WILLIAMS, Leslie John
(Service number 10/3125)
|First Rank||Private||Last Rank||Private|
|Date||18 February 1896||Place of Birth||Dunedin|
|Date||14 June 1915||Age||19 years|
|Address at Enlistment||Post-office, Martinborough|
|Previous Military Experience||P&T (Post & Telegraph) Corps Wellington - 6 years (still serving)|
|Next of Kin||Mrs E. WILLIAMS (mother), Beverley Road, Timaru|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 6 inches. Weight 116 lbs. Chest measurement 29½-32½ inches. Complexion dark. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Sight, hearing and colour vision all normal. Limbs well formed. Full and perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth good. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. "This man is rather under weight but a few weeks training will help him to put it on."|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||7th Reinforcements|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||Wellington Infantry Battalion|
|Date||9 October 1915|
|Transport||Aparima or Navua or Warrimoo|
|Embarked From||Wellington, N.Z||Destination||Suez, Egypt|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With||Wellington Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion|
|Campaigns||Egyptian; Western European (Somme)|
|Service Medals||1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal|
Award Circumstances and Date
Prisoner of War Information
|Date of Capture|
|Where Captured and by Whom|
|Actions Prior to Capture|
|PoW Serial Number|
Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses
6 July 1915 at Trentham Camp admitted to hospital - measles.
|Date||16 September 1916||Age||20 years|
|Place of Death||Somme, France|
|Cause||Killed in action|
|Notices||Timaru Herald, 7 October 1916; Evening Post, 10 October 1916; Evening Star, 13 October 1916|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, Caterpiller Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, France|
|New Zealand Memorials||On Memorial wall, Timaru; Waimataitai School War Memorial; Martinborough First World War Memorial (as L. WILLIAMS)|
Leslie John Williams, the son of John Alexander and Eleanor (née Hambleton) Williams, was born on 18 February 1896 at Dunedin. He was educated at George Street School, Dunedin, and at Waimataitai School after the family moved to Timaru in 1903. It was at Waimataitai that Leslie won an award for Proficiency in Standard III in 1903; and again in 1906 he was rewarded. He was one of many ex-pupils who had gone or were on their way to the front and whose names appeared on the Waimataitai School “Roll of Honour” drawn up in August 1915. In October 1912 at the Timaru Technical School, L. J. Williams was awarded a certificate for English; and in October 1913 he passed Commercial English, 2nd Class.
The family suffered a big loss when their father, a Timaru Post Office employee, died on 21 December 1912 at Timaru. He had a keen interest in the Boy Scout movement, and one imagines that Leslie may well have been under his tutelage.
In May 1914 as a distributor in the telegraph office Leslie was transferred from Timaru to Wellington on promotion. By 1915 he was a telegraphist at the Martinborough Post Office, having been appointed to the position of cadet there in March. His widowed mother who was his next-of-kin, was still living in Timaru.
Leslie had been serving for some years in the Post and Telegraph Corps and had registered for compulsory military training at Timaru. At the outbreak of war he was engaged on duty at local forts. On enlisting in June 1915, he was only 19 years old, though he gave his age as 20 and his birth year as 1895. Leslie weighed only 116 pounds and had a chest expansion of only 29½-32½ inches, but he was otherwise in good health. The following remark was entered into his medical examination report – “This man is rather under weight but a few weeks training will help him to put it on.” He was one of the Wairarapa men who left for Trentham camp in early June 1915. While in camp he was admitted to the Racecourse Hospital with measles and subsequently granted a week’s sick leave.
Following his recover he eventually embarked on 9 October 1915 with the Seventh Reinforcements, a private in the Wellington Infantry Battalion. He joined his Battalion in January 1916 and embarked for France on 6 April.
The next news of Private Leslie John Williams came in Casualty List No 422 - to the effect that he had been killed in action on 16 September 1916 at the Somme, France. One of 178 reported killed in action in the 422nd casuality list issued on the night of 6 October 1916. Les was killed near Flers in the morning of 16 September while on duty with a Company attacking the enemy trenches. He was buried nearby in a corner of the village of Flers, together with other New Zealanders, a Chaplain reading the service and his comrades erecting a rough cross. At this time his older brother Herbert Ralph Williams who also served in World War One, was in camp preparing to leave with the 18th Reinforcements. In a sad coincidence Leslie was killed on the same day in France as his cousin Charles Leslie Hutchinson.
Les, as he was known to the family, was remembered in a very touching In Memoriam notice in the Timaru Herald of 15 September 1917:
“But youth's fair form, though fallen, is over fair.
And beautiful in death the boy appears.
The hero boy that dies in blooming years:
In man's regret he lives, and woman's tears.
More sacred than'in life, and lovelier far,
For having perished in the front of war.”
Leslie’s medals (1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal) were sent to his mother, as were the plaque and scroll. In good scout “Be Prepared” practice, young Leslie left a will, drawn up on 29 July 1915. It is very clear and very precise, appointing his mother as sole executor and trustee, and naming her as the beneficiary of the moneys from his insurance policy and superannuation fund.
Included with Leonard's probate is a letter addressed to “My dear Mrs Williams” from Charles E. Reid, “In the Trenches” and dated 14 October 1916. Reid was a Lieutenant attached to Private Williams’ Wellington Infantry Regiment. His father was a lifetime friend of Leslie’s late father, and he would send messages via Les to members of the Williams family who were his own friends. “. . . . it is with deep feeling – how deep I cannot express – that I write these lines to give you what particulars I can” he writes. “He (Private Williams) was the youngest I think in the Section and was one of the most popular – a good soldier, cheerful, hard worker, and as brave as anyone could wish. No words of mine can express how the boys miss him – that is those who are left – and we suffered heavily. . . . We can only hope that in the midst of your grief you will be proud to think that Les lived his life as God had ordained and died for what he considered his duty – the cause for which we are all fighting.”
Leslie John Williams is remembered on the Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, Caterpiller Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, France, and on the Timaru War Memorial Wall, the Waimataitai School War Memorial, and the Martinborough First World War Memorial.
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [19 February 2014]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5557 0122915) [27 November 2015]; CWGC 09 March 2014]; Timaru Herald, 18 December 1903, 21 December 1906, 12 October 1912, 23 December 1912 [x 3], 24 December 1912, 15 October 1913, 29 May 1914, 30 August 1915, 7 October 1916 [x 3], 13 October 1916, 15 September 1917, 30 January 1918, Evening Post, 2 June 1914, Wairarapa Age, 29 March 1915, Wairarapa Daily Times, 7 June 1915, Otago Daily Times, 7 October 1916, New Zealand Herald, 7 October 1916, Press, 9 October 1916, Evening Post, 10 October 1916, Evening Star, 13 October 1916, Free Lance, 13 October 1916 (Papers Past) [07, 08 & 18 March 2014; 28 October 2015; 19 November 2015; 22 & 25 April 2016; 26 September 2016]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [07 March 2014; (School Admission Records (Dunedin Branch NZSG; South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [07 March 2014]; Probate record (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [22 April 2016]; photo of Martinborough First World War Memorial (nzhistory.net.nz - http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/martinborough-war-memorial) [26 September 2016]
- Letter condolence from Charles Reid, 1916 - courtesy of Archives NZ (pdf, 1.2 MB updated 11-Jan-2017)
- Great War Stories - Leslie John WILLIAMS - Timaru Herald 7 September 2017 (pdf, 191.0 KB updated 07-Oct-2017)
Researched and Written by
Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG
Currently Assigned to
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License unless otherwise stated.
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