The Unknown Warrior
An essential element in the continued success of the Onward Project is the identification of unnamed individuals in group photographs. Here is an example of how we confirmed five of the men shown in this photograph of the officers and NCOs of E Squadron, 7th Reinforcements.
The first issue to resolve is what unit E Squadron of the 7th Reinforcements belonged to. Volume One of the nominal roll of the NZEF is not much help as it was printed as an alphabetical list, and not broken down into units. Papers Past tells us that E Squadron was part of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, thus we can reasonably expect these men to have 13/ service numbers. Given the assortment of badges, we can assume this photo was taken soon after the squadron was formed, before the issuing of AMR badges.
Papers Past gives us the names of the three officers as Lt. H. Hemphill, 2/Lt. M McKechnie and 2/Lt. J. Robertson. From previous research it is known that Hemphill had served in the Boer War, and the lieutenant in the centre of the photograph is wearing the ribbon of the Queens South Africa Medal, thus the evidence supports the identification. The officer on the right is easily compared with a Weekly News photo of McKechnie, and his identity is proven. This leaves the other officer as possibly Robertson. Whilst these men are posted to the Auckland Mounted Rifles, the 2/Lt. on the left is wearing the badge of 2nd (Queen Alexandra’s) Mounted Rifles, a unit based around Wanganui/Taranaki. A quick check of the service file for Robertson shows he had pre-war service with 2nd QAMR, and was born in 1894 – which is a good match for the man in the photo.
The man on the right end, seated, is a quartermaster-sergeant and is also
wearing the ribbon of the Queen’s South Africa Medal. E Squadron would only have had one QMS, and Papers Past gives us the name of Henry Charles West. The Onward Project already knew that H C West had previous service with Robert’s Horse in South Africa, and received the QSA medal. A comparison photo from 1900 confirms that this is the same man. The man on the left end, seated, as a sergeant-major – again, a unique rank in E Squadron. Papers Past gives us the name Stanley Lessingham Wright. With no other distinguishing badges or medals, we can really only go on his appearance. Experience of looking at thousands of faces indicates this man to have most likely been born within the 1870s. With this assumption in mind, a check of his service file shows that Wright was born in 1875. Given his age matches the photo, and the rank is unique to this squadron, the call is made that this is S L Wright.
The man standing back left is a sergeant and wearing the medal ribbons of the Queen’s and King’s South Africa Medal. This could indicate a man with previous service with a British unit in the Boer War, as very few New Zealanders received both medals and served in the First World War. Papers Past gives us names of the sergeants of E Squadron, and a check of their service files only indicates one man had previous service in South Africa: 7/1975 Horace Campbell Cockburn. He claimed service with 4th and 5th Contingents NZMR, and there was a Horace COBURN who served with the 5th Contingent. Are these men one and the same? We know that COBURN only received the Queen’s South Africa Medal only, but it is not unusual to see men wearing the medal ribbon for both QSA and KSA medals despite not being entitled – the Onward Project has seen numerous examples of this practice. We also know that COCKBURN can be pronounced COBURN, so the evidence does start to mount. There are discrepancies between where the two men say they were born, and Birth, Death, Marriage information for Horace Campbell COBURN/COCKBURN is incomplete – his birth may not have been registered. So we have some evidence, but not enough to categorically make the identification in this case as there some circumstantial evidence that does not match.
The sergeant standing third from right is a possible identification. He is fairly young-looking and is wearing the hat badge of the 6th (Manawatu) Mounted Rifles. Based on the names in Papers Past, and checking the service files, the most likely candidate is 13/2401 Sgt. Ross Lange. He was born in 1894 and had pre-war service with 6th MMR. Like the case for Cockburn, there is a good chance this is the Lange, but we would need one more piece of evidence to make a positive identification.
So here we have an unnamed photograph which now has five confirmed identifications and two more strong possibilities. These types of photographs are critical to the Onward Project, so feel free to get in touch with us with any of your photographs, even the ones with no names – you never know what evidence may lie within them.