(Service number 52595)

First Rank Rifleman Last Rank Private


Date 6 March 1878 Place of Birth Temuka

Enlistment Information

Date 12 October 1917 Age 38 years 3 months
Address at Enlistment Orari, Clandeboye
Occupation Farmer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Jack FITZGERALD (brother), Rangitata, Canterbury
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 feet 6 inches. Weight 10 stone 10 lbs. Chest measurement 37½-39½ inches.Complexion fair. Eyes blue. Hair fair. Sight normal. Hearing good. Colour vision normal. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart & lungs normal. Teeth good. No illnesses. 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 New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Reinforcements G Company (part)
Date 12 June 1917
Transport Maunganui or Tahiti
Embarked From Wellington Destination Plymouth, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Otago Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion

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 Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations


Date 6 December 1917 Age 39 yrs
Place of Death Belgium
Cause Died of wounds
Memorial or Cemetery Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Memorial Reference XXVII. D. 1.
New Zealand Memorials Timaru Memorial Wall; Basilica of the Sacred Heart; Geraldine War Memorial; Orari District War Memorial; Clandeboye Memorial Tablet

Biographical Notes

Robert Fitzgerald was born on 4 October 1878 (or 6 March 1878) at Temuka, the eldest son of William Fitzgerald and Mrs Maria Fitzgerald née Shanahan, of Orari, South Canterbury, and was baptized Catholic on 1 November 1878 at Temuka. He was the eldest son in a family of seven. Along with his siblings, Robert was educated at the Belfield School, where he gained a prize for Standard II in 1893. The prizes, which were awarded for the number of “marks” gained for home lessons and monthly examinations, were presented after a picnic lunch and an afternoon of running races in which every school child got some little prize, on New Year’s Day 1894. The following year he received an ‘extra’ prize in Standard III. The presentation again followed the annual school treat held on January 1st, 1895. The chairman of the school committee presented the prizes although he did not agree with the practice of every child receiving a prize, as it did not encourage emulation on the part of the scholars. There had been, however, a most satisfactory result, with only one failure, in the annual examination of the school held on 24 December 1894.

Robert seems to have lived much of his relatively short life at Belfield where he was a labourer. In 1876 his parents William and Maria were at Totara Flat. In the early 1880s, by which time they were in the Orari area, there were court appearances for William and Maria over accusations their pigs were trespassing on the neighbour’s property. In September 1883 a Temuka lawyer applied for a Protection and Maintenance Order for Maria from her husband William. As he had 260 acres of land and horses and stock, he was asked for £3 per week for his wife and five children; he was ordered to pay £2. A sale of livestock (cows, steers, heifers, horses and pigs) and farm equipment was to take place at Mr William Fitgerald’s farm at Orari on 26 September 1883 just a couple of days before the sale was withdrawn. In 1885 Maria asked the Geraldine County Council to prevent a neighbour from allowing his cattle to trespass on her land, damaging her fence and diverting the water-race. The council had no power to interfere. Two years later she was claiming £8 compensation for the shooting of two of her pigs. The pigs often trespassed on defendant’s property and the school reserve, and she had been warned. Maria was, however, awarded compensation to cover the value of the pigs and the cost of burying them. Her next court claim involved the value of a horse which had been hired and died while in defendant’s possession. Several witnesses vouched for the good condition of her horses. Although the horse may have died of natural causes, the judgment was in Maria’s favour as the horse had not been returned as per the contract. Pigs were again to the fore, Maria being charged with illegally rescuing six of her pigs which had been seized from the Belfield School ground for impounding, after four years of their being a nuisance and notice having been given. She claimed the pigs got through holes in the fence and she had sent in her dog to round up the pigs. This time Maria incurred a fine of 20s.

The big challenge to family life came in August 1890. The S. C. Hospital and the Charitable Aid Board claimed £74 15s from Maria Fitzgerald for the maintenance and treatment of her husband in the Timaru Hospital. William Fitzgerald had been twice admitted to the hospital, suffering from hip disease and tumours. William, a farmer at Orari, stated that he had married a woman (Maria) who had no property but through his efforts and “other means” she was by 1890 possessed of a considerable amount of freehold property. Unfortunately the pair did not live happily together and in 1888 William went to work in the Hakataramea. Hearing something about his children, he returned home in 1889 and soon after, in May, fell seriously ill, so ill that he thought he was dying, and was admitted to hospital. He had given his wife his earnings and placed his only other property (£145) in the custody of a bank and a priest. He went home a cripple and unable to do anything, but, because of threats, he was obliged to leave and go and live at Temuka. Since January 1890 he had been again in hospital. Maria refused to pay. Her story was different – that she had a considerable sum of money on her marriage; that on account of William’s conduct (cruelties) she had to get a protection order; that at his bankruptcy in 1884 the whole of the property was in her name; that she carried on the farm for the benefit of herself and family; and that all the money was really her own. Complex and conflicting legal argument was presented by both parties, but the decision was reserved. In the end the plaintiff was non-suited, with costs £3 14s.

The following January William Lynch Fitzgerald sued his wife, Maria Fitzgerald, for maintenance. The old history was recounted. Now William was claiming that his wife ill-treated him. He wanted his wife to pay for hospital treatment in Dunedin. She, on the other hand, offered to provide for him in her house or in another house on the farm. He refused the offer. She said that she could not afford the payment, what with “interest, rates, and wages, and the keep of seven children”. The magistrate could see that there was no chance of their living together again. He found the case a difficult one to deal with, and said that there appeared to be faults on both sides. He considered that the wife’s proposal should be tried, with conditions imposed on both parties. Thereafter there seems to be no confirmed mention of William. A stone in the Temuka Cemetery gives William and Maria Fitzgerald, but there is no burial or death record for William.

Maria Fitzgerald invested in land, and in November 1889 she acquired two lots at good prices at an estate clearing sale (the estate of a previous defendant). She was given permission, in late 1894, by the Geraldine County Council to make a loop water race. In March 1895 both Maria (who occupied property at Belfield and Rangitata) and her daughter questioned the valuations of their properties. A property at Belfield was transferred to her in 1898. In 1897 the Education Board of the District of South Canterbury had re-entered and recovered possession of the lease of a property in the Geraldine Survey District, which property William Fitzgerald, of Belfield, Farmer, had been the registered lessee. The following month a meeting of creditors of William Fitzgerald, labourer, was held in Timaru. The bankrupt’s only asset was one cow, valued at £2. He stated that he had been in Timaru since 1890, and he attributed his difficulties to sickness and want of work. He had been unable to work for three months in the last summer through an accident, and he had sickness among his children. Was this William Fitzgerald of Orari? The meeting was adjourned sine die. A few days later instructions from the Deputy Official Assignee were to sell in the estate of Wm Fitzgerald (a bankrupt) – one cow. In January 1898 the Deputy Official Assignee was released from the administration of the estate - i.e. released from the duty regarding the bankruptcy - of William Fitzgerald, of Timaru. Later in 1898 Maria Fitzgerald was granted an application for land – Geraldine, block XII, 74 acres. She bought 1000 acres at Belfield, Orari, in her own name late in 1900. In March 1903 Maria Fitzgerald purchased a lot with frontage on the Temuka and Rangitata road in an important land sale at Temuka. The following May she had 100 acres at Belfield to lease. In 1904 she was busy and pro-active - she agreed to pay half towards the cleaning of a drain, provided “the work was done well, was gone on with at once, and was not too expensive”; and she insisted on seeing the overseer to the Temuka Road Board before the water was unnecessarily diverted. In 1916 she agreed to the Temuka Road Board’s erecting a bank on her land provided all the land broken and the embankment were sown with cocksfoot. She was a knowledgeable woman in the management of her property. Later (1910, 1911) she was still concerned with property matters. On being summoned for failing to control the Californian thistles, she said that it was a question of oversight and was promptly dealt with. Trespassers were being warned that they would be prosecuted if found on her property at the “Stumps”, Orari, in a notice in April 1911, and again in April 1912. Advertisements from 1906 indicated that her property adjoined the Orari River at the “Stumps”. There was a successful prosecution in June 1911, of two men trespassing with dog and gun on Mrs Fitzgerald’s private property. The first mention of a social nature came in 1912 when the popular Point-to-Point races were held on Mrs Fitzgerald’s property at Orari. Mrs Fitzgerald was still to the fore in 1927, when she complained that trees which she had planted 20 years before on her property had been cut down. She believed, wrongly, that her land extended to the centre of the river bed.

This was the environment in which Robert grew up. Robert, his brother John and a sister, Margaret, appear to be the only three family members who remained in the district.

Robert was drawn in the Third Ballot under the Military Service Act for the South Canterbury district, in January 1917. On 27 February, Robert first appealed his call-up for service, stating that he had one married brother; that he had about 200 acres and managed his mother's farm of 3000 acres, and that he could not secure a man to take his place. His appeal was dismissed but he was allowed till the end of March. Robert Fitzgerald, Orari, was listed on the provisional nominal roll of the 28th Reinforcements to leave Temuka for camp on 11 April 1917. A farewell was tendered to departing members of the 28th Reinforcements at the Geraldine Drill Hall, the hall being decorated with flags and flowers and “capital entertainment” - orchestral selections, vocals, recitations - being provided. Each recruit was presented with a wristlet watch and given a parcel of comforts on behalf of the Home and Empire League. Major Kennedy believed that “the gallant lads who were now leaving would worthily uphold the honour of their country and town.” The men were cheered on leaving the stage and entertained at supper and a dance. In May Robert spent his final leave at home with relatives and friends.

A farmer, single, Roman Catholic, and living at Orari, Clandeboye, he named his brother Jack Fitzgerald, of Rangitata, as next-of-kin. Standing at 5 feet 6 inches and weighing 10 stone 10 pounds, Robert had blue eyes and fair hair. He was in good physical and mental condition. In 1917 three persons were absolutely dependent on Robert. Rifleman Robert Fitzgerald embarked with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade on 12 June 1917 at Wellington, destined for Plymouth, England . It was only on 12 October 1917 at Sling, that he enlisted, just days before proceeding overseas and already over 38 years old. Proceeding overseas from Sling on 14 October he joined the 1st Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment on 24 October at Rouen. On 6 December 1917, after just seven weeks at the Front, he died of wounds, aged 39 years. He was one of 17 men who had died of wounds, whose names appeared on Casualty List 743 issued on 17 December 1917. The 1st Otago Battalion was involved in the failed attack at Polderheck in early December 1917.

Robert’s medals (British War Medal and Victory Medal), memorial plaque and scroll were issued to his mother Maria Fitzgerald of Orari, his legal next-of-kin at his death. He is buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium; and remembered on the Timaru Memorial Wall, Timaru Basilica the Sacred Heart, Clandeboye War Memorial, Orari District War Memorial, Geraldine War Memorial, and the Clandeboye Hall Memorial Tablet. Mrs Fitzgerald, of Belfield, made donations in 1920 towards the Soldiers’ Memorial to be erected at Geraldine. When Mrs Maria Fitzgerald died in 1937, she was not poor in terms of property and bank deposits. She is buried at Temuka, the stone inscribed simply “William and Maria Fitzgerald”. Private R. Fitzgerald was included in the initial list of names to be inscribed on the Temuka War Memorial. The name was, however, removed from the list, presumably because he was to be listed on the Geraldine Memorial. On 25 April 1922, a very large gathering took place around the memorial cross recently erected in grateful memory of the men of the Geraldine district who fell in the war, and which still stands in its original position at the bend in the main street. Following the singing of the National Anthem, short addresses were given. Mr T. D. Burnett, M.P., in the course of a speech, said the British Empire had always stood for liberty and justice, and he urged the duty of all to carry on the best traditions of their race. He then unveiled the memorial and it was dedicated. Although his name was not included in the original inscription, Private R. Fitzgerald is one whose name features on the plaques added to the plinth of the memorial.

In late August 1919 a tablet placed on the wall above the hall stage at Clandeboye was unveiled – in “one of the most important ceremonies ever conducted in the district.” The memorial tablet contained six names, one of them being R. Fitzgerald. Anzac Day 1924 was fittingly marked when a procession of school children and the general public, including many returned soldiers and relatives, marched to the Clandeboye Hall, where the memorial tablet to the fallen was hung and where those gathered paid honour to those whose names were inscribed on the memorial. Mingled with the feeling of grief were thankfulness and gratitude and above all pride in the great achievement, according to one speaker. The poem “In Flanders Fields” was rendered and Mr Gunnion, the Mayor of Temuka, opened his address with the words “Lest we Forget”. The soldiers whose names were inscribed on the memorial had given their all that we might live in peace, he impressed on the children, before finishing as he had begun – “Lest we Forget”. The names were read out, wreaths placed and the National Anthem sung.

The Anzac Day 1930 observance in the Clandeboye Hall was simple, yet fitting and reverent. The Mayor stressed that it was the duty of the residents to see that the sacrifice made by their boys was kept green for ever. The Deputy Mayor noted that the day was a mark of gratitude and remembrance to those men who had fought and willingly given their lives that those gathered might retain their independence. With both pride and sorrow they honoured the memory of those men. He concluded his address with the quotation: “Their glory will never be dimmed, and for all time, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” Hymns were sung, the names were read out, and floral tributes were placed at the foot of the memorial.

A large gathering of residents, visitors and guests marked Anzac Day 1931 in the Clandeboye Hall with sixty minutes of solemn commemoration. The service opened with the hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The Mayor of Temuka, Mr Gunnion, said that he was proud of the Clandeboye effort to remember, year after year. The chief speaker, Rev C. A. Kennedy, spoke thus: “We meet not to express pity for those who fell, but gratitude to them; we meet to express to those who still feel their loss most keenly not so much condolence as congratulation: because they offered the most costly gifts that anyone can offer for the cause of liberty and truth. . . . . . Of those who made the supreme sacrifice . . . We thank God for their splendid, self-denying devotion to duty, sacrificing all that a man holds dear . . . .” In an impressive closing to the service, hymns were sung, two minutes’ silence was observed, and the names on the memorial tablet were read aloud and clearly following the reading of the inscription:

“Gone to their rest,

The striving years are o’er.

Their arms laid by, their fighting done.

So it is best.

Lord forgive their failings and their faults, and

Take them home.”

And the National Anthem was then sung enthusiastically. Another very touching service was conducted in 1932, to pay tribute to the memory of those men who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War, the Memorial Hall again being packed full. Stirring addresses, scripture readings, hymns and wreath-laying honoured the loyalty, courage and sacrifice of those whom they were commemorating.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [31 July 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5537 0040376) [26 Jul 2013]; CWGC [26 July 2013]; Timaru Herald, 22 January 1876, 16 June 1876, 15 & 29 January 1885, 13 December 1888, 10 January 1889, 5, 6, 13 [x 2] & 21 August 1890, 27 March 1895, 16 & 18 June 1897, 14 & 17 July 1897, 22 December 1897, 7 June 1898, 25 March 1903, 9 February 1910, 4 August 1916, 13 January 1917, 28 February 1917, 10 & 12 April 1917, 18 December 1917, 24 February 1920, 10 April 1920, Temuka Leader, 24 January 1882, 28 March 1882, 18 September 1883, 4 December 1884, 15 January 1885, 3 December 1887, 13 December 1888, 10 January 1889, 26 November 1889, 7 & 14 August 1890, 27 & 31 January 1891, 6 January 1894, 1 & 26 January 1895, 28 March 1895, 16 January 1896, 12 May 1898, 20 November 1900, 26 March 1903, 21 May 1903, 4 August 1904, 8 September 1904, 29 April 1911, 4 May 1911, 8 June 1911, 25 April 1912, 8 August 1912, 13 January 1917, 1 March 1917, 7 & 14 April 1917, 31 May 1917, 30 August 1919, 1 December 1921, 27 April 1922, 29 April 1924, , 5 July 1927, 26 April 1930, 28 April 1931, 26 April 1932, South Canterbury Times, 25 September 1883, 13 December 1888, 10 January 1889, 5, 6, 12 & 20 August 1890, 27 March 1895, 17 July 1897, 6 June 1898, 26 March 1903, 4 April 1903, Lyttelton Times, 15 January 1885, Evening Post, 18 December 1917, Press, 27 April 1922 (Papers Past) [10 October 2013, 20 September 2013; 16 & 20 September 2014; 07 July 2015; 22 & 24 May 2017’ 20 December 2017; 24 February 2018; 10 May 2019]; Catholic Diocese of Christchurch - Baptism index V.1.2 (South Canterbury Branch NZSG Computer Resources) [27 April 2014]; Timaru Herald, 13 January 1917, 28 February 1917 (Papers Past) [16 & 20 September 2014]; NZ Electoral Rolls (

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

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