From Hikurangi mines to the killing fields of Gallipoli

By Ron Smith -
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War meant a sea voyage to the other side of the world in 1914 and there was no shortage of volunteers when troop ships left New Zealand to take soldiers to fight at Gallipoli.
War meant a sea voyage to the other side of the world in 1914 and there was no shortage of volunteers when troop ships left New Zealand to take soldiers to fight at Gallipoli.

After his arrival from Scotland in 1909 and by the time he went to war in 1914, Corporal Andrew Frew lived and worked in the Hikurangi mines. He was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. His name appears on the memorial wall at Chunuk Bair and he is listed among the fallen at Auckland's War Memorial Museum. His obituary was published in the Northern Advocate and although his war record listed his home as Hikurangi there is no Corporal Andrew Frew on the fallen named on the World War 1 memorial headstone outside the Hikurangi Museum. His great nephew, Ron Smith, has researched and written his story.

On the day commemorated now as Anzac Day, April 25, 1915, Corporal Andrew Frew was among the 3100 New Zealand troops who stormed ashore on to a small beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula. About one in every five New Zealanders who landed that day were casualties.

From Kirkmuirhill to Hikurangi
My great uncle, Andrew Frew, was born on March 2, 1890, at Kirkmuirhill, a collier village in Lanarkshire, Scotland, one of hundreds of villages where coal seams helped fuel Britain's Industrial Revolution.

He was the third son for my great-grandparents, Andrew and Janet Frew.

Andrew Frew attended Lesmahagow Blackwood Public School where, in May 1903, at the age of 13, he received a Merit Certificate for proficiency. His future from that point was predetermined: like most other boys in the area, he would start work down the local mine.

In later years, his compulsory military training in Scotland was as a private in the 1st Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. He excelled as a rifleman and, while still a teenager, won a battalion "best shot" medal.

In 1909, at the age of 19, Andrew left Kirkmuirhill with his elder brothers, John and William, to travel to New Zealand.

Frustrated by the depression in the Scottish mining industry and enticed by the promise of higher wages and paid passage, they had been recruited by the Glasgow agent for the Northern Coal Company and Hikurangi Coal Company.

They left Liverpool on June 23, 1909, on the SS Cornwall. Stopping at Cape Town and Hobart on the way, the Cornwall arrived in Wellington 45 days after leaving Liverpool.

Andrew and his brothers travelled north by train to Hikurangi. The Hikurangi Coal Company (HCC) operated the largest mine in the Whangarei district and was then extracting coal from beneath the Waro Rocks.

The brothers worked together until, about 18 months later, John was lured to a job in Australia with the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company in the shale mines of Joadja Creek, New South Wales. In 1912, William moved south to the Huntly mines, leaving Andrew the only sibling working in Hikurangi. John returned to Hikurangi early in 1914 with his new wife, Jessie, and their first son.

Answering the call
When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Andrew immediately enlisted. He was already registered for compulsory military training in the North Auckland Territorials.

His official enlistment record, dated August 11, 1914, details him as being a healthy, brown-eyed, young man, height 5 feet 6 inches, of tanned complexion. He was soon promoted to the rank of corporal in the 15th (North Auckland) Territorial Regiment.

Later that month, a company from the North Auckland Regiment, including Corporal Andrew Frew, travelled by train to Auckland to join regiments from Auckland, Hauraki and Waikato to form the Auckland Infantry Battalion.

On September 22, the men of the Auckland Infantry Battalion, carrying the greater part of their baggage, marched from Epsom to the boat that would take them to the war in Europe, the SS Waimana, reassigned as His Majesty's New Zealand Troopship No12.

Next day, an immense crowd assembled in the Auckland Domain to farewell the battalion.

But 24 hours later, the Waimana returned to Auckland as ships from the German Pacific Fleet were reported on its route.

Two weeks later, on October 11, the Waimana left again - this time for Wellington where the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was assembling. At dawn on October 16, the escorting warships moved out, with the transports following.

The NZEF comprised 8417 men (all volunteers) and was the largest single body of men ever to leave New Zealand.

Hobart, Tasmania, was the first port of call to join up with the Australian Expeditionary Force.

The great Anzac fleet - impressive columns of warships and troop carriers, with the Waimana bringing up the rear - put to sea on November 1. They were heading for Europe but not one soldier knew his final destination. Most expected it to be the battlefields of France - the Western Front.

The fleet sailed across the Arabian Sea to Aden and then to Suez. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force disembarked at Alexandria on December 3 after a sea journey of 52 days, and headed by train to Cairo. The battalion disembarked at Helmieh station, Zeitoun, and, after a short march, set up camp in the desert.

The regime for the next few weeks, other than a brief confrontation with the Turkish army at Ismailia near the Suez Canal, was training during the day with ample time for rugby and enjoying the nightlife of Cairo. They were waiting for the call to the Western Front.

Into Anzac history
But Winston Churchill, the British First Lord of the Admiralty, had other plans for them.

He had mounted a failed naval assault on the narrow Dardenelles Strait, hoping to open the way through to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire and a German ally. A new plan was deemed necessary to silence the guns that protected the Dardenelles - a land attack on Gallipoli Peninsula.

About April 10, 1915, the orders finally came to the NZEF to strike the tents. A Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was being formed which would include British and French troops as well as the New Zealand and Australian forces based in Zeitoun. The Auckland Battalion headed back to Alexandria where transport ships were waiting.

On April 16, Frew sent a Field Service Post Card to his brother, John, in Hikurangi, on which the followed pre-printed statements were selected: "I am quite well" and "I have received no letter from you lately".

On the day commemorated now as Anzac Day, April 25, 1915, Corporal Andrew Frew was among the 3100 New Zealand troops who stormed ashore on to a small beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

About one in every five New Zealanders who landed that day were casualties, including Frew who was evacuated from the beachfront and returned by hospital ship to Cairo. His injuries were treated at the Pont de Koubbeh Hospital, a facility commissioned by the New Zealand Army a few weeks earlier and staffed by Australian and New Zealand officers, nurses and men.

He was in hospital for about three weeks before being transferred to a convalescence camp at Helonan for another week, then ordered back to training at the army's base camp at Zeitoun.

Seven weeks later, on July 28, 1915, Frew rejoined his regiment at Gallipoli, at a time when the Auckland Regiment was holding its ground on Chunuk Bair and experiencing an almost continual battering from Turkish artillery.

On August 10, 1915, just two weeks after his return to Gallipoli, Corporal Andrew Frew died, lying in a trench, roofed by branches and protected by sandbags and a sheet of corrugated iron.

He had slowly succumbed to the effects of shrapnel wounds received while helping to distribute daily rations to his mates. He was just 25 years old.

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