Mick Hills

Award for heroic conduct

Mick Hills displays the medal awarded to Fireman Thomas E Thompson in 1891.

Mick Hills displays the medal awarded to Fireman Thomas E Thompson in 1891.

Thomas E Thompson, known as Ted, was a hero.  In the early hours of March 25, 1890, Ted Thompson, volunteer fireman, was awakened by voices raised in alarm and the unmistakable sound of a fire in progress. The house next door was ablaze.

The Harrison St cottage, occupied by a Mr Thomas and his family, was an inferno by the time Fireman Thompson had donned his jacket and helmet and rushed to the scene.  He saw Mr Thomas, who had been beaten back by the flames, and learned there were two children, both boys, still inside the house.

Ignoring all warnings for his safety, he entered the house by the front door and reached the room where the boys were asleep in bed. He roused both of them by breaking a window and got them out of the house. On leaving the building he heard that there might still be a girl trapped in the building and set to work with his hatchet to cut into the room where she was supposed to be, only to find she had escaped safely.

“That he had been through the fire was evidenced by the scorching his face and hands received, and his singed hair, and blanket-coat (both front and back marked). In a few minutes Miss Hope, matron of the hospital, had bathed both face and hands in oil and lime water and carefully bandaged up the latter.” (Wanganui Herald)

Fireman Thompson’s burns were later dressed by Dr Earle, honorary surgeon to the Fire Brigade.

More than a year later, Fireman Ted Thompson was awarded the United Fire Brigades Association Medal for Valour, one of only three ever presented.  That medal now resides in the Whanganui Regional Museum and Mick Hills, museum volunteer and firefighter, proudly showed it to this reporter.

Award for heroic conduct IIThe decoration consists of a silver Maltese cross with a point in the centre of each arm and suspended by loops from a red ribbon. The obverse shows the fireman badge of the UFBA within a band inscribed UNITED FIRE BRIGADES ASSOCIATION. The details of the award and its recipient are engraved on the medal.

“He was severely burned in the fire,” says Mick, “and he never did any more firefighting, as far as we can make out from the records.”

A full account of the fire and Fireman Thompson’s role in the rescue are in the Wanganui Herald of March 25, 1890, and details of the presentation in the same paper, September 12, 1891.

A ‘Fireman Thompson’ is recorded as leaving Wanganui to live in Auckland in October 1907.


Bob Cade’s Sword

Bob Cade's sword II

Museum volunteer Mick, collection manager Trish Nugent-Lyne and I were deep beneath the museum, surrounded by guns and pointy things in the armoury. This is Mick’s second stint as a volunteer and he’s working on edged weapons.  “Anything with a sharp edge … cuts people up, that sort of thing,” he says. Mick likes to get graphic.

We were looking at a sword that once belonged to John Robert Cade, a Wanganui man who fought in WW1.  “It’s an 1897 pattern, British sword, which was a general issue to officers in the infantry regiments,” says Mick. “This particular one has the cipher of Edward VII … which means it was after 1901. They still issue them today; not for killing people anymore because they’re not very effective against machine guns or missiles, but purely as decoration on the uniform.”

The Whanganui Regional Museum holds his war diaries, trench maps, officer’s notes and photos as well as his sword, all items donated by his wife in 1975.

A little bit about the sword’s original owner:

Mr Cade – known as Bob – joined the army in 1900 as a Territorial in Pahiatua. He came to Wanganui in 1902 and joined the Wanganui Guards. He was employed by the Public Works Department as a draughtsman but continued in the military part-time after completing his war service. He held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when he retired from the Territorials in 1933.  He married Ada Maud Dickson at St Paul’s church in Wanganui on June 28, 1911 and a baby boy was born on September 1, 1912. They called him Thomas. A daughter was born later.

Mr Cade’s war started in 1916 when he left New Zealand as a Captain. On August 23, 1918 he was granted the temporary rank of Major and that same year he was mentioned in dispatches by Field Marshall Douglas Haig. He was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the field”.

In 1919 Mr Cade was stationed in Germany and on January 17 he dined with the Prince of Wales – the man who would later become Edward VIII. The memory of this occasion is preserved in Cade’s diary, as well as a diagram showing the place settings. At the table there was a Major Richardson, Lord Claud Hamilton, Captain Riddiford, General Johnston, Viscount Broome, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson and others. Major Cade describes how he was introduced to the Prince by General Russell. He mentions that he bumped into the Prince again the following day and they had a brief conversation.

At the close of WW1 he was absorbed into the 7th Wellington Regiment with the full rank of Major.  He died in Wanganui in 1962.

This sword was presented to Lieutenant Cade by the Wanganui Guards in 1906. It is stamped with the name Hobson and Sons, but Mick says that could be the name of the retailer of uniforms and accoutrements, rather than the maker.

Bob Cade's sword IThe sword and scabbard are designed to be worn by the officer with his dress uniform, but it looked to me like it would be a serious inconvenience. Edges have been rounded and curled to prevent snagging and wear on the uniform; there’s an odd ‘guitar-shaped’ piece of steel added to the sharp end of the scabbard – it’s called a ‘drag’ and is there to take the wear of the sword scraping on the ground. You would not want to be a small man wearing a sword, unless they made short swords for the ducks-disease afflicted.

Trish pointed out that the swords were a type of men’s jewellery, worn purely for show.  “The higher the rank, the fancier the sword,” says Mick.

Mick was born in 1942, suffering the bombs and bullets of Adolf in his home town of Guildford in Surrey. His interest in things military therefore stems from his childhood in the blackout. He says he saw his father for the first time when he was four years old. His dad had finally returned from the Africa campaign in 1946.

Mick’s been in New Zealand since 1962 when he joined the Hawera Star in the printing department. While there he started as a volunteer firefighter. After six years in printing he took up the calling and became a full time firefighter, serving in Hawera, New Plymouth and Wanganui.  He’s still in the job, but leaves the firefighting to the younger chaps. He’s Brigade Secretary and also works as trauma counsellor.

Mick says he chose the sword because of its local interest and there may still be Wanganui people who remember Bob Cade or his family.  The diaries and stories of what he went through in WW1 made it all especially interesting.


Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in July 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.