DON, Frank Ernest
(Service number 23/1133)
|Aliases||Enlisted as Walter Ernest Nicol|
|First Rank||Last Rank||Rifleman|
|Date||28 June 1889||Place of Birth||Dunedin|
|Date||29 May 1915||Age||26|
|Address at Enlistment||Excelsior Hotel, Timaru|
|Previous Military Experience|
|Next of Kin||Mrs A Don (mother), 80 Oban St, Roslyn, Dunedin|
|Medical Information||5ft 6in, 144lbs, fair complexion, green eyes, brown hair|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||D Company, 1st Battalion|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||New Zealand Rifle Brigade|
|Date||10 September 1915|
|Transport||Maunganui or Tahiti or Aparima or Navua or Warrimoo|
|Embarked From||Wellington||Destination||Suez, Egypt|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With|
|Campaigns||Egyptian and Gallipoli|
|Service Medals||British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1914-1915 Star|
Award Circumstances and Date
Prisoner of War Information
|Date of Capture|
|Where Captured and by Whom|
|Actions Prior to Capture|
|PoW Serial Number|
|Date||30 June 1916||Reason||Discharged physically unfit (deformed foot)|
Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses
|Date||4 May 1966||Age||77|
|Place of Death||Dunstan Hospital, Clyde|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Anderson's Bay, Dunedin|
|Memorial Reference||Block 45S, Plot 263|
|New Zealand Memorials|
Frank Ernest Don was born on 28 June 1889 in Dunedin. His father, Rev. Alexander Don, was a Presbyterian missionary who ministered to the Chinese men living in Central Otago, Dunedin and Southland. He also established the Canton Villages Mission in China. Rev. Don and his wife Amelia ‘Millie’ Don nee Warne raised seven children who were all educated, in Dunedin.
When WW1 broke out, the Dons were living in the North Island occupied with duties to the church and the Chinese people. Frank moved to Timaru and was noted as living at the Excelsior Hotel when he decided to enlist to serve in WW1, along with his friends. For some reason Frank Ernest Don enlisted under the pseudonym Walter Ernest Nicol, and was assigned service number 23/1133. This use of a pseudonym did not appear to be necessary – he was old enough to serve – and it did not come to the attention of the authorities until he tried to get a pension much later in life, in 1961.
When he enlisted Walter Ernest Nicol, he gave his date of birth as 28 June 1889, his age at 26. He was described as 5ft 6in, 144lbs, with fair complexion, green eyes, and brown hair. He was living in the Excelsior Hotel, Timaru and reported his last job was as a motor mechanic with Cook, Howlison Co, Dunedin. His next of kin, however, was his mother, Mrs A Don of 8 Oban St, Dunedin. "Walter" enlisted on 29 May 1915 and was attached to 1st Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade as a rifleman, embarking from Wellington for Suez and Egypt on 10 October 1915. He served as cook in Egypt from November 1915 until January 1916 – perhaps as his foot was giving him trouble. The New Zealand General Hospital in Cairo diagnosed a deformed foot in March 1916. He was returned to New Zealand on the Ulimaroa within a few weeks, and discharged as physically unfit on 30 June 1916 having completed one year 33 days in the service. For that service he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal, and the 1914-15 Star.
On returning to New Zealand, Frank reverted to his given name of Frank Ernest Don and went back to working as a motor mechanic, being recorded as a motor mechanic in Otira in 1919. He then appears to have become a carpenter, being recorded at Lake Pukaki in 1925 and 1928, before moving to be a carpenter in Otorohanga in 1935. In Otorohanga, Frank met a very young girl, Georgina ‘Joyce’ Radford. They were married in 1935 in Otorohanga, when Georgina was only 19 and Frank was 46. By 1938 the couple and their chilcren were living in Tomahawk, Dunedin. They were in Alexandra by 1946 but in 1961 Frank was working as head carpenter for the Ministry of Works in Alexandra, which was a good job. However, retirement was getting closer and Frank was feeling his age. In 1961, Frank, aged 72, was retired and living on limited income. Maybe he was estranged from his wife as he was living at the Bendigo Hotel on Tarbert Street in Alexandra, when he wrote a letter to the Army requesting a pension. However he couldn’t prove his army service, having enlisted under a pseudonym. In a letter to military base records in Wellington dated 27 March 1961 Frank, then living at the Bendigo Hotel in Alexandra wrote: “When I joined the forces in 1915 I thought I was born in 1896, making me under age. There were four of us so we changed our names, a very foolish thing to do but we were young and foolish. I joined with the NZRB as Walter Ernest Nicol 23/1133 1st Batt, D Coy, 15th Platoon under Tom Wilfred, lieutenant. My next of kin in my paybook was my mother Mrs Milly Don, No. 8 Oban St, Roslyn, Dunedin. I was born in Dunedin on June 28th 1889 as Frank Ernest Don, so that makes me 72 on June 28th 1961. I was head carpenter for the MOW here for over 20 years. I knocked off in 1957 at 68 years of age and did not know I could have been drawing 100 pounds a year after I had reached 65 so I lost 300 pounds... I am receiving 70 pounds a year … I haven’t got any clothes, my shoes are worn out and I have to wait for a cold day so I can wear an overcoat to cover my dingy clothes… Is there any chance you could help me?”
The army made extensive inquiries and was able to confirm Frank Don’s claim. A pension was awarded. They noted: “Don states that when he enlisted he gave his name as Warne Ernest Nichol, but it was taken down as Walter Ernest Nichol and he left it at that and continued to use this name up to about the time of his marriage. He states he chose the surname of Nicol after his paternal grandmother and the christian name of Warne after his maternal grandmother. One of his sons is named Alexander Frank Nicol Don and the other Ernest Warne Radford Don.”
Franks enjoyment of his pension was short lived. His health was failing with chronic bronchitis. Frank died on 4 May1966 in the Dunstan Hospital in Clyde aged 77 from major coronary issues. He was cremated and his ashes are interred at Anderson’s Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.
Three of Frank’s siblings also served in World War One: Amelia (Amy) Prior, John Thomas, and Alexander William.
Auckland War memorial Museum Cenotaph database [August 2021]; Assorted records at Ancestry.com [August 2021]; SCRoll web submission by A Shaw, 4 March 2022
Researched and Written by
Sahiban Kanwal; Carol Bell & Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG; Tony Rippin, South Canterbury Museum
Currently Assigned to
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License unless otherwise stated.
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