John Donald Huntley was born on 5 July 1889, in Blackwood Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, the sixth child of Charles Huntley and Elizabeth O’Donnell**, and mokopuna of George O’Donnell** and Takaroa Makutu.
At 25 years old he was working as a labourer in Queen Charlotte Sounds when he enlisted with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in December 1914.
John spent three months training in Aotearoa, New Zealand before departing Wellington aboard the Maunganui on 14 February 1915. After six weeks at sea, John and his fellow soldiers disembarked at Suez in Egypt. John served in Egypt and Gallipoli in 1915 and 1916, before being posted to France on 6 April 1916. He spent the remainder of his service in Europe.
The Marlborough Express reported that John sent a package to his brother-in-law in Picton, Sir Charles Stuart-Forbes. The valuable parcel reportedly contained a collection of souvenirs from the Gallipoli Campaign, including a Rotherham & Sons watch retrieved from a Turkish soldier, assorted imperial and overseas regimental badges, various buttons gleaned from enemy uniforms, as well as a host of nick-nacks, ‘each and every one with a history worth telling’.
In the same story the Express also noted that John ‘...went all through the offensive at Anzac without receiving a scratch. His health also stood the severe test, and, during the whole of the campaign, the only spell he had was a fortnight on Lemnos Island. According to a recent letter received from Trooper Huntley, from Egypt, he was anxiously awaiting the next move against the enemy’.
‘Māori camp at No.1 Outpost’, Sgt. J Reid photograph, Harry Browne Collection, album 508, p.04, P2000-058, Hocken Collections, Uare Raoka o Hakena, University of Otago.
After hostilities ceased, John convalesced at Hornchurch Hospital, near London. At the end of January 1919, John reportedly broke out of the hospital by ‘jumping east gate’. Although forced to forfeit four days’ pay for absconding, John remained undeterred, performing the same trick ten days later and once again being forced to forfeit four days’ pay.
John left Portsmouth heading for home aboard the Raranga, on 11 March 1919, and was officially discharged from service on 28 May 1919. In all, he had spent more than four years overseas.
John, like many soldiers who returned from war, did not go on to have children – descendants who would remember, share and pass on whānau stories to future generations. It is through research and the seeking out of memories – precious taonga gifted from whānau members – that have enabled us to capture these stories that honour the sacrifices these tīpuna made.
John Donald Huntley died in Mahakipawa, on 22 June 1945 and he is buried in Picton Cemetery.
* Known as Donald Huntley
** The O'Donnells were also known as McDonnells'