100 Years

1918 - 2018

Marking the end of World War I

Telegram to Jessie

By Mardie Whitla

Jessie was born in Wellington New Zealand in 1863, during the Maori wars. At the age of 18 she married John, 13 years her senior, and together, despite raging wild-fires at times, and the rapid and often dangerous River Mangorei, they became dedicated pioneers developing Range Farm in the remote hills of Upper Mangorei, Taranaki.

Benjamin was born ten months after their marriage: over the following sixteen years Jessie bore eleven more children, eight of whom were boys.

Morris Connington Brown, her eighth child, was born in New Plymouth into this large and ever-growing farm family in 1892. He sometimes accompanied his big brother John when he worked as a tree feller, and from his late teenage years was employed as an engineer with the railways, traversing New Zealand.

Then the Great War.

The Opunake Times kept the local population informed twice a week: the lines of defence, German attacks, where the French troops were concentrated, a new Allied line. In August 1914 the newspaper conveyed: The sensation of the week is provided by the safe arrival across the Channel of the British Expedition. It was splendidly organised…... the task of making a new army to help the old one carry the prestige of Britain through the terrible war…… Our men will be formed with the Canadians and Australians into a force styled the Imperial Army.

Morris enlisted to “serve his King” on 23rd August 1914. Four of his brothers did so soon after.

Thankfully everything in the August newspapers was not about the war. Its social pages reported on the 23rd that there had been a most enjoyable evening held with the footballers voting for the McGee medal (Walter Rowlands won) and the dance that followed with about 85 couples taking part. And Mr Chas Callaghan notified that owing to the increase in the price of flour he had to discontinue discounts. And Taranaki defeated Canterbury at New Plymouth by 6 points to 5.

After enlistment Morris trained with the Otago 4th Infantry Battalion in New Zealand until mid-October, departing his country from Dunedin on 16th October, then spending 49 days at sea, until finally disembarking at Alexandria, Egypt.

The Gallipoli campaign was well underway and by the 29th April the battle of the landing was over, British and French troops had established a tenuous foothold on the peninsula, but it was stalemate waiting for the ANZAC perimeter to become relatively secure.

On the evening of 2nd May Corporal Morris Connington Brown, regimental number 8/648, was with the ANZACs who suffered a badly prepared and uncoordinated plan to secure “Baby700”, attacking the Ottomans. Morris was among the thousand casualties, killed in action.

When Jessie received notice of her son’s death it was via a pale yellow New Zealand telegraphic message stating only “Maurice Brown killed in action news just received.” His name was spelled incorrectly.

Five of Jessie’s sons served in World War 1: Morris’s brothers Frank and David were also killed at war. Only two returned home. John, at the age of nineteen had been killed before the war, tree-felling. Her beloved daughter Laura was killed in a car crash two years after the Armistice.

Jessie died in 1942, surviving her husband, and all but five of her twelve children. A page long tribute to her in a Taranaki newspaper concluded: This fragile grief-stricken woman, ageing in body but not in spirit faced her sorrows so courageously that she was an inspiration to all who knew her.

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/gallipoli-telegraph  (Ministry for Culture and Heritage)

Mardie Whitla, 2018

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