O'BRIEN, Richard Patrick
(Service number 68548)

Aliases Known as Dick
First Rank Private Last Rank Rifleman


Date 12 February 1884 Place of Birth Timaru

Enlistment Information

Date 14 September 1917 Age 33 years 7 months
Address at Enlistment Fairlie
Occupation Farm labourer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin M. J. O'BRIEN (brother), c/o J. White, Solicitor, Timaru
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 ft 6½ in. Weight 124 lbs. Chest measurement 33-35 in. Complexion pallid. Eyes blue. Hair dark. Sight – both eyes 6/6. Hearing & colour vision both normal. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart & lungs normal. Illnesses trivial. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated (right). Good bodily & mental health. No slight defects. No fits. Met with an accident to his right leg 7 yrs ago. No . . . . Class A.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 33rd Reinforcements, Canterbury Infantry Battalion, C Company
Date 31 December 1917
Transport Athenic
Embarked From Wellington Destination Glasgow, Scotland
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Military Awards

Service Medals British War Medal; Victory Medal
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date 21 May 1919 Reason On termination of period of engagement.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

27 April 1918 - admitted to Military Hospital at Camm Chase – mumps; discharged 16 March. 6 December 1918 - released from prisoner of war camp, arrived at Leith & admitted to 2nd Scottish Hospital at Edinburgh - debility.

Post-war Occupations

Motor driver


Date 7 December 1919 Age 35 years
Place of Death Burke's Pass
Cause Motor accident
Notices Timaru Herald, 8 December 1919
Memorial or Cemetery Timaru Cemetery
Memorial Reference General Section, Row 24, Plot 302
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

Richard Patrick O’Brien, known as Dick, was born on 12 February 1884 at Timaru and baptised Roman Catholic there on 16 March following, the second son of William and Mary (née O’Connor) O’Brien, both of whom hailed from Ireland. Dick was educated at Adair School, where he received a prize for third in Standard III Proficiency in 1893. His older brother Martin and his sister Chrissie also featured in the prize list. The following year, when every child in the school received a present, Dick was awarded a prize for Standard IV Proficiency. Martin and Chrissie again received prizes, too. In 1896 Dick’s prize was for Standard VI Writing, and along with all the other children he received a present.

William O’Brien, who for many years had worked as a gardener on the Otipua Estate and served on the Adair School committee, took possession of the Royal Hotel, Temuka, in mid June 1900. From there he transferred to the Arowhenua Hotel, where he died on 6 April 1903, leaving a widow, five sons and one daughter. Mrs Mary O’Brien died in July 1912 and was buried at Timaru with her husband. Richard, as the representative of the executors in his mother’s estate, sought an extension of authority to conduct the license of the Arowhenua Hotel until probate was granted. Christina O’Brien, the only daughter of Mrs Mary O’Brien of Arowhenua, married Hugh Brosnahan on 23 August 1910 at St Joseph’s Church, Temuka, Chrissie was given away by her brother Martin and was attended by Lucy Gosling who married Martin in 1911. Mr R. O’Brien was the groomsman. For some years Richard lived with his mother at Arowhenua, then may have spent a short time in the North Island before going to Fairlie. Richard P. O’Brien was fined ten shillings at the Temuka Magistrate’s Court in January 1913 for riding without lights.

A newspaper report indicated that Richard had volunteered for the Ninth Reinforcements but had been rejected. He enlisted on 14 September 1917 at Timaru, at the age of 33 years 7 months. He was a farm labourer at Fairlie, single and Roman Catholic. Standing at 5 feet 6½ inches, weighing 124 pounds, and with a chest measurement of 33-35 inches, he had a pallid complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. His sight, hearing, colour vision, heart and lungs were all normal, his limbs and chest well formed. He was free of diseases, vaccinated, and in good bodily and mental health. He had had only trivial illnesses, although he had met with an accident to his right leg 7 years earlier. He was classified Class A.

He nominated his eldest brother - Martin J. O’Brien, care of J. White, Solicitor, Timaru – as next-of-kin. Martin was to be next-of-kin for his three brothers who served overseas. The men comprising the South Canterbury quota of the 35th Reinforcements left Timaru by the express on 15 October 1917, after a brief farewell at the Drill Shed. One of those men was R. P. O’Brien. They had been entertained by the Soldiers’ Reception Committee at a farewell social on 12th in Olympia Hall. The hall was decorated with the flags of the Allies, and great entertainment, refreshments were provided. The Mayor remarked that “during the past week they had heard of some great exploits performed by the New Zealanders in France. They had been in a great advance and they knew that very soon long lists of casualties would be coming through, bringing sadness to many homes. They could only hope that the late victories would bring the day of peace nearer.” He extended the best wishes of the citizens to the men leaving for camp.

A highly successful send-off to Private R. O’Brien and two companions was held in the Fairlie Public Hall in late November 1917. The hall was well filled and “there was not one dull moment during the whole of the evening.” An excellent programme of songs and dances was given. Hope was expressed in the farewell addresses that the departing soldiers “would safely return to take their places again in the community after the war. The district could not afford to lose such worthy young men, who were, one and all, a credit to the place. “ Cheers were given for the soldiers and the proceedings ended as they had begun with the singing of the National Anthem.

Private R. P. O’Brien embarked at Wellington on 31 December 1917, with the Canterbury Infantry Regiment of the 33rd Reinforcements, destined for Glasgow, Scotland, where he disembarked on 25 February 1918. In February 1918 O’Brien had 5 shillings 1 pence deducted as a punishment for deficiency of kit. He marched into No 34 Camp at Larkhill on 26 February 1918. He was admitted to the Rugeley Military Hospital at Cannock Chase on 27 April 1918, with mumps, and was discharged to Brocton Camp on 16 March. From Brocton he proceeded overseas on 24 August 1918, marched into camp at Etaples and then joined his Battalion.

In early November 1918 came news no one wanted to hear. Mr M. J. O’Brien, of Highfield, received official advice that his brother, Private R. P. (Dick) O’Brien, 68548, N.Z. Rifle Brigade, who had been on the Western Front, was reported missing as of 5 October last. By mid December 1918 the news was better. Private Richard Patrick O’Brien, who had been previously reported missing and a prisoner of war, had been repatriated. He had been released on 6 December 1918, and arriving at Leith, he was admitted to the 2nd Scottish Hospital at Edinburgh, suffering from debility. A private cable received by his brother stated that he had arrived at Edinburgh, Scotland. He had been a prisoner of war in Germany for two months, nearly dying there from starvation.

The details of the Abridged Medical Board, dated 12 February 1919, were as follows - The debility followed on diarrhoea in Germany in October 1918. Was taken prisoner of war on 5 October 1918. Developed diarrhoea five days later. Was in Germany 5 or 6 weeks with dysentery & was then repatriated. Admitted Craigleith Hospital 10 December 1918. Dysentery 3 days. (12 February 1919) Infection. Complains of diarrhoea & general weakness. Goes to latrines 3 or 4 times a day but does not pass blood. Epigastres..ea slightly tender otherwise abdomen regular. Weight 9 stone 11 pounds. Normal weight 10 stone 7 pounds. Heart & lungs regular. Infection on Active Service. Disabiility considered of minimum 3 months duration. Assessed at less than 20% disability.

He reported to Codford in January 1919 and was granted leave till March. The “Corinthic” (Draft 236), bringing home Private R. P. O’Brien, 68548, of Timaru, arrived at Lyttelton on 22 April 1919. He had embarked at Tilbury on 12 March. The Medical Board Proceedings of 27 March 1919 stated that he was returning to his brother at Timaru, suffering debility after diarrhoea and infection. He had recovered. R. O’Brien and four fellow returned soldiers received the usual very enthusiastic reception from the Fairlie folk on their arrival in town. The Fairlie Brass Band enlivened proceedings with patriotic music, a short address of welcome was given, and the crowd at the station cheered the men. A week or so later, a big social was held in the Public Hall in honour of twelve returned men, although several could not be present. The hall was brightly decorated in patriotic colours. Vocal items, music, dancing and a bountiful supper were enjoyed by all. When the soldiers were paraded on the stage, “they received a vociferous volley of cheering”. They were given a very hearty welcome, wished prosperity in the future, and accorded musical honours. At the annual meeting of the Ashwick Flat Patriotic Entertainment Committee held in May 1919 it was noted that Private R. O’Brien was one of those who had been welcomed home since the inception of the committee in March 1916. “The committee feel that too much cannot be done for the brave lads who have assisted to bring about the victory of the Allies.”

On his return home Dick went back to the employ of Mr Bourn at Fairlie. He had been discharged on 21 May 1919, on the termination of his period of engagement. Sadly, before long, tragedy was to strike. On 7 December 1919 Richard Patrick O’Brien, thirty-five years of age, was killed in an accident at Burke’s Pass, “at the foot of the Long Cutting near the Sawdon Station gate”. He was driving a motor lorry loaded with timber from Fairlie to Tekapo, when, it was supposed, the gears slipped when he attempted to change them, and the lorry ran back down the hillside, capsized, and the timber fell on his head. The evidence given at the inquest showed that he was a careful, steady driver. He had probably been killed instantaneously. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

A military funeral was held in Timaru on the 9th, leaving the Catholic Church at 10am for the cemetery. Returned soldiers paraded at the Drill Shed, in uniform at 9.30am, and acted as pall bearers and formed a firing party at the cemetery. The Rev. Father Bartley, a returned chaplain, conducted the burial service. “Among the floral tributes received was a beautiful wreath from the Returned Soldiers’ Association of Mackenzie County, where the late soldier was well known.” 68548 Rifleman R. P. O’Brien was laid to rest with his parents in the Timaru Cemetery, though there is no inscription to remember him. “Requiescat in pace.” [Timaru Herald 8 December 1919.] R. P. O’Brien is remembered on the Timaru War Memorial Wall.

In 1922 it was authorised that Richard’s medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal - be sent to his executor, his brother Martin. On 30 March 1918, No 68448 Richard Patrick O’Brien, of Timaru, coachdriver, but now a Rifleman of the NZ Rifle Brigade, declared that he had made a Will before departure from New Zealand and left it in the custody of Martin Joseph O’Brien (Brother) of Craigie Street, Timaru, NZ. It appears that probate was not sought. Two of his brothers – William Edward O’Brien and John Gregory O’Brien – also served in World War One. A nephew, Bernard Gregory O’Brien, the son of Martin, lost his life in World War Two. Charles William Gosling, a brother his sister-in-law, Lucy (Mrs M. J. O’Brien), died of wounds in 1916 in France. Martin Joseph O’Brien was listed on the Reserve Rolls, being a married man with two children.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [29 May 2016]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5549 0087449) [06 May 2021]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [29 May 2016]; School Admission record (South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [01 May 2021]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [19 December 2016; 06 May 2021]; Timaru Cemetery burial record (Timaru District Council) [04 May 2021]; Timaru Herald, 26 December 1893, 22 December 1894, 1 June 1900, 27 August 1910, 22 January 1913, 2 October 1916, 13 October 1917, 28 November 1917, 6 November 1918, 11 & 20 December 1918, 29 April 1919, 14 May 1919 [x 2], 8 December 1919 [x 2], 9 December 1919 [x 2], 10 December 1919, South Canterbury Times, 22 December 1894, 26 December 1896, Temuka Leader, 7 April 1903, 5 September 1912, 5 December 1912,11 December 1919, NZ Tablet, 1 September 1910, NZ Times, 5 November 1918, 10 April 1919, Evening Post, 19 December 1918, Evening Star, 19 December 1918, Sun, 20 December 1918, 10 December 1919, Southland Times, 10 December 1919, Colonist 12 December 1919 (Papers Past) [22 May 2016; 19 & 20 December 2016; 08 August 2017; 04, 07 & 09 May 2021]; Catholic Diocese of Christchurch baptism index (CD held by South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [May 2021]

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