DONALD JAMES ALEXANDER FERGUSON ~ Beersheba and the link to the Westport dump.


Tpr. Ferguson with a portrait of his wife Maude and daughter Betty.

Tpr. Ferguson with a portrait of his wife Maude and daughter Betty.

SA-7763 Private Donald James Alexander Ferguson was born in Geraldine and later after the family had moved to Timaru, he sought work as a meat preserver.  Still single at 22 years of age, Private Ferguson enlisted for service in the Anglo-Boer War in February 1902, embarking with the 9th Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles. On his return to New Zealand he took up work as a carter (carrier), married Maude, and together the had a daughter Betty before he was again ‘called to colours’ upon the outbreak of WW1.  

7/1614 Trooper Donald James Alexander Ferguson  (or ‘Curly’ as he was affectionately known)  enlisted once again, this time joining the ranks of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and embarking for Egypt in October 1915.   Trooper Ferguson’s war was fought wholly in Egypt and Palestine.  For the next two years he alternated between desert operations in Palestine and rest, recovery and security operations in Egypt. 

Tpr. Ferguson was engaged in the protracted Battle of Beersheba in Palestine (Israel) which by late July 1917 was at a stalemate.  He was also scheduled to start his end of tour preparations at this time having more than completed his tour of duty but fate stepped in.  On 19 July 1917, his formation was subjected to an aerial bombardment by a Turkish biplane – Tpr. Ferguson was killed outright, just seven days before he was to depart for New Zealand – and only three months before the last great horse charge by the 4th Australian Light Horse on 31 October 1917 which resulted in the end the Battle of Beersheba.  Tpr. Ferguson was 35 years of age.   

Memorial Plaque

Memorial Plaque of Tpr. Ferguson 

The Memorial Plaque that commemorated Tpr. Donald Ferguson’s death was duly sent to his wife and daughter who were living together in St Albans, Christchurch – from here the plaque and medals vanished.   45 years later around 1965, 10 year old Ross Ferguson (no relation) was playing in the Westport dump and found a hollowed out book in which contained a bronze plaque and a couple of medals.  Young Ross had no idea what the plaque or medals were for.  He gleefully showed his birth father his find but regrettably the medals disappeared.  Young Ross eventually joined the Army himself, and the treasured plaque he found as a youth, he continued to proudly display along with his, and his father’s military memorabilia.    

Now Ross Mathieson (as he became after his adoption) had seen several newspaper articles in 2015 relating stories of WW1 Memorial Plaques being found and reunited with families – that solved the mystery for Ross of what the plaque was and prompted him to contact the ‘Northern Outlook’ newspaper in Feb 2015 in an effort to find the family of the person named on the plaque – “Donald James Alexander Ferguson”.   The article produced no useful leads and as a result Ross was directed to MRNZ and  contacted me for assistance in early March 2015.

Having started the research into Tpr. Ferguson and his family, all research was briefly put on hold to accommodate a house move and the 100th anniversary commemorations of the 1915 Gallipoli Landings.  In the lead up to the 100th Anniversary, The Press newspaper had generated a Roll of Honour (ROH) page where members of the public could post a photograph and memorial message for their deceased WW1 relatives.

Unbeknown to me at the time, Tpr. Ferguson’s grandchildren – “Donald Bernard and his sister Merryl LITTLE” (sic) had posted a photograph and message honouring their grandfather.   As soon as I saw this I attempted to contact ‘Donald LITTLE’ or his sister Merryl to no avail and continued to struggle locating anyone with similar name combinations.  I then contacted the editor who had assembled the ROH pages and through him traced Tpr. Ferguson’s grandson, Donald BARNARD.  His published name had been misspelled and inaccurately portrayed the relationship between him and his sister so that when published it read as if both grandchildren were of the “LITTLE” family.  Don had gone to The Press to complain of the misprint and in talking to the coordinating editor was informed that I was trying to make contact regarding the return of his grandfather’s Memorial Plaque – a concrete lead at last ! 

Grandson Donald, and Ross - 12 May 2015

Grandson Donald Barnard and Ross – 12 May 2015

I telephoned Don who was overwhelmed with the news of the Plaque, an item he had no knowledge even existed.  I also contacted Ross and arranged for him to hand the plaque over to Don, along with reporter Kim N. in attendance – Kim had written the original article.  Ross and Don had much to discuss and as it transpired I was also able to identify the missing medals that 10 year old Ross had found in the dump all those years ago.  Don then produced his grandfather’s original Queen’s South Africa medal and his 1914/15 Star – we were halfway there !  Don had replaced the two missing medals – a British War Medal and Victory Medal – which he purchased from a dealer some years ago in order to complete his grandfather’s medal entitlement; both medals were original and named to a Royal Artillery soldier.  

The return of Tpr. Ferguson’s Memorial Plaque has now prompted Don to replace these last two medals with either un-named originals or replicas, so that the two named medals he has can hopefully be returned to that veteran’s descendant family – MRNZ will help Don with this.

My thanks to Ross for contacting MRNZ, and to Kim of the ‘Northern Outlook’ for highlighting Ross’s story and wish to have the plaque reunited with Trooper Ferguson’s descendant family.