WILLIAMSON, James Munro
(Service number 21948)
|First Rank||Rifleman||Last Rank||Rifleman|
|Date||5 July 1875||Place of Birth||Ashburton|
|Date||3 May 1916||Age||40 years|
|Address at Enlistment||11 Seddon Street, Timaru|
|Previous Military Experience|
|Marital Status||Married. Three children.|
|Next of Kin||Mrs E. M. WILLIAMSON (wife), 11 Seddon Street, Highfield, Timaru; C/o Mrs A. Dixon, 426 Manchester Street, Christchurch|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 10¼ inches. Weight 176 lbs. Chest measurement 37½-40¾ inches. Vaccination marks.|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||New Zealand Rifle Brigade|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||7th Reinforcements 3rd Battalion, G Company|
|Date||21 August 1916|
|Embarked From||Wellington||Destination||Plymouth, Devon, England|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With||New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Company|
|Service Medals||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
|Date||15 June 1917||Age||42 years|
|Place of Death||Belgium|
|Cause||Killed in action|
|Notices||Press, 3 July 1917; Ashburton Guardian, 3 July 1917|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium|
|New Zealand Memorials||Timaru Memorial Wall; Geraldine War Memorial; Woodbury District War Memorial (J. M. WILLIAMSON, PTE.); Ashburton War Memorial|
James Munro Williamson, known as Jim, was born on 5 July 1875 at Ashburton, the younger son of Donald and Elizabeth (née Reid) Williamson. Donald and Elizabeth who had married in 1858 in Caithness, Scotland, came to New Zealand in 1865 and were early settlers in the Ashburton district. Young Jim was probably educated at local Ashburton schools. In 1871 his father was instrumental in establishing a school in Ashburton, and in January 1890 he was appointed a member of the Ashburton High School Board. Mr Donald Williamson served on the Ashburton Borough Council from its inception (1878) until 1891, was Ashburton’s second Mayor for two years in 1879-1880, and from 1893 the Wakanui Riding representative on the Ashburton County Council. He built the Ashburton Hotel (about 1870); in 1874 he was on the committee to build the first specifically Presbyterian church; he was a member of the first Ashburton Agricultural and Pastoral committee (1878); and he also served as a Justice of the Peace in Ashburton from the mid 1880s through into the early1900s. At a meeting at Ashburton in September 1890 Mr Donald Williamson, a storekeeper, was the one who moved “That an Association be formed, called the Ashburton Farmers’ and Employers’ Association, the object of which is to secure for its members unity of action and protection of their just interests, and . . . .” “. . . a citizen than whom few command more respect and esteem”, Mr Williamson was well known for his participation in the Christmas store displays. His community and local government involvement was significant.
James Munro Williamson married Ethel Mary Flatman, of Woodbury, on 26 December 1900 at St Thomas’s Church, Woodbury, South Canterbury. Three children followed - Elizabeth Marjory Sarah Williamson (Marjory) born on 29 November 1903 at Ashburton, Hamish Donald Williamson born on 13 November 1908 at Gisborne, and Allan Sinclair Williamson born on 30 June 1915 at Geraldine. Jim’s mother died in 1902 at their beautiful home, Groatie Burn House, and his father died there in 1907, J. M. Williamson being one of the executors of his will. Interpretation of a clause in the will, which affected the children of James among others, was sought from the court in 1944. The court ruled in their favour. Extended family of both Mr and Mrs Williamson, senior, had settled in the Ashburton area.
As early as 1900 J. M. Williamson was elected a committee member of the Ashburton A. and P. Association. James and Ethel lived most of their married life in the Ashburton area, and from a young age he owned land. In mid 1902 his farm of 410 acres, situated in Lauriston Road , was sold. Also in 1902, James was one who subscribed to the Fallen Troopers’ Memorial at Ashburton. Little would he have anticipated his own similar fate 15 years later. Throughout his working life Jim Williamson had a close association with horses. By1903, when he was still farming at Lauriston, he had acquired his purebred Clydesdale stallion “Sandow”. This Colonial bred stallion had an excellent pedigree and was an acquisition to the district. Sandow was shown in the A. and P. Association’s annual parade of horses in 1903, and again in 1904 when it was noted that he had undoubtedly improved and had been the only Ashburton horse brought into the ring in the class at the Christchurch parade, held a few days prior. Two months later at the Ashburton Show Jim was very highly commended for his entry in the Hackneys ‘roadster up to 14 st’ class. On the same occasion, attention was drawn to the fact that he had not shown “Sandow” on the second day, which was against the rules. He was to pay 10 shillings for this infringement, and failing payment he would be excluded from future shows. He complained at being fined without the opportunity to offer an explanation, but did pay the fine. At an exhibition of horse-breaking in December 1904, a 4-year-old unbroken colt belonging to Jim Williamson was brought into the arena. With a few gentle, deft moves Mr Price (the demonstrator) made good progress until “the horse apparently went insane and careered all over the building, . . . . The colt rushed through the ropes, scattering the audience, and finally took refuge behind one of the coaches used as a ‘grand stand’. . . . . After another fierce struggle between man and horse, Mr Price ‘crawled all over him’, afterwards standing and kneeling on his back. . . . . The colt soon discovered that his efforts . . . . . were fruitless, and a useless waste of energy. . . . .” [‘Ashburton Guardian’, 19 December 1904]. The 1906 Ashburton Trotting Club Autumn meeting saw Mr Williamson in the role of steward. In October 1906, soon after he had attended the North Otago Agricultural and Pastoral Association horse parade with his draught Sandow, he sold Sandow to a Southland client for 285 guineas. Later in the month he was back in Oamaru for the North Otago Jockey Club Spring meeting, where his horse Bantam Shot came third in the Spring Handicap raced over four furlongs. At the 1911 Ashburton Trotting Club’s Winter meeting, he won 5 sovereigns when his Prince Gift came in second in the Wakanui Handicap raced over two miles, although in 1912 he was fined £1 for breach of the Rules of Trotting in connection with the scale of the horse Prince Gift.
Another of Mr Williamson’s interests was hunting with the hounds. In May 1905 he and other locals provided an excellent al fresco luncheon when the Christchurch Hounds visited Dromore. Riding Jack, he was also one of the Ashburton huntsmen,, and Mrs Williamson was driving. A month later he participated, again on Jack, when the South Canterbury Hunting Club held a meet at Tinwald.
The family was living at Allenton in 1913 when Ethel’s mother died at their home. They had been briefly in Dunedin where Marjory (Madge) started school before stints at Mangapapa in the Gisborne area, Opawa in Christchurch and Orari Bridge. From 1915 Marjory and Hamish attended Timaru Main and Timaru West schools, the family then living in Seddon Street.
Nominating his wife Mrs E. M. Williamson, of 11 Seddon Street, Highfield, Timaru, as his next-of kin, James Munro Williamson enlisted on 3 May 1916. Thus he was 40 years old and married with two children. A third child was born after enlistment but before embarkation. James left Timaru by the express for Trentham on 3 May 1916, after being entertained in the Stafford Tea Rooms by the Timaru Ladies Patriotic committee, then falling in and being addressed at the Drill Shed. Rifleman Williamson embarked on 21 August 1916 at Dunedin, with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, on the “Mokoia”, destined for Plymouth, England. He marched out of Sling on 15 November for France, where he was attached to the the New Zealand Infantry at Etaples, before joining his battalion in the Field in early December. On 7 January 1917 he was detached with the Railway Construction Party, in the Field, rejoining his unit two months later. 30 April saw another detachment, this time to the Fascine Building Party, in the Field. Only 23 days back with his unit, James Munro Williamson was killed in action at Messines on 15 June 1917, when a bullet passed through his neck. Although the Battle of Messines was a striking success, the New Zealanders paid a heavy price for success – a price paid in the life of 42 year old Rifleman J. M. Williamson, a loved husband and father. His comrades buried him probably where he fell. He is commemorated on Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium. He is remembered also on the Timaru Memorial Wall, the Woodbury War Memorial, the Ashburton War memorial, and on his parents’ headstone in the Ashburton Cemetery.
A fine yet rustic cross of bluestone, erected in memory of the men of the Woodbury district who fell in the Great War, was unveiled and dedicated in April 1922 before a crowd estimated at between six and seven hundred. Mrs Williamson of Christchurch had sent a message of regret at not being able to be present. The Geraldine band accompanied the singing of the hymns “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “For all the Saints”; prayers were offered, addresses delivered, wreaths placed by the school children, and “The Last Post sounded – ‘the mournful notes of the beautiful bugle call ringing out clearly on the still air.’ The inscription reads – “In grateful memory of those who gave their lives for King and country in the Great War, 1914-1918. These passed out of sight of men by the paths of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.”
Letters of administration of his estate were granted in September 1917 to his brother William Williamson, his widow stating that she did not desire to administratrix and consenting to William’s appointment. She swore an affidavit that she had received a telegram from the Minister of Defence on 2 July 1917, which read – “Regret to advise you cable received this day reports that your husband 21948 J. M. Williamson killed in action June 15th please accept my sincerest sympathy in the loss which you and New Zealand have sustained. J Allen Minr of defence.” She also stated that the deceased did not make a will; that before his departure from New Zealand on Military service in August 1916, they had had a discussion on the subject of his making a will, when the deceased said that all he possessed was in his father’s estate and that the Trustees would see to it, but that she (Ethel) could do as she liked about the matter; she had agreed that the property should remain as it was. Their children were by this date aged 14, 8 and 2. In November 1940, letters of administration were granted afresh, this time to Ethel Mary Nixon, the widow of James Munro Williamson, with the consent of their three children. This would be following the death of William Williamson who had formerly administered the estate and Erhel’s becoming aware that her late husband had an interest in the estate of his father. Ethel was of the opinion that James had left a Will written in the back of his pay book but such was not found and his pay book was not returned to New Zealand. Included with court documents is a letter sent by one of Jim’s mates when he was killed (copy attached). “I can truthfully say that I know I had in Jim as staunch a friend as anyone could wish to have . . . Jim did not suffer any pain. It was caused by a sniper and the bullet passed through his neck thereby making death instantaneous. All our mates speak very highly of Jim. He was ready at all times to do his duty and you have consolation in the fact that he died a noble death in the service of his king and country.” wrote J. N. Wallace. Timaru man James Norman Wallace, who had embarked with Jim and was himself killed in action later in 1917, had been a mutual friend of both Jim and Ethel.
His medals - British War Medal and Victory Medal – were sent to his widow. Ethel married William Nixon in 1925 at Timaru. She was living at Lake Pukaki when her only daughter Marjory (Madge) was engaged for the first time in 1926. By 1933 when Madge married (given away by her brother Hamish), she had moved to Cashmere, Christchurch. Ethel died in 1959 at Christchurch.
Cenotaph Database [21 March 2014]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5557 0123187) [23 April 2014]; CWGC [21 March 2014]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) ; Press, 24 January 1890, 18 March 1892, 18 March 1897, 4 & 22 November 1904, 4 November 1907, 4 November 1913, 3 July 1917, 20 September 1917, 15 April 1922, 19 October 1923, 19 October 1926, 11 April 1933, 8 & 9 June 1944, Ashburton Guardian, 27 December 1893, 22 August 1900, 16 June 1902 [x 2], 21 June 1902, 10 September 1902, 5 September 1903, 24 September 1904, 23 November 1904, 19 & 21 December 1904, 20 May 1905, 20 June 1905, 31 July 1905, 26 April 1906, 4 October 1906, 2 November 1907 [x2], 3 December 1907, 9 March 1908, 19 February 1911, 15 June 1911, 4 & 5 November 1913, 3 July 1917 [x 2], Temuka Leader, 19 February 1901, 15 April 1922, North Otago Times, 1 October 1906, 4 July 1917, Oamaru Mail, 19 October 1906, Star, 4 September 1912, Timaru Herald, 2 May 1916, 4 July 1917 (Papers Past) [22 March 2014; 06 May 2014; 21, 24 & 30 August 2017]; Probate records [x 2] (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [19 June 2014; 19 August 2017]; School Admission records (Gisborne Branch NZSG; South Canterbury Branch NZSG); NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au); Ashburton Cemetery headstone transcription (South Canterbury Branch NZSG cemetery records) [24 August 2017]
- WILLIAMSON James Munro - extracts (pdf, 370.7 KB updated 20-Sep-2017)
- Great War Stories - James Munro Williamson - Timaru Herald 12 May 2018 (pdf, 21.0 KB updated 30-May-2018)
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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