Topic: Alfred Mumford

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Portrait of Alfred and Henry MumfordAlfred was the last of nine children born to William Robert Mumford and Mary Ann (nee Young) in Christchurch on 29 May 1889. William Mumford had arrived in Christchurch from England on the 'fifth' ship Castle Eden in February 1851 when he was only nine years old. His family were among the first contingent of the Canterbury Association settlers to arrive in Canterbury. On board the Castle Eden were William's father David, a bricklayer and mother Martha along with their children William, John, Samuel and Susan. A daughter Emily "Emma" was born on board on 9 February as the Castle Eden lay in anchor at Lyttelton. Alfred's mother Mary Ann "Annie" was born in Scotland and she and William were married on 8 October 1868.

William and Martha started their family in 1870 with the birth of Robert Samuel (1870 - 1962). Next followed William John (1871 - 1872), Jane (1872 - 1949), David Andrew (1874 - 1963?), John (1876 - 1947), Mathew (1878 -1879), Henry Edward (1879 - 1917), Arthur (1883 - 1936) and finally Alfred.

The family originally settled on the Cashmere Estate but eventually moved to Scotts Road and then 35 Lytton Street (now Browning Street) in the Sydenham area. During his early years Alfred attended the Sydenham School and played hockey for the Sydenham Club. He was also a member of the Sydenham Rifles, being mentioned in the Star as a member of the Sydenham ‘A’ team which came second in the competition of 1915. After finishing school Alfred worked for the Crown Brewery as a store-man until he enlisted for military service in 1916.

Alfred married Elsie Anderina Williamson on 7 July 1915 and on 13 April 1916 they welcomed a baby daughter Elsie Alfreda into their family. Alfred presented himself at the army recruiting centre on 23 August 1916 but he was not summoned to training camp at that moment. He enlisted again on 3 October and attested that same day. This time he was summoned to the Trentham training camp, arriving there in January 1917. He began a diary which he filled with brief notes of his itinerary. The first entry read ‘Jan 5th. Left Chch’.

Alfred’s older brother Henry worked as a bootmaker but by 1916 was working for the New Zealand Farmers’ Co-op. Henry enlisted soon after Alfred on 18 December and accompanied him to Trentham where both were assigned to the rank of Private, C Company of the 24th Reinforcements, Alfred with the personnel number 44004 and Henry with 44005. Alfred and Henry not only went through their training together but would spend the rest of the war side by side in the same unit.

They entrained from Trentham on 5 April 1917 for Wellington where they embarked on the troopship ‘Devon’. Alfred’s wife Elsie was able to travel to Wellington to farewell him. However Alfred and Henry were among 40 men held back for the next contingent because the Devon was full. They finally embarked on the troopship Pakeha on 14 April. A few days out from New Zealand a fire broke out in the coal bunkers of the Pakeha forcing her to return to New Zealand to refill. After a second extended return to Trentham the brothers departed from Wellington a third time on 26 April. Sadly, Elsie could not afford the fare and inconvenience of returning to Wellington for a final farewell which she was to lament for the rest of her life.

The voyage out to England took the brothers via Sydney, Australia (1 to 10 May), Fremantle (21 to 22 May), Durban, South Africa (12 to 17 June), Capetown (21 to 26 June), Freetown, Sierra Leone (10 to 13 July) then Devonport, England (28 July). Alfred recounts much of interest in his diary including boxing bouts which both he and Henry won (this fact is recounted in the troopship magazine “The Pakeha (Mark III)”; a submarine threat one day out from Devonport and the interesting sights he encountered on the voyage and stop-offs. Alfred recorded little in the way of emotion in his diary. Perhaps he wrote more personally in his letters and postcards home. He diligently recorded each correspondence sent and received to the extent that he numbered them. Apart from a couple of original photograph postcards most of this correspondence no longer survives.

From Devonport, Plymouth they were sent immediately to Sling Camp, Bulford for rigorous training. Here Alfred and Henry were posted to the rank of Riflemen, the 5th Reserve Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Alfred mentions receiving his first letter from home on 29 July and by 10 September had received another 25 letters! Sundays were free for the soldiers in training and Alfred made the most of these by touring to nearby towns and villages. In early September the brothers were allowed the brothers three days leave during which they travelled to London to see the major sights. Alfred sent a postcard to Elsie showing Henry and himself on a coach with several other soldiers on a tour of London. This is the last known photo of the two brothers.Postcard of soldiers, London. 1917

Alfred and his fellow reinforcements left Sling Camp for Folkstone on the Dover Coast on 14 September. They embarked for the crossing to Boulogne, France the following day. By 16 September they were in Etaples Camp where they spent a further two weeks training and preparing for the march out to their frontline units. Alfred’s diary meticulously records the daily itinerary of the journey from Etaples to the front to join their battalion. The journey began by train from Etaples on 3 October taking them to Hazebrouk in Belgium. A series of daily marches and some rough and ready ‘accommodation’ took them to Ypres on 9 October. They camped east of Ypres that night where they had their first experience of war. Artillery shells landed intermittently in the paddock they occupied but caused no casualties. Just before reaching Ypres they joined up with their permanent unit, the 4th Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

On 10 October the brothers, along with ten other men, were assigned to carry forward ammunition to the 3rd Machine Gun Compan. The Rifle Brigade was one of the two New Zealand brigades sent into action in the Third Battle of Ypres or simply, the ‘Battle of Passchendaele’ on 12 October. The artillery preparation for the attack was severely hampered by the weather and the atrocious mud. Consequently the German defences were mostly intact and the New Zealand attack stalled by mid-morning as the casualties, the highest New Zealand sustained on a single day during the war, began to mount. Alfred was wounded in both legs and died two days later in the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. Henry was reported missing at first but in November was declared killed in action.

The final entry recorded in Alfred’s diary on 10 October, two days before his death, is unfinished. He may not have had a chance to finish it before going into action. The final two lines stating ‘Wounded – 12/10/17, Died – 14/10/17’ were added decades later by his grandson. The next page shows the date 13/5/17 and it would have been recorded when he was arriving in Sydney Harbour. Earlier in his diary he recorded that when he arrived in Sydney ‘the sea (was) pretty rough’. There is also the obvious blood stain on the edge of this page. Alfred was buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinghe, Belgium. Henry was one of the many men whose body was never recovered and his name appears on the Tynecot Memorial to the Missing.

The sudden deaths of Alfred and Henry struck a double blow to Elsie and the entire Mumford family particularly after a cousin, David Samuel Mumford and his wife Margaret Ann lost three of their seven children in a tragic drowning accident in the pond at Riccarton Racecourse in 1916. The only good outcome in the war for the Mumford family was that a third brother Arthur (born in 1883) did return home from his service on the Western Front.

Arthur had enlisted for service in June 1916 but was not required until March 1917. Before the war he was a self-employed horse trainer and then a machinist. He left New Zealand with F Company of the 27th Reinforcements and on arrival in France was posted to the 13th Company of 2nd Canterbury Infantry Battalion. The whole New Zealand Division was enduring a miserable extended period on duty in the Ypres Salient clinging on to the hard-won ground gained in the Battle of Passchendaele. The severe winter and conditions there caused sickness to increase dramatically and within weeks of his arrival there, Arthur was evacuated to London with ‘severe trench fever’. Diagnosed with influenza in January 1918 he recuperated for a further three months before returning home to New Zealand. Tragically, he drowned while swimming in Caroline Bay, Timaru in 1936.

Alfred’s wife ensured that his story would be passed down through the family from generation to generation. Their daughter Elsie Alfreda married Jospeh Edward Bird in 1936 and she in turn passed the story on to her children.



  • 'The Summer Ships : being an account of the first six ships sent out from England by the Canterbury Association in 1850-1851' by Colin Amodeo (Caxton Press, 2000, Christchurch) for the Mumford family voyage out from England and arrival at Lyttelton in 1851. 
  • Online Cenotaph record for Alfred Mumford. Auckland War Memorial Museum.
  • Military personnel file. Archives New Zealand (Archway).
  • Alfred Mumford’s personal papers - a digitised collection at Christchurch City Libraries.
  • Interview with Alfred’s grandson, Brian Bird (unpublished)
  • FOR KING AND COUNTRY., Star, Issue 12155, 5 November 1917. 
  • ‘The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade’ by Lieut.-Col. W. S. Austin (L T Watkins Ltd., 1924, Wellington). Digitised version online at
  • The Pakeha (Mark III) : being the journal of the Left Wing of the 24th New Zealand Reinforcements’ Edited by 2nd Lieut. Burge (Magazine published on board NZ Transport 82, ‘Pakeha’). Digitised version available online at
  • TRIPLE TRAGEDY., Star, Issue 11601, 20 January 1916.
  • ACCIDENTS AND FATALITIES : DEATH FROM DROWNING. Otago Daily Times, Issue 22996, 26 September 1936.

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Alfred Mumford

First Names:Alfred
Last Name:Mumford
Place of Birth:Christchurch