CHARLIE and JOHN RANDALL ~ ‘One medal begets two’ ~ a unique hand-over of Koromiko brother’s war medals.

3/2371 ~ CHARLIE RANDALL  and  61151 ~ JOHN RANDALL    

This return of these two medals came about by very different circumstances however produced an outcome better than I could have ever anticipated.

Earlier in the year a donor had sent MRNZ a 1914-15 Star named to, 3/2371 CPL. C. RANDALL  N.Z.E.F.   My initial review of Charlie Randall’s history identified him as a farmer born at Koromiko near Blenheim.  Charlie had returned home after the First World War, been married and had a family but that’s basically where the story stopped.  The circumstances of his untimely disappearance left me with an unsolved mystery and a case that was obviously going to take more than a couple of hours of research.  Since a quick return of the medal was out of the question, I put the medal in the ‘to do’ basket, also known as my ‘back burner’, until more time permitted once I had finished my current cases.

Stephen Jones – ‘treasure hunter’

Stephen and his metal detector

Stephen Jones is a Blenheim resident who recently bought himself a state of the art metal detector by way of a hobby interest.  Since he has had the detector it has paid for itself with some of his finds proving to be very lucrative.  To date  has recovered numerous coins, rings and other pieces of jewellery as well as plenty of useless iron items such as washers and horse-shoe nails.  One weekend this last November Stephen and his son Matthew, out of curiosity, conducted a sweep of a local primary school playground.  Stephen gave the grassed areas at Mayfield Primary the once over with his detector and made what became a significant find.  A strong indication of a small metal object lying below the surface at a depth of about 25 cms got Stephen’s attention.  The reading indicated the item to be solid and from which he could also tell contained some precious metal.  On digging down into the spot indicated, Stephen unearthed what he new to be a WW1 medal due to the dates “1914-18” which appeared on one side. 

Pte. Randall’s British War Medal, 1914-18 – Reverse

Stephen had found a British War Medal, 1914-18 (minus ribbon of course) which were general award in conjunction with either the 1914 (Mons) Star or a 1914-15 Star with Victory Medal, or was awarded as one of a pair, the other being the Victory Medal.  It had no doubt been precious to someone at one time but how it got to where it was found and apparently some time ago, was anyone’s guess.  At that depth, the site could have been the location of a former house where the medal had been lost, or the medal could have arrived in a load of soil when the school was established, both being circumstances I have encountered during medal research.  The medal in fact does contain precious metal – it has a reasonably high silver content which confirmed Stephen’s initial assessment. 

At the end of his sweeps of the grounds Stephen and Matthew took their few finds home (mainly small denomination coins and a few washers) and gave them all a thorough wash.  The medal was in surprisingly good condition given its unknown history or length of time underground.  Although a little battered around the edges, Stephen found numbers and a name impressed on the edge of the medal that read: 61151 PTE. J. RANDALL  N.Z.E.F.





Stephen reckons it was his best find yet and his immediate inclination was to see if he could return the medal to the family it had come from, or at least to a descendant of J. Randall. 

British War Medal 1914-18 – Obverse

Blenheim and the surrounding settlements in wider Marlborough still have quite a number of descendant Randall families in them.  Armed with the available information from John Randall’s military record from the Auckland Museum’s Cenotaph website, Stephen contacted a number of Randall families to see if they were related to the soldier named on the medal, without success.  He then approached the local newspaper, Marlborough Express and spoke with Matt Brown, a journalist, who was intrigued with Stephen’s story and keen to help.  Matt wrote the article and concluded it by inviting descendants to make contact with him. 

On 28 October, the Marlborough Express and “Stuff” ran an article of  the WW1 medal find.  You can read Stephen’s story  here: “Search starts after Great War medal found…”

Over the next couple of weeks Matt Brown received numerous email responses from as far away as as Australia, and passed them on to Stephen.

MRNZ to the rescue

Just after the article was published (which I was unaware of) I received an email from Sandra Robinson of Blenheim alerting me to Stephen’s medal find.  Some months ago we were able to solve a case for Sandra and her deceased father by reuniting a WW1 Returned Soldier’s gold fob pendant that her father had found in a Southland river many years ago.**  Sandra read Matt’s story and contacted him on our behalf suggesting he may wish to contact me for assistance in finding a descendant, quoting her own success story with MRNZ’s help. 

As soon as I read the email and article Sandra had linked to it, the name “John Randall – born July 27, 1887 at Koromiko” immediately bought to mind the 1914-18 Star of Charlie Randall’s donated earlier in the year that was still on my ‘back burner’.   I checked my notes re Charlie Randall and sure enough, he did have an older brother named John who had gone to the Great War also born at Koromiko. The clincher, the Next of Kin named in their military records  was the same – “Mrs G. Randall, Koromiko (mother).”

I contacted Stephen and told him about Charlie Randall and the medal I had.  Stephen mentioned the number of email responses Matt had sent him.  I offered to research and filter these to determine a close living descendant of John Randall to return his medal to.  By doing this I also hoped to reunite Charlie Randall’s medal with one of his descendants. 

The emailed responses had come from as far as Australia and a number contained some excellent details that collectively I as a researcher would never have known unless able to speak directly with descendants.  Stephen was happy for me to filter the emails and so a process of verification, phone calls, consultation of family trees and more phone calls eventually produced a result for both medals.  I had identified two direct descendants; one was an immediate family member and the other, a close relative.  

This process was a valuable one as it removed any doubt as to who among the known living relatives was the closest and most direct descendant of each soldier, and therefore the person who would receive the medal.  My aim is to avoid any ill-feeling when medals are returned so by narrowing the contactable number of relatives to the closest direct descendant removes any handover angst.  Once a medal is in that person’s hands, its custody, succession, and future guardianship becomes a family responsibility.     

Note: ** Sandra’s story can be read here:  “Soldiers lost war medal …”

RANDALL family of Para

There have been numerous Randall families in and around Marlborough over the last 180 years but while their history in the area is long, not all Randall families were or are related.  George Randall’s parents, Henry Randall and Lucy SMITH had both immigrated from Hampshire, England as pioneer settlers to Nelson and later Marlborough.  Son George was born in 1847** at Kakapo Bay, Port Underwood (about 20 km NE of Tuamarina) where he and his siblings grew up before some of them migrated a little closer to the fledgling town of Blenheim some 40 kms distant.  In 1881 Kakapo Bay was the venue of George Randall’s marriage to Jane HART (b 1860), the daughter of Abraham Hart and Lucy CLEWLOW, English immigrants who had married and settled at Richmond, Nelson. 

Note: In 1846 the first mob of sheep was driven into Marlborough over Tophouse by Nathaniel Morse and Dr John Cooper.

Randall family on Christmas Day 1914 at “Woodlands” — L-R: Charlie, Alice, George Snr. (f), George William, James, Jane (m), Lucy Jane, John

George and Jane Randall left Kakapo Bay to carve out their family farm from a piece of native bush at Koromiko which is surrounded by very scenic high and rugged ranges with land that was level and fertile between them.  Koromiko sits astride what was at the time a coaching track which eventually linked Picton with Blenheim.  The land George acquired for his farm was in an area called Para.  It was largely untouched native bush with many trees that needed felling and the land cleared before the farm could be productive.  The Randall’s named their farm “Woodlands” for obvious reasons.  Also at Koromiko were members of both the Hart and Bragg families, both of which remain intertwined with Randall descendant families to this day.

Sheep farming in Marlborough at this time was still in its infancy however George’s vision was for a sheep farm, and sons (should he be lucky enough to have any) who would be able to help build and work the farm, eventually taking over its running.  “Woodlands” was to be his legacy, one that was to remain in Randall hands for the benefit the Randall families and future generations.  

As the timber was felled and the land cleared, George and Jane had also started their family but it would be some years before George had a useful workforce of sons.  One wonders what went through George’s mind when their first born was a daughter, baby Alice BRAGG (1882-1957).  He need not have been concerned – George William (1884-1966) followed, then James (1885-1969) and John Randall (b1887).  Another daughter Lucy Jane WILLIAMS (1877-1913) came next and last, perhaps an ‘error of judgement’ after a break of some years 17 years?, young Charles Randall, known as ‘Charlie’ was born in 1894.  The last birth was of twins, also in 1894 – sadly both were still-born. 

Each family member put in the hard yards to convert and expand their once bush covered lands at Para into a productive sheep unit.  The Randall siblings continued to live at “Woodlands” even after they had started families of their own, and in time moved of the farm but remained in close proximity at either Koromiko or Tuamarina.  Timber from the farm was milled, fences were erected, houses and out-buildings built, firstly a homestead to house the family in the early days and then a small house for those who had started their own families.  Apart from sheep being his primary focus, George also experimented with Angora goats he imported through a stock agent in Napier.  The goats were a great success and a multi-purpose animal for “Woodlands” by controlling weed and native thistles, as producers of fine Angora wool for spinning to make garments, and as a source of milk.    

“Woodlands” still exists albeit no longer in Randall hands and now subdivided into smaller parcels of land, some cultivated, some farmed and others occupied by families.  

War on the horizon

In early 1914 as news of an imminent war in Europe rolled across the nation, the government responded by ordering a national manpower register be compiled.  This required by law all single men between the ages of 20 and 60 to be registered.  These would be used for balloting personnel for military service (those aged 20-35 initially) and the remainder for the maintenance of the country’s infrastructure in the event of a national emergency.  The Defence Department started calling for volunteers in early 1914 to supplement the regular serving soldier numbers for the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF).  Those not taken in the Main Body would form the basis of the first Reinforcement draft of some 42 drafts that were eventually sent overseas by war’s end.

Only two of the Randall men were eligible by both age and marital status to be enlisted for war service – 27 year old John and 19 year old Charlie (well, he would be within months of registering).  Elder brothers George William Randall and James Randall, whilst eligible by age, were both married (with children) and therefore exempted from service abroad.  Together with their father they kept the farm operating.

“Woodlands” by this time (1914) was well established and thriving.  George Randall considered it was time to ‘pass the baton’ to his sons while he and Jane contemplated retirement.  George at 67 (Jane 54) hankered to return to the peace and tranquility of Port Underwood and his birth place at Kakapo Bay, somewhere he and Jane could live out the remainder of their days.  Their daughter Alice and husband Richard Bragg were living at the Bay as were a number of families George and Jane had known since their early days when they lived there.  As a consequence, George handed over the management of “Woodlands” to his sons, George W. Randall being as the eldest, was the farm’s manager. 

George (d:1917) and Jane Randall (d: 1924) both passed away at Kakapo Bay and were interred in the Picton Cemetery. 

6/2731 CPL.  Charlie Randall – 1/CIB, 6th Reinforcements

NZ Machine Gun Corps – hat and collar badge

Unlike his older brother John, Charlie Randall was initially less inclined towards sporting pursuits at school and had opted for violin lessons.   A local newspaper article from 19o7 reported on the Tuamarina School’s annual fund raising event, “Sale of Art Work and Entertainment” which was held on 23 December.  Specific comment was made of 11 year old Charlie’s ability with the violin …” Mention must be made of the pianoforte duet nicely played by Miss Flo Campbell and Miss Theresa Brougham, while Master Charlie Randall gave a capital violin solo.” 

Charlie like older his brothers, became a sheep farmer on the family farm.  Whether the prospect of a change or of travel overseas with the Army was a motivating factor for him volunteering for the NZEF is not known.  Even before he met the age threshold of 20 for overseas service (well, he would be in a few months), Charlie had volunteered as soon as recruiting started.  Since the priority for overseas service at the time was youngest volunteers first, Charlie did not have to wait long before he got the call. 

Cpl. Charlie Randall and his mother Jane at “Woodlands” – April 1919

Charlie had just celebrated his 2oth birthday in March 1915 when he received his call-up notice to join the NZEF.  Reinforcement recruitment was ramping up in anticipation of significant casualties once the Gallipoli campaign got under way – the planners anticipated outcome of this were not misplaced.  Charlie jumped at the opportunity to be part of the ‘Great Adventure’ and so was enlisted at Blenheim on 17 Apr 1915, seven days before the Anzac Landings.  In June Charlie was off to Featherston Military Camp for his basic infantry training with the 6th Reinforcements of the 1st Canterbury Infantry Battalion (CIB).

Pte. Charlie Randall embarked HMNZT 27 Willochra at Wellington on 14 August 1915 and next day was on his way, headed for Suez,  Egypt.  The CIB Reinforcements disembarked at Suez and were en-trained for El Moascar Camp, Ismailia (on the west bank of Suez Canal), the NZ and Australian Mounted Rifles base camp.  Part of the Camp had been sectioned off as an Isolation Camp.  Here medical inspections of all new arrivals were carried out, me became acclimatised while here, and preparations were made for their posting to either the EEF (Egyptian Expeditionary Force) garrison forces in El Moascar, or to mounted operations with the Anzac Mounted Rifle units who conducted operations in the northern Sinai Desert around El Arish and westward to Palestine at Rafa, Gaza and Beersheba.  Being Infantry at this time meant Charlie’s destination was preordained !


Charlie Randall’s physique had also predetermined his employment.  On 27 Oct 1915, Pte. Charlie Randall was posted to No. 1 Machine Gun Company (1 MG Coy), a unit of the NZ Machine Gun Corps (NZMGC) that was attached to the 1st Canterbury Infantry Battalion (1/CIB).  Every NZ Infantry battalion had a MG Company attached to it.  These were a battalion’s greatest integral firepower asset.  MGs were also heavy, had various items of supporting equipment that needed to accompany each machine-gun section, plus there was the requirement for the two-man gun crews to carry a not inconsiderable amount of additional ammunition, so strength and agility were a must for soldiers posted to a MM Company. 


Cpl. Randall’s 1914-15 Star

After 10 days of training and preparation at El Moascar Camp, the 1/CIB reinforcements boarded a troop transport ship at Alexandria and sailed for Mudros, a small port town on the Greek island of Lemnos that sits in the northern Aegean Sea.  Lemnos is approx 120 km SW of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli with Mudros on its SW coast.  The port had been taken over by the British Expeditionary Force in early 1915 as a base from which to launch and reinforce the Dardanelles campaign – a headquarters, supply and ammunition dumps, troops, horses, donkeys and endless piles of equipment were landed here and then deployed to Gallipoli as required.  Mudros was also the first port of call for casualty barges and and ships carrying casualties evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsula, before they were further evacuated to either a hospital in Cairo or Malta, or in the worst cases direct to the port harbours of Portsmouth or Folkestone.

The 1/CIB Reinforcements were readied to bolster their Battalion on the Peninsula but fortunately for Pte. Randall he was spared the hell that was Gallipoli as his arrival at Mudros had coincided with the decision to withdraw all Anzac and Allied forces from the Peninsula.  It was a failed campaign.  The Peninsula was skilfully evacuated of some 30,000 troops under cover of darkness during the nights of 15-20 Dec 1915 without a single life being lost, the most successful operation of the entire Gallipoli debacle.


1914-15 Star – reverse

A NZEF presence was reinstated on the Gallipoli Peninsula in late December 1915 / early 1916.  As the war in France and Belgium progressed the Ottomans completely withdrew from the Peninsula to face new threats while supporting their German allies.  The NZEF and other contributory nations were tasked with maintaining a self-sufficient presence on the Peninsula to construct and man Observation Posts for the purpose of early warning should any attempt by made by the Ottomans or any other to re-occupy the Peninsular.  This may account for a story told to Charlie’s daughter by a Gallipoli veteran who had known Charlie, who said he had found Charlie’s name and hometown carved into the wall of a cave on the Peninsula – I wonder how many more are still there?

In Jan 1916 Pte. Charlie Randall returned to El Moascar Camp to re-join No. 1 NZMG Company to start preparations for the next phase of operations and a new battle front – the Western Front in France and Belgium.  Pte. Randall and the NZMG Corps embarked for France together with the CIB, on the 6th of April.  Within a matter of days the 1st Canterbury Battalion’s numbers had swelled to 30 Officers and 735 Infantry soldiers plus the Mounted Rifle Regiments.  The battalion and supporting units were transported by ship from Etaples to Calais and then by road to Steenbecque.  From here the Battalion was marched to Armentieres (about 38 kms) were they prepared themselves to be engaged in a totally new type of fighting – trench warfare!

Western Front

NZ Machine-gun crew in action,  France 1917

On July 1st 1916  the Somme campaign commenced with massive and prolonged barrages of artillery fire.  The Battle of Fromelles was the first major action the NZ Division was involved with since their arrival in France.  Over the next six months other famous and dreadfully costly battles took place that became household names for many NZ families – Delville Wood, Pozieres, Flers-Courcelette, Theipval Ridge and Ancre …. it was not until 18 November that this maelstrom ceased and the cost counted.  Temporary L/Cpl for his skill and performance as a machine gunner and had been promoted to Lance Corporal, the second-in-command (2ic) of a machine-gun section, and acted in this capacity for a good number of these battles.   A MG section comprised two of the new Light Vickers machine-guns each being crewed by two soldiers – the Gunner (No.1) and the No.2.  The MG Section was led by a Cpl. Section Commander backed up by a L/Cpl. Second-in-Command (2ic).

Between June and November 1917 some of the most significant battles to confront the NZ Division were fought… Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Baupaume. 

Despite several bouts of Enteritis (inflammation of intestines & diarrhoea) and the Mumps during which he was hospitalised at the Etaples Base Depot, followed by an obligatory period in No. 6 Convalescent Depot (also at Etaples), L/Cpl Randall when back into the fray as soon as he was permitted.  In Oct 1917 he was again promoted, to Temporary Corporal in charge of his MG Section.  One of the most dangerous jobs in an Infantry battalion was that of the MG Company sections.  Because of their ability to lay down large volumes of fire on an enemy position, MG sections were considered ‘show stoppers’ and so were priority targets to be knocked out, on both sides.  

It was mid-October and T/Cpl. Randall had just been appointed a T/Sgt. in the NZMG HQ to fill another establishment vacancy.  On the 23 Oct he was reported ‘MISSING’ – five days later he was  located and re-classified as ‘WOUNDED.’  Sgt. Randall had suffered severe contusions to his chest consistent with either running into an obstacle or falling from a height on to something (most probably during a move or patrol at night) which necessitated his hospitalisation.  After two weeks of recovery he was released to rejoined his unit.  With the arrival of a replacement Sgt. for No 1. Company and a replacement Cpl. MG Section Commander, T/Sgt. Randall was reverted to L/Cpl. and returned to his post as the 2ic of his MG Section.

Following his release from hospital in December L/Cpl. Randall was due for a period of 14 days leave in the UK.  On arriving back from leave was again appointed a T/Cpl. MG Section Commander with his own Company to replace another who had been promoted and posted out.  This see-sawing of temporary rank appointments was quite common across the board at all NCO rank levels.  There seemed to be a fixation with maintaining personnel establishment tables irrespective of circumstances and skill level (or lack thereof) of the appointee.  Another stint as a T/Sgt. attached to the Battalion’s Group HQ followed was followed by his last  10 days of leave in the UK before repatriation to NZ.   Again Charlie was reverted to Cpl., rejoined his Battalion as an MG Section Commander being  temporarily attached to No. 2 NZMG Company.  By Dec 1918 he had gone full circle and was back with No. 1 NZMG Company preparing for repatriation.  At last Cpl. Charlie Randall’s war was over at an end – the next stop would be Wellington.

On 1 Feb 1919 Cpl. Randall departed for Wellington on HMNZT 280 Hororata.  Following the completion of his demobilization at Trentham Camp, a medical check declared Charlie was “Fit for further service” (if required) and as a result was listed in the Army Reserve for recall.  Charlie proceed home on ‘end of overseas service leave’ prior to being formally discharged from the NZEF on 13 April 1919.  He remained on the Reserve for the next three years until discharged from any further obligation to the NZ Military Forces.

Medals:   1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-18 and Victory Medal

Overseas Service:   3 years  215 days

Total NZEF service:   3 years  362 days

“Home Sweet Home” … but not so sweet

Charlie Randall returned home without so much as a bullet hole or shell splinter wound (sickness and chest contusions aside).  But he was changed man.  Any man who served with the NZMG Corps, particularly at the ‘sharp end’ as a Gunner, 2IC  or Section Commander (Charlie did them all) for any length of time (3¾ years), to have survived whilst in company of these ‘high priority targets’ for enemy artillery, machine-gunners and snipers, was bound to return home a changed man.  Charlie had returned to “Woodlands” and tried to pick up where he had left off nearly four years earlier but he found the going tough.  Charlie became more inclined to numb the tape of the war continually re-playing in his head, with alcohol.  After 18 months at home the family had hoped his forthcoming marriage to local girl Mabel Annie MEADS would help to settle him and see his return to normality.  Charlie and Mabel were married at “Woodlands” in 1921 and together had four daughters and a son – Iris, Rita, Doreen and Mavis, and Ian Randall. 

Many returned WW1 soldiers who have experienced the worst of ‘man’s inhumanity to man” and who had been in the thick of action for any length of time, struggled to put the war behind them.  Nightmares and night sweats, outbursts of rage, depression, poor concentration – Charlie was in the grip of them all and like so many others who returned, found solace in reaching the bottom of a bottle of grog, frequently in company of fellow returned soldiers.  These men had a bond and the only ones who could know and understand what their war had been like.  On top of this, for both John and Charlie the death of their father George in 1917 while both had been overseas, no doubt affected them both to varying degrees.

Given his roles in the NZMG Corps, the most heavily utilised asset of any infantry battalion, the probability that Charlie was suffering from what we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), was high.  As a relatively unknown condition at that time it usually went untreated with the most unmanageable sufferers being confined to a Lunatic (Mental) Asylum.  Charlie’s attempt at self ‘medication’ with alcohol was the common response of returned soldiers dealing with war trauma demons – and still is today!  The net outcome of this approach was and is, frequently disastrous both for the soldier and those around him.

Needless to say trying to bury his memories with alcohol took its toll on Charlie’s marriage to Mabel and with his children.  Charlie had also crossed swords with the local constabulary on a number of occasions which ultimately had resulted in a period of incarceration.  When released Charlie’s continued presence at “Woodlands” became untenable and so he was entrusted to live with his sister Lucy and her husband Henry Williams at their Koromiko farm, about a kilometre or so from the village of Spring Creek.  Lucy and Henry did their best to help Charlie with his demons in any way they could but his dependence on the bottle became the stumbling block.  Charlie was a familiar sight cycling from his sister’s house along the riverbank track of the Wairau River to the Ferry Road bridge, the road conveniently for Charlie terminating at the Ferry Hotel (now the Junction Hotel at Spring Creek on State Highway 1, Blenheim to Picton).  After a session of drinks with his returned soldier mates, or alone, Charlie would (attempt to) cycle back again to the William’s house with his purchases. 

Tuamarina farmland looking north towards the rail bridge that spans an overflowing Wairau River, similar to the flooding in January 1945

The Wairau River plane upon which Blenheim and surrounding settlements are situated has a long history of flooding and endless attempts to minimize the damage from these.  In January 1945 Marlborough experienced one of its 1 in 150 year storms that resulted in the Wairau bursting its banks in several places and widespread flooding of roads and the low lying farm land, particularly in the Koromiko, Tuamarina, Spring Creek and Ferry Bridge/Morrins Hollow areas.  The Blenheim to Picton road was impassable.  A similar situation occurred in July although equated to a lesser 1 in 50 year event however flooding was still extensive over farm land in Tuamarina and Spring Creek, and the main road was impassable for a number of days.  

It was during this flood that Charlie Randall disappeared.  Once the flood waters had receded a bicycle thought to be Charlie’s was found on the northern side of the Ferry Road Bridge, due east of Spring Creek at the end of the Ferry Road.  An extensive search failed to find any sign of Charlie.  A subsequent inquest returned a finding of “death by misadventure, believed drowned”.  It was suspected Charlie Randall may have chanced his arm and was either going to, or returning from the Ferry Hotel and while attempting to navigate a flooded road or track while riding or walking his bike, had fallen and/or was swept away in the flood waters and more than likely out to sea.  

Given Charlie’s frame of mind and possible influence of alcohol, the unanswered question is: was Charlie’s death the result of a misadventure with his bicycle while attempting to ford the flood waters or, could he have simply had enough of the ‘war within’ and decided to end it all?  Speculation remains to this day, with no proof to the contrary.

61151 PTE. John Randall – CIR, 31st Reinforcements

Canterbury Infantry Regiment – hat & collar badge

John Randall’s early sporting years were characterized by his love of cricket and in particular his bowling prowess.  As his sheep farming skills were honed along with his younger brother Charlie during their teen years and beyond, John made a name for himself playing for the Koromiko Club until old enough to move into a senior grade at the age of 17.  By 1910 he was representing the Marlborough XI in home and away games until WW1 intervened.  

Five years older than Charlie who was already overseas, John Randall was working the farm with father George and brothers William and James, when he received a letter telling him he was to be called-up for war service in January 1917 and was required to undertake a medical check with an approved GP the Military Forces had approved for such a task.  John at 29 was still well within the age range of reinforcement personnel which had been pushed out to age 40 due to the marked and sudden drop off of volunteers once the casualty lists during the Gallipoli campaign were made public.  As a result the government had been compelled to conscript older age groups for overseas service.  Men previously rejected on medical grounds were re-called, re-assessed, with the majority being passed fit for service, purely to make up reinforcement numbers.  Even married volunteers were being accepted.

Pte. John Randall was passed “FIT” and on 27 June reported to Featherston Camp in the Wairarapa where he was duly attested for military service for the duration of the war (however long that may be?) and started his military indoctrination.  He was trained and prepared for overseas service as an Infantryman with the same unit his brother Charlie had – the Canterbury Infantry Regiment (CIR).  Since the beginning of the war reinforcement drafts had been continually trained and sent to join the battalion in France, mainly to keep pace with an increasing casualty rate.  As a consequence the 1st Canterbury Battalion that Charlie had gone away with, had grown in size to that of a Regiment (2 x regular battalions & 1 x territorial (part-time) battalion = approx 2500-3000 men).  John was called up to join the 31st Reinforcement draft for the Regiment.  

John Randall c 1930

One month into his basic training at Featherston John had his 30th birthday.  The 31st Reinforcements embarked HMNZT 97 Tahiti at Wellington on 16 Nov 1917 and sailed for England the following day.  Five days into the voyage, John’s father, George Randall died at Kakapo Bay aged 70.  At the end of the seven week voyage the 31st Reinforcements disembarked at Liverpool and were en-trained to the NZEF’s Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.  Here they joined thousands of other NZ soldiers both leaving and arriving for a variety of reasons.  Sling Camp is proximate to the town of Bulford, the Camp also being the home of the famous “Bulford Kiwi” created in 1919 by New Zealand troops waiting to be repatriated.  For amusement they carved an over-sized ‘kiwi’ into the white chalk of Beacon Hill above the camp and which today is an enduring symbol of the war.  Kiwi soldiers re-chalked the Kiwi in June 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

All new arrivals at Sling were temporarily posted to the NZ Infantry and General Base Depot (NZI & GBD) for specialist training according to the role they were to be employed in once allocated to particular Company within the Infantry battalions.  Allocation was generally made on the basis of where ever the need was greatest and to balance the number of men in each.

A second NZEF camp at Codford, about 25 kilometers from the Sling Camp, had been built as a dormitory camp to accommodate the overflow of NZ troops, including those who had recovered from injury or sickness and were awaiting transport back to France.  In December 1917 Pte. Randall was sent to the NZ Entrenching Battalion for instruction on the finer arts of building fighting and communications trenches, building SAPs, how to live in them, hygiene, cooking, water rationing, trench routines and, most important of all, the conduct of warfare from them. 

In Jan 1918 Pte. Randall was stricken with Rubella and admitted to Tidworth Hospital, about 20 kilometers from Codford.  Better known as German Measles, it is a highly contagious disease which can cause life-threatening pneumonia and brain inflammation, middle-ear infection, severe diarrhoea and sometimes death.  Contagion of the disease necessitated his immediate isolation followed by a month in quarantine once the measles rash disappeared.  As a consequence Pte. Randall was not able to join his unit until 24 March, the day he embarked a ship transport at Dover for France and the legendary Etaples Base Camp – legendary for all the wrong reasons!

Fortunately, Pte. Randall did not stay at Etaples long enough take in the full experience of living there.  After three years of war and the high volume of troops and casualties who had passed through it gates, the Base Camp was in a somewhat dilapidated condition with questionable standards of hygiene, in spite of the number of hospitals located within its boundaries.  At its peak there had been some 10,000 English, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand troops living in the camp together, all with their own integral stationary hospitals and convalescent depots. 

The Bulford Kiwi

Five days after arriving at Etaples Pte. Randall and his fellow CIR reinforcements were dispatched to their battalion located in front line territory, near the town of Armentieres in northern France.  This was the forward most concentration of the NZ Division’s troops together with the British and Australia Divisions.  A defensive trench system had been built which was designed to halt the German advance from Belgium into France, Paris being the prize.  These trench system stretched from Armentieres east almost to the coast, and to the south-east from the town essentially following the line of the French-Belgian border.  This was the NZ Division’s introduction to trench warfare on a huge scale.  Allied and German trench lines were a mere 30 meters apart in some places, separated only by No-Man’s Land festooned with dense barbed wire obstacles and covered by machine-gun fire.

Regular artillery bombardments from both the enemy and Allies were the constant of trench warfare.  Early morning/evening as well as random daylight barrages were designed to pound each other’s trench systems and obstacle barriers to pieces.  The noise and concussion was un-nerving of both sides and hindered and attempts build, repair or hardening the trenches.  The creeping artillery barrage was a tactic the NZers soon became well versed in.  Before an infantry advance the enemy defences would be bombarded with all available heavy artillery. It was believed that preliminary bombardment would enable soldiers to capture enemy trenches.  It also allowed the Infantry to advance as artillery fire was continually adjusted to keep ahead of the attacking Infantry thus affording them both a degree of protection (by keeping the enemy under cover) and permitting ground to be gained before a final assault on the enemy’s trenches.  First used in 1913, the NZers perfected the creeping barrage during their first major campaign, the Somme offensive which started on 1 July 1916. 

Disaster strikes…

It was during an enemy barrage on April 20th that Pte. Randall was struck by a large jagged chunk of shrapnel from an exploding shell.  The metal had shattered his left foot and part of his lower left leg.  Once the barrage lifted he was promptly evacuated by No. 4 NZ Field Ambulance to the nearest Casualty Clearing Station for immediate aid.  The seriousness of his injuries necessitated Pte. Randall be moved to a base hospital (one that was accessible by rail and ship for the transport of casualties) – the BEF’s No. 8 Stationary Hospital at Wimereux is on the French north-west coast about 120 km from Armentieres and the front line, and 106 km from Dover via Calais.   Pte. Randall was categorised as being “seriously ill” which meant he would be evacuated to England without delay.

No. 8 BEF Stationary Hospital, Wimereux on French north coast.

Pte. Randall arrived at Portsmouth on HM Hospital Ship Gambia and  admitted to No.2 NZ General Hospital at Walton-On-Thames for immediate surgery.  The net result was his left foot and leg below the knee were not salvageable and had to be amputated.  This qualified him for a Disability NZer’s Pension in today’s money to the princely sum of $3.00 per week! 

After several weeks recuperating he was eventually released to No. 3 NZ General Hospital at Hornchurch, which also housed the NZ Convalescent Depot commonly known as “Grey Towers” due to its Gothic castle-like appearance with towering turrets.  Pte. Randall spent several months healing, undergoing massage therapy and physiotherapy to assist him walk again.  No sooner had he put the worst of this experience behind him than he was hospitalized in Nov 1918, firstly with Pneumonia and then Influenza.  November 1918 was the month the universal Spanish Flu pandemic had struck the UK.  Pte. Randall was one of the many thousands of its victims, a large proportion of whom died.  Pte. Randall and other NZer’s so affected were promptly transferred to NZ’s primary care facility in the UK, No.1 NZ General Hospital at Brockenhurst in Hampshire.

By late November Pte. Randall had managed to survive the worst of his flu symptoms and had recovered sufficiently to be released back to “Grey Towers”.  Within weeks he was taken ill yet again with another bout of Pneumonia in December.  Pte. Randall’s mental and physical toughness in coping with this series of life-threatening illnesses, including the amputation that was still healing, says something about the constitution of the Randall men.  John and Charlie had each been faced with the own debilitating circumstances, John’s being his amputation and the bouts of illnesses which followed, and Charlie’s being the sheer intensity and duration of battles he had been immersed in with the NZ Machine Gun Corps.  

By the time Pte. John Randall was able to don his uniform again the Armistice had been signed three months previous.  The demobilization and repatriation of soldiers was well underway.  In late January 1919 Pte. Randall reported to No. 2 NZ General Hospital at Walton-on-Thames to have a wooden leg fitted before returning to NZ.  Prosthetics were very rudimentary at this time and so John’s wooden leg looked more like a tapered chair-leg than anything akin to a leg and a foot.  Once fitted and practiced with  getting it on and off, Pte. Randall spent time learning to walk with it before returning to his Regiment at Codford where he had to endure a long wait until July before he could be accommodated on a NZ Hospital Ship to return home.  The priority for travel was the non-walking wounded.


Demobilization was conducted to a formula based on age, length of service and the number of times a man had been wounded in battle.  These criteria ensured that the longest-serving soldiers were generally demobilized first.  

HMNZ Hospital Ship No 1 Marama

Pte. Randall left Southampton on 17 July 1919 aboard HMNZHS  Marama bound for Wellington.  On arrival the returning troops were taken to Trentham Camp to complete their demobilization administration before being sent on final leave prior to being discharged from the NZEF.  

Before a soldier left his unit in England he/she was usually medically examined and given a form to make a claim for any type of disability that had arisen from their military service.  They were also given a certificate of service (employment) showing what he had done in the Army.   Back in Trentham Camp the soldier then had the option to choose either a clothing allowance of 52 Shillings and Sixpence ($5. 25c which bought quite lot in 1919) or to be provided with a suit of plain clothes.  On offer was either a double breasted three piece ‘demob’ suit as it was called, or a single breasted jacket with flannel trousers.  In addition the soldier received two shirts with collar studs, a tie, shoes, and a raincoat – females received the female equivalent.  

All soldiers remained in the Army until their final leave was completed so they could be recalled at short notice (still under contract) whether it be for operational, administrative or disciplinary reasons.  For this they received an advance of pay, a fortnight’s ration book, a railway warrant or bus ticket to their home station.  Final leave began the day after the soldier was dispersed.  They left to go home, still in uniform and with their steel helmet, gas mask and greatcoat.  Discharge from the NZEF was effective the day after final leave expired. 

As long as the Military Service Act was enforced, all soldiers who were liable for service under the Act who were not remaining in the regular army; who had not been permanently discharged, or who were not on a Special or Territorial Force Reserve engagement, were discharged into the Army Reserve meaning they were liable to recall in the event of a grave national emergency.  

“Woodlands” Farm at  Para, c 1946.  L-R:  John Randall, George Randall, Mr Matthews, James Randall

Pte. John Randall was discharged from the NZEF on 16 Aug 1919 being “no longer fit for war service on account of wounds received on active service.”  He returned home to “Woodlands” and in spite of his peg leg returned to sheep farming once more.  Whilst in England convalescing John had the good fortune to met an English nurse, Hilda May BLACK, whom he persuaded to come to NZ after the war.  As a result John and Hilda married while awaiting the outcome of his application for a veteran’s land grant.  This was a post-war rehabilitation scheme to assist men with proven farming backgrounds to be re-employed by developing their own farm.  John and Hilda were allocated land at Tuamarina where they ran a successful sheep farm until the end of their days.  No children resulted from their union.

John Randall died on Boxing Day (26 Dec) 1952 at the age of 65, and Hilda in Sep 1975.  John’s ashes were interred at the Omaka Cemetery in Blenheim.  

Medals:   British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal

Service Overseas:   1 year  246 days

Total NZEF Service:   2 years  50 days

Sifting the descendants

After evaluating the email replies to Matt Brown’s article re Stephen Jones find of John Randall’s BWM in the Mayfield School grounds, one of the respondents was Douglas Randall, son of James and Olive Randall, James being John’s older brother.  Doug is John Randall’s nephew and at 87 is the most senior surviving, direct descendant of his Uncle John Randall and a descendant who fortunately is still carrying the Randall name.  This is highly desirable when reuniting medals but not always possible when returning medals to ladies whose family invariably changes on marriage etc. 

A second respondent among the emails was a pleasure to see.  Rita Paynter is not just a direct descendant of Charlie Randall’s, she is the daughter of Charlie and Mabel Randall, the second eldest and only survivor of their four girls and one son.  Rita, now a retirement home resident, at 92 years of age was mine of Randall family history information. 

With these results a midday gathering was arranged at the Marlborough RSA attended by twenty or so Randall relatives, including Matt Brown and a press photographer ready to prepare the follow up article covering the medals handover.  After I had delivered a brief resume of each soldier’s military service, Stephen presented John Randall’s British War Medal to John’s nephew Douglas Randall, just out of hospital and who was accompanied by wife Rae.   

I then had the pleasure of presenting Charlie Randall’s 1914-15 Star to his daughter Rita.  It was a particularly heart warming occasion for Rita who, accompanied by her daughter Yvonne, was quite moved by receiving her father’s medal.  Rita had been just nine years old when her father disappeared in the wake of the mid-year flood waters of 1945.  As she said to me later, to have something of her father’s was so very special.  She could remember clearly what he had looked like and said the medal, being his, she felt an immediate connection to him after all these years, even though at nine she had bare got to know him. 

To cap the occasion a Randall family portrait was produced which put the return of these war medals into context.  It was the last photo taken of all the whole family at “Woodlands” just prior to Charlie Randall embarking for Egypt and France in August 1915. 

Ian Martyn, Medals Reunited New Zealand, presents Rita Paynter, Cpl. Charlie Randal’s daughter, with her father’s medal.    News Photo: Scott Hammond/ Stuff










Stephen Jones hands reunites Doug Randall with Pte. John Randall’s British War Medal, 1914-18, with Ian Martyn (MRNZ) in Blenheim.









Apart from the return of medals, another unexpected outcome resulted from the event.  What became apparent while I was speaking with various descendants of Randall families was the number whom although had lived in the same town or district all of their lives, had never met or even known some of their own living descendants.  Such had been the size and geographical spread of the earlier generations of Randall families, particularly from the 1940s to the 1970s, as descendant generations grew, families became disconnected due to marriage and the eventual loss of the original generations as they passed away.  The occasion not only reunited medals with Randall family members, but some Randall descendants were also united with each other for the first time which was both a revelation to some and particularly gratifying for the senior Randall descendants.

The reunited medal tally is now 238.