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

Fitzroy Boy Missing on Chunuk Bair

William Henry Tanner

William Henry Tanner

William Henry Tanner was born in New Plymouth on 11 April 1892 to parents Frederick and Eleanor Tanner.

He attended schooling in Fitzroy before heading down to Hawera to work as a carrier.

One week after the outbreak of World War One, William Tanner enlisted on 12 August 1914, aged 22. He headed to Trentham Camp with the 11th Taranaki boys to become part of the Wellington Infantry Battalion under the command of the tough Lieutenant Colonel William Malone.

William Tanner embarked with the Main Body on 16 October 1914 aboard the Arawa bound for Suez, Egypt.

Once there, the tough training regime in and around Zeitoun Camp took its toll on William Tanner, who took ill and when the rest of his unit was sent to Gallipoli, William was transferred to Malta spending time in both the Mtarfa and Forrest Hospitals before being sent back to Alexandria on the ship Seang Bee on 12 July 1915 and then off to Gallipoli on 28 July.

Eleven days later, 10/797 Private William Tanner would be involved in the major attack at Chunuk Bair.

On 8 August, the Wellingtons advanced up the hill at dawn. Their strength was 805 men. When they first charged there was very little resistance and they reached the peak with relative ease. They could see the light bouncing off the water in the strait below. It was quiet for about an hour. The men tried to dig into the hard ground and ready themselves.

When the Turks came, it was hell. They came from a number of angles and heavy fire followed. Many men of the Wellington Battalion were killed or wounded and there would be no let up for two days. Hand to hand fighting was bloody and brutal. Men were bayoneted and choked to death.

During the fierce fighting on the 8th, William Tanner was killed. It is unknown when he fell but his body was never retrieved from the hill and he was initially listed as ‘missing’.

It was later confirmed that he was ‘killed in action’ during the assault on Chunuk Bair. William was just 23.

William Tanner is commemorated on Panel 23 of the Chunuk Bair (NZ) Memorial, Gallipoli, Turkey, as well as the Fitzroy School Memorial in New Plymouth.

As a sad footnote, his brother Frederick Tanner was also killed in action, in France on 16 April 1918.