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Origin Story

Origin of the Fund

To trace the institution that was to become known as “Flock House” and to get a background of the supporting fund, it is necessary to touch briefly on wool marketing during the 1914-18 war.

All wool was sold to the Imperial Government at a fixed price—wool, of course, being classed as a commodity of war. Towards the end of the conflict, however, there was wool surplus to war requirements. This was sold on the open market by the Imperial Government and brought higher prices than had been paid to the growers.

For war purposes the New Zealand Government of the day had imposed what was called the “Imperial Commandeer of New Zealand Wool”. This stipulated that until one year after the cessation of hostilities the New Zealand Woolgrowers would receive a fixed average price for their wool and any profits made from the sale of wool for civilian purposes would be shared equally between the growers and the Imperial Government.

During the latter stages of the 1914-18 war, the late Mr. Edward Newman (member of Parliament for Rangitikei) had given much thought regarding the use of any possible profits from the sale of wool. Consequently, when addressing a meeting of the Farmers’ Union at Marton on July 22, 1918, he made a proposal that the wool growers’ portion of the surplus profits should be devoted to a fund for the benefit of the dependents of the sailors of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine who had lost their lives or had been wounded while serving at sea in the defence of the Empire.

Some of the remarks made by Mr. Newman when enlarging upon his proposal are most significant, for it is here that we see how the name of the Fund originated. He said that it would be a disgrace to this country, with all its prosperity, mainly due to the protection of the navy, if it did nothing more than it had done in acknowledgment of the debt owed to the seamen of the Royal Navy and the Merchantile Marine. The surplus profits on wool being sold in England, he suggested, should be devoted to a fund for the benefit of these gallant men.

He went on to say, that in his opinion, it should be a spontaneous gift from the woolgrowers of the Dominion to the bereaved ones of these brave seamen. The services rendered to New Zealand by the Royal Navy and the Merchantile Marine were unique and acknowledgment should be free and generous,  remembering that no money payment could repay the indomitable bravery, endurance and self sacrifice of those men.

The Marton Farmers’ Union took up the proposal and forwarded it to the Dominion headquarters where it was again well received and supported.

Mr. T. R. Lees, who was then head of the Department of Imperial Government Supplies, heard of Mr. Newman’s proposal, and joined forces, as it were, with him. It was largely due to the enthusiasm of these two men that the proposal came to fulfilment.

Circulars were prepared by Messrs Newman and Lees and about 24,000 were distributed throughout the Dominion to all  woolgrowers. Mr. Newman continued to address many meetings throughout the country. At times, there was some opposition to the scheme and a lukewarm attitude that must have depressed Messrs Newman and Lees, but both these men were imbued with such sincerity and tenacity of purpose that finally their efforts had a just reward.

Over 2,600 woolgrowers, including some of the largest station holders to the smaller woolgrowers from one end of New Zealand to the other, supported the scheme.

The Establishment and Appointment of Trustees

On August 18, 1920, the first meeting of subscribers was held in Wellington and a Board of Trustees was appointed. Mr.Newman was elected chairman, a post that he held until his death in 1946. The original Board of Trustees appointed were:

Sir Walter Buchanan, M.L.C. Masterton
Ralph Beetham, Esq., M.C. Masterton
H. M. Campbell, Esq., M.P. Hastings
J. C. N. Grigg, Esq. Longbeach
T. R. Lees, Esq. Wellington
G. L. Marshall, Esq. Marton
Hon. W. D. S. MacDonald, Esq., M.P. Wellington
Jas. Murray, Esq. Kaka Point
Edward Newman, Esq., M.P. Marton
A. E. Pearce, Esq. Wellington
A. Boyle, Esq. Christchurch
M. Bethell, Esq. Culvcrdon
W. G. Rudd, Esq. Blenheim
W. D. Hunt, Esq. Wellington

The sum subscribed amounted to <£237,000—surely a splendid testimony to the mark of gratitude in which the work of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine during the Great War was held by the farming community in the Dominion.

It was most unfortunate that the New Zealand Government of the day took the view that the subscribed money be classed as income and taxed it accordingly to the tune of approximately £35,000. Despite strenuous efforts by the Trustees and discussions at Parliamentary level the Government remained adamant.

As late as 1929 efforts were still being made to get relief from this taxation burden.

Operation of Fund

The movement was duly registered as an incorporated Fund under the War Funds’ Act. Care had to be taken to see that the functions of the Fund be confined strictly to the conditions under which the monies were subscribed.

The objects of the Fund were:
“For the relief and benefit of sailors, or those in any way dependent upon them, of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine, who are in need of relief as the result of wounds or injuries sustained, or illness con tracted whilst engaged in service during the war, and for the dependents of sailors of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine, who died as the result of wounds or injuries sustained or illness contracted whilst engaged in service during the war.”

As its initial task the Fund set about its work of assisting the widows and dependents of seamen who qualified under these conditions. This necessitated a London Advisory Committee, which was headed by the High Commissioner for New Zealand, Sir James Allen, K.C.B., and included:

Admiral Sir W. Lowther Grant, K.C.B., representing Royal Navy.
Capt. Greenstreet, representing officers of Merchant Services.
Mrs. E. A. Wilson, C.B.E. (Widow of the late Dr. Wilson of Antarctic fame).
Lieut.-Colonel N. Fitzherbert, C.M.G. (N.Z. War Records London).
J. Havelock Wilson, Esq., M.P., representing men of the Merchant Service.

The committee found that there was considerable distress among sailors’ widows or dependents resulting from war service. Power was given this committee to investigate claims and to make grants where advisable. By the end of 1921 over £.7,000 had been paid in London and this angle of the Fund seemed well established. About December, 1921, an executive committee was formed from the Board of Trustees to consider applications for relief within New Zealand, and over £5,000 was granted during 1922. A further £ 15,000 was granted during that time in London.

In addition many hundreds of food parcels were sent from New Zealand while New Zealand- made blankets were greatly appreciated by deserving people.

It was becoming apparent to the Trustees that the main operation of the Fund was in England and also that the children of the killed or disabled men were nearing wage earning status. It was the widows of seamen that the Trustees were most keen on assisting. While on a visit to England Mr. Lees undertook to gain first-hand knowledge of the position. He was struck by the hardship being endured, particularly when widows of seamen had families to bring up. On his return to New Zealand he pro pounded a scheme to his fellow trustees that untold good would be done if the children of these people could be brought to the Dominion and placed on the land.

Flock House Station

Consequently the Trustees adopted the scheme to bring these young people to the Dominion, train them in the elementary tasks on the farm, place them with approved farmers and eventually help them to become farmers on their own account. Surely this brilliantly conceived plan would become a living memorial of the debt owed by New Zealand and a scheme that would have its impact on New Zealand’s economy for many, many years.

With this policy in view the Trustees, during 1923, affirmed the principle of devoting a considerable portion of available funds at their disposal for the purpose of bringing out to New Zealand sons of seamen who had been killed or disabled during the war.

This scheme had the full support of the London committee, who were most enthusiastic and were confident that ample lads would be forthcoming. To implement this scheme still further, a committee was appointed to investigate suitable properties. It was most fortunate that, at that time, the property of Mr. Lynn McKelvie, “Flock House”, Bulls, came on the market. This property, of just over 1,000 acres, was purchased together with the magnificent homestead. The Flock House land was rich and well-watered with a considerable acreage of river flats that, at this time, was chiefly under gorse. The property had been improved to some extent and formed an ideal estate for mixed farming.

Additional Land Purchased

However, it was not desired to train cadets in the work of an already improved farm. The idea was to coach them in all branches of the industry, so it was deemed prudent, and indeed necessary, to secure lands that were not so improved. This was accomplished by the purchase of a block of 4,800 acres of the
adjoining Waitatapia Estate—a block which was in need of considerable improvement. This gave Flock House Station an area of approximately 6,000 acres, an estate that entailed a great deal of hard work and wise administration to serve the object in view. In addition, about 2,000 acres of sand dune coastal country was leased (and later purchased) with a long-termed affore station programme in view. With this approximately 8,000 acres stocked with sheep and cattle costing in the vicinity of <£86,000, Flock House, as known in New Zealand, became an established fact. The first group of 25 boys arrived at Flock House on June 28, 1924, followed in September of that year by a further draft of 29 lads.

It certainly was a milestone in the history of the Fund when, on July 19, 1924, before a large gathering, Flock House was officially opened by His Excellency the Governor-General, Viscount Jellicoe, who, at the conclusion of his speech, turned the ship’s engine telegraph (a relic of H.M.S. New Zealand) to “full speed ahead”. Of special interest to those present was the report that His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, had graciously consented to become Patron of the Fund and had signified his appreciation of the work the Fund was doing for the relief of seamen.

During this period the Trustees did not lose sight of their earlier obligations. The London Committee continued to grant considerable assistance to dependents and sailors in need of help, although the improved industrial conditions had relieved the position somewhat.

It is interesting to note that, from the inception of the Fund, until June, 1924, over £.20,000 had been granted to deserving cases within the limits of the Fund, in New Zealand alone. This was a local activity, that did not become so well known, but was as equally meritorious as the better known activities of the Fund.

Further Extension

The immigration scheme was extended further to include daughters of seamen. As a result a property was secured at Awapuni, Palmerston North, for the purpose of training the girls. The Y.W.C.A. was asked to assist on this angle of the Fund’s operation—a task that they undertook with considerable skill and enthusiasm. The girls were taught cooking, baking, laundry, sewing, butter-making, nursing, milking, poultry and bee-keeping and orchard culture.

Obviously the staff at both the Boys’ and Girls’ Flock House would have to be people with much tact and ability. Here the Trustees were most fortunate to secure people of outstanding character and skill. Much of the success of the scheme rested on the selection of these people. The two principals, the first, Capt. F. H. Billington, a man of considerable background in both military and agricultural fields, while the second, appointed on the retirement of Captain Billington, was Colonel C. G. Powles. His military career during World War I is too well-known to need elaborating on here. Previously he had served on the Board of Trustees and was familiar with the workings of the scheme. Both these men were disciplinarians with a love of the land and no lad left Flock House without having benefited from his association with these men.

Boys were arriving at Flock House at approximately 100 per year, and the earlier arrivals were well settled in positions through out the Dominion. These boys were employed under the Apprentices’ Agreement—an agreement which embodied the conditions of the Masters’ and Apprentices’ Act.

A provision in the act was that one-third of the boy’s wages be paid direct to the boy himself and the remaining two-thirds to the Trustees for investment in the Post Office Savings Bank on the boy’s behalf. This money was to remain at interest until the boy reached 21 years of age. By the end of June, 1928, the figure standing to the credit of the boys amounted to over £. 10,000 while insurance policies taken out totalled nearly £100,000. Surely these lads were being guided along the right road.

Depression Years

Unfortunately, just as these young men were becoming established as useful members of the community, the world became engulfed in an economic depression. Girls’ Flock House had already closed down due to the lack of girl trainees available from England. Farming, like other industries, was hit by the depression and immigration was becoming more difficult to arrange. In 1931 the New Zealand Government stopped the transfer of British boys to the Dominion. With the facilities at Flock House available, the Trustees offered to take New Zealand boys as trainees, the cost of such training to be subsidised by the Government. A fine type of New Zealand trainee, all sons of New Zealand Servicemen, took advantage of the Flock House training The Patriotic and War Relief Association and the Returned Soldiers’ Association took a prominent part in the selection of these lads, whose after care was chiefly in the hands of the Woman’s Division of the New Zealand Farmers’ Union.

A large number of the British boys had been assisted on to farms of their own and to aid settlement of others, the Trustees acquired a partly improved block of land in the Waikato (Panetapu Settlement). Here a number of eligible boys worked as a community under supervision until improvements, such as sub-division, roading, fencing, etc., brought the block into a number of farmable units. It is most pleasing to record that, 28 years later, most of these same lads are still fanning this area.

Sale to the Government

In 1936 the Government invited the Trustees to offer Flock House Station complete as a going concern, the price to be fixed by the valuers of both parties under the provision of the Arbitration Act, and they, the Government, would carry on and extend the good work that had been done by the Fund. The Trustees were reluctant to dispose of the main station in this way. Development of the property had followed a long term policy with sub-division as its ultimate aim. Again, too, the improvement and breaking in of unproductive country to high producing pastures had resulted in the net returns from the station reaching a very pleasing stage.

However, the difficulty with immigration, plus the fact that insufficient New Zealand boys were forthcoming for the economic running of Flock House, coupled with the desire of the Trustees to protect the finincial interest of the Fund, and an assurance from the Government that it would carry on Flock House as a training farm, led to the sale being concluded during 1937. With the sale of Flock House the Trustees took immediate steps to extend the aid to incapacitated sailors and dependents of those who were killed during the war. In some cases grants would continue as long as the beneficiaries lived and for this purpose a sum was set aside. In addition, there was further settlement of the earlier girls and boys.

Second World War

The British Empire was again engaged in war in defence of the smaller nations from 1939 to 1945, and the Trustees were proud indeed that so many of the boys and girls that they had brought to New Zealand rallied to the cause of freedom.

Throughout the conflict the Trustees kept in personal touch with all those on Active Service, and with their wives, mothers and children. Quite a large number of those who enlisted had become property owners and were pleased to leave their farms under the supervision of the Trustees. By the end of the war no fewer than 22 Flock House trainees had made the Supreme Sacrifice. These are named in a Roll of Honour appended to this report. Some returned as amputees and these needed, in some cases, a different form of rehabilitation. Further assistance was given in farm settlement.

Decorations included D.S.O., M.C., D.S.C., D.F.C. and many “mentioned in despatches”.

In consequence of the wishes of subscribers, legislative authority was obtained to extend the Fund’s operation to include those seamen who suffered as a result of World War 11 and at the request of the National Patriotic Fund Board, a further extension was approved to include airmen and their dependents.

A No. 2 account was opened during 1942 and over £9,000 was subscribed. The Trustees had in mind the possibility of again taking over Flock House to train boys from overseas, but unfortunately this did not eventuate. In 1949 arrangements were made with the Government for the training of 15 British lads annually at Flock House, but this arrangement was terminated in 1952, by which time a further 49 boys were brought to New Zealand.

At present the Trustees are paying quarterly monetary grants to almost 300 families in the United Kingdom, while food parcels totalling over a thousand per year are dispatched to all parts of Britain. Some of the letters of grateful thanks make pathetic reading and emphasise the fact that the Fund’s work is still necessary and still a wonderful advertisement for New Zealand.

In Review

The work of the New Zealand Sheepowners Acknowledgment of Debt to British Seamen Fund must eventually come to an end. Surely the assistance to those needy ones in Britain extending over a period of 44 years, plus their families of trainees now counted in hundreds, and their parents now men and women of substance and integrity, holding prominent positions in the community, will perpetuate the acknowledgment of the debt by the New Zealand Sheepowners long after the fund has ceased to operate.

Let us, at this point, take stock of the position, and look quickly at some of the achievements of the Fund:

1. A sum of no less than £227,000 has been granted to beneficiaries in New Zealand and overseas.

2. Over the years thousands of food parcels have been, and still are being sent to deserving cases overseas.

3. The Fund brought to New Zealand 635 boys and 128 girls, trained them in the elementary tasks on the farm, acted in loco parentis until they reached 21 years of age and assisted a very large number to become farmers on their own account. In addition the Fund assisted in bringing out parents of a number of the Trainees.

4. While running the Flock House Station improvements were made through breaking in of swamp and light bush country to the extent that the sheep carrying capacity rose from 4,000 to 13,000; cattle from 650 to 1,100 head, plus an Aberdeen Angus stud of 100; butter fat went up 180 per cent; and with the establishment of the better pastures, increases were still being recorded when Flock House was sold.

5. On the sand dune country over 700,000 trees had been planted (chiefly pinus radiata), while shelter belts and odd corners accounted for a further 100,000 (chiefly macrocarpa). Subscribers to the original fund must be proud indeed at the achievements of the Fund and gratified to know that at this date good work is still being done overseas.

The work of the Fund could not have been accomplished without the assistance of many other organisations, both in a practical and advisory capacity. For instance, during the first year of operation in England, over 40 bodies, including the Grand Fleet Fund, the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, the British Legion, the War Pensions’ Committee and many other, chiefly with nautical background, helped in numerous ways. In New Zealand Patriotic Societies, Naval Departments, Mercantile Marine Officials, W.D.F.U., both the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A., were among those who gave invaluable assistance. The whole enterprise from its very inception showed a magnificent example of harmonious co-operation.

However, no report of the New Zealand Shecpowners Acknowledgment of Debt to British Seamen Fund could be made without reference to those men of vision who guided the destinies of the Fund as Trustees. Their wise handling of the original subscriptions and their ultimate care and guidance of the trainees to manhood to become farmers in their own right, is an achievement of the highest order. Their schemes for aiding dependents in New Zealand and overseas and their devotion to the ideals of the Trust must surely arouse the admiration of all and the gratitude of the original subscribers to the fund.

Their services were given voluntarily, and to illustrate their conscientious approach, the following years of service are of some interest. The present chairman is one of the original Trustees and has given 42 years’ service. Five others served over 30 years; five 20 to 30 years, five, 10 to 20 years, while the present Board of Trustees average 16 years.

The following have served as Trustees:

Hon. Edward Newman, M.L.C., C.M.G.
Hon. Sir Walter Buchanan, M.L.C.
Ralph Beetham, Esq., M.C.
H. M. Campbell, Esq.
J. C. N. Grigg, Esq.
T. R. Lees, Esq., O.B.E.
G. L. Marshall, Esq., (present chairman)
Hon. W. D. S. MacDonald, Esq., M.P.
Alex. Boyle, Esq.
M. Bethell, Esq.
W. G. Rudd, Esq.
W. D. Hunt, Esq.
Jas. Murray, Esq.
A. E. Pearce, Esq.
O. S. Watkins, Esq.
Hon. Sir James Allen, K.C.B.
L. O. H. Tripp, Esq.
Alex Macintosh, Esq.
Sir Charles Luke
J. Linklater, Esq., M.P., O.B.E.
Col. C. G. Powles, C.M.G., D.S.O.
A. Sutherland, Esq.
Alex Stewart, Esq., M.P.
G. B. Hull, Esq.
Sir William Jordan
E. B. Gordon, Esq., M.P.
J. H. Marshall, Esq.
J. M. McNicol, Esq.
A. H. Marshall, Esq.
R. J. Linklater, Esq.
A. R. Marshall, Esq.
R. H. Beetham, Esq.

In addition Capt. H. D. Hamilton, R.N., of the London Advisory Committee served during 1922/23 on the N.Z. Board of Trustees.

Without men of the calibre of the above, the Fund could never have functioned for so long with such success. For how long the Fund will continue it is difficult to say.

There are obvious commitments, and there are still claims for grants to be considered, but, whatever the future holds, the New Zealand Sheepowners Acknowledgment of Debt to British Seamen Fund with all its avenues of successful endeavours, must surely rank high in the list of the finest projects of our time.

Trainees Remember

In August, I960, thirty-six years after the arrival of the first draft of boys at Flock House—the first full-scale reunion was held of the early British trainees. Some 300 Flocktonians with their wives/husbands attended this reunion in Palmerston North. Two major problems had concerned these early trainees, firstly to do honour to the founder of the Fund, and secondly, it was their wish that the names of those 22 of their comrades, who had paid the Supreme Sacrifice, should be commemorated in some permanent form.

With the permission and co-operation of the Department of Agriculture, a suitably inscribed plaque was erected in the entrance hall of Flock House to the memory of the Hon. Edward Newman. This was unveiled by the present chairman of the Board, Mr. G. L. Marshall.

After much negotiation, and, in conjunction with the Bulls Town County Board and the R.S.A., the names of the 22 lads who died on Active Service were engraved on the Bulls’ Cenotaph as a permanent record of their devotion to duty. At a most impressive service held during the reunion, the late Mr. J. Linklater officiated at the unveiling.

Credit: This origin story is taken from the original historical booklet authored by V.C. Goodall in 1962.