41542 Private Walter (Wal) Harris



Walter Harris’s grandparents settled in the Pauatahanui area 1858.[i] Walter Harris was born in Pauhatanui in 1891 the second of three sons of Mary and David Harris. Walter (Wal) would later go to the local school with brothers, sisters and numerous cousins.

On 9th October 1916 Walter (Wal) Harris enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). Wal at this stage was working as a farm hand on the Dickerson property, another farm in the district,   his next of kin listed was his father, Mr D Harris.[ii]

41542 Private Walter Harris entered camp on 2nd January 1917 as a member of the 24th Reinforcements and following basic training at Trentham left for the Western Front on the 5th April 1917 in the D Company, 24th Reinforcements, Otago Infantry Regiment.




41542 Private Walter Harris - 24th Reinforcement

Private Harris arrived in England in June 1917 and trained with the Reserves at Sling camp for a month then was shipped to France where he received more advanced training at Etaples before joining his unit the 1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, ‘In the Field’ on 30th August 1917.[iii]

The Otago’s were, as part of the New Zealand Division,  positioned in front of the Passchendael Ridge and training on how to deal with the concrete pillboxes and wire that the Germans had constructed to protect this strategic ridge. The New Zealand Division launched its first assault on 4th October 1917 on the Gravenstafel Spur and while there were over 1700 casualties it was considered a success as key objectives had been captured. However continuing rain had turned the low lying land in front of the ridge into a bog.

On 12th October 1917 a second assault was launched against the Bellevue Spur of the ridge but this was to be the blackest day in New Zealand Military history. The battlefield was a boggy morass and the artillery barrage had not ‘cut’ the large areas of barbed wire or put out of action the concrete pillboxes so advancing troops were hit by sustained machinegun fire. In one day the New Zealand Division lost 640 dead and 2100 wounded. The Otago were very hard hit with 259 men listed as killed in action. One of these casualties was 41542 Private Walter Harris. Private Harris’s body, like many others, was not identified and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium and the Pauatahanui War Memorial.

Wal’s younger brother Herbert (Herb) also served overseas and his elder brother Charles (Charlie) enlisted but only served in New Zealand both men will feature in future articles.

Allan Dodson  January 2015


41542 Private Walter Harris, 24th Reinforcements – 1916: Harris family


Helen Reilly (2013): Pauatahanui – A local history

Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Records:  41542 Private Walter Harris

[i] Pauatahanui – A local history: Harris various family member

[ii] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Records: 41542 Private Walter Harris

[iii] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Records: 41542 Private Walter Harris


Last Updated: 26/03/2015 6:51am