O'BRIEN, William Edward
(Service number 6/1945)

First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 21 March 1889 Place of Birth Adair, South Canterbury

Enlistment Information

Date 7 January 1915 Age 25 years 9 months
Address at Enlistment Fairlie, South Canterbury
Occupation Carpenter
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin M. J. O'BRIEN (brother), solicitor, Timaru
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 feet 5 inches. Weight 140 lbs. Chest measurement 32-34½ inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Sight & hearing both good. Colour vision correct. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart & lungs normal. Teeth - false upper, lower fair. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily & mental health. No slight defects.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation 4th Reinforcements
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Canterbury Infantry Battalion
Date 17 April 1915
Transport Willochra or Knight Templar or Waitomo
Embarked From Wellington Destination
Other Units Served With Machine Gun Corps
Last Unit Served With Canterbury Regiment

Military Awards

Campaigns Balkans (Gallipoli); Egyptian; Egyptian Expeditionary Force; Western European
Service Medals 1914-1915 Star; 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 6 November 1919 Reason No longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

22 June 1915 - sent to Base Hospital, Dardanelles – “nervous prostration”. 6 July 1915 - admitted to hospital ship at Gallipoli - diarrhoea. 17 July 1915 - slightly sick, disembarked at Malta from hospital ship; admitted to hospital at Malta & transferred to All Saints. 20 September 1916 - wounded at the Somme, France; admitted to No 9 General Hospital. Bayonet wound in the buttock; 26 September 1916 - admitted to 6th General Hospital at Rouen. “Injury of trivial nature occurred 15-9-16 in the Trenches, while on duty with Coy. In no way to blame.” Suffered slight wound of perineum. Embarked for England; 13 October 1916 - admitted to hospital at Brockenhurst; 18 October - discharged to Codford Discharge Depot 17 July 1918 - admitted to No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, 21 July - to No 16 General Hospital. 7 August 1918 - by hospital ship to England; 9 August - admitted to No 1 NZ General Hospital, Brockenhurst – debility; 27 August - transferred from Brockenhurst to Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch. 14 January 1919 - in UK assessed as suffering from “chronic pulmonary disease indeterminate”; 25 January 1919 - report - not a severe case. 16 March 1919 - transferred from No 3 NZ General Hospital to Walton; 11 April - left Walton; 25 April - reported back on 25 April. 4 May 1919 - admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital.

Post-war Occupations



Date 22 October 1955 Age 66 years
Place of Death Timaru
Notices Timaru Herald, 24 October 1955
Memorial or Cemetery Timaru Cemetery
Memorial Reference Services section, Row 112, Plot 14
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Edward O'Brien was born on 21 March 1889 at Adair, South Canterbury, and baptised Roman Catholic at Timaru on 22 April following, the third son of William and Mary (née O’Connor) O’Brien, both of whom hailed from Ireland. William’s early education was surely at Adair School, where his older siblings were pupils. William O’Brien, senior, who for many years had worked as a gardener on the Otipua Estate and served on the Adair School committee, took possession of the Royal Hotel, Temuka, in mid June 1900. From there he transferred to the Arowhenua Hotel, where he died on 6 April 1903, leaving a widow, five sons and one daughter. Mrs Mary O’Brien died in July 1912 and was buried at Timaru with her husband.

In 1911 William was a carpenter, living with his mother at the Arowhenua Hotel. Enlisting on 7 January 1915 at Trentham, at the age of 25 years 9 months, he was a carpenter at Fairlie, single and Roman Catholic. Standing at 5 feet 5 inches, weighing 140 pounds, and with a chest measurement of 32-34½ inches, he had a fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. His sight, hearing and colour vision were all good, his limbs and chest well formed, and his heart and lungs normal. While his upper teeth were false, his lower ones were only fair. He was free of diseases, vaccinated, and in good bodily and mental health, with no slight defects. He nominated his eldest brother - Martin J. O’Brien, Solicitor, Timaru – as next-of-kin. Martin was to be next-of-kin for his three brothers who served overseas.

The troops in camp at Trentham held a big, successful sports gathering on the racecourse at the end of January 1915. There Private W. E. O’Brien, C Company, 4th Reinforcements, received £2 as the winner of the Sack Race. His company appeared not to feature among the winners of inter-unit events. Private William Edward O’Brien embarked with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion of the 4th Reinforcements on 17 April 1915 at Wellington.

On 22 June 1915 he was sent to the Base Hospital at the Dardanelles for “nervous prostration”. He was admitted to a hospital ship at Gallipoli on 6 July, with diarrhoea. Private William Edward O’Brien, No 6/1945, Canterbury Battalion, was listed as slightly sick and disembarking at Malta from a hospital ship on 17 July 1915. He was admitted to hospital at Malta and transferred to All Saints. Embarking for Alexandria by Hospital Ship on 21 August, he left there for the Dardanelles on 30 August. It was 9 September 1915 when he rejoined his unit at the Dardanelles. His time up at the Dardanelles, he disembarked at Alexandria on 3 December 1915 and embarked for France at Port Said on 6 April 1916. He had been five months fighting on Gallipoli.

A heavy list of casualties – 1145 names – was issued on 2 October 1916. Included was W. E. O’Brien, 6/1945, who had been wounded at the Somme, France, on 20 September and admitted to No 9 General Hospital. His brother and next-of-kin was advised to this effect. Having suffered a bayonet wound in the buttock, he was admitted to the 6th General Hospital at Rouen on 26 September 1916. “Injury of trivial nature occurred 15-9-16 in the Trenches, while on duty with Coy. He was in no way to blame.” “Soldier claims he was in performance of Military Duty.” He had suffered a slight wound of the perineum. Having embarked for England and admitted to hospital at Brockenhurst from France on 13 October, he was discharged to Codford Discharge Depot on 18 October.

On 5 November 1917 he was transferred to the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps at Grantham, UK, and on 17 March 1918 he proceeded overseas to join his Battalion. 17 July 1918 saw O’Brien admitted to No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, and 21 July to No 16 General Hospital. On 7 August he went by hospital ship to England, where, on 9 August he was admitted to No 1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst, with debility. Later in August he was transferred from Brockenhurst to the Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch. In September he was discharged on leave to report to Codford. On 14 January 1919 in the UK he was assessed as suffering from “chronic pulmonary disease indeterminate”, although the hospital and progress report issued on 25 January 1919 listed W. E. O’Brien, 6/1945, Timaru, as not a severe case. He was transferred from No 3 New Zealand General Hospital to Walton on 16 March 1919. Having left Walton on 11 April, he reported back on 25 April and was admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital on 4 May 1919.

While abroad, William Edward O’Brien had his little diversions. He forfeited 4 days’ pay and the cost of an escort for an offence (striking) on 8 November 1916 while on Active Service. For overstaying leave from 8 am to 11.30 pm on 26 February 1918, when on Active Service, he forfeited one day’s pay and was confined to barracks for 2 days. He again forfeited one day’s pay for being absent without leave from midnight 3 May 1919 until 6pm 4 May.

By July, however, Private W. E. O’Brien of Timaru was on his way home, by the hospital ship “Marama”, which arrived on 17 July 1919, with 672 men aboard. He had embarked on 9 June at Southampton. From 21 July till 28 July 1919 he was granted sick leave. He was discharged on 6 November 1919, being no longer physically fit for War Service on account of illness contracted on Active Service (CPDI). He had given four years and 305 days of service, all but 213 days overseas, and received the 1915-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He returned to Fairlie and his former trade as a carpenter.. W. O’Brien and about thirteen other returned soldiers were honoured in late October 1919 at the forty-second social given by the Fairlie Patriotic Social Committee. There was “an overflowing attendance”, excellent music was provided, and the evening was deemed “thoroughly successful”. William O’Brien was present at the annual ball of the Aorangi Football Club, Fairlie, which was held in mid September 1929. He was there again in September 1932. Later in 1932 he was playing bowls for Fairlie against the Timaru Club. By the mid 1950s he was a war pensioner residing at Beverley Home, Timaru. William Edward O’Brien died on 22 October 1955 at Timaru, aged 66, and was buried in the Timaru Cemetery, a services plaque marking his grave. On 16 March 1918, 6/1945 Private William Edward O’Brien, Machine Gun Corps, had certified that he had made a will which was in the custody of his solicitor brother (Martin) at Timaru and “I do not desire to make another.”

Two of his brothers – Richard Patrick O’Brien and John Gregory O’Brien – also served in World War One, Richard being killed in an accident near Fairlie only a few months after discharge in 1919. A nephew, Bernard Gregory O’Brien, the son of Martin, lost his life in World War Two. Charles William Gosling, a brother his sister-in-law, Lucy (Mrs M. J. O’Brien), died of wounds in 1916 in France. Martin Joseph O’Brien was listed on the Reserve Rolls, being a married man with two children.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [19 December 2016]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5549 0087478) [07 May 2017]; Timaru Cemetery headstone image (Timaru District Council) [19 December 2016]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [29 May 2016]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [19 December 2016; 06 May 2021]; Timaru Herald, 24 October 1955 (Timaru District Library) [20 December 2016]; Timaru Herald, 1 June 1900, 11 August 1915, 2 October 1916, 10 July 1919, 29 October 1919, 17 September 1929, 27 September 1931, 7 November 1932, Temuka Leader, 7 April 1903, NZ Times, 1 February 1915, 27 January 1919, Sun, 10 August 1915, Lyttelton Times, 11 August 1915 [x 2], Dominion, 11 August 1915, Evening Post, 2 October 1916, Otago Daily Times, 9 July 1919, Press, 9 July 1919 (Papers Past) [19 December 2016; 02, 04 & 07 May 2021]; Catholic Diocese of Christchurch baptism index (CD held by South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [May 2021]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

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