RAE, William John
(Service number 27367)

Aliases John, Johnnie
First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 31 August 1890 Place of Birth Peel Forest

Enlistment Information

Date 31 May 1916 Age 25 years
Address at Enlistment Lake Tekapo, Fairlie
Occupation Shepherd
Previous Military Experience 8th SC Mounted Rifles - Exempted
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Mrs Eliza RAE (mother), Peel Forest, South Canterbury
Religion Church of England
Medical Information Height 5 feet 6 inches. Weight 154 lbs. Chest 33-36 inches. Complexion fresh. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Eyes both 6/6. Hearin & colour vision good. Limbs & chest well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Heart & lungs normal. No illnesses. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily & mental health. No defects. No fits.

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 17th Reinforcements, J Company
Date 25 September 1916
Transport Devon
Embarked From Wellington Destination Devonport, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Western European (Messines)
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 Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

19 March 1917 admitted to No. 7 General Hospital at St Omer - sick (mumps). Rejoined Unit on 19 April 1917.

Post-war Occupations


Date 7 May 1917 Age 26 years
Place of Death In the Field, Messines, Belgium
Cause Killed in action
Memorial or Cemetery St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery, Heuvelland, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium; Memorial stone at Church of the Holy Innocents, Mount Peel.
Memorial Reference II. E. 14.
New Zealand Memorials Timaru Memorial Wall; Geraldine War Memorial (originally as H Rae?); Fairlie War Memorial; St Stephen's Anglican Church, Fairlie; Peel Forest War Memorial (as J. W. RAE); St Mary's Anglican Church, Geraldine; Ashburton War Memorial

Biographical Notes

William John Rae, known as John or Johnnie, was the son of James Rae from Scotland and his New Zealand born wife, Eliza née Griffin, of Peel Forest, Canterbury. Born on 31 August 1890 at Peel Forest, he was baptised on 16 November 1890 at the Geraldine Presbyterian Church. John was educated at Scotsburn School, Peel Forest, and in the register has been inserted this comment – “Died for his country somewhere in France 1917”. The Raes were early settlers at Peel Forest and one of the families which gave the name Scotsburn to the settlement. His father was very likely the J. Rae who, in August 1914, contributed 5 shillings to the War Fund, specifically to the Ladies of Geraldine Equipment Fund.

Prior to the war William John Rae was a shepherd at Orari Gorge, Woodbury. He enlisted on 31 May 1916, 25 years old, a shepherd, in good condition, single, of Church of England adherence, and residing at Lake Tekapo, near Fairlie. He nominated his mother, Mrs Eliza Rae of Peel Forest, South Canterbury, as his next-of-kin. He had previously served with the 8th South Canterbury Mounted Rifles until he was exempted. John was in South Canterbury's quota of the 17th Reinforcements to leave Timaru on 31 May 1916. After entertainment at dinner by the lady members of the South Canterbury War Relief Society at the Stafford Tea Rooms, the soldiers assembled at the drill Hall to be farewelled by the Mayor and others, and then left by the second north-going express. At a social gathering at Peel Forest in August 1916 Private W. J. Rae, on final leave, was presented with a wristlet watch and a sum of money. Reference was made to the way the young men in the Peel Forest district had gone to the front, eighteen having already departed. Vocal items, dancing and music filled the evening.

He embarked on the “Devon” at Wellington on 25 September 1916. After disembarking at Devonport on 21 November 1916 he marched in to Sling on that day. A month later he left for France where he was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment. From January 1917 the name of Private J. Rae, 17th Reinforcements featured in the list of men from the Geraldine district who had gone to the front, as published regularly in the “Temuka Leader”.

On 19 March 1917 W. J. Rae was admitted to No. 7 General Hospital at St Omer – sick with mumps. Exactly a month later, on 19 April, he was able to rejoin his unit. But, as the New Zealanders were preparing to capture the village of Messines, . . . . William John Rae, 27357, was killed in action on 7 May 1917 in the Field at Messines, Belgium, 26 years old and one of twenty-nine deaths recorded in Casualty list 579. Private W. J. Rae is buried in St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery, Heuvelland, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium – just 1¾ miles west of Messines, and the burial place of 65 members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. On 22 August 1917 particulars from the official Army Form detailing his service were sent to his mother. There is a memorial stone to both William John Rae and his brother Donald Alfred Rae in the Holy Innocents Burial Ground at Mount Peel. His brother Donald died of wounds on the hospital ship Maheno on 28 August 1915. Alongside the memorial stone lie their parents. The Rae stones are near the big redwood tree in the bush. Much regret was felt for Johnnie’s widowed mother and his friends when news came through that he had made the supreme sacrifice “somewhere in France”. His father, James Rae, had died in November 1915, and now Mrs Rae was to lose a second son “in the great cause”. A notice in the “Timaru Herald” of 6 June 1917 conveyed the thanks of Mrs E. Rae and her family for telegrams, letters and expressions of sympathy in their sad bereavement. Perhaps she was the Mrs Rae who subscribed 5 shillings to the Geraldine Soldiers’ Memorial in August 1920.

John was well known and had many admiring friends, especially in the Silverstream area. He was possessed of many admirable qualities. His medals - British War Medal and Victory Medal – were sent to his mother at Peel Forest, as were the scroll in 1921 and the plaque in 1922. By his will signed on 13 September 1916, William John Rae bequeathed all his estate to his mother, Eliza Rae. Exactly one year later the Public Trustee elected to administer the property of the deceased in terms of the will. In his short life John Rae had saved well, his property consisting of Cash in Savings Bank £219.19.10, Chattels £20.0.0 and Military Pay £20.0.0.

His name is inscribed on memorials which reflect his birth place, his upbringing and his work places – Timaru Memorial Wall, Geraldine War Memorial, Fairlie War Memorial, St Stephen's Anglican Church, Fairlie, Peel Forest War Memorial (as J. W. RAE); St Mary's Anglican Church, Geraldine, and Ashburton War Memorial. The Peel Forest Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled in September 1921 by Mr Hardcastle, the Mayor of Geraldine, who said that he was grateful for the privilege of unveiling the “memorial to brave boys who had lain down their lives for their country.” Bishop Julius observed that “New Zealand was richer for their death . . . . . and the sacrifice was not for anything tangible, but for righteousness and truth”. The monument stands on a commanding position, its simplicity adding to its effectiveness. The inscription on the pedestal reads – “In memory of the men of Peel Forest who fell in the Great War, 1914-1919” and following the names “Their name liveth for ever.” Among 17 names from this small country district are those of W. J. Rae and D. A. Rae.

Following the united memorial service on Anzac Day 1922 and before one of the largest gatherings seen at Geraldine (estimated to be at least 1500 people), the memorial cross erected in grateful memory of the men of the Geraldine district who fell in the war, was unveiled. The service was a very beautiful one, and commenced with the Funeral March, the audience standing. The hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” was then sung, the people heartily joining with the massed choir. Following the address, the organist then gave a very fine rendering of the “Dead March in Saul,” and the bugler clearly and beautifully sounded “The Last Post.” The service concluded with prayer, the singing of Kipling’s “Recessional”, the Benediction, and the National Anthem. Immediately following the service the crowd gathered for the dedication of the memorial. The Territorials were drawn up on the south of the memorial, a soldier standing at each corner with arms reversed., with heads bowed, in an attitude of mourning at the base of the monument. The Returned Soldiers were drawn up in a double line to the west. The memorial is in the shape of a Celtic Cross, which is of Timaru bluestone and is twenty feet in height. The proceedings opened with the National Anthem, followed by several addresses. The district’s contribution in the Great War was probably second to none in the Dominion. The men and boys to whom they were that day paying tribute, had left a legacy to the Dominion, a legacy of freedom, peace and plenty, one speaker said. The National Anthem was sung. Before unveiling the memorial, Mr T. D. Burnett, M.P., said that the British Empire had always stood for liberty and justice. After a prayer of dedication and a hymn, the Territorials saluted and “The Last Post” was sounded. A piper played a lament and wreathes were placed around the memorial, which bears the words: “In Grateful Memory of the Men of the Geraldine District who fell in the Great War, 1914-1818. These gave up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten.” On the two side tablets appear the names of those who made the great sacrifice, including H. Rae (does this refer to W. J. Rae?) and D. A. Rae. When the committee, which undertook the erection of the memorial, set about their task it had been decided that the names appearing on The Cross should be those of men who gave their lives in the Great War and who had enlisted in the Geraldine and Mount Peel Ridings of the County, or whose next of kin resided in those districts.

At the Geraldine Parish Church (St Mary’s) in late June 1924, a beautiful stained glass window and a brass tablet, erected in memory of men of the parish and church who gave their lives for their country in the Great War, were unveiled by Archbishop Julius. The church was filled to capacity, there being present many people from the outlying parts of the parish and many relatives of the fallen heroes. Perhaps some relatives of W. J. Rae and D. A. Rae were in the congregation. After the dedication of the memorial, “The Last Post” was sounded and the National Anthem sung. The window features Christ as the King of Glory above a soldier dedicating his sword to God. The ceremony was “very earnest and impressive”, and the psalm and hymns of a comforting nature. The inscription on the brass tablet reads “To the Glory of God and in grateful remembrance of these our fellow churchmen of the Geraldine parish who gave their lives for their country in the Great War, 1914-1918, this window is dedicated." The names follow, including those of W. J. Rae and D. A. Rae.

Several Rae cousins also served in World War I – Adam, Alfred William (died of wounds in 1917 in Belgium), Bernard James and Robert Ernest (Ernest had died of sickness in 1918 in France), as well as William Rae Johnstone, and more distant relatives, Charles and William Irvine. Seven Rae nephews from one family (that of Donald’s brother Thomas) served in World War II. W. J. Rae’s army photo has been attached to the Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [12 August 2013]; CWGC [03 November 2013]; N Z Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5550 0095608) [12 March 2014]; Personal research; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs); Memorial stone image, Church of the Holy Innocents (photo courtesy of Margaret Todd) [12 August 2013]; Timaru Herald, 19 August 1914, 31 May 1916, 25 May 1917, 6 & 25 June 1917, 14 July 1917, 28 August 1920, Temuka Leader, 6 January 1917, 27 April 1922, 1 July 1924, Lyttelton Times, 22 August 1916, Otago Daily Times, 25 May 1917, Press, 13 July 1917, 14 September 1921, 27 April 1922, 1 July 1924 (Papers Past) [03 April 2014; 07 January 2016; 12 & 17 November 2017; 30 April 2019; 02 May 2019]; School Admission record (South Canterbury Branch NZSG); Probate record (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [24 April 2016]

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