THOMAS SEYMOUR PRICHARD, BEM (Mil) – Medal belonging to New Zealand’s “Mr Shooting” found in Waikari, Nth Canterbury.

271581 – THOMAS SEYMOUR PRICHARD, BEM (Mil)     

An article appeared in an October edition of the North Canterbury News, relating the return of a WW1 Memorial (‘Death’) Plaque we had reunited with a Waikari family.  Brian O’Sullivan, also a Waikari resident, read the article and was prompted to recall a medal he had inherited from his grandmother after she died many years ago.   

Brian emailed me in November last year to see if we could help find a descendant to reunite the medal with.  Expecting a war medal of some sort, Brian sent a couple of (indistinct) photographs with his request which showed it was definitely not a war medal.  As those who are familiar with MRNZ’s processes will know, we will usually only research medals we actually hold so we can check the detail, authenticity etc of a medal.  In this case the photos that Brian had sent obscured some small detail but were sufficient enough to start research.  Knowing Brian had a disability which affected his steadiness I did not want to trouble him for clearer pictures – I could wait until the medal arrived.  Using the photographs in the interim resulted in an issue arising I did not foresee.

The medal is made of brass/bronze, a commercially produced design in the shape of a ‘pattee‘ cross measuring 40mm x 40mm across the arms.  The obverse (front) design comprises two crossed target rifles superimposed centrally by a circular bulls-eye target peppered with shot holes, and bordered by oak leaf and acorn branches.  The central target is topped off with a ‘sinister ‘Robin Hood style hat and feather, ‘sinister’ (facing to the right as viewed by the observer).  Each arm of the cross has a narrow smoothed border and patterned with regular, convex half-balls (as in musket balls).  The medal although worn in places, has a silver-grey frosted finish and a suspension ring attached to the top arm to accommodate a brooch, chain or ribbon.  

The reverse (rear or back) has a smooth finish and is inscribed withT. S. PRICHARD 1935” – a name Brian did not recognise as being connected with anyone in his family. 

Question ? believed to be a club championship medal (possibly small-bore), can you identify the club or  competition it was awarded for ?

Starting the search …

The obverse design indicated to me that the medal had been produced as an award for (rifle) shooting – full-bore or small-bore as the rifles depicted on the medal were not shotguns which a hunting or clay target shooting award might have.  My first port of call in starting the research was to Google T.S. Pritchard’s name which immediately took me to the National Rifle Association of New Zealand (NRANZ) website.  Listed on the “Life Members” page was the following:

T. S. (Tom) Prichard, BEM – NZ’s “Mr Shooting” – 55 years dedication to the rifle shooting.

Life Member

1979 – 1984                 T.S. Prichard, BEM

So, the man obviously had a long association with competitive rifle shooting at the national level, and had been awarded a British Empire Medal at some stage, however, before I could go any further I had to know his first names.  Further research of the NRANZ site located a second record under ‘Hall of Fame – Notable Performances with the .303 Rifle’.  A 1965 record referenced T.S. Pritchard (TSP) as Coach of the Bert Dixon Memorial Teams – DWG Collings being the winner. Collings was a member of the long established Karori Rifle Club (1892)* and a man I knew to be from a well known NZ national rifle shooting family and multiple winners of the Ballinger Belt.  The Ballinger Belt is the oldest sporting trophy in New Zealand, and ultimate prize for full-bore rifle shooting competitors.  However, still no first names for TSP.  

Based upon his link to Collings, I surmised TSP was likely to also be a member of the Karori Rifle Club in Wellington City (or another localised club).  I looked for the club’s website. The only reference in this club’s website was to a “Wendy Pritchard”, one of the first women members of the club back in 1968, but no mention of T. S. Prichard.  I discounted her as a connection since TSP’s Life Membership spelling of Prichard and her surname did not equate, although it did crossed my mind briefly there was always room for spelling mistakes.  I was focusing rather on the name engraved on the medal matching the spelling of TSP’s Life Membership record – I had to find out what the T. S. stood for before I could go much further.

Note:  * There were rifle clubs established primarily at Karori, Petone and Trentham at this time.  These included small and full bore sections.  These together with Wellington Service Rifle Association collectively made up the Wellington Rifle Association. 

The NZ Electoral Rolls was my next reference.  A number of TPs and TSPs showed up throughout the country which I narrowed down to only those located in and around Wellington.  Thomas, and Trevor Seymour (Eastbourne), Thomas Samuel (Petone), Stanley Thomas, Sidney Thomas, Thomas Seymour (Wellington) and a couple of others on the Kapiti Coast and in the Wairarapa.  

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Having received the medal in 1935, I considered TSP was likely to have been an experienced shooter and obviously a good shot (hence the medal).  As WW2 was only four years away, a skilled rifle shooter would be an asset making TSP a hot prospect for enlistment into the Army, voluntary or conscripted.  Whilst military service was not a pre-requisite for determining the medal’s owner, provided TSP was not a youth target shooter or one who was beyond the age for enlistment, if he had gone into the military there would be useful information with which to identify him – first names etc.  

Unlike WW1 soldier’s military files which have been digitized and are fully accessible to the public through Cenotaph, WW2 soldier’s files are yet to be digitized.  To narrow the options I find it best to check Embarkation Rolls on Ancestry first as these will generally tell me if a person enlisted.  If not on the rolls he may have enlisted but served in NZ (Home Service) only, or may have been discharged in which case there would be no Cenotaph record.

As it happened there were five soldiers on the Rolls whose names made them possibilities, two however only had a single first name so I discarded them.  The full name had to be consistent with both initials on the medal.  The remaining three were:

  1. 227573 Private Thomas Samuel Pritchard  a labourer, store-man, machinist and metal pattern cutter from Trentham who had a Petone addresses for most of his life.  Thomas Samuel married and had one son who did not appear on any WW2 Embarkation Roll but more likely served at home (Home Service), or an early discharge for some reason was another possibility.  Apart from his geographic location which lent itself to being associated with the rifle clubs at Petone and Trentham, his Army service was the only other factor that made him a possibility for the TSP I was looking for.
  2. 271581 Private Thomas Seymour Prichard – a motor mechanic and later factory machinist, lived in Taumaranui, Ruapehu in 1928.  This man’s geographic location initially was a problem.  Apart from a couple of years in Auckland in the mid 1940s when he was married, this was followed by a move to Wellington where his address in 1946 had been Miramar (proximate to Karori?).  Like Thomas Samuel and Trevor Seymour, Thomas Seymour had worked predominantly in Petone.  On balance, I could not discount him as a possible owner of the medal.  
  3. 28615 Sapper Trevor Seymour* Pritchard – a fitter & turner from Eastbourne, Wellington (a couple of kilometres from Petone).  An ex-serviceman with war service, Electoral Rolls that identified him as having lived his whole life in either the Eastbourne or Petone areas, he was as a factory machinist in Petone for most of his working life, and so had easy access to the Petone and Trentham rifle clubs – Trevor seemed to be the strongest possibility of the three?

On checking Cenotaph only two of the three names were record – Thomas Samuel Pritchard and Trevor Seymour Pritchard.  The reasons for Thomas Seymour not appearing could have been; he had not gone overseas, perhaps performed Home Service only; he had been discharged as unsuitable, died, or was exempted from service. 

What’s in a NAME ?

Everything it would seem.  As I mulled over the possibilities of which of the three soldiers was most likely to be TSP, in re-checking my data I saw a subtlety which until then had eluded me – a spelling variation in the surnames of the soldiers caught my eye.  Two of the surnames were spelt with a T as in PriTchard and one without, Prichard.  I re-checked the medal – PRICHARD, no T !  I had not been able to see this detail clearly from the photograph Brian had sent me, rather relying on my understanding of the usual way of spelling Pritchard ! 

I then re-checked the NRANZ website records – the Life Member record was spelt Prichard …the Hall of Fame-Notable Performance with a .303 Rifle was spelt PriTchard ! … now I was really confused and started to doubt my direction.  What if TSP had not have been a soldier, what then?  His first names could be any combination of T and S, like ‘Terrence Stanley’ for instance – what then?

For all the medal naming confusion, I believed the three soldier’s names I had were part of this solution so pressed on.  While the first names remained unproven at least I had a person (soldier) who did have the same initials, and a surname that equated with that on the medal.  That gave me hope.  Somehow I needed to prove (or disprove?) that the soldier Thomas Seymour Prichard and NRANZ Life Member T.S. Prichard, BEM were one in the same person.  

I did try one other source for informatiom – the imperial Honours and Awards made to New Zealanders.  TSP was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) – date unknown, was it a Civil or Military award?  Unfortunately the on-line records were of no use as they only extended back to the last two years of issue (1995, 1996) before the award was discontinued in New Zealand.  Since I didn’t know the year of TSP’s award either, it would be a last resort to trawl through endless copies of the London Gazette just to confirm his first names.  

Note: * Seymour – the second names of both Trevor Pritchard and Thomas Prichard was purely a coincidental distraction – they were not related (as the spelling variations of their surnames also proved)

Where to now ?

My initial thought that TSP might be a member of the Karori Rifle Club was based on the 1965 NRANZ record of T.S. PriTchard being the Coach of the Bert Dixon Memorial Teams.  If TSP was a member, the records or administrators should have been able to confirm his membership, his first names.  I went through the website from end to end – no mention of TSP.  The only point of note was mention of a Wendy Pritchard on the Club’s About Us page, which stated she and one other had been the first two women members accepted into the Club in 1968 as a long range target shooter.  I gave this no much more consideration when I saw her surname was spelt with a “T“.  Since Karori was the oldest rifle club in the Wellington region my last resort was to speak to the club management who could hopeful either answer my queries or point me in the right direction of someone who could.  Problem – no names, telephone numbers or officer holders shown on the website.  Another headline on their About Us page read: New Members Welcomed followed by a cryptic email address – I sent my questions anyway. 

Next day I received a prompt response from the Karori Rifle Club’s President, Nicole McKee – her email address!  Probably the ideal person to answer my questions but unfortunately Nicole was fairly new in the role of President and could not really help, although she did say she “believed” the first name of T. S. Pritchard, BEM might have been Thomas but had no idea what his second name was.  Nicole also said that “Tom” had been a national and club competitor in small-bore and full-bore competitions for many years, but had been deceased for sometime.  Nicole told me, “Tom’s daughter used to shoot as well until she went to Australia to for a competition, suddenly got married while she was there and never came back – that was over 3o years ago.”  Her name ? – Wendy – “she was a Prichard then, one of our first lady members”

I was stunned – this then meant that Thomas (Tom) Seymour PrIchard (one time soldier) and Wendy PriTchard (which should have been Prichard) had been connected all along.   Had I known their surnames, Tom’s in the NRANZ records, and Wendy’s on the Karori Rifle Club’s About Us page, were both misspelt I could have connect the PRICHARD dots much earlier.  Was Nicole aware of  this anomaly? – No, someone else had loaded their website information; NRANZ info ..?  I did struggle somewhat with the fact that two members of the same family, both of whom were very well known and accomplished national and international competitors in the sport, both with long standing memberships of these organisations, could have had their names misspelt in the records.  In light of these faux pas I didn’t feel quite so bad about my earlier spelling oversight.

271581  T. S. PRICHARD … Army or Air Force ?

Thomas Seymour Prichard had been born in Christchurch during the last few days of December 1912, the son of Norman Stanley Prichard and Itta Lucinda EYES.  Tom started his target shooting interest at the age of 15 with small-bore (.22 calibre) rifle shooting, later graduating to full-bore, an interest that would last for over 50 years.  By the time he was 21 (1935) Tom Prichard was in the employ of R. Winger of Taumaranui as a motor mechanic and also a very enthusiastic member of the Taumaranui Miniature Rifle Club. 

In 1939 Tom had received warning he was to be called up for overseas service with the Army’s 2NZEF and had been placed on an Embarkation Roll, scheduled to depart for England and North Africa in November 1940.  

While there had been no hint in either Cenotaph or Ancestry’s records I discovered later from Tom’s daughter, her father being an experienced motor mechanic, had within weeks of his Army enlistment been transferred to the RNZAF.*  The air force apparently had been desperately short of mechanics to work on vehicles and aircraft and so a number of qualified soldiers like Tom, had been transferred. 

271581 Aircraftsman Second Class (A.C.2) Thomas S. Prichard, an aircraft fitter, served  initially at Hobsonville and Ohakea, a year in the Solomon Islands on the RNZAF airfield at Torokina (Bougainville), and  a posting to Rongotai in Wellington.  Tom rose to the rank of Sergeant before the end of the war and was honourably discharged at war’s end. 

Note: *  This explains the reason Tom Prichard had been on an Embarkation Roll but not in the Cenotaph records, they being primarily records of Army personnel – see footnote re ‘Records explained’.

Marriage, the Medal and beyond

Living in Taumaranui  at the timee Tom had been working there as mechanic, was the Dennis family.   Arthur Henry Bernard DENNIS, a blacksmith, had come from the Chewton in Victoria, a small mining town on the edge of the Castlemaine Diggings.  In the late 1890s Arthur went to the Reefton gold mines on the West Coast where he met and married Reefton born, Eleanor  Elizabeth (ka Ellen) CLARKE.  The Dennis’s re-located to Taumaranui in the Manawatu-Whanganui region in 1914.  After WW1 ended the Dennis’s returned to Victoria for a few years however were back living in Taumaranui by the mid 1920s.  The Dennis’s were a large family – 14 children (not all survived).  Arthur Dennis died in 1931 and Ellen in 1932 leaving the surviving children Emma; (32), Arthur jnr. (16), Julia (14) and three pre-teen girls, to cope and carry on.  

It is not known when exactly Tom struck up a friendship with Julia Elizabeth Maud DENNIS but the outbreak of WW2 certainly bought it to a (temporary) halt.  In 1942 Tom and Julia took the plunge and married in Auckland while Tom was at Hobsonville.  A son and daughter were both born in Auckland.

It is quite possible that prior to his leaving Taumaranui for the RNZAF in 1941, Tom gave Julia Dennis the “1935” shooting medal as a personal memento to remember him by while he went away to RNZAF Station Ohakea, or Hobsonville, Auckland, or before he went to the Solomon Islands?   

After the war Tom took a position as an engineer with NZ Industrial Gases at Petone and in time, became chief engineer in charge of their Technical Workshops, a position he held until his retirement.  One sad note after the Prichard’s had moved to Wellington was the death of their only son Brian, just days after his 10th birthday. 

Thomas Seymour Prichard, BEM died in Wellington in 1984 at the age of 71, and is buried in the Karori Cemetery.  Julia died in NSW Australia in 2010 – both are survived by their only daughter, Wendy McGuigan.

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How did Brian’s grandmother get the Medal ?

After a little additional research and discussion between Brian and I to answer this question, we believe we have come up with some plausible scenarios, the answer lying somewhere in the following mix. 

Brian O’Sullivan’s grandfather and grandmother were John O’Sullivan (1851-1926) and Margaret, nee CONSIDINE (1868-1952), Irish immigrant settlers to New Zealand.  John, a soldier from Cork, had settled first in Taranaki around 1890; Margaret Considine from Limerick had settled in Auckland.  John O’Sullivan relocated to Auckland and in April 1896, the then Licencee of the Alexandra Hotel married Margaret Considine.  John & Margaret ran the Alexandra until about 1900.  In 1910 John and Margaret built a large house at 33 Church Street in Devonport with which to accommodate their five growing children.  John O’Sullivan died in 1926 and in 1928 widow Margaret, youngest son Stephen (1905-1978), a 30 year old civil servant, and 34 year old spinster daughter Anne (Annie, 1900-1990), were temporarily living at 98 Wellesley Street (possibly having their house modified to accommodate guests?).  By 1935 the O’Sullivan’s had returned to Church Street.  Brian believes his grandmother would very likely made use of the large house to take in short-term house guests or boarders for a source of income.  Stephen O’Sullivan married Phyllis not long after leaving Margaret and Annie to manage the house.  

Assuming Margaret O’Sullivan had been offering accommodation at her Devonport house, Tom, Julia, or both may have stayed prior to their marriage at Mt Eden in 1942.  The other possibility was that Julia visited Tom from time to time, or had moved to Auckland when Tom went to Hobsonville.  As an unmarried young lady Julia would have needed a suitable place to stay (live temporarily) to enable Tom to visit.  Julia could have even remained at Church Street while Tom was away with the RNZAF in the Solomons.  Assuming Julia stayed with Margaret and Annie at some point, it is not to much of a stretch to imagine her mislaying the medal about the property or inadvertently leaving it behind, only to be found at a later date by Margaret or Annie. 

Another possibility is that Tom gifted the medal to either Annie or Margaret, or perhaps had mislaid the medal himself, in or about the house if indeed he had stayed/boarded at some point, or perhaps visiting Julia.  Without a forwarding address for either Julia or Tom, the medal would have remained in the O’Sullivan’s possession ending up in Margaret’s writing box, until inherited by grandson Brian O’Sullivan after her death in 1952. 

The last possibility is that Margaret or Annie O’Sullivan simply found the medal in the street, or bought it as a curio from a charity/bric-a-brac shop? 

Ian Martyn (MRNZ) and Brian O’Sullivan with T. S. Prichard’s 1935 medal

Wendy McGuigan (nee Prichard) like her father has had a very successful NZ national and international representative target shooting career.  Since moving to Australia to become Mrs McGuigan in 1978, Wendy has made history with the NSW Mosman/Neutral Bay Rifle Club as she did with the Karori Rifle Club in 1968.  She is the first woman competitor to be accepted into the M/N Bay Rifle Club, and the first woman in the Club’s 87 year history to become the Club Captain (2002).  Wendy has also represented Australia at both state and national levels on numerous occasions.

Wendy and I have been in telephone and email contact since.  She kindly provided the photograph of Tom (above) and the two documents (below) along with details of her father’s life.   When I first learned Tom Prichard had been awarded the British Empire Medal I imagined it was probably for his services to the sport.  Wendy surprised me with one of the documents which showed her father had been awarded the BEM for his services in the RNZAF – refer Citation below.  Wendy was also able to tell me her father had been involved in rifle shooting continuously from 1929 until his death, making a total of 55 years of dedication to the sport in NZ and the reason he was very aptly known within the shooting fraternity as New Zealand’s “Mr Shooting”

Nicole McKee kindly made contact with Wendy on our behalf and since then we have been in telephone contact.  At the time the case was concluded Wendy had been moving house so the medal will be forwarded to her once her new postal arrangements are known.

Thanks to Brian and Julia O’Sullivan of Waikari for your hospitality and a fascinating case to work on.  My thanks also to Nicole for making the connection with Wendy, and to Amanda of the North Canterbury News.     

The reunited medal total is now 189.

The North Canterbury News carried an article on Feb 5th, 2018 >> Medal’s final journey ….

 

Citation – 271581 Sgt. Thomas Seymour Prichard, BEM, RNZAF (Aircraft Fitter)

Eulogy – T.S. Prichard, BEM – 25 October 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnote:  Records explained – Cenotaph carries personnel service files for the soldiers of the Boer War and WW1 (NZEF), all of which have been digitized and freely accessible on-line.  Cenotaph does not generally carry service files for WW2 (2NZEF), RNZAF or RNZ Navy personnel (the last two mainly because they only became relevant from WW2 onwards) – WW2 records have not yet been digitized.  The only NZ Army, RNZAF and RNZN records from WW2 and beyond you will see in Cenotaph are those men and women who died on operations.  Peacetime deaths since WW2 have been added in recent times by families as a means of maintaining a permanent record of their loved one’s military service.  

Likewise with Ancestry.com – predominantly carries Army list information such as; names and numbers, embarkations, wounds and deaths, grave records, and gallantry awards.  This is purely a commercial (financial) decision on the part of Ancestry as any government record must first be made available, must be purchased, and published which also incurs substantial cost. 

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