28994 ~ CLAUDE DAVID ELVY
The NZ Police often come across military medals in the course of their duties. Most tend to come from the members of the public who find them and hand them in, while others are the result of an operational property or offender search. A phone call from the Avondale Police in Auckland was one of these latter circumstances. A property search of an apprehended offender in Auckland turned up a First World War medal, the British War Medal, 1914-18 named to 28994 RFLM. C. D. ELVY N.Z.E.F. Constable Sam E. was investigating and was recommended to contact MRNZ for assistance to locate a descendant he could return the medal to – our reputation is growing! Always up for the challenge I agreed to give it some priority.
As soon as I checked the named soldiers file, I could see it would be a short story of yet another young Cantabrian cut down in the prime of his youth only days prior to the Armistice being declared on November 11th, 1918, this officially ending hostilities of the First World War.
Claude David ELVY was a Christchurch born lad to Australian parents, Harold Nelson “Harry” ELVY (1849-1927), a Piano Tuner from Victoria, and his wife Jane Susan MERRICK (1876-1942). harry and a very pregnant Jane Elvy had emigrated from Sydney in 1890 with their only child, three month old baby Robert Oswald “Bob” Elvy (1890-1906) who had been born at Sale in eastern Victoria. The Elvy’s arrived at Lyttelton and following their release from the Immigrants Accommodation Barracks, quickly settled into temporary lodgings in Sydenham-Town (as it was known) Christchurch. Their first NZ born child, Claude David ELVY, arrived on the 19th of May 1891, becoming the second eldest of Harry and Jane’s the thirteen children they would eventually have in by 1915. Claude’s remaining siblings were: Gladys Marion STRACHAN [later McKENZIE] (1892-1974), Herbert Leonard “Bert” Elvy (1892-1978), Gordon Stanley “Stan” Elvy (1895-1963), Doris Minnie ROWLANDS (1897-1952), Sydney Harold Nelson “Syd” Elvy (1898-1977), William Lister “Bill” Elvy (1902-1977), Vera Jane Elvy (1904-1933), Dorothy Hardina BOYCE (1907-1936), Myrtle Ada Elvy (1908-2000), Phyllis Maude TODD (1909-1986) and Bertha Ellen “Tottie” DENNIS (1915-2002).
As the Elvy family grew quite rapidly it became necessary to split the children between two addresses. The family home was at 78 Byron Street and then 67 Byron Street was also pressed to use for the Elvys. As the sons took work address around the corner in Barbadoes Street (bisects Byron Street) in Sydenham were occupied, Claude living at No.66. Barbadoes Street at that time bisected the city north to south, however since the Waltham and Sydenham over-bridges were built in the 1960s to avoid vehicle rail crossings, the Sydenham end of Barbadoes Street as a thoroughfare was closed off and that part of the street re-named Brisbane Street although the relative street numbering has remained the same as it was when the Elvy’s lived there.
Following his primary schooling at Sydenham, Claude Elvy worked as a labourer for Booth, MacDonald & Co. Ltd. (BMC), one of the biggest manufacturer of farm implements in New Zealand, with branches in Timaru and Hastings. The Carlyle Implement Works as it was known had started life in 1883 in Carlyle Street, Sydenham, a very handy 400 meters from Claude’s house at 66 Barbadoes Street. BMC at the time were making about 500 sets of disc harrows a year, which was one of their leading lines. They also made a large number of drays, grass-seed strippers, ploughs, cultivators, windmills, broad-cast seed sowers, rollers, hand and horse-power threshing machines, reapers and mowers, and other agricultural implements too numerous to itemise.
BMC also made much larger and heavier machine implements such as the European flax scutching machinery for the Linseed Oil and Fibre Companies of Christchurch and other places. The buildings and yards covered much of the 1½ acres of land in Carlyle Street, positioned immediately facing the track side of the Christchurch Railway Station. The main building at BMC was divided into fitters’, blacksmiths’, wheelwrights’, and painters’ shops. At the back of this building was the boiler house and tyre furnace. The foundry building had a wing for a malleable foundry, a pattern makers’ department, a tin and sheet-iron making shop and a store for parts and small goods. This was the only real job Claude ever had, working at BMC for the best part of ten years before he was enlisted for war service.
‘On war service’
Claude Elvy like many young men of the day, was excited but quietly apprehensive about his enlistment but encouraged by his work mates, they bravely voiced their opinions in regard to joining their palls overseas and what they planned to do to the Hun. Sydenham in 1914 had a large immigrant population (mainly from the UK) and had been dubbed ‘Lancky Town’ because of the large influx of Lancastrian immigrants who had arrived in Christchurch from the mid-1860s onward. Sydenham-Town had a borough council from 1877 – 1903 until amalgamating with the City of Christchurch, and even had its own mayor, the first being George Booth, one of the principal founders of The Carlyle Implement Works (later Booth, MacDonald & Co.).
There was no shortage of volunteers initially for the Samoan Advance Force, and then the Main Body of the NZEF. Claude’s elder brother Bob Elvy had died in 1906 at the age of sixteen which left Claude, Bert, Stan and Syd as the four surviving Elvy boys eligible by age for service overseas. Claude and Bert had volunteered as soon as they were able. Stan and Syd would be subject to national registration and conscripted to serve much later in the war.
First to be enlisted was Bert Elvy in March 1916, followed by Claude in June. Stan was enlisted in February 1918 and last, the only married Elvy son, Syd, was enlisted in May 1918.
28994 Rifleman Claude David ELVY left his home at 66 Barbadoes (Brisbane) Street which was only 300 or so meters around the corner from his parents and family home at 78 Byron Street, to begin preparation with the 19th Reinforcements of the 1st Canterbury Infantry Battalion. Claude’s only military experience to date had been three months part-time service with “E” Battery, the territorial artillery unit in Christchurch. His brother Bert Elvy had left for France in March and now it was twenty six year old Claude’s turn to farewell his father Harry (65), mother Jane (40) and the rest of his family as he left to entered camp at Trentham.
On 28 June 1916 Rflm. Elvy arrived in Wellington and the other recently arrived reinforcements, were entrained and delivered to the Trentham Railway Station whereupon they received their first bollocking from immaculately uniformed, highly tuned regular Army NCOs who were experts at turning civilians into soldiers – in double quick time! Amid the shouting of orders that no-one fully understood, the newest batch of riflemen destined for a NZ Rifle Brigade in France, were marched to Trentham Camp and paraded outside the Trentham Regiment’s NZEF headquarters to be briefed on what was about to happen.
After a ‘warm welcome’ by way of receiving their ‘pedigree’ in words of one syllable from the Company Sergeant Major, and some instructions relating to the do’s and don’ts for the next 24 hours, the reinforcements were shown their temporary accommodation. Here the men would have travel and pay issues attended to, a will complete if they so wished, be medically inspected again, inoculated, be issued a single uniform, and receive a few basics items of equipment such as a knife, fork and spoon (KFS), enamel cup and plate, blankets and a kit bag. The remainder of their administration would be conducted ‘over the hill’ at the Featherston Training Camp in the Wairarapa which they reached by boarding another train from Trentham.
At the Featherston Camp, any man not already attested (contracted to the NZ Military Forces for the duration of the war) at their point of enlistment, would be so sworn here. Medical and dental treatment required was also squared away at Featherston. Uniform and basic training equipment was issued, some of which they would take keep with the remainder required in France to be issued once they got to England. Eight weeks of intensive individual soldier training followed which would be built upon once they reached England. Most men had experienced the rudiments of military indoctrination in the territorial unit they had enlisted with at their home town. Featherston was the place they learned the more specific infantry skills to equip each for their ‘survival’ on the battle field. Maintaining a rifle, marksmanship on the rifle range, bayonet practice and lots of physical conditioning, square bashing (drill) and PT was a big part of this phase of training.
Once the eight weeks was concluded, the 19th Reinforcements would undertake a route march, the ‘Rimutaka Ramble’ with packs and rifles from Featherston back to Trentham via the Rimutaka Hill. Speed was of the essence with each Reinforcement intake urged to better the time of the former. This was a final ‘test’ that gave the officers’ and instructors a sense of the group’s overall fitness level. Home leave was then granted until it was time to return to the Lyttelton wharf where they would embark one of the contracted civilian passenger ships, entitled His Majesty’s New Zealand Transport (HMNZT) with an assigned number that superseded the ship’s original name, for military planning purposes. The voyage to England generally took about five weeks. At this time the Suez Canal was closed to shipping as the threat on approach from German submarines was too great to risk losing men and ships. The transports would convoy from Albany in West Australia up the west coast of Africa or through the Panama Canal, depending upon the assessed threat at the time.
Rflm. Elvy embarked onto HMNZT 68 Maunganui on 15 November 1916 with the remainder of the 19th Reinforcements. These not only comprised infantry Riflemen for the various companies of NZ’s Rifle Brigades but also provided replacement personnel for the supporting units of NZ Division – artillerymen, armourers, medics and nurses, ammunition column drivers (horse & mule), signallers, engineers, entrenching personnel, shoe-smiths, blacksmiths and so on.
The Maunganui arrived at Devonport, England on 29 Jan 1917 where the troops were disembarked, put on a train and taken to the Sling Camp situated on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. The Camp was built for the NZEF as the base for the NZ Infantry & General Reserves Depot (NZI&GRD). The Depot was established to accommodate, administer, train and deploy NZEF personnel arriving in England to join the NZ Division in France. A second camp at Codford, some 26 kilometres north-east of Sling, held any overflow from Sling, plus soldiers who were awaiting return to the front (from leave, sickness etc) and those assigned for duty in England only. A NZ hospital held soldiers recovering from less serious injuries, operations and ailments. New arrivals once inducted (other than Infantry and Riflemen) underwent specialist training (artillery, engineer, communications [signals], machine-gun etc) at separate facilities established for the purpose, scattered around England. Reinforcement personnel traditionally spent anywhere from six to eight weeks at the NZR&GRD (the amount of time was dependant on the urgency (or not) of their need at units in the field). Once trained, the reinforcements returned to the NZ Depot at Sling, or Codford, to await their deployment by sea to France, usually leaving from either Portsmouth or Dover.
On 3 April 1917, Rflm. Elvy was posted to the 13th Company of the 3rd Canterbury Infantry Battalion (3/CIB), one of four battalions that made up the NZ 4th Infantry Brigade formed at Codford just two months prior to the arrival of the 19th Reinforcements. The 4th Brigade was an additional unit created for the NZ Division to put more troops in the field and to give the Division the fighting capability that equalled both the Australian and British brigades. To man the new brigade, the third battalions from each of the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Regiments were re-assigned to make up the 4th Infantry Brigade, which included most of the new arrivals. Over the ensuing two months, the 4th Brigade battalions were moulded into a well rehearsed and effective fighting unit achieved by repetitious training so that the actions and reactions of every man when in battle became instinctive.
Etaples Base Depot
The 3/CIB departed for France 28 May 1917, arriving at the Etaples Base Depot on 30 May. Although the English Channel is only about 60 kilometres across at it closest points, Dover to Calais, the placement of these receiving ports together with the ever present threat from German submarines meant it could take up to three days or more to make land. Four primary French ports were used for the transfer of Allied troops, animals, equipment and supplies, three being on the Channel coast – Ostend, Calais and Le Havre, and one in the south of France at Marseilles.
The NZEF was one of several Allied nations that were resident within the eight mile perimeter of the Etaples Base Depot. The former British Army training camp had the capacity for up to 100,000 troops under canvas within its perimeter while the British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian forces also had their own base depots and a range of hospital facilities within the Etaples perimeter, including stores dumps and accommodation for those who staffed these units. Additional hospital and convalescent facilities existed outside the base depot in Etaples and along its southern coastline. British, Australian, Canadian and South African hospital and convalescent facilities for the wounded and recovering soldiers were temporarily set-up in hotels, casinos and large country houses that had been offered for this purpose.
The 3rd Canterbury Infantry Battalion left Etaples and went into the field to join the 4th Brigade in the vicinity of Polygon Wood – Passchendaele would be their blooding in the art of warfare and personal survival in war!
The NZ Division’s part in this joint Allied attack, planned to commence on 4 October, involved the NZ 1st and 4th Infantry Brigades. These were essentially required to capture the ground that included the ridge from Polygon Wood to the Ypres-Roulers railway including the whole of the Gravenstafel Spur on which stood the village of Gravenstafel. The attack would be made under a creeping artillery barrage with 3/CIB (including Rflm. Elvy’s 13th Company) positioned on the right flank of the Brigade’s objective about 1200 metres to their front.
On October 3rd, 3/CIB assembled in the old German support trenches east of Wieltje. At 2300 hours on the night of October 3rd/4th, the battalion moved forward to their assembly area and bivouacked for the night in shell-holes. During the night light rain fell while the enemy shelled the assembly area, but luckily caused only two casualties. A nervous enemy sensing what was coming initiated a heavy artillery barrage onto the NZers at 0500 hours on the morning of the 4th, along the whole of the NZ Division’s frontage.
The attack was timed to start at 0600. At a distance of twenty five meters behind the leading line of platoons, the 12th and 13th Companies followed until 3/CIB was ordered into extended line over very open, treeless and flat terrain. They were immediately met with stiff opposition from groups of enemy hidden in shell-holes, with machine-guns. After disposing of these without undue difficulty, the leading NZ troops of the battalion reached the top of the spur, known as Abraham Heights, and promptly came under direct machine-gun fire from the high ground to the north and north-east. Unfortunately, this was the place where the NZ artillery barrage time-table had called for a one hour halt. During this time the troops lying in the open suffered many casualties, nearly all from machine-gun fire. Given that this was late autumn, the ground conditions were made all the more unbearable by continual pounding it had had from both sides artillery.
During 3/CIBs advance the next day, 5 October, Rflm. Elvy became one of the casualties when his left knee was struck by a machine-gun bullet. Fortunately he was quickly attended to by the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance stretcher bearers who evacuated him to the 3rd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station for attention. With the wound stabilised Rflm. Elvy was moved back to No.12 (British) General Hospital at Rouen for surgery. On 13 Oct he was moved to NZ’s General Hospital at the Etaples Base Depot for convalescence. He was released to the NZI&GR Depot and deemed fit for field service on 10 Nov. He returned to 3/CIB and 13 Company to learn the unit was now known as 1st Canterbury Infantry Regiment (1/CIR) which was located near the Chateau Segard Camp between Ypres and Dickebusch.
Within a few days, Rflm. Elvy was attached to the 4th Field Company of NZ Engineers at Abeele, a town on the French-Belgian border about 15 kilometres east of Ypres. The specialist engineer Field Companies each had 100-man infantry parties attached to them to assist with the massive task of re-constructing duckboard paths and tracks for man, animals and wagons across ground that had been literally pulverised by artillery and mortar fire. The landscape was a mass of shell holes which even in autumn contained an astounding volume of water, shrapnel stripped tree trunks and a sea of mud. The Somme had turned into a treacherous morass that consumed without trace many a soldier and animal unfortunate enough to slip into it. Apart from the duckboards the Field Companies were continuously occupied in pumping out and generally patching up captured enemy trenches and dugouts which was the only shelter available. Even so, 90 per cent of the troops had to shelter in the open.
During the whole of December, the laying of new forward tracks and the maintenance of existing ones went on without a break. The use of long-range high velocity artillery guns, thought to have been borrowed from the German Navy, caused very heavy damage in December and March which necessitated much of this work being repeated.
In May, Rflm. Elvy was detached to Royal Engineer’s 179th Tunnelling Company for a month to assist with the construction of deep-dugouts in the Ypres Salient. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had decided to carry out all operations in the offensive of the 1917 summer from deep dugout trenches which was a huge task that required manpower from most of the Allied units. Rflm. Elvy returned to 1/CIR on June 7th whereupon he had a difference of opinion with one of his superiors. Not being one to be given the run around, Rflm. Elvy responded to the order given him inappropriately. This is a battle no junior soldier can win. He was charged for “neglecting to obey an order from a Superior while on Active Service”, was found guilty and awarded 28 days of Field Punishment No 2.
Note: Field Punishment Number Two (FP 2) – The prisoner was placed in fetters (manacled ankle chains) and handcuffs but was not attached to a fixed object (as in FP.1) and was still able to march with his unit. This was a relatively tolerable punishment. For both forms of field punishment, the soldier was also subjected to hard labour and loss of pay.
The advance towards Cambrai continued throughout July and August with 1/CIR moved to billets in move again to billets in St. Leger-les-Authie. The Battle of Cambrai on the 5th October culminated in the capture of the last remaining sectors of the Hindenburg Line and thereafter 1/CIR when into reserve and billeted at Bus.
The battalion was given an increased leave allocation during this time which allowed more soldiers due to be rested, an opportunity to take leave in England. Rflm. Elvy was one who was given leave and departed for the UK on 29 Sep.
Refreshed after three weeks in England, Bill returned to 13 Company on 18 Oct, just as the battalion was about to go into billets again after their most recent successes during the ‘Advance to Victory’ of the campaign.
Although still staunchly resisting the main allied thrust of the spring offensive in France designed to force the enemy from ground they taken from the Allies during the push the enemy backwards, pockets of resistance, infantry and artillery, continued to cause significant casualties to then New Zealanders. Rflm. Elvy re-joined the battle at the point where the 1/CIR was fighting its way towards the Selle River where the retiring enemy had made a stand. During this exchange on the 23rd of October, Rflm. Claude Elvy (27) was killed during the Battle of Le Cateau. Claude was provisionally buried at Grand Pont a Pierres and later relocated to the Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension in Nord, France.
Awards: British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal – Claude’s medals plus a Memorial “Death” Plaque were sent to his parents, Harry and Jane Elvy at 78 Byron Street in Sydenham.
Service Overseas: 1 year, 350 days
Total NZEF Service: 2 years, 117 days
Three of Claude’s four remaining brothers also served during the war:
- 16213 Private Bert (Herbert Leonard) ELVY, a Machinist, embarked in March 1916 with the ‘C’ Company (Signallers), Canterbury Infantry Battalion. Promoted to L/Cpl, Cpl and Temporary Lance Sergeant at Codford, he arrived in France with the rank of Corporal. In October 1918 he sustained a gunshot wound to his right thigh caused an acute fracture of the thigh bone for which he was invalided back to England. Still hospitalised at Armistice in Nov 1918, Cpl. Bert Elvy was invalided back to NZ on NZ Hospital Ship Maheno and discharged from the NZEF on 24 October 1919, being no longer fit for war service on account of his wounds, after 2 years, 304 days overseas. He was awarded the British War Medal, 1914-18 and the Victory Medal for his service.
- Claude departed in June 1916.
- 72059 Rifleman Stan (Gordon Stanley) ELVY, a Railway Hand, embarked in February 1918 with “A” Company, the 37th Reinforcements of the NZ Rifle Brigade. He was placed with the 1st battalion, 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade in France. Following the Armistice in Nov 1918 Bert served with the Army of Occupation in Germany until he was repatriated to NZ uninjured. Stan Elvy was discharged from the NZEF on 17 September 1919 after 1 year, 101 days overseas. He was awarded the British War Medal, 1914-18 and the Victory Medal for his service.
- 80157 Private Syd (Sydney Harold Nelson) ELVY, a Farmer, embarked in August 1918 with “A” Company, 42 Reinforcements and posted to “B” Company of the Reserve NZ Rifle Brigade on arrival in England. Arriving in October 1918, a month short of Armistice, there was much to do to deploy the NZ component of the Army of Occupation to Germany as well as to repatriate the remainder of the NZEF to New Zealand. Accordingly Syd and all other reinforcements did not return to NZ until 1920. Private Syd Elvy was finally discharged from the NZEF on 03 February 1920 after 1 year, 159 days in England. He was awarded the British War Medal, 1914-18 for his service.
Claude Elvy’s brother Bill (William Lister) Elvy, the youngest of the Elvy boys, was only twelve years old when the First World War began on 28 July 1914. Too young to serve, Bill made a name for himself on another ‘field of battle’.
William Lister Elvy (1902-1977) was born in Christchurch on 02 December, just after the conclusion of the Boer War in South Africa. Bill worked for the New Zealand Railways, first as a Fireman and then as an Engine Driver for the majority of his working life. Bill was a talented ruby player who showed great potential from an early age, being fast and nimble on his feet. He played his club rugby on the Wing for the Sydenham Rugby Football Club, a player who aspired to and reached the lofty heights of All Black rugby. He was fast and versatile. As he reached the senior grades Bill was encouraged to move to Wellington.
From “Words of Passage” by Bala Thompson, a biography of the renowned Christchurch Sun sports writer, John Bell Thompson. Bell Thompson (BT) says in the book:
“We (Jim Gasson and BT) were two of the rugby reporters that year (1924) of an outstanding Canterbury season climaxed by the selection of six local players for the 1924-25 All Blacks. These were the forwards, Jim Parker, Read Master and Brian McCleary, and the backs, Neil McGregor, Bill Daily and Alan Robilliard. The secret of Canterbury’s high standard of rugby that season was probably the fact that there were only six senior club teams, evenly matched an full of competitive fire. Bill Elvy, a nimble side stepper who could play well in any position outside first five-eighth, deserves to be a seventh man in the international selection of ‘The Invincibles’.
Bill’s clever footwork, which tagged him with the nickname “Twinkle Toes”, had also enabled him to succeed in another sport while living in Canterbury, boxing – he was a Canterbury amateur welterweight champion.
His chance came later through his being chosen for two All Black tours of Australia. I am sure there was never more skilled provincial exponents of rugby in the 2-3-2 – scrum years than Canterbury in 1924.”In due course Bill’s job with NZR did take him to Wellington where he joined the Wellington Rugby Football Union, playing for the Petone RFC along with another notable future All Black, five-eighths Mark Nicholls who, at 27, had become an established Wellington player and also a 1924-25 and 1928 All Blacks. Many highly regarded rugby commentators of the day believed Bill to have been hard done to not be selected for the 1925 All Black ‘Invincibles’ tour to Britain.
Bill Elvy was still playing on the Wing and at 32 years of age was in particularly hot form during the 1924-25 season. His performance finally cemented him a place with the 1926 New Zealand XV as All Black No 304. As at Sep 2019, there have been 1185 capped All Blacks. During the 1926 All Black tour of New South Wales and New Zealand, Bill scored 12 tries in the All Blacks 6 – 5 winning tour (incl 3 tests), adding 36 points to the tour total.
Bill continued to play for Petone and the Wellington Representative team for the rest of the decade becoming one of the leading try-scorers of the time. In the 1928 season the Wellington team had won nine from 11 games played in an encouraging season for the province. Off the field at this time, Major W. J. Hardham, VC died. After he returned to New Zealand from the Boer War, Hardham continued to play rugby for Petone and Wellington for some years. He played 53 games for Wellington between 1897-1910 before becoming involved in the Wellington Rugby Football Union administration. He served on the management committee of the WRFU from 1908 to 1914, 1921 to 1925 and in 1927 became a life member of the union. He is remembered in a senior club trophy, the Hardham Cup.
In 1929 the WRFU celebrated its 50th season and marked the occasion by donating a new cup to be awarded to the winner of the Club Championship. They called it the Jubilee Cup in celebration of their first five decades in existence. University defended their club title and were crowned inaugural Jubilee Cup champions, the Wellington team had a successful representative season and the All Blacks toured Australia in preparation for the following year’s inbound tour by the British Lions.
In 1929 the Wellington side also had another successful season, winning 11 and losing three of 14 matches played. Highlights included beating Auckland 22-16 for their first victory in Auckland since 1920, beating Taranaki 44-8 (scoring 10 tries), beating Canterbury 34-6, beating Waikato 22-6 and beating Southland 35-7 (Bill Elvy scored 5 tries in this game).
Spooky coincidences …
As I researched the Elvy family I came across several startling revelations. The first was associated with an address that appeared in the Electoral Rolls of Rangiora – 45 Ayres Street, an address I recognised from my own family’s genealogy, which appeared consistently in the rolls from the late 1920s to the 1950s as being the home Arthur George Dennis had built that his son Arthur “Stan” Dennis inherited after his death. My paternal grandmother had also been a Dennis. Evaline Matilda DENNIS had married William James “Jim” MARTYN in 1926 and their first house being at 29 Ayres Street, just four doors away from No 45. There was clearly some connection. A little more digging into the Dennis families and I was able to confirm that all of those connected to the ELVY families had descended from my great-grandparents George and Mary Ann DENNIS (nee Tippet) who had arrived on the Columbus from Paul, Cornwall in 1873. Gradually the family multiplied and spread to parts of Banks Peninsula, Christchurch, Oxford, Southbrook, Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Taranaki. Therefore, I could concluded that Evaline (Dennis) Martyn and Arthur George Dennis (Claude’s grandfather) were in fact cousins and that Evaline’s father, Edward John’s Dennis and William George Dennis, were brothers. This meant that I also had a remote connection to Claude Dennis – how spooky is that?
In going through this material, one particular Electoral Roll revealed yet another hitherto unknown connection. When my grandparents Evaline and Jim Martyn had moved into 29 Ayre Street, also living with them was Alice Dennis, sister of Claude’s great-grandfather William George Dennis. It was also the address from which my father (middle name Dennis) had left to go overseas, so he too must have known Alice.
Yet another coincidence was the address where Claude had been living in 1914 while still working at Booth, MacDonald & Co which was situated at the end of his street. No.66 Barbadoes Street (now re-named Brisbane St) in Sydenham was handily placed a couple of hundred yards away from Claude’s family home and his parents at 78 Byron Street. I immediately recognised 66 Barbadoes as having a significant connection to my great-grandfather, a grocer who had a shop one street away in Waltham Road and later, a grocery on the corner of Garlands and Hills Road in Opawa. As it happened, my paternal great-grandparents Edward Johns and Matilda Dennis had moved from Barbadoes Street to run the Opawa store in which they also resided for some 12 years, until Edward became ill and had to retire. They sold the shop and moved into 66 Barbadoes Street around 1933 where they remained for some years. Great-grandfather’s illness demanded a smaller house and so the Dennis’s moved a few doors down into No.53. It was here that Edward Dennis took his own life in October 1944, the result of unbearable pain he suffered from advanced cancer of the face.
The full significance of these threads did not fully register until I had assembled George and Madge Dennis’s family tree. Their son, Arthur Stanley “Stan” Dennis I found had married Bertha Eileen “Tottie” ELVY, the youngest of Harry and Jane’s thirteen children – and Claude’s baby sister!
Given Stan and Bertha Dennis’s family would be the youngest of all the Elvy sibling’s families and so the highly likely to be still alive, I looked to their children to provide a descendant with whom Claude’s medal could be reunited.
There were few options as Stan and Bertha only had two children – Ian George (b: 1946) and Aveena Jean (b:1949). With no immediate means of locating either of these, I posted a message to the author of a reasonably comprehensive family tree that included the Elvy’s on Ancestry, for a contact. I received a reply which directed me to Aveena Cassidy (nee Dennis) whom I made welcome contact with, and living less than 500 metres from my apartment in Christchurch – the coincidences just kept on coming! Aveena was able to fill some of the gaps in my understanding of the Elvy family history and recommended I make contact with her brother. A former soldier and officer in the NZ Army, Ian Dennis was better placed to answer some of my queries, Aveena suggested, and also the preferred recipient of their uncle Claude Elvy’s war medal.
Satisfied with the Elvy descendant connection, I spoke with Ian and then advised Constable Sam who arranged for Rflm. Claude David Elvy’s war medal to be returned to Ian’s care.
Missing medals – can you help?
Claude’s British War Medal together with the Victory Medal and a Memorial Plaque & Scroll to commemorate Claude’s death in action, had been sent to his parents in 1922, however the whereabouts of the Victory Medal and Plaque remains unknown. If you are able to assist with locating Claude’s Victory Medal or Memorial Plaque, the family would very much like to hear from you – please contact Ian at MRNZ for details.
Special thanks to Constable Sam E. from the Avondale Police for seeking our assistance – it was our pleasure to be of service.
The reunited medal tally is now 309.
The following appeared in the Lyttelton Times on 23 October 1919:
ELVY.—In sad but loving memory of our dear friend, Private Claude Elvy, killed in action, October 23, 1918.
~ Ever remembered by his dear friends, M. and G. Crawford. ~
ELVY.— In loving memory of Claude D. Elvy, killed in action, October 23, 1918.
Dear Claude, ‘I often pictured you and Jack returning.
And longed to clasp your hand,
But God has postponed our meeting,
Till we meet in a better land’.
~ Inserted by R. and M, Gudsell. ~
ELVY.—In loving memory of Private Claude David, killed in action, October 23, 1918.
‘To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. Onward, Christian Soldiers’.
~ Inserted by his loving parents, brothers and sisters. ~
ELVY.—In loving memory of Claude D. Elvy, killed in action, October 23, 1918.
‘He nobly did his duty’.
~ Inserted by S. Crawford. ~
Lest We Forget