FOSTER, William Alexander
(Service number 3/846)

Aliases Willie
First Rank Private Last Rank Warrant Officer 1


Date 18 July 1891 Place of Birth Christchurch

Enlistment Information

Date 15 July 1915 Age 24 years
Address at Enlistment Chamberlain School, Timaru
Occupation School teacher
Previous Military Experience High School Cadets Christchurch. Officers Training Corps, Christchurch, until disbanded
Marital Status Single. Then married 18 July 1917. Two children born during service.
Next of Kin John FOSTER (father), 84 Andover Street, Merivale, Christchurch. Later 29 Tonbridge Street, Christchurch. rom July 1917 Mrs W. A. FOSTER (wife), 57 Minford Gardens, Kensington, England.
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information Height 5 feet 11¼ inches. Weight 159 lbs. Chest measurement 29-37½ inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair light brown. Sight - right eye D260 without glasses, D26 with glasses; left eye D260 without glasses, D24 with glasses. Hearing some(?). Colour vision correct. Limbs well formed. Full and perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth fairly good. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects.

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 New Zealand Medical Corps, Ambulance Details
Date 29 July 1915
Transport Manuka
Embarked From Wellington Destination Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With NZ Medical Corps

Military Awards

Campaigns Balkan - Gallipoli; Egyptian
Service Medals 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal
Military Awards MSM (Meritorious Service Medal)

Award Circumstances and Date

"Brought to the notice of Secretary of State for War, for valuable service at Home towards the successful conduct of the war, & has been noted for records & published in the press by the War Office (N Z E F 0532 ... Ldn 15.3.18)" Awarded the M.S.M in recognition of valuable service rendered in connection with the War. HQ Ldn 31.3.19 (Gazette - New Years Honors 1919)

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 25 November 1919 Reason No longer physically fit for war service.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

20 September 1915 – slightly sick (asthma). 15 November 1918 - admitted to 2nd NZ General Hospital, Walton-on-Thames – quinsy; discharged 22 November. 19 February 1919 - admitted to 2nd NZ General Hospital, Walton-on-Thames – influenza; discharged 27 February.

Post-war Occupations

School master


Date 10 December 1927 Age 36 years
Place of Death 31 Godley Avenue, Northcote Settlement, Papanui
Cause Suicide by drowning in a bath
Memorial or Cemetery Addington Cemetery, Christchurch
Memorial Reference Block 0, Plot 1054B
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Alexander Foster, known as Willie, was born on 18 July 1891 at Christchurch. He was the younger son of John and Margaret Greig (née McColl) Foster, of Christchurch. John and Margaret married in 1877 in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and came to New Zealand about 1879/1880 with their first-born, settling in the Merivale district of Christchurch where they lived continuously until their deaths. Two sons and four daughters were born at Christchurch, where Mr and Mrs Foster were foundation members of Knox Presbyterian Church. William and his siblings were educated at Christchurch Normal School, William leaving in 1903. In his first year at school (1896), Willie Foster received a certificate for conduct in the Preparatory II Class. In June 1897 he gave a recitation at the North Belt Presbyterian Church Band of Hope meeting. In March 1900, four young boys, William Foster one of them, “were charged with bathing in the river at Hagley Park at a time other than between 5 and 7 a.m. The evidence was to the effect that the three boys on the date mentioned, between 3.30 and 4, were bathing in tie river. They had bathing trunks on at the time. Foster pleaded "Not guilty." Sub-Inspector O'Brien said that the present charges had not been brought with the view of punishing the boys, but was owing to the fact that the police had received complaints as to boys and men bathing in prohibited hours, and it was necessary that publicity should be given to the by-laws. . . . . . Acting on the information the boys committed the offence complained of. After being cautioned by the Bench, the boys were discharged.”

He won 2nd prize for Boys’ recitation at the Schools’ Competitions as part of the Jubilee Exhibition in December 1900. W. A. Foster, of Normal School, was granted an entrance exhibition at the Boys’ High School, tenable for one year, in December 1903. And so, William continued his education at the Christchurch Boys’ High School, where he received a Headmaster’s prize in 1904, the Junior Reading prize in 1905, second prize in the Upper V form in 1906, a certificate for Oral French in 1907 and, in 1908 the Upper VI Mathematics prize, Professor Blunt’s prize for Oral French and the Senior Reading certificate. He had also been in the caste for the scenes from “A Mid-summer Night’s Dream’ the boys’ High School’s winter entertainment. In that same year, he also qualified for matriculation on the University scholarship examinations.

Impressions of a member of the Presbyterian Assembly held recently were recorded in the Lyttelton Times of 17 November 1906. “Something must be said regarding the social functions of the Assembly. One gathering that comes partly under this head was the Sabbath-school prize-giving demonstration. The Presbytery of Christchurch occupies an honourable place in the prize-list. The highest marks in the colony in all three subjects, scripture, catechism, and essay, were secured by Master William Alexander Foster, of Knox Church Sunday-school, and ties with one of the scholars of the Wellington Presbytery.”

In February 1909, Mr W. A. Foster was appointed a pupil teacher at New Brighton, while later in the year he was successful in the Canterbury College first year examinations. William Alexander Foster, Christchurch, passed for Class D at the Teacher’s Certificate Examinations of January 1910. By 1910, he was well immersed in the Scouting movement and was the scoutmaster of the Linwood troop. “He was ever an enthusiast regarding military matters. He was a prominent leader in the Cadet movement, and was mainly instrumental in establishing a strong company at Linwood, of which he became the popular Scoutmaster.” Chief Scoutmaster W. A. Foster gave a humorous recitation and a song “The boy Scouts” at a scout gathering in June 1910. In the same month his engagement as a probationary pupil-teacher at Linwood North was confirmed and in October he was successful in the second-year examination at Canterbury College. He was not only scoutmaster, he was also the district secretary for the Scouts and was known to give instruction in knotting and signalling. “Chief Scoutmaster W. A. Foster, District Secretary, has composed a splendid Scout dialogue, which was rendered by the Scouts of the Linwood troop recently. It took immensely, and as a popular item for a Scout concert it cannot fail to draw.” [Lyttelton Times. 28 October 1911.] The presentation of Royal Life-saving Society certificates to competitors from the Normal Training College, Christchurch, took place at Temuka in December 1911, one of the recipients being W. A. Foster. Towards the end of the month he passed the examination in first aid and qualified for the certificate of the St John Ambulance Association. 1912 brought an appointment as fourth assistant at Timaru Main School. Before long, he had increased interest in Scout matters, raising a troop of over 60 boys at the school. At the annual tea and concert of the Loyal Orange Institution in Timaru, in July 1913, “Mr W. A. Foster delighted the audience with his imitation of the Jew on the telephone, and in response to the demand for more, he gave a drama of three acts in as many minutes, earning warm applause.” He was one of the teachers responsible for the Timaru Main School fund-raising concert in October 1913, and composed the music for the words of the Kinderspiel characters.

His engagement to Ella Jones of Stratford, was announced in October 1913 while he was at Timaru Main, but no marriage eventuated. Musical accompaniment and scout activities in Timaru continued, until March 1914 when he was appointed sole teacher at Chamberlain School. On his departure from Timaru Main, he was presented with an upholstered wicker chair by members of the Main School committee and the teaching staff, the chairman and headmaster speaking of Mr Foster’s many good qualities. Mention was also made of the splendid work done by Mr Foster in connection with the Boy Scouts, and regret expressed that they were about to lose him. Mr Foster suitably responded. At the school he was the recipient of presentations from his old class, and the standard at present under his care. Community involvement continued at Chamberlain. There in July 1915, he collected donations for the Albury Branch of the Red Cross Society and contributed himself. In March 1915, he directed the sports events at the annual picnic hosted at Opawa Station by Mr J. S. Rutherford, the “Laird of Opawa” or “Lord Chamberlain”, and he was also there at the evening festivities.

William A. Foster, Chamberlain, Ambulance, was among the recruits passed by the medical men for the Reinforcements in Timaru in mid July 1915. At the time of enlisting, he was master of Chamberlain School, South Canterbury. He had served with the Senior High School Cadets at Christchurch and with the Officer’s Training Corps at Christchurch until it was disbanded. On enlisting on 15 July 1915 at Palmerston North, he joined the Field Ambulance. Single and Presbyterian, he named his father as next-of-kin – John Foster, 84 Andover Street, Merivale, Christchurch. He stood at 5 feet 11¼ inches, weighed 159 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 29-37½ inches. His complexion was fair, his eyes grey and his hair light brown. His sight was problematic - right eye D260 without glasses, D26 with glasses; left eye D260 without glasses, D24 with glasses. His colour vision was correct and his teeth fairly good. His limbs and chest were well formed, his heart and lungs normal. Free from diseases and vaccinated, he was in good bodily and mental health.

At the Timaru Congregational Church Sunday School anniversary celebrations in mid-October 1915, W. A. Foster was included in a list of school and bible class boys who had enlisted. Among South Canterbury’s representatives at the front in a list published in the New Zealand Journal of Education in October 1915 was W. A. Foster (Chamberlain). Having previously filled the position of organist of the Linwood Congregational Church, when he moved to South Canterbury, he filled a similar position in the Timaru Congregational Church.

Private W. A. Foster embarked with the New Zealand Medical Corps, Ambulance Details, departing from Wellington for Sydney, Australia, per the “Manuka”, on 29 July 1915. He left New Zealand with a special squad of five doctors and twenty-five men. He was with RMS Persia in August 1915 when he was inoculated for typhoid. Fortunately, he did not stay with this Australian troop transport as it was torpedoed off Crete in December 1915 by the Germans. Disembarking at Suez on 9 September 1915, he left for the Dardanelles. For some time, he did duty on the hospital ship “Dongola”. Private W. A. Foster, Medical Corps, disembarked at Malta from the hospital ship “Dongella”, slightly sick, on 20 September 1915. The cable advice towards the end of October was that he was nearly well. Discharged from hospital in Malta, fit for active service, he embarked for Egypt per hospital ship “Shropshire” on 15 December 1915. He was taken on strength at the barracks in Cairo on 1 January 1916 and spent some months in Egypt attached to the Medical Corps.

He was appointed Clerk on strength of N.Z.E.F. H.Q. (D.D.M.S. office) with rank and pay of Sergeant on 1 March 1916 at Cairo. He embarked at Alexandria per “Dover Castle” for overseas on 2 June. He was transferred to London, where he was placed in charge of the records dealing with the New Zealanders on active service. Posted “On Command” to Headquarters, London, on 16 June 1916, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant at Divisional Headquarters on 19 August. As of 1 October 1916, he was to be Temporary S.Q.M.S. (2nd Class Warrant Officer) at Headquarters, England. On 31 July 1917 he was appointed S.S.M. (W.O. Class 1). 26-year-old Staff Quartermaster-Sergeant William Alexander Foster, N.Z.M.C., was married on 18 July 1917 at St. Matthew’s Church, West Kensington, to Miss Olive Edith Gale, of London. Thereupon, his wife became his next-of-kin – Mrs W. A. Gale, 57 Minford Gardens, Kensington. On 31 January 1918, he was still accounts clerk at Medical Headquarters.

On 21 June 1918, a roll of honour of past pupils who had gone to the war was unveiled at Linwood School. The Mayor said it was fitting that the names of public schoolboys who had gone to fight should be handed on to posterity — the children of the future would then think of the gallant men who had risked everything and made such sacrifices. It stood as a permanent and lasting tribute to men who had gone to battle for the Empire. Among the 34 names on the roll was that of W. A. Foster. In early October 1918, the Lyttelton Times published a letter from Mr W. A. Foster, formerly Scoutmaster of the Linwood troop, and of the main troop, Timaru, but at the time Staff Sergeant-Major N.Z.M.C., and stationed at Bloomsbury Square, London. He wrote: Scouts are going strong. I have been Scoutmaster of a troop in Shepherd’s Bush for eighteen months now, and things are booming. We have seventy-two on the roll. It is a Church troop, and it is a condition of membership that the boy attends Sunday School every Sunday. He goes on to explain the system used and its good aspects.

William was admitted to the 2nd New Zealand General Hospital at Walton-on-Thames on 15 November 1918, suffering from quinsy, and was discharged to Headquarters four days later. On 19 February 1919, he was again admitted to the Walton-on-Thames hospital, this time with influenza, and discharged eight days later to Headquarters, London. In April 1919, Mrs J. Foster, of Merivale, received advice that her son, Staff Sergt.-Major W. A. Foster, N.Z.M.C., who was attached to New Zealand Headquarters, London, had been decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal. At Headquarters, London, on 15 March 1918, W. A. Foster had been brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War, for valuable service at Home towards the successful conduct of the War and had been noted for records published in the Press by the War Office. Throughout 1918 he was on duty out of office, London. On 28 February 1919, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of valuable service rendered in connection with the War (London Gazette, 21 February 1919).

The Press relayed a lengthy article of 1 August 1919 from Mr Foster, in which he drew comparisons between England and New Zealand schools. He commented on building design, the curriculum (notably the singing and printing), discipline, the ‘school journey’, the prefect system, school uniform. “In conclusion, I may say that my three months’ experience of work in the London schools has, above all, convinced me of the unanimity of our aims; has shown me that we of the Antipodes are, with our confreres of the London world however we may differ in manners and methods, striving to produce the same thing: that ‘all roads lead to Rome,’ Rome being in our case the production of worthy citizens of the British Empire.”

His course with the Education Wing having terminated on 1 July 1919, he reported to Headquarters on 3 July. There were 100 men for Canterbury on the Remuera’s draft which was scheduled to arrive at Auckland on 22 October 1919, one of them W.O.1 W. A. Foster, Merivale. He had embarked at Plymouth on 12 September and actually disembarked at Auckland on 26 October 1919. Also aboard the Remuera were Olive Edith Foster (married), Hazel Marjorie Foster (1 year 5 months) and Cyril William Foster (2 months), both of whom had been born in England. He was discharged on 25 November 1919, no longer physically fit for war service. For his service which extended over more than four years, all but 43 days overseas at Gallipoli and in Egypt and England, he was awarded the 1914-1915 Star (issued 26 March 1920), the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (both issued before death). In January 1920, the Canterbury District Headquarters received a number of war medals from General Headquarters, Defence Department, for presentation in the Canterbury District. Among the recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal was S.S.M. William A. Foster, 16 Hewitt’s Road, Merivale. W. A. Foster was named in a list of past students at Canterbury College, printed in May 1923, who were known to have served with his Majesty’s Forces during 1914-15.

The Canterbury Education Board recommended the appointment of W. A. Foster as assistant master at Hampstead on 9 January 1920. In March following he was appointed evening instructor in English, arithmetic, and geometrical drawing at the Ashburton Technical School. At Ashburton, William was back into his community activities, proving accompaniment, recitations, musical monologues and improvisations on local themes of many occasions. He gave an organ solo at the Baring Square Church choir’s successful concert at the beginning of November 1920. The following month, he was one who paid fulsome tribute to a departing bandsman – a bandsman he may have known from his Timaru days – and gave items. It was in December 1920 at Ashburton that their third child was born – John (Jack) Arthur Foster.

Mr W. A. Foster, assistant master at Hampstead School, was appointed assistant at the Government school at Apia, Samoa, and left Auckland on 25 March 1921. Back on furlough in December 1923, he stayed with his mother at her Merivale address. His father, John Foster, had died in March 1920. “The aim of the whole of the education system of Samoa is not to turn out students, but to turn out useful citizens, and for that reason technical instruction is going hand in hand with academical instruction,” stated Mr W. A. Foster, who arrived in Auckland in April 1925 by the Tofua after four years’ service in education work in Samoa. Discussing the ability of the natives to learn, Mr Foster stated that they had wonderful memories. They recognised also the value of education and its relation to the serious business of life. Every Samoan was also a born musician, and music figured largely in the native school curriculum. Mr Foster was impressed with native students. They were an excellent type, and ever ready to learn. A fourth child was born in March 1922 in Samoa – Joyce Margaret Foster.

On his return from Samoa, he was transferred to Taranaki, but only briefly. In 1925 at Papanui, their fifth child was born – Robert (Bob) Gale Foster. In June 1925, Mrs W. A. Foster was appointed assistant mistress at Papanui School. After teaching in New Plymouth, Mr W. A. Foster was appointed first assistant master at Papanui. He had been absent from his native Christchurch for some thirteen years. William Alexander Foster, Christchurch, passed for Class C in the examinations held in August 1925 for teachers’ certificates. Later in the year he was appointed organist at St Paul’s Church, Papanui, where he set about forming a young men’s band and a brass band. In June 1926 he was in charge of a very fine children’s concert held at Papanui School. Bro. W. A. Foster (District Chaplain) gave an item at the July 1926 celebrations of the Loyal Orange Institution of Christchurch District, Grand Lodge No. 5. The part singing of the male voice choir, under the leadership of Mr Foster, was a feature of the St Paul’s social in September 1926. At the 1926 presentation of prizes at Papanui School, Mr Foster gave a prize for the most improved boy in sports He himself, was presented with a cigarette case on behalf of the Standard VI scholars. A gathering of members of the choirs of Sr. Paul’s (Papanui) and St. Silas's (Styx) took place on New Year’s Eve 1926. Mr W. A. Foster (organist and choirmaster) was presented with a handsome clock, in recognition of his services during the year. Mrs Foster was presented with an embroidered afternoon cloth. The recipients thanked the choirs for the gifts, and for their loyal support during the year. Under their master, Mr W. A. Foster, boys at Papanui School created 12 plots, dug the land, found the seed, produced and sold a quarter ton of potatoes for the picnic fund in February 1927. In March Mr Foster contributed music for dancing at a St Paul’s social, and in May an organ recital. “His rendering was that of a master, and was most enjoyable.” Games and competitions under his leadership followed in late June; piano music for dancing in August; and music for the birthdays of two young sisters in September. At the December 1927 meeting of the Papanui School committee, Mr W. A. Foster, assistant master, was congratulated on the highly satisfactory proficiency results by the school.

In the Magistrate’s Court, in June 1927, William Alexander Foster had been convicted and fined “for negligently driving a motor-car in Colombo street.” He pleaded not guilty, but evidence was given that he had collided with another car. And in October he was fined for being in charge of a motorcar without lights. Sadly, much worse was to follow. William Alexander Foster died on 10 December 1927 at his residence, 31 Godley Avenue, Northcote Settlement, Papanui, aged 36. He was a school teacher and returned soldier; the son of John Foster and Margaret Greig McColl; he had married Olive Edith Gale at Hammersmith, England, but there was no widow; and he left sons aged 8, 7 and 2, and daughters aged 9 and 5. William Alexander and Olive Foster were buried at Addington Cemetery with his parents. The death registration was authorised by the Coroner whose verdict was “Suicide by drowning in a bath”. It appears that Foster was facing incriminating allegations and he chose to avoid these by killing his wife then committing suicide. Several letters addressed to his mother, a detective-sergeant and Papanui School headmaster, among others, were left at the scene. His father had died in March 1920. The milkman was the first on the scene, having been alerted by a note on the milk-billy. Five little children who were oblivious of the tragedy were left parentless – Hazel, Cyril, John (Jack), Joyce and Bobby. Fortunately, these five children were adopted by Vernal Arthur (Arthur) and Fredrika (Freda) Mercia Sharp and remained as a family. Mrs Sharp may well have been the woman who took in the five children soon after the tragedy, to keep them together. “To-day the five children are in pleasant surroundings in the care of one who sympathises with them and tries to remove all memories of the tragedy which has come into their young lives.” They did very well at Sunday School. When Arthur and Freda died in 1971 and 1983 respectively, they were the loved dad and mother of these five children. William’s mother, Margaret Foster, informed the Public Trustee appointed to administer his estate, of the names of his children and that they were all minors. His brother, John Alfred Foster, verified that William was born in New Zealand. The order to administer was duly given on 25 February 1928. Mrs John Foster (Margaret Greig Foster) died on 25 February 1938 at Christchurch, a woman who had been “an ardent supporter of church and social service activities, and was a pioneer in many of the women’s movements.” She was survived by her four daughters, her elder son and 17 grandchildren.


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