New Zealand Law Society - Henry Cuthbert Northcroft, 1889 - 1915

Henry Cuthbert Northcroft, 1889 - 1915

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Harry Northcroft was killed in action at Gallipoli on 19 May 1915. He was aged 26. He is buried at Walker's Ridge Cemetery, Turkey.

Harry was born in Thames on 22 February 1889. He had two sisters and a brother. His parents were Margaret and Henry William Northcroft. His father won the New Zealand Cross in the 1860s and was appointed resident magistrate for the Waikato in 1877, and stipendiary magistrate for Auckland in 1892. He retired as magistrate in 1909 and was appointed Chief Justice and Resident Commissioner of the Cook Islands in 1913 until he retired for health reasons in December 1915.

Harry went to school at Auckland Grammar where he was prominent both academically and in sports. He passed his matriculation and solicitors' general knowledge examinations at the end of 1906. On leaving school he worked as an articled clerk for Samuel Hesketh in the law firm Hesketh and Richmond (which amalgamated with Wilson Henry in 1986 to form Hesketh Henry). He also began to study law at Auckland University College.

Northcroft continued his sporting interests. Six foot tall and strongly built, he was described as "of a very stalwart build" (Press, 14 June 1915) and "a powerful man physically" (New Zealand Herald, 12 June 1915). He was a regular competitor in sprint and hurdle events with the Auckland Amateur Athletic and Cycle Club. In 1910 he competed (unplaced) in the 110 yards hurdles in the New Zealand amateur athletics championships. He played tennis for the Remuera Lawn Tennis Club. He also played rugby, being a member of the Auckland University College first fifteen and playing in the annual Law versus Insurance rugby match. Northcroft was also a member of the Auckland Junior Club.

He qualified as a solicitor and was admitted at the end of 1913. He continued to study and when he joined the army he had completed two sections of the examination for the degree of LLB. Once he had been admitted Northcroft left Hesketh and Richmond and set up practice on his own. He appeared regularly in the Magistrate's Court. He joined the territorial forces while still studying and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the 3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles on 28 October 1912. However, he resigned his commission on 11 October 1913, providing medical evidence that he suffered from a hernia and was unable to participate in mounted drill.

On the outbreak of war, Northcroft enlisted and went into training with the Auckland Mounted Rifles on 14 August 1914. His medical examination reported that he was 6 foot tall (1.83 metres), weighed 168 pounds (76.2 kg) and had brown eyes and brown hair. He embarked from Auckland on 16 October 1914, arriving in Suez, Egypt on 4 December 1914.

Northcroft was promoted to Lance Corporal on 11 February 1915. He was not involved in the initial Gallipoli invasion on 25 April 1915, but landed with the reinforcing Auckland Mounted Rifles on 12 May. He was killed in action during a Turkish attack on Russell's Top shortly afterwards on 19 May. A letter from Private CF Jones published three months later described the events, which followed a dawn attack on the Anzac trenches by 10,000 Turks: "Harry Northcroft was shot dead only a yard away from me, also Jim Thomson. A German got round the end of our trench, shot Northcroft dead, and just missed me by a whisker, the bullet getting poor old Jim through both temples. He died an hour afterwards." (Manawatu Times, 31 August 1915). "I suppose you already know that poor old Harry Northcroft was killed," wrote Private Arthur Hannah. "I was close by him. He was a grand fellow and high-respected by all. He put up a great fight, and his people may well be proud of him." (New Zealand Herald, 21 July 1915).

Obituaries to Northcroft said he had a very promising career before him in the legal profession. "He will be very keenly missed by the younger members of the legal profession, as well as by a very large circle of other friends," said one published in the Press (14 June 1915). The New Zealand Herald said Northcroft "displayed a most genial disposition".

A memorial tablet with the names of Northcroft and four other Takapuna soldiers who were killed at Gallipoli was unveiled by the Bishop of Auckland at St Peter's Church in Takapuna on 30 December 1915. Northcroft is also remembered on the Auckland District Law Society bronze memorial plaque, the Auckland Grammar School War Memorial and a memorial window which was donated by his family at St Andrew's Church in Epsom, Auckland. Northcroft Street in Takapuna is named after him.

In June 1926 Harry Northcroft's mother visited his grave at Gallipoli. Mrs Northcroft wrote an account of her visit for the New Zealand Herald, "realising that many New Zealand mothers, whose sons lie on Gallipoli, are unable to make the journey she has done". Her son's grave on Walker's Ridge was close to where he was killed. "Behind the old line and the mass of saps that still survive the action of weather, and along which little flowers bloom in their season, a sloping piece of sward, one of the sacred areas 'that is forever England,' looks out over the blue Aegean," she wrote. "Down below the sand of Anzac Cove, now almost washed bare of the litter of war, shines white beside the almost tideless water, and away to the northward stretches the strand that terminates at Suvla. Out at sea Samothrace, on which the setting sun painted so wondrous a scene, rises sharply and eyes that used to know it all so well, half expect to see the destroyers - Rattlesnake, Colne, and the rest - rushing to and fro upon their beats and the water barges come stringing in."  

Sources: Auckland Star, 22 November 1898, page 3; Auckland Star, 20 December 1899, page 5; Auckland Star, 24 January 1906, page 6; New Zealand Herald, 7 November 1907, page 3; Auckland Star, 23 February 1909, page 3; New Zealand Herald, 28 February 1910, page 5; Auckland Star, 19 March 1910, page 8; New Zealand Herald, 11 June 1914, page 5; New Zealand Herald, 12 June 1915, page 8; Press, 14 June 1915, page 9; New Zealand Herald, 21 July 1915, page 4; Manawatu Times, 31 August 1915, page 2; New Zealand Herald, 31 December 1915, page 6; New Zealand Herald, 26 February 1916, page 9; New Zealand Herald, 1 February 1919, page 10; New Zealand Herald, 11 December 1923, page 10; New Zealand Herald, 30 December 1927, page 11; Collegians at War, Auckland University.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who died while serving in World War I.

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By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed:

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