That football cap was donated to the North Otago Museum by a relative of Donald’s and it is currently on display as part of the From Little Towns in Far Land exhibition.
Donald enlisted on 19 October 1915. He was 25 years old. Prior to enlisting he had been farming at Totara, south of Oamaru. He trained at Trentham, then in Egypt before serving in France. Throughout his service he wrote home to his dad, Robert Brown. His mother, Jessie, had died at the start of 1915. His letters and postcards are held by the Waitaki District Archive.
The first letter is from Trentham Military Camp.
January 3 1916
This is the fourth time this week I have started to write you but this I hope reaches you. I received your letters and present. You intended to put in a quiet Christmas but I hope you had a nice time with the children. I was intending to give you all a surprise and come down for Christmas dinner, but as luck would have it, I missed the boat…
Later letters are from Egypt. Donald writes about seeing the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Once in France his letters include details of life in the trenches. Donald tries to be positive despite the danger:
You can see I’m well and although I’ve been hit several times, none have been of a serious nature. I am sure of a safe return now.
The last letter he wrote to his dad is dated 9 September 1916.
Here we are for a few lines – just a few lines in my weekly course. Just where I am at present things are going some. We expect to go up very soon, in fact any time, and the noise is something deadly, and just here divisions go in and come out in a day or two reduced to less than company strength, so don’t be surprised if I manage to land a trip. We are all in great spirits in being able to have a hand in this big push. It will be something that will live. I haven’t much time just now for the reason being that letters won’t go so this must do this week, will give you better accounts soon. So good-bye. Love to all behind from your loving son Don.
Two weeks later Donald was killed in action by a sniper shot to the head.
His actions had been noted and he was recommended for the Victoria Cross medal. The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a New Zealand soldier.
The medal was presented to his dad by the Governor General on 30 August 1917.
You can read full transcripts of Donald’s letters home in the book “Your loving son, Don.”
This blog is part of the From Little Towns in a Far Land series. Chloe Searle, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the North Otago Museum, shares some of the personal stories behind the Waitaki District's contributions to the First World War.