FERGUSON, William Alexander
(Service number 6/1529)
|First Rank||Private||Last Rank||Lance Corporal|
|Date||31 October 1885||Place of Birth||Miller's Flat Otago, New Zealand|
|Date||20 December 1914||Age||29|
|Address at Enlistment||Gleniti, Timaru, New Zealand|
|Previous Military Experience|
|Marital Status||Single, 1 child|
|Next of Kin||Mr Robert Henry Ferguson (Father), Miller's Flat, Otago, New Zealand|
|Medical Information||5 foot 9 inches tall, weight 132 pounds (60kgs), chest 33-36 inches, complexion between dark and fair, blue eyes, brown hair, small mole, left side back of neck, teeth have upper and lower plates.|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||3rd Reinforcements|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||Canterbury Infantry Regiment|
|Date||14 February 1915|
|Embarked From||Wellington, N.Z.||Destination||Suez, Egypt|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With||Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion|
|Campaigns||Balkans (Gallipoli) 1915: Western European|
|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
28 September 1915 - admitted to Mudros Stationary Hospital - asthma; 28 October transferred to hospital, Manchester, England. No date - gun shot wound, lumbar region; 27 January 1916 - convalescing, Grey Tower Hospital, England. 8 March to 11 May 1916 - admitted to Venereal Hospital, Hornchurch. 20 April to 30 May 1917 - admitted to No.2 NZ Field Ambulance; transferred to No.7 General Hospital, St Omer - mumps.
|Date||26 July 1917||Age||31|
|Place of Death||Ypres, Belgium|
|Cause||Killed in action|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Pont-d'Achelles Military Cemetery, Nieppe, Nord, France|
|Memorial Reference||I. C. 4.|
|New Zealand Memorials||On Memorial wall, Timaru; Gleniti War Memorial (lists a W Ferguson) Miller's Flat War Memorial|
The third of eleven children, William was born at Miller’s Flat Otago on 31 October 1885. His father Robert Henry Ferguson was born at Magheralin, County Down, Ireland in 1847, and came out to New Zealand about 1863, working as a miner and orchardist at Miller’s Flat. In 1883, at Moa Flat in Central Otago, he married Sarah Ann Kelly who was born at Donaghadee, County Down, Ireland in 1860. Later Sarah died in 1922 and Robert in 1938, both being buried in the Miller’s Flat Cemetery.
William received his education at Miller’s Flat School and on leaving school, worked at home and on local farms for some years. He later moved to the South Canterbury district where he took up employment with Mr R.H. Hunter-Weston, a local farmer at Gleniti, near Timaru. At the time of enlistment in Timaru on 20 December 1914, William gave his occupation as farm labourer, his age as 29, address as Gleniti, and his religion as Anglican. His medical records described him as being 5 foot 9 inches tall, weighing 132 pounds (60kgs), with a chest measuring 33-36 inches, a complexion between dark and fair, blue eyes, brown hair. It also noted a small mole on the back of his neck on the left side and that he still had his upper teeth, but the lower was replaced with plates. William also stated he was single, but he had an illegitimate child, Hinemoa Mary, who had been born in Christchurch on 26 February 1911 who was in the care of a guardian, Mrs Mary Shamp.
6/1529 Private Ferguson marched into Trentham Camp where the troops lived under canvas. Most of their training was to be carried out at other temporary satellite camps in the vicinity of Wellington. Here he received instruction in basic and advanced infantry training. More than 55,000 men trained at Trentham during the First World War where ordinary boys and men learnt to be soldiers. Whilst in Trentham William was vaccinated for typhoid, and again during the voyage to Egypt. Along 1718 other troops of the 3rd Reinforcements, Canterbury Infantry Regiment, he boarded HMNZT17, “Maunganui” at Wellington, headed for Egypt, on 14 February 1915. Travelling in convoy with HMNZT18 “Tahiti” and HMNZT19 “Aparima” they arrived at Suez on 26 March 1915 after a 41 day voyage via Hobart, Albany, Western Australia, and Colombo. During the voyage fitness and weapon training continued and boxing was a popular sport where men were matched with others of a similar size. From here the troops moved to Zeitoun Camp carried on a train without proper carriages, just small open trucks. Zeitoun was the main New Zealand training base in the desert about 6 miles outside of Cairo. Here further training was carried out with the odd spot of leave and visits to the pyramids.
The main part of William’s unit had left Alexandria on 12 April for Mudros Harbour, landing at Gallipoli on 25 April. On 9 May Private Ferguson joined his comrades on Gallipoli as part of the 3rd Reinforcements, made up of two officers and 38 other ranks. They had landed at Cape Helles on the morning of the previous day, being under fire all day, and helping to collect the wounded after dark. Late that night they joined in the front line bringing badly needed water and food with them. On 11/12 May the New Zealand Brigade went into reserve, and were not called upon to do any more fighting in the southern part of the Peninsula. The first three days were spent in rest, sea-bathing, reorganisation and refitting; but from 15 May onwards they were employed on road-making and other work about "W" Beach. But when the Turkish forces launched major attacks back on ANZAC Williams’s Brigade was hurriedly recalled to the area on 19 May, where they took up positions on the seaward end of Walker’s Ridge, remaining in reserve in the nearby and aptly named Reserve Gully until 29 May. During this period, on 24 May, an armistice was declared from 7.30am to 4.30pm to collect and bury the dead of both sides. On 1 June the New Zealand Brigade took over Quinn's and Courtney's Posts. The months of June and July were spent mainly under trench warfare conditions with the odd spot of being in reserve in Canterbury Gully. One break from the routine was a short period at Imbros for rest and training from 15 to 19 July.
Their positions at Anzac at the beginning of August were on the lower spurs of the main Sri Bair Ridge. An ambitious plan was hatched, aiming to break out of the deadlock that the invasion of Gallipoli had become. The ultimate goal was the capture of the heights at Chunuk Bair. The Canterbury Battalion was given the task to advance up Sazli Beit Dere and attack the Turkish trenches on Rhododendron Spur from the west. On account of the exhaustion of the troops who had taken part in the first assault upon the Sari Bair Ridge, and the casualties they had sustained, General Godley obtained permission to break off the action till the following morning (8 August). During the whole of the operations of 8 to 10 August, the Canterbury Battalion remained in its trenches on the south of Rhododendron Spur, consolidating the position and linking up the posts into a continuous trench system, though four officers and fifty men were sent to the Apex for a time to support the Wellington Battalion's attack on and capture of the heights. Again, following the loss of the trenches on Chunuk Bair on 10 August to a fierce counter-attack, half the battalion was sent up to the Apex (just below the heights) to take part in an attempt to recover the position; but the attack did not take place, and the party was sent back very soon after its arrival at the Apex. Ultimately the attack was unsuccessful.
On 20 August the battalion was relieved by the Otago Battalion and went into brigade reserve at Otago Gully until 23 August. They were then ordered to garrison the inner defences until 28 August before moving to the Apex to relieve the 8th Cheshire Battalion. The battalion was relieved by the Auckland Battalion on 8 September and went into bivouacs in Chailak Dere, north of Big Table Top and close to brigade headquarters. Here it remained for four days before moving to bivouacs at Bauchop’s Hill. From 14 September to the end of October the Brigade withdrew to the Greek Island of Mudros and marched to the rest camp at Sarpi where they enjoyed some rest before returning to training. At the end of September the 1st and 2nd Companies were quarantined on account of an outbreak of scarlet fever and diphtheria. During this time William was admitted to the Mudros Stationary Hospital suffering from asthma on 28 September. On 19 October he was put aboard the Hospital Ship “Aquatania” and travelled back to England where he was admitted to hospital at Manchester, England on 28 October. There does not appear any discharge date or date of return to Gallipoli on his service records, but on Casualty List No 266 he was reported as wounded with gunshot wound to his lumbar region, now convalescent (no date given). On 27 January 1916 he was reported as being at Grey Towers Hospital, England. Then, on 8 March 1916 he was admitted to the Venereal Hospital in Hornchurch, England, until being discharged to the NZ Base Depot on 11 May. He then left for France on 14 June and marched into the NZ Depot at Etaples on 16 June. The soldier’s world at Etaples was a place where the training was harsh and enforced by terror and bullying. It would have been with great relief that on 18 July 1916 that William re-joined his unit in the field. Here the NZ Division was manning a four mile stretch of the Armentieres front.
On 15 September his battalion took part in the attack on Flers as part of the battle of the Somme. This was the last attack in the battle in which the New Zealand infantry took part. The Division had been in the battle area for twenty-three days, and had taken part in every attack made during that period. Its total casualties had been six thousand seven hundred and twenty-eight, of whom one thousand and eighty-seven had been killed. On 25 October 1916 William was promoted to Temporary Lance Corporal (later confirmed on 9 February 1917). The remainder of the year was fairly quiet for the unit and they spent the winter on the River Lys, near Armentieres. Early in 1917 they moved into the Messines area, where in June the Battle of Messines took place. On 20 April 1917 Lance Corporal Ferguson was admitted sick with mumps to No.2 NZ Field Ambulance in the field, and transferred the same day to No.7 General Hospital at St Omer. He re-joined his unit on 30 May. At the end of July they were fighting at Basseville. From 16 to 23 July William enjoyed some well-deserved leave in Paris. Three days later though tragedy struck when on 26 July 1917 William was killed in action after returning to the front.
William was buried in the Pont-d’Achelles Military Cemetery, Nieppe, Nord. After hostilities ceased his father Robert was sent a scroll and plaque along with William’s 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. William's name is commemorated on the Timaru Memorial Wall, Gleniti War Memorial and the Miller's Flat War Memorial. Three of William’s brothers also served in Western Europe during World War One: 71325 Private Victor Mullin Norman Ferguson who served in 1 Battalion Otago Regiment and was also killed in action in France on 8 October 1918; 35666 Bombardier Frederick Fergus Ferguson served with the NZ Field Artillery returning to New Zealand in 1919; and 63126 Private Robert John Ferguson served in 1 Battalion Otago Regiment and also returned to New Zealand in 1919.
New Zealand ANZACs in the Great War 1914-1918 (University of New South Wales) at https://nzef.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=80186 [April 2021]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records, Archives NZ [April 2021]; "Lance Corporal William Alexander Ferguson" on A Street Near You at https://astreetnearyou.org/person/189586/- [April 2021]; "Roll of honour" (reported wounded) in the New Zealand Herald 18 January 1916, "Biographical sketches" in the Otago Witness 9 February 1916, and "For the Empire's Cause. In Memoriam" in the Otago Daily Times 27 July 1922, courtesy of Papers Past at https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
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Researched and Written by
Patrina Buchanan; Ted Hansen, SC branch NZSG
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