Heaven’s XV Part 3

Last week we remembered and commemorated the centennial of Passchendaele through a selection of World War One soldiers and rugby players.

Today we continue to meet the team, through Ashburton High School players who fell in a variety of places.

While as the war progressed, France on the Western Front was still the main focus of hostilities, a few of our fighting rugby players fell or were injured in the less widely known Palestine offensive.

Strangely, for such a poorly recognised campaign (which saw the allies take on both the Germans and the entire Ottoman Empire) many wartime souvenirs in Ashburton Museum’s collection are from that part of the world. Popular gifts, for mothers in particular, were booklets of postcards, textiles, and even flowers from the Holy Lands.


Alexander Peter Mcrae


Alexander was born in 1890, son of William and Margaret of Ashburton, and later Te Kuiti. He entered Ashburton High School in 1902, won a Board scholarship in 1903 and was Dux in 1905. The school magazine said he was one of their most promising Old Boys. He served as a pupil teacher at Hampstead before attending courses at Christchurch Teachers Training College and Canterbury College. Upon graduation he took up a role as Assistant Master at Borough School and when he enlisted, in October 1915, he was headmaster at Lakeside School, Leeston. Alexander was a member of the Old Boys’ Football team. He was killed in action at Messines June 1917.


Samuel John Gudsell

Samuel was born in Tinwald in 1884 to James and Annie. He entered Ashburton High School in 1897, where he excelled in football, athletics and cycling, in which he won a number of races. He worked in an office, then for his father, a storekeeper, baker and butcher. Later he farmed in Dunsandel. In 1905 he married Mable Huston. The couple had three children. The youngest, Albert, was only three when Samuel enlisted in May 1916. Three months before he died Samuel undertook training as a bomb thrower. He died in June 1917 in Messines, which his death certificate places in ‘France or Belgium’. Samuel was twice convicted of being absent without leave. While in custody awaiting trial he escaped, but later handed himself in. For this his pay was docked, which must have been a double blow for poor Mabel.


Frank Culverhouse


Frank was born in 1887 in Winslow to George and Anna. The family moved to Tinwald, where Frank attended school before studying at Ashburton High School during 1901 where he took a prominent part in school athletics, later becoming a successful rugby player. He took up farming in Winchmore, Oamaru, then the North Island, before enlisting in November 1915. Frank was injured in August 1916. Some records state that paraplegia was caused by a gunshot wound to the spine, while others call it a shrapnel explosion. Frank’s war record makes for sad reading. Sensation in his legs was initially taken as a good sign. Later, the pain was so great he could not sleep and he suffered from fevers, until dying in the last week of November. He is buried in Linwood cemetery, Christchurch.


Thomas Verner Hampton

Tom was born in 1895 to Thomas and Sarah of Seafield, and later Chertsey. He attended both Seafield and Pendarves schools before enrolling at Ashburton High School in 1910. He was prominent in both class work and athletics, was involved with fives and tennis, and was one of the school’s most prominent runners. As well as being a prefect, he was in the 1st XV and 1st XI. While at school he passed the junior civil service examination and left in 1912, to farm with his father on Cumbrae in Pendarves. Tom enrolled in October 1916 and died in December 1917 of a combination of measles, bronchitis and pneumonia in France.


John Warren Hight Watson


Born in Waterton in 1895 to John and Annie. Warren attended Longbeach School before attending Ashburton High School in 1908-1909, where he displayed the family keenness for football. After leaving school he farmed in Winchmore with his brother Hedley. Warren saw much action while overseas, including at Gallipoli, but was plagued by illness. After catching typhoid, he was invalided home in November 1915 for three months convalescence. He then returned to Egypt, before being transferred to France. He served in both the Somme and Messines, where he was slightly gassed. After a furlough he returned to France. In October 1917, in Passchendaele, he was wounded in the left arm. Unable to fully extend his arm he was sent home to Hamner in March 1918, his fighting days over. However, he became ill and was transferred to Christchurch hospital where after an operation he died of peritonitis in July 1918. His parents were convinced that Warren’s death was due to neglect by the medical staff. A rather public inquiry was held in which members of parliament, army and medical officials and locals all aired their views in the newspapers. Councillor Lill, for example said “it was bad enough for our boys to die at the front and not to bring them home to kill them.” No culpability was attributed to anyone however.  Warren was awarded a military funeral and is buried here in Ashburton.


By Kathleen Stringer




  5. Ashburton High School Rugby team, 1910, Thomas Verneer Hampton is back row, second from left.
  6. Ashburton High School Rugby team 1912, Thomas Verneer Hampton is back row, second from right.







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