Morgan and John O’Brien

A small memorial plaque placed just below a soldier’s headstone at Palmerston North’s Terrace End Cemetery provides a hint to a fantastic story of two brothers who served in the First World War. One, who as a result of illness attributed to the war, would have a short life, passing away seven years after the war. The other would have a long and exciting life, that would exemplify the ideals of the American Dream.

Morgan Joseph, John Goutenoire and Mary Agatha (b April 1903) were the three children of Morgan and Isabel O’Brien and were born in Nelson between 1891 and 1903. Shortly after the birth of Mary, Morgan O’Brien took up a position as a Health inspector in Palmerston North which would see the O’Brien Family settle in there.

Morgan Joseph O’Brien

Born on 13 August 1891 Morgan would attend Nelson College, and like most men in New Zealand at the time undertake his compulsory military service in the Territorial Army.  A foundation member of the Palmerston North J Battery of the Artillery, Morgan would also serve in the Poverty Bay Company of the 9th (Hawkes Bay) Infantry Regiment. Morgan was well known in Palmerston North and later Gisborne as a keen Footballer and Cricketer.

At around 1913, Morgan took up a position with the Gisborne Branch of J.J Niven, taking charge of that branches customs and shipping department.  With the onset of the First World War, Morgan entered Trentham Camp for training with the Artillery in November 1915. Sailing with the 10 Reinforcements on 4 March 1916, Morgan would join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in France in April 1916 and posted to the Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC). It is likely that due to Morgan’s civilian clerical exercised that he was involved in the area of ammunition accounting, managing the substantial quantities of ammunition required by the New Zealand Division.  Serving with the DAC for the remainder of the war, Morgan would be struck down with influenza several times but would finish the war in Sling Camp in the United Kingdom. Morgan would be transferred into the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC) on 13 February 1919. Promoted to Corporal and posted to the London Ordnance Depot. Morgan would have been working closely with his brother John, who was the Chief Clerk of the NZAOC. Morgan’s clerical skills were recognised, and in July 1919 he was promoted to Sergeant. With the bulk of the demobilisation work required of the Ordnance Depot in London completed by August 1919, Morgan was repatriated to New Zealand in September 1919 on the SS Ruahine. After Three Years and Two Hundred- and Ninety-Seven-Day of overseas service Morgan was struck off the strength of the NZEF on 22 January 1920, returning to his civilian employment with J.J Niven in Gisborne.[1]

Morgan would only remain in Gisborne for just under two years, when in December 1921 he was promoted to be the Accountant at JJ Nivens Palmerston North Branch. Sadly, like many of his peers, Morgan’s health and been affected by the war and would plague him with continuing problems and periods in Hospital. On 24 August 1926 at the age of Thirty-Five, Morgan passed away at his parents’ home at 163 Fitzherbert Street Palmerston North. Morgan’s funeral was held at St Patrick’s Church, with many beautiful wreaths received and representation from his former employer, military and sporting associates.[2]

John Goutenoire O’Brien

John O’Brien was born on 3 April 1895 (some sources state 1896) and would attend Palmerston North High School, Nelson College and Palmerston North Technical college.[3] Following a similar vocational path as his brother, John would take up a clerical position as Clerk with the Bank of New Zealand in Palmerston North. Called up for military service in the Territorial Army, John would spend two years with the Palmerston North based C Company of the 7th (Wellington West Coast) Regiment.

John would enlist into the NZEF on 20 April 1915, joining B Company of the 6th Infantry Reinforcements at Trentham Camp. Embarking for Egypt on 11 August 1915, the 6th reinforcements would be the last to reach Egypt before the end of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. John as part of the Wellington Infantry Battalion would be amongst the last of the New Zealand Troops committed to the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign; however, after a short period fighting on Gallipoli, John was evacuated early in December due to suspected appendicitis and dysentery.[4]

After recuperation in Alexandra, John was posted to the New Zealand Base Depot at Ismailia as the New Zealand Division was reorganised. Possibly as a result of his clerical background, John did not re-join the Wellington Infantry Battalion but instead transferred into the NZAOC. Serving with the New Zealand Division in France, John would be promoted to Corporal on 4 June 1916 and then Sergeant on 31 March 1917.

On 13 February 1918, John was transferred from the New Zealand Division in France and taken on the strength of the New Zealand Ordnance Depot in London. Audits had found several inadequacies in the running of the store’s account which John described as “a system of recording and accounting that was absolutely hopeless”.[5] Appointed as the NZAOC Chief Clerk in the United Kingdom, John was promoted to Temporary Warrant Officer Class One (Temporary Sub Conductor) on 5 October 1918.

New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps Badge, 1916-1919 (Robert McKie Collection 2017)

Promoted to Warrant Officer Class One (Sub Conductor) on 25 November 1918, the priority due to the end of the war had shifted from supporting the NZEF to demobilising the NZEF, including the closing of accounts and the final balancing of the books. Appointed as a Conductor on 1 February 1919, John in addition to his existing staff of two would be allocated an additional six men to assist in the reorganisation and rewriting of the ledgers to an acceptable standard. John’s older brother Morgan, an accountant by trade was on 13 February 1919 transferred from the New Zealand Field Artillery into the NZAOC and posted to the London Ordnance Depot, where it is of no doubt that his skills as an account were put to use.[6]

New Zealand Ordnance Depot, 30-32 Farrington Road, London. Map data ©2018 Google, Imagery ©2018 Google

By the middle of 1919, John and his staff had made progress in the closing of the NZEF accounts, with the ADOS Colonel Pilkington satisfied that the whole team would be repatriated in September on the SS Ruahine. However, due to changes of Department heads in NZEF Headquarters, John elected to remain to follow through in his efforts and ensure that his responsibilities were handed over.[7]

In recognition of the valuable services rendered in connection to the war, John was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal on 9 December 1919.

In January 1920 it was anticipated that with the planned sailing of the “Corinthic” on 20 February 1920 that there would only be twenty-four members of the NZEF remaining in the United Kingdom to be repatriated on the “Ionic” on 31 March 1920. However, much work remained to be done, and the three remaining Ordnance Staff; Captain Simmons, John and Sergeant Edwards were each allocated specific tasks by the departing ADOS. John was to;

Remain to settle all claims preferred against the NZEF, by the Imperial authorities for stores and equipment issued from time to time, also to obtain credit for stores returned to Imperial Ordnance by NZEF Units and Depots. This WO will deal with all claims for outstanding stationery issued to the NZEF, and will arrange credit for all stationary etc., returned to HM Stationery Office. He will pass for payment, all accounts for goods etc., brought under this Office Local Purchase Orders Authority. All matters relating to the equipment for the Post-Bellum Army in New Zealand will be dealt with by him, and he will submit any idents which have to be preferred, and will also assist the High Commissioner with the arrangements for shipping all new equipment and stores for the Dominion.[8]

Having been overseas for over four years, John was becoming anxious about his future employment. He had resigned from his position with the Bank of New Zealand in 1915, with it seems a gentleman’s understanding that his job would be held open for him on his return. However, after five years of military service, correspondence with the Bank of New Zealand indicated that his re-employment was not guaranteed but would be favorably considered. With a strong case to return to New Zealand, Johns demobilisation was approved. On handing his remaining duties over to Captain Simmons and the New Zealand High Commission, John departed for New Zealand on the last official troopship returning to New Zealand the “SS Ionic”. Leaving the United Kingdom on 31 March 1920 the Ionic would transit the Panama Canal, arriving back in Wellington on 28 May 1920. It is interesting to note that during Johns tenue in London in addition to his military duties, he undertook a course of study at the London Hugo College of Languages.[9] 

On 8 June 1920 John was stuck off the strength of the NZEF and after five years returned to civilian life. Concurrent to John been demobilised, the Director of Ordnance Services, Lt Col Pilkington, who as the NZEF ADOS had intimate knowledge of Johns abilities, was working to find John employment. Early in June, Lt Col Pilkington recommended in a letter to the Chief Ordnance Officer that John would be an outstanding and qualified candidate to fill the position of Chief Clerk in the Christchurch Ordnance Deport, then located at the King Edward Barracks. Accepted for this role John was attested for service in the Temporary Section of the NZAOC as a sergeant on 8 June 1920.[10]

After five months, John decided to resign from the NZAOC and pursue other interests and was discharged at his request on 19 October 1920. John would then travel to the United States where he would study law at DePaul University Chicago from 1921 to-24. During his time at Chicago, John would write several articles on the peoples of the earth, articles on foreign lands and subjects in general and was one of a group that published two volumes on the recent World War.[11]

Nearing the end of his studies, John found employment with the Continental Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago, where in 1923 he was appointed as the manager of the Bond and Coupon Division.

Relocating to Shreveport Louisiana in 1926, John was then appointed as the Trust Officer for the Commercial National Bank.[12] Under his leadership, the trust department would become recognised as one of the most outstanding in the South with John later serving as a vice-president of the bank.

John O’Brien 1926

In 1926 John would marry Katharine Kramer and in the same year celebrated the birth of his son Joseph. However, this must has been tempered with the news of the early death of his elder brother in October 1926. Having found a career and established a family in the United States, John was naturalised as a US Citizen on 22 February 1928.[13]

Old Commercial National Bank Building in Shreveport, Louisiana. Wikimedia Commons

It is known that John made two return visits to New Zealand, the first in 1930 and after the death of his father in 1937, the second trip in April 1941. Arriving from the United States via the American Clipper air route, Johns visit would be a combined holiday and business visit which would be wildly covered by the press.[14]

During his visit, John would describe the positive reporting in the United States of the New Zealand Division in the Middle East and provide a first-hand account of the increasing amount of war material produced in the USA for export to the British Empire. John would also provide insight into American insights into the war and how although the Southern States were firmly behind Britain, the Northern States with their large immigrant populations were less supportive, but John had confidence that President Roosevelt and United States Congress would make the right decision when the time came.[15] An astute businessman John was found to be correct in his prediction, and after the 7 December attack on Pearl Harbour, the United Stated threw its entire strength into the effort to defeat not only the Empire of Japan but also Nazi Germany.

As the United States mobilised, John would be recalled to the colours, and on 27 July 1942 was inducted as a Major into the US Army and assigned to the Staff of General Harmon, Commanding General of US Army Forces in the South Pacific area. [16]   As the US Army Forces in the South Pacific area were initially Headquartered out of Auckland, John likely spent some time in wartime New Zealand. Johns promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 1943 was widely covered by the New Zealand Media which no doubt brought much pride to his New Zealand family.[17] In November 1943 after eighteen months in the Pacific John was assigned to the Intelligence Division, Fourth Air Force, San Francisco California and as new regulations were put in place to start releasing personnel, John was transferred to the active reserve on 2 May 1944.[18]  In regards to Johns service, Major General William Lynd, Commanding General, Fourth Air Force stated that “Colonel O’Brien entered the service at a time when our nation faced its darkest days. The valuable experience he brought with him contributed much to our victories in the pacific”[19]

Lieutenant Colonel John O’Brien, United
States Army Air Force, 1944

Returning to his pre-war position with the Commercial National Bank, John would remain there for another two years before taking up another role with the industrial manufacturing company J.B Beaird. Resigning from the bank in 1946, John would serve as vice-president and treasurer of J.C Beaird until his retirement In November 1958.

During his lifetime, John assumed leadership roles in many charitable drives held senior positions in many civic clubs. Posts her filled included;

  • Chairman of the trust division of the Louisiana Bankers Association,
  • Member of the executive committee and board of the Chamber of Commerce,
  • Chairman of the United Fund,
  • Chairman of the Caddo Community Chest,
  • President of the Caddo Chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis,
  • Member of the board Caddo Chapter of the American Red Cross,
  • Member of the board and president of the Little Theatre,
  • Member of the finance committee of Centenary College.

Always keen to pass on his knowledge and experience, John was also at times an Instructor of economics, corporate finance and various banking subjects for;

  • YMCA schools,
  • The American College of Underwriters,
  • The American Institute of Banking,
  • The Wholesale Credit Men’s Assn

As a veteran of two wars, John was active in veteran affairs and an active member of the American Legion, and held top offices in the;

  • Lowe-McFarlane Post 14 of the American Legion,
  • The Rotary Club,
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars.

During 1952, John was the chairman of a civilian advisory board assisting the United States Air Force in an audit of Reservists in Northwest Louisiana and Southwest Arkansas.

A year into his retirement and at the age of Sixty-Two years, John died of a heart attack on 21 October 1959.[20] Buried in the Forest Park in the centre of Shreveport, a memorial plaque was also placed below the headstone of his brother in the Terrace End cemetery in his New Zealand Home town of Palmerston North.

Sua tela tonanti


Notes

[1] “O’brien, Morgan Joseph,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1916.

[2] “Personal,” Manawatu Standard, Volume XLVI, Issue 279, , 26 October 1926.

[3] “Nelson College School Register, 1856-1956,” Ancestry.com. New Zealand, School Registers and Lists, 1850-1967 ; ” Bank Selects Trust Officer,” The Shreveport Times, 5 March 1926; ibid.

[4] “O’brien, John Goutenoire “, Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1914.

[5] “Demobilisation – Organisation of Ordnance Service, 4 September 1918 – 8 March 1920,” Archives New Zealand Item No R25103117  (1920).

[6] “O’brien, Morgan Joseph.”

[7] “Demobilisation – Organisation of Ordnance Service, 4 September 1918 – 8 March 1920.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] ” Bank Selects Trust Officer.”

[10] “O’brien, John Goutenoire “.

[11] ” Bank Selects Trust Officer.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Naturalization Petitions, 1925 – 1927,” Ancestry.com. Louisiana, U.S., Naturalization Records, 1836-1998.

[14] “New Zealand Born,” Auckland Star, Volume LXXII, Issue 77, 1 April 1941.

[15] “Aid for Britian,” Evening Post, Volume CXXXI, Issue 84, , 9 April 1941.

[16] “News About Those in Military Service,” The Shreveport Journal  9 August 1943.

[17] “Personal,” Manawatu Standard, Volume LXIII, Issue 207 31 July 1943.

[18] “Army Praise Given Banker for Service,” The Shreveport Times, 2 May 1944.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Local Civic Leader Dies,” The Shreveport Journal  22 October 1959.

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