26 April 2012

ANZAC DAY - 2012


ANZAC day has just passed so here's an interesting and tragic story, not about Gallipoli, but about my great Uncle who died in WW1.  My Smith grandparents were preceded to New Zealand three years earlier by Edith Lena’s (my father's mother) brother, Charles Gomer Jenkins who arrived in 1910. His story is interesting and worth telling.

Charles Gomer Jenkins - teacher - c1881-1918
Charles Gomer had arrived in NZ as a teacher and taught at Makuri school and other schools in the Wellington province. He was called up to WWI and after some training at Trentham (NZ) and in England, arrived in Europe somewhere near Lepers. He only survived a couple of weeks at the front. Before his death he had requested demotion from Sergeant to Corporal to Lance-Corporal. Edith Lena, his sister, was distraught to learn of his death. A few months after his death a woman arrived on the doorstep in Sedcole St, Pahiatua, claiming to be his wife. Edith dismissed her saying that she was very close to her brother and would have known if he had married. This family story had been passed on to me on more than one occasion. In 2007 I requested Charles Gomer’s military record and there she was, his wife, Juliet Rachel Pawson. They had been married at St Augustines Church in Napier just a few weeks before he departed for Europe. Here is her story.

In 1860 she was born as Juliet Rachel Nash at O’Kains Bay on Banks Peninsula. She grew up and at age 22 married William Pawson. Pawson was a widower of 52 whose wife Catherine Breitmeyer had died in 1877. They had thirteen children. Some were old enough to be independent but Juliet and William eventually shifted to Eketahuna with three of his children and had three of their own. William died in 1903 at the age of 75 leaving her with their remaining children to raise. I suspect that Charles Gomer met her during his teaching of the youngest of her children. Eventually they married just a few weeks before he departed to WW1. He was 36 and she was 57!! I was dismayed by the thought that she had been disowned by the Smith family and set about finding out about the above story. There were no children from their union (as you might expect, given her age) and she died in Levin in 1945 at the age of 85. Charles Gomer and Juliet had been married for about nine months when he died and less than half of that time they had been together. It is interesting that on the back of one of the photos he sent home to Wales of his place at Makuri he wrote jokingly on the back of the photo about a notice in the window behind him – saying something about "woman wanted"! They were in short supply in those days. So were husbands after the war.

This story would be one of thousands over the years we have been fighting other peoples' wars. Each ANZAC day we might remember the sacrifices made by our ancestors but with circumspection, I hope.