Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Remembering Those Who Served: 100 Years of WW1 Commemoration -

Rifleman John Blatch -

· Service Number: 25/1191
· Rank: Rifleman
· Full Name: John Robert Blatch
· Born: Dunedin, Otago, in 1875
· Parents: Alfred F. Blatch (father), Otautau and Ellen Maria M. M. A. (mother) - nee Monson
· Occupation on Elistment: Farmer at Opotiki
· Force: Army
· Unit: NZ Rifle Brigade, 3 Battalion, D Company
· Place of Embarkation: Wellington, New Zealand
· Embarkation Date: 5 February 1916
· Transport: HMNZT 42 HMNZT 43 HMNZT 44
· Vessel: Ulimaroa or Mokoia or Navua
· Destination: Suez, Egypt
· Date of death: 15 September 1916
· Place of death: Somme, France
· Cause of Death: Killed in action
· Cemetery: Bulls Road Cemetery, Flers, France 


You're always welcome at our place on Sundays, 2pm-4pm, and by request on other days, just contact us on
Email: collections.otautaumuseum@gmail.com  Cell: 027-211-4675 or Ph: 03-225-8991

Monday, 10 December 2018

Commemorating 100 Years of WW1 - from our Archives

Of Farewells, Famous Finds, Feminism, Fits of Frustration & Feeble Minds:
Today’s  100 Years of WW1 Commemoration Blog Post is a little different - it combines the Centenary of 125 years of Women's Suffrage with WW1 History!

“Farewell To New Zealand’s Sons” – the story behind the WW1 poem by the controversial Mrs (Bessie) Harrison Lee Cowie, of Australia, NZ and the USA:

FAREWELL TO NEW ZEALAND’S SONS. (By Mrs Harrison Lee Cowie, Invercargill.)
There’s a rushing of feet, a springing to arms,
A wondrous response since the war’s wild alarms.
Our brave boys are leaving, they’ve heard the loud call,
“Lads, come back with honour, or come not at all.”

Be noble and fearless, be gallant and true;
The women will watch for tidings of you;
Protect your own manhood, brave sons of the brave,
There are worse things to shun than a patriot’s grave.

Be dauntless in fighting the fierce foes within,
Tread down, without mercy, temptations to sin,
Protect every girl, ne’er cause one to fall,
Oh, come back with honour, or come not at all.

Your glorious intellects drug not, we plead,
Keep soul, brain and body, superb for our need.
Give God of your best, be prayerful and strong,
Let Right be your might; never yield to a wrong.

From counter and office, from farm and from mill,
You are speeding in haste over river and hill.
And the women who love you, send out this last call,
“Come back, lads, with honour, or come not at all.”

[There is no date to this poem, but it can be considered to be early on in the war, c1915].



Imagine my surprise when some papers fell out of an old book we had been donated, and one of them was the above piece of writing… on doing some research, I could find no online record of this poem of Mrs Harrison Lee Cowie’s, but I sure did find a lot out about the rather unashamed and often adventurous author…

Known as Bessie, Betsy Vickery was born at Daylesford, Victoria, Australia, on 10 June 1860. She was the child of a butcher, one Henry Vickery who had married Susan Emma Maunder (née Dungey). In a tragic set of circumstances, Bessie learned early the violence and damage that alcohol could do in a home and family and particularly to children, when she and her six siblings were farmed out to an aunt and uncle after Susan died and Henry was unable to look after them. Sadly, the aunt and uncle were affected by apparent alcoholism and Bessie at least was horribly abused and probably scarred for life by her experiences with this. After the abuse was uncovered, her father sent her to yet another aunt and uncle, this time ones with strict Christian principles and no love of children. Bessie seemed very affected by the circumstances of her young life, yet as she grew older, she also pushed the boundaries of accepted marriage norms and gained some interesting as well as not surprising views of her own. After marrying a man from nearby Melbourne, a Harrison Lee, Bessie started working in Sunday School, preaching from the pulpit as an Anglican and forayed into neighbourhood slums to help the less fortunate, an occupation her husband did not encourage or support. 

When he died, Bessie received an offer of marriage from a retired farmer who had long admired her, from the south of NZ - Winton to be exact - who wrote that he did not desire her to be a farmer’s wife, but expressed the wish for himself to be a missionary’s husband. But it wasn’t long after Bessie started to cause even more controversy than when she had landed here some years earlier. Never one to shy away from what she felt needed doing or saying - Bessie had been early converted to the Temperance cause – most probably from her own harsh experiences at the hands of alcoholic carers, she led a branch of the WCTU and did a lot of speaking and advocating in Victoria in particular, and across Australia for this group and others. After returning back to NZ, where Bessie had come after some time in the UK previously, and where she had “set up shop” some years before in the main centre of Auckland (along with touring around the country on her WCTU mission) she settled into live in  Invercargill, where her new husband, Andrew Cowie supported her in her work, as he had promised to do. They also travelled abroad together wherever her engagements took her. But the now Mrs Cowie, would not stay quiet and she soon started taking on NZ, in an even more vocal role than she had done in Australia, England and the rest of the world. It was during the years of WW1 that Bessie caused the most commotion in NZ communities.

One of Bessie's many literary missives - she was a prolific writer of articles, tracts, poems and books on her life/ beliefs

Both revered and reviled, Bessie was certainly a woman who made her mark on the world; from being recognized as an internationally acclaimed Suffragist, vocal visionary of some important aspects of Women’s Rights which were still hugely unpopular in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s, Missionary to the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), to organizer of the WW1 “The Strength of the Nation” movement, which went about raising the ire of at least one New Zealand newspaper who rather publicly persecuted and shamed her over the contents of one of her even more infamous poem “The Cry of the Mothers to the Brewers”.

It was said of this particular poem by The Observer, “That Mrs Cowie, in the opening verse of her diatribe, assumes her personal share in NZ soldiers…” then appeals that, “every copy of this violent doggerel should be publicly burned in her presence…”, along with the following observation that, “this lady… is not, as far as one knows, entitled by the number of her soldier sons or by her nationality to throw mud at the whole of the NZ Army…” calling out Bessie as being herself childless and of Australian birth, ouch! Continuing on, the papers claims, “the verses suggest that… the Brewers have first caused, all NZ soldiers, (the men of Gallipoli, the hero’s of Messines - the Anzacs) to become such hopeless drunkards, that they could not avoid becoming diseased pariahs, unclean beasts, appalling sepulchres of souls.”

The above paper 
continued its vitriolic vilification
 of Bessie, continuing to claim that this kind of thing written by Mrs Cowie would especially appeal to “female neurotics”, “childless wives” or “spinsters” – further denigrating many principles that they know Harrison Lee Cowie believes and preaches in – the vote for women, the rights of all females to their own bodies, even the decision if or not to bear children, all ideas that while they were gaining traction in some circles, were still serious enough to bring a charge of insanity or lunacy at that time against any female person found to be practising them. At the time of WW1, men still owned women’s bodies if not the vote, and they could determine the fate of not only their wives, but also their property and propriety. Whoever wrote the quoted news article condemning Bessie, was surely not one who was on the side of feminism, in any way, shape or form; you can imagine him preaching “masses of female hysteria” from the pulpit!


But, back to the FAREWELL TO NEW ZEALAND’S SONS. This poem which I found, really set the scene for the furthering of Bessie’s passions, also the above thoughts and opinions of the general population at the time – reflected in the quoted news article - often men still reeling from the fact that they lost the right to ban women from voting, and still smarting at the idea that their wives just might not be their permanent property. Mrs Cowie obviously wrote and said what she thought, with no thought for how it might appear or sound to those looking and listening on. She was a woman with strong convictions, a loud voice and probably a heart of gold. Her first husband had not approved of her work with the poor and the underdog, but her second husband (from Winton, NZ), fully supported her in it. It is probable that having support from him, allowed Bessie to speak even more boldly.


Photographed and attached above, “Farewell” uses in its composition, some of the style common in religious tracts of the day, attempting to shame or shock readers into changing their behaviour, by bullying or threats, something we would usually consider somewhat shocking today. This is especially true of the last line of most of these verses, as they could well have had a devastating and even a death-dealing sentence on those suffering from PTSD or shell-shock, or especially the dreaded VD or STI’s, which appears to be the poem’s main target (this is a whole other story – and one discussed in more depth further on.) While finding those ending lines shocking myself, I reminded myself what strongly held beliefs and views Mrs Cowie had, and coupled with the way that people then still blindly followed both God and their “King and Country”, it was probably a quite widely held view, even if not particularly conducive to bringing home “our boys” in one piece, sound of mind and body. It was not uncommon for men with VD in the war, to commit suicide in one form or another; when you read of not only of the horrors of their suffered in confinement and treatment, but also the damaging and dangerous views of the public, you can almost see why. It was simply shocking. And sadly, views such as Bessie’s did not help matters at all for these young men.

The VD Connection to Mrs Cowie:Farewell to New Zealand’s Sons was written at a time when young men who were going to war were being increasingly affected by the dreaded VD (Venereal Disease – or more commonly known as STD/STI these days). It is obvious in the undertones of the poem published here, the more fiery feelings Bessie had about this issue, which were bubbling barely beneath the surface and which came fully frothing into life in far more vehement tones in her other passionate and punishing poem already discussed, “The Cry of the Mothers to the Brewers”. In this second missive, Mrs Cowie no longer holds back her own violent views on what she obviously considers to be a real pernicious pestilence of progressively higher and rising numbers of infected soldiers – especially the young and innocent, being disqualified from serving, or shipped back from the front then quarantined and treated for what she considered shameful and self-controllable diseases.

Interestingly, on a deeper delve into the files of WW1 and history on the treatment and housing of the men suffering the dreaded VD, it would seem this problem was one the Armed Forces were not prepared for, had no proper plan to prevent or provide relief from. Rather famously, the outspoken and often outrageously offensive views and voice of Mrs Harrison Lee Cowie once again make an appearance, how surprising! From advertising in the period when Mrs Cowie was making impassioned pleas to the womenfolk of the nation of the dreadful scourge of VD affecting the NZ soldiers, she has this to say in the Ashburton Guardian on 9 June 1917, and similar on other dates:

“On Quarantine Island, Port Chalmers, are boys diseased in body, and sullied in soul, lost for ever as builders of our country”… “We shall lose a million pounds by Prohibition,” cry the brewers… “We shall save a million boys by Prohibition,” cry the mothers… “Beer or Boys!” Which shall we destroy? Which shall we protect? Bessie also cites several doctors saying in effect, that alcohol causes venereal disease, which has to be a stretch of the imagination! It is not surprising really, that her later poem from mothers to brewers that demonizes those she holds responsible for turning into drunkards all who taste liquor at the front, is such a sore point for many – I would imagine most of those at the front who partook in a drink would not take kindly to being touted as turning into devilish disease riddled boys because they couldn’t apparently say no to a drink. One wonders that more did not turn to both drink and women, with the horrors of war at their doorstep and the daily dangers of death.

Barbara Brookes, writer of the chapter “Quarantine for Venereal disease in New Zealand, 1915-1918” in the Alison Bashford edition of Quarantine: Local and Global Histories notes, at least Bessie spoke on the disease in public, something even Parliament of the day refused to acknowledge, asking all women to remove themselves from the public gallery during a speech made about this problem, as it was considered too delicate a topic.

It is a shameful part of our NZ history, how the soldiers of WW1 with VD were treated and incarcerated, at Quarantine Island (or Kamau Taurua) in Otago harbour (Dunedin, New Zealand), also called the Port Chalmers Military Hospital. This facility was run by the New Zealand Army Medical Corp, probably quite illegally, as there was no legitimate cause for the Army to “imprison” men with VD on the island, a point which one legal case determined.

Although the Army took no notice of the finding, eventually the Returned Servicemen
’s Association (RSA) took the diseased’s cause under their wing, demanding answers and an end to the often awful treatment and poor conditions these men suffered as part of their internment. As time went on and more lenient views on incarceration, treatment and also the public risk of these diseases to all of NZ came into being, there were calls by younger medical staff and others in the community to treat all sufferers of the disease in a more humane and even-handed way, not just quarantine the soldiers and punish them for their impurity. This was an extension of earlier views being aired on both men and women being held accountable for having and spreading these conditions, rather than just women the ones being shamed and judged, as had happened in prior times – like when the female prostitutes were condemned for contracting the disease yet their male customers excused. It was only after the efforts of those in the medical profession, the community and groups like the RSA, that the Public Health Act of notification and treatment of VD came into being

So, what do we make out of Mrs Cowie and her condemnation of brewers and soldiers?
Bessie was both a woman before her time, and a women consumed by religious belief and the terrible experiences of her early life at the hands of drunken and abusive caretakers. It is easy to see where she got some of her more controversial ideas from, and we can only but applaud her for her common sense and good grace to recognize that women’s bodies do indeed belong to them first and foremost, no matter what other odd things she said or did. Her desire to protect women (and children) from the ravages of alcohol and in turn VD, even though in doing so she made scapegoats of everyone from brewers to soldiers, was mostly out of a desire to protect innocents, rather than a determined campaign to tarnish others.

In all our thoughts of her, it is probably wise to consider her early life and her own suffering, as she was surely shaped and formed in her thoughts and beliefs, by what she experienced herself. Although she caused a lot of people a lot of grief, Bessie was a woman with a heart of gold, who ended up involved in the reform of prisons and with other social initiatives, including the housewives unions and representation of women workers. She was also a foundation member of the United Labour Party of NZ. Other activities she was involved in included The Band Of Hope, and running a home for alcoholic men in Auckland, where she lived for a time, after spending time in Dunedin. Never a well woman, Bessie moved to the warmer climate of Hawaii until WW2 when women were advised to leave the islands, after which time she moved to America proper, living out the rest of her days in California, where she wrote the last of her literary works, “From nine to ninety”, finally passing away on 18 April 1950, some 22 years after her second husband. Bessie was a prolific writer and outstanding speaker and many of her written works still survive. She was often outrageous, also bold and brave. 

Adieu Bessie, you certainly changed the world you lived in. For this alone, we honour you.

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ :
Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXVII, Issue 9015

Observer, Volume XXXVIII, Issue XXXVIII
Quarantine - Local and Global Histories, by Alison Bashford
One of Australia's daughters : an autobiography of Mrs. Harrison Lee Cowie. By: Bessie Cowie, 1860-1950.

NOTE: The above "Farewell" poem displayed online, is also part of our 100 Years of WW1 Commemoration Display, currently being exhibited at the Otautau Museum (old Courthouse)

You're always welcome at our place on Sundays, 2pm-4pm, and by request on other days, just contact us on Email: collections.otautaumuseum@gmail.com  Cell: 027-211-4675 or Ph: 03-225-8991

Friday, 7 December 2018

More from our 100 Years of WW1 Commemoration -


Trooper Douglas Victor McCaw - NZEF, NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade, Auckland Mounted Rifles

Service No. 71042: At camp attached to 36th Reinforcements, Waikato-Auckland Mounted Rifles.

Born 11/10/1897 in Invercargill. Worked as farm cadet for R. Dickson, Otautau at time of enlistment. Douglas embarked from Wellington on the Moeraki on the 21st February 1918, his destination Egypt.
His military record lists him as being dangerously ill on 14/10/1918. Tragically, Trooper McCaw died on Friday 18 October 1918 - from Malaria. Douglas is buried at the Jerusalem War Cemetery, Israel.


From the Otautau Standard, 6 Nov 1917:
"A combined social of the Presbyterian Church Choir and Junior Bible Class was held on the past Friday evening in the vestry. At a convenient interval, Rev. A Macdonald presented Mr Douglas McCaw, who is leaving for the military camp, with Swan fountain pen, gold mounted, as a memento from his friends of the Presbyterian Church Choir and Junior Bible Class."

From The Otautau Standard, 22 Oct 1918:
"Mr W. A. McCaw, Architect for the Southland Education Board, has received advice that his third son, Douglas, has died of wounds received in action in Palestine on 14th October. Douglas McCaw, who was just 21 years old, was born in Invercargill and educated at South School and High and Technical Colleges. He enlisted from Otautau, where he was acting as a cadet with Mr R Dickson, farmer. He went into camp with the 36th Reinforcements, and was attached to the Waikato Auckland Mounted Rifles. He contracted gastro-enteritis in the Jordan Valley, and was invalided to Cairo in July last. On his recovery, he again went up with Allenby's victorious forces, and made the supreme sacrifice "Somewhere in Palestine" on 14th inst. His oldest brother was killed at Passchendaele Ridge on 12th October, 1917. It is the price paid for victory."

More information can be found on: https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/647507/
and http://ndhadeliver.natlib.govt.nz/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE18948339

Josephine Crooks’ Passchendaele Story

"My great Uncle,William Armstrong McCaw – Service no. 3/602, served in the NZ Medical Corps and was killed in action at Ypres, on 12/10/1917.
There is a memorial at Tyne Cot. He was from Invercargill.
His brother,Douglas Victor McCaw also died in World War 1. In fact, 8 members of the McCaw extended family from Southland and Otago sacrificed their lives."
[This information above taken from: https://passchendaele-stories.otago.ac.nz/josephine-crooks-passchendaele-story/#comment-1590]
NOTE: we have no photo of Trooper Douglas Victor McCaw, if you can help us by adding one to our collection, please contact Collections Manager as below - thankyou.


You're always welcome at our place on Sundays, 2pm-4pm, and by request on other days, just contact us on Email: collections.otautaumuseum@gmail.com  Cell: 027-211-4675 or Ph: 03-225-8991

Thursday, 6 December 2018

REMEMBERING THOSE WHO SERVED: Lance Sergeant Dudley McKenzie

Service No: 32879
Lance Sergeant, NZ Rifle Brigade. Previously a farmer. Son of William and Catherine McKenzie of Waimatuku, Southland. Born at Wairio (just north of Otautau). Served on the Western Front, 1917-18. Accidently drowned, 8 Feb 1919, age 24.

"Private Dudley McKenzie, 32879. 19th reinforcements. Lance Sergeant NZRB. A farmer from Te Tua. 
Awarded the Military Medal for acts of gallantry in the field, 15th of October 1917. Wounded in action on the 26th of August 1918, Bapuame suffering from a gun shot wound to the hip. Accidentally drowned at Rona Bay on the 8th of February 1919, buried in Tuatapere" - [this extra information taken from a post  showing a postcard (photo attached) of Dudley and others from the Tuatpere District], which can be found on https://www.facebook.com/Southland-Soldiers-and-Nurses--475275315971555/

From Northern Advocate, 10 Feb 1919:
A returned soldier, named Dudley McKenzie, a Military Medallist, was drowned at Rona Bay on Saturday afternoon. McKenzie was not a swimmer and got into difficulties in a strong undercurrent. A companion. Harrison, managed to reach McKenzie, but being only a moderate swimmer was unable to hold him. Ernest Hunt also made a strenuous attempt at rescue, but became exhausted. Harrison was floating away with the tide, but fortunately was rescued by a passing rowing boat. McKenzie's body was recovered on Saturday night, two miles from the scene of the accident.-Press Assn.

From Honours and Awards (first edition):
Military Medal - Private, 3rd Bn, Otago Regiment
L.G. 17 December 1917, p13201, Rec No 1272
"At Gravenstafel east of Ypres. On the morning of the 4th of October, 1917, during the attack on the enemy, this man showed great gallantry in attacking a "Pill Box" was captured. Also in consolidating the position his work was excellent. At all times he set a fine example to his comrades."
Accidently drowned new Zealand, 8 February 1919.

NOTE: we have no photo of Lance Sergeant Dudley McKenzie, if you can help us by adding one to our collection, please contact Collections Manager as below - thankyou.

You're always welcome at our place on Sundays, 2pm-4pm, and by request on other days, just contact us on Email: collections.otautaumuseum@gmail.com  Cell: 027-211-4675 or Ph: 03-225-8991

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

100 years of WW1 Commemoration Display

From our 100years WW1 Commemoration Display (currently exhibited):
(photograph only)

Designed and made locally -
The Otautau Museum & Heritage Trust does not have this medal or any of these medals in its current collection, but the photograph we do have (above), is a clear indication of the quality of workmanship and dedication to a worthy cause, by our most famous local Otautau jeweller, W.J. (Bill) Wesney...

The medal shown above was designed and made by W J Wesney (or Bill), a jeweller who had premises in Otautau and Riverton in Southland. As the Riverton newspaper the Western Star reported on 8 September 1916 (below): 

“Mr W.J. Wesney ... designed a most appropriate and very handsome gold medal to the order of the Otautau Patriotic Committee. These are to be presented to all returned soldiers who at the time of enlistment had been resident 12 months in Otautau, and to the parents of those who have died in the service of their country. The medal can be worn on the watch-chain or breast as desired. On the obverse there are crossed rifles surmounting a crown, beneath which is the monogram NZ in bold letters ornamented at the base with two fern leaves. On the reverse is the name and particulars of the recipient ... Mr Wesney has registered the design so that it cannot be copied, and any [patriotic] committees wishing information should correspond with him.”

The medals were also ordered by different groups and given to other returned servicemen across Southland at least, as is evidenced by the one owned by Te Papa Tongawhera (our national museum), which was bought and given to James Gordon Campbell by his friends in Houipapa as a present after his safe return from World War I (also known as the Great War). James Campbell was a farmer from Houipapa, a locality about 10 kilometres from Owaka in the Catlins area of South Otago. He sailed from New Zealand with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force's 38th Reinforcements on 5 June 1918.
NOTE: Mr WJ Wesney, who designed this medal, along with his wife Mrs GL Wesney, died together in a motor accident at "Heenan's Corner" on the Hundred Line on 30th Nov. 1964, aged 76 and 64 years respectively. Both are interred in the Otautau Cemetery. The town of Otautau lost a great man, a leader in the community.


You're always welcome at our place on Sundays, 2pm-4pm, and by request on other days, just contact us on Email: collections.otautaumuseum@gmail.com  Cell: 027-211-4675 or Ph: 03-225-8991