CHARLES EDWARD STEVENSON ~ Reunited ‘Death Plaque’ leads to an unclaimed ANZAC (Gallipoli) Medallion.


Timaru Courier article – John Watson.

An article published in the Timaru Courier was sent to me by South Canterbury lady Olwyn, currently living in Texas, USA, as she thought I may be interested in helping to find a descendant for a medal being offered.  The article (right) related the story of a Mr John Watson of Timaru who had bought a WW1 Memorial Plaque he had seen in a second-hand shop.   John’s intention was to try and find a family descendant to return the Memorial Plaque to.  The Plaque, sometimes called a ‘Death Penny’, ‘Death Plaque’, ‘Widows Penny’ or ‘Deadman’s Penny’ was sent to the next of kin of a those killed or who had died on active service, and to the kin of those who had died in NZ as a result of their war service, if within two years of returning home.  The deceased soldier in this case was  former Timaru resident – CHARLES EDWARD STEVENSON.

I contacted John a few weeks later and asked if his article had attracted any descendants.  Not at that point but the paper was going to re-run the article and so John was hopeful a second showing may bring someone out of the woodwork.  I offered my services should he run into a dead-end and left it at that.  I would check back with him at a later date to see if he been successful.  Being snowed under with other cases at the time I completely forgot about John and the plaque until I came across my printed copy of the article some months later.  I rang John who told me that a descendant had come forward, the family of one of Charlie Stevenson’s siblings had claimed the plaque.  Great, at least the plaque was where it belonged, with a Stevenson family – well done John.


As a matter of personal interest, when the article was originally sent I familiarised myself with Charles Stevenson’s Cenotaph file and his military service.  In speaking with the family of Russell Stevenson, a grand nephew of Charlie’s whose oldest brother James Stephenson (1868-1925) was Russell’s grandfather via his own father Alfred John Stevenson (1900-1966), it was Russell’s wife Penny who provided me much of the detail of Charlie’s life for this post which will give the reader a brief insight into Charlie Stevenson’s short but interesting life.   

Charles Edward Stevenson was the son of Scotsman James Orr Stevenson and Elizabeth KAE, of York Street, Timaru.  Charlie was number 11 in a sibling line up of 13 – six girls and seven boys.  After attending Timaru Main School Charlie developed a keen interest in motor vehicles which were just starting to make their presence felt in New Zealand.  Charlie enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics but more particularly he loved to drive these new fangled machines.  By 1906-07 Charlie had learned to drive and one of his earliest jobs was as a driver for the Mount Cook Motor Service Company (the predecessor of the Mt Cook Company).  Owners Wigley and Thornley Ltd. had imported French Darracq extended chassis service cars for their company from motor vehicle agents Skeates and Bockaert.*  

* Percy Skeates and Emile Bockaert were a motor and cycle importers with branches in all main centres of New Zealand and a Head Office in Auckland.  In 1900 they owned the very first car in Auckland, the “Star”, a horseless carriage modeled on a Benz and built in Wolverhampton England.  The car was purchased by Skeates and Bockaert from importer Arthur Marychurch who had landed it in New Zealand three weeks earlier.  Only two other cars, both Benz’s, existed in NZ at this time. 

Charlie Stevenson driving, stops for a snapshot with his tourist passengers in a Darracq extended chassis service car – c1908

 World record set

In March 1911 Charlie Stevenson (23) was the driver of a 1910 14-16 hp Darracq in which he set a world record for time and distance in small cars.  Emile Bockeart was the man behind the record attempt, providing both the car and support since if successful, the feat would provide national and possibly world-wide publicity and advertising copy for the Skeates and Bockaert Ltd motor car importing company and its services.  Starting from Invercargill, Charlie drove first to Christchurch and then back to Timaru completing the distance of 1064 miles (1712.3 kms) and setting a record of 44 hours.  Regrettably not long after the record drive Emile died in October 1911, aged 38. 

Charlie Stevenson in the driver’s seat of the 1910 Darracq with sponsor Emile Bockaert prior to the start of the Charlie’s record drive in March, 1911.

By the time the Mt Cook Company was formed, Charlie had already been to England to further his knowledge of the motor trade including the technical and mechanical aspects of vehicles and advanced techniques in vehicle handling.  On his return he was hired by the Company as a motor driver and was by all accounts was a well respected driver.  Charlie drove for Mt Cook for the first few seasons driving tourist parties in the extended chassis Darracq service car motor vehicles, to view Mt. Cook and other scenic attractions.  He was also the Royal Mail representative delivering to remote parts of the South Island as required.

Then came the call for young single men to volunteer for overseas service in the NZEF.  At the time of enlistment Charlie had been working as a motor driver for Fairlie stock and station merchant, H. A. Le Cren, the predecessor of Pyne, Gould, & Guinness. 

War service

6/554 Pte. Charlie Stevenson – 1st CIB, NZEF – 1914 

6/554 Private Charles Edward Stevenson was 28 years old when he enlisted with the 1st Canterbury Infantry Battalion (Main Body) at Timaru on 13 August 1914.  The Main Body was made up of a number of infantry battalions and supporting arms such as artillery, engineers, drivers etc drawn from units around New Zealand.  These were the first units to deploy overseas as part of New Zealand’s commitment to the Great War.  As we now know, once at sea the Main Body was diverted from its intended destination of England and the war in Europe, to Suez in Egypt in preparation for the attack on Gallipoli. 

Perhaps Charlie felt there was some degree of expectation of him to show what he was made of by following in his father and uncle’s footsteps.  Charlie’s father, James Orr Stevenson (d.1907), had previously taken a prominent part in military volunteering himself, being one of the original members of the Timaru Garrison Band.  James’s brother, 4442 Trooper Walter Stevenson, 7th Contingent, NZMR had volunteered to fight for his Queen and Empire in the South African (Boer) War only to be killed in action in 1902 at Langverwacht in the Orange Free State.  Whatever the reason, Charlie was among the first to volunteer in Timaru.

The volunteers departed Timaru Station by the first express to the Addington Barracks in Christchurch on 17 August after first parading at the Drill Shed and being addressed by Archdeacon Jacob.  He trusted God would guide and protect them, and then the Deputy-Mayor (Mr W. A. Pearson), said that all must “feel very proud to see that so many of the young men had volunteered to serve their country in this the greatest crisis they had ever known” and he wished them God speed and a safe and speedy return.  Charlie had executed his Will prior to leaving appointing his sister Elizabeth Merion Stevenson as his sole executor and beneficiary.

Twelve Tree Copse (New Zealand ) Memorial, Helles, Turkey

Private Charlie Stevenson was 28 years old when he was killed in action on Saturday, the 8th of May 1915, just two weeks after the landings at Gallipoli.  He is commemorated on the Twelve Tree Copse (New Zealand) Memorial in the Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery at Helles, Turkey. 

Pte. B. S. Graham, also of York Street, in a letter to Charlie’s older brother James, wrote he was with Charlie Stevenson and Bill Wall when they were hit – “I can tell you that you have no idea what it is like here.”  Charlie’s medals were sent to his sister Elizabeth Stevenson in Fairlie being his designated Next of Kin, while his Memorial Plaque and Scroll were sent to his brother James who was living in Timaru. 

Note:  ** Russell Stevenson, Charlie Stevenson’s grand nephew, was a self-taught engineer from Timaru who started a project to rebuild a Darracq from the parts of an original he had scrapped together from an Auckland deceased estate, and the same model of car Charlie had driven on his record setting journey.  Starting the re-build in 2010 Russell had completed the drive train and had the engine running to the point he could drive the chassis a short distance.  Russell was a natural when it came to engineering, there was no problem that was insurmountable, he could turn his hand to any anything that was required.  The Darracq parts Russell got from Auckland did not have a salvageable radiator – it was shot! – so what did Russell do? – he built one from scratch with the aid of a photo and a few drawings.  Taking a pattern from a rusty radiator vein he had, Russell hand pressed over 3000 individual veins and soldered them all together to form the radiator core, and eventually produce a brand new, fully functioning Darracq radiator.  That’s how capable and passionate Russell Stevenson was about his Darracq. 

Sadly Russell passed away unexpectedly in 2016 and so Penny, his widow, determined to finish the project has taken up Russell’s  ‘labour of love’ vowing to complete the car in memory of both Russell and Charlie Stevenson.  A mate of Russell’s is painting the body parts for gratis, no charge in memory of his good friend.  Penny has the completed body-work parts tucked away in a bedroom!  She also has an upholsterer on standby as soon as the re-build of the seating is finished.  Offers of help for Penny are coming from all directions, freely given to see their mate Russell’s project completed as he would have wanted.  Penny reckons another six months or so (as her time permits) and the car should be ready for re-assembly and possibly a test drive.


Unclaimed medal

When I first looked at Charlie Stevenson’s file the first record I needed confirmation of was his Gallipoli service.  No problem there, clearly annotated when and where Charlie had been killed.  The reason for the check is that many families claim to have had soldier veteran of Gallipoli when in fact some only went as far as a staging base, such as the island of Mudros which is over a 100 kms from Anzac Cove and therefore not in the designated ‘Gallipoli operational area’ which in fact apart from the Peninsula itself, was quite narrow and largely paralleled the beach out to a few hundred meters.  This had an impact on both the soldiers combat service remuneration and medal qualification. 

The ANZAC Commemorative Medallion (commonly referred to as the ‘Gallipoli Medallion’) was struck in 1967 as a memento to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Gallipoli Landings in April 1915.  The medallion was available upon application to the  returned survivors who had served and fought with the ANZAC troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula, or to the next of kin of those who died as a result of their Gallipoli service.  When the medallion was introduced there were specific criteria to determine a Gallipoli veteran’s eligibility, irrespective of whether the veteran was living or deceased.  That criteria remains extant for claims still being made to this day.

Had Charles Stevenson lived he would have been entitled to apply for the medallion.  Since he had died in action his next of kin was eligible to apply to claim the medallion in his name, but it appeared from his file that nobody had done so.  After a check with Personnel Archives at Trentham, Karley J. confirmed my findings.  I contacted the Stevenson family who were thrilled with the prospect of getting the medallion.  Since then we have been able to assist the Stevenson’s to make application and claim the ANZAC (Gallipoli) Commemorative Medallion which they now proudly display in their home. 

Charles Edward Stevenson’s Memorial Plaque







The reunited medal tally is now 234.