Friday, August 5, 2022

An ordinary family: the Crees in Avondale and Waterview


One of the overdue projects I’m working on during this continuing pandemic is an index of all the issues of the Avondale Historical Journal, with the aim to put it online at the Society’s website. Going through Issue 60 from 2011, I came across a photo sent in by the late Rich Afford of children that performed in a pantomime at St Judes of “Princess Chrysanthemum” in December 1932. Above is a detail from his photo, with this bit of Rich’s letter catching my eye 11 years later:
“Centre of the three pixies: Peter Crees (killed in the war).”
This had me wondering, first, what happened to Peter Crees?

According to aviation historian Errol W Martyn in For Your Tomorrow, Peter William Crees was born in Swindon, Wiltshire in England 14 June 1923. He was still a baby when first his father William Hugh Crees arrived in New Zealand in October 1923, then Winifred Caroline with Peter and his older (three years old) sister Leila Doris in mid 1924. William Crees who had been a farmer back in England secured a position as a medical attendant at the Auckland Mental Hospital in Pt Chevalier. The family lived initially in Fir Street, Waterview, then at 153 Blockhouse Bay Road by the early 1930s.

Peter went on to study at Seddon Memorial Tech in the city as a motor mechanic, and became an apprentice at T S Sampson’s on Richardson Road in Mt Albert. He joined the Army in 1940, then switched to the RNZAF at Levin in January 1943 as an Aircrafthand, becoming a Flight Mechanic on 5 July 1943. He was sent to the Pacific theatre of the war in February 1944. Based at Pallikulo on the island of Espirito Santo, Vanuatu, Crees was on board a PV-1 Ventura aircraft returning from Vila in the afternoon of 8 August 1944. He and three others in the crew had just delivered spare parts for a grounded Corsair. They failed to arrive back at base, and a search over the next two days proved fruitless. Six weeks later, some information came through from locals on Malekula Island that they had seen the plane. The wreckage was found on the island, having crashed on a hill in poor visibility, exploding on impact. All four were buried on the island, and were commemorated on the Bourail Memorial in New Caledonia.

According to Errol Martyn:

“Investigators considered that unserviceable radar equipment was a contributory factor, and that an erratically behaving artificial horizon may have been a further contributory cause.”

At this point in the research, I thought I would simply be writing a brief piece just about Peter Crees, the young pixie in Rich Afford’s photo, and the story behind Rich’s comment about Peter’s death in the war. I looked into what happened to Peter’s parents, and something unusual cropped up.

William Hugh Crees died aged 62 in 1953. He was cremated at Waikumete Cemetery, but his cremains were laid to rest at Purewa Cemetery in Meadowbank. Nothing really unusual there.

His widow Winifred Caroline Crees died in May 1968, aged 78. I found her listed both by the NZ Society of Genealogists in their transcription from burial records, as well as the more modern online Auckland Council database for burials, at Waikumete Cemetery. Not just cremated at Waikumete and then her cremains laid to rest, perhaps, beside her husband at Purewa. Oh, no. Both the NZSG and Auckland Council have her sharing a plot with a stranger, a Mr Lionel Francis Henderson, who died a day later than Winifred, on 8 May.

Not what you may be thinking, either — for it turns out that Winifred’s remains are listed in her own plot … at Avondale’s George Maxwell Memorial Cemetery on Rosebank Road, Avondale.

John Russell from St Judes Church who maintains an excellent website devoted to the cemetery at Avondale, with detailed lists of burials including photos etc has confirmed that Winifred Crees’ final resting place is indeed here in Avondale. The Waikumete Cemetery entry could have come about, perhaps, because of the funeral director at the time booking in a plot at Waikumete, only to have someone change their mind and take up a plot at Avondale instead.

Whatever the reason, Mrs Crees is now recorded in two cemeteries, several miles apart, and that will probably remain the case to confound future family historians who are related to her. 

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