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

Gisborne Hairdresser Plays his Part in Two Wars

John Joseph Roberts was born on 28 May 1892 in London, England and travelled to New Zealand as a young man, with his parents remaining in the UK.

At the outbreak of World War One, John Roberts was working as a hairdresser in Gisborne.

10/1631 Private John Roberts enlisted with the Wellington Infantry Battalion on 16 December 1914 and after a period of training he embarked from Wellington on 14 February 1915 aboard the Maunganui headed for Suez, Egypt. From there, he entrained to Zeitoun Camp on the outskirts of Cairo and began the arduous training regime of route marching, drill, and shooting practice.

After two and a half months of training under the watchful eye of Colonel William Malone, John Roberts left Egypt for Lemnos, landing at Anzac Cove on the evening of 25 April 1915, along with the rest of the Wellington Battalion.

Forced to dig in and repel numerous Turkish counter-attacks, the men of the Wellington Battalion fought gallantry in those first days after the landing.

On 4 May, John Roberts was admitted to the NZ Field Ambulance on the beach with an undisclosed ailment. He was then transferred to a hospital ship off the coast, before re-joining the unit and taking part in the attack on Chunuk Bair on 8 August.

Six days later, he was placed on the hospital ship Aquitania with a hernia, possibly due to wounds received in the attack on Chunuk Bair. He was then transported to Southampton and then Weymouth for recuperation before heading back to Lemnos and then back to Gallipoli on 7 December 1915, just before the final evacuation.

Returning to Egypt (Moascar), John Roberts transferred to the NZ Army Ordnance Corps and then left for France on 6 April 1916, now promoted to Corporal.

John Roberts served with the Brigade and Divisional Headquarters in both France and England, being promoted to Sergeant on 30 January 1919.

A month later, John Roberts was hospitalised at the Ormond Street Hospital (London) with scabies, possibly from his time in the trenches. He was later transferred to Hornchurch, Essex, for convalescence before departing for New Zealand aboard the Northumberland on 28 March 1919. He would be discharged from the Army on 7 June 1919.

In World War Two, John Roberts, now working as a Salesman with Bargain Stores in Whangarei, enlisted as 812567 Sergeant John Joseph Roberts on 15 January 1941. He was 48.

He was posted to Narrow Neck Camp before being discharged on 10 April 1942 as being overage. Not deterred, John Roberts then joined the Home Guard and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with the Maungatapere Battalion, Whangarei on 1 July 1942 for the duration of the war.

John Joseph Roberts’ uniform is held at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.