Victoria Cross recipients come home

Film showing the civic reception in Hāwera for Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant John Grant in October 1919.

With the exception of Lieutenant Samuel Frickleton, who returned to New Zealand in June 1918, the dominion’s surviving Victoria Cross holders came home after the armistice with Germany. All were honoured with civic receptions, two of them more than once:

  • Lieutenant Samuel Frickleton, Wellington Town Hall; outside Municipal Buildings, Christchurch; numerous locations on the West Coast, June 1918
  • Lieutenant Cyril Bassett, Auckland Town Hall, December 1918
  • Private James Crichton, Auckland Town Hall, June 1919
  • Lieutenant Henry Laurent, Hāwera Railway Station, July 1919
  • Lieutenant Reginald Judson, Auckland Town Hall, July 1919
  • Captain Leslie Andrew, Wellington Town Hall; Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, September 1919
  • Lieutenant John Grant, Hāwera Railway Station, October 1919

These receptions followed a similar format. The mayor or deputy mayor opened the proceedings, which were attended by representatives of local and central government, the military and returned soldiers’ associations, and members of the VC recipient’s family. Organisations with which he had been closely involved before the war, such as schools and workplaces, were often represented. For example, Grant had been a valued member of the local fire brigade, which was represented along with the Taranaki district’s Fire Brigade Association. The speakers congratulated the VC recipient and his family, and often mentioned New Zealand’s proud record of military honours.

The VC recipient then spoke modestly about his achievements. Many claimed to have merely been doing their duty and said that others were equally deserving of the honour. Judson is reported to have stated at his reception that:

The decorations that had been awarded him were not personal decorations: they belonged to his regiment – the Auckland Infantry Regiment – for without the help of all the arms in the New Zealand Division he could not have gained them. It was the rank and file, or in other words, the Diggers, to whom the success of the New Zealand Division was due.

Remarks like this were popular with the returned soldiers who were usually prominent in the crowd. After the VC recipient spoke the reception ended with the singing of the National Anthem.

Shortly after his return to Hāwera in July 1919, Lieutenant Henry Laurent VC and the town’s mayor planted a pair of ‘victory oaks’ in the grounds of the water tower as part of the community’s peace celebrations. In this film Lieutenant John Grant can be seen continuing this tradition during his civic reception in October 1919 by planting a victory oak at the same site. All three trees survive today. See a report of this event in the Hawera and Normanby Star (Papers Past).

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