’s 2095 ton “Northumberland” at the London Docks, along with 180 other NZ bound immigrants. After a voyage of 92 days, during which there were six deaths and two births, the “Northumberland” dropped anchor off the Queen Street wharf in Auckland Harbour on the afternoon of 18 March 1884 at 4.45 pm.
As immigrant settlers without assets Turnwell Turner had leased a piece of land in a remote location in the Kaipara district at Mangatu, Donnellys Crossing. The family had disembarked at Port Albert, about 15 kms NW of Wellsford on the Kaipara Harbour, together with a number of immigrants intent on farming in the same area. The Turners took up temporary residence in Port Albert to adjust to their new surroundings and then in due course re-located northward to Kaihu, about 20 kms SW of Mangatu, the site of a large kauri and totara sawmill. The Turners would remain here until sufficient land had been cleared on their Mangatu leasehold land to build a basic home. Eventually the farm would raise sheep but that would take many years of hard graft to realise. In the interim Turnwell and his young sons were heavily engaged driving bullock teams pulling felled kauri and totara logs out of the bush to they would be rolled into the river, rafted together and then floated downstream to the mill at Kaihu which processed about 3 million board feet of kauri and totara annually.
Until their Managatu home had been built the Turner family stayed at Kaihu and it was here that the last three of Turnwell and Marianna’s seven children were born – Turnwell Victor (1886-1907), Harold Oswald (1888-1954) and Hugh Diprose Turner (1891-1933). In 1906 Hugh’s brother Victor (20) had been swimming with mates in the Mangatu River and whilst his friends were dressing, Victor suddenly disappeared. After the river was searched Victor was found drowned in a deep pool. Barely three years after this tragedy, the patriarch of the Turner family – Turnwell Pringle William Owens Turner, upon whose fatherly directions the family depended, passed away in 1911 without ever seeing his farm completed or fully productive. Turnwell had succumbed to the effects of his years working in the Welsh coal mines, at just 42 years of age.
After Turnwell died and as the First World War approached, Marianna Turner did her level best to keep the household and family ticking along as usual. A great deal of reliance was also placed upon 25 year old Harold and 21 year old Hugh to help manage the day to day running of the farm. The family battled on for three more years until Lucy decided to move with the younger children into Dargaville. Until then Lucy had been of great assistance to Marianna in easing the pressure on her by helping to run the household and generally doing for the family which could number up to a dozen in the house at any one time. Unfortunately Lucy’s move to town proved to be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Marianna’s understandable distress from losing Turnwell together with her increased workload, and one cannot forget the unspoken concerns everyone had at that time as talk of the country going to war circulated, had all conspired causing Marianna to collapse under the strain. As a result, she left her family home at Mangatu and went to live with Lucy and the children in Dargaville.
In 1913 Harold Turner married Ada Foster at a time when all men of appropriate age were required to register for military service. Being the eldest Turner son and effectively the farm and logging work manager as well as providing for his mother and siblings, Harold Turner’s application for an exemption from military service was upheld. This meant younger brother Hughie (as he was known) being the only other male of suitable age, would have to be spared for the war effort. In anticipation of enlistment Hughie had also spent nearly two years in the local territorial unit, the 11th Auckland Mounted Rifles Reserve.
It was during this time that Hughie took the opportunity to marry. He made application to his unit Commanding Officer (as was required) for permission to get married. Granted, Hugh Turner married Blenheim born Lucy Florence FOSTER (Ada’s sister) in January 1915 in a ceremony conducted by Hugh’s Adjutant Lt. Grey, at the home of Lucy’s parents, John and Annie Peckham Foster. The Fosters had relocated from Blenheim to Tutamoe at the far eastern end of the Donnellys Crossing boundary and were now bound by marriage, two Turner brothers marrying two Foster sisters. Thus the Turners and Foster families to a large extent lived as one in this very remote and sparsely populated area of Kaipara.
Hugh and Lucy’s first daughter Phyllis Pearl was born in Jan 1916 (d:2006) at Dargaville and a second daughter, Florence Kate at Aratapu in October 1917, three months after Hugh had left for England.
54787 Rifleman Hugh Diprose Turner, all 5 feet 4 inches of him, had been working in Dargaville when he was “Called to the Colours” in February 1917. By know the war was entrenched on the Western Front and it was here that his services would be required in one of the Rifle Brigade’s reinforcement drafts. Rflm. Turner was assigned to ‘A’ Company of the 1st Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade. He completed his basic training at Trentham and Featherstone Camps and embarked at Wellington with the 28th Reinforcements on the HMNZT 90 Ulimaroa on 26 July 1917, bound for Plymouth. In late September he marched into the NZRB Reserve Depot at Brocton, Staffordshire for three months of preparation and training before being sent to France.
Rflm. Turner proceeded overseas with his unit to the ‘danger zone’ on Boxing Day 1917. “Boxing Day” would also feature somewhat dramatically again in Hugh’s life some years later. On arrival at Etaples (the NZ Reinforcements Camp) he was posted to A Company in the 3rd Battalion. After just three weeks preparation to go to the front the battalion went into the field on January 20th. Aside from a couple of hospitalisations for stomach complaints and Myalgia (muscle over-use) Rflm. Turner survived his first six months in the field remarkably well. In July he was attached to the NZRB Headquarters to be employed as a clerk, runner and telephonist where he would remain for the next rather uneventful 10 months. In March 1919, Rflm. Turner came out of the field and returned to England to commence his demobilisation before boarding a requisitioned Royal Mail Ship, the HMNZT Tahiti at London on 27 May 1919 for the return voyage to New Zealand. Rflm. Turner was discharged from the NZEF on 01 August 1919 and returned to the family farm and Lucy, his now three year old daughter Phyllis, and as yet unseen 18 month old daughter Kate.
Awards: British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal
Overseas Service: 1 year 344 days
Total NZEF Service: 2 years 92 days
Hugh returned to Lucy and their children remained with Harold and Ada and their family, kept the family farm and business going. One day whilst driving a bullock team, Hugh sustained an injury which would have a serious impact on the Turner family’s lives in years to come. Whilst driving the team, Hughie’s whip caught on a fence line and as it came off the fence, snapped back with the whip end taking out his right eye. He did recover but his limited peripheral vision caused him perception difficulties.
The Turner house was always a busy one with relatives and friends coming and going at regularly intervals. It would become even more so in the post war years as Hughie and Lucy’s family increased by six more children – Colin Ivan (1920-2009), Gwendoline (Gwen, 1922-2010), Bernard Hugh (Bernie, 1925-1979), twins Vernon Diprose (Vern, 1929-2014) and Leslie John (John, 1929 – living), and last in the line up was Eunice Myrtle Turner (1933 – living).
Boxing Day 1933 was going to be an exciting day for the Turners as Hugh had bought his very first car. He planned to take the family out for a ride and a picnic in the afternoon. The car, a second-hand Dodge Tourer, was in Dargaville which is about 40 kms south of Donnellys Crossing. Since Hugh could not drive, his brother-in-law Leonard Foster (Lucy and Ada’s brother) would go with him and drive the car back home to Mangatu.
The following articles appeared nationwide in the Boxing Day afternoon editions of national newspapers:
Auckland Star – 26 Dec 1933
CAPSIZE IN CREEK.
BODY HELD IN WRECKAGE, FRIEND ESCAPES INJURY.
(By Telegraph.—Special to “Star”) DARGAVILLE, this day. A Mangatu farmer, Mr. Hugh Turner, was killed when his car capsized into a creek near Donnellys Crossing this morning. His companion, a Mr. Foster escaped injury. It is believed that Mr.Turner was learning to drive the car. The accident was discovered about an hour after it happened. Mr. Foster was extricated, but the car had practically to be taken to pieces to get Mr. Turner’s body out. It was found that his neck was broken.
Mr. Turner was a well-known farmer at Mangatu. He was a married man with eight children.
Northern Advocate – 26 Dec 1933
HOLIDAY SMASHES. TWO PEOPLE INJURED. OTHER MINOR ACCIDENTS, SOME LUCKY ESCAPES.
There have been two deaths, and, two people are in the hospital as a result of holiday accidents. A fatal accident occurred on the Parakao Road on Sunday, ………..
The second fatality occurred at Donnellys Crossing early this morning, when married man, Hugh Diprose Turner, lost his life. Deceased, who was a farmer living at Donnellys Crossing, was learning to drive a motor car and was taking lessons about 7 a.m. when the vehicle got out of control and capsized over a bank near the traffic bridge at Donnellys Crossing. A nephew, Leonard Horace Foster, was with deceased at the time, but escaped uninjured. An inquest was held before the coroner, Mr J. A. McLean, this morning. Death was stated to have been due to a fractured skull, a broken neck and shock. Deceased was 41 years of age and was a married man, leaving a widow and eight children.
When I spoke with Eunice D. recently, now 84, she told me that she and her brother Les (also in his 80s, Whangarei) were the last living children of Hugh and Lucy Turner’s family. During our chat Eunice related to me some not widely known details about the accident that killed her father: “Dad had bought the car because Mum was too scared to travel any distance in the horse and cart – she thought was unsafe. So Dad and Len Foster, his brother-in-law, had gone to Dargaville early that morning to pick it up. Dad said they would be back by eight o’clock for breakfast. Because Dad couldn’t drive, Len would drive the car home and on the way was going to teach Dad how to drive and give him some practice. At about 7.00 am they were coming up to the road-rail bridge near Donnellys Crossing, just before the Tutamoe – Mangatu turnoff. Dad was driving and for some unknown reason, possibly his limited side vision, he hit one end of bridge. The vehicle spun and rolled down the bank into the river – they (Dr Crump) said that Dad had died almost instantly from a fractured skull, broken neck and shock. When the rescuers arrived about an hour later Dad was apparently trapped in the car – his head was under water – they had an awful lot of trouble to free him from the wreckage.”
Fortunately for Len Foster he had escaped without injury. Dr Crump informed the family but poor Len still had the most unenviable task of facing the family, and the enduring memory of what had happened to live with. Hugh Diprose Turner, 41, was buried in the Mangatu Cemetery leaving his wife Lucy with eight children to raise.
Hugh Diprose Turner’s war medals were received by MRNZ from a Dannevirke donor in 2015 (we have been requested the details remain confidential). As is my practice whilst researching current cases, these join the queue and while I placed an interim notice on Rflm. Hugh Turner’s AWMM Cenotaph page seeking relatives to make contact. In addition the medals were added into the Medals ~ FOUND page of this website.
On the 9th of August this year I received an email from Tom G., a serving soldier from Waiouru, who had been researching relatives who had fought in WW1, when he came across my note on Rflm. Hugh Turner’s Cenotaph page. Tom, the great-grandson of Hugh Turner and grandson of Hugh’s youngest daughter Eunice D. informed his grandmother of the discovery of the medals. Eunice was very keen for Tom to find out more and so she had him contact me to help out with the family structure.
It was indeed a pleasure to chat with both Eunice and Tom about the family’s life in remote Mangatu and the circumstances surrounding Hugh Turner’s death at such an early age, particularly as Eunice was now twice the age of her father. Eunice also told me that her mother’s brother, 54734 Rifleman Horace Alexander Foster – ‘J’ Company, NZRB Reinforcements, 25, a dairy farmer from Tutamoe, had been Killed In Action at Harvincourt, France on 1st Sep 1918.
Eunice said that since her brother Les was the last living male of her family, he had naturally inherited both his father Hugh and his uncle Horace’s First World War medals. She went on to say that at some point, for whatever reason, Les had sold the medals to a dealer. When Eunice heard from her grandson Tom that her father Hugh’s medals were listed on MRNZ ‘s website, she was keen for Tom, being a soldier, to have them. Tom made contact with me and then gathered together the necessary documentary proof of entitlement and identity we require from all medal claimants. I am very pleased to advise our reunited medal tally has now been increased by TWO – Tom is now the proud owner of the medals awarded for war service to his great-grandfather, 54787 Rifleman Hugh Diprose Turner.
The reunited medal tally is now 166.