6/3090 ~ WILLIAM HENRY MARCH
Trevor Platt is a Kiwi in paradise. Trevor is not only a former RNZAF airman, and a recruit whom I had some responsibility for training some 40 odd years ago, but he is also a very accomplished artist of 20 plus years who produces some exquisite works with nature themes, teaches art and runs a very successful gallery. Living in coastal Queensland and commuting to Hamilton Island to run art classes for aspiring young artists is not everybody’s idea of a lifestyle but I would be perfectly willing to swap with Trevor anytime, just to rake the sand!
In MARCH 2016 Trevor saw the MRNZ website not long after it went “live” and sent me a 1914-15 Star (minus ribbon) he had had since a lad. Trevor said in a note to me that for a long time he had felt somewhat guilty about holding on to the medal as long as he had, since he believed it should have rightly been with its owner or family however he had not been to sure of what to do with it – and, as we all do, forget about such things until prompted to cross that bridge at some later date. The MRNZ website motivated Trevor to ‘cross that bridge’. Trevor had found the medal as a primary schoolboy whilst living in the Halswell area of Christchurch. He could not recall exactly where he had found the medal but did recall he and a school friend had been ratting through some abandoned sheds in a paddock when he came across the medal. The medal, a WW1 1914-15 Star, was clearly impressed on the back with the recipient’s name: 6/3090 CPL. W. H. MARCH N.Z.E.F.
Nathaniel March (1861-1942) was nine years old, known as Jock, was the second eldest of five siblings who arrived at Lyttelton aboard the Rangitiki on 14 February 1876. Parents William Henry MARCH (1839-1880) and Mary Anne, nee CROSSMAN (1832-1911) together with Sophia Ann, Nathaniel, William Henry, Edward Philip, Elizabeth Lois March settled initially in Christchurch whilst the family grew and went to school. Progressively the three boys sought labouring and farm work which eventually took them south to the Longbeach Station, south of Ashburton. Longbeach (as the name suggests) sits on the Pacific Ocean coast between the Ashburton and Hinds River and originally was an area of approximately 15 square kilometers, 33,000 hectares of largely swampland which needed to be drained. This was a job that would take years and a large workforce. Nathaniel and William were taken on as Labourers while young Edward became one of the Station Bakers. The boys lived on the Station which itself was serviced by a small self-supporting village built around the Station homestead.
In 1886 Nathaniel married Margaret Ann WILLIAMS and together they increased the population of Longbeach by five – William Henry March Jnr (ka ‘Billy’) born at Waterton, Ashburton in Dec 1886 was followed by; Edith Lois (1888-1921), John Edward “Ted” (1890-1966), John Nathaniel “Jock” (1892-1915), and Annie Jane March (1894-1982). Nathaniel’s father William Henry Snr and mother Mary Ann in later years joined moved from Christchurch to Ashburton to join their families.
Waterton was established in second half of the 19th Century and by 1888 had a school, hotel, post office, general store and a library. Its reason for existence was agriculture and included an abattoir and a flour mill. At its peak Waterton’s population topped 235 but decline set in after the effects of the Great Depression receded until it was no longer a settlement – today it is a ghost town.
6/3090 Private William Henry March
Throughout 1914 and into 1915, like the rest of the population, Billy and his family had been closely following the events leading up to and the subsequent landing and battles on the Gallipoli Peninsula by the Anzacs. Having registered for war service, all three March brothers had expected to be called. John Nathaniel** was the first to go in 1914, Billy followed in June 1916 and then John Edward** in December 1916. Billy had been working for a Mr J. Grigg, a farmer back at Longbeach, when he got the call. By 12 June 1915, the 29 year old 5’10” 6/3090 Pte. William Henry March had been passed as (outstandingly!) physically and medically fit for overseas service and reported to the King Edward Barracks in Christchurch. An overnight ferry trip from Lyttelton to Wellington, the train to Trentham and Pte. Billy March along with his new comrades of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion’s 7th Reinforcements, arrived for their basic training. Three month later, a weeks home leave at Waterton then all the tears and farewell wishes the family had rehearsed at older brother John’s departure a year earlier, it was back to Trentham Camp to await embarkation on 09 October 1915. The family had good cause for concern since they had been advised John Nathaniel March was severely ill and currently on his way back to New Zealand.
Pte. Billy March embarked the HMNZT 33 NAVUA at Wellington bound for Suez and the NZEF base at Camp Zeitoun, Egypt, arriving in early Feb 1916. On arrival at Zeitoun he found himself reassigned from Infantry to the Army Service Corps as a Driver and placed with the NZ Divisional (logistics) Train, as it is called – not actually a ‘train’ but a unit of horse drawn wagons. Now Dvr. March was detached to various casualty evacuation units, casualty clearing stations, the Otago Regiment, and the NZ Field Ambulance for driving duties during the following 12 months he was in Egypt, tasks which spread geographically from Zeitoun (30km south of Cairo) to Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez.
Dvr. Billy March’s turn for front line duty arrived in due course and he left the relative safety of Egypt arriving in France on 08 April 1916. Now ‘Pte.’ March once again, he and fellow reinforcements were moved to the epicentre of the battle front on the Belgian border – Armentieres, to be placed with the 1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment.
A gunshot wound to the back on June 22nd fortunately was not serious and Pte. March was back to duty after two weeks in hospital. A relatively incident free six months of driving duties followed. In Jan 1917, it he was back to the Divisional Train and the NZASC for duties in France. Pte. March must have done a reasonable job as he was promoted to Lance Corporal on 18 October and further, was elevated to Corporal five months later on 31 March 1918. Rank promotion was not necessarily an accolade for good work or leadership but also the need to fill gaps as persons holding the rank in the unit were killed or died (or busted fro disciplinary reasons). Billy’s was possibly a combination of his being an older, mature and quiet man, a nearly six foot well tanned and solid specimen of soldier who few would be likely to mess with.
Cpl. Billy March completed his tour of duty in France and came out of the line on New Year’s Day, 1919. Back to Egypt and then to England for demobilization and some rest and Rest & Recreation at the Torqauy leave centre before boarding the SS KIA-ORA at Liverpool for New Zealand on 29 March 1919 (an appropriately named month). Cpl. Billy March was discharged from NZEF on 09 Sep 1919 after more than three and a half years away from home – at least he came home !
Awards: 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal
Service Overseas: 3 years 312 days
Total NZEF Service: 3 years 360 days
Notes: **Billy’s March’s brothers also served.
- 2/195 Gnr. John Nathaniel March – 1st Battery, NZ Field Artillery. Gunner Jock March embarked with the Main Body on 15 August 1914. On 15 May 1915 John was invalided from Egypt to NZ with Pulmonary Tuberculosis and died at home in Waterton on 24 July 1915 – he was 22. Gnr. John Nathaniel March is buried in the Waterton Cemetery and commemorated on the Ashburton cenotaph.
- 34699 Cpl. John Edward March (1890-1966) – Canterbury Infantry Battalion – 20th Reinforcements. Private Ted March embarked in December 1916 and served in France for over 2 years and 257 days. In Sep 1917 he was wounded however recovered and returned home safely in July 1919. A Labourer all his life, Ted died in Ashburton on 3 October 1966 aged 76 and was buried with his wife Ethel May, nee HOUSTON (born at Waterton) predeceased him in 1946. John and Ethel did not have any children.
Billy March went back to Waterton and picked up where he left off, at Longbeach. He also did stints on several other farms in the district during the years following wars end including his grandfather’s, also William Henry March (confusing!), at Eiffleton about 15km south of Ashburton, mid way to Longbeach. Nothing much changed for Billy in these ensuing years, work, work and more work until at close to 60 years of age, he and his cousin Gladys Mabel Eleanor HUMM (formerly Mrs James CALVEY) were married in 1944 – understandably, their ages probably precluded the desire for children so no family resulted from their union.
Billy and Gladys March gave up life on the farm at Waterton and around 1928 relocated to Christchurch and a house in Days Road, in the suburb of Halswell, then part of the Selwyn District. Billy had various labouring jobs until he started a poultry farm on the Day’s Road property which he ran for a number of years into the late 1960s. At some point he took up a job with the Christchurch Electric Power Board, his last job listed in the 1957 Electoral Roll being that of a Linesman. Billy’s nephew, Noel Gordon March, a gardener and later rotary hoe contractor, also taken a house in Days Road after WW2. With the poultry farm no longer operative, Noel re-developed the land into a market garden, producing large quantities of vegetables for commercial and private sale.
William Henry March died at home on 13 February 1959 at the age of 72 and is buried in the RSA Section of Ruru Lawn Cemetery in Christchurch. Billy’s wife Gladys lived with Noel and his wife Brylee in Days Road until the area was scheduled for re-development in the 1960s. Gladys March lived another 40 plus years on her own, passing away in 1991 at 93 years of age in Christchurch.
My initial scan for MARCH families still living in Christchurch produced just four, one in Halswell – I phoned hoping for an obvious link but alas, no connection whatsoever. In fact of the four remaining March families in Christchurch I discovered after phoning them all, one (Halswell) had recently arrived from the North Island and the other three were all descended from a seafarer who had Captained one of Canterbury First Fleet ship’s, and who had also gained a deal of notoriety for having completed an expedition with Captain James Cook – just a wee bit more notable I guess than Billy March’s family connections to farming migrants from Waterton. With no children to trace, all I had left to go on was the fact that Billy and Gladys March had lived in Halswell from about 1928. Even Billy’s nephew who had also living in the same street had no living relatives for me to try and trace. Perhaps there was an old neighbour who could remember the March’s ? Some 57 years had elapsed since Billy and Gladys had lived in Days Road so I was not very confident of that line of inquiry.
I pulled out a Christchurch map to locate Days Road in Halswell – no such street or road, not even anything close. At this point I shelved the research for another time – the connections to Billy and Gladys March’s families appeared to have petered out and their address had vanished – so no chance of talking with neighbours either! Besides, I had more pressing cases to attend to.
It was around April when I returned to this case to review all the information again. In June I received a (coincidental) phone call from Mrs Diana Humm of Taupo, the Taupo NZ Genealogists Society branch secretary. For those who follow my posts you may recall an account I published recently of a Memorial Plaque named to George Ernest Everard WALDRON which was reunited with the Humm family. It transpired that when Diana contacted me with regard to George Waldron, she also identified not one, but THREE families listed on the Medals LOST+FOUND page of our website to whom the Humm family were connected – George Waldron, William March and …. I’ll save that one until the research is complete (see TROTT post).
Diana’s husband, Peter Bernard Humm, a retired NZ Army Warrant Officer Class 2, Chief Clerk, had a direct connection to William Henry March’s family. Billy March’s wife Gladys (nee HUMM) was the daughter of Frederick HUMM and Sophie Annie MARCH, Sophie being Billy March’s aunt and the eldest sibling of his father, Nathanial March. Peter therefore is a grand-nephew of Billy March and Gladys March.
Where the medal was found?
Being ever curious over where the medal had been originally found, before I handed it over to the Humms, I wanted to complete the information trail by connecting the dots of Trevor’s account of finding the medal, to an actual location. I contacted Trevor in Queensland but he could not place the location other than he thought it was somewhere near “Oaklands” as he had lived and schooled in that area as a child, but being so long ago ?? – I then mentioned Days Rd to Trevor – it did not ring any bells with him. I had also mentioned Days Road to my partner who used to live in Halswell for a number of years in the early 1970s – she also vaguely recalled the name but no real idea where it was.
I resorted to scanning Christchurch maps on the web, Since Oaklands and parts of the now much larger Halswell were relatively new, road map detail of the area that comprised a much smaller Halswell in the earlier years was scant. I located Oaklands, the Oaklands school and thought I had narrowed down a possible general area where Days Road might have been, but nothing. I next considered the possibility that days Road had been re-named as Halswell expanded. Finally, on a 1946 topographical map of Christchurch which covered a portion of what is now Lincoln Road, close to its junction with Halswell Road, there in the bottom left hand corner of the map was a one centimetre partial ‘ D’ shaped line with part of a road name, which read ….ays Rd. This must have been it.
More older maps were checked … what appeared to have happened was when the new subdivision of Oaklands was built, Halswell Road, the once narrow dual carriage road to Little River and Akaroa, had been considerably widened and the small ‘D’ shaped Days Road located on the eastern side of the road, together with the houses which Billy, Gladys, Noel and Brylee March had once lived, had been demolished to accommodate the widened thoroughfare. Further, the road opposite to where Days Road had once been, now led to the St. John of God residence for the disabled, formerly a residential home for single mothers named Mt Magdella. This I had located on the 1946 map but could not reconcile it with the now altered layout and much wider entry road that had been re-constructed in the late 1990s. This road now accesses Aidenfield and the Anthony Wilding Retirement Village. Days Road it transpired had been almost directly opposite the old St John Road.
I went back to Trevor with this information, the location and the fact that Billy and Noel March were both listed in the Electoral Rolls as living in Days Road, one as a gardener and the other a labourer. That triggered in Trevor his memory of an acreage that was used for cultivating vegetables. He could now relate it to the proximity of his old Oaklands primary school. His recollection then extended to the abandoned sheds along the back of a paddock which was in gardens. He thinks that was where Noel March kept rotary hoes and other machinery for his rotary hoe contracting business. When Trevor found the medal the sheds were still standing in what were once rows of potatoes and other veges. It all made sense – before or after Billy March had died, the sheds might well have been used to store some of the family’s belongings. Trevor agreed that this must have been the location he as a schoolboy had found the 1914/15 Star which had belonged to Billy March. Satisfied with Trevor’s conclusion, I could start writing this post.
Thanks to Trevor for safeguarding the medal for all these years, and for sending it to MRNZ – after a long wait and a little coincidental luck, we arrived at the right result.
The medal is now with in the hands of Peter and Diana, joining the Waldron plaque, as they have assume responsibility for the preservation of their ancestor family’s military service memorabilia, which incidentally, will be returning to Canterbury with the Humms who are now in the process of re-locating from Taupo to Christchurch – well done Peter and Diane.
The reunited medal tally is now 151.
R.I.P – It is with much regret I advise that Trevor Platt, owner of Trevor Platt Studio Gallery in Wynnum, Queensland, professional marine artist & silversmith, art tutor, and former RNZAF aircraft technician, passed away in Queensland on 21 April 2021. An outstanding artistic talent who travelled the tropics painting the sea life and teaching others to how to capture the magic what he saw with paint .
Per Ardua Ad Astra
A selection of Trevor’s work can be seen below: