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50095 Driver James Wilfred (Wilf) Mexted – NZ Divisional Ammunition Column 

The Mexted family arrived in New Zealand in 1841 on the Lord William Benwinck and established themselves in the
Takapu Area, Tawa Flat[i]. Third generation Stephen William Mexted and his siblings were born in the district during the 1860’s. In 1884 Steven and his older brother Thomas married daughters of George and Caroline Champions[ii]. The Champions operated a wharf at the mouth of the Kenepuru Stream, Porirua[iii].

Steven William Mexted married Eliza Champion in 1884 and the couple had eight children. James Wilfred (Wilf) Mexted
was born in Porirua on 14th July 1888 he was the third in the family and the second son. While the family were raised in
the Takapu area the Mexted children all attended Porirua School. Their mother, Eliza had attended the school from 1874 and Wilf was enrolled on 1893. There were a number of cousins also attending the school both from the Champion and Mexted sides of the family[iv].

After school Wilf went to work on the family farm. On 2nd August 1916 Wilf attended a military medical examination, he was passed fit but on 30th January 1917 he underwent a second examination where it was noted that he did suffer from asthma but that ‘he has never consulted a doctor about his slight attacks’ and that he had had a fracture to his right leg which made him slow in kneeling and also in springing up[v].

Wilf’s enlistment papers noted that he was a single man working as a farmer
and living at Tawa Flat where his next of kin Mrs E Mexted also lived. Wilf
indicated that he would prefer to serve in the Mounted Rifles.


50095 Gunner James Wilfred Mexted - NZFA 

On 12th April 1917 Wilf entered military camp initially as 50095 Trooper Mexted,
29th Reinforcements, Mounted Rifles. On 28th April 1917 Trooper Mexted was
transferred to the Field Artillery and became 50095 Gunner Mexted,
28th Reinforcements, New Zealand Field Artillery (NZFA). Following basic training
in New Zealand Gunner sailed from New Zealand on 24th July 1917 on
HMNZT Waitemata bound for Cape Town, South Africa. Gunner Mexted began
to write letters back to his “Mama & Papa” in Tawa Flat to let them know what was
happening to him. As he had many contacts in farming circles in the Lower North
Island these letters describe the many other soldiers that the family knew.

While sailing from Cape Town to Plymouth Gunner Mexted remembered another
Tawa soldier 41501 Private Alfred Percival (Percy) Crowe, 23rd Reinforcements
who had died from sickness and had been buried at sea close to where
Gunner Mexted was sailing.

"At Sea  21 September 1917
Dear Pap
. . . . . . I suppose it is somewhere in these quarters, where old Percy Crowe[vi] came to grief.
I often think of old Percy when I look out to sea. I expect you have heard all the particulars of
his death by this time."

Gunner Mexted also wrote about the Conscientious Objectors who were being carried on the vessel to be delivered to military authorities on the Western Front among them Archibald Baxter.

"At Sea 21st September 1917
Dear All at Home . . . . - I have not mentioned before but we have about a dozen religious objectors
on board. A few days ago they had their own clothes taken off and thrown overboard & uniforms
put on. We have to dress them every morning since, and as soon as we are gone they pull them off
again they are very determined and say they would rather perish than wear them.”

The 23rd Reinforcements arrived in Plymouth on 25th September 1917 where they were shipped to the Artillery School at Ewshott. Gunner Mexted remained at Ewshott until 10th February 1918 when he was shipped to France. In Ewshott Gunner Mexted had passed a shoeing and a gas course and while his horsemanship was considered fair his driving was considered poor. While at the training school  his rank was changed to that of Driver. Even at this stage of the war there was considerable reliance on horse teams to move guns and ammunition up to and from the front lines.

On arrival in France Driver Mexted was attached to the NZ Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) which was required to supply the front line guns. On 21st March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring Offensive and initially this was successful. The New Zealand Division which had been in reserve was rushed up to ‘plug gaps’ in the frontlines. Driver Mexted wrote about the events on 30st March 1918:



Mama and Papa - post war 



30th March 1918 -  NZ Base, BEF, France
My Dear Mama and Papa and all at home - No doubt you will notice I have fallen
off lately with my letter writing but the busy time has come here and there is little or no time just now, this is my first chance in some time .
We have been on the move a lot lately seldom in the same place two nights and
when we pull in we are busy fixing a possey for a little shut eye . . .  .

Driver Mexted continued to write letters to his family, those to his mother and
father and his fiancé Dods (Dorothy) minimised the threat but other written to brothers had more robust details. Written to his brother Milton[vii] on
18th August 1918 as the NZ Division prepared to ‘go over the top ’ in the Second Battle of Bapaume:

. . . . Well Miltie this stunt is going on in all it’s fury and all hands are at it hammer and tongs.
I am on a dump unloading and dishing out shells, which are coming and going out by the thousands.
I have seen things very lively this last day or so Miltie, plenty of happenings down here below, to be
remembered and plenty of scrapping etc in the air, several coming down in flames, one thing I always
think the greater the events are the sooner we will get back, so I am hoping he gets no peace now to
the end, which I think can’t be long now.

The Allied forces were pushing the Germans back and on the 11th November 1918 the Armistice was signed. Driver Mexted remained in France as preparations were made for elements of the NZEF to be part of the Army of Occupation to be sent to ensure that German Forces could not break the Armistice. Driver Mexted had moved up into Belgium when he was granted leave to go back to the United Kingdom. Christmas was spent in London and time was spent in visiting various relatives in other parts of England. On 31st December 1918 Driver Mexted reported to the NZ HQ in London where moves were made to retain him at the School of Instruction in England rather than return to his unit in France, as he reported to his family:

Shakespeare Headquarters (England)   2nd January 1919
My Dear Mama and Papa and all at home
..... I am always wondering how you are and how you getting along and the nearer I am to the
homecoming the more discontented I am. It is much easier to to get back from England than
France. I’m inclined to think I was foolish not accepting the offer to remain here I would have
stood a good chance of getting home just as soon as but on the other hand I may have put my
in it for they could have kept me here to the last. I would have Sergeant’s stripes and pay, but
that is nothing it is home I want.

Driver Mexted was returned to France on 10th January 1919 and then made the journey up to his unit that was stationed
at Cologne, Germany. As it became clear the German forces were not capable of renewing hostilities the NZEF accelerated moves to repatriate men. On 25th February 1919 Driver Mexted returned to the United Kingdom and up to the Larkhill Military Camp to await transports.

On 16th May 1919 Driver Mexted was embarked on the SS Prinzessin for repatriation to New Zealand. Arriving on
1st July 1919 Driver Mexted was given leave and it was during this leave, on 7th July 1919,  he married
Dorothy Ellatine Lawrence, ‘Dods’   who he constantly wrote to through his time overseas.  Finally on 28th July 1919 ‘on termination of his period of engagement’ 50095 Driver James Wilfred (Wilf) Mexted was discharged from the NZEF.  Wilf’s military papers note that he would be returning home to Tawa Flat, his British War and Victory medals were delivered to Tawa in 1921 / 22.  

Wilf and Dorothy Mexted initially farmed  Tawa Flat, then about 1923 Wilf and Dods moved to the Horokiwi Valley  where they had purchased 1,200 acres[viii]. The couple with the assistance their four children, Wilf’s parents and younger brother Ces (Cecil)  operated a dairy farm for a number of years on the property.


Dods and Wilf  1938 


In World War Two Wilf was appointed, on 1st April
1942, Temporary Lieutenant, Home Guard.
Lieutenant Mexted was the Platoon Commander
of the Pauhatanui Platoon, Hutt Battalion. The
commission was resigned on 9th May 1943 as
there was an ‘over establishment of officer strength
in the Pahatahanui area.’[ix]  At this stage of the war
the Japanese threat was reduced, the US Marines
who had arrived in 1942 and who had been
stationed in the Porirua / Pauatahnui area were
preparing for action in the Pacific Theatre.
   
Wilf and Dorothy retired in 1965 and moved to Napier where Wilf died on 5th October 1970.  

Notes
The old Pauhatanui is used where it is written in historic documents.
There are over fifty letters from Wilf to his family in New Zealand. They are a testimony to a families bond and I must thank the extended Mexted family allowing me access to them. Only a small portion of information has been used in this story, the letters are a book by themselves. 
41501 Private Alfred Percival (Percy)  Crowe, 23rd Reinforcements was a relative through marriage his sister had married Wilf’s brother.   Percy was blind in his right eye!
4477 Driver Milton Francis Mexted, NZ Army Service Corp died of wounds, 25th May 1941, while a prisoner of war following the Battle of Crete and is buried on the Island.
‘Dods’, Dorothy Ellaline Lawrence’s family was from Johnsonville with two of her brothers serving with the NZEF and one on the Western Front and was mentioned by Wilf in his letters. Wilf also mentioned Mr Lawrence sending him parcles.

References
NZ BDM
Paperspast Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files
50095 Driver Mexted’s letters home: Unpublished
Pauatahanui - a local history
PCC history of Porirua Street names
Porirua School 1873 – 1948

Photos
50095 Gunner  James Wilfred Mexted 1917: Extened Mexted family
Mama and Papa -  approx : Pauatahanui a local history
Dods and Wilf - 1938: extended Lawrence family collection 
NZEF Ammunition Dump - Western Front 1918: Goggle

[i] Pauatahanui a local history
[ii] NZ BDM
[iii] Porirua Street names -
[iv] Pupils Porirua School 1873 – 1945
[v] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 50095 Driver James Wilfred Mexted
[vi] 41501 Private Alfred Percival Crowe, 23rd Reinforcements
[vii] Milton Francis Mexted – died of wounds in WW2
[viii] Pautahanui a local history
[ix] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 50095 Driver James Wilfred Mexted
NZ Divisional Ammunition Column load from a 'dump' 1918