SA-7924 & 6/513 ~ JAMES McCONNELL
A phone call to MRNZ from Roslyn Cull of Cromwell (aka Roz) resulted in her sending two medals to MRNZ, one a Queen’s South Africa (QSA) medal which was awarded for Boer War service in South Africa between the years 1899-1902, and the other a WW1 British War Medal, 1914/18. The details of the recipient impressed on the edge of the medal were: 7924 TPR. J. McCONNELL and the unit N.Z.M.R. 9TH CONT. The British War Medal 1914/18 was named to: 6/513 PTE. J. McCONNELL N.Z.E.F. Neither medal had ribbons attached were otherwise in good condition considering their age and unknown journey since issue.
Teviot Valley, Central Otago
The largest gold hauls in Central Otago were recovered in the Teviot Valley at the turn of the century in a boom that lasted 20 years. The 40 kilometre long valley which extends from south Roxborough to Beaumont saw every accessible river flat along both banks, populated with miners camps. The Teviot Road which runs half of the length of the valley was the only developed access between Roxborough and Millers Flat which was roughly the halfway point (20kms) to Beaumont.
The first settlement one encountered coming from Roxborough on the Teviot Road was Dumbarton. Dumbarton no longer exists however in 1862 when payable gold was first discovered in the Tuapeka District by James Woodhouse and Andrew Young at the junction of the Molyneux (now Clutha) and Teviot rivers, Dumbarton provided an accommodation house and stables with dining and bar facilities. Dumbarton was one of a number of small settlements that sprang up on the Teviot Road to accommodate the needs of miners, travellers and a growing farming community. The only remaining evidence of these is Teviot, Ettrick and the largest, Millers Flat.
During the gold mining era, the Teviot Road only went as far as Miller’s Flat. Here the Clutha had to be crossed by punt to link up with the coaching track to / from Beaumont which terminated on the bank opposite Millers Flat. Here the river had to be crossed by punt to link up with the coaching track that passed the Island Block, the turn off to Moa Flat, Heriot and Spylaw, and Rae’s Junction before reaching Beaumont. No suitable thoroughfare from Millers to Roxborough existed at this time, the route of the current State Highway 8. Construction of the ‘blue bridge’ at Miller’s Flat eventually did away with the punt, which joins State Highway 8 and facilitates access north to Roxborough or south to Beaumont and beyond. Once at Beaumont it was only another 20 kilometres further on to Gabriel’s Gully at Lawrence, the 1863 site of the beginning of the Otago gold rush.
Named after the first European settler, Walter Miller, who arrived in Otago in 1849 and established the Ormaglade Station, Miller’s Flat with a population that rarely ever tops 200 residents in its 170 year existence (2021, pop. 100), has always been the largest of the settlements in the Teviot Valley, and the centre for rural trade and social activity.
In its heyday Millers Flat was also home to one of the largest gold dredges to ply the Molyneux (Clutha). The town boasted a school, a post & telegraph office with savings bank offices, several provisioning stores (Faigans being the most notable name, and still standing), two hotels and a Roman Catholic church. Other religious denominations held their services in the school.
The gold rushes of the 1860s brought people to the Teviot Valley in their thousands and though business eventually dwindled away when the gold ran out, a number of former prospectors and commercial businessmen stayed. By the 1920s the gold boom had faded however the possibilities for progress lay in the valley’s fertile, free-draining soils and temperate climate, as many yearned for a more settled life. Many miners worked for wages or went into partnership taking advantage of the opportunities that arose from the farm runs which had been identified as early as 1845.
Farming and latterly fruit growing are the primary sources of income for this region and ensured that settlements such as Millers Flat survived. The populations and facilities of the other historic hamlets in the Teviot Valley however have largely vanished, save for the Ettrick Hall and the remains of the Teviot Woolshed, once the largest stone woolshed in the southern hemisphere.
Early days at Dumbarton
In 1878 William McConnell** and Catherine’s first child, Agnes (McConnell) HAUGH (1878-1911) was born at the Dumbarton Rock Accommodation House (hotel), an establishment named because of its proximity to the ‘Dumbarton Rock’, a large geological feature that cannot be missed, situated on the right bank (facing downstream if you are not sure) of the Clutha River, about 6 kms south of Roxborough. The rock is the sole remaining reminder of the hotel and farm that once bore its name, and situated diagonally opposite on a river flat beside the Teviot Road. William McConnell held the licence for the Dumbarton Rock Hotel which remained in existence from the 1860s until the 1920s.
William McConnell (1838-1893) had been born and raised at Ballywee in County Antrim, Ireland. He, as did many Irishmen, abandoned Ireland for better prospects after years of poverty and unemployment devastated the Irish economy that resulted from the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52. William migrated first to the Australian goldfields in Victoria and then to New Zealand in the late 1860s. After trying his luck mining gold at Gabriel’s Gully (Lawrence) and then around Dunstan and Roxburgh, William charted a new direction in March 1876 when he successfully bid at auction for the Dumbarton Rock Hotel and Farm in the Teviot Valley. The then owner, Michael McCarthy, had been trying to sell the hotel and adjoining farm since January 1871 as his intention was to migrate elsewhere overseas.
The auction Lot consisted of: a nine room, fully furnished accommodation House (hotel) situated on the Teviot – Dunedin Road at Moa Flat and for which a three year lease had been paid. Also included were a Stable, 2 x Loose Boxes, 2 x Barnes (1 x stone & 1 x wood) and a large Garden, well stocked with fruit trees. The farm’s acreage comprised 100 acres of freehold land (10 planted in wheat, 40 in oats, 10 in turnips, and 30 laid in “English grass”). Stock units included four breeding horses (two mares with foal) and 80 pure-bred imported Ewes. Implements to be sold with the farm were a new Reaper, a No.4 Chaff-cutter, first class Water-wheel erected on the property, a 2 h.p. Scariffier (new), a Plough and pair of Harrows, plus 1000 feet of building timber and 2 x barrels of cement. The newspaper advertisement finished with: “The House is a first-class stand. The Farm is composed of the pick of the land in the District, and has a frontage of a mile to the River Molyneux and the main road.”
Following his successful bid, William (39) was married to 18 year old Catherine PATRICK (1859-1941) on 15 May 1877 at the Spylaw Hotel. Spylaw is situated inland approximately 20km SW of Raes Junction and 3km NW of Heriot (see map above).
Catherine Patrick was the second eldest daughter of fellow publican Robert and his wife Barbara PATRICK. ** On William’s and Catherine’s wedding day, the popular licensee of the Spylaw Hotel and wife Barbara had good reason to be in a joyful mood as they celebrated not only William and Catherine’s union, but also that of their eldest daughter, Catherine’s sister Ellen who married Tuapeka man, John Wallace.
** Robert PATRICK had originated from Glasgow, Scotland while Barbara his wife, nee McLEOD, had come from Cadden in Larnarkshire. The Patricks had met and married in Victoria, Australia in 1858 before migrating to Otago to join the Gabriel’s Gully gold rush in 1861. Robert then took up the licence of the Spylaw Hotel which he ran successfully for several years. In Dec 1876 at the age of 43 Robert died suddenly. His wife Barbara (38) took over as Spylaw’s sole Licensee for the next two years until transferring the hotel’s licence to one John STEEL (1838-1905), whom she also married that the same year. On 22 Nov 1883, Steel’s Spylaw Hotel was raised to the ground by fire, the insurance covering only 25% of the loss. The Spylaw was eventually rebuilt but thereafter John Steel farmed at Moa Flat and Dumbarton (on William and Catherine’s original farmland) until his death in September 1905, aged 67. Barbara (Patrick) Steel predeceased John Steel, on 27 May 1890 at Moa Flat aged 52. Both are buried, together with Barbara’s father Robert Patrick, in the Ettrick Cemetery.
** In August 1893, just nine days after his 45th birthday, William McCONNELL was visiting the post-fire re-built Spylaw Hotel when he died suddenly. Catherine his wife was left with six children ranging in age from less than 12 months to 15 years, to manage who as well as run the hotel and farm. Catherine did not re-marry, largely relying on her children and neighbourly assistance to help when needed. By 1900, Catherine McConnell had relinquished the Dumbarton Rock Hotel’s license and moved to Millers Flat where she worked as a Housekeeper for a number of years. Subsequent moves to Heriot, Fairlie, Roxburgh and back to Fairlie followed, where she eventually died on 6 April 1941 aged 82. Both Catherine (Patrick) McConnell and husband William are buried together in the Ettrick Cemetery.
A Call to Arms
James McConnell grew up at Dumbarton and attended Ettrick School with his siblings. James was just 11 years old when his father William died. As the ‘man’ of the family James took on responsibilities and a workload beyond those expected for one of his age, around the hotel and on the farm for the next seven or so years.
The publicity that surrounded the possibility of sending NZ troops to South Africa in support of English regiments who were positioning to resist a takeover of British assets in South Africa was sufficient motivation for James to want to join the hopefuls who applied to be part of New Zealand’s first every deployment of troops to an overseas conflict.
New Zealand Mounted Rifles
Between 1899 and 1901, eight New Zealand contingents of mounted horsemen would travel to South Africa to fight the Dutch settlers, known as Boers, who were intent on driving the ruling British administration from their lands. The catalyst for the Second Boer War (aka South African War) was the discovery of significant quantities of gold in the Transvaal, a province controlled by Dutch- speaking Afrikaners, also known as Boers. Thousand of British citizens had settled in the Transvaal which resulted in tensions over who should control the gold mining industry. Britain responded to Boer intimidation, threats and isolated attacks on British nationals and British owned infrastructure by bolstering the number of military units it had deployed in South Africa.
The operation involved the biggest deployment of British troops since the Crimea, involving half a million soldiers, including volunteers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The NZ Government had offered the Imperial Government a contingent of about 200 mounted soldiers.
War is declared
Sporadic attacks on British nationals and South African natives in other provinces also escalated to the point that war was declared on the Boers on 11 October 1899. The Boers had amassed a substantial guerrilla army that the British needed to nullify if they were to restore order. To this end the British soldiers tried to cut off supplies to the Boers, destroyed farms and crops and introduced concentration camps where thousands of Boers died, many as a result of malnutrition and disease
The New Zealanders however soon learned that it was not the Boers who posed the greatest threat to life, but the country. The climate, living in conditions of privation, food and water shortage, inadequate kit for the conditions together with the inherent dangers of fighting a guerrilla army on its own ground, all had dire consequences for many New Zealand volunteer soldiers. The toll on soldiers of the Empire not used to such conditions ultimately cost more NZ lives than bullets. Disease was to a large extent was the ‘enemy’, a silent killer – Malaria, Cholera, Enteric, Measles and Typhoid all claimed thousands of lives among the occupying forces.
But none of this or the reports that had filtered back to New Zealand from earlier contingents dissuaded James McConnell in the slightest. The problem for him was that he was not yet old enough!
When the 2nd Anglo-Boer War began in October 1899, James was only 16 and labouring on his father’s Dumbarton Rock farm. Volunteers needed to be 20 years of age before they were allowed to go overseas. The 1st Contingent of 214 mounted riflemen (Troopers) sailed from Wellington on 21 October for the great unknown that was the South African War.
The first two contingents had been raised at NZ Government expense however the formation of any later contingents would be dependent upon private funding raised by public subscription. While the first two contingents were largely made up of serving and/or experienced soldiers, subsequent contingents were manned by a mix of inexperienced volunteers who had passed a basic selection test of horsemanship and rifle handling/shooting.
Six contingents of New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR) contingents had thus far been financed by a combination of public subscription or the intervention of Britain by offering to pay all costs. Following the departure for South Africa of the 8th Contingent, a further request from Britain was received for a 9th Contingent, to be similar in size to the 8th (1,011). Another contingent of similar size, to be funded from public and private sources this time was out of the question. The British Government would have to pay if they wanted more NZ mounted riflemen – Britain relented and agreed to pay for the 9th Contingent in to to. It would prove to be the largest contingent to leave NZ for the Boer War.
There were some 3000 surplus volunteers after the 8th Contingent departed and from these, the bulk of the 9th Contingent was drawn together with men who had previously served in SA. The 9th Contingent numbered 1,056 officers and men organised into two squadrons according to their geographical location – four North Island squadrons (E to H) and four South Island squadrons (A to D).
SA – 7924 Trooper James McConnell was enlisted at Dunedin on 17 Feb 1902 to serve with “A” Squadron 9th Contingent, NZMR. He was 19 years of age, 5 feet 5¾ inches tall with blue eyes a fair hair. At 10 stone 2lbs he was a solid, compact unit of a man. James was attested (sworn) to serve in South Africa on 12 March once he was aboard the SS Kent which would carry the South Island Contingent, their horses and equipment. SS Kent departed Port Chalmers on 12 March 1902 and set sail Albany on the west coast of Australia and then on to Durban. The North Island Regiment aboard SS Devon left Auckland a week later on the 19th March and on the first day out struck cyclonic conditions while crossing the Tasman Sea. All but 60 were seasick and 23 horses were either killed outright or so badly injured they had to be destroyed. Eight stowaways were also discovered before reaching Sydney, six being permitted to join the contingent after being interviewed. Whilst the Contingent was keen to get the ‘bit between their teeth’ and into action against the Boers, the 9th would see no such action.
SS Kent arrived at Durban on 12 April, followed by SS Devon on 28 April. Both Regiments then entrained for Newcastle and on to Elandsfontein where they met the 7th Contingent on its way back to NZ. On 10 May the Contingent trekked south of Johannesburg to Vereeniging near the border of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. This was the location set aside for peace negotiations between the Boer leadership (de Wet) and the Imperial High Command (Kitchener). This resulted in the 9th Contingent’s encampment at Vereeniging for two months with only some minor security patrolling undertaken. Boredom was their greatest enemy while ‘war stories’ from the ‘returned men’ did little to curb the anxiety of the new men busting for adventure. Their best hope was that the negotiations for peace should breakdown which would mean they would immediately start trekking again on the hunt for Boers. The Treaty of Vereeniging was duly signed in Pretoria between the SA Republic, the Orange Free State and Britain on 31 May 1902.
Although the 9th and 10th Contingents had arrived in South Africa at a time when the guerrilla war was coming to an end, they were no doubt involved with displaced Boer and African families in the many, horrific concentration camps around SA. This was truly a catastrophic decision to have been inflicted on the population as women and children bore the brunt of this displacement, ill-treatment and starvation that characterised these camps. Many returning NZ troopers were significantly affected by the sights they had witnessed.
Peace of Vereeniging
The terms of the peace settlement had been duly agreed upon between Boer commanders Smuts, De Wet and without incident and the 9th started making preparations to return to NZ. Given the 9th Contingent’s low key service in South Africa, their overall casualty rate was also low: 1 x Killed, 1 x Wounded, 5 x Died of Disease, 1 x “Accidentally” Shot. This does not account for those men who died from service related disease or injury after they returned home.
Four days later on 4 June, Lieutenants Robert “Bob” McKeich, a Butcher from Lawrence, and Henry “Harry” Rayne,** a Rabbiter from Bellknowes in Roslyn, Dunedin rode out of Vereeniging to visit Commandant Smut’s laager some 17 kilometres away. A patrol two days prior had been cordially received by Smuts however when McKeich and Rayne arrived and saw the laager had been vacated, they turned around and started back to Vereeniging. Some 13 miles from their home base the two officers were held up at gun-point by three Boers who ordered them to strip – they wanted to steal their uniforms. When McKeich resisted, threats and a scuffle ensued during which Rayne shot and killed two of their attackers and wounding the third who escaped. Lt. McKeich being unarmed ran to his horse and in doing so, one of the mortally wounded Boers managed to crawl to his pistol and fire it before he succumbed, the first shot killing McKeich outright. A second shot aimed at Rayne missed him but the third smashed into his thigh. With the horses scared off, Rayne struggled on foot the 13 miles over rugged country, through a freezing night and fording an ice-cold stream to the 9th’s camp at Vereeniging. Four squadrons were dispatched next day to recover the bodies of McKeich and the two Boers. McKeich had been shot through both shoulders, puncturing his lungs. Lt. Bob McKeich earned the unenviable place in South African War history, as being and the last known combatant to be killed in the war (three days after the Peace had been formally declared!). He was buried in the Vereeniging Cemetery.
The only other Contingent casualty occurred whilst camped at Elandsfontein. SA-7263 Tpr. Leslie Arden from New Plymouth was shot and killed at nearby Germiston. Arden’s death was officially (and erroneously) reported in the NZ press as “accidental.” Given he had been shot in the head and robbed, circumstances pointed towards being anything but an accident. Tpr. Arden is buried in the Germiston Cemetery.
The 9th Contingent left Vereeniging on 21 June, handing over their horses and transport once they reached Elandsfontein. The Contingent entrained on the 28th and waited in Newcastle until embarking the SS Britannic and Orient, sailing from Durban on 13 July 1902. When the Contingent reached New Zealand it was officially disbanded with effect from 21 August 1902, and the men released to return to their homes.
James McConnell returned to Miller’s Flat with a Very Good conduct assessment on his discharge report. He started back to work as a Labourer and in due course received his QSA medal and Clasps.
Awards: Queen’s South Africa (QSA) medal with Clasps: TRANSVAAL and SOUTH AFRICA 1902.
Service in SA: 12 Mar 1902 – 21 Aug 1902 = 5mths 9 days
Total Service NZMF Service: 17 Feb 1902 – 21 Aug 1902 = 6mths 3 days
Participants & Casualties of the 2nd Boer War
The War Office estimated that 364,693 Imperial troops and 82,742 Colonial troops served in South Africa, a total of 447, 435 soldiers. In the two year Boer War, New Zealand sent 6,495 soldiers in 10 Contingents. Of these 6113 actually served in SA.
Approximately 7,000 Boers died in action or by accident. Between 18,000 and 28,000 (mostly women and children) died in concentration camps (disease, starvation etc). The war also claimed between 22,000 British (5774 in action and 16,168 by disease, wounds and accidents) and 12,000 African’s lives.
Reference: NZ Rough Riders in the South African War 1899–1902 by Richard Stowers
Note: ** Henry “Harry” Rayne was born in Dunedin, NZ in Aug 1880; served in Boer War with three NZMR contingents: the 5th as 1699, Trooper (later promoted to Cpl), the 7th as 4720/4690, Sgt (with No2 Battery Rhodesia Field Force, enlisted while in SA) and the 9th as 4690, Lieutenant. Harry, wounded on Botha’s Farm, Dundee in Oct 1901 and again at Vereeniging in 1902, was discharged from “A” Squadron of the 9th NZMR while in South Africa. When Harry returned to the UK, he was court martialed for the incident which cost Lt. McKeich his life, three days after the peace had been signed, however was exonerated. He married Ethel Kate PERHAM of Bury, Lancashire in 1911 at Mombasa, 3s, 1d. Apart from his Queens South Africa (QSA) medal with Clasps: Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Rhodesia, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 & South Africa 1902, he also qualified for the King’s South Africa (KSA) medal with Clasps: SOUTH AFRICA 1901 and SOUTH AFRICA 1902 (one of only 28 NZ contingent members to be receive this medal). Commissioned into the King’s African Rifles, Major Harry Rayne was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and made an MBE (Mil). Major Rayne became an Inspector of Police British East Africa and later District Commissioner in East Africa of Somaliland; made an OBE (Civil). He also held the South African General Service Medal with Clasps: Nandi 1905-06, East Africa 1905, East Africa 1918, Somaliland 1920, and gained the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal 1914/18 and Victory Medal for service in WW1. Major (Rtd) Henry “Harry” Rayne, OBE, MC retired to the UK, and died in Hampshire August 1950 at age 70.
Active Service – Take 2
In the years immediately after his return from South Africa, James had continued to work as a labourer around Millers Flat and throughout the Teviot Valley. This was a time when some of the bigger established stations further north in the Mackenzie Country offered an abundance of work opportunities. James’s younger brother, William Robert McConnell, known as Willie, was working as a Farm Labourer at Fairlie where there was plenty of work, either on the numerous surrounding farms, or on general infrastructural work such as road building.
James Wilson, an Irishman who had settled in Otago in 1876 to chase gold, failed in that capacity and took up the title of Allandale Station in the Mackenzie Basin instead. Pressured by the Government in the early 1900 to sell to them, Wilson was unwilling to do so and so, with the exception of the Allandale homestead block, Wilson broke up the remaining 9,000 acres of productive land himself into 34 farms ranging in size from 50 to 375 acre blocks. In 1908 the auction was conducted but a number of the farms remained unsold. In 1911 Arthur Lowrey Dobson, a 33 year old farmer from Rangiora, bought one of the unsold lots and it was to Dobson’s farm James McConnell went to work as a Farm Hand after he left Millers Flat. James had gone to Fairlie not only because of the work but his younger brother Willie (24) was also working on the large “Clayton Station” as a Labourer near the base of the Four Peaks Range. The Allandale Station (homestead block) is about three kilometres NE of Fairlie, a mix of flat and undulating land in the centre of the Mackenzie Basin. Surrounding the Station are the other farm estates that were sold off, some now well developed and some in the higher country still unproductive. Clockwise from the left, the bigger runs and states were: Ashwick, Three Springs, Sherwood Downs, Clayton (subdivided), Four Peaks, and Raincliffe.
War in Europe
On 6 August 1914, shortly after the First World War had broken out, Britain accepted New Zealand’s offer of an Infantry Brigade of approximately 8000 men. This would be raised from permanent forces and territorial volunteers from the four military districts in NZ – Otago, Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland. When countrywide recruiting for the ‘Main Body’ of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) began on 8 August, the response was overwhelming. Thousands of patriotic volunteers of all ages, many eager to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives (or so they thought) queued at Army Drill halls and recruiting centres all over NZ in the hope of being selected.
Each of the four military districts was responsible for raising a quarter of the manpower required for the force. The Canterbury (Infantry) Battalion was formed with its men recruited from the four existing Territorial Regiments in the province: 1st (Canterbury), 2nd (South Canterbury), 12th (Nelson) and 13th (North Canterbury and Westland). The battalion together with the Auckland, Wellington and Otago battalions plus their supporting arms (Artillery, Engineers, Signallers, Medical, Transport and Supply) were collectively known as the ‘Main Body’ of the 2nd NZ Brigade.
Each battalion was made up of four companies, each numbered and named after the regiment’s name. When the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were formed, the same numbering system was used, for its companies, e. g. 2nd (South Canterbury) Company. Each company consisted of 250 men, double the strength of a peacetime company, and each company divided into four platoons.
James McConnell was living and working in the Fairlie area when the call for volunteers came – he did not hesitate. At 30 years and 9 months of age, a healthy specimen of a man not only used to hard, physical work but a returned veteran of the Boer War to boot, all things being equal he was assured of being accepted.
On 14 August 1914, James was one among many South Canterbury hopefuls who presented themselves at the Timaru Drill Hall in High Street to undergo a medical and physical examination by a military medical officer (doctor). James and 20 others made the grade for enlistment. They were all attested (swore an oath of allegiance to serve His Majesty the King ) to serve in the NZ Military Forces for the duration of the war. James and his fellow enlistees re-assembled at the Drill Hall on 16 August before gathering on the platform at Timaru on 18 August 1914 to catch the train for Christchurch.
The 2nd South Canterbury men assembled at the Show Grounds and pitched a camp of canvas bell tents, 8 men to a tent. Here they were instructed in drill, occasional field work, and route marches by day and night while the remainder of the battalion was engaged in equipping. Rain made the grounds untenable and the camp was shifted to the Addington Park (race-course) which also provided more space for training. Men were also billeted in the tea kiosk, luncheon bar, and other buildings were also used a accommodation. Training and equipping the battalion continued until September 7 when the battalion moved again. Plumpton Park Trotting Ground (once part of Wigram airfield estate) at Sockburn, was much larger and while the troops were under canvas again, there was much more room to train in company and battalion drill.
Canterbury Battalion – Main Body
The recruits’ time under canvas was organised and supervised by regular instructors who also selected recruits to appoint as temporary NCO’s to manage the day to day routine of the soldiers. Issued a set of denims, pair of boots and an overcoat, two blankets and a rifle and bayonet, the recruit’s days at both Addington and Sockburn became a revolving schedule of drill on the ‘bull-ring’ (parade ground), rifle shooting, bayonet fighting, fieldcraft lessons, route marching by day and night, maintenance/cleaning of kit and tented accommodation surrounds, general fatigues (cook house and other), and down time. Typhoid and Cholera jabs were also administered to all. The battalion was inspected by the Minister of Defence in 14 September who was well pleased with the troops standards.
On 23 September 1914, Pte. McConnell and the 2nd Canterbury Battalion left Plumpton Park and entrained to Lyttelton and two waiting troopships. The Battalion HQ and the 2nd, 12th, and 13th Companies embarked on HMNZT 11 Athenic, while the 1st Company (which included Pte. (Dvr) McConnell), the Machine-gun Section and the first line transport embarked on HMNZT 4 Tahiti. The two ships sailed for Wellington where they were to join with the Wellington and Otago ships, while the Auckland transports would join with them in the Tasman Sea. However a delay in the arrival of sufficiently armed escort ships caused a three week delay that saw the troops returned to Wellington and Auckland, disembarked to the nearest military camp where they would have to wait until the problem was resolved.
Destination – Alexandria
The Main Body (plus the 1st Reinforcements) comprising about 8,500 men – and nearly 4,000 horses – finally got underway on 16 October 1914 and set sail for Albany, Western Australia via Hobart, Tasmania to travel as one under armed escort with the Australian troopships from that port.
The NZEF’s Main Body filled 10 troopships that the government had requisitioned from commercial shipping lines, first to Hobart then to Albany, Western Australia. Here they joined the remainder of the Australian convoy carrying the Australian Imperial Force’s (A.I.F.) two Infantry brigades and support arms, and under an enlarged warship escort, set a course for France to join with the British Expeditionary Force. As we now know, the convoy was diverted mid-voyage to Egypt after a failed Royal Navy attempt to capture the Dardanelles and the Port of Constantinople. The Ottomans having aligned themselves with the Germans had entered the war which put the Suez Canal under the threat of capture. The Canterbury Battalion arrived at Alexandra in December 1914.
The NZEF Base Depot was established at Zeitoun, 8km north of Cairo where training and preparation for front line work took place.
At the beginning of February 1915, the Ottoman’s had attempted to seize the Suez Canal and part of the battalion was included in the Brit-NZ-Aust-Indian response, the battalion suffering only one man killed and one wounded.
Pte. McConnell, 2nd (Canterbury) Company was assigned to be a Driver (of horses). His company embarked at Alexandra on 1st of May and joined their battalion at Gallipoli on 6 May 1915. Pte. McConnell’s time on Gallipoli however was fortunately for him rather short. On June 1st, a Gun Shot Wound to his right foot saw him evacuated from the Peninsula by barge to the minesweeper HMS Clacton which in turn transferred him to the HMT Franconia on 6 June. The Franconia transported its cargo of casualties back to Alexandria where Pte. McConnell was admitted on 8 June to the Alexandria Government Hospital (then occupied by British 19 General Hospital). Here he stayed until 30 June before being released to the NZ Convalescent Camp at Mustapha, Egyptian Barracks which also housed the NZ Advanced Base Depot Camp.**
Note: **While James would not have been aware, on Sunday, 8 August 1915 following a special intercessory service in connection with war at the Fairlie Presbyterian Church, a Roll of Honour was unveiled and the 31 names of those who had left the Fairlie community to fight in the First World War were read out, James McConnell and his younger brother William McConnell being among them.
Evening Post, 19 June 1915
The 77th Casualty List containing the names of New Zealanders wounded in action in the Dardanelles
CANTERBURY BATTALION. – Wounded
Auld, William, 6/403, Pte. (W. Auld, North-street, Timaru )
Bennington, Alexander John, 6/413, Sergt. (James Bennington, Geraldine, father)
Caskey, Robert, 6/426, Pte. (Mrs. E. Caskey, Fairlie, mother).
17th June: McConnell, James, 6/513, Pte. (Mrs. Catherine McConnell, Fairlie, mother)
The Canterbury Battalion had fought throughout the campaign until it was evacuated with the remainder of the NZ Brigade under the cover of darkness on 15 – 20 December 1915, and returned to Egypt. On the March 1st, 1916 the 2nd NZ Infantry Brigade was formed which necessitated a second Canterbury Battalion being raised in April. With two Battalions, the unit was re-named the Canterbury Infantry Regiment (CIR) and embarked for France. Here the NZ Division would be embroiled in some of the most torrid battles before an Armistice was finally declared in November 1918. Having reached that point, the survivors then took part in the long march into Germany to perform duties of an Army of Occupation.
Onward to Marsailles
Pte. McConnell re-joined his unit at Zarieh (training camp) on 12 July until the end of December when he was able to re-join the CIB at Ismailia. Preparations were made at Alexandria for embarkation on 06 April 1916 aboard the HMT Cestrian. (The Cestrian was torpedoed and sunk a year later on 24 Jun 1917, four miles SE of Skyros Island in the Aegean Sea)
The Regiment re-embarked at Alexandria and was shipped to Marseilles where they entrained and crossed France to the NZ Base Depot at Etaples on the Channel coast. Pte. McConnell joined the 1st Canterbury Battalion in the field on 3 August just as they relieved the Australian 60th Battalion in the front line of the Sailly Sector. The remainder of the year was fairly quiet with the battalion enduring an icy winter beside the River Lys, near Armentieres. Early in 1917 the CIR moved into the Messines area where, on 8 June, the battle erupted with devastating effect as 19 underground mines were detonated, accounting for at least 10,000 of the enemy who had been occupying the Messines Ridge. By the end of July, the battalion was fighting at Basseville, and in October it successfully attacked Gravenstafel Spur.
On November 29, 1917 James was detached to the Brigade School for training before being sent on leave to the UK. When he re-joined his unit in December the 1st Battalion had moved back south of Ypres to the New Hutting Camp. Early in 1918, the Battalion had some respite as the battalion Reserve. Everyone was glad to have got away from the Ypres Salient with its evil reputation. Training soon began again with emphasis given to musketry.
The German offensive to try and reverse the substantial gains the Allies had made began on March 21, 1918. The 1st Battalion CIR was rushed into the Upper Anere Valley. After holding the road to Amiens, the NZ Division began the advance toward Bapaume. The rest of 1918 was a rolling maul of skirmishes and toe to toe battles as the Allies held their ground while making incremental advances. The capture of the town of Le Quesnoy and drive through the Mormal Forest turned out to be the last action of the war for the NZ Division, the Armistice taking effect on 11 November 1918. For the CIR their work was not yet at an end. On November 28 they began the long march to Cologne were the Regiment was required to undertake garrison duties as part of the Army of Occupation. Whilst the war machine wound down and withdrawal from France seemed imminent, the reality was lots of ‘hurry up and wait’ with long delays experienced pending the availability of ship transports to return the men to England and demobilization. The Spanish Flu epidemic could also not have occurred at a worse time. From around Nov 1918 onwards, infection was spread far and wide through Europe and indeed as far as New Zealand, accounting for many more deaths than was anticipated with the arrival of peace.
Return to Codford
Pte. McConnell and his fellows were fortunate in arriving at Codford Camp on 8 December. Following two weeks local leave he commenced his demobilisation procedures with the return of equipment not required on the voyage home. As part of the demobilisation, all soldiers were required to be medically examined before they departed for NZ. James McConnell’s return draft, No.222, was due to depart in early February 1919 so as soon as the HMNZT 222 Athenic arrived at Southampton, demob medical examinations were conducted aboard ship. The Medical Board noted good progress with the healing of his right foot wound but also noted on his report “Debility and Dyspnoea following Active Service.” Dyspnoea is hard or laboured breathing, even with the lightest of exertion. According to the conducting Medical Officer, the effect of these ailments warranted an assessment of having a “less than 20% disability for 1 month.” The fact James had a “slight cough” was also mentioned but again, according to the Medical Officer, his “heart & lungs were negative”, i. e. they showed no signs of impairment. Further, the examining doctor noted that he anticipated James would make a full recovery within 6 months.
The Athenic departed Plymouth on 3 Feb 1919 with Pte. McConnell and 747 all ranks (officers, men and nurses) and 184 soldier’s wives and went through the Wellington Heads on 20 March. On arrival Pte. McConnell underwent further medical assessments before he was released to return to Heriot where he mother Catherine was staying with relatives. With more tests, treatment and rehabilitation of a persistent problem with his wounded foot (all funded by the NZMF), it would be another seven months before James was formally discharged from the NZEF on 10 September 1919.
Medals: 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, 1914/18 and Victory Medal
Service Overseas: 4 years 155 days
Total NZEF Service: 4 years 245 days
Return to work
Shortly after his return, James’s mother sought a place of her own in Fairlie. James remained with his mother whilst he went through the medical tests and rehab treatments at Tapanui Hospital. By the time he was discharged from the Army James was able to go back to work on the farm and so he returned briefly to work for his pre-war employer, Arthur Dobson. James’s brother Willie McConnell, who had been invalided home in 1915, had by the beginning of 1918 recovered sufficiently to be working full-time again, doing as much as his injuries would allow by steadily improving his recently acquired “Paddy’s Market” farm. It would not be too long before James also joined him.
Note: ** 7/755 TPR William Robert “Willie” McCONNELL (28Apr1887 – 08Jul1957). Willie McConnell was born at Moa Flat on 28 April 1888. He had worked as a Teamster on the Clayton, Sherwood Downs and the Four Peaks Stations until enlisting for war service at the Timaru Drill Hall in Feb 1914. Attested on 2nd October 1914, Trooper McConnell was 26 years of age when he embarked with the Main Body with the 2nd Reinforcements of the 8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles on 14 December 1914, sixteen months before older brother James was due to embark. Tpr. McConnell landed at Gallipoli on 9th of May 1915, 14 days after the first NZ troops had gone ashore on 25 April. His war service came to a bone-shattering halt on 27 July after he was severely wounded in the right leg and was evacuated back to Alexandria. His injuries were such, that he was declared “no longer fit for war service” and invalided back to NZ aboard HMNZT Willochra on 23 Sep 1915. Tpr McConnell arrived in NZ on 30 October and spent the next six months healing and in rehabilitation before finally being fit enough to be formally discharged from the NZEF medical care on 26 Apr 1916. He had spent 321 days overseas and accordingly had qualified for the award of: 1914/15 Star, British War Medal 1914/18 and the Victory Medal. Willie McConnell married a Tapanui girl, Sydney BLACK (1899-1960) in March 1920 and returned to farm work.**
** Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act
In 1915 the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act was passed which gave the NZ Government authority to purchase suitable land for closer settlement by selected soldiers returning from overseas service. The existing owner of any land selected had the right to retain any part of his farm that constituted an economic unit and also the homestead block, with the balance taken under the Act making at least one economic unit. There would appear to have been two reasons for this decision:
- Young men serving in the defence forces lost time and experience in civilian jobs while serving their country and at the same time only receiving a set.
- The government could see the need for closer settlement on existing large farms (runs) and this would bring increased food production for local consumption and also export.
By 1917 Willie McConnell had returned to work, labouring and shepherding for Donald Grant, Andrew Grant’s brother. Whilst Andrew was the owner of the 9,000 acre Allandale Station (which his mother had bought for him in 1915), Andrew at that time was himself serving overseas with “C” Squadron of the 13th Mounted Rifles, in the NZ Cyclist Corps but would not return until May 1919. Allandale, one of the largest runs in the Mackenzie Basin, bordered Fairlie’s southern boundary and extended west toward Burkes Pass and south towards the Four Peaks Range. The Government had already acquired the surrounding Clayton Run (12,800), Rollesby Run (12,500), Lees Valley Run (26,200) and the Cheviot Estate (3,500) plus some, making up some 59,000 acres that were being prepared for sale to returned servicemen however it also wanted Allandale’s 9000 acres of flat, prime grazing land in the Basin. Andrew Grant had refused to sell and being naturally sympathetic toward returned soldiers, he decided to make land of his own choosing available on his terms. Andrew selected six runs at “Fairlie,” part of the Allandale Estate at Burkes Pass, which he would offer the Land Board for auction. In March 1917, Willie McConnell was one of four successful bidders acquiring a 2,207 acre block at Burkes Pass known as “Paddy’s Market.”
The settlement of Burkes Pass is on the way from Fairlie to Mount Cook. Nineteen kilometres from Fairlie, it is the last township on the route, situated amongst mountain ranges and stands at an elevation of 1780 feet above sea level. From the top of the Pass — 2500 feet above sea level — one can see the entire Mackenzie Basin enclosed by mountains on all sides. Once through the Pass and across the Basin, the road rounds a range to bring Lake Tekapo into view, with the village and hotel on the southern shore.
After eight years of farming “Paddy’s Market” Willie McConnell left the farm in 1925 to become the Head Shepherd of Allandale Station. In 1950 Willie became the Station Manager until ill-health enforced retirement. Willie McConnell died at Fairlie in 1957 at the age of 60. His wife Sydney died three years later in 1960.
Ominous signs …
James McConnell had continued to experience shortness of breath since returning home, as well as worsening cough that he just could not seem to shake. His chest troubles were not helped by the severity of the winter weather in the Mackenzie. In April 1920, James applied for Military Medical Assistance which was granted. He reported to the Tapanui Hospital for treatment and after extensive testing, was diagnosed with Chronic Pulmonary Tuberculosis (TB). His left lung showed evidence the disease was well advanced and so James was sent to Christchurch’s “Hill of Hope” in the vain hope he might recover. While not curred by his stay in the Annex, James was considered to be in considerably better shape than when he arrived.
“Hill of Hope“
Tuberculosis, originally known as Consumption, was a lung disease deadly enough at the turn of the century to warrant a permanent facility in Christchurch. Tented facilities had been operating in the suburbs until a site was finally selected on the Cashmere Hills. This elevated location was chosen as it was well above above the smog of industrial pollution which regularly blanketed the city. It consisted of a series of one bed shelters, small sheds on hillside terraces that remained open to the elements to maximise air flow. Clean air and sunshine were considered to be most beneficial for curing this potentially fatal disease. The shelters, administration building and morgue were known as the ‘middle sanatorium’ (centre of picture below) which was opened for patients in 1910. Next to be built was the King George V Coronation Memorial Hospital at the foot of the hill which opened in 1914 – referred to as the ‘lower sanatorium’. A nurses Home followed in 1917 just above the ‘middle sanatorium.’ At the summit of the hill was the military sanatorium, which opened in 1919 for soldiers who had returned from the war with Tuberculosis. In 1925, with many of the soldier’s discharged, this became the civilian men’s sanatorium. However, in 1928 there were still some soldiers left who had spent the last ten years recovering. Known as the ‘upper sanatorium’, it was closed in 1932.
It was to the Military Annex that James came for plenty of fresh air and sunshine therapy (Vitamin D), rest, good food and a little occupational therapy, all of which eased his symptoms to make breathing easier. His condition improved to the extent that after several months he was allowed to return home in October 1920. James attempted to eas back into work with his brother Willie at Burkes Pass, however by September he was struggling and became bed-ridden. He had begun losing weight and his laboured breathing had worsened to the extent he found it difficult to even get around the house. James was admitted to the Tapanui Hospital on 5 November with both Bronchitis and Pleurisy. After several weeks of hospital care and with summer on the rise, James was permitted to return home to Burkes Pass.
Wedding bells …
It is not known when exactly James first met Ellen McMillan but it was plain a relationship had beenwas formed, possibly from the time James had moved to Fairlie or started working with Willie at “Paddy’s Market.” Six years younger than James, Ellen Christina McMILLAN (1894-1980), “Ella” or “Etta” as most knew her, was born at Burkes Pass on 12 July 1894, the youngest of five daughters and two sons born at Tekapo and Burkes Pass to Scotsman Donald McMillan (1844-1905), a hotelkeeper and farmer, and his Fairlie born wife, Margaret Jane “Maggie” McDOWALL. James McConnell in all likelihood may have met his future father-in-law at some point but would only have been a lad in his teens as Donald McMillan, known to all as the ‘Esquire of Burkes Pass’ died in 1905.
Donald McMillan was such a well known and respected Scottish identity in the Mackenzie Country, the Timaru Herald of 25 March 1905, published the following obituary:
THE LATE DONALD McMILLAN
The Mackenzie Country loses one of its best known, and oldest settlers, and the travelling public, and especially the tourists lose one of the most popular of country hotelkeepers in the colony. It is safe to say that if a band of tourists were asked who was the most obliging host they had met with in New Zealand, quite a large proportion of them would say “Donald McMillan,” and many of them have put that opinion on record in letters to him. He had had a varied career. Born on a farm in far off Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, Ross-shire in 1844, he went to sea in his youth and like many of his contemporaries from that part of Scotland, he went through a Royal Navy training and belonged to the reserve. It was probably to this reason of discipline that he upright carriage which he retained during his life. He came to New Zealand first as a seaman on the “Helenslea” in 1865 and after two or three trips he ran away from his ship in Dunedin in 1868, and made his way to the Mackenzie Country. He worked there as shepherd on several stations —Sawdon, Rollesby and others others till 1881, when he went Home again. In 1875, he had married Maggie Jane McDowall.
On his return, in 1882 he took the Tekapo Hotel, and from that time, onward, with a short interval he continued to hold a license first for the Tekapo and then for the Burke’s Pass Hotel. He purchased a farm, “Rona,” a few miles this side, of the Pass and lived there a while, and then sold the farm, and resumed the occupation of hotelkeeper, in which he had always been popular, adding the keeping of sheep on a small grazing, run of 5000 acres near the Pass. He was rough diamond, but a diamond of the first-order, for his disposition was of the kindliest, presenting to a quaint mixture of merriment and seriousness which together with persistent Highland modes of thought and expression, made him an unique character in the Mackenzie Country. He was particularly popular with tourists, whom he left no stone unturned to serve. He will be greatly missed, and his memory will long be preserved as that of a shrewd kindly, well-meaning man, who helped to make the world more cheerful while he lived. Mr McMillan leaves a widow, four daughters and two sons to mourn their bereavement.
Such was Donald McMillan’s renown for his attentive hospitality, when the licencee of the Tākapo Hotel (sic), Donald’s guests had included the Lord and Lady Onslow. In gratitude for the fine hospitality he had accorded them during an official South Island tour in 1899, Lord and Lady Onslow had their portraits sent to Donald who had them enlarged and continued to display them proudly when he took over the Burkes Pass Hotel. Sir William Hillier, the Lord Onslow, was Governor and Commander in Chief of New Zealand from May 1889 to February 1892.
The birth of the McMillan children had not been without tragedy. Two died in infancy and their youngest daughter Ellen (Ella) had been born with a disability – she was both deaf and unable to speak. Fortunately for Ella by the time she was of school age she came under the tutelage of an empathetic and skilled teacher at Burkes Pass School named Mr Frederick James “Jim” Hayman. Jim, who taught at the school between 1902 and 1904, was not only a very good teacher and painter, but also a musician and singer. It was Jim Hayman who introduced Ella to the Arts and to cope well with her disability. As a result, Ella became proficient playing the piano and by all accounts became quite an accomplished pianist in later years.
James McConnell, by then in his late 30s, was nobody’s fool. He would have been only too well aware that his lung condition was serious and clearly it had not improved with the passing of time. I think he knew his condition was likely to be terminal and planned accordingly. On August 3rd, 1921 James McConnell and Ella McMillan were married at the McMillan home of her parents in Burkes Pass.
On 15 August 1921, twelve days after his marriage, James McConnell (38) died at Timaru Hospital of Chronic Pulmonary Tuberculosis and was buried in the Fairlie Cemetery.
On October 27, Ella’s grief turned to only partial joy when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy she and James had already selected a name for, Maurice McConnell.**
Note: ** Maurice McConnell grew up in the Mackenzie Country and followed in his father and Uncle Willies’ footsteps as a shepherd and farmer. Maurice was shepherding on the Grampians Station where he lived with his mother Ella and step-father Doug Smith at Four Peaks, near Geraldine. Balloted for overseas service with 2NZEF in 1941, 406372 Private Maurice McConnell was enlisted with Infantry Reinforcements and trained at Burnham Camp. In July 1942 he served in the Pacific Islands and returned to NZ. Promoted to L/CPL, Maurice was re-embarked in Jul 1945 for Nort Africa where he joined with the NZ Division for the Italian Campaign. Maurice married Sidney Black of Fairlie (1899-1960) and died in Invercargill in 1999 aged 77. He is buried with his father James at Fairlie.
** Willie McConnell’s sons – two of Willie and Sidney’s sons served during the Second World War. Both returned to New Zealand after the war.
- 283400 PTE Roderick William McConnell – Infantry Brigade Reinforcements, 2NZEF
- 44533 WO II William Burke McConnell – 2nd NZ Division, 2NZEF
War service recognised
Following her husband’s death, Ella received and signed for the three war medals James had earned for his service overseas, on 31 March 1922. In addition, the next of kin of all persons whose death was attributable to war service and had occurred between 4 August 1914 and the cut-off date of 30 April 1920, were entitled to receive a commemorative Memorial Plaque (‘Death Penny’) and a Commemorative Scroll. In Pte. McConnell’s case both were approved on 13 Dec 1923, well beyond the cut-off date as his progressive illness was deemed to have been contracted and attributable to war service. The Plaque and Scroll were sent to his widow at Burkes Pass.
James’s McConnell’s widow raised young Maurice on her own for the next eight years. Ella was 33 when she re-married a local widower and farmer Albert Douglas Raymond SMITH (1898-1965) of Kimbell. The 29 year old Farm Manager of the Simon’s Pass Station was the father of a son by his first marriage, Lawrence Smith. Together, Ella and Douglas Smith had three further children. Douglas died in 1965 and Ella Smith (formerly McConnell) died at Geraldine on 23 Oct 1980 aged 86.
McConnell’s of the Mackenzie
The search for James’s descendants started at Millers Flat with a check for present days descendants. Despite there being a couple of McConnell families living there, none were connected to the family I was looking for families. These were ‘late model’ imports who did not have a history in the area, just a coincidental name connection. My focus then turned to James’s only brother, William Robert McConnell who had an extensive family tree in Ancestry showing he had four sons and three daughters. As always, my intention is to try and place medals with a male descendant who continues to carry (and can perpetuate) the family name. William’s sons and their families all had a marked presence in an area bounded by Ashburton, Temuka, Geraldine, Fairlie and down as far as Twizel. Oddly enough when I started this research last year, out of the blue I was contacted by one of William’s grandsons in Wellington (a grand nephew of James McConnell) who saw the medals advertised on the MRNZ website. Convinced the medals would be going to this man subject to his provision of identity proof, I waited in vain after leaving several messages to contact me, having never heard from him again! I put the case on the ‘back burner’ in favour of more pressing issues at that time.
Welcome addition .. researcher joins MRNZ
Last year I was fortunate to make a connection which has proved to be of great assistance to speed up medal returns. After reuniting Mike Stanley of Dunedin with his grandfather’s 1914/15 Star, Mike kindly offer to help with research. His knowledge of Otago and Southland will help immensely, particularly of families with Scottish origins, and will allow me to catch up with writing website posts (still behind!) and start new investigations.
Until now I have been the only researcher which has at times warranted a staff of five or more, but realistically that’s never going to happen. The odd one or two volunteer researchers I have trialled in the past, whilst initially fascinated by the process, found the going too tough and dropped away. Mike on the other hand has already proven he has an inherent investigative bent and enjoys the chase (like the dog with the proverbial bone). Thank goodness for Mike – a reliable and intelligent thinker prepared to analyse possibilities and chase them, and one who can go the distance. Mike is keen to tackle the more difficult cases to challenge himself – I’ve got two or three I reckon will slow him down! 🙂
With the McConnell case, I gave Mike my notes from the initial search to see how he would go. Mike launched in roughly where I left off which was, >> … the family of James McConnell’s brother Willie had the largest line of descendants from which I felt sure a traceable relative could be found. Mike takes up the story with his email to me:
“So following the male lines I was stuck on James McConnell himself, but his brother William has quite an extensive tree, with many boys and a couple were looking very promising. Now the McConnell’s mostly seem to be from around Twizel, Geraldine, Fairlie area with many buried in Fairlie. It was while going through electoral rolls for the area looking for one of William Robert McConnell’s grandsons, I came across the name James Maurice McConnell in Twizel. I never had this name in their family tree, but it struck me as odd as James and Maurice were both names that appeared individually in the tree. I wondered if it could be a grandson of James McConnell, named James after grandfather, and Maurice after father? It was too coincidental to dismiss, so I checked further electoral rolls and found James Maurice McConnell had lived most of his life in the Mackenzie Country.
So I went to the library yesterday and searched the 2020 Electoral Roll and found James Maurice McConnell and his wife Patricia Jane McConnell lived at (address) in Twizel. I tried to find a phone number but was unable to, so I messaged my cousin who lives in Twizel and she went to the house. She said it was all locked up, curtains closed, and looked like a holiday home.
I still had a gut feeling I had found a direct descendant of James. I checked the house on Goggle earth which looked like a closed up holiday house (of which there are many In Twizel and the Tekapo area), so I messaged an acquaintance who lives in Twizel and asked her to make a few local inquiries to see if that particular address was still occupied and if so, could it be by one James Maurice McConnell who was listed as living there on the Roll? My contact came through with the good news that James and Patricia McConnell were the occupants of (address) but unsure if that was current as the house was shut up, so I was a little stumped.
I jumped on to Facebook and posted in Twizel Community page that I was trying to track down James McConnell of Twizel. I got back a reply within a few hours from a Trish McConnell who gave me a phone number for a Jim McConnell. It was late and I was tired, it hadn’t clicked with me that” Trish” is short for Patricia and Jim for James!
This morning I phoned the number thinking I was going to chat with Jim who may be able to point me towards James. I told him I was looking for James Maurice McConnell when he said “that’s me”! Jim was able to confirm who his father and grandfather were, along with other family members. I said his grandfather James had served during the war and he told me he has his grandfather’s medals, which puzzled me for a moment. It was then I told him why I was researching and what Medals Reunited NZ does. I think Jim was a little emotional when I said that you (Ian) had some of his grandfather’s medals, and then he started to talk about his grandfather. Jim confirmed where they lived but are currently on a travelling holiday.
So, James McConnell #SA7924 & #6/513 and Ellen McConnell had a son Maurice McConnell, who subsequently married Constance Anne SINCLAIR. Maurice and Constance’s only child, a son, is James Maurice McConnell (named as a tribute to his deceased grandfather James), who lives at (address)….. I think Jim would be very pleased to hear from you. – Mike
Great work by Mike! His process may have sounded simple but there were many twists and dead-ends he had to negotiate before finally cutting through with this result.
James Maurice “Jim” McConnell, grandson of Trooper James McConnell, was the perfect (and only) person who should rightfully have guardianship of his grandfather’s medals and war memorabilia. I rang Jim to confirm Mike’s conversation with him, giving him a little background as to where the medals had been found and Roz Cull’s part in bringing James McConnell’s story to life. I then had the pleasure of calling Roz who hadn’t heard from me for at least 18 months or more, with the good news – the medals she had sent to me were at last going home. To say Roz was pleased is an understatement! The story of the medals and Roz’ part in their life later featured in her local newspaper, the Cromwell News. You can read the article here:
But wait … there’s more
In a subsequent discussion with Jim, I indicated to him his grandfather James McConnell’s file stated that a Memorial Plaque had been retrospectively approved and issued, sent to his grandmother at Burkes pass in 1922. Did he have any idea where this might be? Another surprise – “I’ve got it” Jim said. Jim had inherited the plaque from his father Maurice, the only memento Jim had of his grandfather’s war service. This was great news but Jim also had no idea where the rest of James’s medals were (or those of his brother Willie?). Two of James’s medals are still to be found – his 1914/15 Star and Victory Medal, both are named as follows: 6/513 PTE. J. McCONNELL. N.Z.E.F. Fingers crossed someone will kindly turn them up?
In assessing the trail of James’s medals, a file note dated 23/10/1920 shows James received a Certificate for Services and Honourable Discharge due to his being invalided from the NZEF on account of ‘wound and sickness’. A medal issue stamp for his British War Medal 1914/18 is date stamped 7 July 1921, and a further notation dated 26 July 1923 states all medals were issued prior to the Army being advised of James’s death. Presumably this was done by Timaru Hospital within the prescribed seven days after death.
This detail suggests that James’s more than likely also personally received at least one medal a few weeks before his death, the British War Medal. As the countries of the Empire had to source WW1 medals from Britain where they were manufactured, lengthy delays resulted from the sheer volume of the demand, British soldiers understandably being prioritised for issue. This meant the medals for New Zealand soldiers arrived in batch lots and then had to be named at Trentham before being issued via the postal system. Medals were addressed to an address each soldier had signed off on, as his intended location after discharge – often it wasn’t correct, or the soldier became itinerant by moving regularly and so Army would have no idea where they were. Many medals came back marked “Returned – Address Unknown.” James McConnell’s remaining medals and Memorial Plaque were eventually sent to Burkes Pass between March and June 1922, and signed for by Ella McConnell.
How the two medals left the McConnell family is unknown (maybe they all did but only these two have been found?). What is known is that James McConnell’s Boer War medal and WW1 medal had been found stuck behind a drawer in the back of a writing desk which Roz Cull’s father, Alfred Henry “Alfie” BARNES (1904-1978) had owned while the publican of the Ettrick Hotel. Alfie Barnes had moved from Marlborough to Southland in 1926 and became a farmer for most of his working life. A great raconteur and harmonica player who was always up for a joke, Alfie Barnes was well suited to run the Ettrick Hotel in his retirement. He had taken over the licence in 1969 and remained the publican there until his death in 1978. There is some conjecture over the arrival of the desk at the Ettrick pub, however Roz believes either the desk was already in the pub when Alfie took it over, or he had bought the desk locally during the 10 years he was publican.
Given that James’s mother Catherine McConnell had lived in the valley, and more particularly at Millers Flat, from 1877 until around 1915, it is not a great stretch to imagine either Charles or she had at some point owned the desk. If Catherine had owned the desk in later years, there is also a good possibility she would have disposed of the larger, unwanted pieces of furniture (such as the desk) when she left Millers Flat for good to live with relatives in Heriot, once James had left for the war. Whenever it arrived at the Ettrick is somewhat immaterial since it is unlikely the desk would have moved far from Millers Flat or indeed the Teviot Valley, whoever the former owners may have been. As far as is known, Catherine McConnel did not live at the hotel at any stage so the medals could not have been left behind at an earlier date.
It is logical to assume that Ella would have been the person most likely to have kept James’s WW1 medals for some years after his death, or she may have passed them on to his mother Catherine at some point (which possibly links her to the desk). Ella could also have split them between herself, son Maurice and Catherine before or after she was re-married to Doug Smith in 1928. Let us also not forget James’s Boer War Queen’s South Africa medal being one of those found in the desk. James had returned to NZ in 1902 and was still single when he went to the Great War. For a son to have at some stage gifted or left his mother with his only war medal as a memento of him, is very plausible given James was off to a war which he could not predict whether he would return from or not?
A number of scenarios may account for how and when the two medals finished up in the desk, but what of the two that are still missing? While there is no immediate answer to that question, it does bring me to a bonus found while dissecting James McConnell’s military file. When James died in 1921, no-one at the time would have considered that 44 years later a commemorative memento would be produced for the living veterans of the Gallipoli campaign.
Anzac (Gallipoli) Commemorative Medallion & Lapel Badge (1967)
In 1967, the number of Gallipoli veterans was already rapidly dwindling. 1967 was also the year the 5oth Anniversary of the Landings at Gallipoli on 25th April, 1915, and as such, the New Zealand and Australian governments jointly agreed to the production of a commemorative medal for the remaining living veterans.
The Anzac (Gallipoli) Commemorative Medallion and Lapel Badge were available to all surviving Gallipoli veterans who had served on the Peninsula or in the designated operational areas around Gallipoli, such as on the islands of Mudros and Lemnos. As a mark of distinction, living veterans also received a miniature version of the medallion in the form of a Lapel Badge personalised with their regimental number impressed on the reverse. For Gallipoli veterans who had subsequently been killed or died on the Western Front, England or had died after returning home (prior to 1967), the availability of the medallion only was extended to next of kin. This has subsequently be extended to a proven family descendant.
The down side of administering the issue of this medallion was it had to be applied for – it was not an automatic issue and as a consequence, relatives of deceased Gallipoli veterans in particularly, were unaware of the medallion resulting in a number that were never claimed. In scrutinizing both James (and his brother Willie’s) military file, I was able to confirm both soldiers had the qualifying service for entitlement to a medallion, but neither had been claimed.
The Anzac (Gallipoli) Medallion may still be claimed today and indeed many have been issued over the last five years as the 100th anniversary of the First World War was commemorated world-wide from 2014-2019. In recent times Replica lapel badges and medallions have been commercially produced.
Jim McConnell has now received his grandfather James’s medals as well as an application to claim the Anzac Medallion’s of his grandfather and grand-uncle Willie.
My thanks to Mike for his help in bringing this case to a happy conclusion (he has passed MRNZ’s ‘Sherlock Test’). Thanks especially to Roz Cull for being the caring custodian of James McConnell’s medals for the past 40 plus years, and for placing her trust in MRNZ to find them a home. We may not be quick but we get results!
The reunited medal tally is now 392.