WILLIAMS, Bertram Victor
(Service number 10/2473)
|First Rank||Private||Last Rank||Private|
|Date||12 June 1887||Place of Birth||Christchurch|
|Date||(1) 9 August 1914; (2) 13 June 1915||Age||(1) 27 years 2 months; (2) 28 years|
|Address at Enlistment||75 Austin Street, Wellington|
|Previous Military Experience||College Cadets, Nelson; Samoan Advance|
|Next of Kin||W. J. WILLIAMS (father), Hardwick Street, Sumner, Christchurch|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 11 inches. Weight 12 stone 12 lbs. Chest measurement 37½-40 inches. Complexion florid. Eyesblue. Hair dark. Sight - both eyes 6/24. Hearing and colour vision both good. 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.|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||(1) Samoan Advance Party. (2) 5th Reinforcements|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||Wellington Infantry Battalion|
|Date||(1) 15 August 1914; (2) 13 June 1915|
|Transport||(1) Moeraki or Monowai; (2) Maunganui or Tahiti or Aparima|
|Embarked From||Wellington||Destination||(1) Apia, Samoa; (2) Suez, Egypt (24 July - 6 August 1915)|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With||Wellington Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 17th (Ruahine) Company|
|Campaigns||Samoan Advance; Balkan (Gallipoli); Egyptian; Egyptian Expeditionary Force; Western European (France)|
|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
12 August 1915 at Dardanelles - severe gunshot wound to right foot; 16 August admitted to 15th General Hospital, Alexandria. 12 October 1915 - transferred to 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester, England. 12 August 1916 - admitted to No. 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance - ankle injury. 15 September 1916 - admitted to No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station 17 September 1916 - transferred to Convalescent Depot at Calais 20 January 1917 - admitted to hospital - sick 1 February 1917 - admitted to Field Ambulance.
|Date||8 June 1917||Age||29 years 11 months|
|Place of Death||Messines, Belgium|
|Cause||Killed in action|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium|
|New Zealand Memorials||Nelson College Roll of Honour|
Bertram Victor Williams was born on 12 June 1887 at Christchurch, the sixth son of Rev. William James and Alice Mary (née Hosking) Williams, of Sumner, Christchurch. He was educated at Timaru Main School, when his father was the Wesleyan minister at the Bank Street Church in Timaru, and later at Mount Eden School, Auckland, and Central Nelson School, before spending two years at Nelson College. His name is recorded in the school list of Nelson College. It was while the family was at Nelson that Bertram’s mother died (November 1905). His father married again, in 1908, to Alice Matilda Jeffrey. Their son, Geoffrey Alexander born in 1909, was to die at just 15 years of age.
Young Bertram followed the sea for many years prior to enlisting for World War One, having left Nelson in a sailing ship in about 1903, to serve his time at sea. He had already served in the College Cadets at Nelson. By 1904 he had acquired a taste for the sea and was living a life of adventure. He was a forecastle hand on the barque Stork during a voyage of 15½ months, for much of which the vessel was locked in the ice in the wilds of Hudson’s Bay. “It was the most desolate-looking place he had ever seen in his life a vast wilderness of snow and ice. The cold was intense, the temperature sinking some times to 40 degrees below zero. . . . . They had no steam pipes for heating the vessel, no electric light, no stores or supplies of tobacco, no specially-made rugs or sleeping bags, no library, and no musical instruments save a humble mouthorgan! Nevertheless they managed to get through the long hard winter tolerably well, although it was a rough experience. A half-breed and his wife were living on the island, and from them and various bands of Esquimaux they received much kindness arid assistance. They spent much of their time in shooting rabbits for food, about 2000 being shot in the course of the winter, and some Norwegians amongst the crew manufactured “ski”- the long snow shoes of Norway - and taught their mates low to use them. The New Zealander chummed up with a Red Indian, who took him out trapping and taught him how to set traps for the beavers. During the winter they received one mail from home, the letters coming up by Indian packet from the nearest point of civilisation.” After returning to London from this exciting yet frightening experience in December 1905, Bertram joined the barque Lutterworth and sailed for Nelson, New Zealand, where his father was residing. He was in the Lutterworth wreck in Cook Strait at the beginning of October 1906. The Lutterworth had left Timaru for Kaipara but it encountered strong winds near Kaikoura. The crew was in a serious condition when the lifeboats broke up. All were saved, though injured, in the “nick of time”.
Back in London in 1907, Bertram V. Williams, a seaman on the ship Port Jackson, committed his one pre-war indiscretion. Having recently arrived from Sydney, he assaulted the captain who had given him a bad discharge. Bertram had joined as an able seaman at Sydney but from the outset his conduct was unsatisfactory. For this offence he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. A few months later 20 year old Bertram Williams crossed from Canada to Niagara Falls, New York, USA. Back in London but this time the news was good – on 28 October 1910 at London Dock Street Port, Bertram Victor Williams (born 1887 in Christchurch, New Zealand) was awarded a Certificate of Competency as a Second Mate of a Foreign-Going Ship in the Merchant Service.
In March 1913 B. V. Williams made a holiday visit to Nelson, the town of his youth. By 1914 his father had returned to Christchurch, after stints in Auckland, Timaru, Nelson and Oamaru, whereas Bertram was based in Wellington. At the time of enlistment, on 9 August 1914 at the outbreak of war, he was a sailor with the Federal Shire Line. He was a well-built man, standing at 5 feet 11 inches, weighing over 12 stone and with a chest measurement of 37½-40 inches, although his eyesight was somewhat defective. He was single, 27 years old, of florid complexion, and naturally he was of Wesleyan persuasion. His father, W. J. Williams, then of Hardwicke Street, Sumner, Christchurch, was his nominated next-of-kin. He embarked immediately – 15 August 1914 – on the No. 2 Troopship (Monowai), a private in B Company, No. 4 Platoon with the Samoan Advance Party. A day or two later his name was in a list of Nelson College Old Boys who had gone in the Nelson section of the Expeditionary Force. In June 1915 his name was again among those of the Nelson College old boys who had “responded nobly to the Empire’s call”. His brother Hugh was Captain of the Monowai on 15 August 1914. It was all action for Rev. Williams, as Harold and Aubrey were correspondents in Russia, and Sydney was contemplating enlistment in Australia.
After eight months garrison duty in Samoa, Private B. V. Williams returned with the Wellington men. It was reported that the discipline of the troops on their return trip from Samoa was excellent. They were given a hearty welcome home by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, the Chief of the General Staff and other dignitaries, a large number of spectators and crowds of relatives and friends. In his address, the Prime Minister said that although they had not had an opportunity to use the rifle and put into practical use the training they had received, they could have the satisfaction of knowing that they had rendered good service to the Empire and New Zealand and to the British in the Pacific. The Minister of Defence reminded those who were engaging in further service that it would be work of a more serious nature, but that it would carry honour and glory with it. They would require more training, so that when they got to the front they would be equally well disciplined and trained as the soldiers of Great Britain.
On 13 June 1915, having re-enlisted, Private Williams headed for Suez, Egypt, this time with the 5th Reinforcements. This time there was to be no return. On 12 August 1915 at the Dardanelles he suffered a severe gunshot wound to the right foot, and was admitted to the 15th General Hospital, Alexandria, on 16 August. He was transferred to the 2nd Western General Hospital at Manchester, England, on 12 October 1915, and a month later discharged to Furlough. On his recovery at Hornchurch he returned to active service with the Wellington Infantry Battalion in February 1916, went back to Egypt, and from there proceeded to France in April. 12 August was not a good date for Bertram – on 12 August 1916 he was admitted to the No. 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance with an ankle injury. Just after incurring 21 days Field Punishment and forfeiting one day’s pay for leaving parade and being absent without leave, he was attached to the Bombers in France in August 1916 for two months before rejoining the Wellington Infantry. On 15 September 1916 he was admitted to the No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station and two days later transferred to the Convalescent Depot at Calais. After again rejoining his battalion he was admitted to hospital, sick, on 20 January 1917, and admitted to the Field Ambulance on 1 February. He rejoined the Wellington Infantry Battalion for the last time on 14 February 1917.
Casualty List No. 600, issued on 20 June 2017 and recording 268 deaths, brought the news that Private Bertram Victor Williams, 10/2473. Wellington Infantry Regiment, had been killed in action on 8 June 1917 in the great offensive at Messines, Belgium, four days short of his 30th birthday. His name is inscribed on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium. Although the Battle of Messines was a striking success, the New Zealanders paid a heavy price for success – a price paid in the life B. V. Williams. At St Paul’s Methodist Church, Sumner, where his father was the minister, feeling reference was made to the loss Rev. Williams had sustained, the speaker referred to the excellent service the family had rendered the Empire, and a letter of sympathy, signed by representatives of the various church societies, was forwarded to him. At the conclusion of the service, the organist played the "Dead March". At the Quarterly Board of the Methodist Circuit of Oamaru, held in mid July 1917, a resolution of sympathy was carried with respect to the Rev. W. J. Williams who had lost a son at the front and had had another son wounded. At Messines, his brother, Owen Wallis Williams, also suffered a gunshot wound (to the head), which fortunately was not serious. It was in that battle that Owen was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. Bertram, Owen, Aubrey and Sydney had previously met up in Egypt.
B. V. Williams, who had seen service in the Samoan Advance Guard, in the Balkans (Gallipoli), in Egypt, and in the Western European campaign (France), was awarded the 1914-1815 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were sent to his father, the Star in 1920, and the memorial plaque and scroll in subsequent years. Did Bertram have an uneasy feeling? A copy of his pay book will, dated 31 May 1917 – 8 days before his death – was received. “I give to Rev. W. J. Williams all my real & personal estate.”
At college Bertram took a very keen interest in football, and was in the Nelson College fifteen. He was a good all-round athlete. A tragic halt to a young man’s seafaring career, during which he had visited most parts of the world. His name is inscribed on the Nelson College Roll of Honour. In 1918 his one brother who saw no war service – Norman Rule Williams, secretary to the Nelson Education Board – remembered his younger brother Bertram. On Anzac Day 1921, at All Saints’ Church, Sumner, the dedication of the Memorial Windows and the unveiling of the Roll of Honour took place. After a most impressive sermon preached by the Bishop, the congregation sang the National Anthem and “The Last Post” was sounded. The Roll of Honour, which is handsomely framed with oak, is headed: “In the memory of the men of this district who died in the Great War, 1914-1919”, and below the names: “Their Name Liveth for Evermore.” Included in the names is that of B. V. Williams. Bertram was never a resident of Sumner, but his father was long Methodist Minister and very active in local causes. That night a united service, of prayers, scripture readings and hymns, was held in the Sumner Town Hall. The Woolston Methodist Minister said that the spirit of the men at Gallipoli manifested the highest ideals of Christianity and laid a foundation of national traditions in the Dominion.
Of the seven sons of William and Alice, six saw service in the war. The oldest brother Harold Whitmore Williams was a noted war correspondent in World War I. The second brother Hugh Hosking Williams who served in World War I and World War II with the Merchant Navy, died a prisoner of war in 1945. Aubrey Lewis Williams enlisted with the New Zealand Forces in London and was also a war correspondent. Owen Wallis Williams served in World War I and returned to New Zealand; and the youngest brother, Sydney Lory Williams, enlisted with the Australian Forces and lived afterwards in New South Wales. The Reverend Williams died in 1936, predeceased by Bertram, his oldest son Harold, and the only son of his second marriage. Captain Hugh was then in Hong Kong, Aubrey was in London, Owen was chaplain of Christ’s College, Norman had moved to Christchurch, and Sydney was an inter-colonial steamship officer.
A portrait of Bertram Victor Williams, 10/2473, is published in “Onward: Portraits of the NZEF”, Volume 2 \
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [08 March 2014]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5557 0122606) [21 November 2014]; CWGC [13 March 2014]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [March 2014]; Auckland Star, 26 December 1905, 12 June 1907, 11 May 1936, Nelson Evening Mail, 8 January 1906, 5 March 1913, 19 August 1914, 21 June 1917, Star, 30 April 1907, 25 August 1914, 30 June 1917, Wanganui Herald, 30 April 1907, Press, 1 May 1907, 21 August 1915, 21 & 25 June 1917, 11 July 1917, 26 April 1921, Evening Star, 13 June 1907, 21 June 1917, Evening Post, 15 August 1914, 14 April 1915, 20 August 1915, 15 October 1915, Dominion, 15 August 1914, 15 April 1915, 15 October 1915, Colonist, 7 June 1915, 21 June 1917, 18 July 1917, Sun, 20 August 1915 [x 2], 21 June 1917, 11 July 1917, Mataura Ensign, 21 August 1915, New Zealand Herald, 21 August 1915, 12 May 1936, Otago Daily Times, 21 August 1915, 13 July 1917, New Zealand Times, 21 August 1915, Marlborough Express, 28 August 1915, Timaru Herald, 24 January 1916 (Dr. Harold Williams), 21 & 22 June 1917, North Otago Times, 21 June 1917, 7 July 1917, Oamaru Mail, 21 June 1917 (Papers Past) [08 March 2014; 06 May 2016; 04 May 2017; 23 September 2017, 24, 26 & 27 November 2017]; School Admission records (South Canterbury Branch & Nelson Branch NZSG) ; “Onward: Portraits of the NZEF”, Volume 2 (held by South Canterbury Branch NZSG); Shipping record (ancestry.com.au) [03 May 2017]; UK and Ireland Masters and Mates Certificates (National Maritime Museum per ancestry.com.au) [29 November 2017]; Nelson College Roll of Honour (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sooty/nelsoncollegeROH.html) [29 November 2017]
- WILLIAMS Bertram Victor - newspaper clippings 1905-1917 (pdf, 75.2 KB updated 21-Dec-2017)
- WILLIAMS Bertram Victor - photographs (pdf, 130.2 KB updated 21-Dec-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.
Tell us more
Do you have information that could be added to this story? Or related images that you are happy to share? Submit them here!