George Klee

Early Days

George Klee was Victor and Emelie’s third son born in New Zealand at Waitati on 8 September 1879. He attended Waitati Public School. It has been suggested that he then ran away to sea for a time, although there is no firm evidence for this (refer Evening Post obituary).

Around this time, The Police Gazette, contains a warrant which names a George Klee as committing a rather interesting misdemeanour:

Stealing Otherwise than from the Person or from Dwellings
WAIPAWA – George Klee is charged on warrant with the theft, during the night of the 5th ultimo, of a collie dog, black body, muzzle legs and tip of tail white, ears and sides of head black, answers to “Willie”, value £5; a single-reined bridle, brass buckles, nickle bit, forehead-band lined with red flannel, value 10s.; a pair of leggings, and a straw hat, value 7s 6d. Accused is between eighteen and twenty years of age, small moustache only, broad face, narrow receding forehead, about 5ft. 5in. high, stout build, dark complexion, lazy appearance. May be riding an iron-grey or roan gelding pony. Has been living with Maori in different parts of the country.
(Source: NZ Police Gazette, Wednesday May 11 1898, No. 10, page 82.)

Presumably there is somewhat more to this story than is apparent from the police report; while travelling on horseback, it would be rather difficult to steal a dog that one had not befriended over a period of time.

From July 1900 to February 1901 he was employed at Gisborne as a shepherd for Mr J. McIldowie, living at Makaraka just outside Gisborne.

George Klee’s discharge papers

Boer War Service

George left Gisborne to serve in the South African “Boer” War, along with his brothers Louis and Victor. On 3 April 1901, he enlisted as a Trooper with the 7th New Zealand Contingent, seeing action in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

On return to New Zealand, after serving for 1 year and 83 days he was discharged and went back to Gisborne where he was employed as a baker’s driver for Mr F.J. Oatridge. George was a member of the Gisborne Rifles Volunteers but uncertainity surrounds the exact period he served.

George Klee – detail image taken from a photo of the Howitzer Company at Fort Dorset, Seatoun, Wellington; taken between 1920 and 1939. (Alexander Turnbull Library, A A Klee collection, PAColl-5657-13)

Move to Wellington

He then made his way to Wellington where he found employment at parliament as a messenger for the Premier, the Right Honourable R.J. Seddon. When George decided to enlist in the Permanent Force, he was armed with a letter from the Premier (who was also the Defence Minister):

I wish the bearer of this, G. Klee, enrolled at once in the Permanent Force. The date of enrolment to be as from the 1st inst. R.J. Seddon, Defence Minister.

The Star Boating Club on a busy club day in 1912. Click to see larger image.
(Alexander Turnbull Library 46573 1/2 )

Further details about his time in the Permanent Force read George’s service record.

George was one of the earliest members of the Oriental Rugby Football Club and represented Wellington Province as a wing-forward. He was also a rower and was a prominent member of Star Boating Club.

Career in the Permanent Force

George enlisted in the RNZE as a provisional Sapper on 11 August 1903 and was attested at Wellington where he carried out his initial training and drills. Six months after joining he was promoted 2nd Class Sapper having successfully completed his period of probationary service. George was employed as a cook at Shelly Bay, Wellington. For most of this time he lived at the RNZE base at Shelly Bay.

On 1 October 1907 he remustered as a Gunner at the time when the RNZE was absorbed into the Electric Light Section of the RNZA. He then moved to Fort Dorset where he was employed in the Electrical Section.

Initial promotion came slowly for George as he served fifteen years before he was promoted Bombardier in 1919, and then Corporal in 1920, the same year when he was awarded the Permanent Forces of the Empire Beyond the Seas Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Further details regarding his time in the Permanent Force can be found in George’s service record.

Marriage to Gertrude “Bird”

In November 1908, George married Gertrude Martha (Bird) Violet Foley. She was one of the five children of John William Driscoll Foley and Laura Sarah Bloom.

George Klee and Gertrude Foley – photograph taken during their
honeymoon in the South Island – click for full size

Over the fourteen years between 1909 and 1923 they had five children, Victor, Cecil, Allen, Herbert and Eileen.

66 Ludlam Street, Seatoun 1967

66 Ludlam Street

Click on the image for a larger view of the Certificate of Title

The Klees initially rented a bach (Wharetane) built by A Wilson (later 65 Ludlam Street) and Menelaus’s (35 Hector Street). (Source: Bob O’Brien; Waka, Ferry, Tram – Seatoun and the bays to 1958). On the 24th January 1918, they bought the property at 66 Ludlam Street in Seatoun, where the remained for the rest of their life together.

Early property records show that a larger site was initially sold on the 6th July 1910 by A D Crawford, (son of J C Crawford who had earlier acquired most of the Miramar Peninsular) to E E Ayling. On the 24th January 1918, George Klee bought the 66 Ludlam Street property, when E E Ayling subsequently onsold to J A H Britain, G Chanman, and G Klee. (Source: Deeds Index 1-380 Vol.3 Part 1 p.304). A Certificate of Title 343/60 was issued on the 21st January 1927 which replaced the earlier Deeds Index.

George Klee – warrant

Master of the Janie Seddon

On 28 February 1928, Staff Sergeant Klee was transferred from the Royal New Zealand Army, promoted by warrant to Warrant Officer – First Class (Sergeant Major Coxswain), and appointed Master of the Defence Vessel Janie Seddon. He remained as the master of this vessel for twelve years until 1940.

An extract from The New Zealand Permanent Force by W.L. Ruffell records that the Janie Seddon fired the first shot in World War II ! It is currently uncertain as to whether George Klee was the master on this occasion.

Janie Seddon – World War II Click to see large image

Several days before war was actually declared the RNZA manned the coastal defences. The Examination Vessels at the four main ports, previously manned by the General Duties Branch, NZ Permanent Force, were taken over by the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. When at 0945 hrs 3 September 1939 (2145 hrs 2 Sep GMT), the liner City of Delhi did not stop when ordered by the Port Examination Vessel Janie Seddon, the Fort Dorset Examination Battery fired a warning shot across her bows. It had the desired effect; spectators were astounded that so large a ship could ‘heave to’ so quickly. This shot was claimed by the RNZA to be the first of the war fired by British forces. The Captain of the City of Delhi subsequently paid for his lapse. In addition to being heavily fined he was ordered to pay for the complete 4-in round expended which in 1939 cost £40 ($80).

Built in 1901 for the Government the Janie Seddon spent most of her career on Wellington Harbour. In 1947, the Janie Seddon was sold for use as a trawler to Talley’s Fisheries Ltd which started operations at Motueka. She ended up hulked on the beach at Motueka.
Artwork by Matthew Sargisson: Janie Seddon, Motueka, Spring 2000 390 x 670 Ink, canvas paint

Retirement from the Military

George Klee had attained the normal age for retiring on 8 September 1934 but was extended until he reached aged 60. Then further approval was given for him to remain in service until 1940 but the outbreak of the war necessitated his services being retained. On 6 March 1940 he fell down the hold of his ship and sustained injuries to his right shoulder, fractured some ribs and injured his left knee. This resulted in his retirement on medical grounds having served for more than 37 years. He was retired on 31 December 1940 in his 62nd year.

George Klee (left), Bob Raine (centre)

Later Years

After retiring from the army, George spent some time working in Bob Raine’s china department.

Gertrude (Bird) died on 25 January 1965, and she is buried in the Karori cemetery.

With failing health, in his final years, George was primarily cared for by his daughter Eileen, who also lived in Seatoun. He died 14 May 1968 in Wellington, New Zealand, and he is buried in the servicemen’s section of the Karori cemetery.

George, Victor and Louis Klee – South African War Volunteers, circa 1900
(Alexander Turnbull Library, A A Klee collection, PAColl-5657-15) Click to see large image.