NZ War Stories: Gallipoli & The £1 Note
By Collection Technician, Tessa Smallwood
Today in our collection of military artefacts I found an inscribed Australian £1 note that belonged to William Watts Mansfield of Palmerston North in 1915. William was the son of William White and Alice who lived at 14, Hautana Street in Lower Hutt, Wellington. At the time, William was 26 years old and was fighting on the far side of the world. He was one of many Kiwi boys who fought to preserve the life that they and their families knew in New Zealand. Private Mansfield 10/427 was part of the Wellington Infantry Battalion who, in August 1915 fought their way up the rugged shores of Gallipoli in Turkey. This was when William last held his £1 note. Some time amid all the fighting he thought of home and he took the note, and on it he wrote “In case of my death, please send this to my mother as a keepsake”. Below, he signed his name and service number. Soon after, William was announced “missing during September fighting”. His body, and the £1 note that disclosed his last request, had not been found.
For months, his parents must have held onto a grain of hope that their son would be found; that he was merely lost or injured in a field hospital somewhere. However, having had no revelations by January 12th in 1916, the Court of Enquiry pronounced Private Mansfield as ‘Killed in Action’. Whether this would have put an end to his family’s hopes we can only guess, but what happened next perhaps brought them some peace. The newspapers of the time called it the “Romance of a £1 Note”.
Four months after William was announced dead, his father received a letter from the Minister of Defence; it outlined a remarkable course of events that led to the discovery of the £1 note and with it, his son’s final request. The High Commissioner of New Zealand, in London, had heard from the United States Ambassador that the Consular Agent in Adrianople had reported that an Ottoman was in possession of William’s last note. The Turk said that he had brought the note from the Dardanelles where he had stolen it from the body of a dead soldier: This soldier was no doubt our William Watts Mansfield. The note had since been sold to a Greek but the United States Ambassador had taken up the task of endeavouring to purchase the note, so that it might be returned to its rightful owner; and that William’s last wish would be fulfilled. The Letter reassures Mr Mansfield that the “Right Honourable Prime Minister has instructed the High Commissioner to spare no efforts to recover the paper money”: Half way around the world, in the chaos of The Great War, important people took the time to put this personal wrong to right and to help a Kiwi family come to terms with the loss of their son. This very humanity is what William had been fighting for and it must have come as a reassurance to his family, friends and community that his sacrifice had not gone unrecognised, unappreciated or was in vain.
By June of 1916 Alice Mansfield received a very important parcel. Ten months after the death of William, she held the simplest of things, a £1 note, and with it her son’s last thoughts of her.
New Zealand lost 18,500 men to the War of 1914-18. 50,000 more were wounded. The Gallipoli campaign was responsible for the deaths of 11,000 ANZACs, 2,700 of these were Kiwi’s. This was just one of their stories. It is humbling to think of all those that will go untold.
Working in a museum, we are forever amidst the last traces of the dead. Here, at the National Army Museum it is our job to mind and preserve their memories; to honour the sacrifices that the people from times long since past, have made on our behalf. In a sense, we are minders of the Nation’s memory and we feel a duty to ensure that those everyday heroes of our collective past are not forgotten. As time moves on and the world changes, it is ever more important to take a minute to just remember. This ANZAC Day just pause and contemplate the bravery of the men and women who have forfeited their lives to preserve our unique National Identity. Consider that at that same moment, there will be thousands of other New Zealanders and Australians who will be remembering them also. Some will mourn, some philosophise, some may celebrate, but if we really think about the bravery of those soldiers, all of us will surely suffer that momentary affectation in our chests. That feeling is our gratitude, our recognition and our pride. This is how we will remember them; this is how we must.
Discover the stories behind other fascinating NZ army memorabilia and military artefacts on display and in the archives at the National Army Museum.