26363 & 3/1/5 – FREDERICK HAROLD MINTROM, M.C., M.M.
Foreword: It is rare for MRNZ to have an opportunity to reunite a double gallantry medal group with the recipient’s family. One of only two NZ Machine-gun Corps recipients of two First World War gallantry decorations, his exploits warrant a book. I have attempted to provide a more detailed outline of this courageous and humble man’s life than I would normally write. I have done so in the expectation that more should know of this fallen hero, and to take inspiration from a determined and dedicated Canterbury Territorial soldier and officer who retired into almost complete obscurity, to just fade away.
When Leonie J. of Christchurch contacted MRNZ in October 2017, her request (abridged) went something like this: “… my grandfather, Fred Mintrom … died in 1966. He had fought in WW1 and was given a gallantry medal, a cross … we have not seen his medals basically since he died. The problem was that Fred re-married not long before he died … a lady who already had a son … we suspect the medals have been lost or were sold … Fred’s stepson from that marriage, came round one day after Fred died and gave me the tin that Fred used to keep his medals in, but when I opened it, all there was were a few ribbons and some buttons and stuff – his medals weren’t there!”
That was almost 30 years ago. Since then Leonie had from time to time attempted to trace her grandfather’s medals but without any success or real knowledge of how to go about looking for them. Leonie had resigned herself to the fact she was unlikely to ever see them again. Following a discussion about the missing medals with a friend, Leonie’s friend told her about a recent article she had seen in the RSA Review about the work of Medals Reunited New Zealand. Her friend suggested Leonie contact us to see if we could do anything, after all, she had nothing to lose? Leonie sent me an email outlining the background and asked if we could “ .. make some inquiries … and list her grandfather’s missing medals on our website?” .
Whenever I get a request such as this the first reference I consult is the AWM Museum’s Cenotaph database of digitized serviceman’s records to confirm the correct person has been identified, including their military description (number, rank, service etc), and to also check their medal entitlement. , from the information contained in their
Upon opening the file of 26363 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Harold Mintrom, MC, MM the first thing I saw was a colour photograph of his medals on the front page! I could not believe what I was seeing – obviously Leonie was unaware of the the AWMM Cenotaph website or she would know. Apart from the fact it is rare to see a picture of a medal group in Cenotaph files, my first reaction was to wonder if they were the ‘real deal’ i.e., were the medals genuine or just a cobbled together mix of replicas and WW2 medals, since the later are readily obtainable and quite inexpensive. In order to answer the mounting number of questions I had, it would be necessary to firstly find out who had posted the photo.
Having made a number of entries into Cenotaph soldiers files I knew from experience that any addition made by a member of the public (not Museum staff) always had a named attribution and sometimes an email contact with the entry. For this photograph there was nothing.
To told me the photograph of the medals must have been added to the Mintrom file by the Cenotaph staff since they also were the approving authority for public additions, before posts went ‘live’. The Cenotaph manager told me she thought a member of her part-time staff had added the photograph; the manager would make inquiries and get back to me. Within half an hour the manger called back and advised me that “Max E”, one of the Museum’s part-time volunteers had added the photo. The manager would ask Max to call me the following to confirm this, if I wished … I wished !
It had been a little over 30 minutes since I opened Leonie’s email request when I telephoned her back to tell her I had found her grandfather’s medals (almost) – she was quite speechless. After all this time .. how, where, when, what etc etc? Leonie had many questions (as did I) which I had no answers for (yet).
Next day Max called. Not knowing this person I cautiously asked Max a few questions: had he posted the photo? … “yes”; was it of the genuine/original Mintrom medals or replicas? … “genuine” … how did he get the photo? ….. “I took it, the medals are mine”; … was he prepared to tell me how he came by the medals? … “I bought them in an on-line auction from Spinks in Australia about 15 or 16 years ago” … were the medals all named?… “the MC is blank (as issued) and the WW2 medals are not named, but all the others are … problem is there are two missing, two service medals. Max told me he had held onto the group in the hope the two missing medals would eventually turn up.
I explained to Max the reason for my questions and then related Leonie’s story. I am particularly about the confidentiality of information sources to reveal any detail without the source’s express permission. Max consented to telling Leonie what he had told me of the medals.
In discussing this development with Leonie, I felt obliged to caution her that irrespective of the circumstances the medals had left her grandfather’s family, as far as we knew at that point Max had acquired the medals legitimately and so they remained legally his. Families who locate missing medals in the possession of another person or organisation have no automatic or legal right to demand them back. If missing medals are the subject of a Police report made at the time they known to have disappeared, it is then for the Police to determine what, if any, action is taken to recovery them from the present owner. In Leonie’s case no such report had been lodged.
Not wishing to offer Leonie false hope, I had a number of confidential conversations with Max to determine if there was any possibility of the medals being returned to the family. I conveyed Max’s thoughts to Leonie but also pre-warned her she should be prepared for an unfavourable outcome. The rarity of her grandfather’s medal group (double gallantry to a NZ Machine-gun Corps, territorial soldier and officer of the Canterbury Regiment) made them highly desirable to serious medal collectors, a community that is known for paying large sums to acquire a rare medal or group of medals. Collectors are also unlikely to surrender medals back to families from the goodness of their heart. For the not so serious medal trader or opportunist, the medals represented a small gold mine for them when offered on the open market. As an alternative, I suggested Leonie could always consider a Replica set of her grandfather’s medals?
The following day I let Max know how thrilled Leonie had been to hear Fred Mintrom’s medals actually existed; she had long wondered what had happened to them expecting them to be long gone. She was also comforted by knowing they were still in NZ and that Max had taken care of them. Knowing these small details ceratinly better than not knowing anything of them.
An empathetic Max agreed I could tell Leonie there was potential for her grandfather’s medals to come back into family hands. I impressed upon her not only the rarity of such an opportunity but also the limitations associated with success – there were many pitfalls, ifs, buts and maybes which can befall the unwary in pursuing the return of family medals. Leonie would discuss with her family and let me know.
About Fred Mintrom …
Weather on the west coast of the South Island can be unpredictable at the best of times, but the brutal winters can be unforgiving. These days Coasters are well attuned and equipped to manage the torrential rains, driving off on-shore winds and sleet that can hammer the Coast, often for weeks on end. Imagine how families managed the same conditions in the 1800s. The Coast was still in its early stages of development and as wild as the weather and some of those who lived there could be.
Waimangaroa’s existence resulted from being a railway junction for two passenger lines opened in 1876, one to conveyed passengers to Seddonville in the north and the other running east alongside the Waimangaroa River from Westport. This line would bring passengers (miners and families), those hardy souls who by choice or necessity, were forced to live 2000 feet up on a rocky plateau that was only accessible by a perilous journey in a coal bin up the infamous Denniston Incline. For those who lived in Denniston on the plateau, or at sea level in and around the terminus of the Incline at Waimangaroa, the primitive conditions and harsh winters of the late 1880s took their toll particularly on the young and elderly. The Waimangaroa Cemetery is a short distance from base of the Incline and bears testament to this with a large number recorded infant and baby deaths, some marked by headstones but many more in unmarked graves.
The Mintrom family originated from St. Helier and St. Saviour on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off the SSE coast of Cornwall – closer to France than to England.
John Edwin MINTROM, a brick maker, and his wife Mary Anne (nee HAYLOCK), daughter of William Haylock, (the Jersey Garrison coxswain for 32 years) left Jersey with their nine children (six sons and three daughters) to establish a better life in New Zealand. John Mintrom had seen a New Zealand newspaper with an account of the wages paid here and a demand for his trade. That was sufficient for him to make the decision for the family to emigrate. The Mintroms sailed from London on the Cardigan Castle on 23 August 1873 and arrived at Lyttelton on 15th November 1873. Once disembarked, all immigrants were moved directly to the Addington Immigration Barracks where they would stay until a section of land was made available to build a place to live. Hillsborough would be the site of the Mintrom family home, and the birth place of two more daughters which brought the total of Mintrom children to 11.
The priority after getting the family settled and established at Hillsborough, was work. The family home once completed, saw some of the elder Mintrom men looking further afield for work while their sisters remained in Christchurch, close to the family home. Gradually the men moved out, one son went to Southland and another to Victoria in Australia. The eldest brother George, and William Edwin Mintrom went to the Buller on the West Coast to seek work in the mines or the bush.
William Mintrom had intended to get a job in the Denniston mines however ended up taking a job as a platelayer. The added advantage of this work for William was he was able to live at sea level in the Waimangaroa settlement rather than a job which would require him to live on the Plateau.
A platelayer was not a dining room attendant, but rather a railway employee whose job it was to inspect and maintain the permanent way of a railway line. Sometimes called a “trackman” the term “platelayer” derives from the ‘plates’ used to build plate-ways, an early form of railway. Inspecting and maintaining the track, including all its component parts such as rails, sleepers, fishplates, bolts, etc., are the chief responsibility of the platelayer. Duties include greasing points, and generally watching for wear and tear. When sections of track required complete replacement, larger teams of platelayers worked together. Today, a large range of labour-saving machinery does many of the tasks that were traditionally undertaken by hand by platelayers.
William Mintrom’s work on the railway was not hard but involved long hours as the system on the coast was constantly in need of attention. The railway would eventually link the towns of Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika to Christchurch, once a tunnel through the Southern Alps could be built. Until that happened Cobb & Co coach was the means of travel. The service ran from Christchurch to Springfield and then over Arthurs Pass to Kumara and the Coast towns. A journey for William would take anywhere from six to ten days from Waimangaroa depending on weather, river levels and coaching conditions.
During one such visit home William Mintrom met 22 year old Sarah Jane ASHTON (1868-1949), a Christchurch born young lady from Heathcote. In due course the pair married at Waimangaroa in the midst of winter in 1890, under the shadow of the Incline.
Two years later Sarah Mintrom, again in the midst of a severe Waimangaroa winter, gave birth to their one and only child and son on 17 May 1892, Frederick Harold Mintrom.
For a child to survive to their teen years in the wild and rugged conditions of the Coast, accidental death aside, was an achievement in itself and sometimes a reflection of a constitution born of determination and resolve which could serve a Coaster well in later life. To reach an age that enabled one to make a decision to leave the Coast (vertically) of one’s own free will, was indeed a milestone of survival against the odds.
Little Freddie Mintrom got to make that choice and left Westport for Christchurch to start his secondary education. It was also in Christchurch that young Fred started a career in accounting with the New Zealand Railways (NZR), as a Clerk at their Locomotive Depot in Addington.
As the clouds of war gathered over Europe throughout 1911 and 1912 and conflict seemed inevitable, 20 year old Fred was required to register for possible enlistment along with all other NZ males of similar age. Once voluntary enlistments for the NZEF were called for, Fred immediately presented himself for service including the obligatory initial medical screening in 1913.
Twice he attempted to enlist but was knocked back on each occasions. His first attempt was declined due to the condition of his teeth, and on the second occasion, a slight curvature in his spine had been detected by the enlisting doctor. Fail ! A disappointed and frustrated Fred was compelled to return to his NZR clerk’s job which he would have to endure throughout 1914 and 1915.
The NZ Railways was the biggest civilian employer of man power in the country at that time, about 14,000 men (only five females in the whole organisation!). As part of its contribution to the compulsory military training system introduced by the Defence Act of 1909, the NZR raised two Railway Battalions. The battalions were staffed by NZR employees and all males of enlistment age (20-35) were required to join. Fred Mintrom was enlisted in one of the seven South Island Railway Battalion companies. The North Island Railway Battalion comprised eight companies, and collectively the two Battalions made up the Railway Engineers Corps.
The Railway Battalions were trained and readied to defend the main trunk rail system to ensure troops, ammunition and equipment would continue to move freely throughout the country in the event of an attack on the homeland. Accordingly, Sapper Fred Mintrom donned his first army uniform, that of the South Island Railway Battalion-NZE, in August 1913. As the threat of an attack on New Zealand diminished, the men of these battalions were transferred to the NZ Expeditionary Force (NZEF) for war service overseas.
Fred’s only respite was his continued service with the Railway Battalion. Not one to be beaten by this setback, Fred, who had already had his teeth repaired, decided on a strategy that he hoped would increase his chances of getting overseas quickly. One of the most essential units required on the battlefield, one that required a good degree of skill and for which there was a growing shortage, was the Field Artillery. Fred made the move to the Royal Garrison Artillery unit in Christchurch but this only lasted for a few months as a much awaited opportunity for NZEF service came Fred’s way.
As manpower shortages in specific Corps began to increase, the result of soaring casualty rates, personnel who had initially been rejected for minor ailments or defects, were being recalled, reconsidered and in some cases given a medical waver to allow NZEF enlistment. Fred was now considered “Class A = fit for service overseas”.
Active Service at last !
At 23 years and 6 months of age, the 5′ 4″ territorial Sgt. Fred Mintrom was attested on 13 January 1916 and scheduled for embarkation with the 14th Reinforcements of NZ Engineers. He was required to relinquish his territorial rank however the five years he spent and rank achieved in the Railway Battalion stood him in good stead with the NZEF. Accordingly he was enlisted as a full Corporal before going to Trentham to complete preparation and training for deployment to England. During this training Fred had his first exposure to the new Vickers Mk1 Machine-gun. The appeal was instantaneous and by the time Fred was ready to embark for England, he had his sights firmly set on a transfer to the Machine-gun Battalion – the MG Battalion (made up of 4 x specialist MG Companies), Railway and Entrenching Battalions, were specialist sub-units that had been placed within the organisation of the NZ Corps of Engineers.
By the time the 14th Reinforcements-NZE embarked at Wellington in June, Fred was again wearing Sgt. rank, albeit temporarily. He was made a Lance Sergeant for the purposes of troop supervision during the sea voyage to Devonport, Plymouth England.
26363 L/Sgt. Frederick Harold Mintrom and the 14th Reinforcements-NZE embarked the HMNZT 56, the Tahiti, at Wellington on 26 June 1916. HMNZT 56 arrived in Plymouth during the last week of August whereupon the Reinforcements were en-trained and taken NE to the NZ Division’ s Reinforcement Depot – Sling Camp at Bulford on the Salisbury Plain where they would start their training for the battlefields of France.
On arrival at Sling Camp, L/Sgt. Mintrom was again required to relinquish his rank, reverting to Sapper (Engineer’s equivalent to an Infantry Private) for the first month of training. After four weeks Fred was again promoted back to L/Sgt! Who could fathom the army’s rationale?
After 12 weeks of battle indoctrination training at Sling, L/Sgt. Mintrom was attached to the NZ Tunnelling Company at Christchurch for two months. In Nov 1916 he was posted to Grantham at Brightlingsea, Essex. Grantham was an ANZAC camp established as a generic Corps of Engineers training depot. The Australian (A.I.F.) Engineer Training Depot (AETD) and NZ Machine-gun Corps Depots were located here among other Engineer specialist companies. Between 1916 and 1919, in excess of 10,000 New Zealand and Aussie soldiers were trained at Grantham in readiness for deployment to the front line in Western Europe.
After four months of MG training at the NZMGC Depot, L/Sgt. Mintrom returned to the NZ Division’s NZMG Battalion at Codford. In May 1917 Fred was taken on the strength of the NZMG Battalion’s 4th Company with whom he would serve for the next two and a half action packed years. His rank of Sergeant was made substantive.
The NZMG Battalions comprised four specialist MG Companies, each with eight MG Sections, each Section comprising two machine guns that typically required six to eight-man crews to operate. MG Sections were commanded by a junior officer (Lt-Capt) and a 2IC (Sgt.-Lt.). The Sections were employed extensively in support of Infantry attacks as well as providing security and/or suppressing fire to enable tasks to be undertaken forward of the wire, or in no-mans land. The weapon of choice was the new Vickers Mark 1, (Medium) Machine Gun (MMG) which was incrementally being introduced to replace the ageing Maxims.
Sgt. Mintrom had at last found his forte. He was posted to No. 4 Company as an MG Section 2IC. Sgt. Mintrom quickly proved his knowledge and skill on all matters MG, gaining the confidence and respect of both his Section Commander and the gun-crews in his Company. Fred’s ability to effectively train gun-crews and deploy them tactically during battle would become the hallmark of this very capable Senior NCO. As the result of the loss of the No. 4 Company’s CSM (Company Sergeant Major) to wounding and evacuation, Sgt. Mintrom was temporarily promoted to fill the vacancy – Temporary Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Mintrom held the position until years end when a permanent replacement was posted in – Fred revert back to his substantive rank of Sergeant.
“For Bravery in the Field”
In October 1917, II Anzac Corps were to attack an 1800 metre front at Gravenstael, Belgium. The NZ Div had been allocated 900 meters of that with the objective of seizing the Grafenstal Spur. What was not known was the German’s also planned to attack that same day – October, 4th and just 10 minutes after the NZ Div’s was launched. The 4th Company’s MG Section was heavily engaged on a number of fronts when its commander became a casualty (WO2 Wilson, evac wounded). CSM Mintrom recognising the seriousness of the situation which potentially put the Battalion’s momentum at risk, immediate took charge of the Section and its subsequent deployment over the following two days. His courage and tactical leadership were inspirational and was brought to the attention of the Company and Battalion Commanders. As a result Fred was personally recommended for a gallantry medal by the General Officer Commanding NZEF for his initiative and skill in deploying the machine-guns, in dire circumstances. The recommendation was approved in Dec 1917; Sgt. Mintrom (his substantive rank) was awarded the Military Medal (M.M.). The Citation reads:
26363 Sergeant Frederick Harold Mintrom – 4th Company, NZ Machine-gun Corps
“In operations at Ypres 4th and 5th October 1917. This NCO took charge of the Section when his officer became a casualty. He led his guns to their objective and showed great ability and initiative in sighting them in their final positions. His splendid example to his men attributed greatly to the success of the operations.”
L.G. 17 December 1917, p13201, Rec No 1269
Officer training at Cambridge
A shortage of junior officer leaders resulting from high casualty rates all but guaranteed that Temp. WO2 Fred Mintrom, MM would be selected to undergo officer training in England. In December 1917 Fred reverted to his substantive rank of Sgt. and attached to “A” Company, No 2 Officer Cadet Battalion (2OCB) at Pembroke College, Cambridge University for four and a half months of general (infantry) officer training. Whilst at Cambridge all trainees were rank-less Officer Cadets for the duration of their training. Officer Cadet Mintrom’s ability as a runner, a rower and rugby player was recorded in the College’s annual magazine. Following successful completion of officer training, now 2nd Lieutenant Mintrom needed to attend the Officers’ MG course, again at Grantham, before returning to France in Sep 1918 and his beloved Machine-gun Battalion.
More ‘Acts of Gallantry’ …
In early November 1918 the NZ Division was in the forefront of a drive to oust the enemy and secure the small French town of Le Quesnoy, now famous in New Zealand’s military history for the bold manner in which a section of NZ troops scaled the town’s old fortress walls with ladders. This, the last major operation the NZ Division would be engaged in, was conducted on the 4th and 5th of November. The 2nd and 4th Battalions, 3NZRB made up the first wave of the assault, attacking from the East of Le Quesnoy. 2Lt. Mintrom’s MG Section was one of two Section’s that accompanied the two assaulting battalions, one MGS with each. 2Lt. Mintrom’s Section accompanied the right leading Company of the attack. By engaging strong enemy opposition he assisted the advance of the infantry, and took up well chosen position on the objective, providing suppressing fire until the town was taken and the enemy fled. Tactically, the operation was a great success but one which came at a cost – 20% casualties; of approximately 1600 men, some 335+ had been killed and many more wounded.
In the post attack wash-up the MG Battalion Commander praised 2Lt. Mintrom’s actions for having acquitted himself with the tactical skill and exactitude he had become renowned for. As a consequence, a recommendation was forwarded to the GOC NZEF nominating 2Lt. Mintrom for the awarded of the Military Cross (MC). Being abundantly aware of Fred Mintrom’s track record in the MG Battalion to date, the GOC had no hesitation in approving Fred’s award and having it promulgated in NZEF Orders on April 2nd, 1919. The Citation reads:
26363 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Harold Mintrom, M.M. – NZ Machine-gun Corps
“For conspicuous gallantry and initiative east of Le Quesnoy on 4th November, 1918. He commanded a section of machine-guns attached to an assaulting battalion of Infantry, and led forward two guns with the leading waves of the right leading company in the attack. By engaging strong enemy oppositions he assisted the advance of the Infantry, and he took up a well-chosen position on the objective gained.”
Approved, L.G. 2 April 1919, p4337 Citation, L.G. 10 December 1919, p15339
Seven days after the attack by the New Zealanders to take Le Quesnoy, the Armistice was signed officially ending WW1 hostilities. Whilst many units remained in place for mop up operations and as temporary occupying forces until the last pockets of resistance had surrendered or been ‘weeded’ out, the pressure was on to get men home as soon as possible. Leave, medical checks, equipment accounting and R & R were all actioned to a large extent in the UK. Once the soldiers got home they would be given leave and put through a detailed demobilization processes before being discharged from the NZEF.
2Lt. Mintrom left England for New Zealand aboard the SS Arawa on 1st April 1919 (one year to the day after his parents Diamond Wedding anniversary).
By 12 June 1919, 2Lt. Mintrom had returned to Christchurch and completed his demobilization program. On this date he was formally struck off the NZ Forces Active Officers List and placed on the Unattached Officers List of the Territorial Force.
Awards: Military Cross (MC), Military Medal (MM), British War Medal,1914-18, Victory Medal
Service Overseas: 3 years 151 days
Total NZEF Service: 3 years 326 days
Driving a NZR desk again …
Fred Mintrom returned to his home at 226 Edgeware Road in Christchurch and resumed his former work with the NZ Railways. After such an active and highly charged previous four years, Fred understandably found it very difficult to settle into a sedentary civilian job again.
In August 1919, Fred sent a written request to Army HQ for an appointment with a Vickers MG unit. When nothing eventuated, he submitted additional requests siting his extensive war experience with the NZMGC in support of his application. Fred’s requests were politely acknowledged but did not result in an appointment.
The second half of 1921 took a positive turn for Fred. On 02 July Fred took the plunge and married Ethel Mary Jane Chamberlain FROST and in due course three children – William Keith, Alan George and Harold Ashton completed the Mintrom family. Ever the stickler for correctness and regulation, Fred’s file contained an amusing enclosure: he sent a request to the Adjutant-General of the NZ Military Forces, seeking permission for his ‘Best Man’, a Pte. S.G. FROST (brother of his wife to be), and himself to wear their uniform at Fred’s wedding. A second enclosure granted the request for the soldier and the Adjutant-General pointedly advising Fred that as an officer he was not required to seek permission for himself!
Aside from his not being offered a TF officer appointment, another issue Fred became increasingly concerned over since his arrival back in NZ, was the whereabouts of his Military Cross? He had been home almost two years and despite his repeated inquiries there had been no sign. Unbeknown to Fred the problem was in England. All gallantry medals and most of the service medals were manufactured in England. The backlog after war’s end was such that wait times for recipients, particularly those in Commonwealth countries, became extraordinarily protracted. Fred’s patience was eventually rewarded – the medal arrived at the 1st Battalion’s HQ and 2Lt. Fred Mintrom was presented with his Military Cross in August 1921.
1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment
In September 1921, NZ Forces Army HQ at last approved a four year, Territorial Officer (part-time) service contract for 2Lt. Mintrom with the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment at Burnham. Fred would at least now be able to put give valuable insight and offer specialist expertise to the unit’s training program and field training exercises. This would also allow him to complete a number of outstanding promotion courses, as well as conduct short tours of duty to various army units around the South Island to assist with MG training regimes.
Promotion for 2Lt. Mintrom came in June 1922 to Lieutenant, and in May 1925, a further step up to Captain together with the renewal of his officer appointment contract for a further four years at the 1st Battalion.
In 1927 two further service medals also caught up with Capt. Mintrom that recognised his cumulative years of both territorial and war service. To date he had accumulated a total of 16 years 257 days continuous and “efficient” service as a territorial soldier and officer since enlisting as a Private in the Railway Battalion in 1913. (a bonus component that doubled part of the qualifying time for these, had been added for war service)
Capt. Mintrom, MC, MM qualified for the following two service medals:
New Zealand Long & Efficient Service Medal (NZ LESM) – 16 years continuous TF service – includes double time for WW1 service (obsolete WEF Sep 1931)
New Zealand Territorial Service Medal (NZ TSM) – 12 completed years of efficient TF service – replaced in 1931 with the Efficiency Medal)
On 08 October 1928, Capt. Mintrom had completed his second four year period of service with the 1st Battalion, and accordingly, was automatically transferred to the Reserve of Officers. Once more Fred returned to ‘driving a desk’ for the NZ Railways accounts department. Fred and Ethel also took this opportunity to move from Edgeware and bought their new residence at 25 Fisher Avenue in Beckenham; this would be home for the remainder of their days.
Back into uniform again
When WW2 became imminent Capt. Fred Mintrom (as anticipated) was among the first to volunteer for full-time service. Whilst still on the Reserve of Officers, the intervening years exposed various medical issues that had affected Fred, and which became of concern to Army authorities in approving any further service. After much correspondence between Fred and Army HQ, his tenacity and persistence finally bore a favourable result.
3/1/5 Captain Fred Mintrom, MC, MM (Territorial Force) was engaged on 03 Sep 1940 for Home Service duty with the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment for the duration of the war. Fred was appointed Officer Commanding of “D” Support Company. Captain Mintrom was also appointed the Honorary Auditor of the Beckenham Cricket Club this same month.
Beginning of the end …
In Jan 1943, Captain Fred Mintrom’s medical grading was once again the subject of a reassessment, this time in a downgrade – Fred had been declared medically “Unfit for Camp” (field camps). This would seriously limit his ability to be a Company Commander for training troops. As a result, he was appointed the Battalion Accounting Officer and promoted to Temporary Major (to soften the blow?).
Not one to be dissuaded by such developments, Fred continued to submit requests seeking a unit or Staff Corps appointment with a “Vickers” unit. Army HQ had already expressed concern over Fred’s recent medical downgrade, but now his advancing age (he now exceeded the statutory age limit (45) permitted for enlistment) was at issue – Fred was 50! Correspondence on the subject was bought to an end by Army HQ with comments like: “.. the Army has sufficient junior officers for all Staff Corps appointments … should there be vacancies for any additional appointments … requests for service will be considered along with all others … “.
Fred came to the realisation that in spite of his willingness to serve, the Army’s position was actually it did not want to be responsible for exacerbating any deterioration of his Fred’s already fragile physical (and psychological) condition by allowing him to serve on. There could be no greater disappointment for a professional and decorated soldier such as Fred than of being no longer required. Fred’s hard earned war experience and accumulated MG warfare skills which he so desperately wanted to pass on to the young soldiers going overseas, had finally been overtaken by age, his fluctuating physical and mental state, Army regulations, and the technological advance in weaponry – the Vickers MG was fast becoming redundant and being replaced with the ‘BREN’ Light Machine Gun. Reading between the lines, Fred was in effect being told he also was redundant. The ‘writing was on the wall’ – Fred had no alternative now but to accept the end of his military career was nigh.
In March 1943, Temp. Major Fred Mintrom, MC, MM was transferred one last time to the Reserve of Officers, this time with the substantive rank of Major. Fred would remain on the R of O for the next five years. He was not recalled to duty.
For his WW2 Home Service, Major Mintrom was awarded two service medals:
Awards: War Medal, 1939-45 and NZ War Service Medal, 1939-45
Total Commissioned Service: 17 years 10 months continuous service
Total Territorial Force Service: 18 years
On 03 Feb 1948, 3/1/5 Major Frederick Harold Mintrom, MC, MM was discharged from the Territorial Force of the NZ Military Forces having completed his Reserve obligation, and was transferred to the NZ Army officer’s Retired List – he was 55.
After his discharge from the Army, Fred continued his employment as an accounting officer with NZ Railways for a few more years. Following wife Ethel’s death in 1953, Fred left the Railways and took a position as the Bursar at St. Margaret’s College in Merivale until he fully retired at 60.
Having spent the best part of 10 years on his own after Ethel’s death, Fred unexpectedly re-married. Doris Emmeline Mintrom (formerly EMMETT, nee FLEMING born Portsmouth 1898), had been widowed and was living in Papanui with her adult son. Doris and Fred married just 18 months prior to his death.
3/1/5 Major Frederick Harold Mintrom, MC, MM – late of the NZ Railway Battalion, NZMG Battalion-NZ Corps of Engineers, NZ Machine-Gun Corps, and 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment died at his home in Fisher Avenue, Beckenham on 06 May 1966 – 10 days prior to his 75th birthday. Major Mintrom was buried in the Waimairi Cemetery, Burnside, Christchurch. Doris re-married a widower and retired railway workshop manager, Charles Alexander JENKINS, in the early 1970s and moved to Auckland where they both died.
Coming home …
Leonie contacted me a few days after I left he mulling over Max’s proposal. She had thought about the proposal carefully and had decided she was not about to let this once in a life-time opportunity slip through her fingers. .
The return of Fred Mintrom’s medals (minus two) was duly negotiated and within three weeks the deal was sealed. The medals arrived at MRNZ exactly as Max had promised. They were in desperate need of new authentic ribbons and professional mounting, but otherwise were all original and correctly impressed (except the unnamed MC as issued). Other than some light scratching the medals were generally in very good condition. My colleague and medal mounting guru, Brian would do the job for Leonie, and would obtain Replicas of the missing medals to complete Fred’s entitlement.
Leonie also told me she had all sorts of photographs, uniform items and historical bits and pieces of her grandfather’s to show me/have me identify, when I made the trip to Christchurch to hand over the medals. But there was more to come – the best part. Leonie said while she was getting her grandfather’s ephemera together she had pulled out the tin Fred’s stepson had delivered in 1966 after his death, the one without Fred’s medals in. Leonie had never bothered to empty the tin completely since Fred’s medals were missing, using it instead for odds and ends of her grandfather’s which she acquired over the years.
For whatever reason, while rounding up Fred’s uniform, photos and other historical treasures she planned to show me, in her enthusiasm Leonie emptied out the tin – various ribbons and ribbon bars, buttons, badges and retaining pins fell out … AND … Fred’s two missing medals! Leonie couldn’t believe her eyes and called me immediately with the news.
Fantastic! Brian would now be able to mount Major Mintrom’s complete entitlement knowing he would not have to add Replicas in place of missing medals. Brian did a stunning job replacing all of the ribbons with genuine new, and also applying a protective acetate solution to the freshly polished medals – a specialist task not recommended for the amateur medal mounter.
I drove down to Christchurch in November and personally delivered the medals to Leonie; she was overwhelmed. There was definitely a hint of tears, or perhaps it was the bright Christchurch sun, or swirling dust from the ‘beastly easterly’ (in the lounge?)
Leonie was thrilled and thankful her grandfather Fred’s medals were finally home, ” .. and so beautifully presented” (take a bow Brian). Also on hand when the medals arrived was Ben, Leonie and husband Brian’s son. Ben was equally thrilled to see his great-grandfather’s medals, particularly as he was about to start his own military career at Waiouru to become a commissioned officer. Ben (and his parents) will be counting the days until he is able to proudly wear the medals of his great-grandfather, the late Major (Rtd.) Frederick Harold Mintrom, MC, MM – on his own graduation parade.
Good luck Ben – Brian and I very much look forward to seeing the photos of you wearing Fred’s medals to!
My grateful thanks to Max for making this reunion possible, and to my MRNZ colleague Brian who did a first class job of restoring and re-mounting the medals.
The reunited medal total is now 196.