Profile

KEAY, William Robert
(Service number 25717)

Aliases Bob
First Rank Rifleman Last Rank Rifleman

Birth

Date 8 October 1885 Place of Birth Corra Lynn Station, Fairlie, MacKenzie Country, South Canterbury

Enlistment Information

Date 21 May 1916 Age 29 years
Address at Enlistment Herekino Post Office
Occupation Farmer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin William Robert KEAY (father), C/o Post-office, Herekino. Later of "Windridge", Glenfield, Auckland
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information Height 6 feet ½ inch. Weight 12 stone. Chest measurement 34-38 inches. Complexion dark. Eyes brown. Hair dark. Hearing, sight and colour vision all normal. Limbs and chest well formed. Full and perfect movement of all joints. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth fair. No illnesses. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. No fits. Deemed 'Fit for Service'.

Military Service

Served with New Zealand Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 8th Reinforcements 3rd Battalion, G Company
Date 23 September 1916
Transport Pakeha
Embarked From Wellington Destination Devonport, England
Other Units Served With 2nd Battalion, 3yrs New Zealand Rifle Brigade, B Company
Last Unit Served With New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 2nd Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Western Front (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

Discharge

Date Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

9-24 July 1916 -Featherston Hospital, German measles. 5-25 February 1917 - 7th General Hospital, St Omer, France, mumps (slight). 24 June 1917 - slightly wounded, remained with unit.

Post-war Occupations

Death

Date 8 August 1917 Age 30 years
Place of Death Ypres, Belgium
Cause Killed in action
Notices
Memorial or Cemetery La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium
Memorial Reference III. C. 25.
New Zealand Memorials Herekino War Memorial, Northland; Herekino-Whangape Memorial Tablet; Roll of Honour: Auckland Provincial War Memorial Museum; Mackenzie War Memorial, Fairlie, 2016 additions

Biographical Notes

William Robert Keay, known as Robert or Bob, was born on 8 October 1885 at Corra Lynn Station, near Fairlie, in the Mackenzie Country of South Canterbury. He was the third son of William Robert and Ellen (née Steele) Keay. His father, who had come to New Zealand in 1863 and settled at Burke’s Pass with his brother John by the early 1870s, owned and farmed Corra Lynn Station at Sherwood Downs. During the depression of 1893 the family left Corra Lynn and moved to Herekino in the North Island, their property there being named Sedgeley. Mr Keay had been long resident in the Fairlie district and was held in much respect and esteem. In the north he served on the Whangarei County Council and was active in county affairs. Bob and his brothers, David and Thomas, appear to have been the mainstays of the Herekino cricket team, all starring with both bat and ball. Bowling in a match against Kaitaia in February 1915, he dismissed five of the opposition in the first innings and again in the second innings. His 15 with the bat was a useful contribution to the team’s total. He was not required to bat in the second innings.

Bob was working on the family farm, “Sedgeley” at Herekino, when he enlisted on 21 May 1916, 30 years, Presbyterian, and single, with dark complexion, dark hair and brown eyes. He was a well-built, upright man, standing at just over 6 feet and weighting 12 stone. Being in good bodily and mental health, although his teeth were only fair, he was deemed ‘Fit for Service’. His nominated next-of-kin was his father, William Robert Keay, of Herekino. He was one of 79 men in the Whangarei quota for the 17th Reinforcements Infantry who left Whangarei on 30 May 1916, the full quota and more having been reached in the week before departure. While at Featherston he contracted German measles and spent two weeks in hospital in July. Attached to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 8th Reinforcements, he embarked per the Pakeha at Wellington on 23 September 1916, destined for Devonport, England. At Sling Camp he was posted to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

After going to France in early January 1917, Robert Keay was again hospitalised, this time on 5 February 1917 at the 7th General Hospital, St Omer, with mumps (slight). Prior to his involvement in the Battle of Messines from 18 March to 2 April and again from 24 April to 18 May 1917, he was twice detached to a working battalion – firstly on 12 March and secondly for a month from mid April. Messines was the major focus of his time at the Front. On 7 June at 3.10 pm the New Zealand Division went over the top at Messines and, in two days of fighting, took all of its objectives. The battle continued until 30 June. On 21 June 1917 Rifleman W. Robert Keay, of the Rifle Brigade and son of W. R. Keay, Herekino, was slightly wounded but remained with his unit, only to be killed in action about seven weeks later. Casualty List No. 653, issued on 23 August, brought the news that he had been killed in action on 5 August 1917 in the field, Ypres, Belgium, aged 31 years. Bob was killed by a shell whilst in the trenches near Messines but about two months after the Battle of Messines which he had fought in and survived. He was buried in the La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium, 1¾ miles south-west of Messines. There lie 61 men of the New Zealand Forces.

His plaque and scroll were sent to his father in 1921-1922, by which time he was living at “Windridge”, Glenfield, Auckland. His medals - British War Medal and Victory Medal - were sent to his sister, Mrs A. Waltho, of Sydenham, Christchurch, who returned them, and then to his father, in November 1922. Alice Waltho, née Keay, was actually a cousin of Robert, not a sister. Robert’s brother, David Steele Keay, was also killed in action in World War I, on 15 September 1916 at the Somme, France. Both Bob and his brother David are remembered on the Herekino War Memorial and the Herekino-Whangape Memorial Tablet. They are also recorded on the Roll of Honour at the Auckland Provincial War Memorial Museum. A plaque with the names of both sons has been placed on their parents’ grave in the Herekino Public Cemetery. In a family memorial notice in the New Zealand Herald of 15 September 1917, Bob and David were remembered as “generous and affectionate sons and brothers and warm-hearted friends. They fought and died for national freedom and righteousness.”

William Robert Keay, senior, was a frequent writer to the editor of the Northern Advocate. In September 1935 he discussed two questions posed with regard to Britain’s financial position in 1930 – “Who were responsible for causing the Great War?” and “What caused that dreadful outbreak of human passions?” An older brother, Thomas Melville Keay, farming at Herekino, was called up in 1917, but was not required to serve. William David Keay, who served in World War II, was a son of Thomas Melville Keay and was named for his two uncles who were killed in World War I. Thomas Keay of Fairlie, who was killed in action in 1917, was a cousin of William Robert and David Steele Keay. David Smith Laing Keay and Ernest James Keay who also served in World War I may have been related.

Sources

Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [21 February 2014]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ ref. AABK 18805 W5541 0062880) [15 August 2014]; CWGC [15 June 2014]; Timaru Herald, 6 October 1893, 24 August 1917, Northern Advocate, 3 March 1915, 17 & 29 May 1916, 27 June 1916, 9 July 1917, 27 August 1917, 16 September 1935, New Zealand Herald, 18 May 1916, 27 June 1916, 24 August 1917, 15 September 1917, 27 June 1931, Evening Post, 7 July 1917, Otago Daily Times, 7 July 1917, Orago Witness, 1 & 29 August 1917 (Papers Past) [08, 25 & 28 August 2014; 28 March 2016; 28 February 2018; 01 March 2018]; NZ BDM historical records (Department of Internal Affairs) [15 June 2014]; NZ Birth indexes (South Canterbury Branch NZSG microfiche collection) [21 February 2014]; Beniston File (www.myrasplace.net.beniston) [15 June 2014]; Herekino War Memorial photo (www.nzhistory.net.nz) [15 June 2014]; Herekino-Whangape Memorial Tablet transcription (South Canterbury Branch NZSG cemetery records) [28 March 2016]; photo of plaque on parents’ grave, Herekino Public Cemetery (used with permission of Ross Beddows, per T. G. Scott) [28 March 2016]; Chronology of War (National Army Museum) ]28 February 2018]; Life in the Young Colony – reminiscences of W. R. Keay, Former Owner of Corra Lynn (South Canterbury Branch NZSG library, catalogue reference DH19); NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au) [28 March 2016]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to

TS

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