From Hukanui to Passchendaele – a soldier remembered

Local history enthusiast Mike Taylor shares the story of a pioneering family of the Gordonton District and one of the many soldiers who never came back from the First World War.

John & Eliza McNicol“A WEEK OR SO ago you ran an article on sports activities at Woodlands in 1885 which mentioned my great grandfather, John McNicol [the Woodlands Estate’s Newstead sub-manager]. This week the up-and-coming Anzac Day service was mentioned. Both these articles prompted me to share a story.

This is the story of Duncan Bannatyne McNicol who lived in Hukanui between 1900 and 1911, served in WW1 , died for his country and is buried in war cemetery in France.

John McNicol, as suggested in your article, was a very keen and competitive participant in the sports events held at Woodlands in those early days.   He was also an auctioneer and founded a very successful stock and station business called McNicol & Co which operated from his farm on the outskirts of Ohaupo.

Sadly John McNicol died in 1893 from pneumonia aged only 35. He left a widow, Eliza, and six children – the youngest aged only 18 months – and twins! – William (b 1885); Duncan (b 1886); Kate (b 1888) ; Marion (b 1890) and the twins John & Eliza(Elsie) (b 1891) His tragic death is well documented in Papers Past.

Eliza continued to live at Lochiel until 1900 when she purchased the Primrose property called Burnside at Hukanui – today, 896 Gordonton Rd. The house still stands. Why she came to Hukanui is a mystery. I can only speculate that it was to do with her late husband’s ‘connection’ to Woodlands and the people running it. (This was obviously the time before the dissolution of the Woodlands Estate). One can only imagine how difficult it would been to farm at that time and equally how isolated she must have felt if it hadn’t been for the strong community support that prevailed amongst those early settlers to the district.

In 1911 Eliza sold Burnside and left the district. The family were given a lovely farewell in the Hukanui Hall.  (Click here for the article which appeared in the Waikato Argus, on Papers Past.)

Kate, my grandmother,  and Duncan’s younger sister, had married my grandfather, Norman Taylor, at Burnside in July 1907. She would live most of her life just around the corner at Bushy Park (Taylor Rd) up to the time of her death in the early 1960s.


Duncan McNicol

Duncan Bannatyne McNicol


Four years after the family left Hukanui, Duncan McNicol was living up north in Ohaeawai. He enlisted in the army and was sent overseas. He would die from wounds received at the Battle of Passchendaele in August 1917.

Historic photo of French cemetery
The Commonwealth Cemetery at Trois-Arbes, Steenwereck, France where 212 New Zealand soldiers, including Duncan McNicol, are buried.


He had attained the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Pioneer Battalion. (Maori Contingent). He is remembered on the wall of names at the Hamilton War Memorial park. Duncan was survived by one son, Archibald William McNicol, (1913 – 1990) who in turn would have seven children.

Even though Duncan McNicol left the district in 1911 I have always felt that a part of his story belonged here in Hukanui/Gordonton history.

Tragedy, again, visited the McNicol family when William, the oldest son, died from the Spanish Flu in 1918. Eliza McNicol died in 1921, aged 62.

The quote ‘there is a land of the living and a land of the dead – the only bridge is remembrance’ is a variation on the original from a book by Thornton Wilder – The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

My grandmother, Kate, used this quote in a letter referring to her late mother. I thought it appropriate to use it here.”

  • This year’s Anzac Day service begins at 10am, at the Gordonton Hall on Wednesday 25 April. The morning will include the local Rolls of Honour, laying of wreaths, singing the national anthem, the Last Post and prayers. It is to be followed with a community lunch – bring finger food to share.

Anzac photo


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