Home' Greymouth Star : April 25th 2015 Contents Saturday Afternoon
6 - Saturday, April 25, 2015
Private Alexander Frederick McIntyre
n his official photo, Private
Alexander Frederick McIntyre’s
shoulders are pulled back with
pride, a young man on the cusp of a
great adventure. Sadly, he was dead
almost before it began.
Alexander hailed from Kamaka, where his
family once were goldminers at the famous
Notown, but upon enlisting he gave his
address as Herbert Street, Greymouth, and
occupation as labourer.
We know from his army records he was
5ft7, Anglican, and not married. He was 21.
He volunteered on August 13 — just eight
days after New Zealand entered the war —
joining the Canterbury Infantry Battalion.
But until about 30 years ago, some of
Alexander’s family did not even know he had
served in the war.
Relative Brian (“he was my grandfather’s
sister’s son”), made the discovery while
researching the family tree.
Alexander was, Brian says, illegitimate. He
recalls half-whispered stories as a boy.
“In the official info from the army he is
referred to as the brother of my grandfather,
but he was actually his nephew,” Brian says.
It is hard now to fully grasp the stain of
illegitimacy. Right up until the 1940s, many
believed that keeping an illegitimate child
was a fitting punishment for the mother’s
sin — and a warning to other women who
might be tempted to stray.
Some women were even denied pain relief
As a young boy, Brian met Alexander’s
mother at her Stillwater home near the
overhead bridge — “a dark old house, and a
little old lady shuffling around”.
A century later, the family is happy to let
the light shine on Alexander, and for his
story to be told.
“He died for us,” Brian says.
Brian’s search began when he found amid
his father’s possessions, Alexander’s Gallipoli
medal — “everyone who got killed got one”
and a photo of him.
“That was all I knew.”
So some years ago, coincidentally —
and poignantly — on Anzac Day, Brian
discovered that young Alexander had been
slain at Lone Pine, Gallipoli.
Sadly, much of his story died with him.
Alexander’s mother did later marry, and he
had a half-sister, but there were no children
to carry his memory.
Given the date of his death, he was most
probably killed in the Battle for Walker’s
Ridge, which involved Wellington and
Canterbury battalions. It was just two days
after the bloody Anzac landings at Gallipoli,
Alexander McIntyre’s name is one of 753
on the Lone Pine Memorial.
About the same time, Private Robert
Hunt Currie, of Ross, died on a distant
dusty battlefield, far from the lush bush that
encircles his hometown.
“The Curries were members of a mining
party who had claims in the area where the
proposed (new Ross) tramping track is going,
along with many other World War One
troops,” Ross resident Biddy Manera said, “so
they would have all walked out from their
claims, along Grimmond Avenue to sign up
to go off to war.”
Biddy began researching Robert ’s story
after remnants of a memorial plaque were
found last year while cleaning down the Ross
cenotaph for the war centennial.
Letters in newspapers around New Zealand
proved fruitless — until she placed one in the
RSA journal. Biddy was contacted by Helen
Borland, from Te Puke.
It turns out Robert Currie was Helen’s
mother’s great uncle, and her mum had
picked up the magazine at the Mount
“I knew my great-grandfather had been
to Boer War but hadn’t realised he had a
brother at Gallipoli — and now that he was
one of the first to perish there,” Helen says.
Private Robert Hunt Currie was a
According to his military records, he died
at Gallipoli between April 25 and May 1.
A veteran of the Boer War, in which he was
a corporal, he volunteered for the war in
Europe on August 12 — just one week after
war broke out
He was 5ft 4 and an old sports picture
from Ross shows a short man, immaculately
attired in a top hat, watch hanging from
his chest. Also unmarried, his military
records tell us he had brown eyes, and was
of dark complexion (his father came from
According to Robert’s death notice, his
father spent time as the Ross mayor.
Biddy has ploughed through old
newspapers and found that Robert and his
father co-owned the Empire Hotel for about
One of them (it is not clear which) was
brought before the courts for operating a
bakery without a licence at an Aylmer Street
address in the early 1900s.
Less is known of Robert Currie the
soldier and his family picked out the RSA
advertisement through his middle name,
His military records reveal he died in the
Battle of Fisherman’s Hut.
That battle raged all day, on the arid tops of
the ranges above North Beach as the landing
parties, reinforced by other units who came
ashore in subsequent waves, tried to secure
the all-important objectives of Battleship
Hill and Baby 700.
Eventually, a determined Turkish counter-
attack late in the afternoon of April 25 drove
the Australians and New Zealanders back to
lines not far from the crests of the cliffs that
they had climbed up after the landing.
The Commonwealth War Graves
Commission documents that 754 Australian
and 147 New Zealand soldiers died on April
25, 1915 — now commemorated as Anzac
Allan Gillingham, whose parents were from
Cobden, was killed on April 25 — the first
day of the landings.
His address on signing up was Invercargill
and he was in the Otago Infantry Regiment.
The 23-year-old, who came from Bright
Street, stormed the beach at 3pm but was
killed by shrapnel 30 minutes later.
One was brand new to war, an illegitimate son whose story was almost forgotten. The other a Boer War
veteran, probably slain on what was to become Anzac Day. Today, the 100th anniversary of the disastrous
Gallipoli landing, LAURA MILLS remembers the first two West Coast casualties of World War One.
The first to fall on Gallipoli’s shores
It is almost unbearable to imagine the pain of
Rimu parents William and Ellen Comport, who
lost three sons on foreign battlefields.
By 1917, as the community gathered in the Rimu
Town Hall to see off a fifth Comport, Harry, two
of his brothers were already dead. What could their
parents have felt that winter’s day, as their guests
danced and sang?
Before the guns fell silent 16 months later, Harry
also would be dead, another brother wounded, a
Adding to their unbearable pain, the sad couple
even received a letter from one son after they had
been told of his death.
Historian Julia Bradshaw, of the Hokitika
Museum, has found records for their five sons.
The eldest, William Charles (born 1884) was
killed in action in September 1916. The Stuart and
Chapman sawmill worker was felled in France.
John (born 1887) enlisted in August 1915, and
Albert (born 1892) enlisted in Australia and died
of wounds in July 1916.
Charles (born 1894) was admitted to hospital
at the Dardanelles (Gallipoli) with dysentery in
August 1915. He was sent to France, and was back
in hospital with scabies in April 1917. He rejoined
his battalion, only to go down with peri-fibrosis/
tuberculosis during the winter of 1917.
Although he returned home to the West Coast in
1919 his health was still very poor in 1921.
Harry (born 1897) was the last of the brothers to
die, in October in France — just a month before
peace was declared.
The Comport family heartbreak has been
remembered in Rimu for generations. It was also
recorded in the newspapers of the time.
Grey River Argus, August 28, 1916: “Mrs W A
Comport, of Rimu, received a letter from her son
Albert, written from France.
“It is presumed, therefore, that the young man lost
his life on the West (sic) Front and not in Egypt, as
stated when the news of his death came to hand a
few days ago.”
July 21, 1917: “The farewell social at the Rimu
Town Hall tendered to Lance Corporal Comport
and Private H Growcott on Thursday evening was
a great success ... Lance-Corporal Comport is the
fifth son of Mr and Mrs Comport to go an active
service. Two of the brothers (Albert and William)
have made the supreme sacrifice.”
October 16, 1917: “Mr W A Comport, of Rimu,
was advised on Saturday that his son, Private John
Comport, had been admitted to Tidworth Military
Hospital on September 28 suffering from dilated
action of the heart.”
December 20, 1917: “Private C Comport of
Rimu has been invalided home, and will arrive in
Lyttelton on or about 30th December.”
January 7, 1918: “Invalided West Coasters recently
arrived include C Comport, of Rimu, who has been
sent to Te Waikato Sanitorium.”
January 10, 1918: “Mrs W A Comport, of Rimu,
was advised on Monday by the Minister of Defence
that her son, Private Harry (Digger) Comport had
been admitted to the military hospital at Tooting
on December 24, suffering from severe bronchitis.
Harry was the fifth son to go the front.”
October 30, 1918: Private H (Harry) Comport is
killed in action. “ Two brothers have previously been
PICTURED: Albert Comport, left, and
brothers Harry, John, William and Charles.
The tragedy of the Comport boys
Blackball man Samuel Frickleton
was awarded the Victoria Cross by
King George V for his courageous
leadership during World War One
during battle at Messines, Belgium, on
7 June, 1917.
Lance corporal Frickleton was a
rifleman in the 3rd Battalion of the
New Zealand Rifle Brigade when his
battalion came under heavy fire from
German forces at Messines.
The battalion was held up on the
outskirts of the village by several
machine-guns firing from the other
side of the artillery barrage. After
detonating mines, and his company
suffering heavy casualties, Frickleton
advanced up the ridge and into the
Already wounded, and calling his
section to follow him, he advanced
through the barrage to one of the
The smoke and noise of the shelling
concealed his approach until the last
moment. He lobbed in a grenade,
rushed the post and killed those inside.
With his comrades providing
covering fire, he then rushed a second
machine-gun post 25m away, killing its
crew of 12 and destroying the gun.
Frickleton then led his men through
the village, clearing out Germans
lodged in the ruins and other prepared
positions. Wounded a second time, he
was carried from the battlefield and
later evacuated to England.
He was awarded the VC for his
courageous leadership: “By the
destruction of these two guns he
undoubtedly saved his own and other
units from very severe casualties, and
his magnificent courage and gallantry
ensured the capture of the objective.”
Private Robert Hunt Currie
Lance corporal Samuel Frickleton VC, 3rd
Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
Scottish born Blackball man Samuel Frickleton is awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V for courageous leadership dur-
ing World War One.
Coast’s Victoria Cross winner
Every country town on the West
Coast saw their young men line up to
enlist and fight overseas when World
War One broke out. Blackball was just
one of those towns.
New Zealand had one of the highest
casualty and death rates per capita
of any country involved in the war.
The statistics paint a bleak picture.
Forty-two per cent of men of military
age served in the New Zealand
Expeditionary Forces overseas - 16,697
lost their lives. Just over 1000 men died
within five years of returning home, as
a result of injuries sustained at war, and
507 young men died while training in
military camps between 1914 and 1918.
Blackball families saw an incredible
113 of their young men joining the
armed forces to fight the Germans. The
Frickleton and Neilson families each
had five sons serving on the frontline;
one from each family was killed in
Brothers Victor, William, James,
Charles and Bert Neilson fought
overseas, William and Charlie at
Gallipoli and their three brothers in
France. Victor was killed in battle in
France, William had his ear drums
blown out, Charles suffered the
effects of mustard gas, and James was
wounded in battle.
A cluster of cards and photos carried
in James Neilson’s tunic pocket took the
impact of enemy fire on the battlefield,
and while he was wounded, they
remarkably saved his life. One of those
photos, showing James and his brother
William in army uniform, holds the
powder burns and fragmented bullet
hole — along with memories of his
brush with death.
Brothers Fredrick, Thomas, Samuel,
James and William Frickleton fought
across the battle grounds of Europe.
William was killed in action but his
four brothers returned home, battle
wary but safe, to Blackball, including
Samuel Frickleton, with the Victoria
Cross presented to him by King
George V for his courageous leadership
during battle at Messines, Belgium, on
June 7, 1917.
Former Blackball resident Les
Neilson is a nephew of the five Neilson
brothers and has visited the burial site
of his late uncle Victor, in France.
“To think so many from the town
went to the First World War and to
think five went from our family and
five from the Frickleton family is quite
remarkable,” Les says.
“I visited the site of my late uncle
Victor five years ago and it was very
emotional for me. I dug a small hole
by his tombstone and placed a piece of
Blackball coal and a piece of greenstone
“He lies there with so many other
New Zealand soldiers — a long way
Bullet fragments pierce a photo carried in battle by James Neilson, left, pictured with his
The town that
gave so much
EvEvereryy ccountry toownwn oon thhee WeW stt
Coast saw their younngg men line up to
enlist and fight oveverseas h
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