Have you ever wondered why there is a New Zealand Avenue in Walton on Thames? Or why the pub at the end is called The Wellington (affectionately known as “The Kiwi”)?
Our neighbourhood was thrown together with families from the other side of the world during World War 1 and to this day ANZAC day is celebrated in Walton on April 25th to remember the young men who are buried in St Mary’s churchyard and who were cared for at the Mount Felix Military Hospital. ANZAC is the term given to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and April 25th is the date they landed at Gallipoli to fight the Turks in 1915.
Mount Felix (seen above) was a large Italianate mansion set in 18 acres of grounds at the end of what is now New Zealand Avenue (so named in 1930) on the north side of Walton Bridge. The grand gate pillars are still there today. When the war started the manion was commandeered by the War Commission and the building was used to accommodate British soldiers.
By 1915, it was offered to the New Zealand War Contingent Association as a military hospital, officially opened by the New Zealand High Commissioner, Sir Thomas MacKenzie. It was known as the No 1 New Zealand General Hospital. As the war continued, more pressure on the services in Walton led to another hospital being created in Brockenhurst, leaving Mount Felix as ‘No 2 New Zealand General Hospital’. At its peak, Mount Felix had as many as 2,000 beds. The chief medical officer was a New Zealander and three-quarters of the staff had connections with the country.
The first wounded soldiers there would have been from the Gallipoli campaign, which ended in December 1915 with evacuation and huge casualties. All in all 27,000 patients passed through Mount Felix. Considering how small the population of New Zealand is, these figures are truly staggering. 21 poor souls are buried in St Mary’s, Walton, and many more in the military cemetery at Brockenhurst.
During the war years patients and staff were very present in the community, relaxing in the gardens by the river and taking outings on the water as they rehabilitated.
While we toured New Zealand earlier this year we noticed so many memorials to those lost during the war. It is a strange feeling to know that many of those war dead commemorated on memorials on the other side of the world may have passed through Mount Felix.