Sunday, August 17, 2014

de CASTRO, Alan Hirst (1889-1915)

Trooper Alan de Castro. Serial no. 7/187
 Canterbury Mounted Rifles, Main Body, NZ Expeditionary Force.

Alan's paternal grandfather, the Rev Charles Daniel de Castro, was born at Knightsbridge, near London, in 1832. A gentleman of means, he was educated at private schools in England and France, and then at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. When he came out to New Zealand on the Cornwall in 1853, family legend has it that he brought with him a pre-fabricated house, servants and horse and carriage. [1]

Also on board the Cornwall were the Salisbury family - Constantia and Edward Salisbury and their older sister, Mary Ellen (Ella), with her husband Thomas Henry Vyvyan and their children  - with whom he developed a close friendship during the voyage. On board as well was Thomas Vyvyan’s good friend James George Deck, founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement in New Zealand.[2] The Salisburys came from a background of wealth and privilege, raised in comfort and educated by private tutors, however a dramatic downturn in their father's fortunes had left the family in disarray. Their mother had died some years earlier and following the collapse of his finances, their father fled England. The Salisbury siblings decided to travel to New Zealand and join up with their brother, John Park Salisbury, already resident in New Zealand.

Alan de Castro with Ngatimoti friend
Hector Guy, taken at Zeitoun Camp, Cairo.
before the campaign on Gallipoli
Charles de Castro was very taken with Constantia (known as Constance) Salisbury, by all accounts a pretty and sweet-natured young lady, and a shipboard romance ensued. Constance and Charles married at St Pauls Cathedral on arrival in Wellington, and Charles de Castro set up a school known as Apsley Academy in their Wellington home. Sadly, Constance died in childbirth the following year, however the warm relationship between Charles de Castro and his erstwhile in-laws, the Salisburys, remained undiminished by her death. [3]

When Charles remarried in 1855, to Isabella, the third daughter of Dr Frederick Knox of Wellington, their family was seen as kin by the Salisburys and Vyvyans, now settled in the areas around Motueka and Pokororo.`Charles and Isabella de Castro had fourteen children; eight sons and six daughters.

 William Waring Knox de Castro was their second son, and Alan Hirst de Castro’s father. William de Castro, born 1861 at Porirua, where his father was then farming, was a civil servant of some significance. He served in the Lands and Deeds Office in Wellington, Christchurch, Hokitika and Blenheim. In 1892 he moved to the Land Transfer and Deeds Registry Office in Nelson where he was for the next 20 years Deputy Commissioner of Stamps and Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court in Nelson [4]

He had married Helen (Nellie) Ratcliffe Dixon in Hokitika on February 8,1886.[5] Nellie was born in Upper Takaka. Her parents Ezra Brook and Laura (nee Yeo) Dixon were pioneers of settlement in the Takaka Valley who were both schoolteachers. In 1876 Ezra Dixon took a position at head teacher at Hokitika State School.[6]

Two Margarets during a visit to Ngatimoti.
Alan's sister Margie de Castro (lt) and
Daisy Guy (rt) at the Guy family home
"Sunny Brae"

Wiiliam and Nellie de Castro had four children. Alan Hirst de Castro, born in Blenheim on the 14th of June, 1889, was the second in the family and the oldest son. He had an older sister, Muriel Knox, and two younger siblings, Margaret Helen and Keith Yeo. The family made their home at Stoke for about 16 years. Alan went to the Stoke Public School, at that time in the charge of headmaster John Naylor, and attended Nelson College from 1904 to 1906. [7] William de Castro and his family often visited Motueka and revived contact with their old family friends the Salisburys, now a generation on and scattered around the Motueka and Graham Valleys. John Edward Salisbury, [8] had a farm known as "Middle Bank" up Lloyds Valley, off the Thorpe-Orinoco Road. Through him, the de Castros soon found other friends at Orinoco, like the Guys and in particular the Strachans at "Manawatane", whose son Frank and Alan’s sister Margaret (Margie) became sweethearts.[9]  Many visits were exchanged back and forth between Stioke and Ngatimoti over the years. In the relatively isolated Ngatimoti community, hospitality was offered freely and visitors were always welcome. Visits between friends and relatives were an important part of social life and often lasted for days, or in some cases weeks.

William de Castro was a Freemason of note. He was Master of Lodge Victory, Nelson, and also served as the first Master of Lodge Motueka 117, of which he was a founding member, along with John Arliss Guy of Ngatimoti, Alexander White of Orinoco and Motueka's hardworking and intrepid country doctor, Henry O'Brien Deck. All were to lose sons duing the war. Lodges and Friendly Societies were a powerful networking tool for men of business and public affairs in colonial New Zealand, and even a small town like Motueka had no less than three;  the Masonic Lodge and two Friendly Societies, the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows and the Ancient Order of Foresters.

Alan's father William de Castro
in Masonic regalia.
Alan would have got to know and befriend the local lads from the Motueka area and probably trained with them. His father William had been involved with several volunteer mounted militia groups, including the 1st Westland Rifles and the Blenheim City Rifles, and Alan followed suit. He served with the Nelson College Cadets and then became a member of the 10th (Nelson) Mounted Rifles, commanded by Motueka's Dr Henry Deck, a Boer War veteran. Dr Deck's son Robin (Bob) was killed at Gallipoli. Alan worked in orchards around Stoke after he finished school. His family appears to have moved to Mount Street in central Nelson around the time Alan attended Nelson College and it was there that a reception was held on the 30th of March, 1910, following the marriage of Alan's older sister Muriel to bookseller Albert Edward Jackson at All Saints' Anglican Church. Alan and his younger sister Margie were both members of the wedding party. [10] All Saints' was the de Castro family's parish church of choice, and William de Castro served as a churchwarden there between 1902 and 1908.

When his father was promoted and transferred to the Invercargill branch of Lands and Deeds in July, 1912, Alan moved to Motueka, where he had many friends and contacts. He continued his training there with the 10th (Nelson) Squadron of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Territorials unit ,and was no doubt present at the large Top of the South Territorials camp which took place at Tapawera, in April, 1914. He carried on working on orchards around Riwaka. [11] His work would have involved cultivating for new plantings, spraying, grubbing (weeding) and mowing around trees, making up boxes and pruning in winter, picking and packing apples during harvest time. Horse teams were still employed for heavy work at this time, though steam power had come into use for agricultural and horticultural implements. Among the varieties of apples commonly grown before the war were Cox's Orange, Sturmer, Delicious, Monroe's Favourite and Jonathan. A keen rugby player, he was a member of the Old Boys' Club, an affiliate of the Nelson Rugby Union..(12)

Men at a local orchard stacking cases filled with apples,
ready to go off for packing
Alan was living at Umukuri and working for Mr William A..J. Briggs of Riwaka, an orchardist and representative of the Motueka Cool Storage Company, when he enlisted with the NZ Expeditionary Force on the 13th of August, 1914, as a Trooper with the 10th (Nelson) Squadron of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles.[13] Although fit, he must have just scraped through his medical, being exactly the minimum acceptable height for recruits of 5 ft 4 in. (162.5 cm.). Alan was among the first to join up; he left on the troopship Athenic with the Main Body of the NZEF on 16 October, 1914, along with Ngatimoti acquaintances Hector Guy, Pvte William Ham and Major Cyprian Brereton of the 12th (Nelson) Company. They disembarked at Alexandria on 3 December, 1914, then set up at Zeitoun Camp just outside Cairo, where they underwent intensive training in the desert. 

Alan’s war was a short one. After arriving at Gallipoli on May 12, 1915, he saw plenty of action at Walker's Ridge and elsewhere, but was killed at Bauchop's Hill on the night of the 6th of August, 1915, during an attempt over several days to capture Chunuk Bair. Horses being of little use at Gallipoli, they had been laft behind in Egypt and the 10th (Nelson) Squadron troopers were fighting with the Canterbury Mounted Machine Gun Section at the time. The particular circumstances of the action leading to Alan's death were published in the "Motueka Star" and reprised in Nelson's newspaper, the Colonist, taken from a letter written by a 10th (Nelson) Squadron officer from Motueka, Lt. John Gordon McCallum, to his wife Lorrie. Captain McCallum noted, “It cost us several men, including little Alan de Castro, well known to many in Motueka and Riwaka. He was the happiest and best of comrades and the keenest of soldiers, and his loss will be deeply felt by all who knew him.” 

Captain McCallum, a solicitor with Motueka law firm Easton & Nicolson in civilian life, was himself wounded at Gallipoli. He later served with the Imperial Camel Corps. He was killed in Egypt in January 1917, and is commemorated at the Motueka War Memorial. Just before leaving for the war in 1915, he had married Lorrie Batchelor, only daughter of Lower Moutere farmer, Fred Batchelor.

"Alan de Castro was the pet of the whole regiment, the boys are very cut-up over his death", wrote another local man, Private Ivan Staffod, in a letter sent from the trenches to his mother [15]

Canterbury Mounted Rifles embark on the Athenic aLyttleton before heading to Wellington. 
From there they would depart for Egypt with the Main Body of the NZEF on 16 October, 1914.

 Nellie de Castro (nee Dixon) also lost a half-brother to the Great War. He was almost exactly the same age as her son, Alan. Her mother Laura died in 1883 and her father Ezra Brook Dixon remarried in Hokitika in 1886 to Helen Robinson. Ezra died in 1891 and his widow moved to Auckland to live.They had a son, Alfred Lee Dixon, born in 1888, who enlisted in June, 1915, and served as a Corporal with the 1st Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment. He was killed in action at the Somme on 3 July, 1916. 

Alan’s parents retired to Blenheim, but took comfort in their old friends at Ngatimoti, some of whom had also suffered losses: Alex and Mary Strachan lost their only son, Frank; John and Lily Guy, two of their sons, Walter and Hector.  Like others in the Motueka Valley, the de Castros found solace after the war in plans to erect a War Memorial at Ngatimoti. Alan’s mother made an extended visit to Orinoco during the deliberations, probably staying with the Strachans. She is recorded as making a donation at this time during the drive to raise money in the Motueka Valley for the memorial, to which her son’s name would be added. [16]  Alan’s father, William de Castro, offered to obtain a suitable parchment, and write “records of the soldiers of the district thereon". The original parchment has been preserved and a framed duplicate version is the one which currently hangs inside St James Church. No doubt Alan's family were in attendance on April 25th, 1921, the proud day when the Ngatimoti Memorial was unveiled. by the Rt. Rev. William Saddlier, Bishop of Nelson, in front of a crowd of 600-700, including Mayors of Motueka and Nelson, Mr Hudson, M.P for the district, returned servicemen and local residents.

Panel 4 Chunuk Bair (New Zealand) Memorial
Chunuk Bair Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey

Margaret de Castro suffered a double loss; her brother and her fiancé , Frank Strachan, are both commemorated at the Ngatimoti Memorial. In 1923 she married Geoffrey Revell, whose father Thomas was manager of the Union Steam Ship Company in Blenheim. She named one of her sons Alan for her lost brother. Alan's parents continued to live in Blenheim for the rest of their lives. William Waring de Castro died in Blenheim in 1933, his wife Nellie in 1949. They are buried together at Omaka Cemetery.


Alan de Castro’s final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated at the Chunuk Bair (New Zealand) Memorial, Chunuk Bair Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey, where his faded name can just be discerned at the top of the list of Troopers on the righthand side of Panel 4.  He is also represented at the Ngatimoti War Memorial, Tasman, NZ. Alan's name is listed as well on the WWI memorial window in the Chapel of Peace at All Saints' Church in Nelson; the same church where he had served as groomsman on that happy family occasion of his sister Muriel's wedding in March, 1910.

WWI memorial window at All Saints' Anglican Church
Vanguard Street, Nelson.


1) De Castro Family website: Charles Daniel de Castro.
See also:
Cyclopedia of NZ  (Wellington Provincial District) (1906)

2) Passenger list, "Cornwall, 1853 Voyage to New Zealand. Per H. Brett, "White Wings".

3)  Salisbury, J. Neville (2006) Bush, Boots and Bridle Tracks: The Salisburys: Pioneers of the Motueka and Aorere Valleys, Auckland, NZ: J. Neville Salisbury, pp 44-59

Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts) 1906) Land Transfer Department, Nelson, pg 57

5) Marriages: de Castro-Dixon
 Evening Post, 23 February, 1886

6) Arthur, Helen (2002) Ezra Brook Dixon, a Pioneer Settler at Paynes' Ford in the Takaka Valley. Nelson Historical Society Journal, Vol 6, Issue 5.

7) Nelson College School Roll :Alan Hirst de Castro
Shadows of Time website

8) Cyclopdia of New Zealand (1906)  (Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts) Ngatimoti, pg. 139

John Edward Salisbury

9)  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. Frank Strachan of Orinoco was killed in action in France, on November 12th, 1916, aged 21.

10) Wedding: Jackson-de Castro
Colonist, 31 March, 1910

13) Archives NZ, Military Personnel Record: Alan Hirst de Castro

14)  On Gallipoli Hill
August Fighting Described: Doings of Nelson Squadron.
Colonist, 19 October, 1915

15) Personal  [letter from Private Ivan Stafford [extract from  letter commenting on the deaths at Gallipoli of Motueka servicemen Robin (Bob) Deck and Alan de Castro]
Colonist 15 November 1915, p 4

16) Whelan, Helen, Ngatimoti is in the News. Unpublished ms.

Further sources

William Waring de Castro/Helen Ratcliffe Dixon and their children.
Blank Family genealogy page. 
Men's Clubs in New Zealand: Masons
Te Ara: The encyclopedia of New Zealand

Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1906) [Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts]: Stoke
See Stoke Public School and Mr John Naylor.

The Apple Industry: Hard Graft for Early Growers.
The Prow: Historical and Cultural Stories from Nelson/Marlborough.

Obituary: Captain John Gordon McCallum
Colonist, 22 January, 1917: Personal

Tapawera Camp: Big Muster Expected 
Marlborough Express, 20 April, 1914.

Tasman Roll of Honour. Kete Tasman: Alan Hirst de Castro, serial no. 7/187

Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database record: Alfred Lee Dixon, serial no 12/2996

Powles, Colonel C.G.,  The History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, 1914-1919 
New Zealand in the First World War, 1914-1918. 

Chunuk Bair
Gallipoli Guide: the Chunuk Bair push explained

Photo credits

Photograph of Alan de Castro courtesy of the Nelson College Old Boys' Association per Gina Fletcher.

Photo of Alan de Castro published in the 'Auckland Weekly News" 5 August 1915
Auckland Libraries Heritage Images Online
Ref: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19150805-40-4 

Two Margarets at "Sunny Brae", Ngatimoti. Margaret (Margie) de Castro and Margaret (Daisy) Guy during a visit to Orinoco. Photographer Daisy's older brother, Walter Guy.
Guy Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum Permanent Collection, ref. 315167

Portrait of William Waring de Castro
Tyree Studio Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum Permanent collection. Ref: 37273

Men at a local apple orchard stacking filled packing cases ready for packing.
Nelson Provincial Museum. F.N. Jones Collection, ref: 321314.

Canterbury Mounted Rifles embark on the Athenic at Lyttleton.ready for departure to Wellington
Alexander Turnbull Library

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