FOSTER, Robert James
(Service number 18131)

First Rank Private Last Rank Staff Sergeant


Date 28 June 1886 Place of Birth Timaru

Enlistment Information

Date 10 July 1916 Age 30 years
Address at Enlistment Young's Private Hotel, Mangamahoe
Occupation Station hand and clerical
Previous Military Experience Timaru City Rifles - for 3 years; discharged as he left the district
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Mrs J. LITHGOW (sister), Timaru; Dee Street, Invercargill
Religion Church of England
Medical Information Height 5 feet 9 inches. Weight 160 lbs. Chest measurement 32-36 inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair light brown. Sight, hearing and colour vision all normal. Limbs well formed. Full and perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. No illnesses. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. No fits. Pronounced varicose veins right leg. Fit for Home Service only.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation
Unit, Squadron, or Ship
Embarked From Destination
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Army Pays Corps (Home Service)

Military Awards

Service Medals
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 14 January 1919 Reason Certificate of Leave in lieu of Discharge.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations



Date 11 August 1950 Age 64 years
Place of Death Christchurch (home)
Notices Press. 12 August 1950
Memorial or Cemetery Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch
Memorial Reference Block 35, Plot 263
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

Robert James Foster, 18131, was born on 28 June 1886 at Timaru, to Joseph and Sarah Jane (Jane, née McClelland) Foster. He was baptised at St Mary's Anglican Church, Timaru, on 21 September 1886, the son of Joseph, coal merchant, and Sarah Jane, Sandietown, the parents being the sponsors. Joseph and Sarah Jane married in 1874 in County Armagh, Ireland, and by August 1875 were at Timaru where their son William was born, followed by three sisters and three brothers. In 1878, Joseph Foster pleaded guilty to neglecting to register the birth of his child. Robert and his siblings were educated at Timaru Main School, their address being Sandie Town and later Wilson Street.

There was a large gathering of children and parents in St Mary’s school room at Sandietown in mid-December 1896 for the annual prizegiving. The Ven. Archdeacon Harper spoke a few words of encouragement to the teachers and children congratulating them upon the results obtained in the annual examination. Young Robert Foster received a Standard I prize, while his brothers Joseph and David and sister Hannah also received prizes. R. Foster was awarded a Standard III 1st Class Certificate at the annual distribution of prizes for Timaru Main School on 17 December 1897.

Their father, Joseph Foster, died on 16 February 1895 at his Wilson Street residence and was buried through St Mary’s Church at Timaru Cemetery, members of the Oddfellows’ Lodge attending. A letter of condolence was sent to Mrs Foster by the Loyal Timaru Lodge, I.O.O.F. Later in the month, Mrs S. J. Foster intimated that “the that the Business hitherto carried on by my late husband, Joseph Foster, in Cain’s Terrace, will now be CARRIED ON BY ME in the same Premises. All Persons having Claims on the Estate will kindly hand same to me there for settlement, and all Indebted to the Estate will please pay same to me there.” Joseph Foster had made detailed provision for his wife in his Will, including permission for her to carry on his trade or business. Mrs Sarah Jane Foster died at her Wilson Street residence on 3 September 1905, after a long and painful illness, and was buried with Joseph. William, her eldest son and one of the next-of-kin, was authorized to administer her estate. His sisters Ellen Cameron and Sarah Foster and his brother David Foster duly signed their consent, while Robert James Foster and Hannah Sophia Foster, both infants legally), also consented. All six were of Timaru in December 1905. William prepared an inventory of his mother’s effects – cash in bank, book debts, and furniture. There was no mention of the son Joseph born in 1881, although he was recorded on the electoral roll at the Wilson Street address from 1905 till 1911. In 1896 Joseph Foster and three other lads were witnesses to an incident in Wilson Street. Joseph was himself the victim of assault on at least two occasions. In 1909 he was charged on information with having attempted to leave the district without making provision for the maintenance of his unborn illegitimate child. In September following he was charged with disobeying an order and, although he denied paternity, he would go to gaol if the money was not forthcoming. It appears that Joseph may have fallen out with his family and left the district, perhaps the country. Ellen Jane (Nellie), the eldest of the Foster girls, married in 1899 at St Mary’s Church, Timaru; Sarah married in 1907; and Hannah Sophia, the youngest, married in 1913 at Timaru.

Robert James Foster was, it seems, a ploughman at Featherston in 1914. R. J. Foster, Featherston, registered for the infantry at the Masterton Recruiting Office just before Christmas 1915. He enlisted on 10 July 1916 on arrival at Featherston Camp, having served with the Timaru City Rifles for three years until he left the district. Single and of Church of England affiliation, Robert named his sister Sarah as next-of-kin – Mrs J. Lithgow, Dee Street, Invercargill. A station hand and clerk at Mangamahoe, he gave his address as Young’s Private Hotel, Wellington. He stood at 5 feet 9 inches, weighed 160 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 32-36 inches. His complexion was fair, his eyes grey, and his hair light brown. His sight, hearing, colour vision, heart and lungs were all normal; his limbs and chest well formed. Without illnesses, diseases, slight defects or fits, he was in good bodily and mental health.

Volunteering for Home Service, he was appointed to the Camp Military Police. He was soon promoted to Lance Corporal and then to Sergeant. He had been rejected previously as unfit for the military forces on account of pronounced varicose veins in the right leg and was deemed fit for Home Service only. As of May 1917, his appointment as Sergeant with the Camp Military Police (Headquarters Staff) at Featherston Camp was approved. In September 1917 he was granted two weeks’ leave without pay. He reverted to the rank of Private in May 1918, but in July 1918 he was promoted to Corporal on his transfer to the Army Pay Department, and a month later to Staff Sergeant. On demobilization on 2 February 1919, he had no disability attributable to military service. He was issued a Certificate of Leave in lieu of Discharge.

After the war, Robert James Foster spent time in Wellington, employed as a clerk; certainly, when his oldest brother William died in May 1926. By 1931 he was in the Masterton area. It was surely at Masterton that he met English-born Violet Mary Edwards (née Denbow), a widow with two sons and a daughter in their teens and early twenties. Robert and Violet continued to live at Masterton until the late 1940s when they moved to Christchurch. Robert James Foster collapsed and died suddenly on 11 August 1950 at his Christchurch home, aged 64 years, and was buried at Ruru Lawn Cemetery. He was the dearly loved husband of Violet Mary Foster and loved father of Jim and Joe Edwards and Violet Claridge. Violet’s second son Jack had died in 1924 at the age of nine. An inquest into Robert’s death was adjourned sine die. Violet died on 21 February 1973, aged 86, and was buried with Robert at Ruru Cemetery.

Robert’s eldest brother, William Foster, also enlisted for service in World War One. Four cousins in his mother’s McClelland line are known to have served with the New Zealand Forces – Samuel James Gould, David McClelland (killed in action in 1918, France), Henry Riches and Joseph James McClelland (killed in action in 1918, France). His nephews, Robert Bruce Lithgow, Douglas David Foster and Donald Campbell Noeline Fisher, served in World War Two. Both Jim (James Albert and Joe (Joseph Leonard) Edwards served in World War Two, as did Violet’s son-in-law, Leslie William Claridge, who was buried at Timaru.


NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5537 0041623) [22 May 2016]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [22 May 2016]; Timaru Herald, 1 May 1878, 18 February 1895, 26 February 1895, 14 December 1896, 18 December 1897, 22 July 1899, 4 & 6 September 1905, South Canterbury Times, 18 February 1895, Wairarapa Daily Times, 23 December 1915, Dominion, 26 July 1916, 18 September 1918, Evening Post, 28 May 1917, 21 August 1918, Press, 12 August 1950, 22 & 23 February 1973 (Papers Past) [23 May 2016; 06 & 26 April 2023]; School Admission records (South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [22 May 2016]; St Mary’s Baptism records (South Canterbury Branch NZSG & South Canterbury Museum) [27 May 2016]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [24 May 2016; 19 March 2023; 26 April 2023]; Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch, headstone transcription (South Canterbury Branch NZSG records) [23 May 2016]

External Links

Related Documents

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, South Canterbury Genealogy Society

Currently Assigned to


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