KEEN, William
(Service number 43990)

Aliases Billy
First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 29 November 1895 Place of Birth Innerleithen, Peebles-shire, Scotland

Enlistment Information

Date 6 November 1916 Age 20 years
Address at Enlistment Chester Street, Timaru
Occupation Clerk
Previous Military Experience 2nd South Canterbury Regiment
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin G. W. KEEN (father), 61 Le Cren Street, Timaru
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information Height 5 feet 8¼ inches. Weight 146 lbs. Chest measurement 34-38 inches. Complexion fair. Eyes blue. Hair auburn. Sight - both eyes 6/6. Hearing good. Colour vision correct. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart & lungs normal. No illnesses. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily & mental health. No slight defects. No fits.

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 23rd Reinforcements Canterbury Infantry Regiment, C Company
Date 2 April 1917
Transport Corinthic 
Embarked From Wellington Destination Plymouth, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Western European (Somme)
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

1918, April - shell wound to left side, right leg & back

Post-war Occupations


Date 21 April 1918 Age 22 years
Place of Death No.3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, France
Cause Died of wounds
Notices Timaru Herald, 6 May 1918
Memorial or Cemetery Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1, Somme, France
Memorial Reference VI. C. 80.
New Zealand Memorials Timaru Memorial Wall; Timaru Boys' High School Memorial Window; Waimataitai School War Memorial

Biographical Notes

William Keen, known as Billy, was the son of George Wilson Keen and his second wife Elizabeth née Scott, of 61 Le Cren St, Timaru, and the youngest of George Keen’s five sons. The family was residing at St Ronan's Cottage, Innerleithen, Peeblesshire, Scotland, in 1891 and 1901, and came to New Zealand in about 1902. George Wilson Keen who had worked in the mill at Innerleithen, engaged in similar work at Timaru. William, known as Billy, was born on 29 November 1895 at St Ronan’s Cottage, Cauldhame, Innerleithen. He started his schooling at Innerleithen and in February 1903, with his brother George, entered Waimataitai School, Timaru, where he received most of his education. George, Elizabeth and their sons had left for New Zealand in November 1902 by the “Ruapehu”. At Waimataitai young William was awarded an attendance prize for Standard IV in 1907. The prizes were not presented until the following February as an epidemic of measles had closed the school in December 1907. From Waimataitai, William continued his studies at Timaru Boys’ High School. He may well have been awarded a First Class certificate in shorthand at the Timaru Technical School in October 1912. At the age of 16 he started as a clerk in Mr C. G. Bryan King’s office, remaining there until enlisting. William joined his older brother, George Keen, in the Timaru Association Football Club team to compete in the Fraser Cup competition which commenced for the season in July 1913. He may also have participated in both cricket and swimming. W. Keen was selected for the Timaru Cricket team to play against Temuka in November 1909. There was a Keen playing for South end, in a match against Timaru in November 1909. And in March 1913, W. Keen played for South End against Temuka, not out on 1. The Timaru Swimming Club held its annual carnival in February 1912. W. Keen started in the 50 yards’ Inter-Club Handicap. He won the third heat in the same event held at Waimate in February 1914.

On the outbreak of war, the Keen family subscribed to the War Fund, which drew a splendid response from Timaru citizens. Young William contributed 5 shillings while his father and older brothers, John and George, each gave £1. William Keen enlisted at the Timaru Defence Office on 6 November 1916, when he was just three weeks shy of his 21st birthday. He was a clerk, single and Presbyterian. This young man stood at 5 feet 8¼ inches and weighed 146 pounds, with a chest measurement of 34-38 inches. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair. His sight, hearing and colour vision were all good, as were his limbs, joints, chest, heart and lungs. He was free of diseases, illnesses and defects, had no distinctive marks, and had been vaccinated. William named his father, G. W. Keen, of 61 Le Cren Street, Timaru, as his next-of-kin. William’s address was given as Chester Street, Timaru, at which address the family was at some time found. He was serving with the 2nd South Canterbury Regiment and he had registered at Timaru for compulsory military training. The 24th Reinforcements left Timaru for Trentham by the second express on 5 January 1917. They were entertained by the ladies of the Patriotic War Relief Society in Miss Read’s Stafford Tea Rooms. The 2nd (S.C.) Regimental Band was in attendance and Senior Cadets formed a cordon at the Strathallan Street crossing. On 28 January 1917 at Trentham, William Keen was transferred to the 23rd Reinforcements.

Private William Keen embarked on 2 April 1917 by the “Corinthic”, leaving Wellington for Plymouth, England. He went with the Canterbury Infantry Regiment of the 23rd Reinforcements. Marching out of Sling on 6 July, he left for France and joined the 3rd Battalion Canterbury Regiment on 24 July. William Keen sent an army postcard, postmarked “Field Post Office 12 Oct 1917”, to his mother, indicating that he was “quite well”. In November he was detached to the New Zealand Light Trench Mortar Battery, with a similar detachment in March 1918. Just a year after leaving New Zealand Private William Keen died. He succumbed to wounds received at the Somme, France, in the No.3 Canadian Stationary Hospital in the Field on 21 April 1918, aged 22 years. Casualty List No. 843 carried this report. He had suffered a shell wound in his left side, right leg and back. One of his brothers, probably George, was about 200 yards away when he fell. Private William Keen was buried in the Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1, Somme, France. His medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal, plaque and scroll were all sent to his father, Mr G. W. Keen. A portrait of Pte. Wm. Keen, published in the Auckland Weekly News in 1918, is attached to the Cenotaph record. By his Will dated 5 January 1917, William appointed his mother as executrix of his estate. The will was in the custody of his father. Mrs Keen had received a letter from Captain S. Wilkinson, Chaplain Stationary Hospital, B.E.F., France, dated twenty-first day of April 1918, saying that her son, No. 43990, died of wounds in the hospital that day.

On 21 April 1919 a touching and affectionate In Memoriam notice was published in the Timaru Herald - In sad but loving memory of my dear boy, Private W. Keen, died of wounds in France on April 21st, 1918.

´Tis only till the day breaks,

And all the shadows flee,

That my dearly loved one's

Face I cannot see.

Then, oh! The joy of meeting,

To part again no more,

To be henceforth together,

Safe on the golden shore.

—lnserted by one who loved him, M. E. Cosgrove.

And again on 21 April 1920 - In sad but loving memory of Private W. Keen, died of wounds in France, April 21st, 1918.

No one knows how much I miss him,

Some may think the wound has healed,

But they little know the sorrow,

Deep within my heart concealed.

– Inserted by one who loved him, M. E. Cosgrove.

Surely a girlfriend – Mary Elizabeth Cosgrove, of Timaru?

William is remembered on the Timaru Memorial Wall, Timaru Boys' High School Memorial Window, and Waimataitai School War Memorial. A marble tablet which had been erected on the façade of Waimataitai School in a commanding position was unveiled by the Mayor of Timaru, in the presence of a large gathering of past and present pupils, relatives of ex-pupils of the school who gave their lives in war, and others, on 31 January 1922. The chairman of the Canterbury Education Board told those gathered that the soldiers had died in order that others might live and they had made the greatest sacrifice possible in giving their lives for humanity. Inscribed on the tablet are the words - “For King and Country, In memory of ex-pupils of the Waimataitai School who gave their lives in the great war 1914-1918”, followed by the names of the fallen, 44 names which include W. Keen. The impressive ceremony closed with “The Last Post” and a verse of the National Anthem. His Excellency the Governor-General, Viscount Jellicoe, opened the Timaru Boys' High School Memorial Library on 21 March 1924. Included in the names above the inscription “Their name liveth for evermore.” on the roll of honour is W. Keen. After the formal opening, the “Last Post” and “Reveille”, one minute's silence followed, before the hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past", was sung. Three hundred boys went from the school and 52 did not return. From that date boys have looked with pride at the tablets housed in such a fine building. It was believed to be the only memorial of its kind in the country.

Two brothers of William Keen also saw service with New Zealand Forces in World War I – George Thornburn Keen and Henry Keen. In 1920, their father donated to the furnishing and maintenance fund for St Saviour’s Orphanage, the new home which was constructed in 1917 on Morgans Road and opened in 1918. It was used as a military orthopaedic hospital for returned servicemen for a time (1918-1921). Mr George Wilson Keen died in 1932 and his wife Elizabeth in 1944. They are buried in the Timaru Cemetery, their headstone recording a memorial to their son William. And he is remembered in his native land, in “The Book of Remembrance for Tweeddale” by Dr Gunn.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [06 January 2014]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ ref. AABK 18805 W5541 0062978) [21 July 2016]; CWGC [06 January 2014]; Timaru Herald, 21 February 1908, 12 October 1912, 16 July 1913, 10 August 1914, 9 November 1916, 5 January 1917, 3, 4 & 6 May 1918, 21 April 1919, 1 & 21 April 1920, Sun, 3 May 1918, Press, 21 March 1924 (Papers Past) [07 January 2014; 06 May 2015; 12, 13 & 26 August 2019]; 1891 & 1901 census returns Scotland ( [22 July 2016]; School Admission record (South Canterbury Branch NZSG); Probate record (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [16 April 2014]; Timaru Cemetery headstone image (Timaru District Council); Timaru Herald, 1922 (Timaru District Library) [19 April 2018]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [12 August 2019]; The Book of Remembrance for Tweeddale by Dr Gunn (Google search) [12 August 2019]; Family History (World Connect Project) [06 January 2014]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, South Canterbury branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to


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