NEW ZEALAND - WORLD WAR ONE
LAST NZ-BORN VETERAN OF WORLD WAR ONE DIED 2003
RIFLEMAN BRIGHT WILLIAMS
New Zealand has lost its last home-grown link to World War 1 with the death in Hastings of 105-year old Bright Williams.
Mr Williams, whose funeral was to be held today, was the last survivor of 100,444 New Zealanders who left to serve on foreign soil in what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” of 1914-1918.
The Returned Services Association says there is one more survivor of the war living in New Zealand, 101-year old Greymouth resident Bob Rudd but he was born in Britain and served with that country’s forces.
Mr Williams’ family have asked that there be no military fanfare at the funeral service at St James’ Anglican Church, although district and national RSA representatives will attend.
“Grandfather wouldn’t have wanted it. He was a very private person,” one of his 11 grandchildren, Graham Fallwell, said yesterday.
Prime Minister Helen Clark, while not wanting to go against the family’s wishes expressed sadness at his passing and what was “truly the end of an era for New Zealand”.
“We of a younger generation can only marvel and also be horrified at what these men went through and it is important that we never forget the contribution they made” she said.
Mr Williams was cut down by three machine-gun bullets in the bloodbath at Passchendaele, Belgium in 1917 and survived an operation in 1999 to remove the last shard of metal from his thigh.
He was one of the 41,317 New Zealanders wounded in the war, which claimed 16, 692 lives from these shores – a 58 percent casualty rate overall.
But it was a fall a fortnight ago, putting him in hospital with a broken thigh-bone, that brought the old soldier to the end of his line on Thursday – just a fortnight short of his 106th birthday.
“If he hadn’t done that he would have been alive today” Mr Fallwell said, recalling how fond his grandfather was of being taken white-water rafting in Hawke’s Bay rivers when into his 90s.
“He used to get decked out in a wetsuit and helmet and go – although getting him into his wetsuit was quite a business.”
Born the son of blacksmith at Rissington, northwest of Napier, on February 27, 1897, Bright Ernest Williams was a man of the land.
He started his working life as a shepherd before inflating his age to enlist in March 1916 with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
He returned to his sheep and dogs two years later with war “Souvenirs” of shrapnel inside him and later went farming on his own right.
Mr Williams fought at Messines and was a battalion messenger, a particularly hazardous occupation, when he was cut down on the bleak autumn morning of October 12, 1917 aged 20, in the desperate battle for the battle of Passchendaele in the Ypres district.
On that day, 845 New Zealanders were killed and 2700 wounded in a matter of hours as part of a concerted push, which advanced the Western Front by just 8km at a cost of at least 240,000 Allied lives.
In a rare interview two years ago, Mr Williams recalled enduring 24 hours of pain in mud and freezing rain, seeking shelter in a ditch with the decomposing remains of German soldiers. Asked if he thought he was going to die, he said; “Hell no – I didn’t go there to die – I never once thought about it.”
Mr Fallwell, who lives in Auckland, said his grandfather sometimes spoke of the futility of the war but took a workmanlike view of being sent half a world away.
“There was a job to be done but he was determined to survive… “Sometimes he would open up and talk about the harsh conditions he and comrades endured.”
Mr Williams is survived by two daughters, 11 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Given Name Bright Ernest
Category Nominal Roll Vol. 2
Regimental Number 14896
Next of Kin Title Albert
Next of Kin Surname WILLIAMS
Next of Kin Relationship Father
Next of Kin Address Rissington Napier
Roll Roll 34
Page Page 39
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