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Friday, 24 April 2015

Our Own Roll of Honour

A distant relative of mine, Commodore Henry Eagle, US Navy, whose father fought in the 1812 American War of Independence.
Tomorrow marks the centenary of that day when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) made their fateful landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. From 1916 onwards, the anniversary has been marked each year by Anzac Day, a day of remembrance that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suffering of all those who have served". Sadly, while this embraces Iraq and Afghanistan, it does not include the "Frontier Wars" in either country.
A Kiwi Messenger, but not one of us
Mount Messenger in New Zealand, for example, is named after Māori Wars veteran Colonel William Bazire Messenger of the Taranaki Militia, who commanded the 10th New Zealand Contingent to the Boer War and pulled out his own teeth. But he doesn't get to be considered tomorrow. Anyway, he's not one of us. How can I be so sure? Read on, McDuff.
Anzac Day is also unofficially recognised and observed in Newfoundland, as this was an independent dominion and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was the only North American unit to fight at Gallipoli.
Didn't realise it was a competition?: The New Zealand Herald, Auckland, May 4, 1915
Like most New Zealanders and Australians tomorrow, I will be thinking of those close relatives who fought in the two World Wars. One in particular is my uncle Walter Gerald Messenger, who was at Gallipoli in 1915. He survived that slaughter and was awarded a Military Medal for his bravery at Messines, but died on the Western Front in 1917. However, as the day salutes all those who served in "all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations", we should perhaps be acknowledging all ancestors and relatives, close or otherwise, who have taken part in any military action, anywhere at any time.
Noeleen Mulholland
Happily, I am in a position to be able to do that. I have a cousin, Noeleen Mulholland, in Wellington, New Zealand, who has devoted many years of her life to growing to an incredibly healthy size our family tree, taking its roots and branches all the way back to the late 17th century, to my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Symon Messenger. Noeleen is the daughter of the late Noel Cedric Messenger MBE, a World War II veteran.
Walter Gerald Messenger
Apart from Walter Messenger, Noel was one of five other uncles who served in World Wars. Noel was awarded the Africa Star after serving in North Africa in 1940-43. Geoffrey Walter Messenger, and, for various services in the Pacific Theatre, John Thomas Webber, James William Webber, Cyril Adam Webber and Russell Aicken Webber all enlisted.
Noel Cedric Messenger MBE
Then there are two great-uncles, Rifleman Ernest Nelson Boddington, who died of a war-related illness in England in 1917, and Lieutenant William George Boddington, who was killed in action in Papua New Guinea in 1942 while serving with the Australian Army. The Boddingtons belonged to my grandmother's family.
On my grandfather's side, Lieutenant William Geoffrey Messenger, born in 1885 in Hambledon, Surrey, received a Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross before he died in 1919. Jack Stephenson Messenger, born in 1899 in Kingston, Surrey, became an air raid warden and died in 1944 at Muntok, Banka Island, Sumatra, as a result of enemy (Japanese) action. 
Noeleen's 279-A4 page long tree gives us the opportunity to salute not just Anzacs, but also our forebears in the United States and Britain who took part in conflicts - reaching back to the 1812 American War of Independence. In all, six members of the extended family served in World War I and another 15 in World War II.
The start of our family's military links can be traced to Dublin-born Henry Eagle, a major of an Irish brigade in the War of 1812, stationed on Long Island. Two of his brothers were in the British military, one a surgeon, the other a major in the East Indies. His son, also Henry, was a commodore in the US Navy and the uncle and father-in-law of Thomas Henry Messenger, born in New York in 1840. Thomas' mother was Christiana Eagle Messenger, Henry Eagle II's sister.
The mortar schooner flotilla commanded by David Dixon Porter during the April 1862 attack on the forts below New Orleans.Vessels shown, from left: Westfield, Adolph Hugel, Para, William Bacon, Oliver H. Lee, C.P. Williams, Henry Janes, George Mangham, Racer, Horace Beals, Sarah Bruen, Samuel Rotan, John Griffith, Rachel Seaman, Maria J. Carlton, Sidney C. Jones, T.A. Ward, Sea Foam, Maria A. Wood, Octorara (Porter's flagship) and Matthew Vassar.
Another member of the US branch of our family, Emma, the daughter of Harry Messenger, married Edward G. Furber, acting master of the USS Para, a schooner acquired by the Union Navy during the American Civil War. She was used by the Navy to patrol navigable waterways of the Confederacy to prevent the South from trading with other countries.
Wilfred Chaundler Messenger
One of my favourite relatives is Rifle Brigade Captain Wilfred Chaundler Messenger, born in 1891 in Hampshire, England, who died in 1917 in Rouen, France, from wounds received in action at Langemarck. His commanding officer wrote, "He was a splendid soldier" and the battalion chaplain said of him, "I can say with absolute truth that I have never met an officer whom I respected more, or one whom his men loved better." In 1916 he was buried for three hours in a mine explosion in the Ypres Salient, and was so well loved by his men that he was rescued "by the devotion of his servant".  
In early 1944, the US 5th Marines liberated Tiny Messenger's Iboki Plantation in New Guinea from the Japanese occupiers.
But for colourful characters, the pick of the bunch must be Harry Trimble Messenger, born in 1901 in Guildford, England. A fearless aviator, "Tiny" Messenger drank himself to death at his Iboki plantation in New Guinea in 1941. Described as "a bit of a lad", he was nicknamed "Tiny" because he was 6ft 7in tall and weighed 280lb. He enlisted in the Australian Army in Rabaul in 1940. Malcolm Wright's The Gentle Savage says, "Messenger, another planter on the coast [he was manager at Iboki] belonged to another age. A massive man with a red Van Dyke beard, Tiny had been a pilot in the early days of the Royal Air Force ... he told of the scores of well-known women that he seduced. He was fat, boozy, riddled with malaria, and on his leg he had a large tropical ulcer that would never heal. When war was declared he disappeared.  He went to Australia, had medical treatment and volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force. He was accepted and became the most enthusiastic private in the army. It would not be long before he got sergeant's stripes. But his old enemies were at work. He got malaria and was put into hospital; the ulcer broke out again and Tiny was discharged medically unfit. He returned to Rabaul, where he did not remain long; he picked up a cargo of liquor [mostly rum] and returned to his plantation where, in a few months, he drank himself to death. When the Japanese occupied his plantation a short time afterwards, Tiny's ghost must have been very angry."
'Arsy-Glassy' Higgins
Perhaps slightly less colourful (at least according to Gertrude Bell) was Air Marshall Sir John Frederick Andrews Higgins, another aviator and ladies man. At least he had a funnier nickname: "Bum and Eyeglass" (or "Arsy-Glassy" for short). Higgins was born in Farnham, Surrey, in 1875, attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and was seriously wounded while serving with the Royal Artillery in the Boer War. In 1912 he was one of the first students of the Royal Aero Club's Central Flying School, was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing) as a flight commander, and assisted in carrying out some of the earliest experiments into firing guns from an aircraft. He was wounded in France in 1914 but returned there in 1916 in command of No 3 Brigade in the Battle of the Somme. Promoted to Major-General in the Royal Air Force on its formation in 1918, he later had command in Iraq. Knighted in 1925, from 1930 he worked for an aircraft company in India, but with the outbreak of World War II War he was recalled and appointed Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. 
A painting depicting the Battle of Jutland
Engineer Commander Edward Hinkman Tucker Meeson was killed on the HMS Defence in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Previously, in the HMS Laurel, he took part at the Battle of Heligoland Bight so satisfactorily that he was promoted to commander and was made a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. He was present at the sinking of the Blücher and at the evacuation of both Anzac Cove and Cape Helles.  
Albert Clay Messenger, was born in 1927 in Port Washington, New York, the grandson of Albert Ayers Messenger, one of the early property owners in Sands Point and for whom Messenger Lane (above) was named. Al Messenger served with the 88th Division (Blue Devils) in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations Infantry Company as a field medic. A source of family pride was that he could claim the distinction of having two great-grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, one with the Army of Northern Virginia and the other with Company E 23rd Division North Carolina Infantry Regiment. What's more, he married into the Kurtz family!
Regis Gignoux, born in 1923 in Le Pin, Champtoce, France, and a graduate of the Groton School and Yale University, was a US Army Air Forces pilot with the rank of lieutenant in World War II.  His daughter Peg was designer in the display department of Shillito's, a department store in Typewriter City Cincinnati. Her great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Jay, was the first Chief Justice of the United States.
Margaret Langrish, born in 1922 in Croydon, Surrey, spent her formative years in Sydney but returned to England to serve as a radio operator in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War II. Harold Keith Langrish, a Flying Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, died in Germany in 1944. He is buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen. Anne Seaber Harris was an officer in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II.
Thus, all told, I've got plenty of "family" to honour tomorrow.

2 comments:

Richard B. said...

This is an awesomely interesting post. Thank you! This painting of the German battle line in the midst of one of Scheer's battle turns is very interesting, although I wonder if a bit of artistic license has been taken with the intervals between ships. I'm glad the Australians and New Zealanders have been our allies. The way you guys fight, I'd hate to have you as enemies!

Donald Lampert said...

Much honour to you and your relatives! And, you even have a connection to the US of A.
Thanks for sharing this important bit of history with us!