Profile

FITZGERALD, William
(Service number 54343)

Aliases
First Rank Rifleman Last Rank Rifleman

Birth

Date 12 February 1889 Place of Birth Waimate

Enlistment Information

Date 13 February 1917 Age 27 years 8 months
Address at Enlistment Lambton Quay Police Station, Wellington
Occupation Police constable
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Miss Mary FITZGERALD (aunt), Augustine Street, Waimate
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 6 feet ¾inches. Weight 150 lbs, Chest measurement 32½-36½ inches. Complexion fair. Eyes blue. Hair fair. Right eye 6/6, left eye 6/9. Hearing and colour vision both good. Limbs and chest well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Heart and lungs normal. 2 weeks illness with appendicular colic. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. No fits. 'Somewhat slow in carrying out orders.'

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 27th Reinforcements G Company
Date 16 July 1917
Transport Athenic 
Embarked From Wellington Destination Liverpool, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With

Military Awards

Campaigns Western Europe
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 21 February 1919 Reason No longer physically fit for war service  (debility frost bite).

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

16 January 1918 - admitted to Casualty Clearing Station at Rouen - sick; 22 February - admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital; 25 February transferred to Hospital at Hornchurch - septic foot & frostbitten fingers; May 1918 - admitted to Hospital at Codford, UK - dermatitis; 31 August 1918 - admitted to Codford - bronchitis.

Post-war Occupations

Policeman; nightwatchman

Death

Date 17 February 1928 Age 39 years
Place of Death Perfection Knitting Mills, Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Cause Murdered
Notices The Age, Melbourne; 20 February 1928
Memorial or Cemetery Fawkner Cemetery, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Memorial Reference Roman Catholic Section, Compartment I, Grave 635
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Fitzgerald, 54343, was born on 12 February 1889 at Waimate, the son of Irish-born parents, John and Johannah (née Vaughan?) Fitzgerald, of Waimate, and baptized Catholic on 20 June 1889 at Waimate. Both his parents died in the 1890s – John on 25 April 1894 at Timaru and Johanna on 26 April 1898; they are buried in the Timaru Cemetery. John and Johanna had been farming at Hook since the 1880s. In 1896 a sheep was stolen from the property of Mrs Fitzgerald at Hook. William was the older brother of James Fitzgerald 17/56, who was killed in action on 12 October 1917 at Passchendaele. It is likely that William took part in a club swinging performance at the Waimate St Joseph’s School concert in December 1902. On 6 February 1903 at St Patrick’s School, Waimate, William was awarded several prizes – Standard V Christian Doctrine and Grammar, and Drill. William Fitzgerald – presumably William of Waimate - participated in several events at the Waimate Caledonian Sports on Boxing Day 1902 – 440 yards handicap (with a 20 yards handicap), 880 yards handicap (38 yards handicap), and 120 yards hurdles (2 yards behind). On the day the weather was most unfavourable, but all except bicycle races and children’s events went ahead, mainly in heavy rain and on a boggy track. After winning his heat in the hurdles, William got away well and won the final by a yard. He finished an easy second in the 880 yards. Perhaps he was one favoured with big spikes on the very heavy track. He finished in second equal in the 440 yards, gained first placing in vaulting with pole, and competed in the running long jump. All in all a good day. Record entries were received for the South Canterbury Caledonian Sports to be held on New Year’s Day 1903 at Timaru. Was the same W. Fitzgerald among them? In the 440 yards, 120 yards hurdles and one mile. While the day was a great success for the society, W. Fitzgerald did not feature among the place-getters.

While William was initially the next-of-kin for his brother James, their aunt Mary Fitzgerald of Waimate, became next-of-kin for both William and James. Prior to enlistment William Fitzgerald was a police constable stationed in Wellington – “a young man, single, and a former resident of Waimate”. While he was listed at Waimate in the 1911 and 1914 electoral rolls, William was in Wellington in December 1916 where he suffered serious head wounds and required hospitalization when, as a constable on duty, he became involved in a domestic dispute. Perhaps there was more going on than first evident, as the accused was found guilty on only one of three charges, he having been provoked. Following the verdict, Constable Fitzgerald resigned from the Police Force. At the same time his name was listed among those who had volunteered for active service and been passed fit at the Town Hall Recruiting Office.

William Fitzgerald - single and Roman Catholic – enlisted on 19 February 1917 at the age of 27 years 8 months. His address was Lambton Quay Police Station. He was one of the taller men to enlist, as befits a constable. He stood at 6 feet tall, weighed 150 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 32½-36½ inches. His complexion was fair, his eyes blue and his hair brown. His left eye was slightly weak, and he had had appendicular colic for 2 weeks. Otherwise he was fit, in good bodily and mental health, free of diseases and vaccinated. A note was made on his medical sheet – “Somewhat slow in carrying out orders.”

Rifleman W. Fitzgerald left for the Front per the “Athenic” from Wellington on 16 July 1917, not long before James's death. With the 27th Reinforcements of the NZEF he was headed to Liverpool, England, where he disembarked on 16 September. On the trip he had spent three days in the ship’s hospital. He marched in on 27 September at Brockton and was posted to the Rifle Brigade. From there he proceeded overseas and at the beginning of November joined his battalion in France. Serving in France, William too had a few visits to hospital while abroad. On 16 January 1918 he was admitted to the Casualty Clearing Station at Rouen – sick, and on 22 February admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital, being transferred to the Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch on 25 February. The Base Records list published in March 1918 reported his as not a severe case. A breezy letter written on 7 March 1918 was received at the Central Police Offices (Wellington) from ex-Constable W. Fitzgerald. He mentioned that there were four former members of the Lambton Quay Police Station together at the Hornchurch Convalescent Hospital. W. Fitzgerald himself was suffering from a septic foot and frost-bitten fingers, being by that date convalescent and expecting to return to France soon. He had suffered frostbite to his left forefinger and middle finger, with resultant gangrene. His fingers were massaged, bathed and kept in wool. May 1918 brought another admission to hospital at Codford, UK, this time with dermatitis. The May 1918 report again listed his as not a severe case. He was again admitted to Codford, on 31 August 1918, suffering from bronchitis. This time he was classified by the Medical Board as unfit on account of debility following frostbite, and later discharged to Torquay.

He embarked for the return to New Zealand per "Briton" on 23 December 1918 in Draft 211, one of over a thousand men aboard, and arrived at Lyttelton in late January 1919. William's disability was attributed to his service in the Field and brought about his discharge on 21 February 1919. He disability followed frost bite and had the following consequences - shortness of breath on exertion, easily tired, cough, no aches, very anaemic, no energy (see Personnel File for details of Medical Board report). He was, however, free of any dental disability resulting from Active Service. For his war service, all of it in France, he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. From 20 June 1917 for the duration of the war the name of W. Fitzgerald appeared in the Waimate’s Roll of Honour which was printed regularly in the Waimate Daily Advertiser.

It seems that William remained in New Zealand with the police until about 1924 before going to Australia, where he met a tragic death in 1928. William lived at 17 Princes Street, Fitzroy. He had been working as a night watchman in Carlton, Victoria, for a year or two and was in poor health, when he was murdered, a bullet shot at close range penetrating his heart. During his round on the night of 17 February 1928, he disturbed a burglar who was lurking inside the Perfection Knitting Mills premises. It was thought that the man in question may have been involved in a recent burglary there as he obviously knew the building well and had been hiding in the vestibule when the last workmen left. Watchman Fitzgerald had given advice on security at the factory following the burglary. Some employees departing from a mill opposite and nearby residents heard Fitzgerald’s cry and the intruder’s shot, went back and found Fitzgerald dead. The offender was seen to run away immediately into the nearby Exhibition Gardens, before the full impact of the crime was recognised. The police night patrol was immediately called. Fitzgerald himself was carrying a fully loaded revolver in a leather case, but he had no time to use it.

Reports of the tragedy in New Zealand newspapers named William Fitzgerald variously as Fitzpatrick, Patrick, John, but noted that he was from South Canterbury. A cousin who lived near Cobram, Victoria, in response to a broadcast message, contacted police and made arrangements for William's burial and disposal of his property. Mr and Mrs William McKenzie Aitken inserted a death notice for their esteemed friend in a Melbourne newspaper. Mr William Aitken had called at police headquarters and told a detective that he was a friend of Fitzgerald. On account of his ill health, Fitzgerald was going to sell his watchman round and live with Mr and Mrs Aitken so that he could receive the attention he needed. William Aitken was, in fact, a colleague of William Fitzgerald on the night watchman rounds. Aitken described him as the “best cobber” he had ever had. The detectives who visited William's lodgings in Carlton learnt that he had been born at Waimate, New Zealand, that he had served with the New Zealand forces in the Great War, and that his health was affected by war injuries, such that he could undertake no hard work. William had returned to New Zealand for a holiday while living in Australia. Among his possessions were a military pension certificate and a State Savings Bank of Victoria passbook. Although Australian police made extensive inquiries and had four suspects, lack of evidence of identification prevented the police from taking any action. It appears that no one was brought to justice for William's death. The Victorian Police created a very large file pertaining to William Fitzgerald, which included photos of the site where the murder occurred. They also ascertained that he was born in Waimate, New Zealand in 1889, had served in the New Zealand military, and had sisters in New Zealand. At the time of his death, one of his sisters was a nun in the Convent of St Joseph in Gisborne and the other was living in Waimate. The two sisters contacted the police and offered to pay his funeral expenses. Thirty-nine year old William Fitzgerald died on 17 February 1928, murdered at the Perfection Knitting Mills, Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He was buried in the Fawkner Memorial Park Cemetery, Fawkner, Moreland, Victoria, Australia, on 22 February.

The Curator of the Estates of Deceased Persons was ordered by the Supreme Court of Victoria to be the Administrator of the property of William Fitzgerald, late of Number 17 Princes Street, Fitzroy, in the State of Victoria, formerly of New Zealand, Night Watchman, deceased. There may well be no immediate descendants of this family. The eldest, Anorah (Norah), who married James Clarke of Timaru in 1914, died in 1951, apparently without issue. James, who served in World War I, was killed in action at Passchendaele in 1917, unmarried. The youngest, Johannah Mary, became a nun – Sister Inez, a Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, an order which taught at Waimate from 1890, and died in 1984 in Auckland.

The aunt, Mary Fitzgerald, died in 1924 and was buried at Waimate. Mary had come from her native Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland in about 1881, probably with her brother John, and resided thereafter at Waimate, where she was much respected, and where she surely was instrumental in the upbringing of her nephews and nieces. When she died, a nephew (William Hillary) and a niece, Sister Inez, of St Joseph’s Convent, Gisborne (Johannah Mary) were her only relatives in New Zealand. No mention of Anorah. In his will signed on 24 April 1894, the day before his death, John Fitzgerald named his wife Johanna as sole executrix, bequeathing to her his all for her lifetime and in trust for the maintenance of their three children, Norah, William and James; little Johanna was not born until August 1894. Their mother Johanna Fitzgerald, who died four years later, put her property and effects in the hands of her trustees (one of whom was Mary Fitzgerald), to be paid to her youngest child when she reached 21 years, and for her maintenance and benefit during her minority. Aunt Mary Fitzgerald signed her will on 4 August 1894, the day before her death. She left £100 to her nephew William Fitzgerald, £50 to Sister Mary Inez, Gisborne, £20 to her nephew William Hillary; and made provision for her grave plot and for the balance of her estate to be paid to the Roman Catholic Church of Waimate. William Hillary testified as to Mary’s death. William Hillary, whose mother was Bridget Fitzgerald, was a cousin to Anorah, William, James and Johanna Fitzgerald, and came from County Clare, Ireland, and lived at Waimate for some years before returning to Ireland in 1925. William Hillary enlisted with the New Zealand Forces but did not go abroad. An In Memoriam notice inserted in the Otago Daily Times and Otago Witness in July 1918, probably by Anorah, presents a touching portrait of the family of William and James –

FITZGERALD.—On October 12, at Passchendaele, 17/56 —James Fitzgerald (Waimate), dearly beloved brother of Sister M. Inez (St. Joseph's Convent, Campsie, N.S.W.), W. Fitzgerald (on active service), and Mrs Jas. Clarke (Bathgate road, South Dunedin); in his 26th year. R.I.P.

Sources

Cenotaph Database [31 July 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5537 0040390) [17 April 2014]; Australian Death Index (ancestry.com.au) [February 2014]; Victoria Death Index (bdm.vic.gov.au) [05 May 2019]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [April 2014]; Catholic Diocese of Christchurch - Baptism index V.1.2 (South Canterbury Branch NZSG Computer Resources) [27 April 2014]; Timaru Herald, 27 April 1894, 16, 18 & 22 July 1896, 27 & 30 December 1902, 11 February 1903, 21 December 1916, 25 January 1919, NZ Tablet, 11 December 1902, 20 August 1924 [x 2], Waimate Daily Advertiser, 23 & 27 December 1902, 20 June 1917, Oamaru Mail, 20 December 1916, Evening Post, 20 December 1916, 15 & 16 January 1917, 14 February 1917, 14 May 1918, 22 February 1928, Dominion, 20, 21 & 29 December 1916, 12 January 1917, 21 February 1917, NZ Truth, 20 January 1917, 17 & 24 February 1917, Ashburton Guardian, 17 February 1917, Otago Daily Times, 22 February 1917, 6 October 1918, 20 February 1928, Nelson Evening Mail, 11 March 1918, NZ Times, 14 May 1918, Sun, 16 May 1918, Otago Witness, 10 July 1918, Poverty Bay Herald, 22 February 1928, Evening Star, 22 February 1928, Auckland Star, 29 February 1928 (Papers Past) [20 April 2014; 22 September 2014; 29 April 2018; 03, 05, 08 & 10 May 2019]; The West Australian, Perth, WA, 20 February 1928, The Argus, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 20 & 22 February 1928, 27 April 1928, 1 December 1950, The Age, Melbourne, 20 & 22 February 1928, Geelong Advertiser, 20 February 1928 (trove.nla.gov.au/ndp) [21 February 2014; 19 November 2017; 04 & 08 May 2019]; NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au) [August 2013]; Probate records (ArchivesNZ/FamilySearch) [28 September 2014; 29 April 2018; 06 May 2019]; Fawkner Cemetery, Victoria, Australia burial record (The Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust) [22 September 2014]; Find A Grave; Victoria Police - Indexes to Missing People (Helen Doxford Harris OAM) [21 February 2014]; Australian Electoral Roll (ancestry.com.au) [07 May 2019]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to

TS

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