35766 Private Lawrence (Laurie) Alfred Parnell - 22nd (Motor) Battalion

In September 1916 Clarice Kathleen Howard married Alfred James Parnell. Alfred was employed as a porter for the New Zealand Railways and was based at Trentham. In 1917 Alfred was conscripted and entered Trentham Military camp in A company, 34th Reinforcement. Following basic training 60347 Private Parnell, in February 1918, shipped to England.

On arrival in England Private Parnell underwent training at Sling Camp where he was informed that his son Lawrence Alfred Parnell had
been born on the 20th August 1918. Private Parnell was posted to France in October 1918 where he was attached to the 14th Company,
1st Battalion, Otago Infantry. Private Parnell’s war was short as the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918.[i]

Private Parnell returned to New Zealand in March 1919 and went back to work in the NZ Railways with his new address the Railway Settlement at Kaiwara, Wellington. The couple’s second son James Trevor (Trevor) Parnell was born on 22nd September 1920.[ii]

The family moved out to Pukerua Bay in 1923 as Laurie was enrolled at Plimmerton School in 1924 and his younger brother, Trevor,
in 1925.[iii]

On the outbreak of World War Two, Lawrence (Laurie) Alfred Parnell was working as a clerk for Harrison Ramsay Limited. On June 1940 Laurie enlisted, his mother Clarice Kathleen Parnell, Pukerua Bay, was nominated as Next of Kin. Laurie entered camp in October 1940
and was shipped to Egypt in February 1941 as part of the 4th Reinforcements. His military records state ‘entered Egypt’ on the 24th March 1941. 35766 Private Parnell remained in Egypt training until he was posted on 24th July 1941 to the 22nd (Wellington) Battalion.[iv]
The 22nd Battalion had seen action in Greece and Crete and Private Parnell was one of 366 reinforcements to bring the Battalion back up
to strength.

The 22nd Battalion was an element in Operation Crusader which the Allied Forces launched in November 1941 to relieve the Siege of
Tobruk. In one action on the 27th November 1941 a company of the 22nd Battalion was overrun by General Rommel’s forces at Sidi Azez with the capture of a large number of New Zealand troops. It is possible that Private Parnell was involved in this action as a note in red on
his file simply notes on the 12th December 1941 ‘ SAFE - LOB.' [v] (Left out of Battle – moved to non-combat area – Ed)

Private Parnell, as part of the 22nd Battalion, was then as sent to Syria on garrison duties before being recalled to Egypt in June 1942 prior to the First Battle of El Alemien.  In this battle the 22nd Battalion was involved, on 15th July 1942, in the disastrous action, Ruweisat Ridge.  The 22nd Battalion was overrun by Axis forces with a large number killed or taken prisoner. Private Parnell’s file, on the 17th August 1942, is again marked in red ‘SAFE.’

The Battalion took part in the Second Battle of El Alemien and the follow up action following the retreating Axis forces until the final surrender of all Axis Forces in North Africa. The 22nd Battalion was then withdrawn to Alexandra for redeployment to Italy as the 22nd (Motor) Battalion, 2NZEF.

Prior to leaving Egypt, on the 18th December 1943, Private Parnell was awarded the Africa Star with the 8th Army Clasp.

The 22nd Battalion landed in Italy and moved up toward the German Winter line, deployed behind the Sangro River. In December 1943
in the history of the New Zealand Divisional Signals the Division was holding a position: [vi]

‘sited precariously only a hundred yards or so from the eastern
fringe of a particularly unhealthy stretch of Route 84 which,
being under enemy observation from Orsogna and the Maiella
heights to the north-west and west, was continually under
shellfire. Near the northern end of this stretch of road, which
came to be known throughout the Division as ‘The Mad Mile’
because of the haste with which vehicles traversed it, stood
a shell-torn brickworks, an excellent ranging mark for the
enemy gunners.

Aerial Photo c 2nd January 1944 showing the crossroads of
Castel Fentano and Guardigrete with the brickworks 

This proved to be a very accurate statement as in the War Diary
of the 22nd (Motor) Battalion on the 17th January 1944 an
entry states[vii]

‘At 2315hrs a jeep in Bl Ech area received a direct hit. 3 crs were killed and one wounded. The latter died of wounds a few hours later.’

One of the four in the Jeep was 35766 Private Lawrence (Laurie) Alfred Parnell.

The events at the Sangro River are recorded in the memoirs of another 22nd Battalion man, 375536 Private Roy Maitland Firth.[viii]
Roy was from Plimmerton and went to school with Laurie and his brother Trevor.

‘I’ve already mentioned the brickworks to the western end of the village with a large chimney. Well the Jerries were now using it
as a marker for artillery so they were quite accurate. At the brickworks – a cross roads. The main street ran from higher up the
ridge down through the village and bisected a country lane going across the ridge a favourite spot to shoot  up for any traffic
moving along the road.

In all units as the old hands reached a certain length of service time, they were eligible for leave
back in New Zealand and were relieved of duties to await their trip out. This was L.O.B.
left out of battle. There were several lads in the outfit on LOB including  an old friend from
Pukerua Bay, Laurie Parnell. A group of four on this particular night were to meet up with others
at a cottage below the ridge behind the brickworks for a celebratory party. In a jeep, no lights of
course and down to the cross-roads, hard left and down to the ridge to comparative safety. At the
end of the ridge, the brickwork chimney, cross-roads and away.
Not so – a stray shell killed all four. Talk about shit luck after all the action they had been through.
So Laurie never got back to Pukerua Bay.’

The four men are buried side by side in the Sangro River Cemetery, Italy 

35766 Private Lawrence Parnell, 22nd (Motor) Battalion - (grave XVI.D.32)


44419 Private Gerald Gordon Romley, 22nd (Motor) Battalion - ( grave XVI.D.30)

44862 Lance Corporal Thomas John Downing, 22nd (Motor)Battalion - ( grave XVI.D.31)

42749 Private Alex Wallis Morris, 22nd (Motor) Battalion - (grave XVI.D.33)

The 22nd (Wellington) Battalion became the 22nd (Motor) Battalion in 1943
James Trevor (Trevor) Parnell also served in WW2
Lawrence Alfred Parnell is commemorated on the Tokomaru War Memorial as his parents moved to the district in 1942/43 and his father at this stage was registered as his next of kin.
Lawrence Alfred Parnell is also commemorated on the Porirua Roll of Honour.

Archways Archives New Zealand Military Files – 60347 Private James Parnell
Defence Department Archives – 35766 Private Lawrence Alfred Parnell
Official War History of New Zealand in World War Two
Official War Diary 22nd (Motor) Battalion
Roy’s Story (3575536 Private Roy Maitland Firth, 25nd Battalion
Auckland War Memorial – Cenotaph Database

Cross roads, Castel Fentano & Guardigrete and brickworks taken about 2nd January 1944: National Library of New Zealand
44419 Private Gerald Gordon Romley, 22nd Infantry Battalion, 2NZEF (Auckland Cenotaph)
44862 Lance Corporal Thomas John Downing, 22nd Infantry Battalion, 2NZEF (Auckland Cenotaph)
35766 Private Lawrence Alfred Parnell, 22nd Infantry Battalion, 2NZEF (Auckland Cenotaph)
42749 Private Alex Wallis Morris, 22nd Infantry Battalion, 2NZEF (Auckland Cenotaph)

[i] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files 60347 Private Alfred James Parnell
[ii] NZ BDM death notice 1990/31452 James Trevor Parnell
[iii] Enrolled e-pupils 1904-1929 –Plimmerton School and it Environment
[iv] Defence Department Archives – Military Files, 35766 Private Lawrence Alfred Parnell
[v] Defence Department Archives – Military Files, 35766 Private Lawrence Alfred Parnell
[vi] Chapter 17 The Sangro and Osogna, Divisional Signals, Official History of NZ in the 2nd World War: NZETC
[vii] Official War Diary 22nd (Motor) Battalion: www.22battalion.org.nz/war-diary
[viii] Roy’s Story: Roy Firth 2005 –private publication
Crossroads and brickworks January 1944