Memento from a tragic past

Lyn Warrington shows the photo of the father-in-law she never knew. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER
Lyn Warrington shows the photo of the father-in-law she never knew. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER
Relatives of a Weston man killed during construction of the Deborah rail underpass 84 years ago want to find out more about him.

Robert Alfred Warrington was a labourer for the Public Works Department. He and four others were excavating a deep trench for the State Highway 1 underpass just south of Oamaru. On June 15, 1936, Mr Warrington was crushed by a fall of earth and metal.

His widow, Agnes, was left to raise their three young children in tough times. She later married Oamaru builder Stan Bickerstaff.

Mr Warrington’s grandson, Nigel Warrington, contacted the Oamaru Mail from his home in Australia to see if readers can put names to the faces in a photograph that includes his grandfather.

Nigel’s mother, Lyn Warrington, who still lives in Oamaru, said a truck in the photo had “Waitaki Electric-Power Board” written down the side. She thinks the occasion must have been a staff picnic.

“Robert Warrington is the chap standing second from right against the truck wheel, tall and striking-looking with those huge cheekbones,” Nigel said.

Nigel Warrington would love to know who is who in this photo that includes his grandfather,...
Nigel Warrington would love to know who is who in this photo that includes his grandfather, Robert Warrington, second from right. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Mrs Warrington said her late husband, Robert’s son, Tom Warrington, looked very much like him and her daughters were sad they had not inherited the cheekbones.

Tom was only 3 or 4 when Robert was killed and did not remember him, Mrs Warrington said. He had two sisters, one of them a newborn baby. He grew up not knowing any of his father’s side of the family.

Nigel knew little about the tragedy until recently, when he contacted Archives New Zealand. He now has news reports, the coroner’s report, and witness statements from the workmates George Fitzmaurice, Charles McKenzie, Robert Swain and Tim Frances Spillane.

“The coroner’s report and witness statements make for harrowing reading, but this is great closure for our family and in a way respect for Robert, as I am told that his wife and Dad’s family never spoke of it much,” Nigel said.

Mrs Warrington said her children were becoming more interested in their family history as they grew older themselves, and had spent time on it during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“It would be lovely to find out more.”

She was given the photograph when her husband, who died 10 years ago, was bedridden with Tb of the spine. A man who had worked at the Waitaki Electric-Power Board arrived at their home with it.

She has a framed copy and has given Nigel and his three sisters one each.

“We would be very interested to know if anyone recognises the fellow workmates in that photo, families and relatives who may still be around Oamaru, the year it was taken and of course there are many other names listed in the coroner’s report that I have,” Nigel said.

Anyone with information could contact the Oamaru Mail

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