HARNETT, William
(Service number 21832)

Aliases Willie
First Rank Corporal Last Rank Rifleman


Date 23 March 1889 Place of Birth Fairlie

Enlistment Information

Date 4 May 1916 Age 27 years 1 month
Address at Enlistment Kimbell, Fairlie
Occupation Labourer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Married. One child
Next of Kin Mrs W. HARNETT (wife), Kimbell, Fairlie; Mrs W. HARNETT, 26 Wilson Street, Wanganui
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 feet 8½ inches. Weight 156 lbs. Chest measurement 35½-39½ inches. Complexion fresh. Eyes brown. Hair black. Sight normal. Hearing and colour vision both good. Vaccinated.

Military Service

Served with New Zealand Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 8th Reinforcements 3rs Battalion, G Company
Date 23 September 1916
Transport Pakeha
Embarked From Wellington Destination Devonport, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With New Zealand Rifle Brigade

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 3 April 1918 Reason No longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on Active Service.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

20 January 1917 - admitted to No 4 General Hospital, Etaple - rheumatics. 7 June 1917 - wounded, admitted to No 9 Australian Field Ambulance, then No 10. 21 August 1917, France - sent to hospital, sick; admitted to No 3 NZ Field Ambulance – debility; 23 August to No. 1 NZ Field Ambulance - trench fever; 25 August to No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station; 26 August admitted to No 14 General Hospital, Wimereux; 1 September embarked for England & admitted to No 2 NZ General Hospital, Walton on Thames - trench fever; ;ater in September improving, not severe; 15 October transferred to Convalescent Depot, Hornchurch; 14 November classified Unfit by Medical Board – debility post trench fever and pleurisy; 19 November from Hornchurch to Torquay.

Post-war Occupations

Railway employee. Union official


Date 31 July 1966 Age 77 years
Place of Death Hamilton
Memorial or Cemetery Te Aroha Cemetery
Memorial Reference Block RSA; Row 03; Plot 054
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Harnett, known as Willie, was born on 23 March 1889 at Fairlie, the younger son of Timothy (Tim) Harnett and his first wife, Elizabeth née Kain (or Keane), of Fairlie. He was baptised on 15 April 1889 in the Timaru Roman Catholic Parish. His father was one of the early contractors for the Mount Cook Road Board which achieved great things in providing roads. An early settler in Fairlie, he acquired the license of the Silverstream Hotel in 1886, and in the same year he was a steward at the Fairlie Jockey Club races. He served on the first committee for Kimbell School when it opened in 1886, and was also responsible for the lay-out of the grounds. During the 1890s he was a judge of step-dancing for the Mackenzie Caledonian Society. William’s mother died on 18 April 1889, just 23 years old. She left three little children – John, Honorah (Nora) and little William, only a month old. Timothy Harnett was sued at the Fairlie Magistrate’s Court in March 1900, for arrears of maintenance charges for the care of his three children since 1889. After considerable evidence was given, judgment was given in his favour. In 1906, Timothy Harnett married Winifred Wade (née Gallen), a widow with eight children and six step-children. In January 1916, Timothy sold his farm at Fairlie, and livestock and implements.

Willie attended Fairlie School, then in 1902 went to Nelson Junior School. At Fairlie he was named in the school prize list in 1899, coming first equal in Standard III, and again in 1901, when he gained Proficiency and a composition award. He married Myrtle Mary Harris on 29 April 1913 at Wanganui. Their son, William Samuel Rae Harnett, perhaps known as Rae, was born on 19 August 1914 at Timaru.

Prior to enlistment he worked as a farm labourer in the Fairlie-Kimbell district. William left Timaru by the express for Trentham on 3 May 1916, after being entertained in the Stafford Tea Rooms by the Timaru Ladies Patriotic committee, then falling in and being addressed at the Drill Shed. There at Trentham he enlisted, naming his wife as next-of-kin – Mrs W. Harnett, Kimbell, Fairlie. She was also at 26 Wilson Street, Wanganui, perhaps with her family. His address was also Kimbell. He was 5 feet 8½ inches tall, weighed 156 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 35½-39½ inches. His complexion was fresh, his eyes brown, and his hair black. His sight, hearing and colour vision were all good. And he was vaccinated. Harnett was promoted to Lance Corporal and then to Corporal while still in New Zealand. Corporal W. Harnett embarked by the “Pakeha” at Wellington on 23 September 1916, with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade of the 8th Reinforcements, destined for Devonport, England. Disembarking at Devonport on 18 November, he marched into Sling and reverted to the rank of Lance Corporal. On 27 December 1916 he reverted to Rifleman, leaving for France from Sling on 7 January 1917 with that rank. William Harnett incurred penalties for the standard offences – loss of pay and reversion to ranks for absence without leave at Sling in December 1916, and loss of pay for absence from Tattoo Roll Call in the Field in July 1917.

On 20 January 1917 at Etaple, he was admitted to No 4 General Hospital, affected by rheumatics, but by 5 February he was in the Field. Casualty list No. 606 reported that William Harnett of the NZ Rifle Brigade had been wounded in action on 7 June 1917. He was admitted to No 9 Australian Field Ambulance and then to No 10. He rejoined his unit on 21 June. On 21 August 1917 he was sent to hospital, sick. He was admitted to No 3 New Zealand Field Ambulance, suffering from debility, and two days later to No 1 with trench fever, and two more days later to No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station. After being admitted to No 14 General Hospital, Wimereux, on 26 August, he embarked for England and was admitted to No 2 New Zealand General Hospital at Walton on Thames on 1 September, reported suffering from trench fever. Later in September he was improving, his case being reported as not severe. He was transferred to the Convalescent Depot at Hornchurch on 15 October and discharged from there to Torquay on 19 November. On 14 November he had been classified Unfit for War Service for six months by the Medical Board on account of debility post trench fever and pleurisy, and his return to New Zealand was recommended. The debility was attributed to Active Service and exposure and resulted in 50% disablement. Treatment as an outpatient at an ordinary hospital was recommended. He had experienced pain in the legs (shins), arms, back, head and chest. His heart sounded faint and he was breathless on exertion.

It was on 10 January 1918 that 21832 W. Harnett, of Wanganui, embarked at Plymouth on the “Arawa”. The large draft of returned soldiers arrived at Wellington on 6 March 1918. On his return William was granted a week’s sick leave. He was welcomed home at a very enjoyable social in the Fairlie public hall in April 1918. And he was also welcomed home at Kimbell at a social held in the big wool shed belonging to Mr J. Annan, where the night was given over to dancing and singing. Each returned man was presented with a handsome gold medal, and a bounteous supper was enjoyed. Rifleman William Harnett was discharged on 3 April 1918, being no longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on Active Service. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

In 1919 a daughter was born to William and Myrtle, Julia Elizabeth Harnett, who sadly died at six days and was buried at Timaru. Another son, Noel Owen Harnett, was born in 1923 at Timaru. On 20 May 1924 there was to be a clearing sale of household furniture and effects at the Harnett Family residence, 40 Buchanan Street, Timaru. It was postponed for a couple of days on account of the wet, but bidding was keen and all the lots found buyers at good prices. William and Myrtle made their way to the North Island where they remained for the rest of their lives and where they brought up their family. William was a railway employee, which work may have taken them north. Later he was a union official, engaged as an organising secretary. In retirement he lived in Matamata. Dying at Hamilton on 31 July 1966 at the age of 77, he was buried in the Soldiers section of Te Aroha Cemetery. Myrtle died in 1986. Their son, Rae William Samuel Harnett, who was born at Timaru, started school at Sacred Heart, Timaru, and served in World War II, was also buried in the RSA section of Te Aroha Cemetery.

William’s older brother John Harnett, who also served in World War I, was to die in 1923 from the effects of his war service. His step-brother William Wade, who was killed in action in 1917, was awarded the Military Medal and D.C.M.; another step-brother, Edward James Wade, was awarded the Military Medal; and a third step-brother, Hugh Joseph Wade, also served in World War I. Thus Timothy and Winifred (formerly Wade) Harnett between them had five sons serving.

£1 was collected from Mr Tim Harnett of Fairlie for the Distress in Ireland fund, in early 1917, and in 1921 ten shillings towards the Irish Relief Fund. In June 1918, T. Harnett of the Mackenzie district, gave three shillings to the Prisoners of War Fund. He had earlier donated to the Roundhill Relief fund. Mrs Winifred Harnett, from County Tyrone, Ireland, was accidentally killed at Waimataitai, Timaru on 6 June 1922 when her she fell from the trap in which she was riding after the horse shied. She owned property in Timaru in her own right, which property (house, sections, furniture, piano) she bequeathed to her husband Timothy Harnett. She had signed her will prior to the birth of her child Mary Winifred Clare Harnett in 1990. Timothy Harnett, from County Limerick, Ireland, died on 20 November 1936 at Fairlie. He was survived by his younger son, William, who was then living at Raetihi, his daughter of his first marriage, Nora, and his daughter of his second marriage, Mary (Mrs Keenan). Signing his will not long before his death, Timothy appointed his step-son, Edward Wade, as executor and trustee, Edward in turn appointing the Public Trustee as executor, and he bequeathed all his estate to his daughter, Mary Winifred Clare Keenan.


Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph Database [06 November 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ ref. AABK 18805 W5539 0050806) [25 June 2014]; Timaru Herald, 18 December 1899, 16 December 1901, 24 January 1919, 2 May 1916, 29 June 1917, 8 April 1918, 27 June 1918, 5 August 1919, 1 September 1919, 7 June 1922, 17 March 1924, 15, 17, 20 & 28 May 1924, Temuka Leader, 22 March 1900, 8 June 1922, Press, 28 June 1917, NZ Times, 13 September 1917, 7 March 1918, New Zealand Tablet, 22 June 1922, Otago Daily Times, 26 November 1936 (Papers Past) [06 November 2013; 06 May 2014; 13 September 2015; 03 March 2018; 26 October 2020; 16 February 2021; 11 March 2021]; NZ BDM indexes (NZ Department of Internal Affairs historical records) [04 May 2014]; School Admission Records (South Canterbury Branch NZSG transcriptions); Burial Records - Te Aroha Cemetery, Morrinsville Area Burials (Morrinsville Branch NZSG); Monumental Inscription - Te Aroha Cemetery (South Canterbury Branch NZSG Cemetery Records microfiche) [06 May 2014]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [04 May 2014]; Timaru Catholic Baptism Register (held at Sacred Heart Timaru in custody of Holy Family Parish) [13 February 2015]

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Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

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