New Zealand Soldiers’ War Stories
Discover the real stories of our Kiwi soldiers as they served New Zealand around the world, including World War I and II. From tales of heroic battles and daring escapes to remembering those that made the ultimate sacrifice, learn more about our military history with voices from the past.
- Voices From Napier – Francis Herbert Davis
- WWI Soldier From Napier
- Bravery at Gallipoli
- A Gallipoli Soldier Remembered
- A Prisoner of War Medic
- Rugby Hero Remembered
- Inventor Soldier’s WWI items
- Capt Mariu 28 Maori Battalion, Killed in Action
- The Fox
- World War II Coastwatchers Remembered
- POW Private Spence Edge, 25th Battalion
- The White Mouse Remembered
- Lieutenant Colonel Vida Jowett
- Gallipoli Stories
- Brothers in Arms
- Private Patrick Sheerin, Killed in Action
- Rugby Player, Soldier, All Black
- Sergeant Harry Barlow
- Brigadier Reginald (Reggie) Miles
- Brigadier John Burns
- All Black Dave Gallaher Remembered
Following on from our last story on Edward Weber, Francis was another Napier Boys High School Old Boy who served in World War I.
Francis enlisted in late 1915 and left NZ on the 5thFebruary 1916 on the troopship “Ulimaroa” bound for Suez. He started off as 26/299 Rifleman (Private) Davis but within 18 months he had risen to the rank of Company Sergeant Major.
He received a Mentioned in Despatches from General Sir Douglas Haig on the 9 thApril 1917 just before being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
His citation reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He did especially valuable work in assisting in organising and directing the operation when all his company officers except one had been wounded. He set a fine example of personal courage and energy.”
Edward Herman Weber, an old boy from Napier Boys High School served in Egypt, Gallipoli and France during WWI.
He spent 3 months at Gallipoli until he was badly wounded by a gunshot wound to the head during the attack on Chunuk Bair and was evacuated to England to recover for the next year.
He later served in France and after 7 months on the frontline was again shot and severely wounded in his thigh, suffered shellshock and also trench fever.
Sergeant Harry Barlow was presented with this pocket watch in recognition of his bravery at Gallipoli which saw him awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).
Barlow saw service at Gallipoli where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for gallantry at Quinn’s Post on 21/22 June 1915. He was later wounded at Chunuk Bair on 8 August 1915, which would eventually see him discharged from the Army on 16 March 1916.
The pocket watch was presented to Barlow on 13 October 1915 by the ‘United Methodist School and Friends’ in the district of Black Moss, as recognition of his bravery at Gallipoli.
25th of April is a date still deep-rooted in the memory of all New Zealanders. It symbolises the start of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign but also the enduring day in history, known as Anzac Day. It was a campaign with a casualty rate of 7500 Kiwi troops injured, and 2721 killed. Amongst those who were wounded was a school teacher and Maori All Black; Captain Pirimi Tahiwi. His medals are on display in the National Army Museum’s Medal Repository.
In June 1915, Tahiwi sailed to Gallipoli and on the 6th of August he and Captain Roger Dansey led a company in the battle of Sari Bair. For this attack Tahiwi and Dansey led their men in the famous Te Rauparaha’s haka, ‘Ka mate, ka ora, ka ora’ war cry as they set about clearing Turkish trenches. Unfortunately, the next day Captain Pirimi Tahiwi was shot in the neck and was evacuated to a hospital in England. He became one of the 89 Maori wounded in the attack.
Life as a medic in the 6thField Ambulance was fraught with danger and for William Wilson of the Wairarapa, his role as a Medic on Crete may have contributed to his fate of spending much of the war as a prisoner in Stalag VIIIB. His signature can be found on display in the National Army Museum’s POW wall.
6 Field Ambulance was one of the larger medical units that served with the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) during World War II. These people were sometimes trained medics, nurses, doctors, stretcher bearers or similar so generally were unarmed as per the Geneva Convention. This meant that they were regularly required to venture out under very heavy enemy fire to bring aid to and recover the wounded, all the time with no method of protecting themselves.
It was also very difficult to carry a stretcher while also trying to carry a weapon. The other members of the unit ran medical casualty clearing stations and even hospitals a very short distance behind the front line.
Private William George Wilson was a Medic with 6th Field Ambulance, New Zealand Medical Corps during World War II when he was captured on Crete and taken prisoner at Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf on the Austria/Italy/Yugoslavia border (later renamed Camp 344).
Legendary 1945-46 Kiwis rugby team hero and gentleman, Stan Young is fondly remembered by staff at the National Army Museum who were sad to hear of his recent passing aged 90 years.
Stan should have been an All Black as he was an outstanding forward on the 1945-46 “Kiwis” tour of Britain and Europe however suffered a back injury on the tour which impacted on his rugby career and in the end, any ambition of playing for the All Blacks.
A compact special treasure trove of World War One artefacts was delivered to the National Army Museum recently for safe-keeping. The items presented were personal and family items related to the World War One military service of Harry Lockington from Reefton in Westland.
Lieutenant Lockington, born on 13 November 1881, was a mechanical engineer and saw miller in civilian life. His engineering skills were destined to be put to good use when he served in the army as he was responsible for a number of remarkable inventions, the details of which form part of the collection given to the National Army Museum.
Captain Kereti Mariu of 28th (Maori) Battalion saw action in Greece, Crete, the Western Desert and finally Italy during World War II.
The battalion fought their first action at Orsogna, Italy in December 1943. Less than a month later, on 9th January 1944, Mariu was tragically killed in action while working as the Signals Officer for the Battalion HQ.
Kereti Pau Mariu, died aged 27 and is buried in the Sangro River War Cemetery (Italy), Grave IX. E. 27. His medals are on display in the National Army Museum Medal Repository.
Contributed by Grant Hays, Custodian
Sergeant Errol Sampson Allison or Bill as he liked to be known, began World War II serving with the 20th Battalion 2NZEF (New Zealand Expeditionary Force) in both Greece and Crete before being captured by the Germans in North Africa, at Belhamed in December 1941. He ended up in Stalag VIIIA in the German town of Gorlitz where he became known by his fellow prisoners as ‘the Fox’.
Bill escaped twice from work parties before being recaptured and later disguised himself by taking an excessive dose of anti-malarial tablets to help take on the identity of a Belgian POW who had previously been repatriated.
Contributed by Grant Hays, Custodian
New Zealand Coastwatchers who served in the Pacific during World War II were commemorated this October with the laying of a wreath at the National War Memorial in Wellington. The 15th October marks a day to remember when in 1942 on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, 17 New Zealand Coastwatchers and 5 civilians were executed by beheading after being captured by the Japanese.
John Jones is the last surviving member of the Coastwatchers and was in Wellington to remember his comrades, three of whom were his best friends. John was a radio operator from the Post and Telegraph Department and his job as a Coastwatcher was to keep a 24 hour watch for enemy ships and aircraft and report on meteorological conditions.
Contributed by Grant Hays, Custodian
Private Edge spent most of World War II as a Prisoner of War (POW) and the National Army Museum is lucky enough to have his signature on its POW wall. He was first taken prisoner by German tanks of the Afrika Korps at Sidi Rezegh in North Africa in late November 1941 after promised British armoured support for the Kiwi positions did not eventuate.
During World War II, New Zealand born Nancy Wake became a well known figure in the French Resistance and a wanted person by the Gestapo who nicknamed her the ‘White Mouse’ because of her ability to avoid capture.
Nancy will be honoured and remembered in a special memorial service held at 12.15pm, Old St Paul’s Church, Mulgrave Street, Wellington on what would have been her 100th birthday – 30th August 2012.
By Adam Moriarty, Assistant Curator Heraldry
When Japan entered World War II, one of the immediate effects was the increased threat level to New Zealand – no longer were we at the “utmost ends of the world” – our country was now a front line target. With so many Kiwi men still serving with the military in Europe, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) set about manning the coastal and anti-air defences of the New Zealand homeland. Their appointed Chief Commander was Lieutenant Colonel Vida Jowett.
Of the approximately 3,000 “Kiwis” who landed at ANZAC Cove on 25 April, about 20 percent had become casualties by the end of the day, signalling the beginning of a bitter and fierce campaign that would not see the Anzac’s leave until nine months later. The campaign cost the New Zealand Expeditionary Force some 7,500 casualities of whom 2,721 were killed.
There are many stories of ordinary New Zealanders who embarked on an adventure here at Gallipoli that in many cases, cost them their lives. The incredible events of the Anzacs is a tale of harsh realities, courage, defeat, pride and spirit in war. One such story told by the National Army Museum is that of 3/168 Staff Sergeant William Henry, DCM, New Zealand Medical Corps.
Born in Timaru in 1887, William “Bill” Henry developed an early interest in the medical profession and spent three years as a volunteer with the St John Ambulance Service, learning first aid and nursing.
by Tessa Smallwood
The night had been a long one. They had ridden in the darkness of the desert landscape for 45 kilometres. They needed to rest and they needed water but there was a mission laid out ahead of them; a mission that would determine the fate of many. Some of the people beside whom they now rode would not make it through the day. That was a given. As the sun rose above the horizon ahead, the bold, golden green hills of their New Zealand must have seemed so very distant; so too their homes, families and former lives. Here, there was no Auckland or Wellington, no North Island or South, no hangi’s on the beach. But there was community and this Anzac Division were no doubt brought closer by their shared memories of home.
Patrick ‘Pat’ Sheerin was born in Palmerston North in 1891 and at the outbreak of World War One, was working as a Printer for the Wellington based company Ferguson and Mitchell.
Pat left for Egypt in October 1914 and in a letter to his mother, wrote.
“We had a good run over and no sign of being seasick. We did not get a rough sea all the way….It took us about seven weeks to get here so you can see we were pretty sick of the boat once we landed.”
Once in Egypt, Pat was camped just outside Cairo at Heliopolis and in the same letter to his mother, he wrote.
“This place is terribly dirty but they have some lovely buildings here. The Catholic Church is the prettiest place you could see…..we have to march over to church every Sunday at 8 o’clock.”
However in a letter to his mate Tom, he wrote of different sights.
Sgt Charles Brown was one of only a few rugby players and soldiers who played for the All Blacks both before and after World War I, and his prized All Black cap is part of the National Army Museum’s collection.
Like many rugby greats of his era, Brown interchanged his rugby jersey with a soldier’s uniform at a time when there was no rugby at home, and Army rugby was world rugby.
As a halfback he enjoyed a long first-class rugby career, firstly for his province, Taranaki, where by the age of 21 he had played 52 games, and was captain of the 1914 Taranaki side that took the Ranfurly shield from Auckland, the team who had held the prestigious trophy since its inception in 1910.
Kiwi soldier Harry Barlow landed at Gallipoli on the day that gave us the origin of ANZAC Day, 25 April 1915. Almost two months later while fighting at Quinn’s Post, one of the most advanced and dangerous ANZAC posts in Gallipoli, Barlow was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions.
Quinns Post was the site of repeated Turkish bombardment and some of the bloodiest hand to hand combat encounters between the ANZACs and the Turks – whose posts were just a stone’s throw away.
Barlow’s citation reads:
“For great gallantry and ability on the night of the 21st-22nd June 1915, at Quinn’s Post (Dardanelles). On his own initiative he crawled from the trench to reconnoitre an enemy bombproof shelter some distance away. He was successful in dropping two bombs into it, and returned with two Turkish bombs which he found outside. Throughout the operations, he has distinguished himself as a most courageous and skilful bomb thrower.”
Reginald Miles served with distinction in both world wars. He began his service in Gallipoli as a forward observation officer and was wounded, but returned to duty just before evacuation in December 1915.
Following his marriage in Egypt, he served on the Somme in 1916 in command of 15 Howitzer Battery and won a Military Cross (MC) for outstanding command under heavy shelling. In 1917, he took over command of 6 Howitzer Battery and in April 1918, during an attack at Ploegsteert Wood, Captain Miles fought alongside his men when the Germans almost overwhelmed them. The enemy were within 500 yards and his ammunition was exhausted. Miles rallied his men, including some infantry stargglers, and later made a reconnaissance into the wood; sending back valuable information. As he was trying to free one of his guns from the thick mud he was finally wounded by fifle-fire at close range. Recommended for a Victoria Cross, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
John ‘Blackie’ Burns was born in Napier in 1917 and educated at St Patrick’s College in Wellington (including four years with the school’s cadets). In 1936, he attended the Royal Military College in Duntroon, Australia, graduating in 1938. It was here that he earned the nickname ‘Blackie’.
In 1942, during the Battle of El Alamein (with 30 Battery, 6 Field Regiment), he was captured and later imprisoned in Northern Italy. Three times he escaped from prisoner of war camps, the third time successfully. He then spent nine months ‘on the run’ and was later given sanctuary in the Santa Maria dell’ Anima Monastery in Rome before rejoining the New Zealand Division at Sora in June 1944. After recuperating in England, he served with the 5th and 6th Field Regiments and 7 Anti-Tank Regiment. In 1945 he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
18,000 New Zealanders lost their lives fighting on the Western Front during World War One. One of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, was Sergeant Dave Gallaher captain of the 1905 “Original All Blacks.”
“Dave was a man of sterling worth … girded by great self-determination and self control. He was a valuable friend and could be, I think, a remorseless foe. To us All Blacks his words would often be ‘Give nothing away: take no chances’ …”
Ernest Booth, member of the 1905 “Originals”
Dave Gallaher first saw action during the Boer War in South Africa. He enlisted again after the death of his younger brother, on 25 July 1916, at 40 years of age and was sent overseas.