National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Collegiate ‘Old Boy’ Shelled in France

William Bey

William Bey

William Farquharson Bey was born on 29 May 1886 in Greytown to parents Dr William and Eveline Bey.

William (junior) studied electrical engineering in Wellington after leaving Whanganui Collegiate, but later relinquished that career in order to farm the ‘Springbank’ Estate in Gladstone. His father, Dr William Bey was the Honorary Surgeon for the Greytown Rifles.

William Bey enlisted on 3 October 1916. He was 30 at the time and so his enlistment came as a surprise to his family.

William Bey completed training at Trentham and Featherston and embarked from Wellington with the 25th Reinforcements on 24 April 1917 aboard the Tofua bound for Plymouth, England, arriving on 20 July 1917.

On arrival, William Bey was promoted to Sergeant but reverted to Private voluntarily when attached to the Otago Infantry Battalion.

From the south of England, William Bey entrained north and marched into Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plain – a bleak, unfriendly place. Here the men underwent training of musketry drill, trench digging, gas training, bomb throwing and of course, plenty of marching.

On 15 September 1917, William Bey marched the two-mile trek to Bulford and then entrained to the south coast and off to France and into the field.

William Bey would be again promoted to Sergeant and he saw action in both France and Belgium.

In August 1918, the New Zealand Division was in France and involved in a battle to capture the town of Bapaume, which was steadfastly held by tough German soldiers.

On 25 August 1918, the Otago Battalion was subjected to heavy machine gun fire, artillery and gas during their attack on Biefvillers near Bapaume. William Bey’s unit, 4th Company lost over 50% of their strength that day, and William was one of those who fell, aged 32.

It is recorded that William was mortally wounded by a bursting shell and as he was carried to a Regimental Aid Post (RAP), he gradually became weaker and passed away. He was buried near the village of Biefvillers close to the scene of his last fight but later his original grave could not be located and he is commemorated on the Grevillers (New Zealand) Memorial, Grevillers British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.

William Bey is also commemorated on the Memorial gates, Greytown Soldiers Memorial Park, Kuratawhiti Street, Greytown.