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SA4657 Trooper (Lou)  Leonard Lewis Gestro
 
Gestro Brothers of Paremata – part Two
 
Leonard Lewis Gestro is a younger brother of (Joe) Joseph Louis Gestro. At various times, depending who he was with, he was also known as Lou, Lulu or Lu. The family records his birth in 1880 and this matches his stated age when he enlisted
in 7th New Zealand Contingent to serve in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.[i]
 
On the 19th March 1901 when Lou signed his papers he was single, working as a farmer and based in Paremata. The 7th Contingent had been raised to replace the 4th Contingent who had completed their ten months service in South Africa. SA4657 Trooper Gestro sailed from Wellington for South Africa on the 6th April 1901. Also sailing with the 7th Contingent were SA4650 Trooper George Styles from Pauatahanui,
SA4207 Trooper Charles Robinson,SA4643 Trooper John 
Robinson, SA 4645 Trooper Leonard Retter and his younger 
brother SA 4644 Darcy Retter from Johnsonville and SA4609
Lance Corporal Joseph Brown  from Tawa,
 
On arrival in South Africa the 7th New Zealand and the 6th
Queensland Contingent were assigned to Colonel Garratt’s
column operating in the Eastern Transvaal and north-east
of the Orange Free State. During June 1901 there was constant
skirmishing with the Boers with casualties inflicted on both the
6th and 7th at Blesboxspruit and Kaffir’s Spruit.
 
In July 1901 they captured a Boer commando at Koppjiesfontein
where 11 Boers were killed or wounded, 25 captured along with
34 wagons, 31 carts and 1240 cattle.
 
 
 
SA4657 Trooper Leonard Lewis Gestro 
 
 
 
More successful capture of material and men continued in
August 1901 at Bultfontein and Spannerberg. These clearing
operations continued, seriously weakening the Boers. The
final major contact was in February 1902 where the British
forces attempted the capture of key Boer leader De Wet. The
report on the action was sent as a dispatch on the 23rd February
1902 at Langverwacht. The action is also known as the
Bloody Battle of Bothasbergat.[ii]
 
‘De Wet adopted the plan of advancing under cover of a
large mob of cattle, which were rapidly driven up by natives
to the point where the rush through was to be attempted.
This expedient met, it is true, with a part of the desired
success, for there is little doubt that De Wet, Ex-President
Steyn, and a number of their men thus managed to break
out of the toils. As a whole, however, the Boer force was very
severely punished by the New Zealanders of Lieutenant
Colonel Garratt's column, who displayed great gallantry and
resolution at a critical moment in resisting and in part
repelling the attack. The conduct of the New Zealanders upon this occasion reflects the highest credit upon all
ranks of the contingent, and upon the Colony to which it belongs. Nothing could have been finer than the
behaviour of the men. The whole of the Boer cattle and vehicles were captured, and 31 of the enemy, together
with over 160 horses, were killed at the point where the attempt to penetrate our line was made. Our own
casualties were also severe, 2 officers and 18 men being killed, and 5 officers and 33 men wounded, the large majority of whom belonged to the 7th New Zealand Contingent’
 
Sweeps of the Veldt continued through March – May 1902 but with little to show as very few Boer combatants were seen.
In late March the 7th Contingent, after the year of operations, started their journey to Durban and the return to New Zealand. On the journey, at Newcastle the 7th Contingent was addressed by the New Zealand Premier Mr Richard
Seddon. The 7th Contingent sailed from Durban, South Africa on the 22nd May 1902.
 
Trooper Gestro returned to New Zealand on the 25th June 1902 and was granted leave from the 26th June 1902 to the 26th August 1902 for hospital treatment.The medical board that convened on the 9th July 1902 simply noted that
Trooper Gestro had developed a cold at Elandsfontein (close to Johannesburg) on the 9th March 1902 and while he had difficulty hearing with his right ear and had ‘night cold’s, the two months leave would be sufficient for full recovery. It was during this sick leave that the residents of Paremata hosted a reception for the returning soldier as reported in the Evening Post 11th July 1902:[iii]
 
            ‘A reception was given to Trooper Gestro, of Seventh Contingent,
            in the Pahautanui Hall on Wednesday night, by the residents of
            Paremata. A feature of the evening’s entertainment was the
 presentation of a watch nd gold chain and Maltese cross to the
 returning trooper, who later gave a graphic description of the
 Bothasberg engagement. The Pahautanui Brass Band lent
 assistance. ‘
 
On the 8th August 1902 the evening Post reported on the ‘Wellington Celebrations’[iv] to commemorate the Coronation
of Edward VII and his wife Alexandra as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Empire. The paper reported that following speeches by the Governor General, Sir Uchter John Mark Knox Ranfurly, the Mayor of Wellington, John Aitken and following the final speech by the acting Premier of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward, there was a presentation of medals
 
            ‘At the conclusion of Sir Joseph Ward’s speech, the volunteers fired
            a feu de jole, while the Garrison Band played the National Anthem.
            and cheered the King.
            His Excellency then stepped to the front of the platform for the purpose
            Of presenting medals to veterans and South African troopers. Following
            Is the list .  . . South African  . . . .. Private L. L. Gestro.’
 
Trooper Gestro did request additional leave in September 1902 but after examination at Wellington he was declared fit and was finally officially discharged from the army on the 15th September 1902. Leonard’s discharge paper indicates
that he was considered of ‘very good’ character and would be residing in Paremata.
 
Lou did not remain in Paremata for long as his 1901 and 1902 clasp for his South Africa Medal  were finally signed for on the 24th December 1906 when Leonard was traced to Brighton, Otago.
 
Lou returned to Wellington marrying Charlotte Ester (Lena)  McKelvey from Karori. The couple had seven children, five boys and two girls.
 
Lou was living in Kilbirnie, Wellington and working as a labourer when he suffered concussion as reported the Evening Post 1st December 1936:[v]
 
            ‘ L Gestro, of 36 Ribble Street, Wellington, a labourer, suffered
            concussion when he fell from a tram in Lambton Quay yesterday
            afternoon.’
 
Lou was attended to by the (St Johns) Free Ambulance and taken to the hospital where he died of his injuries two days later, his funeral notice appearing on the 2nd December 1936. Leonard Lewis (Lou) Gestro is buried in the Soldiers’ section of the Karori Cemetery, Wellington.
 
 
Notes:
Three of Lou’s sons Stewart McKenzie (Kenny), Francis Palo (Frank) and Henry Gestro served in the 2nd World War with Kenny being killed in the Western Desert in 1942.
Three of Lou’s brothers also served in World War One, Nicholas (Nick), Herbert and William (Bill) but only William (Bill) served overseas.
 
Leonard Lewis (Lou) Gestros’ name will be included in the list of men from the Porirua District who served in the 1899 – 1902 2nd Boer War alongside that, already there, of his brother Joseph (Joe) Louis Gestro
 
References:
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files
Papers Past online
Gestro Family history – Steve Shepherd
NZ Units in South Africa 1899 – 1902: NZ History online
 
Photos:
Men of the 7th Contingent breaking camp: NZ History online
Hand Coloured Trooper Lou Gestro: Allan & Harold Gestro
 
[i] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA4657 Leonard Lewis Gestro
[ii] Boer War – 7th Contingent: NZ History online
[iii] Personal (11th July 1902) Evening Post
[iv] Wellington Celebrations -  At the Basin Reserve (9th August 1902) Evening Post.
[v] Accidents in the City (1st December 1936) Evening Post
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Troopers from the 7th Contingent break camp on the Veldt