O'BRIEN, John Gregory
(Service number 15590)

Aliases Known as Gregory. Birth & death registered as Gregory John O'BRIEN
First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 22 November 1896 Place of Birth Adair, New Zealand

Enlistment Information

Date 11 July 1916 Age 19 years 8 months
Address at Enlistment 94 Falsgrave Street, Christchurch
Occupation Public servant
Previous Military Experience NZ Territorials A Company 1st Canterbury - serving
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Martin J. O'BRIEN (brother), c/o J. W. White, Solicitor, Timaru
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 ft 9 in. Weight 112 lbs. Chest measurement 30-32½ in. Complexion dark. Sight, hearing & colour vision all normal. Limbs & chest well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Heart & lungs normal. No illnesses. Free from hernia, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease, but not varicocele. Vaccinated. Good bodily & mental health. Slight defect – chest measurement – but not sufficient to cause rejection. No fits. Temporarily unfit – varicocele – for operation in Christchurch Hospital. “I think physical drill will increase his chest measurement to the required standard.” 21/3/16 FITcar of operation healed & sound.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 15th Reinforcements, Canterbury Infantry Battalion, C Company
Date 26 July 1916
Transport Waitemata or Ulimaroa
Embarked From Wellington Destination
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Canterbury Infantry Regiment

Military Awards

Campaigns Western European
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


Date 26 March 1919 Reason No longer physically fit for war service on account of wounds received in action (gas poisoning).

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

15 December 1916 - admitted to No 1 NZ Field Ambulance - influenza. 26 July 1917 – wounded; 27 July admitted to No 3 NZ Field Ambulance. 28 July admitted to No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station. 30 July to 5 August 1917 - admitted to hospital in France (Camiers); assessed as severe. Embarked for England by Hospital Ship; 8 August 1917 admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital – gassed. 17 September transferred to New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst. 19 October transferred to Convalescent Depot at Hornchurch.

Post-war Occupations



Date 13 January 1946 Age 49 years
Place of Death Paekakariki
Memorial or Cemetery Karori Cemetery
Memorial Reference Soldiers Section, Plot 10 N/3
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

John Gregory O’Brien, known as Gregory, was born on 22 November 1896 at Adair, New Zealand, the youngest son of William and Mary (née O’Connor) O’Brien, both of whom hailed from Ireland. His birth and death were registered as Gregory John O’Brien, and his memorial stone inscribed as G. J. O’Brien, yet he enlisted as John Gregory. William O’Brien, 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. Gregory’s early education was at the Temuka Convent School, from which he and his brother Thomas transferred in 1905 when his mother was living at Seadown. He continued his education at the Timaru Marist Brothers’ School, where he excelled. In 1910 he was awarded the Christian Doctrine prize for the Fifth Class. He received the Standard VII mathematics prize in 1912, and the following year was presented with the watch and chain for Dux of school. “The boys are urged to regard the practice of their religious duties, and the formation of their character by the acquiring of habits of industry and uprighteousness, as the most important concerns of their education,” read the report. He also took a role in the dramatic sketch, “Robert Emmet”, presented at the annual concert.

Among the successful candidates from Timaru in the 1913 Public Service Examination was Gregory O’Brien from the Marist Brothers’ School. He took Matriculation subjects and gained very satisfactory passes. On receiving an offer of a position in the Government, he resigned his position in the National Bank at Timaru and was appointed to the Tourist Department. Come April 1916 and J. G. O’Brien had been called up. He left for the North on 5 April 1916 with the Infantry of the Fifteenth Reinforcements. “The men, taken as a whole, were well up to the standard of previous quotas. They were, however, probably the quietest lot of recruits who have left Christchurch.” And the Infantry especially was short on numbers. After farewell speeches, the men marched to the Christchurch railway station, accompanied by bands.

Gregory O’Brien was 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 112 pounds and had a chest measurement of 30-32½ inches. He was of dark complexion. His sight, hearing, colour vision, heart and lungs were all normal, his limbs and chest well formed. He had had no illnesses or fits, and he was free of diseases, except varicocele. Assessed as in good bodily and mental health, he did have one slight defect – under chest measurement – but it was not sufficient to cause rejection. He was classed temporarily unfit as he waited for an operation for varicocele at Christchurch Hospital. “I think physical drill will increase his chest measurement to the required standard. 21/3/16 FIT. Scar of operation healed & sound." These two issues would explain the time lapse between responding to the call at Christchurch in April and enlisting at Trentham. He was in fact only 19 years of age when he attested on 11 July 1916 at Trentham Military Camp, although he had also given himself two years! The first date entered for attestation (maybe 6 April 1916) had been crossed out. He belonged to the NZ Territorials, A Company, 1st Canterbury, and was still serving.

Gregory O’Brien nominated his eldest brother - Martin J. O’Brien, care of J. W. White, Solicitor, Timaru – as next-of-kin. Martin was to be next-of-kin for his three brothers who served overseas. J. G. O’Brien was a public servant, his address given as Christchurch, single and Roman Catholic. Private J. G. O’Brien embarked at Wellington on 26 July 1916, with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion of the 15th Reinforcements. Having disembarked at Devonport on 3 October and after two weeks at Sling, he marched out and left for France on 20 October 1916 and joined his Battalion in the Field on 8 November.

On 15 December 1916 he was admitted to the No 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance, suffering with influenza. While in the Field in April 1917 Private O’Brien was reprimanded for being unshaven on parade. On 30 May 1917, Private O’Brien was detached from his unit to the New Zealand Reinforcement Camp. Rejoining his Battalion from the Camp on 19 June, he was shortly after detached to school of instruction (Batman), and a week later again rejoined his Battalion.

A year after he had left home shores, his name appeared in a casualty list – a very long one published on 9 August 1917. He had been wounded on 26 July in action on the Western Front. Admitted firstly to No 3 New Zealand Field Ambulance, he was then admitted to the No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station. A cable received on 20 August advised that he had been severely gassed and admitted to hospital in France (Camiers) on 30 July. He embarked for England by Hospital ship and on 8 August was admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital, gassed. The hospital and progress report issued on 21 August listed his as a serious case, while that a week later reported his as not a severe case. He was transferred to the New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst on 17 September 1917 and to the Convalescent Depot at Hornchurch on 19 October. On 18 January 1918 he was classified as unfit by the Medical Board.

In May 1918, J. G. O’Brien was on a troopship close to home, having embarked at Glasgow on 1 April per the “Athenic” which arrived on 16 May. From 2 April until 16 May 1918 he had been appointed cook. Gregory was returning to his brother Martin in Timaru. O’Brien was discharged on 26 March 1919, being no longer fit for War Service on account of wounds received in action – gas poisoning. J. G. O’Brien had been gassed at Messines. All his overseas service was in Western Europe, for which he was awarded the Britiah War Medal and the Victory Medal. He went soon to Hanmer Springs as a clerk. When Anniversary Day was observed at Hanmer Springs on 19 December 1919, various competitions were held. G. J. O’Brien represented the Hanmer Club in a golf match against the Queen Mary Hospital. The result was a friendly draw. In February 1921 his address changed from Clarence House, Hanmer Springs, to Main Baths, Rotorua.

Back with the Tourist Department, in Wellington, he replaced an agent in Christchurch in July 1923. While employed as officer in charge at the Christchurch office of the Tourist Department, Gregory John O’Brien, sadly, got into a bit of strife. Early in 1924, just before he was to move on, he went to the police station and surrendered himself in connection with the alleged theft of £201. He was remanded on bail. An assistant clerk, who gave evidence, said that about Christmas time O’Brien was taking too much drink. Another witness knew that O’Brien was suffering from tubercular trouble as the result of war service and that he took drink to lessen the pain. In the event, O’Brien was very depressed and a doctor had to be called in. O’Brien’s counsel in the court said that he was twenty-seven years of age and had been with the Department about twelve years. “He had a bright future, but as the result of war injuries he got tubercular trouble which made him depressed and ill. He took liquor with the idea of getting relief and this had been his downfall. On rejoining the Department after war service he got promotion and eventually was placed in charge of the office in Christchurch and had been there some months. He was charged with having embezzled £201, though there was no doubt that the actual sum fell short of that. It appeared that a considerable portion of the money had been lost through muddling by O’Brien in dealing with the money which was placed under his control. There had been no attempt to falsify the books. The prisoner felt his position very much and had almost a nervous breakdown as a result of the disgrace. He surrendered to the police and had given them every assistance in explaining any items in connection with the inquiries. Counsel knew that there was great difficulty in granting probation to Public Servants, but O Brien was willing to abstain from liquor, and to make restitution of the money when he could work. From the time of his surrender to the police he had been in prison upwards of two weeks.” Pleading guilty the following week, he was committed for sentence. The sentence imposed was that he be detained for reformative purposes for a period not exceeding three years. Sometime after he went back to the Wellington area.

The name of John Gregory O’Brien, of Paekakariki, Wellington was drawn in the World War Two ballot in 1942. Gregory John O’Brien died on 13 January 1946 at Paekakariri, 49 years old. He was buried in the Soldiers Section of Karori cemetery, Wellington, his grave marked by a services plaque. Two of his brothers – William Edward O’Brien and Richard Patrick 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 [04 May 2021]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5549 0087408) [06 May 2021]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [30 April 2021]; School Admission record (South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [01 May 2021]; Karori Cemetery, Wellington, headstone image & burial record (Wellington City Council) [04 May 2021]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [19 December 2016; 06 May 2021]; Timaru Herald, 1 June 1900, 21 December 1910, 20 December 1913, 2 October 1916, 11 & 21 August 1917, 8 & 10 May 1918, Temuka Leader, 7 April 1903, NZ Tablet, 2 January 1913, 1 January 1914, 5 February 1914, 29 October 1914, Star, 5& 6 April 1916, 8 May 1918, 16, 22 & 29 February 1924, Press, 6 April 1916, 18 July 1923, Sun, 10 August 1917, Evening Post, 21 August 1917, NZ Times, 28 August 1917, Otago Witness, 23 December 1919 (Papers Past) [19 December 2016; 04, 06 & 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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