BEER HISTORIES: The Anzacs from the brewery at Mangatainoka

On 25 April 2015, we will commemorate the centenary of the landings of New Zealand and Australian soldiers (the Anzacs) on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey during the first world war. To mark the centenary, and as part of our Beer Histories series, I thought I’d share a story of the sacrifices made by one small district and some of the men who worked at its brewery.

Before the Tui Brewery and rise of the now famous Tui Tower in 1931, the North Island Brewery Co. Ltd at Mangatainoka produced “Tui” beer and stout – popular brews which were distributed and sold throughout the country. The brewery was started in the 1880s by Henry Wagstaff. By 1919, it was reportedly one of the “largest and most up-to-date brewery concerns” in New Zealand, although the impact of the war of 1915-1918 had threatened the brewery’s survival.

At the start of the war, men from throughout the Mangatainoka district volunteered for military service or were called up in a series of ballots. The war would take a heavy toll on Mangatainoka and its neighbouring communities. According to one newspaper report, it appeared as if every man from the district was called to service, and for a time it looked as if the brewery would have to close down. Several employees ended up giving their lives in service of their country.


Lieutenant Henry Rawlings COWAN, Wellington Battalion, NZEF. 17th Ruahine Regiment – and brewer/assistant brewer

The managing director of the brewery, Mr Henry Cowan suffered greatly. He and his wife lost their youngest son Lieutenant Harry Cowan (aged 25) at Gallipoli in 1915. Harry was a single man who was described as “a great favourite throughout the fortymile bush, where he was born and lived his life”. The following year Cowan lost a second son, Sergeant William Cowan, a veteran of the Boer war who died in France. He was an engineer by trade, married with three children. Charles Riddell (aged 36) another brewery employee, survived the disastrous Gallipoli campaign but eventually succumbed to wounds he received on the battlefields in France. Mr Robert Henderson, the brewery manager in 1919, was a volunteer who returned to the brewery after surviving the war.


Cap badge, 17th (Ruahine) Regiment, circa 1916, maker unknown. Gift of the Defence Department, 1916. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH021133)

The First World War impacted the lives of all New Zealanders. It changed the people who went to war, and those who stayed at home. The story of the Anzacs from the brewery at Mangatainoka reminds us of some of the ways communities, families and businesses in small towns were affected by the war. Sometimes these stories are lost in the grand narratives of history and the nation…as we share a beer with friends this week, let’s not forget them.


North Island Brewery Co. (newspaper article 1919)

H.R.Cowan (newspaper article Roll of Honour 1915)

Charles Riddel (newspaper article 1919)


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