Monday, July 13, 2015

From Cairo to Ngatimoti, or Around the World in a Hundred Years - the WWI postcard that lost its way.

Some years ago, a colourful postcard at a market stall in his hometown of Barnstaple caught the eye of Trevor Jennings, from Devon, England. Trevor has in-laws in Waimea West and has visited the Tasman area several times, so the New Zealand link also aroused his interest. The card, signed "Hector", had been written at Zeitoun Camp, Cairo, Egypt, to Mrs T. Strachan of Ngatimoti, New Zealand, on 16 May, 1915, and clearly had a First World War connection. Zeitoun was on the outskirts of Cairo and served as a base for ANZAC troops during WWI. NZ soldiers underwent training in the desert there before being shipped off to Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front.

The rediscovery of the postcard recently while Trevor was moving house prompted him to see if he could find out more about it and perhaps send it to someone appropriate in New Zealand. An online search brought up an article I'd written for the NZ History website about the Ngatimoti War Memorial and my blog post about Frank Strachan, giving him a clue as to the identity of the postcard's author -  Frank's cousin, Hector Guy. Trevor then contacted me and I was able to identify the intended recipient, one of Hector's aunts. Soon after, the postcard was winging its way to my home on Waiwhero Road, a stone’s throw away from where the Guy family once lived. Thanks to Trevor's generosity, Hector's message finally made it to Ngatimoti, New Zealand, just a little over a hundred years after he penned it.

How Hector Guy's postcard lost its way is a mystery that's unlikely to ever be solved after all this time. It doesn't appear to have ever been postmarked - perhaps, as was reasonably common, it was handed to a friend going on leave with a request to post it in England, and somehow got mislaid there? 

Transcript of Hector Guy’s postcard, written at Zeitoun Camp, Cairo, Egypt, to his Aunt Ida (Mrs Thomas Strachan) of Ngatimoti, NZ. 

"Zeitoun Camp, 16-5-1915. So pleased to receive your letter two days ago. Time does fly – it doesn’t seem like a year ago I was with you – fancy little David remembering me. He has grown a lot in the photo you sent me of the children. I sent a P.C. [postcard] in answer to that a fortnight ago and hope it will arrive all right.  I have made inquiries about Frank Waghorn but so far have not been able to find any trace of him, he is not in our regiment. I will continue to make inquiries and will let you know if I hear anything of him. I had [a] letter from home on Sunday night and was surprised to hear you knew about the fighting so soon. This is a street scene in the best of the native qtrs [quarters] -  the worst are too dirty to remain in long. You would be very amused here at first to see a man with a moustache wearing a long dress like a woman – someplaces one can’t distinguish the sex. Sorry Uncle Tom hadn’t a better crop of raspberries. Much love to you all. Hector."

Postcard People

Company Sergeant-Major Hector Guy (1890-1917)  
WWI service no 6/244

Albert Hector Guy (always known as Hector, or “Hec” to his mates), was born 11 October, 1890, the second child of John Arliss and Elizabeth “Lily” (nee Strachan) Guy, whose farm ran from Waiwhero Road, Ngatimoti, into the Orinoco Valley. Their homestead, “Sunny Brae”, sat on the knoll of a hill looking down to St James Church and the Mt Arthur Range behind. Hector had four siblings – Walter, the eldest, Margaret (Daisy), Arthur and Ruth. John Guy served as Ngatimoti's Postmaster from 1892 to 1924, with the post office and telegraph service operating from "Sunny Brae". The post office's official telephone line was for many years the only one in the Motueka Valley, and because John Guy was the first to be notified, in August 1914, he and his son Hector took turns ringing the St James Church bell to let people in the area know the anticipated news that war with Germany had been declared.

The Guy family at "Sunny Brae", Ngatimoti, pre-War.
L-R: Back row (standing): Arthur, Margaret (Daisy), Hector
Front row (seated): John A. Guy, Ruth, Elizabeth (Lily) Guy, Walter.

Lily Strachan had been the girl next door and married John Guy at St James Church, Ngatimoti, on 21 October, 1886. The Strachan family were farming neighbours - their Strachan Road property, “Manawatane”, shared a common boundary with the Guys’. Lily’s brothers Gavin, Alexander, John (Jack) and Thomas (Tom) all had farms in proximity to “Sunny Brae”, with Alex Strachan taking over the "Manawatane" home farm after the deaths of parents Benjamin and Jean. Guy and Strachan children grew up surrounded by a close and affectionate network of aunts, uncles and cousins, and at busy times all shared tasks like haymaking, shearing and fruit harvesting on the farms of various relatives. Before the war Hector and his brother Walter both worked as farmers, Hector for his father, and Walter on his own farm nearby. They were involved in local social life, which included church activities, canoeing on the river, excursions to the beach, the Tablelands and Nelson Lakes, tennis and cricket games and informal concerts and picnics. They also trained regularly with the Territorials, formed in 1911.

Gathering of the Strachan clan at "Manawatane", Orinoco, 
New Year's Day, 1909.

Hector enlisted with the NZ Expeditionary Force immediately after war with Germany was declared on 4 August, 1914. He had been a sergeant in the 12th (Nelson & Marlborough) Regiment of the NZ Territorial Force and was assigned the same rank in the 12th (Nelson) Company of the newly formed Canterbury Infantry Battalion. He embarked from Wellington for Egypt on the troopship “Athenic” with the Main Body of the NZEF on 16 October, 1914,  and  took part in the Battle of the Suez Canal in early February 1915, and at Gallipoli, where he was wounded at Quinn’s Post. Being on recuperation leave in England at the time, on 5 August, 1915, Hector was able to stand as best man at the London wedding of his sister Daisy to his good friend Major (later Lt-Col.) Cyprian Bridge Brereton of Ngatimoti, commanding officer of the 12th (Nelson) Company. Cyprian and Daisy Brereton would go on to have four children and called their first child William Hector. Like the uncle he was named for, he was always known as Hector.

London wedding of Cyprian Brereton and Margaret (Daisy) Guy, 5 August, 1915
L-R: Standing: Major Cyprian Brereton (groom) and Hector Guy, brother of the bride and best man. 
Seated: Mrs Kitty Wheater and her daughter Nancy with the bride, Daisy Brereton (nee Guy), 
in the middle.

After rejoining his unit at the NZ Division's camp at El Moascar in Egypt, Hector Guy was redeployed to the Western Front where he went on to fight with distinction, being posthumously awarded the Military Service Medal and a Mention in Despatches, in both cases "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty". He held the rank of Company Sergeant-Major by the time he was killed below Bellevue Spur at Passchendaele on what is known as NZ’s “blackest day” of WWI, 12 October, 1917. He was 27. Hector Guy’s comrade Sergeant Cecil Malthus later recalled, "He was found with a bullet through the brain, but still on his feet and gazing out over the parapet - a fitting and symbolic end." Like so many others, his body was lost and he is commemorated at the Tyne Cot New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Zonnebeke in Belgium.
Malthus said of his friend, “ He [Hector] was great fun, really solid in his fundamental qualities, but liable to go off the deep end just for devilment. He had an amazing courage that looked like sheer recklessness, but I believe he was deeply stirred and stimulated by danger, and that made him a grand leader.”

Tyne Cot NZ Memorial to the Missing, Zonnebeke, Belgium.
"This massed multitude of silent witneses to the desolation of war."

All three of John and Lily Guy’s sons – Walter, Hector and Arthur – served during WWI. After both Hector and Walter were killed, under the exemptions permitted by the Military Service Act of 1916, John Guy was able to have Arthur, as his sole surviving son, recalled home from active duty in July 1918. Arthur, a sergeant with the NZ Cyclist Corps at the time of his early release from service, grew up helping out on the family farm but had plans to follow a different career path which were thwarted by the war. He was working as a clerk at the Otaki Railways branch of the Bank of New Zealand when he joined up, but the changed family circumstances meant he spent the rest of his life as a farmer, running both his father's and brother Walter's farms as a single property. In 1923 he married Helen Friesen, a Canadian school teacher who came to Ngatimoti one summer on a raspberry picking holiday, and one of their grandchildren still farms the remaining Guy land at Ngatimoti today. 

Walter, Hector and their cousin Frank Strachan, only son of Alexander and Mary (nee Bowden) Strachan of "Manawatane", are commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial, erected in front of St James Church on land donated by the Guy family, and unveiled on Anzac Day, 25 April, 1921. The War Memorial project was spearheaded by Walter and Hector's sister, Daisy Brereton (nee Guy). 

 CSM Hector Guy (seated) and Major Cyprian Bridge Brereton in France, 1916.
Major Brereton paid tribute to Hector in his wartime memoir, "Tales of Three Campaigns",
praising his fearlessness, and the "serene temper and unselfish good nature which gave him 
a host of friends".

The intended recipient of Hector’s postcard was his Aunt Ida, wife of his mother's youngest brother, Thomas Pringle Strachan. Ida Helena (nee Beatson) was the oldest daughter of David Guthrie Beatson, one of three sons of Nelson architect William Beatson who settled in the Orinoco Valley  - David, Arthur Henry and Charles Edward (an architect like his father). Her mother, Helen (nee Griffin), was a member of the family who established the Griffins biscuit factory in Nelson. Their connection to Ngatimoti dated back to the early 1860s, when Helen's father, John Griffin, had a farm called "'Lawrencedale" in the Waiwhero area, where they were part of a idealistic community of like-minded friends including charismatic Plymouth Brethren preacher James George Deck. Due to poor land and lack of  practical farming experience this proved a short-lived and disastrous venture, soon abandoned for a return to the city.

David & Helen Beatson (centre)
with their ten children at their Orinoco home, "Woodland Terrace".
L-R: Standing at back: William (Willie) Ida, Walter, J.Guthrie, George
Middle: Cecil, Helen (nee Griffin) Beatson, David Guthrie Beatson.
Front: Charles, Ethelind (Ethie), Helen (Nellie), Henry (Harry).

 Ida was related by marriage to nearly all of the players in this story. Another of her father's brothers, John James Beatson, married her husband Tom's oldest sister, Mary Sclanders Strachan (the Strachans were related to Nelson banker and merchant, David Sclanders), her uncle Charles Beatson married John Guy's sister, Mary Alice, her brother John Guthrie Beatson married Cyprian Brereton's sister Helen and her sister Ethelind (Ethie) married Cyprian's brother, Allen Brereton. Just to add to the matrimonial tangle, before he married Mary Strachan, Ida's uncle John Beatson had previously been engaged to her mother's older sister, Alice Griffin, who died young.

Tom and Ida married in 1902 and had three children, Vida, Douglas and the David (b. 1912) mentioned in the postcard. Their farm on Greenhill Road was near that of Frank and Catherine "Kate" (nee Perham) Waghorn, whose property was on the flats between the Motueka Valley Highway and the Motueka River, opposite the Ngatimoti School on the corner of Greenhill Road. Frank Waghorn Snr was involved in many construction and roading projects in the Motueka district and was foreman on the Ngatimoti Peninsula Bridge build. The subject of Ida Strachan's query was their oldest son, Frank Waghorn Jnr, who grew up at Ngatimoti and attended the local school. Formerly a seaman working on Blackball Coal Company colliers out of Westport, he was serving as a private at Gallipoli with the 3rd Reinforcements, Canterbury Infantry Battalion. Unfortunately Frank Jnr, who was wounded in action at Gallipoli on 6 June, 1915, died as a result two days later on 8 June, 1915, while being transported to Malta on the Hospital Ship “Sicilia”. He is also commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial. As it happens, Frank Jnr's death and Hector's progress after being wounded at Gallipoli were reported in the "Nelson Evening Mail" on the same day, 23 June 1915.

Hector Guy's Aunt Ida (Mrs Thomas Strachan) at her Ngatimoti home, 
"Glenburnie", with Greenhill in the background.

Hector Guy's postcard now has a new home - it is safe in the archives of the Nelson Provincial Museum, where researchers and descendants of the families connected to it will be able to access it should they wish to do so.

See article at the Prow website for an extended version of this story, along with more photos.


The action of which news had, to Hector's surprise, already reached home was probably the Second Battle of Krithia, 5-8 May, 1915, a fruitless operation which cost the Allies 6,500 men, 800 of them New Zealanders. The 12th (Nelson) Company was in the vanguard of a charge on 8 May, and suffered several losses. Its commanding officer, Major Cyprian Brereton, received serious head injuries during this action and was evacuated from Gallipoli, first to Alexandria and then to the Royal Free Hospital in London, England. He was still recovering there when he married Daisy Guy in August, 1915.

"I watched the 12th Nelson Company make an advance over open country called the Daisy Patch. There was absolutely no cover for them. They lost their commanding officer and several men were casualties. Our turn to go across came next and we went over the top in good order. At once we were greeted with a terrible fusillade of rifle and machine gun fire, which was deadly".

Eye witness account, Walter (Bill) Leadley, Canterbury Infantry Battalion.
In "Penguin Book of New Zealanders at War" (2009) pg.136


Albert Hector Guy,  (1890-1917) WWI, service no 6/244
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database record

Nelson Provincial Museum WW100, Their Stories

Nelson Provincial Museum WW100, Their Stories

Frank George Waghorn, (1893-1915) WWI, service no 6/1744
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database record

Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1906) Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts: Ngatimoti See entries for John Guy and the Strachan brothers.

Brereton, C.B., "Tales of Three Campaigns", first published in 1926. Second enlarged edition published 2015 by John Gray Publishing, Christchurch, NZ, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli. Copies of this 2nd ed. are available from the Nelson Provincial Museum.

Malthus, C., "Armentières and the Somme" (2002), pub. Reed Books, Auckland, NZ.

Tyne Cot NZ Memorial to the Missing at Zonnebeke, Belgium
NZ History online, NZ Ministry for Heritage and Culture.

During a tour of the battlefields and war graves of Europe after the war, known as the "King's Pilgrimage", King George V of England was inspired by his visit on 11 May, 1922 to the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Flanders to make an acclaimed speech which includes the famous and, in light of future events, sadly ironic quote: "In the course of my pilgrimage I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war."  

Woodley, Mary, "The Moravian Settlement". Unpblished ms.
"There is no Christianity without community." The ill-fated Waiwhero community was based on the ideals and teachings espoused by 18th century Protestant reformer, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.

Photo credits

Postcard written by Hector Guy to his aunt, Ida Strachan, and gifted by Trevor Jennings, front and reverse.

Portrait of Company Sergeant-Major Hector Guy
Courtesy Lincoln College: Living Heritage, WWI collection. 
Pre-WWI Hector attended this nstitution for a time
 back when it was known as the Canterbury College of Agriculture.

The Guy family at their Ngatimoti home,"Sunny Brae", pre-War, likely c. 1913-4
Guy Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum Collection, ref. 315235

Strachan family gathering at "Manawatane", New Year's Day, 1909.
Guy Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum Collection, ref. 315175

Brereton-Guy Wedding Party, London, 5 August, 1915
Nelson Provincial Museum, ref. 2014.72.7

Tyne Cot NZ Memorial to the Missing
NZ History Online, NZ Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

Brothers-in-law - CSM Hector Guy and Major Cyprian Bridge Brereton in France, 1916.
Nelson Provincial Museum Copy Collection, ref. C3722

David & Helen ( Beatson with their ten children at their Orinoco home. "Woodland Terrace".
Beatson, C.B. (Pat) (1992) "The River, Stump and Raspberry Garden: Ngatimoti as I Remember." Nelson, NZ: Nikau Press, pg. 32
Pat Beatson was another of Ida Strachan's nephews - his parents were Ida's brother George Beatson and Constance nee Whelan (Cyprian Brereton's cousin).

Ida Helena nee Beatson, Mrs Thomas Stachan, (1872-1953) at "Glenbirnie", her Greenhill Road home in Ngatimoti.
Guy Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum, ref. 315198
The photographer was her nephew Walter Guy, Hector's older brother.

A keen amateur photographer, Walter, who was born 20 August, 1887, enlisted on 29 May, 1916, and served as a private with the 19th Reinforcements, C Company, Canterbury Infantry Battalion. He was killed in the field while trying to rescue a wounded man at Colincamps, the Somme, France,  on 27 March, 1918.


  1. Hello Anne, thank you for writing this - we found it most interesting. The photo of Ida Strachan was taken by our lounge door, if we stand on that spot (and discount the trees etc in the way) we are looking at White Rock in the background. Douglas Strachan (Thomas and Ida's son) lived here until the 60's. We always thought the house was built in 1906 as we found pieces of newspaper used as packing in the sash windows which were from that year. However Ida and Tom were married in November 1902, so we may be wrong about the date the house was built and it looks very well established in that photo. The photo looks like it could be her wedding photo, but maybe not - perhaps she was a matron of honour for one of her sisters at a later date? The postcard would have been sent to her here. I believe the spelling was "Glenburnie" - that is how it is listed in the 1920 NZ Sheep Register. Had we known about the name at the time we would have called the property Glenburnie, not Bannockburn. We will definitely follow up with a visit to the museum some time to look at the postcard, and try to do some research into when our house was built. Thanks, Denise and Neil McQuarrie.

  2. Hi Denise and Neil

    Thanks so much for the interesting additional info. How cool to think that you have Tom & Ida Strachan's old homestead! I think you will be right about the house dating from 1906 as Tom and Ida lived up at the "Manawatane" estate on Strachan Road with old Mrs Strachan (Tom's widowed mother, Jean) for a few years after their marriage. There were two houses on the Strachan property, and at that stage Alec Strachan and his family lived in the other. Mrs Strachan died in October 1905.

    Sections in the Greenhill subdivison were offered for sale at the end of 1905. This subdivision was part of the old Johansen Estate originally known as 'Lower Woodstock" which was broken up, with a number of blocks of various sizes sold at auction on 2 December 1905. The Greenhill sections went a bit later, during 1906. Greenhill Road was put in around this time as well.

    My feeling is that Alec Strachan was possibly buying his siblings out of "Manawatane" following his mother's death. At any rate, Alec bought Lot 7 of the Greenhill subdivision (34 acres 2 roods 73 perches) and it went to his brother Tom -perhaps in lieu or part payment for Tom's share of "Manawatane". The official date of the transfer of title for Lot 7 was 16 November, 1906. Tom Strachan added Lot 8 of 3 acres at some point and that is where Ed Stevens' house is today.

    The name spelt "Glenburnie" does make more sense given that the small stream or "burn" running through your property is such a notable feature, You obviously had the same thought when you named it "Bannockburn". I don't know who built the home, but all the Strachans worked as carpenters as a sideline so I Tom Strachan may well have built it himself, maybe with a bit of help from his brothers.
    Several homes in the area around that time were built by the Tomlinson brothers, so that's another possibility. Albert (Alb) Tomlinson was another of first purchasers of lots from the Greenhill subdivision - he bought Lot 5.