Family history

SVEN HERSELMAN
Last updated 05:00 06/04/2014
Frank Cartwright
Sven Herselman

Blenheim man Frank Cartwright whose father Charles Henry Cartwright fought at Gallipoli.

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The effects of the ill-conceived and ultimately ill-fated Gallipoli campaign during World War I has had wide ranging and long lasting effects, not least of all for Blenheim man Frank Cartwright.

He owes his status as a Kiwi to the terrible siege which caused his British born farther Charles such hatred for his home country that he vowed never to return. Instead, after a foreign service posting in India, he chose to settle in New Zealand. "He admired the New Zealand soldiers egalitarian principals, their spirit under siege, their independence and their ‘can do' attitude - which I think was a lot like my father's approach to life," Frank says.

Even though Charles just about never spoke about his years of service during the great war, Frank has been able to put together a record that tells the amazing story of his life. Through dedicated research and talking to his mother Louisa he penned an excellent article for New Zealand Memories magazine in 2012, neatly encapsulating his father's life from his days as a 12-year-old working in coal mines to his "escape" into military service - after lying about his age - and later as a highly skilled military officer and family man. The life of Charles Cartwright couldn't make for a better film script.

"He told me very little about his service, but I know that he served in Europe and Egypt during the war. He had a tough life but he kept his compassion, especially for horses - which he had worked with in the coal mines.

"He told me about how he saw starving war horses in Gallipoli chewing each others tails and how it distressed him so badly. What he did have to say about the Turkish soldiers was that they were, ‘Brave and honourable fellows'," Frank says.

In another rare story about his time at Gallipoli he told Frank about how out of sheer desperation he drained rusty water from a truck's radiator to drink.

Charles survived all his hardship during the war, but sadly the effects of Gallipoli have a dark side too for the Cartwright family - as all wars tend to do. A piece of shrapnel that Charles had lodged in his head from his time on the Turkish peninsula led to his untimely death at the age of 51.

"They could never get it out, it was too dangerous, so he had that piece of metal in his head for over 30 years and it eventually caused a brain tumour," Frank says. The death of his father came just before his 14th birthday.

This left Frank, as the only son, the man of the house, "but only when my two older sisters let me," he says.

As a result he never knew his father "all that well", but he does have treasured memories, and it was his father who introduced him to fishing - a passion that still burns deeply for Frank as he approaches his 80th birthday. "He was a great fisherman and he introduced me to fishing and the philosophy and the respect for the outdoors and each other that it brings," Franks says. He in turn has passed this on to his son.

Despite all the hardship that the war caused his family Frank prefers, in typical Kiwi fashion, to look on the bright side of life. "It's not so much what it cost us, but what it left us with," he says.

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This rings true not only for him but for the close relationship that the Anzac nations share to this day.

- The Marlborough Express

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