New Zealand Soldiers’ War Stories
Discover the real war 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.
- 4/1232 Lieutenant John McKee
- Whanganui Teacher Wounded at Messines
- 16/757 Private Tamati Te Patu MM
- A Young Man Disappears
- An Anzac receives France’s Croix de Guerre
- Brigadier Frank Leslie Hunt OBE
- Bugler George Bissett
- Missing Believed Killed at the Daisy Patch
- Bravery at Gallipoli
- A Gallipoli Soldier Remembered
- A Prisoner of War Medic
- The Fox
- World War II Coastwatchers 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
- All Black Dave Gallaher Remembered
John McKee was born on 3 July 1876 in Thames. He completed his apprenticeship as a carpenter before undertaking three years Volunteer service with the Piako Rifles. John then sailed to South Africa to take part in the 2nd Anglo Boer War, enlisting on 11 April 1902 aged 24 and serving as a Sergeant with the 10th Contingent, NZ Mounted Rifles. By all accounts hew was an expert rifle shot. When the New Zealanders came home, John, now a Warrant Officer was attached to the Royal Engineers in South Africa during reconstruction of the Cape Colony where his carpentry skills proved invaluable.
When World War One broke out, John McKee felt a strong sense of duty and enlisted once more on 9 December 1915, aged 38 as Company Sergeant Major of the Tunnelling Company, New Zealand Engineers. John survived the war and after returning to New Zealand his name was published in the London Gazette in July 1919 as having been awarded a MiD (Mentioned in Despatches) by General Sir Douglas Haig for “distinguished and gallant service and devotion to duty during operation over the period 16th September 1918 to the end of hostilities”.
Roland Blennerhassett was born in Auroa, Hawera on 3 May 1897. Coming from a large family of two girls and seven boys, six of the Blennerhassett brothers would find themselves enlisting for service before the end of WWI. Roland enlisted in December 1915 while working as a teacher in Whanganui. He undertook his pre-deployment training at Trentham and Featherston Camp before embarking on 25 July 1916 aboard the Waitemata bound for Devonport, England.
“How does it feel to be under enemy fire or resisting enemy attack? Well, there is fear, deadly fear of being blotted out, or worse, being mangled and alive! But many factors help one in the hour of stress. Perhaps the strongest is the fear of showing fear. Then there’s the example and comradeship of one’s mates, that something called esprit de corps. There’s the background of months of training, discipline and hard living. And finally there’s the job to do – one simply hasn’t time to think of anything but the vital need to carry out his job. This is specially true of officers and NCOs who have the responsibility of men under their charge. Finally I found battle action itself awful but very thrilling – a tense urge to acquit myself reasonably well. The worse phase is the waiting before hand – nothing to do but think and wonder while awaiting the enemy’s attack or one’s own zero hour. It is then one’s thoughts turn to home and those thoughts tend to break one’s nerves.” Roland Blennerhassett
Tamati (also known as Thomas) Te Patu was born on 19 December 1895 at Karioi, near Waiouru. At the outbreak of World War One, Tamati was farming at Karioi with his father Tirepa. He enlisted on 1 July 1915 and began his training with the Māori Contingent at Narrowneck Camp on the North Shore of Auckland.
He embarked from Wellington on 4 February 1916 aboard the Navua bound for Suez, Egypt, arriving on 15 March. From there, he left for France and went into the field with the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, who were not a front line unit but were responsible for engineering duties, digging trenches, building roads and railways. A lot of this work was carried out under enemy fire and therefore dangerous. For the Messines offensive in June 1917, the Pioneers were given the task of linking the newly captured Messines Ridge to the front line by digging communication trenches. During this work, Tamati Te Patu and other Pioneers came under attack. For his brave efforts, Tamati was awarded the Military Medal (MM).
A series of World War One embroidered postcards held within the Museum’s archives were sent by Private Rupert Sydney Taucher to loved ones at home in New Zealand during his time in England and the Western Front. The postcards reveal the close relationship he shared with his family despite the long distance that separated them. Unfortunately 0n 24 November 1917, Rupert was part of a cable-laying party and for some reason he became separated from the rest of the group. When the men returned to camp, Rupert was not with them and what happened to him was unknown.
A Court of Enquiry was held on 25 January 1918 and several witnesses were interviewed with one soldier saying he saw Rupert about 150 yards to the left of the cable-laying part and he appeared alright. No one could really say what occurred so the enquiry declared it was “Reasonable to suppose dead in the field on 24 November 1917.” Rupert never returned and his body never found. He was 22 and is commemorated on the Buttes New British Cemetery (NZ) Memorial, Polygon Wood, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
The Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration, was one of the most common medals issued by a foreign government to British and Commonwealth personnel during WWI. Translated as Cross of War or Military Cross, the medal was rewarded to acknowledge heroic deeds in the face of the enemy. Foreigners chosen to receive the medal were recognized for their gallantry while directly involved with French forces, either fighting alongside them or in a feat of bravery involving one of their countrymen.
One such New Zealander was 12/9 Lieutenant Francis Leveson-Gower West of the Auckland Infantry Battalion. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm by the French government in 1919 for “gallantry on the field of action”. Lieutenant Francis West’s Croix de Guerre and additional military decoration are housed at the National Army Museum in our Medal Repository.
By Alison Jones
Three future generations of Brigadier Frank Leslie Hunt came to view his story recently in the latest Gallipoli exhibition “Ripping Yarns from the Peninsula“.
Brig Hunt was a career soldier and his service with the New Zealand Army would span some 30 plus years – seeing active service during both World War One and later World War Two, eventually retiring from the Army in 1949.
The tale of Brig Frank Leslie Hunt OBE, is one of twenty stories being told in the current display in the Hassett Gallery at the National Army Museum.
Frank’s son John Hunt and his wife Margaret, together with their daughter Dayle Anderson and Dayle’s daughter Lucy, who was in New Zealand on a visit from her home and career in Germany, where she is a flutist with the Frankfurt Chamber Orchestra, all visited last month to see Frank’s story and personal artefacts.
The ‘battle scarred’ bugle and medal group of the young George Bissett who was killed during the early fighting at Gallipoli are among 20 special stories of ordinary New Zealanders in extraordinary circumstances currently on display in the museum’s latest exhibition “Gallipoli: Ripping Yarns from the Peninsula“.
Bissett was only 20 years old when he landed at ANZAC Cove on the evening of April 25 1915 with the Wellington Infantry Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Malone.
As a Bugler, he was responsible for rousing the troops with reveille, last post, food calls and so on. In battle, he would also be required to convey command signals via the bugle, meaning buglers were often the target of snipes as this would cut off lines of communication. As World War One progressed, this function of the Bugler would cease as calls could not be heard over the noise of battle.
On 27 April, during the Battle of the Landing on Russell’s Top (Walker’s Ridge), young George Bissett was killed, his body found lying face down with his bugle on his back.
6/225 Private Thomas Eyles a motor mechanic from Blenheim served with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion during WWI.
Having survived the landing at ANZAC Cove and repelling wave upon wave of Turkish attacks in the following week, on 5th May 1915, Thomas Eyles was amongst the men shipped down to Cape Helles to prepare for the second attack of Krithia also known as the Daisy Patch.
On Saturday the 8th of May, the New Zealanders and the Australians attacked Krithia. It was a disaster. At 10.30am, the whole line moved forward, only to be hit by lethal machine gun fire. Men dropped along the length of the line as bullets ripped into them. Those that weren’t hit tried to dig for cover in the hard ground, while others just lay there. Those that tried to return to the start-point were inevitably hit in the back.
After three days of fighting, the Allies lost 6,500 men and advanced a paltry 500 metres. For the New Zealanders, there were 850 casualties on the 8th; 170 killed and more would die later of their wounds. Private Thomas Eyles was one of those killed on the 8th. His body was never recovered and he was initially listed as “Missing” but following a Court of Enquiry held at the NZ Infantry Brigade HQ, Moascar Camp, Ismailia on 16 January 1916, Thomas Eyles was declared “Now Believed Killed”.
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).
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.
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 was awarded 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 stragglers, 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 rifle-fire at close range. Recommended for a Victoria Cross, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
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.