Topic: Norman Henry Fraser

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Norman Henry Fraser (Service #27007) was a soldier in the First World War who lived for a time in the Wharenui, Riccarton area.

Norman was born on 27 April 1897. The story of his parents is difficult to trace through the records as his father's name was Alexander Fraser. According to an affadavit in his will he was born in Glebe Point, Sydney, Australia on 2 April 1865. On his military attestation form Norman recorded this fact as well as the birth place of his mother, Ethel (nee Hutchinson): Ballarat, Victoria, Australia in 1873 or 1875. Both emigrated to New Zealand at some time before they married in 1898. Alexander may have worked in various jobs until he acquired his own business in Victoria Street, Christchurch making venetian blinds.

Norman was the second child of five. The eldest sister Hilda Beatrice was born on 7 November 1897 followed by Norman, then Clarence Alexander (29 November 1898 but died 17 February 1899), Jessie Carrington (18 July 1900) and Ellen Mabel 'Nellie' (14 July 1905). The family were living in Railway Terrace  when Norman first attended school at Sydenham. He and Hilda then attended school at West Christchurch (currently Hagley Community College) while Jessie went to school in Ashburton. But Nellie went to school in New South Wales. All of them eventually attended Wharenui School. Norman was enrolled there by his father on 28 January 1907 when the family were residing in Clarence Road, Riccarton.

He finished at Wharenui School on 5 August 1910, having attained standard 4 level. Soon after he finished at Wharenui School Norman's mother Ethel passed away after a long painful illness on 19 October 1910. She was just 36. In the Wharenui School 'Register of Admissions, Progress and Withdrawls' it is recorded that Norman was destined for Christchurch Normal School and presumably he furthered his schooling there (in Norman's army file there is an attestation form dated 23 May 1942 where he states he reached standard 6).

Not long after he finished school Norman was a suspect in March 1914 for the theft of a watch and money to a combined value of £16 which took place in Pukekohe. Weeks later the Christchurch police found the watch in his possession and on 9 May he was sentenced to two years "reformative detention".  The crime and punishment had further consequences: a newspaper report from 22 May 1914 records that Norman and another former Wharenui School student Albert Reid Blackburn were fined 20s plus costs and 10s plus costs respectivley for failing to attend drill in the local Territorials. The next mention of Norman in any records is his enlistment in the army.

Escape to the Army

Although he was still a year under the legal minimum age to enlist (he had just turned 19) Norman reported for his medical examination in Christchurch on 6 May 1916 and was classed 'fit'. It noted he was of fair complexion, fair hair, blue eyes with a height of 5' 9" and weight of 12 stone. It also recorded a tattoo consisting of an anchor and cross on his left forearm. He entered the Trentham training camp on 1 June and on his attestation form stated that he had had no previous military service (contradicting the earlier news report from 1914 which states that he was in the Territorials). He worked as a sawyer with the timber merchants Smith & Smith in Tuam Street, Christchurch. Alexander, his father was recorded as his next of kin at 43 Lincoln Road, Spreydon. During his time at Featherstone Camp Norman overstayed his leave by over 90 minutes on 16 July and was confined to barracks for three days as punishment.

Once his training was complete Norman was granted final leave and he returned to Christchurch where, on 16 August, he was given a farewell at a social gathering. Norman and the 17th contingent of reinforcements embarked at Wellington on 23 September 1916. Norman was on Troopship 65 'Pakeha'. His name is listed under C Company in the complimentary troopship magazine that was published on board titled 'Pakeha : the journal of the 17th Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces on board H.M.N.Z. Transport 65 (S.S. "Pakeha")'. The voyage took them via; Albany, Australia (3 October), Capetown, South Africa (23 October), Dakar, Senegal (6 November) and finally Plymouth, England on 18 November. They proceded to Sling Camp on the same day.

The training at Sling was unusually brief as the 17th Reinforcements were sent to France on 9 December. But on arriving at Etaples on 10 December they spent an unusually long spell there where most of their training must have been undertaken. During his time there he had to forfeit two days pay for the offence of "shouting on march"!  Norman was sent to join his parent unit the 1st Company, 1st Canterbury Battalion, joining them on 14 February 1917. At this time the 1st Canterbury Battalion were about to depart the Bois Grenier sector just south of Armentieres and go into billets at Nieppe. Here they remained until 12 March when the whole New Zealand Division was moved towards the Messines sector.

Messines

Initially the British Command ordered the positions before Messines to be strengthened as they feared a German offensive in this sector and wanted it to be held at all cost. However no attack eventuated and soon the British resolved to launch their own major attack there to straighten out the line at Messines. Doing so would strengthen this, the southern flank of the big offensive in the Ypres salient which follow Messines. The New Zealand Division was to spearhead the attack at Messines. But first there was three months of intensive preparations to undertake.  General Plumer would command the attack using a strategy of limited objectives which would be preceded and supported by a huge artillery barrage followed by consolidation before further limited objectives were pursued. This would become known as 'bite and hold' and was to prove a highly successful answer to the German defensive sytem.

All units were rotated into the area around St Omer to rehearse attacks on ground that closely resembled the Messines geography so that the men would be familiar with the terrain in the actual attack. Norman's battalion had it's rehearsals there during the last two weeks of April. In May the 1st Canterbury Battalion were at Bulford Camp, Neuve Eglise where for three weeks 300 men were engaged helping the Canadian Light Railway Operating Company construct a section of tracks. The 1st battalion with the rest of 2nd Brigade were given the task of capturing Messines. On the night of 6/7 June the Germans hit the communication trenches of 1st Battalion with gas shells forcing the battalion to move to their assembly trench wearing their gas-box respirators.

The attack was launched at 3.10 am by the explosion of a series of huge mines which had been laid in tunnels under the Messines ridge. Within minutes1st battallion had advanced in good order to their objectives in front of Messines and began to dig in as 2nd Canterbury battalion began extending the advance beyond to Messines itself. The village was secured by 5.00 am. By this time the German artillery began firing on the two battalions causing the most significant casualties through the whole of the next two days. But the attack had secured all objectives and 1st battalion went into camp for rest from 9 to 12 June. They were sent back to the front on 12 June acting as reserve in 2nd Brigade's attack to secure 1500 yards further ground beyond Messines. They also worked hard to construct stronger defences around Messines. By 28 June it was withdrawn because of the high casualties it had suffered. 1st Battalion spent the next few weeks in camp only to labour further in laying water-pipes near Kemmel. On 4 July 2nd Brigade lined the Neuve Eglise-Steenwerck Road to cheer His Majesty the King who had been touring the recent battleground at Messines. During this action it is likely that Norman would have received word from home that his father Alexander had passed away on 17 May 1917 aged  52.

La Basse Ville

On 18 July 1st Battalion marched to dug-outs known as the "Catacombs" in Hill 63 to relieve the Australians in the front line west of La Basse Ville. The offensive at Ypres was to begin on 31 July but it would be preceded by a series of 'feint' attacks to deceive the Germans of the real objective at Ypres. One of these feints was to be an attack on La Basse Ville, south west of Messines. La Basse Ville was captured on the second attempt by the 1st Brigade on 31 July. Although 1st Battalion was not heavily involved in the fighting, it did have to man the front line for an extended period when the weather was wet. The trenches, lacking duckboards offered no dry footing and sickness began to increase among the men. The Germans had become very nervous and constantly shelled the New Zealand trenches with high-explosives and gas shells. 1st Battalion was withdrawn to Bulford Camp on 17 August and then sent to Camp at Coulomby where it arrived on 28 August. Along with the other New Zealand brigades (except the NZ Rifle Brigade) 1st Battalion spent most of September preparing for their role in the Ypres Offensive.

From the 25 to 28 September the whole New Zealand Division marched to its starting position north of Ypres. 1st Canterbury marched from Coulomby via  Arques, Qeue D'Oxelaere, Watou and then Ypres North. On the night of the 29/30 September all four battalions of 2nd Brigade (including Norman's 1st Canterbury) held the front line directly east of Ypres. They had suffered light casualties by the time they were relieved on the night of 2/3 October and went into camp at Ypres North.

Passchendaele

The New Zealand Division first entered the battle of Passchendaele on 4 October.  The 1st Brigade and the recently formed 4th Brigade were given the task of taking the Gravenstafel Ridge. 1st Canterbury acted as reserve to the 4th Brigade during the latter's successful attack but were not committed to the battle. Even so, casualties were still incurred and one of these was Norman. According to the casualty card in his personnel file he was wounded on 4 October (during the battle) but a medical examination recorded at the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital in Grey Towers, Hornchurch in April 1918 states 3 October (in the early hours as the New Zealanders were being relieved from the trenches). He was evacuated by the 11th Australian Field Ambulance to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station which was based at Red Farm, Brandhoek about 10 km west of Ypres on 4 October. From there he was taken to the 26th General Hospital at Etaples. On arriving there Norman was placed on the seriously ill list.

He was evacuated to England on 20 October and sent to the 4th General Hospital, Denmark Hill, London. It was recorded by subsequent medical reports that he had received shrapnel wounds (probably from an artillery shell) to his left calf and foot as well as his right shoulder. He was taken off the seriously ill list on 25 October. While he was in the 4th General Hospital he was visited by Miss Violet Agnes Russell, the daughter of Sir William Russell the prominent former New Zealand politician (Violet was one of many New Zealanders residing in England who devoted their time to visiting sick New Zealand soldiers in the various hospitals). She reported to the 'Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F.' (November 14 1917 page 164) that he was among those who were recovering well.

Norman was discharged to the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch on 26 February 1918. An examination by the New Zealand doctors on 3 April determined that the shoulder wound still contained shrapnel but was not severe and was healing well. However the leg wound was not healing so well - his calf muscles had contracted and the wound was still open. It was decided that he needed to be returned to New Zealand. Norman's sister Jessie passed away at Christchurch Hospital on 14 February 1918 aged just 19 years. Norman may have learned of her death just prior to sailing but it is equally possible that this news was broken to him when he arrived home in New Zealand.

Return to New Zealand

Norman embarked for New Zealand from Avonmouth, Bristol on the hospital ship 'Marama' on 6 April 1918 and arrived in Auckland on 14 May. The voyage back to New Zealand took them via the Panama Canal where they were given a very warm welcome and treated to a lavish entertainment in Colon on 21 April. Pitcairn Island (4 May) was the final stop before arriving in Auckland. He was examined again on arriving at Auckland and it was recommended he receive further treatment as an in-patient at Christchurch Hospital. He was also to receive a 50% pension for three months. Norman had made friends on board the Marama with another soldier, Corporal Frank Pengelly who had received multiple wounds to his head and thigh. Not long after returning to New Zealand, Frank succumbed to influenza while in the Returned Soldiers' Ward at Christchurch Hospital. Norman served as a pall-bearer at the funeral at Sydenham Cemetery on 16 November 1918. It is not clear where Norman lived for the first few years after the war but it seems likely he was based in Christchurch.

Norman married Claire (Clara, born in 1921) Campbell Merrett in St Pauls Presbyterian Church on 19 September 1923. The reception was held in the Ballantynes Tea Rooms before the couple left for their honeymoon in the North Island. The Wises's New Zealand Post Office Directory has Norman living at 30 Somme Street, St Albans when he married and working as a mechanic. In 1926 the directory lists him living in 46 Percival Street, Papanui but working as a salesman. The next mention of Norman is in the Electoral Rolls of 1923 living at 6 Nairn Street Wellington as a salesman and then in 1928 he was living at 3 Mudges Terrace, Wellington and working as an importer. From 1928 to 1938 (in the electoral rolls of those years) Norman and Claire are listed as living at Walmsley Road, Mangere as farmers.

Troubled Times

Norman had another brush with the law near Porirua on 2 January 1930. He was the passenger in a car driven by a Walter Neville Norwood, son of a former mayor of Wellington. Norwood was charged with driving recklessly under the influence of alcohol. There was a mishap, not entirely of Norwood's fault, with another car which resulted in Norwood taking it up with the other driver. Norman showed solidarity with Norwood by claiming to be a "Detective Mead" attempting to warn-off the other driver. The case was heard in court in March and earned Norman a fine of £5 for impersonating a police officer. Ironically, Norwood was just shy of the borderline for his charge which was dismissed. It was a petulant attempt to save the day for his friend on Norman's part but for which he paid the price.

This was not the last time that Norman would overstep the law. In a far more serious case he was found guilty of insurance fraud involving damaged motor vehicles in 1935. At the time Norman was working as a senior claims assessor for the North Island Motor Union Mutual Insurance Company. He became involved in a conspiracy to claim repair costs for vehicles damaged before insurance had been taken out on them. The case was tried in the Supreme Court presided over by Mr Justice Herdman who described it as "one of the most serious cases of insurance fraud" he had ever dealt with. Although not the mastermind of the scheme Norman was deemed to be equally guilty due to his betrayal of the trust and responsibility that came with his job. He was sentenced to two years reformative detention. In the news article, Norman's previous record was brought up and it was noted by his defence counsel that he desired to come clean owing to having a wife and child.

Further tragedy struck when in 1939 Norman's his wife Claire passed away. He never remarried but he did end up before the courts again. As the proprietor of a service station in Morrinsville he pleaded guilty to three charges of illegally selling alcohol on his premises. In the November 1941 case he pleaded guilty and was fined £15 plus costs. He had already given up his agency of the service station before the court case. Soon after this he found employment as a driver for the Public Works Department in Morrinsville before he re-enlisted in the New Zealand Army in 1942. He was not mobilised for military service but instead worked as a driver in the Auckland area for the Ministry of Defence. He finished up in 1944. By 1946 Norman was in Waihi working once again as a service station proprietor until at least 1949 when he last appears in public records. He passed away in 1950 aged 52 and was buried in Waihi Cemetery with a military headstone. He had experienced much bereavement during his life, particularly in his earlier years. This, coupled with the hardships he experienced in the War, may account for the many times he strayed into trouble with the law. In each instance though, he admitted his guilt and tried his best to move on.

Related Resources

Ancestry.com.au. For addresses - 'Census and Voter Lists'. For convictions - 'Convict, Criminal, Land and Wills'.

Familysearch.org. For - Alexander Fraser's will.

Archway.archives.govt.nz. For Norman's Military Personnel File.

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Norman Henry Fraser


First Names:Norman Henry
Last Name:Fraser