(Service number 46195)
|First Rank||Private||Last Rank||Private|
|Date||abt 1900||Place of Birth||New Zealand|
|Address at Enlistment|
|Previous Military Experience|
|Next of Kin||Mrs W.J.Staines (mother), Waimangarca Hotel, Westport, New Zealand|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in|
|Body on Embarkation||New Zealand Expeditionary Force|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||25th Reinforcements Canterbury Infantry Regiment, C Company|
|Date||6 April 1917|
|Embarked From||Wellington, New Zealand||Destination||Plymouth, England|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With||Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion|
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
|Date||12 October 1917||Age||16|
|Place of Death||Ypres, Belgium|
|Cause||Killed in action|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Tyne Cot Memorial, Tyne Cot Cemetery,Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium|
|Memorial Reference||N.Z. Apse, Panel 2|
|New Zealand Memorials||On Memorial wall, Timaru; Timaru South School WW1 Memorial plaque|
Charles Leece was born at Waihi on 6 October 1900 to John Alfred and Emily Leece (nee Sullivan). Mother Emily was born at Halswell Canterbury and father John in the Isle of Man England. On Friday the 7th of June 1907, Charles’ father John (afather of 10) was killed in a mining accident at the Westport Coal Companies, Mine Creek colliery, which was at the township of Millerton in the hills above Granity. According to newspaper reports the accident occurred when a derailed coal truck struck some timber [supports] bringing down a large quantity of coal, which struck the unfortunate man. He died that day after being admitted to the Westport hospital. It was further reported that the deceased, prior to coming to New Zealand, had been a newspaper proprietor in New South Wales.
Charles was the youngest son and the second youngest of the ten children, and was only six when his father died. At some point Charles was sent to Timaru South School. Later, on 26 February 1915 Charles, then aged 14 years and 4 months appeared in the Nelson Magistrates Court before Mr J.S. Evans (Stipendiary Magistrates) charged with failing to register as required by the defence Act. He pleaded guilty. No doubt this related to the Territorial Act of 1910, which required all boys to serve with cadet units before joining the Territorial forces until aged 21. Sergeant Major Sharland, who appeared for the Defence Department, explained that boys attaining the age of 14 had to register. He told the court that once Charles had been informed by a Constable that he had not registered he had forthwith done so. The Magistrate commented (jocularly) “Are you frightened to go to the front? Are you going to be a good soldier?” Charles replied “Yes”.
On the 9th of January 1917, aged 16 years 3 months, Charles presented himself at the army recruiting office in Nelson, claiming to be 20 years old. There he was required to fill an application to join up, and had to swear that his answers were true. Charles gave his occupation as a hotel porter at the local Nelson Masonic Hotel, where his employer was a Mr Scott. To cloud his background further, he claimed to have been born at Brisbane Australia, his mother in Adelaide, and that the family had shifted to New Zealand four years earlier. Charles was described as being 5 foot tall with fair hair with blue eyes, weighing 9 ½ stone (60kg).
Charles joined C Company of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment of the 25th Reinforcements and was sent to Trentham for his training. He departed New Zealand from Wellington on the Troopship Turakina on 26 April 1917, arriving in Plymouth England on 20 July 1917. After training at Sling Camp in Wiltshire England he was transferred to France on 5 September 1917. Ten days later he was at the front.
On 12 October 1917 Charles was reported missing. His unit, the Canterbury Infantry Regiment and other troops of the NZ Division had been involved in the attack at Passchendaele, resulting in 45 officers and 800 New Zealand men killed with more than 2700 men wounded. A preliminary artillery barrage was supposed to destroy German barbed wire, but following an advance bogged down in mud, and horrified New Zealand Infantry discovered the wire was still intact. Trapped in the open ground and stuck in mud, they were cut down by withering German machine-gun and artillery fire. The attack of 12 October 1917 has gone down in history as New Zealand’s blackest day.
Charles was initially reported as missing, but a Court of enquiry seven months later determined he had been killed in action on the date of his disappearance. He had been 17 years old for only six days. The local newspaper, the Timaru Herald later reported on 2 May 1918: “Private Charles Leece, previously reported missing in October last at the Passchendaele fight, and now reported killed in action, was the youngest son of the late John Leece and Mrs. W. Staines of Westport. Private Leece was a very keen young soldier, he enlisted at Westport at the age of sixteen, sailed with the 25th Reinforcements and was killed in action … He was for some time a pupil of the Timaru South School.”
Charles’s body was never been found, but he is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Tyne Cot Cemetery, at Zonnebeke in Belgium.
Cenataph database (October 2014); NZ Historical BDM records (bdmhistoricalrecords,dai.govt.nz); Timaru Herald 2 May 1918 (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/); SCRoll web submission by G Middlemiss, 10 October 1917
Researched and Written by
Ann Munro, SC branch NZSG; Tony Rippin, South Canterbury Museum
Currently Assigned to
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License unless otherwise stated.
Tell us more
Do you have information that could be added to this story? Or related images that you are happy to share? Submit them here!