46862 Sapper William (Bill) Henry Harper

World War Two – NZ Forgotten Warriors – 3rd NZ Division


 An elderly resident of a house in Gordon Road kept the photograph of a soldier in uniform on the wall, the photo was subsequently passed to the present owners of the house. The identity of the soldier had been lost and the author was asked to give a name to this photograph.

 William Henry Harper was born in London in 1910, the son of Thomas and Beatrice Harriett Harper.

 The Harper family moved to New Zealand, possibly after World War One. In the early 1920s the family was living in Karehana Bay where Thomas, a carpenter, worked for Fred Brunner. [1] William joined the Hutt Valley Power Board as a linesman and on 14 November 1929, the Evening Post reported that ‘this morning W H Harper a linesman, who lives at Plimmerton, when riding a motorcycle collided with a car at Glenside and received injuries to his forehead and left thigh. He was removed to the Wellington Hospital by City Ambulance.’ [2]

 On 6 November 1939 William Hugh Harper was registered as the owner of 31 Gordon Road, the property had been owned previously for many years by James Thornton Nott. [3] On 21 May 1941 Thomas Harper is listed as William’s next of kin both living in Gordon Road when William joined the New Zealand Army. [4]


Sapper William Bill Henry Harper

Sapper William (Bill) Henry Harper
C 1942 at Plimmerton

It is presumed that because of his power board experience, William was assigned as 46862 Sapper Harper, 23rd New Zealand Field Engineers, serving at Trentham Army Camp.

By late November 1941 the Japanese had captured the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) to the north of Fiji and had invaded the Solomon Islands to the west. They were also engaged in combat with Australian forces in (Papua) New Guinea. The port and infrastructure facilities of Suva, Fiji were important to the Allies war effort.

On the 6th of December 1941 the United States of America entered the Pacific War and Fiji became an important staging point for aircraft movements from the USA via Christmas (Canton) Island and Fiji to New Zealand and Australia. In late December 1941 the New Zealand Government committed to construct an airfield complex at Nandi Bay for which the New Zealand Engineers supplied expertise. In March 1942 Sapper Harper was dispatched with his unit to Fiji.

 Sapper Harper was hospitalised for several months in Fiji and in November 1942, returned to New Zealand. [5]

 Initially in World War Two New Zealand had two divisions, the 1st Division engaged in New Zealand’s Home Defence and the 2nd Division was sent for combat in the European theatre.

 In May 1942 a 3rd NZ Division was formed for use in the Pacific theatre. Sapper Harper rejoined the 23rd Field Company, 3rd NZ Division on his return from Fiji. During December 1942 the 3rd NZ Division moved to New Caledonia for garrison duties and ongoing training. 

 August 1943 saw the 3rd NZ Division moved to Guadalcanal, Solomon Island as part of the US 1 Marine Amphibious Corps. The 23rd Field Company took part in two operations against islands held by Japanese forces. On 27th October 1943 the landings in the Treasury Islands was the first opposed amphibious operation since the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. [6] While Japanese opposition to the landing was light, the terrain and climatic conditions were challenging and the 3rd NZ Division suffered 40 soldiers killed and 145 wounded.


NCWA 00038

Landing Ships under fire Treasury Island
NZ 3rd Division
27 October 1943

The second operation in 23rd February 1944 on the Green Islands, was strongly opposed by the small Japanese garrison but this was quickly suppressed with all resistance ended on 23rd February 1944, the Division losing 10 soldiers killed and 21 wounded.

‘In early 1944 the New Zealand Government faced a manpower crisis caused by the demands of maintaining two divisions overseas while simultaneously maintaining agricultural and industrial production to meet the needs of the Allied countries. In order to cope with this crisis, the NZ Government saw no option other than to disband one the country's two infantry divisions. The decision to disband the 3rd NZ Division was made after consulting with the British and United States governments, who were of the view that 2nd NZ Division's contribution to the campaign in Italy was of greater importance than 3rd NZ Division's contribution in the Pacific.’ [7]

The 3rd NZ Division was withdrawn to New Caledonia in June 1944 where Sapper Harper was assessed by a medical board then returned to New Zealand in August 1944. William (Bill) Henry Harper was dismissed from the military [8] and returned to civilian life and his job at the Hutt Valley Power Board. Only about 4,000 veterans of the 3rd Division were retained to be sent to Italy as reinforcements for the 2nd Division fighting in Italy. The men of the 3rd Division have, in recent times been called the ‘Forgotten Division’ [9] as attention is focussed on the 2nd Division’s service in Africa and Italy.

Bill’s father Thomas died in 1945 and a year later his mother, Betty, died. [10] Bill retired in the 1970’s and became a ‘bit of a recluse’ [11] with limited contact to all but close neighbours. Bill continued to suffer the effects of his service in the tropics and died in 1991. He is buried in Karori Cemetery with his parents.

Allan Dodson – February 2014

Next Month – ANZAC Cove – Karehana Bay


{1} Thomas Harper – oral history:  Jim Gyton (2013)

{2} City Ambulance Report: Evening Post 14 November 1929.

{3} Land transfer – Certificate of Title: Transfer 150519, Vol 293, folio 275.

{4} 46862 Sapper William Hugh Harper: NZDF Archives

[5] 46862 Sapper William Hugh Harper: NZDF Archives

[6] First opposed amphibious landing since 1915: New Zealand History Online

[7] 3rd Division (New Zealand) Wikipedia

[8] 46862 Sapper William Hugh Harper: NZDF Archives

[9] NZ Forgotten Warriors – 3rd NZ Division in the South Pacific in WW2: R H Newell

[10] Births, Deaths & Marriage records: Department of Internal Affairs

{11} William Henry Harper - oral history:  Colin Bleasdale (2013)



William (Bill) Henry Harper – Private Collection

Landing Ships under Fire, Treasury Islands, 27 October 1943 (3rd NZ Division) : Russell Clark – Archives, Department of Internal Affairs.



NZ Forgotten Warriors - 3rd NZ Division in the South Pacific in World War Two: Massey University Thesis – Reginald Hedley Newell 2008

Pacific Pioneers - The story of the Engineers of the NZ Expeditionary Force in the Pacific: NZETC.Victoria.ac.nz


Last Updated: 26/02/2014 8:11pm