SINCLAIR, William Bruce
(Service number 3/1864)

Aliases Willie
First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 3 February 1895 Place of Birth Timaru

Enlistment Information

Date 18 November 1915 Age 20 years
Address at Enlistment C/o W. Baxter, Chemist, Timaru
Occupation Chemists assistant
Previous Military Experience High School Cadets. No 8 Mounted Field Ambulance - still serving
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Peter SINCLAIR (father), 27 Bank Street, Timaru
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information Height 5 feet 8¾ inches. Weight 128½ lbs. Chest measurement 33¼-36 inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Sight - both eyes 6/6. Hearing & colour vision both normal. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Slight pigeon chest. 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. 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 Hospital Ship No. 1, Maheno (Second Charter); New Zealand Hospital Ship No. 1, Maheno (Third Departure from New Zealand) Staff
Date 25 January 1916; 6 May 1916
Transport Maheno
Embarked From Sea Destination
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With H.S. “Maheno”

Military Awards

Campaigns Hospital Ship Maheno 1916
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 12 January 1917 Reason No longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted while on Active Service.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations

Chemist; poultry instructor


Date 23 September 1922 Age 27 years
Place of Death Christchurch
Cause Tuberculosis?
Notices Timaru Herald, 25 September 1922; Press, 26 September 1922; Otago Daily Times, 27 September 1922
Memorial or Cemetery Timaru Cemetery
Memorial Reference General Section, Row 17, Plot 155
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Bruce Sinclair, known as Willie, was born on 3 February 1895 at Timaru, the youngest son of Peter and Catherine (née Ferguson) Sinclair. Peter and Catherine who were both born in Scotland and had married in 1871 at Timaru, had thirteen children, all born at Timaru (Bank Street), several being honoured with a newspaper announcement. Their first-born, Peter, died in 1877 at the age of five. Later, there were marriage announcements for some of the daughters and sons, often to locals and in the Presbyterian churches.

Along with his siblings, Willie attended Timaru Main School. There in 1902 he received a Proficiency prize for boys in the Infant Department. In 1904 Willie earned a First-class certificate of merit for Standard II. William sang “Razors in the Air”, which went very well, in the Timaru Main School’s entertainment given in the Theatre Royal on 26 July 1906 - an old-fashioned Christy- Minstrel entertainment, while his brother Lake played the part of Mr Johnson. A most interesting item at the Timaru Main School’s annual festival in November 1907 was a Poster and Fancy dress procession. Among the Posters selected by the judges was “Wade’s tourists outfits” – a little tourist with bags and dog (W. Sinclair). At the Timaru Main School prize-giving in 1907, W. Sinclair won a Boys’ Sports Prize for a poster. He went on to Timaru Boys’ High School.

There was a large attendance of children, parents and friends at Chalmers Presbyterian Church on 16 October 1904 to witness the annual distribution of prizes. Both William and Lake Sinclair appeared on the prize list. At a special service for children at Chalmers Church on 17 October 1909, the Minister took advantage of the occasion to present the prizes won by the scholars. One of the recipients was Willie Sinclair in the scripture catechism and essay, senior division.

Willie, too, competed in swimming events, entering in the Timaru Rowing Club’s swimming carnival on 27 February 1908, he and Lake in the 50 yards Junior Handicap. At the Timaru Boys’ High School annual swimming sports held in March 1910, W. Sinclair finished 2nd equal in a heat of the 50 yards breast-stroke (open). On the same occasion, his brother David competed in the Old Boys’ race.

Mr W. B. Sinclair, who had been in the employ of Mr W. Baxter, chemist, for a good many years (5), left Timaru for Trentham on Tuesday, 16 November 1915. Enlisting at Palmerston North on 18 November 1915 and joining the New Zealand Medical Corps Ambulance, he would be in camp until about Christmas, before he left on the hospital ship Marama. William was 5 feet 8¾ inches tall, weighed 128½ pounds, and had a chest measurement of 33¼-36 inches. His complexion was fair, his eyes grey and his hair brown. His sight, hearing, colour vision, heart and lungs were all normal. While his limbs were well formed, he had a slight pigeon chest. His teeth were good, he was vaccinated, and he had had no illnesses, diseases, or fits. A young man in g good bodily and mental health. He had served with the High School Cadets and belonged to No. 5 Mounted Field Ambulance. Single and Presbyterian, he named his father as next-of-kin – Peter Sinclair, 27 Bank Street, Timaru. His address was given as C/o W. Baxter, Chemist, Timaru, where he was a chemist’s assistant.

Private Sinclair was posted to the NZ Medical Corps on 19 November 1915. It was per Hospital Ship No. 1 Maheno (Second Charter), that Private W. B. Sinclair embarked at Wellington on 25 January 1916, arriving back on 10 April. Private W. B. Sinclair embarked again per Hospital Ship No. 1 Maheno at Wellington again on 6 May 1916, this time as staff on her third departure from New Zealand. The “Maheno”, which had been on cross-Channel duty, left Southampton on 28 October 1916 and arrived back in New Zealand on 23 December 1916, bringing “scores of men snatched from the jaws of death in the terrible Somme fighting to enjoy what all sincerely hope will be the happiest Christmas of their lives.” And so it was for William Sinclair, too, who returned on the Staff of “Maheno” and was going to his home at 27 Bank Street, Timaru.

A Medical Board was assembled at Wellington on 21 December 1916, to examine and report on Private William Bruce Sinclair, NZMC. It determined that his original disability was gastritis caused by service on Maheno and resulted in periodic attacks of vomiting and pain. His progress was slow, he was not fit for Active Service or Territorial Service, and his disability was likely to be permanent. He was fit for civil employment “to a certain extent”.

William Bruce Sinclair was discharged on 12 January 1917, being no longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted while on Active Service. All his overseas service was on Hospital Ship “Maheno”, for which he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The first annual meeting of the Returned Soldiers’ Association was held in the Soldiers’ Institute in February 1917. The incorporation of the Association under the “Incorporated Societies Act, 1908,” was moved and seconded, and was carried unanimously. Among the new members elected was W. Sinclair.

Private William Bruce Sinclair, of Timaru, was admitted to the Pleasant Valley Sanatorium near Palmerston, Otago, on 1 May 1918. The report prepared on 18 November 1918 read in part - Cough & expect morning. . . . . . pain L. side in night . . . . . . dullness R. base . . . . . . Rough friction sounds L. . . . . . dim movement R. arm . . . . . . Friction sounds . . . .

On 24 March 1919, the Medical Director of the Pleasant Valley Sanatorium wrote – “This is to certificate that William Bruce Sinclair has been under treatment in this institution suffering from early Tuberculosis of the Lungs (T.B. positive) complicated with Pleurisy with effusion. He has achieved a certain degree of arrest of the disease but requires further care to maintain and firmly establish it. He is tired of this Sanatorium and the climate of his Home at Timaru is not very suitable for him. I suggest that at Waipukurau he might complete his recovery and learn some useful outdoor occupation for which there are no facilities here.”

A medical report was prepared for the Pensions Department on 29 June 1921. The case was one of T.B. Lungs. His present physical condition was poor, although he “says his health is good; that he can do a hard day’s work without distress & that he has no cough.” The examination revealed – There is very marked flattening & diminished expansion of Rt. chest with drooping of Rt. shoulder dull percussion note over all Rt. chest – bronchial breathing supra clavis. R. increased V.R. all over Rt. side – poor air entry Rt. base – Lt. lung quite normal – no adventitious sounds anywhere – there is very extensive pulmonary involvement in Rt. side & also pleural thickening Rt. case notwithstanding the extent of the disease it seems to be now in a fibiotic quiescent stage. He was assessed at 75% disablement for pension purposes and 6 months probable duration of present incapacity. William Sinclair was at this time a poultry farmer at Tauherenikau Camp, having trained at the Avonhead (Christchurch) poultry farm.

William Bruce Sinclair, a poultry instructor, returned to Timaru from Featherston to marry Timaru-local, Hazel Belle Knowles on 17 May 1922 at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church. One of the witnesses was John Sinclair, a farmer at Arno. Was this his brother John, a chemist at Ashburton or another relative? William and Hazel returned to the Training Farm at Tauherenikau. Sadly, however, they were to enjoy little time together. William died on 24 September 1922 at Christchurch, aged 26 years – “Deeply regretted”. “The deceased was a young man of much promise . . . . . . he did much good war service. He served on the Maheno . . . . . but the strain told on his health and when finally discharged he was far from well. . . . . . He was a young man of cheerful disposition and very popular, and news of his untimely death will be learned with great regret.” His funeral left the Timaru residence of his brother-in-law for the Timaru Cemetery where he was buried with his mother and the baby brother he did not know (Peter). His brothers Robert and Lake were pall-bearers and the R.S.A. was represented at his burial service which was an impressive one. Hazel, who remarried in 1930, lived on to 1985 and was also buried at Timaru with her second husband. By his Will, dated at Christchurch the day before his death, William appointed the Public Trustee as executor and bequeathed the whole of his estate to his wife, Hazel Bell Sinclair. He held Cash at the Bank, Accrued Pension and a Life Policy amounting to £343.11s.

On the outbreak of war, P. Sinclair contributed one guinea to the South Canterbury War Fund. Mrs P. Sinclair gifted the Chalmers Guild socks for the Red Cross Fund in October 1915. In May 1917, both Mrs P. Sinclair, Bank St, and Peter Sinclair gave 10 shillings and sixpence to the Plunket Nurse motor car fund. In September 1919, Peter Sinclair donated £5 to the War Memorial Fund. And in September 1921 he paid 10 shillings to the Dorgan Fund. In August 1927, his £1 subscription was to the Unemployment Relief Fund.

Mrs Catherine Sinclair died on 22 August 1922 at her Bank Street residence, just four weeks before her youngest son, William Bruce Sinclair. In early September 1927, a few of the directors of the Pioneer Terminating Building Society waited on Mr Peter Sinclair at his Bank Street home, He had retired from the directorate after 19 years. He was made a small presentation and wished good health and happiness. His second daughter, Catherine Fleming, died in 1933 at Dunedin. Peter Sinclair celebrated his ninetieth birthday on 31 March 1936. He had come out to New Zealand in about 1869 and settled in Timaru. He had served in the Dundee Rifles, a premier Scottish regiment; in New Zealand his sons were volunteers. Catherine Ferguson had accompanied him to New Zealand and they lived all their lives in Bank Street, probably at only two sites. Family members living locally were able to visit him on his special day, including John who lived at Ashburton. David and Lake were not able to be present, David living in Auckland and Lake in Christchurch probably not fit. For much of his time at Timaru he had worked as a blacksmith for the Timaru Harbour Board and was responsible for many of the harbour defences. His son Lake died in September 1936 at Christchurch. Peter was still enjoying good health when he celebrated his ninety-second birthday on 31 March 1938, receiving many congratulatory telegrams from relatives and well-wishers. On 15 June 1938, Mr Peter Sinclair died at his residence, 43 Bank Street, Timaru, and was buried at Timaru with Catherine and his oldest and youngest sons, Peter and William.

The two brothers immediately older William – David Sinclair and Lake Sinclair – both served overseas in World War One, and both died relatively young as a consequence of their service. An older brother, John Sinclair, enlisted but saw no service; while the oldest surviving brother, Thomas Bell Jones Sinclair, and the third surviving brother, Robert Albert Sinclair, were both listed in the Reserve Rolls. Robert’s only son, Peter Sutherland Sinclair, served in World War Two and died a war pensioner at the young age of 31 years.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [10 September 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives ref. AABK 18805 W5553 0105260) [10 November 2016]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [2013; 12 November 2016]; School Admission records (South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [12 Nov 2016]; Timaru Cemetery headstone image & burial record (Timaru District Council) [05 February 2014]; Timaru Herald, 25 & 26 September 1922 (Timaru District Library) [08 January 2016]; Timaru Herald, 4 & 26 March 1878, 25 March 1880, 14 November 1881, 1 December 1881, 3 & 19 June 1884, 10 May 1886, 22 May 1899, 19 December 1902, 9 February 1903, 25 June 1904, 17 October 1904, 16 December 1904, 27 July 1906, 12 November 1907, 20 December 1907, 26 February 1908, 18 October 1909, 11 March 1910, 19 August 1910, 11 August 1914, 10 April 1915, 15 October 1915, 13 November 1915, 26 February 1917, 29 May 1917, 25 September 1919, 20 September 1921, 20 May 1922, 23 August 1922, 25 September 1922, 30 September 1922, 11 August 1927, 9 September 1927, 1 April 1938, 16 June 1938, Auckland Star, 19 December 1916, Press, 19 May 1922, 26 September 1922, 16 June 1938, Otago Daily Times, 24 May 1922, 27 September 1922 (Papers Past) [17 July 2016; 08 November 2016; 29 June 2022; 06 October 2022; 01, 02, 04, 05 & 11 February 2023]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [05 September 2014; 12 November 2016; 02 February 2023]; Probate record (Archives NZ/Family Search) [24 April 2016]; St Paul’s Timaru Presbyterian marriage record [03 February 2023]

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