Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 43, September 1999

HUGH FRANCIS POLAND 11/3/1895 - 4/10/1917

[This is adapted from an address given by Diane Wilson (nee Poland), a niece of the late Hugh F Poland, at the rededication of a Font in St. Mary's Church, Paeroa, on 4/10/1996.]

Perhaps it is fitting that today is St. Francis Day. It is also the 79th anniversary of Hugh Francis Poland's death and I would like also to acknowledge 101 years of unbroken membership attendance and support of this Parish by Hugh and Ellen Poland and their descendants.

The official record for Frank reads:

Driver Hugh Francis Poland, Service number 10659, NZ Field Artillery No. 5 Field Battery. Next of kin, father, Hugh Poland, M.P., Paeroa. Left New Zealand 6 May 1916 with the 12th Reinforcements Second draft. Killed in action in France, 4 October 1917.

Frank, as he was known, was born in Paeroa on 11 March 1895 and was baptised at the first St. Mary's Church, as were eleven of his twelve brothers and sisters. He attended the St. Joseph's Convent School.

In 1917 our Grandparents, Hugh and Ellen Poland had three sons serving overseas, Jim, Roy and Frank. In October of 1917 Father Hackett went to St. Joseph's School and requested my father, Mervyn, to go with him to the Poland home to hold the horse while he went to visit Ellen. This was a rather unusual request but one greeted with some pleasure to be away from school.

The minute Father Hackett and Dad appeared at the door Nana Poland said, "Oh, My Lord it is true. You have come to tell me Frank is dead".

Now, Nana was not a fanciful woman but the night before she had dreamt that of her three boys overseas, Frank had been killed. It was thought by Father Hackett that to have Mervyn with him would be company for Ellen when he left. At the time Grandpa Hugh (who was Member of Parliament for Ohinemuri from 1905 to 1925) was in Wellington.

Dad always spoke of the great sadness and distress in the house. A very concerned neighbour said to Nana how sorry she was to hear the news but at least Nana still had eleven children left. Nana was not at all comforted by this statement and grieved for her lost son until she too died.

Perhaps this was exacerbated by the events that had lead up to Frank's enlistment. Frank, a neat and tidy man, was a very fit and enthusiastic athlete. He was anxious not to miss the experience of going to war to fight for his King and Country. Patriotism was rife in New Zealand and Frank was, as so many were, afraid the War would be over before he was old enough to go.

He was working in the Bank of New Zealand and somehow Nana got wind of the fact that he was going to enlist. She contacted the doctor who would be doing the medical and said I know you could pass Frank as fit but I must tell you he is under age.

Frank duly reported for the medical and of course when challenged and rejected over his age he realised what his mother had done. He apparently came home and there were very angry scenes. Frank retired to his room and Dad, as one of the younger children, was surprised that Frank was defiant enough to stay in his room for over a week. Frank went back to work for the Bank, away from Paeroa and as soon as he had passed his 21st birthday, he enlisted. I am not sure but I think that Frank did not come home for his final leave to say goodbye. If this is so it would explain Nana's great distress and grief. Nana always said that maybe if she had let Frank go when he wanted the first time things could have been different. Frank left New Zealand on the 6th May 1916 and was killed 17 months after. He lies in a small cemetery near Passchendaele, beside his friend Harry Fels from Dunedin, who was killed in the same incident.

Frank had attended the church in Paeroa all his life and when he was killed the obvious choice of a place for a memorial was at the church. A Holy Water Font was needed at the time and it was donated by the family as a memorial. The memorial Font was at the front door, in the old church, on the right and as a small child visiting Paeroa for holidays I well recall that Frank was remembered by the many family members and the Parish community as they blessed themselves before entering Church.

The Font has been in storage since the new church was built in 1968 and it is great to see it being used again.

Frank had been a keen footballer and the family also donated a cup called the Poland Memorial Cup to be played for by the local rugby union.