ARTHUR HEMMING CURREY ~ “The Box” – a WW1 Artilleryman’s mementos from Gallipoli & the Somme are reunited.

2/1481 & D6341 ~ ARTHUR HEMMING CURREY    

To 12 year old Arthur Hemming Currey the visible face of the NZ Military Forces in 1908 Auckland were the Artillery units that were stationed at Fort Takapuna (included North Head).  By 1912 Arthur (16) was working as a carter for J.J. Craig & Co. on the Auckland waterfront, and at the same time occupied his spare time with territorial volunteer service at Fort Takapuna with the Garrison Artillery Troop (GAT). 

Arthur Currey went on to serve during both World Wars and is commemorated with a framed photograph and his medals displayed in the Paeroa RSA.

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Arthur William Fletcher is 96 years young and a Second World War veteran who retired in Paeroa.  Arthur, known as Fletch or “Hatrack” to his mates, also started his military service as a volunteer territorial soldier.  He served with 2 NZ Scots in Dunedin and then joined the New Zealand Temporary Staff (NZTS) as a Medium Machine Gun instructor at Burnham where he had attained the rank of Sgt. (TF) by 1939.   When WW2 began Fletch was enlisted into 2NZEF as a Lance Corporal (TF soldiers relinquished their TF rank upon enlistment into 2NZEF.  Skills and experience of the territorial volunteers were measured against regular serving soldiers for the purpose of determining rank when enlisting.  The rank level awarded would be commensurate with whatever skill level the territorial soldier had when compared to his full-time counterpart). 

Medals and badges of 2/1481 BDR A.H. Currey in Paeroa RSA

Fletch was posted to 27 NZ Machine Gun Battalion and served in Italy, arriving after the Battle of Monte Cassino in mid 1944.  It was here he also met his future wife Millicent Hannah BEBB, known as Millie, who was serving with the British Auxiliary Territorial Services in Italy.  By the end of the war Fletch was working in the Brigade’s Rear HQ as a Staff Sergeant.

Back in Christchurch after the war, Fletch married Millie in 1947 and then started a long career in social work with the Department of Social Welfare.  Starting in Christchurch Fletch progressed up the ranks of the DSW.  He was posted to the Hamilton office for a number of years and in 1976 was transferred to Invercargill as head of the department.  A staunch supporter of the RSA, Fletch devoted most of his spare time to helping other veterans.  A tireless worker in this regard Fletch’s commitment to veterans became life-long and continued long after he retired.  After four years running the DSW in Invercargill, Fletch retired in 1980.  He and Millie had very much enjoyed their previous posting to Hamilton area and decide to return, making Paeroa there home.

Fletch is presented with his QSM in 2010 by the Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand

In Paeroa Fletch again sank himself into volunteering for the RSA and was quickly involved in a project to re-establish the Paeroa RSA’s new premises in the closed Royal Mail Hotel.  With Millie at his side, Fletch spent the next 30 plus years serving his community and the RSA, most recently as a member of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs special pensions committee.  Aside from his work with veterans Fletch also managed to fit in 10 years as the Drum Major of the Te Awamutu Municipal Brass Band of which he is also a Life Member, he regularly performed on stage with the Paeroa Drama Club (later to become The Paeroa Little Theatre), was a member of the Paeroa Lions Club, the Paeroa Rotary Club and stretched his vocal chords for many years with the Paeroa District Choir.  Fletch never wasted a minute and was never bored – what a busy life!

In 2010 Fletch was formally recognised for his 50 plus years of voluntary service with the award of the Queen’s Service Medal for “Services to the Returned Services Association and the Community.”  In addition he is the recipient of the NZRSA’s Life Membership (1985), NZRSA Gold Star (1986) and a Bar to the Gold Star (2002).

Age and infirmity recently caught up with Fletch and Millie.  In Nov 2017, by necessity they left their Paeroa home of many decades and took up residence at the Selwyn Sunningdale Village in Hamilton.

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So … you may ask, what is the connection between these two veterans?  

“The Box”

Arthur Currey died in 1963 and at some unknown date after this time a box of his personal letters and military memorabilia collected from his WW1 service in France had been deposited with the Paeroa RSA.  When Arthur and Millie Fletcher returned from Invercargill to live in Paeroa in 1970, they had immediately transferred their membership to the Paeroa RSA.  Fletch was seconded onto the committee and the executive and continued to serve in any capacity that was needed, including his appointment as the District President.  This commitment meant Fletch spent a lot at the RSA in both his elected capacities as well as providing assistance to veterans, helping them with their pensions and entitlements.   In fact Jane tells me that a Friday night never went by without Fletch and his wife Millie being “on parade” at the RSA for dinner and drinks – they loved the life and were very well accepted into both the RSA and the community.

“The Box”

Around 1998 Fletch had come across “The Box”.  He found it in a set of drawers in an upstairs room at the RSA where it had obviously languished unseen long before he had discovered it.  The “who” and “when” of the Box’s arrival at the RSA was a complete mystery to all concerned as no record of its receipt had ever been made.  When Fletch appealed for information from the members, no-one seemed to know anything about it, nor even of its existence ?…. and what’s more, nobody seemed to care.

But Arthur Fletcher cared.  A war veteran himself, Fletch had served during the Second World War and was a loyal and long serving RSA member since returning home in 1946.  He understood the significance of a soldier’s personal papers and keepsakes, and what it would mean to family.  Fletch had never known Arthur Currey but as a fellow veteran he made a personal commitment to try and find his descendants and return the Box to them.  Before taking it home for safekeeping, Fletch took out a black and white photo of Arthur plus his medals and badges, mounted them all frames and hung them in the main bar of the Paeroa RSA, in Arthur Currey’s memory. 

Fletch hoped the remaining contents might point him in the direction of a Currey descendant; little did he realise just how difficult that would be.  He made several attempts to locate Currey family descendants over the following few years but each time drew a blank.  

Enter Arthur Fletcher’s grand-daughter, Jane Fletcher.  Jane and her mother (Arthur’s daughter-in-law) had recently assisted Fletch and Millie move into Selwyn Sunningdale and were looking after their home until a decision was made on its future.  Jane takes up the story, In January this year (2018), Mum and I went over to the Paeroa house to collect some things for Grandma and Pop, and to sort through photos, memorabilia etc. When Grandma and Pop moved into Sunningdale they went straight from Waikato Hospital so they never got a chance to properly move out.  Anyway, I was looking through items in an office cupboard when I came across ‘The Box’.  Mum (Pop’s daughter-in-law) and I were stunned at the contents. When we got back to Hamilton I mentioned it to Pop, who told me he’d tried to contact the family in the past but without success.  I knew my brother-in-law Mike N. was interested in genealogy and family history, so when I was next in the area with a vehicle, I retrieved ‘The Box’ and took it back to him in Wellington.”

Graham with contents of his uncle Arthur Currey’s “Box” (far right with tape)

Elaine and Graham with Arthur’s photo and other mementos

Sister Hilda’s letter .. March, 1916

Postcard – Christmas, 1916

Arthur Currey’s pay book

French embroidered postcard – “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”

The handmade spoon, his pen and ‘cut-throat’ shaving razoz

A card from Arthur’s aunt … 1916

A ‘Hun’ bullet that penetrated Arthur’s notebook – Arthur wrote to his youngest sister May that he had moved his position in the trench leaving his notebook & envelope pack and his backpack behind … had he not moved the bullet would have hit him!

“Fit For Service” – obverse

Arthur’s French “Bon Pour Le Service” medallion given to French soldiers

“Fit For Service”- reverse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike N. suggested he knew someone who may be able to help.  Being a regular viewer of Iain Davidson’s Facebook pages, “Unknown Warriors of the NZEF” and “Soldiers and Nurses of Southland” Mike approached Iain to see if he could help find a Currey descendant.  Iain knew of someone who could and forwarded Mike’s request to me.  

I had first become aware of Iain and his websites last year and since that time we have collaborated on several searches.  Iain and his network of fellow historians are very adept in identifying un-named NZ WW1 uniformed personnel in photographs and also have a wealth of knowledge and contacts in respect of Southland families.  My forte is finding descendant families to reunite war medals and ephemera with.  To that end, I can help Iain locate specific and detailed family information about a soldier, while any requests Iain receives such as Mike’s, he will generally pass on to me.  Our most recent collaboration in February this year was a fascinating and highly successful search to return a gold Fob pendant found in Mataura River many years ago that had belonging to Cpl. Tui McMillan, MM of Wellington).

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Arthur H. Currey

Arthur Hemming* Currey’s family had come from Workington, Cockermouth in Cumberland which is NW coastal English town at the mouth of the River Derwent.  Arthur’s father Joseph Currey (1869-1944) had been born in Workington as had several generations of Currey’s before him, while Arthur’s mother, Minnie Augusta GIBBS (1871-1942) had come from Warwickshire.  Six of the eight Currey children including Arthur, had been born at Workington and the last two, Gordon and Leslie (Roy) were born in New Zealand after the family migrated to Auckland in 1908 – Arthur Currey was 12 years old.

Note: *Hemming was the surname of Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Anne HEMMING married John GIBBS

Arthur was the eldest Currey child, born in May 1896, followed by Hilda Gertrude BYCROFT (1897-1964), Francis Joseph Currey (b.1899-1899, linesman), Mabel Frances CARSE (b.1900-1972), Joseph Percy Currey (b.1903-1976), William Vickers Currey (b.1905, carpenter), Gordon Thomas Currey (b.1909, shipping clerk) and Leslie Roy Currey (b.1912, bank officer). 

After the Currey family arrived their first family home was in Manukau Road.  Shortly afterwards they moved to No.34 (and later No.62) Gladstone Road in Parnell, Auckland, the only two homes the family ever lived in.  Arthur’s father Joseph, initially a labourer, was for many years later employed by the Auckland City Council as a Turncock (water mains operator). 

In 1908, 12 year old Arthur continued his primary education at Mt. Albert School and then at Parnell School.  In his early teens he apparently wanted to learn farming so his father found him a job on a farm at Warkworth, north of Auckland.   While working on the farm Arthur went rabbiting with a .22 rifle and in getting through a fence accidentally discharged the rifle and was shot. (this incident would come back to haunt him in later years).  The bullet lodged near his heart and after receiving an urgent telephone call, his father hired a launch and went to Warkworth to bring Arthur back to the Auckland Hospital – the road north of Auckland at this time was still very rudimentary and using it would have meant a considerable delay.  The doctors decided the best course of action was to amputate his left arm (for whatever reason?) but his father refused permission and Arthur slowly recovered.  The bullet remained in his body and showed up in several different places in his body during his life.  This also affected his health from time to time, and ultimately his circulation, but was never removed.

J.J. Craig’s building on Railway Wharf – Craig’s horse carts on Quay Street, Auckland 1905

At 15 years old Arthur started working as a Carter for the highly successful J.J. Craig & Co., a company based on the Auckland waterfront.  A Carter was what we would today term a carrier, courier, delivery service, removals etc., except Arthur’s truck at that time was a horse and cart.  Joseph James Craig’s company moved nearly every piece of cargo (in a J.J. Craig & Co. horse and cart / vehicle) that arrived at the Port of Auckland from the mid 1880s through to the 1940s.  J.J. Craig built a large premises at the hub of business for the growing city, on the Railway and later Queen’s Wharves on Auckland Harbour.  Craig also kept several hundred draught horses in stables near the waterfront for this work. 

In the 1890s there was an unprecedented demand for timber in Australia, and aside from his shore based business of the Auckland wharves, J.J. Craig built up an impressive fleet of sailing ships to carry wood across the Tasman Sea and bring back coal from New South Wales.  J.J. Craig’s interests were not limited to horse, cart and sail.  In the early 1900s, he created New Zealand’s largest brick manufacturing business, and was involved in quarrying and mining.  His company became the New Zealand Government contractors for coal, lime, cement and carting. (information courtesy of NZ Maritime Museum)

While working for J.J. Craig & Co. Arthur became interested in and encouraged to join the territorial volunteer forces.  The visible face of the NZ Military Forces in Auckland at that time was the volunteer Artillery units at Fort Takapuna and North Head.  The area has been known by a number of names over the years: Fort Cautley, HMNZS Tamaki, and Narrow Neck. 

This was the last of the New Zealand designed twin 6 inch gun forts, was designed by Major Tudor-Boddam of the Royal Artillery and built between 1886 and 1889.  Fort Takapuna was part of a chain of new defences around Auckland harbour. Other forts were built at North Head, Bastion Point, Point Resolution (above the Parnell Baths), and later in 1899 on Mount Victoria.  Fort Takapuna housed two 6 inch disappearing guns mounted in the two circular gun pits in the underground part of the fort.  The Fort controlled the approaches to the Rangitoto Channel. 

All young men at the time were encouraged to volunteer for part-time military service to provide a pool of manpower to call upon in the event of any threat to Auckland or the Port and so Arthur, fascinated by the guns, joined the Takapuna based Garrison Artillery Troop (GAT).  As a war in Europe appeared to be imminent, young Arthur also saw an opportunity to serve overseas start to materialise. 

First World War

2/1481 Gunner A. H. Currey, NZ Field Artillery – Featherston Camp, 1915 – age 19.

When war was declared in 1914 and the call came from the King for New Zealand to provide troops, Arthur immediately volunteered however was rejected as he had given his correct age of 18, being unaware the minimum age for overseas service with the NZEF was 20.  For a disappointed Arthur it was back to the 24 hour duty roster at Fort Takapuna.  The GAT had been tasked in August 1914 with around the clock manning for the purposes of interrogating every unidentified ship that entered the harbour; this 24 hour duty continued until mid March 1915.  Arthur in the meantime made a second attempt to enlist.  He went to a different recruiting station in the city and gave his age as 21 (birth year being 1894 and not 1896) – he was accepted without question and signed up for service with the NZEF.

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2/1481 Gunner Arthur Hemming Currey had to wait until nearly another year before he was enlisted on 02 Feb 1915.  His attempt to beat the system whilst still under age had worked.  At the time he attested in Feb 1915 Arthur Currey was still only 18 years and 9 months of aged by the time he went into Featherston Camp for his initial training.   

Gnr. Arthur Currey was assigned to the 4th NZ (Howitzer / Heavy) Field Artillery Battery.  With a 4.5 inch calibre barrels Howitzer batteries were the heavy field guns of the NZFA Brigade.  The lighter field guns and largest component of the Field Artillery Brigade were the 18-Pounder wheeled cannons.  Following his preparatory training at Featherston Camp in the Wairarapa, Gnr. Currey embarked with the NZ Field Artillery’s 4th Reinforcements and departed Wellington for Suez and Alexandria aboard HMNZT 21 Willochra on 17 Apr 1915.  The Reinforcements disembarked briefly at Alexandria for approximately seven days, were re-embarked and dispatched to the Dardenelles.

NZ Artillery hat Puggaree

NZ Artillery hat and collar badges

NZFA shoulder title

 

 

 

 

 

 

As was the practice of the time, security measures initially precluded any references to active service at Gallipoli on soldier’s personal files and Gnr. Currey’s file is a reflection of this.  From what little there is, I was able to determine he arrived at Gallipoli on 01 July 1915 with the 4th NZ (Heavy) Battery and remained on the Peninsula for 187 days (6 months).  His Battery among others covered the allied forces evacuation from Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula, largely under the cover of darkness over five days and four nights, 15-20 December 1915.  Gnr. Currey arrived back in Alexandria on 03 Jan 1916. 

4th NZ (Howitzer) Field Artillery Battery in action at Gallipoli, 1915

1st, 2nd, and 3rd NZ Field Artillery Brigade shoulder patches

In October 1916, 4 (Heavy) Battery being an element of the 3rd NZ Field Artillery Brigade would form part of a larger commitment to Western Front operations – the NZ Wing of the 2nd ANZAC Reinforcements.  The NZ Wing embarked at Alexandria for France on 05 Dec 1916. 

One of Arthur’s handmade personal identity ‘dogtags’

There is very little detail of Gnr. Currey’s specific employment from this time on as his active service employment record sheets are no longer on his file (possibly lost?) however various indicators told me the NZ Field Artillery Brigade was heavily involved from the start of the NZ Division’s operations on the Western Front.  The Somme campaign began on 01 July 1916 followed by major actions at Passchendaele and Messines during 1917, and the Spring Offensive and March to Victory battles of 1918.  Gnr. Currey was specifically involved in several of the major battles on the Somme, the Marne and in Delville Wood.

On 21 May 1917 Arthur celebrated his 21st birthday; this card from his mother

The 3rd NZFA Brigade had been internally re-organized in Jan 1917 for the fourth time since 1916 to meet the changing nature of operations and needs of the NZ Division.  As a consequence Gnr. Currey was transferred from the 4th (Howitzer) Battery to 13 Battery (the 3rd Brigade’s No’s 11, 12 and 13 Batteries were equipped with 18-Pounder field guns).  Gnr. Currey served continuously through these actions until he was finally pulled out of the line in March 1918 and sent to England for rest and leave, his first proper leave in nearly three years!  Back in France with 13 Battery by late April, Gnr. Currey experienced an unwelcome case of déjà vu – on 26 Apr he accidentally shot himself under the right arm pit with his rifle.  A moments inattention with a loaded rifle resulted in him being disciplined.  He was charged with “Negligently discharging a rifle”, found guilty and given 28 days of Field Punishment No.2. 

By October 1918, now Bombardier Currey (Corporal equivalent) was one of only a handful of the 3rd NZFA Brigade’s three batteries of gunners to still be alive.  The Batteries had been decimated.  Remarkably Bdr. Currey had endured almost three continuous years in the field and come through it unscathed.  However Gnr. Currey was not unscathed when it came to physical and mental state by this time – he was totally exhausted and was pulled out of the line, he had done enough – his war was over.  With the Armistice imminent, Bdr. Currey was transferred to the Brigade’s Kit Store in the relative safety of the Brigade’s rear echelon area for the remainder of the war. 

HMNZT Willochra in Wellington Harbour, c1919

Arthur Hemming Currey’s Certificate of Discharge

By 6th Jan 1919 Bdr. Currey was at last leaving France and on his way back to England to start demobilization.  On March 8th he left Southampton once more aboard the HMNZT Willochra, arriving at Auckland on 15 April just one day short of completing four continuous years overseas on active service.  Following completion of his demobilization procedures Bdr. Currey was officially discharged from the NZEF on 13 May 1919.

Awards:  British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal, ANZAC (Gallipoli) Commemorative Plaque (1967) and Lapel Badge

Service Overseas:  3 years 364 days

Total NZEF Service:  4 years 101 days

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Post WW1 

The war had taken its toll on Arthur Currey.  All of his mates had been killed during those four years and to some extent it could be said he suffered from ‘survivor guilt’.  He found it very difficult to settle down but all that changed when he finally met and married an Auckland girl, Rita Halliday McKERRAS (1905-1990) in 1925.  The Currey’s had no children of their own however in 1927 they decided to adopted a son, Donald Arthur Currey (butcher and contractor) who gave them a great deal of pleasure as he was growing up.  

Arthur had a series of labouring jobs after the war until finally settling into one with the Auckland Tramways Board (ATB), first as a Conductor and then for many years as a tram Motorman (driver), later moving to buses when they were introduced.  Arthur’s time with the ATB came to an end when he re-enlisted for service in 1939 as the Second World War started.

Second World War

D6341 Gunner A. H. Currey was 43 years old when he quit his job at the ATB to re-enlistment into the NZ Artillery on 01 Sep 1939.  Being married and close to the cut-off age of 46 for overseas service, Gnr. Currey was re-enlisted for Home Service only. 

He entered camp at North Head in 1940 exactly one year after enlisting, and was posted to the 1st Heavy Artillery Group, New Zealand Artillery (NZA).  North Head was part of a country wide home defence network of coastal defences comprising anti shipping and anti-aircraft artillery batteries.  Gnr. Currey served a total of six years with the NZ Artillery at North Head, not particularly exciting however the upside of Home Service during this time was having the opportunity to see Rita and to take leave at home, 98 Donavan Street in Avondale.

When the war concluded in 1945, then Sgt. Currey extended his service with the NZA while the artillery units were being withdrawn from Europe.  During this time he was again promoted to Staff Sergeant for his last appointment as the Artillery Group’s Battery Quartermaster Sergeant (BQMS).  S/Sgt. Currey’s military service days drew to a close by mid May 1948 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 55.  S/Sgt. Arthur Hemming Currey NZA was discharged from the New Zealand Military Forces on 01 September 1948.

Awards:  War Medal, 1939-45 and NZ War Service Medal

Total WW2 Home Service:  7 years 96 days

BDR A.H. Currey’s WW1 medals and badges – brass rifle butt number “2/1481” plate, crossed flags Signaller’s qualification badge, NZ Artillery hat badge, Artillery collar badge – a ‘flaming grenade’

WW2 NZ War Service medal (British War Medal missing), Sgt. chevrons, ribbon bar, RSA badge (1961), Returned Soldiers Badge (1926), NZ Artillery Assn., Auck. Artillery Assn Great War badge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  Two of Arthur Currey’s brothers also served during WW2:

  • 28736 Gnr. William Vickers Currey served with the NZ Artillery Reinforcements and departed with the 3rd Echelon, 2NZEF in August 1940.  He returned to New Zealand.
  • Sub Lieut. Temporary Paymaster Leslie Roy Currey, RNZNVR served in New Zealand from 1943 to 1946.

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Post WW2

Following his discharge in 1948, Arthur Currey turned to farming.  He worked on a farm at Te Atatu, then on a farm at Buckland and subsequently purchased a farmlet at Waitoki in the Rodney district, about 6 km SE of Kaukapakapa.  One day around 1955 when riding his bicycle to the nearby lime works in Quarry Road, the bike picked up a stone from the metalled road and jammed the wheel throwing him to the ground.  He was found unconscious on the road and taken to Auckland Hospital where later examinations revealed a fractured skull and vertebra.  Although he recovered, he was never able to work again and developed circulatory trouble in his legs.  It also was discovered the .22 bullet that had remained in his system since his teens and which tended to move from time to time also contributed to the Arthur’s circulation problems – the net result was both legs had to be amputated above the knee. 

Arthur wearing his home-made tin legs, c1958

Arthur necessarily sold the farmlet at Waitoki and he and Rita moved to the seaside Auckland suburb of Maraetai, first to Omana Beach and later into Maraetai town-ship. 

Ever the capable handyman and optimist, Arthur set to and made himself a pair of prosthetic legs from tin cans that he had riveted together, along with two supports akin to the design of a four-legged saw-horse to steady himself with and assist his ‘walking’.  Graham said his uncle persevered with the tin can legs for some months but eventually had to stop using them because they caused sores on the stumps of his amputated legs.  

By 1960 Arthur Currey had become immobile.  The Curreys moved one last time so Arthur could access medical facilities more easily, to 79 Mt Smart Road, Onehunga.  Here Arthur became bed-ridden during his final years, Rita selflessly nursing him until his death.   Arthur Hemming Currey died at home on 21 July 1963 at the age of 67.   His wife Rita carried on alone for another 20 years until 1982 when she entered Selwyn Retirement Village at Point Chevalier.  In June 1990 Rita survived a near fatal accident on a pedestrian crossing however she had sustained irrecoverable brain damage which resulted in her total loss of memory.  Rita died within weeks at Christ’s Hospital in Selwyn Village, aged 92.  Graham and Elaine remember Rita Currey with great fondness –“still a sweet, lovely old lady with a beautiful smile”.

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Finding CURREY with an “E”

As is my usual approach to any search for descendant families of soldiers I start with the Cenotaph military file for clues to names and possible addresses to give me a geographical start point with which to build a picture of a soldier’s movements and employment.  There are many families in New Zealand with a Curry and Currie surname but very few are spelled with an ‘E’ – as in CurrEy.  There are just two listed in the AWMM Cenotaph website – very similar but unrelated:

  • 2/1481 & H6341 Bombardier Arthur Hemming Currey, NZFA – WW1, WW2, and
  • 2/494 & 800534 Major Arthur Athelstan Currey MM, NZFA – WW1, WW2.

Having had only one son my first aim was to determine if any of Arthur Hemming Currey’s family were still alive, if married or not, and whether he had children or not?  I located Donald Arthur Currey’s wife Ethel Currey (nee HUGHES) however Don, a former butcher and contractor, had died in 1981 at their home in Papakura.  They had a family of seven children.  

Arthur’s “Housewife” – a soldier’s sewing kit for making uniform repairs in the field

I decided to see if there was a generation equivalent to, or closer than Donald’s which were  directly related to Arthur so first checked his siblings in descending order of birth.  His sister Hilda CURREY was the next eldest to Arthur.  Hilda had married the Reverend Christopher George Hedley BYCROFT (known as Hedley), a Methodist Home Missionary in Northland who later became a Congregational Church Minister.  “BYCROFT”.. as in the biscuits? .. I hear you ask.  Yes he was.  Hedley Bycroft was a direct descendant of John Bycroft, founder of the Bycroft Flour Mill at Onehunga and later well known biscuit manufacturing empire in New Zealand that was relocated to Shortland Street in Auckland City in the late 1800s.  His son, John Bycroft Jnr., had succeeded his father until John Jnr. changed the structure of the business to a limited liability company and employed a partner/manager to run it.  Thereafter the biscuits were the only “Bycrofts” in the business.

Hilda and Hedley Bycroft’s marriage resulted in six children.  The first born in 1922 was Gordon Hedley, followed by Doreen May REYNOLDS, Keith Joseph, Elaine Margaret CARTER, Alan Christopher, and finally Kenneth David Graham Bycroft.  Once I had completed the BDM checks to determine who of these folk were still living I then checked for telephone connections to those whom I could not confirm were deceased.

My first successful contact was with a Thames couple, Elaine Thelma Bycroft, nee WHITE, wife of (Kenneth David) Graham Bycroft.  Graham Bycroft is Arthur Hemming Currey’s nephew.  Fortunately Elaine is an enthusiastic family genealogist and together with Graham’s confirmation was able to answer many of the questions I had.   

More mementos …

I explained to Elaine that the purpose of my call was to locate a near living descendant of Arthur Currey, and related the back-story of Arthur’s Currey’s “Box”.  Elaine was able to confirm with Graham that of the six Bycroft siblings only two still were still living – Alan Christopher Bycroft and of course Elaine’s husband Graham.

Great! – one phone-call and I had found the connection I was looking for; Graham Bycroft was Arthur Currey’s nephew and therefore would be the recipient of “The Box”.  I further related to Elaine and Graham how Mr Arthur Fletcher had found The Box 20 plus years ago and of his commitment to return it to a Currey descendant.  I told Elaine of Fletch’s grand-daughter Jane and how her sister Kathryn and husband Mike had taken up the cause to find a home for The Box, how Mike had made contact with Iain Davidson who in turn had contacted me – Elaine was breath-taken by the whole story.  Both she and Graham were very excited at the prospect of Arthur Currey’s memorabilia coming home. 

Graham and Elaine’s wedding day – honouring their “promise” to Arthur and Rita – 16 Dec 1961

Graham and Elaine remembered Arthur vividly.  Graham was particularly fond of his uncle Arthur, visiting him often particularly after he had lost his legs and spending many hours chatting.  Elaine said when she and Graham were about to get married in 1961, Arthur had been looking forward to the wedding however the untimely amputation of his legs had rendered him bed-ridden and thus prevented him from going.  Arthur made them promise to visit him on their wedding day – a promise they honoured.

Emotions were high and tears surfaced on occasion as the family remembered and discussed Arthur in the days leading up to the return of The Box.  Kathryn and Mike made arrangements to travel to Hamilton to handover it over to Graham, and in the meantime news of The Box circulated far and wide at break-neck speed among the Bycroft’s extended families, many of them renewing their connections after long absences.  The Box had become the catalyst for bringing the family together.  When I last spoke with Elaine before the arrival of The Box, she was in the throes of planning a most unexpected but very welcome reunion of family and friends for the home-coming of The Box.  I doubted there would be enough tissues for the tears?

“The Box” reunited with Arthur Currey’s nephew

Regrettably Kathryn and Mike were unexpectedly delayed with work commitments and so, not wanting to delay the much anticipated arrival of The Box unnecessarily, arranged for it to be couriered direct to the Bycroft’s home in Thames.  Kathryn and Mike were able to make a separate visit some weeks later to meet with the Graham, Elaine and the Fletchers.

Everyone was prepared for the arrival … the Box duly arrived … the gathering of family and friends were stunned and amazed as Graham and Elaine emptied the contents onto the kitchen table.  Elaine told me more than a few tears were shed as emotion overcame them all when Arthur’s letters and cards from his mother and grandmother were read aloud.  They had all felt suddenly very close to Arthur that day. 

In addition to the letters and cards there were French embroidered silk postcards, a French soldier’s “Fit for Service” medallion, a homemade identity tag, a “housewife” and even a spoon Arthur had made in the trenches to eat his rations with.  Pay Books, note books, Discharge Paper, pen, razor, pieces of shrapnel and even the bullet that had penetrated Arthur’s pack and notebook, a momentary shift of his position having spared his life …. a veritable treasure trove from Arthur Currey’s war years at Gallipoli and in France, from more than 100 years ago.

During the course of the occasion another happy coincidence occurred when Jane related her part in finding The Box at her grandfather’s home.  As soon as Jane mentioned her grandfather’s name Elaine new immediately who Arthur Fletcher was.  Fletch in his more spritely days had been an enthusiastic participant in the Paeroa musical theatre productions.  So had Elaine!  I suddenly realised I knew who Arthur Fletcher was…. Arthur loved musical theatre and had joined the Thames Musical Theatre in many of our performances in Thames … and we partnered on stage in many of the Music Halls” Elaine said.  

Fletch with The Box and Graham –  “mission accomplished”

In the days that followed Graham and Elaine visited Fletch and Millie at Sunningdale.  Not only was Graham able to report “mission accomplished” but Elaine and Fletch were also able to re-live many memories of their time together on stage.  Of their meeting Elaine said, When we met Arthur and Millie they were both frail but well, and certainly very pleased to see Graham with the box.  Arthur at 96 knew immediately who we were and when I showed him a photo of him on stage doing “What do You do With a Drunken Sailor” he started sing it and Graham and I joined in. The staff wondered what was going on!  As Graham and Elaine were asying goodbye to Millie and Fletch, his last words to Elaine were, “Go get those medals from the RSA Elaine!”

Graham and Elaine with Arthur Currey’s medals and photograph retrieved from the Paeroa RSA

Since their visit to see Fletch and Millie, Graham has retrieved Arthur Currey’s framed medals and photograph from the RSA.   Graham has recently donated his personal lifetime collection of Maori artefacts to the Thames Museum where they will be displayed and cared for.  This prompted the Bycroft and Fletcher families to confer over a suggestion Graham and Elaine made that the Thames Museum would also possibly be the best place for Arthur’s medals and memorabilia.  They had approached the Curator who was more than delighted at the prospect saying that Arthur’s memorabilia would be secure, well looked after and would form a significant part of the museum’s new War Memorial display.  Everyone agreed with the proposal; the location also ensuring future family descendants had a place they could go to see and appreciate their First World War ancestor’s medals and personal possessions from the trenches of Gallipoli and France.

The only unanswered question now was: how did “The Box” come to be at the Paeroa RSA?  This was even more mystifying as Arthur and Rita Currey had lived all their life in Auckland and had never spent any time in Paeroa.  Further, Arthur had only ever been a member of the Onehunga RSA, no connection whatsoever with Paeroa.  All things considered it seemed most likely that either Arthur may have given it to one of his now deceased siblings who had subsequently left with the Paeroa RSA on, or Rita his wife may have given it to the RSA after Arthur’s death?   

After much discussion among the extended families, it was Elaine who found the answer.  Little had ever been mentioned of Arthur and Rita’s adopted son Donald Currey.  Donald had grown up in Auckland, married Ethel and had had a family, however Donald was a rather remote person who kept very much to himself.  Little contact with his parents and even less with other  members of Arthur and Rita’s wider family had resulted in very little being known of his Donald, his family or their movements.  Donald and Ethel had moved to Drury after his father’s death, living there for quite a number of years and where Donald had worked as a contractor until his retirement.  Again, unbeknown to his extended family, when Donald and Ethel retired they had moved into a house in Paeroa!   

Armed with this knowledge Graham and Elaine’s detective work regarding Donald, the Box and the Paeroa RSA, converged and they were able to conclude that in the years before Donald’s death in 1997, it had been he who had apparently taken The Box of his father’s memorabilia and given it to the RSA, allegedly because “no-one else in his family was interested in it”!   The Box went up the stairs and into the storeroom drawers to remain untouched until Arthur Fletcher came across it.  Without Fletch’s intervention “The Box” could well have remained unseen for many more years, possibly even ending up at the tip one day and the contents lost forever?  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks to Jane, Mike and Kathryn N. who started this ball rolling to find Arthur Currey’s descendants. Thanks also to Iain for initiating yet another successful collaboration. Elaine and Graham have been particularly helpful in chasing information and confirming information that has allowed me to write this summary of Arthur Currey’s life – my since thanks to you both. 

Items of ephemera are not included in the reunited medal tally – the medal tally remains at 212.

In the week following the return of “The Box” a local newspaper covered parts of the story which can be read here:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/102808901/simple-spelling-mistake-keeps-unseen-world-war-one-possessions-from-family

Millie Fletcher with Elaine at Sunningdale Hamilton – March 2018

Arthur Currey’s sister May’s two daughters, his nieces Pat and Jeanette with Graham on Anzac Day, Thames 2018

Comments

  1. Hi, being Donald and Ethel Curreys youngest son, I moved to Paeroa with them and I thought it was common knowledge the “Box” was at the Paeroa RSA. I dont know the circumstances that lead to dad taking the box there but I believed the contents were on display. There was some talk of trying to get them back but as far as I know it was decided to leave them there for all to see. We are extremely easy to find too, not many Curreys with an E. Anyway, this article was a great read of the history of our family bar a few discrepancies but most importantly the service history of Grandad. My kids have asked me if any family were in the war which I knew Grandad had been but I didnt know any details. So now I can share this with them.

    Thanks

    Ray Currey

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