In February 1917 45-year-old Frederick (Fred) Tucker, a blacksmith, driver and solo father, enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment.
In Wellington Fred worked for C and A Odlin, timber and hardware merchants, transporting their products on horse-drawn carts. His familiarity with horses and his ability to ride made him well suited to the mounted rifles.
The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment was one of three that made up the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. By the end of the war, nearly 18,000 New Zealanders had joined the Brigade – ‘nearly one fifth of the total embarked strength of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.’ 1 When large areas of ground had to be covered, ‘the mounteds’ were the men for the job as they could move more quickly than men on foot.2
Ten months after he enlisted, Fred said goodbye to his 13-year-old daughter Mollie and boarded HMNZT 98 Tofua destined for Suez, Egypt. The Tofua carried reinforcements for the field ambulance as well as the mounted rifles brigade – 810 men in total. Leaving Wellington Harbour, Fred’s ship passed close to Island Bay – the Wellington suburb where Mollie now lived with her grandparents.3
These are the facts, as we know them. It is in the archived fragments – an unfinished diary, a two-page letter to Mollie, a brief note scrawled on a souvenir – that we glimpse something more of this man.
From the moment he left Wellington, Fred kept a diary, which he intended to share with Mollie, his parents and siblings once he’d returned home. Brief entries in the first few pages describe his voyage from Wellington to Egypt. For the most part, Fred enjoyed it – especially when the ship dropped anchor and the men had the opportunity to explore foreign ports. At Albany, Western Australia, he and a few friends hired a car and drove out to Ocean Beach – a long stretch of white sand, which was, Fred wrote, ‘rather dazzling’4 and reminded him of Wellington’s Lyall Bay. In Columbo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), they visited temples and colonial hotels and watched women make lace. It was, Fred wrote, ‘impossible’ to describe how much he enjoyed ‘this beautiful Oriental city.’5
While writing in his diary, Fred’s mind turned to home and he wondered what his family might be doing – ‘it is 5.15pm NZ time now, so I suppose you will be getting tea ready. We are now 9 hours ahead… so you can think that while you were having your tea… I was sitting on a bag of potatoes on the top deck writing these lines.’6
On the 21st of December, one day before Mollie’s fourteenth birthday, the Tofua reached Egypt. The men from the mounted rifles caught a train from Suez to Moascar Camp, where other New Zealanders awaited them. From one Fred learned that his relative Joe Tucker had been killed in action. Such brief lines give away little emotion.
Those on board the Troopship HMNZT 98 Tofua also produced a magazine with details about their journey which you can find below.
- Last updated on: 4 Feb 2021 | File Size: 1.6 MB
On the 15th of January 1918, Fred learned that the Wellington Mounted Rifles were to move from Egypt to Palestine to take part in attacks on Ottoman forces positioned in the Jordan Valley and surrounding area.
Fred found the Biblical landscape of Palestine immensely evocative. In letters to his family he described the Monastery of St. Theodosius, which stands on the site where, it is believed, the three wise men rested en route to Bethlehem. Fred also told them of the Hill of Cavalry where Christ was crucified. ‘There are little stone pillars,’ Fred wrote, ‘to mark where he rested on His way up and, near the top, the spot is marked where He finally broke down.’ The stone pillars, Fred noted, are named ‘the Way of Sorrow.’
With his letters Fred sometimes sent presents – pressed Palestinian flowers; a souvenir booklet from Jerusalem; a necklace for Mollie. Writing to Mollie, Fred described his sightings of camels and donkeys, of orange groves and almond orchards. He imagined, he wrote, how much she would like to see the orange groves. He wanted to know how she was getting on at school.
You can read Fred's letter to Mollie in the PDF below.
- Last updated on: 4 Feb 2021 | File Size: 10.9 MB
On Friday the 15th of February 1918, just two weeks after he’d written to Mollie, Fred noted in his diary that he would probably soon move up to the front. Sure enough, three days later on the 18th of February, the Wellington Mounted Rifles received orders to assist the infantry in an attack on Ottoman forces positioned on El Muntar, a high ridge in the Judean hills. The Wellington Mounted Rifles were to get into position by dawn of the 19th, ‘in readiness to cut off the retreat of the enemy.’7 AH Wilkie, author of the Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1918 describes the journey to the hilltop:
It soon became necessary to lead the horses in single file along goat-tracks—no other formation being possible, the horses glissading on their haunches down the steep banks of a succession of deep, tortuous, and jagged gorges which scarred the country.8
In a letter to his sister, later published in The New Zealand Times, Fred reported what happened next:
We arrived just before daylight and split up into small parties… The enemy were entrenched on a high ridge with machine-guns and rifles. Unfortunately the Canterbury, Auckland and Australian troops had missed their way up the rough ranges and had not arrived so the attack was left to the Wellington Mounted Rifles. We got into very heavy fire and had to take cover… we kept quiet till midday when the other lot arrived.
With reinforcements, the Wellington Mounted Rifles were able to mount strong attacks and secure the area.9
In late March, after a short period of rest, the Wellington Mounted Rifles (as part of the Anzac Division) were engaged in an attack on Amman, a strategic centre for Ottoman forces, and the surrounding highlands. For the Anzac Division, the attack was unsuccessful and costly. 38 New Zealanders were killed, 122 were wounded, and 13 were reported to be missing – Fred was one.
We can only imagine how it was for Mollie to wait in hope. On Christmas Eve, 1918, the Free Lance newspaper printed a notice that Fred ‘previously reported missing’ was now ‘reported killed in Palestine.’ 10 A total of 17,723 New Zealanders served in the Palestine campaign. 640 New Zealanders were killed in action.
Fred’s place of burial is unknown. He is remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial in Israel.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MOLLIE?
Some years later Mollie married Private George Mudgway, a young returned serviceman.
When Mollie and George’s daughter, Natalie Reville (nee Mudgway), donated Fred’s collection to Auckland Museum, we found a poignant piece of verse – ‘His Unknown Grave’ – attached to Fred’s diary.
A few crumpled letters, and a diary well kept,
O’er which a Mother fond, at night has often wept;
Tells of a land that was kissed by the sun
Ages before Christian history begun…
“Anenomes and Violets” he plucked from Jordan’s vale
In memory of Mother and many a Bible tale…
Oh may they meet in Heaven, in the after years,
Beyond the Gulf of Aden, and the Gate of Tears
NJB, Sunday Feb 2, 1919
The Auckland War Memorial Museum holds many collection items relating to Frederick Tucker and George Mudgway, you can view some of these items below. Frederick Tucker's story is also told in our Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre on Level Two.
Frederick Tucker and George Mudgway
 Kinloch, T. (2007). Devils on Horses: The story of New Zealand’s mounted rifles regiments in WWI. Exile Publishing.
 http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/wellington-mounted-rifles-regiment (accessed November 2015). Note: unlike traditional cavalry, when the mounteds encountered the enemy they dismounted their horses and fought on foot. One in four stayed behind to hold the horses).
 About 1908 Mollie’s mother, Daisy Tucker (nee Newman) left 4-year-old Mollie in an Auckland hotel room and took off for Sydney. Daisy had never been seen since.
 Frederick Tucker, diary entry, Friday 23rd November 1917. MS-2005-4 .
 AH Wilkie, Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919 (Auckland: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1924), 182.
 Frederick Tucker, ‘In Palestine fighting the Turk: experiences of a Wellington Trooper,’ The New Zealand Times, Saturday 11 May 1918, 9.
 Free Lance, 24 December 1918, 14.
Cite this article
Frederick Tucker. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 4 February 2021. Updated: 4 February 2021.