27993 Private Frank Thomson – Canterbury Infantry Regiment.

Frank Thomson was born in Thames, Coromadel[i] in 1879. Little is known of his youth but he was living in Wellington in
the late 1890’s and was registered as a wharf labourer. Frank meet, and later married, Margaret (Peggy) Harding. Their
first child, a son Leslie, was born in Wellington on 14th April 1899 with Rubina May (1903), Orviss Naida (1909) and Francis Donald (1914)[ii] completing the family.

When he enlisted in June 1916 Frank was working as a labourer for the Wellington Harbour Board. Frank listed his wife
Mrs M Thomson of Plimmerton as his next of kin. Family oral history says that Frank enlisted, following his eldest son
Leslie into the army, in ‘order to protect his son[iii]’. Leslie was a ‘bit of a lad’ and had enlisted in April 1916 after adjusting his birth date to make him 20 years old.

27993 Private Frank Thomson entered military camp with the 18th Reinforcements on 26th June 1916. Frank had a month with his son 18719 Private Leslie Thomson, 15th Reinforcement[iv] prior to his son departing for overseas service
on 27th July 1916. It was during this month that a family portrait was taken of the Thomson family.

The Thomson Family June/July 1916
Left to Right
Frank, Orviss Naida, Peggy, Donald Francis, Leslie &
Rubina May Thomson

27993 Private Frank Thomson left Wellington on 16th
October 1916 as part of  F Company, 18th Reinforcements.
Private Thomson arrived in England in December 1917 and
entered the Sling Military Training Camp where he was
posted to the Canterbury Infantry Regiment. Following basic
training Private Thomson was posted to France on
1st February 1917. Private Thomson  was posted on
24th February 1917 to the NZ Tunnelling Company.
The Tunnelling Company was based at Arras where they had
extended the existing underground systems and created a
complex of galleries, subways, kitchens, barracks and
hospitals capable of supporting 20,000 men.
The tunnels were also driven out so that mines could be laid
under German positions along the Messines Ridge.

Private Thomson returned to the 1st Company, 1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment in late April 1917 and was in action during the Battle of Messines. The Battle started on 7th June 1917 when the mines laid from the Arras Tunnels
were exploded. Following the battle the New Zealand Division was sent to the rear for relief and reinforcement and it
was during this period that a postcard was sent by his son Les, to Plimmerton[v].

Dear Mum
I am sending you this photo of me which I got taken while taking a bit of rest,
it is not much of a photo but it will do. I am getting on well and I am going down
to see Dad, he is in a different Company than me.
Loving Son

It is possible that the visit down to see Dad resulted in this informal photo of a
father, his son and another New Zealand soldier taken in France
August  -  October 1917

Frank, unknown Leslie France 1917  

Following Messines the Allied forces prepared for the Third Battle of Ypres launched on 31 July 1917. Passchendaele was the initial objective and the name of this village has become the synonymous with the horrors of the Western Front. Frank was wounded on 10 October 1917 prior to the New Zealand Division’s first assaults on
the 12th October 1917, when New Zealand was to suffer its blackest day, in terms of lives lost in a single day. In the assault there were 2700 New Zealand casualties, of which 45 officers and 800 men were either dead or lying mortally wounded between the lines.[vi] The New Zealand Division was relieved by Canadian forces on the 18 October 1917[vi].

Private Thomson was evacuated with Gunshot Wounds (GSW) to the lower forearm[vii], first to a field hospital in France
and then to on 16th October 1917 was admitted to the No 1 New Zealand Hospital, Brockhenhurst, England. Private Thomson remained at Brockenhurst until 24th October 1917 and it possible that he was visited there by his son, Leslie,
who had been granted two weeks leave following the New Zealand Division moving out of the front lines.

Private Thomson was then posted back into the Reserve Battalions at Sling before being detailed in December 1917
‘to attend a course of instruction at the Southern Command School of Farriery, Ramsey, for training in cold shoeing.’
Private Thomson passed another course in cold shoeing horses in March 1918 before being sent back to France in April 1918 rejoining the 1st Company, 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment on 26th April 1918.

Private Thomson was in France when his son 18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Thomson, A Company, 1st Battalion,
3rd NZ Rifle Brigade was killed in action on 16th July 1918. Lance Sergeant Thomson was just 19 when he was killed.

Private Frank Thomson was evacuated to England in December 1918 as he was unable to march due to varicose veins. While in England and prior to being repatriated to New Zealand, Private Thomson went before a medical board. It was considered that the varicose veins were pre-existing but had been aggravated by ‘stress of active service’ and he should
be considered for a pension of less than 20%. Private Thomson was repatriated on 7th February 1919 and on arrival in
New Zealand was discharge ‘no longer physically fit for active service’ on 25th March 1919.

Frank Thomson returned in April 1919 to his family, wife Margaret (Peggy) and their three children, at 16 Sunset Parade, Plimmerton. Frank joined the New Zealand Railways based at the Plimmerton Railway Station, and is listed in Wises 1924 Directory as a Surfaceman. This role gave Frank responsibility to ‘maintain the track to ensure that the horizontal and vertical alignment was in order, ensuring a smooth ride .’

Peggy Thomson qualified as a mid wife, a service that was in great demand during the
20’s and 30’s. Thomson family oral history notes that Peggy delivered a large number of
children during this time.  For the majority of the 20’s and 30’s the only doctor available
was based in Johnsonville and a District Nurse was not appointed to cover Plimmerton
until 1937[vii].

During the Depression years Frank was employed by the Public Works Department and
was involved in three projects that would have an impact on Plimmerton. The first was
the building the Paremata Road Bridge. This bridge was finally opened on 3rd October
1936 allowing access directly from Paremata to Plimmerton rather than the drive around
the harbour using Grays Road.

The second project was closer to home, literally across the road with the construction
of the Sunset Parade seawall. This wall was started in 1938 and completed in 1941.
It was constructed of cement and local rock by G.K. Shaw Ltd under contract to the
Hutt County Council. The wall was built with ‘one concrete mixer.’

Frank and Peggy in front of 16 Sunset Parade, Plimmerton 1940's

Frank retired in the 1940’s and was described in his obituary as
‘a very powerfully built man and evidence of his strength is to be
seen around his home where heavy boulders are used in rock works [viii].’ Most of these rock works have now been demolished but his granddaughter remembers that they all contained an inscription to Frank and Margaret’s son Leslie, with the simple inscription of a
serial number, name and date of death, possibly a quiet man's way of showing his grief. 

18719 - Les - 16.7.1918 
16 Sunset Parade, Plimmerton 

Frank also loved the sea and ‘most mornings about 8 o’clock when the weather was fine, passers-by could observe him man-handling his 12 ft dingy down to the water in readiness for a day’s fishing or driftwood gathering .’ The beach in front of 16 Sunset Parade was known at the time as Peg/Peggy’s Bay.
Frank was known to row out to Mana Island to collect driftwood or to
fish. When the weather came up rough, Frank was often offered a tow
home by week-end fishermen, but he  would always reply
‘Thanks but I’ll row, I’ve all day to do it in [ix] .’

Frank in Peggy's Bay with local kids c 1950. 

On 24 March 1955 Frank took a final row out from Peggy’s Bay. He did
not return and his 12 foot dingy was found the next day floating right
side up and his body was recovered from rocks in the Hongoeka area.

His obituary  reads ‘and so with the passing of Frank Thomson, Plimmerton loses one who added a touch of colour to our district – a familiar figure plying his oars in steady rhythm over the sunlit waters he loved so well .’

Peggy passed away in 1959.

Thanks to Carole the grand-daughter of Frank who provided the oral history in this article and also for the many photos of her
grandfather and uncle.
The Ferrotype (tinplate) photo was sent from France to Peggy Thomson. Leslie Thomson is on the right and Frank Thomson on the left – a father and his son on the Western Front.  

Paperspast Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files
Oral History – Thomson family

Thomson family 1916 - Thomson family
Frank & Leslie in France - Thomson family
Frank and Peggy, Sunset Parade 1940's - Thomson family
Personal memorial to Les, Sunset Parade, Plimmerton - Allan Dodson
Frank and local children 1950's - Thomson family  

[i]      Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 27993 Private Frank Thomson
[ii]     NZ BDM
[iii]    Oral History – Thomson family
[iv]    NZ Archives New Zealand Military Records: 18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Thomson
[v]     Postcard to mother - Thomson family 
[vi]    New Zealand Online – The Passchedaele Offensive.
[vii]   Oral History - Thomson family 
[viii]  Obituary Kapi Mana 
[ix]     Oral History - unsourced Plimmerton Boating Club 


Thomson Family 1916