Of a population of 1.1 million, New Zealand sent over 104,000 men to serve in the First World War. At Old St Paul’s there are 14 brass memorials remembering those that left their families here in Wellington. Four of these men attended Miss Swainson’s school; the school had a long lasting relationship with St Paul’s. At the school’s Diamond Jubilee in 1938, Cheviot Bell recalled his childhood memories of the boys in his class who went to war and never came back.
Cheviot Wellington Rangi Dillon Bell was the son of Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dillon Bell, our first New Zealand-born prime minister. He was born in Wellington in 1892 and was educated at Christ’s College and Trinity College in Cambridge, and then trained as a lawyer. Cheviot served in the 10th Royal Hussars and the Royal Flying Corp during World War I. Later in World War II he was Commandant of the RNZAF training school at Woodbourne. Taking after his father, Cheviot was a member of the Legislative Council in 1950. He died in 1963.
Cheviot attended Mrs Swainson’s Fitzherbert Terrace school in 1901. Although officially a girls’ school, there were a small number of boys who attended. For the Diamond Jubilee in 1938, Cheviot Bell wrote about the boys in his class, in a very melancholy tone, looking at a photo of the boys he went to school with and thinking of the war:
‘I am musing on the names and seeing the boyhood faces of so many who were destined to die later in the Great War. At that time we did not dream of warfare on such a scale.’
He noted the remarkable observation that he thought that every single one of the boys who had attended the school (50 in all) had served in the war. You can find the names of four of these boys in memorial brasses at Old St Paul’s: William and Rainsford Balcombe-Brown, and Tom Higginson and Carlie Smith.
Included in this photo, taken in 1901, includes all the boys in this story: Tom Higginson, Cheviot Bell, the two Balcolme-Brown brothers and Carlie Smith. (Also in the photo is Leslie Beauchamp, Katherine Mansfield’s brother).
The brothers William and Rainsford Balcombe-Brown have already been discussed in this story.
The other two, Tom Higginson and Carlie Smith also have their own interesting stories to explore. Bell wrote:
‘My mind goes back to Tiddy Johnston and Tom Higginson as they stood on the roof of the shed defying the teachers, and pelting them, and us, with debris from the guttering: surely that incident found its logical sequence as they fell – still defiant – before machine gun fire on the Somme.’
Thomas Cecil Higginson was a sheep farmer at the outbreak of the war. He was the child of the well-known engineer Harry Pasley Higginson and his wife Florence. Tom left for England in December 1914 and was given a 2nd Lieutenancy in the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards. After training he was sent to France attached to the machine gun battalion and received a promotion to first Lieutenancy. Tom was killed in action in France on 15 September 1916, at the age of 24.
Cheviot Bell also wrote in his friend Sidney (Carlie) Smith:
‘Carlie Smith licked the redoubtable Bob Walker (a Terrace boy and our daily terror) with bare fists; and then later, when his time came, faced in the same manner Fritz and death.’
Sidney O’Carrol Smith was a bank clerk at the Bank of New South Wales when he enlisted in August 1914 in the Australian Expeditionary Force. After landing at Gallipoli he was promoted to sergeant. Carlie contracted typhoid and was admitted to hospital in England in September 1915. Here he obtained a commission in the Rifle Brigade and then served in France. He died of wounds at the Somme on 25 August 1916. He was 25 years old. [Subsequent to writing this story we heard more about Smith from another researcher, which you can see here.]
Now 100 years later we still muse on those names that remain in Old St Paul’s and remember the horrific events of the war and the men that left New Zealand to serve.
Sources: Barry Gustafson. The First 50 Years: A history of the New Zealand National Party. Auckland, 1986; Tosti Murray. Marsden: The History of a New Zealand School for Girls. Christchurch, 1967 [which includes Cheviot Bell’s memories]; F. W. Furkert. Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953; In Memoriam, 1914-1918. (1919). Wanganui Collegiate School, Press, 1 September 1916.
Images: Mr Cheviot W.D. Bell. Evening Post, 26 May 1939; Portrait of Sidney O’Carrol Smith from Bank of New South Wales Roll of Honour; Portrait of Thomas Cecil Higginson from Wanganui Collegiate’s book In Memoriam. School photo from Tosti Murray’s book about Marsden.