08 January 2017

Mr Church, the Jeweller

Former Howden Jeweller's, Victoria St, Hamilton
On a recent visit to the centre of Hamilton to admire the new statues, I passed the building that hosts my cousin's Nimbus Media (upstairs) and the Scotts Epicurean cafe (downstairs). The building still displays the name of its founder, the long-standing Hamilton jeweller Herbert Henry Howden, who had it built in 1902. Threatened with demolition in the greedy 1980s, the building was saved after a public outcry, and was most recently put on the market in 2014.

Keen to investigate the history of the site, I checked out Papers Past to see if anything interesting had been reported over the years. Nothing cropped up for the building in my brief search, but one of Howden's employees did prove noteworthy: a minor military hero from World War 1.

Duncan Macdonald Church was born in Ashburton in Canterbury in 1884, to Duncan and Florence Church. His father was born in Tasmania and died in Ashburton in 1909, while his mother was born in Kaiapoi in 1859 and died in Ashburton in 1941.

Church became a jeweller by trade, and married Vera Condon in Feilding on 4 October 1916. He was working for Howden in his Hamilton shop when he enlisted on 2 February 1917. At the time he was nearly 33 years old, which is old for an enlistment this late in the war, but his military record revealed that he had previously been rejected for service due to haemorrhoids. (His enlistment medical inspection must have been favourable, because it listed his 'apparent age' as 24).

He departed Hamilton by train for Trentham on 6 March 1917 to join the 27th Reinforcements. Later that year on 2 September Vera delivered the couple's first child, a son, Duncan Macdonald Brownell Church (1917-95). By that time Duncan senior was safely in England, having travelled on the Willochra to Devonport and then on to Sling Camp. Leaving for France in late September 1917, he joined the New Zealand Division at Etaples, being posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Auckland Regiment on 11 October.

Almost a year later Church would display acts of gallantry that earned him the Military Medal. His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During the operations at Grevillers on the 24th August and at Bancourt on 30th August and 1st September Private Church acted as company runner and displayed great courage and resource under very heavy fire. On the 1st September when not required as a runner he voluntarily carried out wounded men under very heavy machine-gun and sniping fire.
The 24th was the beginning of the New Zealand Division's involvement in the 2nd Battle of Baupaume, which saw heavy fighting to push the Germans out of the town. It was one of the Division's most costly engagements of the war, with over 800 deaths and 2300 wounded. 

According to the Waikato Times of 3 December 1918, Church was 'well known in Hamilton, where for some years he was in the employ of Mr H. Howden, jeweller, [and] has been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in action'. He was later promoted Corporal in January 1919 (with a temporary promotion to Sergeant for few weeks), and was eventually discharged from the Army back in New Zealand in July 1919 after two years and 15 days of service, to reside at 6 Rostrevor St, Hamilton, just around the corner from Howden's Victoria St jeweller's shop.

Corp Duncan Church MM (source)

Church and his wife would go on to have four sons. Duncan Church died in Hamilton on 6 April 1937, aged 53. His obituary from the New Zealand Herald of the following day reads:

The death occurred this morning of Mr Duncan Macdonald Church, of Hamilton, in his 54th year. Mr. Church was born in Ashburton and came to Hamilton when a young man. He served in France during the war with the Waikato Company of the Second Auckland Battalion, and was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in the field. Mr. Church was a keen cricketer and was well known among Hamilton players. He is survived by his wife and three sons.

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