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11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis – Wellington Mounted Rifles  (MID)
 
John Edward Willis was born on the 21st January 1891 in Liverpool, England.[i]
 
John and his older brother immigrated to New Zealand about 1912. John a trained male nurse was employed initially at Porirua where he played in the Porirua Hospital Association Football team that won the 1913 Wellington Charity Cup.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1913 Porirua Hospital Team -winners of Charity Cup                                         John Edward Willis
 
John enlisted on the 31st August 1914 in the Wellington Mounted Rifles. John was a single man working for the Prison Department as a male nurse and warden at the Terrace Goal, Wellington.  The wife of John’s older brother William Henry Willis is listed as his next of kin.[ii]
 
11/712 Corporal Willis entered military training as a medical orderly and sailed with the main body on the 16th October 1914.
 
On arrival in Egypt the Wellington Mounted Rifles with other New Zealand and Australian mounted units began training for the defence of Egypt. In April 1915 the Wellington Mounted Rifles units remained in Egypt while the New Zealand infantry regiments and support units sailed for the Gallipoli landings. The heavy loss of men at Gallipoli meant a need
for replacements and as 11/24 Lance Corporal Hector Craw[iii]  noted in his diary on 5th May 1915:
 
‘Heard rumours about going to Dardanelles as infantry leaving horses here.
The rumours confirmed going Saturday.’
 
The Wellington Mounted Rifles (WMR) sailed on the 9th May 1915 arriving off the Dardanelles on the 11th May 1915
when they landed at ANZAC Cove. The WMR squadrons would be engaged at ANZAC Cove from May 1915 leading up to
the August 1915 Battle of Chunuk Bair.
 
It was during the Battle of Chunuk Bair that Corporal Willis, on 7th August 1915, was noted as being slightly wounded
but remained with his unit.[iv] On the 8th September 1915 Corporal Willis was evacuated to Malta where his records note he was suffering a debility and pleurisy. Corporal Willis was stabilised at Malta and then shipped to hospital in England.
 
On the 4th October 1915 Corporal Willis was admitted to the Royal Surrey County Hospital with Pleurisy Following convalescence Corporal Willis was sent to Sling camp for assessment and possible repatriation to New Zealand. A letter was sent by Major Charles Dick of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles supporting Corporal Willis remaining in England.[v]
 
            ‘New Zealand Mounted Rifles
            Sling Camp
            28th November 1916      
 
11/713 L/Sergt J E Willis
           
This NCO who was send from Hornchurch Depot to this unit is suffering from a foot and ankle which prevents him from being of any use on Active Service.
 
Willis came out attached to the Wellington Mounted Rifles as a Medical Orderly at the outbreak of war. He injured
his foot and was slightly wounded at Gallipoli but he carried on till he became so ill that he had to be evacuated.
As his foot prevents him from doing any active work, and he is too good a man to be returned to New Zealand, I strongly recommend that he be given a position on the Records.
 
For your information, I may add that to the best of my knowledge and belief he was recommended for his good
work on Gallipoli. And that at present he has aged parents in England his father being seriously ill and in the event
of anything happening to his father the support of his mother will devolve to him.
 
I shall be glad if you can do anything in the matter for him.
 
O/C NZ Mounted Rifles
 
Major C Dick’
 
The recommendation was accepted and Lance Sergeant Willis joined the records department in London.
 
During Lance Sergeant Willis’s attachment to the New Zealand Divisional Headquarters he meet Katherine Hattling and married her at the St Giles Registry Office, London on the 17th January 1917. Lance Sergeant Willis was promoted to Temporary Sergeant Willis.
 
Temporary Sergeant Willis’s older brother 59177 Rifleman William Henry Willis arrived at Sling Camp in December 1917, part of the 29th Reinforcements for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. It is possible that the two brothers were able to spent time together prior to Rifleman Willis leaving for France in February 1918. Rifleman Willis was killed during the German Spring Offensive in March 1918.
 
Temporary Sergeant Willis became Temporary Staff Sergeant ‘while attached to the records department.’ The rank of Staff Sergeant was confirmed on the 27th August 1918.
 
Following the Armistice Staff Sergeant remained in London and his service was recognised in March 1919 with a communication from the War Office[vi]
 
            ‘Dominion of New Zealand
 
            The names of the undermentioned have been bought to the notice of the Secretary of  State for War
  for valuable service with the War and, when applicable, an entry will be made in the records of service
  of Officers and other Ranks.
 
  Willis 11/712 S/Sgt J E: Wellington Mounted Rifles.’
 
Staff Sergeant Willis remained in England until October 1919 when he was sent to Germany and was attached to the 2nd Corp of the Army of the Rhine remaining there until December 1919. Staff Sergeant then returned to England for repatriation departing England on the SS Anthenic on 15th January 1920.
 
Staff Sergeant Willis was discharged on the 2nd April 1920 as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’ he had been
overseas for 5 years and 141 days. Including service in New Zealand John Edward Willis had spent 5 years and 215 days in the NZEF.
 
When John Edward Willis returned to New Zealand his wife Katherine remained in England. The relationship ended official in 1924 with a divorce noted in the New Zealand Herald on the 2nd June 1924.[vii]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
John Edward Willis remarried, in 1925, to Mary Wooffindin.[viii]
 
John Edward Willis died, in Christchurch, on the 6th July 1941.[ix]
 
Notes
Lance Sergeant is an appointment given to a Corporal to fill a position normally held by a Sergeant.
Military papers note the J E Willis was going to return to Porirua Hospital on discharge this was later amended.
 
Reference
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 59177 Rifleman William Henry Willis
Paperspast Online
BDM NZ Online
Mental About Wests; Western Suburbs Soccer Club
 
Photos
Background ANZAC Landings Gallipoli April 1915
1913 Porirua Hospital team: Pataka Museum
1913 Porirua Hospital team - John Edward Willis
 
[i] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis
[ii]Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis
[iii] Personal Diary – 11/24 Lance Corporal Eric Hector Dunstan Craw B Squadron, 6th Manawatu, Wellington Mounted Rifles.
[iv] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis
[v] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis
[vi] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 11/712 Staff Sergeant John Edward Willis
[vii] Divorces - A marriage in England, 2nd June 1924, New Zealand Herald
[viii] BDM Marriage Willis – Wooffindin  1925/3899
[ix] BDM Death John Edward Willis 1941/24512
 
ANZAC Landings  April 1915