Tuesday, August 5, 2014

HAM, William Arthur (1892-1915) and Thomas Henry Merrick (Harry) (1895-1942)


William Ham

In 1903 William Edward and Hester Hawthorne (née Barnwell) Ham left their home in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, and set sail for New Zealand. With them were their three sons, William Arthur, born in Bray,14 April 1892, Thomas Henry Merrick (Harry), born Dublin, 31 May, 1895, and John Sidney (Jack), born Dublin, 14 November, 1902. The family travelled on the RMS Athenic, the very ship that would transport young William to Egypt 11 years later. 

After arriving in Wellington, New Zealand in October, 1903, they moved to Wanganui, where William attended Wanganui Public School and a fourth son, Cyril Edward, was born at the family's Ball Street address on 3 January, 1904. There is a story of land bought in Wanganui but  somehow lost, and by 1905 they had shifted south, to the small rural settlement of Ngatimoti, near Motueka. The move to the other side of the world was prompted by medical advice that William Snr's chronic weakness of the lungs might benefit from a change of climate. Doctors back Home appeared to have the mistaken idea that New Zealand was a tropical paradise – in fact the hard frosts and damp Waiwhero swamps proved quite detrimental to William Ham’s health, which continued to steadily deteriorate.The shift to Ngatimoti may have been made through connections with the Anglican Church - William Edward Ham's father, the Rev. Thomas Ham, was a clergyman with the Church of Ireland in the parish of Rosenallis, Laois (formerly Queen's County), and William Snr had a reputation himself as a lay preacher of note.


William Arthur was 13 when he enrolled at Orinoco School in May,1905. His brother Harry followed him in due course. The Hams had been members of the Protestant Church of Ireland and no doubt attended St James Anglican Church, hub of community and social life in the Motueka Valley. Like many women who immigrated from more civilized urban environments, Mrs Ham found the rigorous life in rural colonial New Zealand a big culture shock. The Barnwells were a family of some social standing and she had been used to having domestic help.The 1901 Census of Ireland shows Wiilam and Hester living at Florence Road, Bray, with their two sons Willie and Harry and a 19-year-old maidservant, Mary Tobin. Now Hester had to learn from scratch how to cook, do the laundry and manage a household while bearing and raising her children. Mr Ham took work with one of the local portable sawmills like the one pictured below He later drove a van servicing the area for Rankin & Sons of Motueka. Most locals ran smallholdings and were largely self-sufficient, but it was common practice for residents to barter produce like butter and eggs for  items like flour and sugar from the grocery vans.

Tomlinsons' mill sawing on the property of C. E. Beatson, Orinoco, 1910.
The two men pictured are probably brothers 
Albert and Bernard Tomlinson, known as Alb and Bern.

The Hams never owned their own land, but they very likely grew vegetables and ran a few hens and perhaps a dairy cow at the properties they leased. They moved about the district as they followed work, living variously in Ngatimoti, Pokororo and Motueka township, but settled for some time at two Waiwhero properties; near White Pine Swamp and also at the converted creamery formerly run by Rankins by the foot of Church Hill, next to the Orinoco Stream, in the area known locally as “Siberia” because the frost never melts on the flat there in winter.

His was a close-knit family, and William (known as both Willie and Bill) was very patient with his younger brothers, spending time with them and teaching them how to swim in the creek behind their house. By now he had two more siblings; Ralph Eagar (b. 4 January, 1907, in Motueka) and Ernest James (b. 23 October,1911 at Ngatimoti). He was particularly attached to his brother Harry, and like most boys, they sometimes got up to mischief together -  a family tale has it that they would occasionally sneak up Church Hill to the nearby Brethren Hall and startle the congregation during meetings by banging on the wall, before making a quick getaway. Before the war, the Plymouth Brethren established by James George Deck in the Waiwhero area and their Anglican neighbours intermarried and worked amicably together within the Ngatimoti community.

William and Harry would have had friends among the other young lads of the district with whom they attended school, and despite being expected to work on labour-intensive family farms, most found time to muck about on the river; fishing, eeling and playing about with rafts and canoes. They went hunting – extra meat was always welcome on the table at home. C.B. Brereton later remarked that accurate shooting for which the local boys were praised at the Battle of the Suez Canal was a result of skills gained hunting around the bush-clad hills of home. All the boys spent a lot of time drilling with the Senior Cadets, based in Motueka. Once they reached 18, they joined the local contingent of the 12th (Nelson and Marlborough) Regiment of the NZ Territorial Force. William’s family was deeply  patriotic, with a strong tradition of military service. William and Harry were keen members of both the Senior Cadets and the Territorials. 

Lt-rt: Herbert (Bert) Thomason, Harry Ham, Ken James, Frank Strachan
Cadet drill at the opening of the Ngatimoti Peninsula Bridge, 1913.

At the age of sixteen, William started work in 1909 as a farmhand for George Beatson, who was breaking in a farm on the West Bank of the Motueka River at the Ngatimoti Peninsula. William would have helped with stock work and cultivating crops, but probably spent quite a bit of time doing hard graft helping George Beatson clear scrub, stumps and blackberry from 20 acres of his land intended for raspberry gardens. William was a labourer for a Waimea County Council survey team at the time of his enlistment, and possibly worked on the access road for the Peninsula Bridge, which was then in construction and opened in 1913. Before then William would have had to row a boat across the Motueka River to get to work.cross the river to get to work.


Building the West Bank Road c. 1912
The sort of work William Ham would have been doing before while working for the Waimea County Council

With war with Germany looking more and more likely, the annual Territorials camp at George MacMahon's Tapawera farm in April, 1914, was a serious affair, attended by around 11,000 men from the Top of the South Island. William joined up with the 12th (Nelson) Company of the NZ Expeditionary Force's newly raised Canterbury Infantry Battalion, being one of the first to volunteer when war was declared on the 4th August, 1914.  By the 11th of August he was among the men from Motueka and surrounding  districts farewelled at Motueka’s Old Wharf before they took the little coastal steamer Nikau to Nelson on the first leg of their long journey. As they sailed across the bay, the Ngatimoti boys caught a last poignant glimpse of Ngatimoti’s iconic Green Hill, known as “White Rock” for its limestone crown.

The "Nikau" departs from the old Motueka Wharf on 11th August, 1914, heading for Nelson with the first volunteers from Motueka and districts.

After training during a particularly wet spring, first at Addington and Sockburn in Christchurch, and later at Trentham, William finally set out with his unit from Wellington on the troopship Athenic in October with the Main Body of the NZ Expeditionary Force – departure was delayed until it was considered safe as there had been reports of enemy activity in the Pacific. Several other Ngatimoti men were also on board,  including 12th Company commanding officer, Major (later Lt-Col.) C. B.Brereton, Hector Guy, H.H. (Bert) Thomason, Jim Green, Ronald Slatter and Alan de Castro .Their excitement was naturally mixed with apprehension, and they were heartened by a welcome visit from an old friend just before they embarked, the Rev. William Baker, who for many years served as vicar at St James Church, Ngatimoti.


The NZEF troops were intended as reinforcements for France, but were diverted to Eygpt when Turkey joined the war as a German ally. They were based at Zeitoun, where they underwent further training with the men of the Australian Imperial Army,  becoming a joint contingent known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, soon dubbed the ANZACs. By January 1915 it was clear that the Turks were preparing to mount an attack on the Suez Canal, and a short but fiercely contested battle for control of the Suez Canal took place on the 3rd of February, 1915. During this battle the 12th (Nelson) Company played a significant part. Responding to a call for aid from the 62nd Punjabis stationed nearby, 10 Platoon of the 12th Company, of which William Ham was a member, used sustained rifle fire to thwart the main Turkish attempt to force a crossing over the Canal at Serapeum. They were later commended by their efforts, especially given that they only had rifles at their disposal  - by an operational oversight their machine guns had been left behind at camp, 10 miles away. 

Fighting started just after 3 o'clock in the morning, and 10 Platoon, supported by long-range enfilading fire from 9 Platoon, kept up a furious non-stop defence under fire until 2.30 that afternoon. Ironically, it was then, when the men were ordered to retire on the Indian Headquarters for a break, that the members of 10 Platoon were exposed to enemy fire and William Ham was mortally wounded by a bullet which riccocheted off his rifle and struck him in the neck, leaving him paralysed. 

William Ham's platoon commander, 2nd Lt Alister Forsythe, went back to give aid and make William as comfortable as possible, but his position was so exposed that he couldn't be brought in straight away, but had to lie where he fell until the Indian stretchers bearers were able to collect him. He was taken to Ismailia Hospital and died there on the evening of February 5th, 1915, becoming the NZ Expeditionary Force's first battlefield casualty. Major Brereton and Lt Forsythe arranged his funeral, and at 9.15 on the morning of February 7th, with the whole company in attendance, he was buried with full military honours in a plot at the Ismailia Eurpoean Cemetery. Also present were several high-ranking officers, among them General (later Brigader-General) Harold Bridgwood WalkerLt-Colonel Douglas Macbean Stewart, Colonel (later Brigadier-General) Francis E Johnston and Major Arthur Temperley, Johnston's brigade major. Lt-Col. Stewart was commanding officer of the 1st (Canterbury) Company, which had travelled to Egypt on the Athenic with the 12th Company men.

By this time his family at home were living in Nelson, so as to be close to William Snr, who was then in hospital with pneumonia. Although the Canal Battle was reported in the Nelson Evening Mail, on February 6th 1915,  so early in the war, the mechanisms for notifying family of war-related deaths had not yet been put in place. In an interview recorded in 1964, William's posthumous sister-in-law, Violet Ham (nee Mitchell) , recalled the manner in which the family found out about William's death.


"He [William] was a daredevil type who looked upon it as an adventure, I think. He was killed so early in the war that there was no notification of the next of kin. When my husband [Harry] went to work in the morning, somebody picked up the paper and said 'Was that your brother who was killed?', and it had been his brother, killed at 21."

Having already lost four relatives back home to the War, the news of William's death hit his family hard, the shock contributing to his father's own death from a heart attack on 19 February, 1915, just 11 days after he heard the bad news about his oldest son. Nevertheless, William's brother, Harry, also joined up on the 15th of December, 1915, at the age of 20. The family had stayed on in Nelson and Harry was living with his mother and brothers at 140 Hardy Street at the time. He was working as a salesman for the Hardy Street, Nelson, branch of Ross & Glendining and training with "H' Battery, a militia unit established in Nelson in 1873 and affiliated with the NZ Field Artillery. He served as a Gunner/Driver with the NZ Field Artillery and survived to complete his service. The remaining Ham boys were too young to serve during the First World War, but all joined the Territorials when old enough.

Left with little income and children to support, Hester Ham remarried on the 1st of February, 1916, at Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson, to a Ngatimoti neighbour, Englishman Cyril Bartlett, who in 1910 had bought the White Pine Swamp farm on Waiwhero Road not far from Hams' home. Inspired by the sacrifice of Hester's son William, Cyril enlisted with the 12th (Nelson) Company not long after their wedding and was killed at Ypres, Belgium on 15 December, 1917. Hester lived at Cyril Bartlett's Ngatimoti property with her younger children following her marriage, but on the announcement of the Soldier Settlement Scheme in 1918, she offered the Land Board the Ngatimoti land she had inherited at Cyril's death for discharged soldiers at 14 pounds per acre. This offer wasn't taken up, but after Harry's demobilisation in 1919 Hester sold the White Pine Swamp farm to William Stratford and moved with her family to Dunedin. Another of her sons was lost - Cyril Ham died in 1927, at the age of 23.

Harry worked as a furrier in Dunedin, from a business known as Ham & Kearns. He met a Dunedin girl, Violet Mitchell, and on the 1st of November, 1922, they married at Knox Church in Dunedin. They lived at Waitaki, Dunedin, and had a family of three, two daughters and a son, but later moved to Invercargill. Harry struggled with chronic bronchitis as a result of conditions he suffered during the First World War and fought an ongoing but unsuccessful battle for compensation which left his mother feeling quite bitter towards the government of the day. When World War Two broke out, Harry enlisted for a second time in 1941 and served as a Captain with 8 Brigade Group in the Pacific during WWII. He died at the age of 46  on 1 February, 1942, as a result of sickness, possibly aggravated by his pre-existing condition, and lies at the Suva Military Cemetery in Fiji. 

John Ham went on to become a typewriter mechanic. He stayed for some time in Dunedin, then moved to Wellington. He married Barbara Alice in 1938. They were living in Palmerston North when John died at the age of 48. Ralph worked as a printer and remained in Dunedin. He married Frances Adelaide in 1941 and they had a family of five. During WWII he served with the 2nd Division Artlliery. He was 62 when he died suddenly at his home in Macandrew Bay, Dunedin. Ernest worked a club manager in Dunedin, but had moved to Palmerston North by the time of his death at the age of 67 in 1979, perhaps to be closer to his brother, Jack. Hester Ham lived in Dunedin until her death in 1947 and is remembered as a resolute lady, dignified and well-spoken. 

On hearing the news of William Ham's death, the NZ Defence Minister said that he "hoped that it would be of some consolation to Ham's parents that their son was 'the first upon the roll of honour of the New Zealanders to die in action for their King and country in upholding justice and right'." Although proud of her son's sacrifice, it's debatable whether Hester found this suffcient consolation for the heavy price she paid.

William Ham gets a special mention on the Ngatimoti War Memorial


Memorials
William Arthur Ham is buried at the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt. He is commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial and the Motueka War Memorial in Tasman, New Zealand, and also at the War Memorial in Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, where he was born.


References and Further Sources

See  Private William Arthur Ham at the Prow website for further detail 


The Suez Canal Fight: Nelsonians in Action (1915, April 9) The Colonist, p.6
Diary entries from Alexander Elder (Alister) Forsythe, of Motueka, 2nd Lieutenant, 12th (Nelson) Company, Canterbury Infantry Battalion, dated from the 3-9 February, 1915. Forsythe was the man on the spot and his eye-witness accounts are of particular interest. One of Major Brereton’s subalterns, he was in charge of the relief party which discovered the Turks attempting a crossing of the Canal. He was also right behind Wm Ham when he was hit, and took care of him till he was collected by the stretcher bearers. Forsythe helped Brereton arrange Ham's funeral and accompanied the major on a trip back up the Canal with his officers a few days after the battle to see for themselves, from the Turkish side of the bank, the sobering results of the 12th Company's highly effective defence.

First war death was from Motueka  Holyoake, F. (1984, April 26) Historic Motueka. Motueka Golden Bay News.

Tasman Roll of Honour. Kete Tasman:  William Arthur Ham

Arrival in Wellington NZ on 15 October 1903 of W.E. Ham, wife Hester and sons W.A, T.H.M. and J.S. Ham
Intended destination given as Gisborne, NZ
Archives NZ, Passenger lists, 1839-1973, accessed per Family Search.org
https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QJDJ-MHTL

Violet Ham (nee Mitchell) interview in 1914-1918, a documentary put together by Jim Henderson in 1964.
This recording can be heard at the Nga Taonga Sound & Vision blog, in a February 5, 2015, post by Sarah Johnston, titled NZ's First Combat Death of World War I

The news report which alerted Harry Ham to his brother William's death.
Death of Private Ham
Colonist, 8 February, 1915.

Notice: Death of Mr William E. Ham, father of Pvt William A. Ham
Colonist, 21 April. 1915.

"H" Battery - see Nelson Military District in the Cyclopedia NZ, 1906) 

Marriage certificate no 1922/6135: Thomas Henry Merrick Ham & Violet Mitchell.

Archives NZ. Military Personnel Record: Thomas Henry Merrick Ham
Note: Merrick was the maiden name of Harry's maternal great-grandmother. "Eager", his brother Ralph's second name, was the maiden name of their paternal grandmother.

Colonist, 22 February, 1919: Personal
"Mrs Bartlett of Ngatimoti has received word thet her son, Driver Harry Ham, who left with the Eleventh Reinforcements, is returning to New Zealand at the beginning of March."


Photo credits

William Arthur Ham. Photograph taken by Motueka photographer William Bridle during  the Territorials camp held at George MacMahon's Tapawera farm in April, 1914.
Courtesy of the Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database

Harry Ham drilling with the Senior Cadets aon the occasion of the  opening of the Peninsula Bridge at Ngatimoti.
From Our Boy: Francis Alexander Cochrane Strachan. His Letters and Diaries, with a short record of his life. Published privately by the family of Frank Strachan, in 1920, and printed by L.T. Watkins, Wellington. 

First volunteers from Motueka and districts Nikau departing for Nelson on the coastal steamer "Nikau" from the old Motueka Wharf, 11th August, 1914. 
Courtesy Motueka & District Historical Association. Fergus Holyoake Collection, ref: 1462.

Tomlinsons' mill sawing at Beatsons' Bush, Ngatimoti Peninsula, c. 1910. Typical of the sort of portable saw-mill to be found all over the district at the time.
Guy Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum Permanant Collection, ref. 315051

Photographer Walter Guy had a farm down the Orinoco Road, with a home where Monterey House stands today. He was a keen amateur photographer. and widely recorded daily life in the Motueka Valley. He served as a private with the Canterbury Infantry during WWI and was killed in action at the Somme, France, on 27 March, 1918. He is commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial along with William Ham.

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