GAWLER, William Tom
(Service number 21816)

Aliases Enlisted as William Thomas GAWLER
First Rank Rifleman Last Rank Rifleman


Date 20 February 1896 Place of Birth Waimate

Enlistment Information

Date 3 May 1916 Age 20
Address at Enlistment 47 Buchanan Street, Riccarton, Christchurch
Occupation Warehouseman
Previous Military Experience 1st Canterbury Regiment (TF)
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Robert Pinney GAWLER (father), 47 Buchanans Road, Riccarton, Christchurch
Religion Church of England
Medical Information 5 foot 5 inches tall, weight 134 pounds (61kgs), chest 31 3/4 - 34 inches, fresh complexion, brown eyes, brown hair.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation 3 New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 7th Reinforcements, 3rd Battalion, G Company
Date 21 August 1916
Transport HMNZT 62 Mokoia
Embarked From Wellington, New Zealand Destination Plymouth, Devon, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With 3 Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Military Awards

Campaigns Western Europe
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

19 November 1917 - wounded, admitted to 3 NZ Field Ambulance; 20 November - transferred to 10 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS); 21 November - transferred to 14 General Hospital; 6 Dec returned to unit. 16 July 1918 - wounded in thigh & forearm, admitted to 1 NZ Field Ambulance, transferred to 3CCS. Died 17 July 1918.

Post-war Occupations


Date 17 July 1918 Age 22 years
Place of Death Somme, France
Cause Died of wounds received in action
Notices Press, 27 July 1918
Memorial or Cemetery Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt, Somme, France
Memorial Reference III. D. 9.
New Zealand Memorials Upper Riccarton Memorial Library Roll of Honour

Biographical Notes

William was born at Waimate on 20 February 1896, the second son of Robert Pinney and Agnes (nee Tully) Gawler. William’s father Robert was born at Chard, Somerset, England in 1856, where he was trained as a baker under his father Robert Pinney snr, a baker and confectioner. Robert arrived in New Zealand in 1884, and in 1893 married Agnes Tully. They went on to have six children. Robert took the family on a trip back to England in 1906 on the ship “Paparoa”, returning in 1908 on the “Turakina”. Agnes died in 1934 followed by Robert in 1944, and both were buried in Bromley Cemetery, Christchurch.

Robert’s occupation saw him operate in several locations around Canterbury. As a result William was initially educated at the Oamaru North School where he was admitted on 15 February 1901. Here he was awarded first class attendance certificates in 1904 and 1905. On the families return to New Zealand in 1908, William’s father owned the Triangle Bakery in Ashburton, and William attended the Ashburton Borough School. Here he was again awarded a certificate for attendance, before transferring to the Prebbleton School on 27 September 1910.

When William enlisted at Christchurch, on 3 May 1916, he was a territorial member of 1st Canterbury Regiment and still living at home with his parents at 47 Buchannan’s Road, Riccarton. At the time he was employed as a warehouseman for Davidson & Wauchop of Madras Street, Christchurch. His enlistment papers described him as being Anglican, aged 20 years, single, 5 foot 5 inches tall, weighing 134 pounds (61kgs), with a chest measuring 31 ¾ - 34 inches, having a fresh complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. On entering Trentham Camp he began basic infantry training before moving to Featherston for more in depth training in drill, bayonet fighting, tactics etc. He the embarked for Europe from Wellington on 21 August 1916, with the 7th Reinforcements, 3 Battalion, G Company, NZ Rifle Brigade, aboard HMNZT 62 “Mokoia”. The convoy was made up of three ships in total, the other two being HMNZT 61 “Aprima” and HMNZT 63 “Novua”. The convoy travelled via Albany, Australia, and the Cape of Good Hope, before reaching Devonport, England, on 24 October 1916. During the voyage the usual sports and fitness training continued with a special sports day held on crossing the line. On arrival in England he marched in to Sling Camp which was the main NZ training camp situated in the heart of the Salisbury Plains, where he continued training with the 5th Reserve Battalion, 3 NZ Rifle Brigade.

On 15 November William took the penultimate step to reach the front, travelling to France, where he entered the much detested camp at Etaples near Boulogne. Here again the men received more training for the front line. On 8 December 1916, Rifleman Gawler was posted to A Company 1st Battalion, 3 NZ Rifle Brigade (NZRB) in the field. The winter of 1916-1917 was spent on the River Lys, near Armentieres. This was the most severe winter known in the region for thirty years, where the Brigade was held in reserve from 8 to 24 January.

In February the battalion moved north from Armentieres into Belgium to the Cordonnerie Section, east of Laventie, where the preparations for the attack on the Messines Ridge began. Here his unit was practising the assault behind the lines on similar ground to that they would traverse. From 21 April to 19 May William was transferred to the NZ Working Battalion. This temporary Battalion was formed using New Zealand Division troops, tasked mainly with digging trenches for laying telephone cables in preparation for the June offensive. During the six weeks it was formed the Battalion dug an impressive 37 km of trenches ranging from 1.8 to 3 metres in depth – deep enough to withstand high-explosive shells. This was difficult work carried out at night without artificial light. During the two preceding years tunnellers had also been running shafts under the enemy lines readying them for exploding huge mines at the beginning of the Messines attack. These mines were exploded about 3am on 7 June 1917, and the men of nine divisions setting off forward at 3.10am. The 2nd and 3rd Rifle Brigades were soon in the ruins of Messines mopping up dazed and demoralised Germans, clearing the area by 7am. The next stage was to push forward 1.5km on the far side of the slope of the ridge. The capture of Messines was achieved with relatively few casualties but as the day wore on German gunners began firing on the newly won areas with increasing ferocity. The troops on the ridge were kept there in anticipation of a major enemy counter-attack which never eventuated, and suffered a trying and costly bombardment. By the time the NZ Division was relieved on 9 June it had suffered 3700 casualties, including 700 dead.

The attack on the messines Ridge, from 7 to 14 June, was an essential prelude to the main Allied attack which was to become known as the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). The battle was to drag from July to November 1917 as, just days into the attack, torrential rain pounded the earth. It was the heaviest rain in 30 years. British and Canadian troops found themselves fighting Germans in a swamp of mud that swallowed up artillery, drowning men and horses along with it. During this battle, on 19 November, William was wounded in action. He was seen by No3 NZ Field Ambulance before being transferred the next day to No10 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). Another day later he was moved to No14 General Hospital in the field (21 November). Two weeks of treatment followed until, on 6 December, he was back in the base at Etaples.

William rejoined his unit in the field at the end of the month, just after Christmas, on 27 December 1917. By now the NZRB were positioned just south of Passchendaele where they were to spend a miserable winter holding the line in a mangled landscape. William was fortunate to get some leave in the UK from 15 January to 1 February 1918. Then, for a short period from 12 to 22 March he was detached to join No1 Field Company NZ Engineers. A massive German attack tore a huge gap in the British front. The New Zealand Division and other troops were thrown into the gap to try to halt the oncoming enemy. Fighting on the old Somme battlefield of 1916, they managed to blunt the offensive. German thrusts elsewhere were also halted. The New Zealanders spent a difficult summer on the now stabilised line. During this time, on 16 July 1918, William was wounded in action again, in the thigh and forearm. His injuries this time were much more severe. He was admitted to No1 NZ Field Ambulance, before being moved to No3 CCS where he died the next day, 17 July, as a result of his wounds.

William was buried in the Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt, Somme, France. William’s name is also commemorated on the Upper Riccarton Memorial Library Roll of Honour. His mother Agnes was later sent a scroll and plaque plus his British War Medal and Victory Medal. Two of William’s brothers also served in World War One; 23/2564 Rfn Robert George Gawler NZ Rifle Brigade in France, and 64950 Pvt Charles John Gawler who served with the Reserve NZ Machine Gun Battalion in England and Home Service during World War Two.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [04 June 2020]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [04 June 2010]; School Admission records [04 June 2020]; Press, 27 July 1918 (Papers Past) [04 June 2020]; New Zealand ANZACs in the Great War 1914-1918 (University of New South Wales) at [September 2020]; New Zealand War Graves Project at [September 2020]; "The Roll of Honour" in the Press 27 July 1918, courtesy of Papers Past at; A Street Near You at [September 2020]; Every One Remembered at [September 2020]; "William Thomas Gawler", Kete Christchurch at [September 2020]

External Links

Related Documents

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG; Ted Hansen, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to

Not assigned.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Logo. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License unless otherwise stated.

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