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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 to 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 843 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 as did many other farmers from the Porirua District. Driver Wilf Mexted writting to his parents in Tawa noted in a letter from Somewhere in France on the 8th July 1918:
 
'. . . . I was suprised to see him (Herb ) so cheerful with these conditions & losing Wal, but he didn't look on
the serious side at all in fact he was giggling all the time . . . .'
 
Wal's older brother Charlie was conscripted late in the war but did not go overseas.
 
References:
Helen Reilly (2013): Pauatahanui – A local history
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Records:  41542 Private Walter Harris
NZ BDM Online
Paperspast Online
Unpublished letters 50095 Driver James Wilfred (Wilf) Mexted - New Zealand Field Artillery to his parents in Tawa Flat
 
Photos:
41542 Private Walter Harris, 24th Reinforcements – 1916: Harris family
Background: Zonnebeke (Belgium Battle Scene 1917) by George Edmund Butler - National Library NZ
 
[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
[iv] Letters 50095 Driver Wilf Mexted
 
 
 
Zonnebeke - 1917