HUGH DIPROSE TURNER – Medals of Donnellys Crossing veteran reunited with serving great-nephew.


Turnwell de Pringle William Owens Turner (1848-1911), sometimes known as Owen Turner, was a 32 year old coal miner from Brymbo, Denbighshire in Wales when he married 25 year old Marianna DIPROSE (1857-1945) from Chatham, Kent in 1879.   Prior to migrating to New Zealand Owen Turner’s position at the mine was  that of “Master Wasteman”.  Originally Wastemen carried out daily examinations of the state of the workings, and to see that they were properly ventilated.  They were employed in building pillars for the support of the roof in the waste area, testing for gas and keeping the airways open and in good order.  A Master Wasteman worked directly to the manager of a colliery (Viewer) or his appointed deputy (Underviewer) in the Viewer’s absence.  The Master Wasteman had charge of the mine waste being required to be “a steady and careful man and have some skill in ventilation”.   Wages were pitiful amounting to about 2 shillings and four pence (2s. 4d. = 24 cents) per day, or about 21 shillings (21s. = $2.10) per week.

On 8 February 1884 Turnwell and Marianna Turner with their young children Alice, Mary and Lavinia boarded the Shaw, Savill, Albion Co.’s 2095 ton “Northumberland” at the London Docks, along with 180 other NZ bound immigrants.  After a voyage of 92 days (6 deaths and 2 births) the “Northumberland” dropped anchor off the Queen Street wharf in Auckland on the afternoon of 18 March 1884 at 4.45 pm. 

As immigrant settlers without assets Turnwell Turner had leased a piece of land in a remote location in the Kaipara district at Mangatu, Donnellys Crossing. The family had disembarked at Port Albert, about 15 kms NW of Wellsford on the Kaipara Harbour, with a number of others intent on farming in the same area.  The Turnes took up temporary residence here to adjust to their new surroundings and then re-located northward to Kaihu, about 20kms SW of Mangatu, the site of a large kauri and totara sawmill.  The Turners would remain here until sufficient land had been cleared on their Mangatu leasehold farmland to build a basic home.  Eventually the farm would raise sheep but that would take many years of hard graft to realise.  In the interim Turnwell and his young sons were heavily engaged driving bullock teams to pull felled kauri logs out of the bush where they would then floated down the river to the mill at Kaihu which processed about 3 million board feet of kauri and totara annually.

Until their Managatu home had been built the Turner family stayed at Kaihu and it was here that the last three of Turnwell and Marianna’s seven children were born – Turnwell Victor (1886-1907), Harold Oswald (1888-1954) and Hugh Diprose Turner (1891-1933).  In 1906 Hugh’s brother Victor (20) had been swimming with mates in the Mangatu River and whilst his friends were dressing, Victor suddenly disappeared.  After the river was searched Victor was found drowned in a deep pool.  Barely three years after this tragedy, the patriarch of the Turner family – Turnwell Pringle William Owens Turner, upon whose fatherly directions the family depended, passed away in 1911 without ever seeing his farm completed or fully productive. Turnwell had succumbed to the effects of his years working in the Welsh coal mines – he was just 42.


54787 Rifleman Hugh Turner – N.Z. Rifle Bde.

After Turnwell died and as the First World War approached, Marianna Turner, doing her best to keep things ticking along collapsed under the strain.  Her now married sister Ada Foster moved in to care for her and the family, the numbers swelling to a dozen in the house.  A great deal of reliance was placed upon 25 year old Harold and 21 year old Hugh to help manage the day to day running of the farm.  The family battled on for three more years until Lucy decided to move with the younger children into Dargaville.  Harold Turner had married Ada Foster in 1913 at a time when all men of appropriate age were required to register for military service.  Being the eldest Turner son and effectively the farm and logging work  manger as well as providing for his mother and siblings Harold Turner’s case for an exemption from service was upheld.  This meant younger brother Hughie (as he was known) being the only other male of suitable age, would have to be spared for the war effort.  In anticipation of enlistment Hughie had also spent nearly two years in the local territorial unit, the 11th Auckland Mounted Rifles Reserve. 

It was during this time that Hughie took the opportunity to marry.  He made application to his unit Commanding Officer (as was then required) for permission to get married and, granted,  Hugh Turner was married to Blenheim born Lucy Florence FOSTER  (Ada’s sister) in January 1915 by his Adjutant, Lt. Grey, at the home of her parents John and Annie Peckham Foster.  The Fosters had relocated from Blenheim to Tutamoe at the far eastern end of the Donnellys Crossing area boundary and were now bound by marriage, two Turner brothers had married two Foster sisters, thus the Turners and Foster families to a large extent lived as one in this remote area of Kaipara. 

Hugh and Lucy’s first daughter Phyllis Pearl was born in Jan 1916 (d2006) at Dargaville and a second daughter, Florence Kate at Aratapu in October 1917, three months after Hugh had embarked for England.


54787 Rifleman Hugh Diprose Turner, all 5 feet 4 inches of him, had been working in Dargaville when he was “Called to the Colours” in February 1917.  By know the war was entrenched on the Western Front and it was here that his services would be required in one of the Rifle Brigade’s reinforcement drafts.  Rflm. Turner was assigned to ‘A’ Company of the 1st Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade.  He completed his basic training at Trentham and Featherstone Camps and embarked at Wellington with the 28th Reinforcements on the HMNZT 90 Ulimaroa on 26 July 1917, bound for Plymouth.  In late September he marched into the NZRB Reserve Depot at Brocton, Staffordshire for three months of preparation and training before being sent to France.

Rflm. Turner’s Pay Book & Training Record








Rflm. Turner proceeded overseas with his unit to the ‘danger zone’ on Boxing Day 1917.  “Boxing Day” would also feature somewhat dramatically again in Hugh’s life some years later.  On arrival at Etaples (the NZ Reinforcements Camp) he was posted to A Company in the 3rd Battalion. After just three weeks preparation to go to the front the battalion went into the field on January 20th.  Aside from a couple of hospitalisations for stomach complaints and Myalgia (muscle over-use) Rflm. Turner survived his first six months in the field remarkably well.  In July he was attached to the NZRB Headquarters to be employed as a clerk, runner and telephonist where he would remain for the next rather uneventful 10 months.  In March 1919 Rflm. Turner came out of the field and returned to England to commence his demobilization before boarding a requisitioned Royal Mail Ship, the HMNZT Tahiti at London on 27 May 1919 for the return voyage to New Zealand.  Rflm. Turner was discharged from the NZEF on 01 August 1919 and returned to the family farm and Lucy, now 3 year old Phyllis and his as yet unseen 18 month old daughter, Kate.

Rflm. H.D. Turner’s medals

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

Overseas Service:  1 year 344 days

Total NZEF Service:  2 years 92 days


Hugh returned to Lucy and their children remained with Harold and Ada and their family, kept the family farm and business going.  One day Hugh sustained an injury whilst driving a bullock team which would have a serious impact on the Turner family’s lives in years to come.  Whilst driving the team Hughe’s whip caught on a fence line and as it came off the fence, snapped back with the whip end taking out his right eye.  He did recover but his limited side vision would cause him perception problems. 

The Turner house was always a busy one with relatives and friends coming and going regularly.  It would become even more in the post war years as Hughie and Lucy’s family increased by five more children – Colin Ivan (1920-2009), Gwendoline (Gwen, 1922-2010), twins Vernon Diprose (Vern, 1929-2014) and Leslie John (John, 1929 – present), and last in line was Eunice Myrtle (1933 – present).

Boxing Day 1933 was going to be an exciting day for the Turners as Hugh had bought his very first car.  He planned to take the family out for a ride and picnic in the afternoon.  The car, a second-hand Dodge Tourer, was in Dargaville which is about 40kms south of Donnellys Crossing.  Since Hugh could not drive, his brother-in-law Leonard Foster (Lucy’s and Ada’s brother) would go with him and drive the car back home to Mangatu. 

The following articles appeared nationwide in the Boxing Day afternoon editions of national newspapers:

Auckland Star – 26 Dec 1933




(By Telegraph.—Special to “Star”)  DARGAVILLE, this day.   A Mangatu farmer, Mr. Hugh Turner, was killed when his car capsized into a creek near Donnelly’s Crossing this morning. His companion, a Mr. Foster escaped injury. It is believed that Mr.Turner was learning to drive the car. The accident was discovered about an hour after it happened. Mr. Foster was extricated, but the car had practically to be taken to pieces to get Mr. Turner’s body out.  It was found that his neck was broken.

Mr. Turner was a well-known farmer at Mangatu. He was a married man with eight children.

Northern Advocate – 26 Dec 1933



There have been two deaths, and, two people are in the hospital as a result of holiday accidents.  A fatal accident occurred on the Parakao Road on Sunday, ………………………….

Second Fatality.

The second fatality occurred at Donnelly’s Crossing early this morning, when married man, Hugh Diprose Turner, lost his life.  Deceased, who was a farmer living at Donnelly’s Crossing, was learning to drive a motor car and was taking lessons about 7 a.m. when the vehicle got out of control and capsized over a bank near the traffic bridge at Donnelly’s Crossing.  A nephew, Leonard Horace Foster, was with deceased at the time, but escaped uninjured. An inquest was held before the coroner, Mr J. A. McLean, this morning.  Death was stated to have been due to a fractured skull, a broken neck and shock.  Deceased was 41 years of age and was a married man, leaving a widow and eight children.


When I spoke recently with Eunice D., at 84 years of age, the last living child of Hugh and Lucy Turner’s family.  Eunice related the following to me about the accident that killed her father:  “Dad had bought the car because Mum was too scared to travel any distance in the horse and cart – she thought was unsafe.  So Dad and Len Foster, his brother-in-law, had gone to Dargaville early that morning to pick it up.  Dad said they would be back by eight o’clock for breakfast.  Because Dad couldn’t drive, Len would drive the car home and on the way was going to teach Dad how to drive and give him some practice.  At about 7.00 am they were coming up to the road-rail bridge near Donnellys Crossing, just before the Tutamoe – Mangatu turnoff.  Dad was driving and for some unknown reason, possibly his limited side vision, he hit one end of bridge.  The vehicle spun and rolled down the bank into the river – they (Dr Crump) said that Dad had died almost instantly from a fractured skull, broken neck and shock.  When the rescuers arrived about an hour later Dad was apparently trapped in the car – his head was under water – they had an awful lot of trouble to free him from the wreckage.”  

Fortunately for Len Foster he had escaped without injury.  Dr Crump informed the family but poor Len still had the most unenviable task of facing the family, and the enduring memory of what had happened to live with.  Hugh Diprose Turner, 41, was buried in the Mangatu Cemetery leaving his wife Lucy with eight children.  


Hugh Diprose Turner’s war medals were received by MRNZ from a Dannevirke donor in 2015 (we have been requested the details remain confidential).  As is my practice whilst researching current cases, these join the queue and I placed an interim notice on Rflm. Hugh Turner’s AWMM Cenotaph page seeking relatives, aas well as added them into the Lost Trails page of this website.

On the 9th of August this year I received an email from Tom G., a serving soldier from Waiouru, who had been researching relatives who had fought in WW1, when he came across my note on Rflm. Hugh Turner’s Cenotaph page.  Tom, the great-nephew of Hugh Turner and grandson of Hugh’s youngest daughter Eunice D., told his grandmother of the discovery of the medals.  Eunice was very keen for Tom to find out more and so Tom contacted me and explained his relationship.

It was indeed a pleasure to chat with Eunice and Tom about the family’s life in remote Mangatu and the circumstances surrounding Hugh Turner’s death at such an early age, particularly as Eunice was now twice the age of her father.  Eunice also told me that her mother’s brother,  54734  Rifleman Horace Alexander Foster – ‘J’ Company, NZRB Reinforcements, 25, a dairy farmer from Tutamoe, had been Killed In Action at Harvincourt, France on 1st Sep 1918.  

Eunice told me her brother John, being the last living male, (John is in his 80s) had inherited both his father Hugh and his uncle Horace’s WW1 medals and that at some point he had sold the medals to a dealer.  When Eunice heard from her grandson that her father’s medals were listed on MRNZ ‘s Lost Trails page she was very keen for Tom, being a soldier, to have them.  Tom gathered together the necessary documentary proof of entitlement from his grandmother and has, I am pleased to advise, increased our medal return tally by two – Tom is now the proud owner of his great-uncle 54787 Rifleman Hugh Diprose Turner’s medals.

The reunited medal tally is now 166.


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