Families at war

22:58, Nov 05 2012
mark and ellen caswell
HOLME FARM: Mark and Ellen Caswell were to lose two of their 17 children in the Great War.

As the Mackenzie branch of the RSA plans its Armistice Day commemorations at Albury for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Past Times looks at the fortunes of three families in a corner of a small community northwest of Albury during the Great War.

Te Ngawai is a settlement centred around the Camp Valley and Limestone Valley roads that was settled in 1897 when the Albury Sheep Station was balloted off into 76 smaller holdings for farming. Halfway up the Camp Valley Rd was Holme Farm, farmed by Mark Caswell and his second wife, Ellen, who raised 17 children between them.

Of those children, six enlisted for the Great War and two of them did not return.

george caswell
WORKING HORSES: George Caswell, right, worked on his father's Holme Farm before losing his life, with his brother, in the Great War.

George Arthur joined the 2nd (South Canterbury) Infantry regiment and was killed at the first Battle of the Somme in September 1916.

Brother William enlisted with the Vet Corps as part of the 8th Reinforcements and was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917.

The other four, Alfred, Francis, Henry and James enlisted with the 8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles and served in Palestine, James being attached to the Vet Corps.


ernie snushall
READY TO FIGHT: Ernie Snushall, of Te Ngawai, was killed on the "Hill 60", in the last great battle at Gallipoli.

Further up the road and over the Majuba Saddle (also known as Scrapehard Pass) were the McVey Family. John and Mary McVey were Ulster folk who acquired their holding through the original ballot. They raised 12 children in a two-bedroom cottage just above the Te Ngawai School where they milled timber as a sideline to farming.

The seven boys were keen rugby players and all of them played for the Mackenzie Sub Union.

The eldest son, John, enlisted but wasn't sent overseas, but the next three brothers joined up for the Great War. Daniel Morrison McVey enlisted with the South Canterbury Mounteds and left for Egypt from Lyttelton on the Athenic and served at the Gallipoli Campaign but died of disease (typhoid) at Alexandria after he was evacuated from the failed campaign in August 1915.

tg mcvey
MANY WARS: Private T G McVey, of Te Ngawai, survived being gassed in France, went on to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but died in World War II after he stepped on a landmine.

William Robert joined the Otago Infantry Regiment and suffered a similar fate, dying of disease in northern France in August 1917.

Fourth brother Thomas George enlisted with the South Canterbury Infantry and served in France and was gassed in the trenches, an injury he recovered from sufficiently to establish the Te Ngawai Football (Rugby) Club after his return in 1921. Tommy wasn't satisfied with his Great War experience and joined the International Brigade that fought Franco's Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War (1936-38). He re-enlisted at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.

T G McVey served in North Africa and Italy, and died when he stepped on a stirrup mine at Sangro River in November 1943, aged 45. The fifth brother, James Gunn, was killed in an accident at the Cave lime works in 1937, but younger brothers Marcus and Nelson served with the 35th Battalion in the Pacific theatre.

w r mcvey
STRUCK DOWN: Private W R McVey, of Te Ngawai, died of disease in northern France in 1917.

A few yards down the road from the Te Ngawai School on the Limestone Valley corner was the Snushall family. John William and Edith were also original ballot winners of 1897 and raised a more modest family than their McVey and Caswell neighbours. Three of their four sons were old enough to volunteer for World War I. Henry Ernest Snushall went away with Dan McVey for the Gallipoli Campaign with the South Canterbury Mounted Rifles. He was killed in action at "Hill 60" in August 1915, with a number of other Mackenzie County men. His brothers Maurice and Percy joined the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and saw action in France in 1917 and 1918.

With the Te Ngawai School now gone, the war memorial is all that remains of the settlement, a peaceful place to contemplate the sacrifice made by, in particular, three families who had 12 sons leave for the Great War and only seven return, and one of those not to return from World War II.

The 2nd (South Canterbury) Infantry Regiment motto was "Pro Patria" (For Country), complemented by that of the 8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles motto: "Mofeo et Profitor" (By my actions I am known). By their actions they are remembered.

daniel mcvey
KILLED BY TYPHOID: Daniel McVey enlisted with the South Canterbury Mounteds but died of typhoid at Alexandria after he was evacuated from the failed Gallipoli campaign in August 1915.

The Timaru Herald