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Lawyers among the NZ dead in Battle of the Somme

14 September 2016 - By Geoff Adlam

Five New Zealand lawyers were among the New Zealand soldiers who died while fighting in the Battle of the Somme during World War I.

New Zealand is remembering the centenary of its involvement in the battle, which was its first major engagement on the Western Front.

Although the battle itself began in July 1916, New Zealand's participation began on 12 September 1916 when New Zealand artillery went into action. This was followed at 6:20am on 15 September 1916 by New Zealand infantry.

The New Zealand Division was involved in the battle for 23 days, taking part in five major attacks. A total of 15,000 New Zealander's were involved in the fighting and almost 6000 men were wounded and 2111 were killed.

The whole Battle of the Somme, from July to November 1916 resulted in the death of 1.2 million men.

Photo of Ken Ambrose  

Second Lieutenant Kenneth Ambrose, admitted as a barrister and solicitor in January 1914, had left his work as Managing Clerk at Westport law firm Free and Cottrell to join the Army in July 1915. With the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps he arrived in France on 6 April 1916.

On  the morning of 15 September 1916, the first day of New Zealand's Battle of the Somme, Ambrose was killed in fighting near the village of Flers on the Somme, France. He was in charge of reserve guns which were to give covering fire during the opening offensive of the third phase of the First Battle of the Somme. While moving forward, the reserve guns were caught in an enemy barrage and Ambrose was mortally wounded, dying a short time after.

Ambrose was aged 24. He is buried at Thistle Dump Cemetery, High Wood, Longueval, France. His name is on the bronze plaque in the Canterbury Law  Library with the names of Canterbury lawyers killed during the war, and he is also remembered on the Westport War Memorial.

Second Lieutenant Frank Jones was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court on 11 May 1912 by Sir Joshua Williams. He practised in Oamaru with the firm of Hislop and Creagh until he joined the Army in 1915. After some service at Gallipoli, he was promoted to Sergeant in March 1916 and embarked for France on 6 April 1916 with the 1st Battalion of the Otago Regiment. 

Jones was wounded in fighting during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 18 September 1916 and although evacuated to a casualty clearing station he did not recover, dying of his wounds at 9:30pm on 23 September. Shortly after his death official news came through that he had been promoted to Second Lieutenant for services in the field.

He was aged 33 at his death and is buried at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.

Frank Jones is remembered on the First World War Memorial in St Lukes Church, Oamaru. A stained glass memorial window and bronze plaque in the church was donated by his family. The local borough and county councils planted Memorial Oaks for local soldiers who were killed in the War and a tree in Wansbeck Street has been planted to the memory of Frank Jones.

Sergeant George Stewart was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court by Justice Sim on 8 May 1912. He was employed by the Queen Street, Auckland firm of Bamford and Brown and appeared in many cases in the Auckland Magistrates' Courts and the Supreme Court. 

He enlisted in the Army on 14 August 1914, on the outbreak of war, leaving New Zealand with the Auckland Infantry Battalion. After promotion to Lance Corporal and then Sergeant he participated in the Gallipoli invasion on 25 April 1915. He was wounded in fighting on 19 August 1915 and evacuated to the Canadian Hospital in England. After a long recovery he left from France on 5 September 1916, moving to the front line on 26 September.  

Stewart was wounded in the abdomen in fighting around the Goose Alley trench on 30 September 1916 and he died of wounds on the same day. He was aged 27. He is  buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-l'Abbe, Somme, France. George Stewart is remembered on the Auckland Grammar School War Memorial, a memorial plaque at St Barnabas Anglican Church in Auckland, and on the Auckland District Law Society memorial plaque.

Second Lieutenant Alfred Cowie was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court by Justice Edwards on 26 May 1914. He was employed by the Wanganui law firm Barnicoat, Treadwell and Gordon (Treadwell, Gordon and Brodie from 7 August 1915).

Cowie enlisted in July 1915 and was appointed Second Lieutenant in October 1915. He embarked from Wellington on 4 March 1916, landing at Suez in Egypt on 10 April and then proceeding to France on 20 May 1916, joining the Wellington Infantry Regiment Second Battalion in the field on 15 June 1916. He was wounded on 10 August and sent to an officers' rest camp and then the New Zealand Hospital in Amiens before rejoining his battalion on 23 September.

Alf Cowie was killed in action on 2 October 1916 during fighting on the Somme. He was killed only hours before his battalion was relieved on the front line. Several months later his father received information that during the fighting Cowie had secured a valuable German document giving details of the positions of all reserve corps and divisions. In spite of a prolonged campaign by his father to secure appropriate recognition for Cowie, he was left with a letter from the authorities in 1918 which concluded:

"As 2nd-Lieut Cowie was killed in action on the 2nd October, 1916, and as no posthumous award other than the VC could at the time be awarded, a recommendation for a DSO or MC was not submitted. I am certainly of the opinion that, had he lived, his work was deserving of a MC."

Captain Leonard Liardet passed his solicitor's examinations in 1912 and was employed by the Wellington law firm Bell Gully Bell and Myers. Securing indefinite leave from Bell Gully, he enlisted immediately on the outbreak of war and, holding the rank of Lieutenant, was a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force which invaded Samoa at the end of August 1914. 

On his return to New Zealand he underwent training at Trentham and was promoted to First Lieutenant before embarking from Wellington on 9 October 1915 for Suez in Egypt, arriving there on 20 November. He was posted to Ismalia on 17 January 1916  before leaving for France on 6 April 1916.

Liardet was promoted to Captain on 24 September 1916, the promotion coming through after he had been reported wounded in the back, legs and abdomen during the Battle of Flers on 15 September 1916. He died from the wounds he had received at Camiferes on 3 October. He is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. Captain Liardet is remembered on the Wellington Lawyers Memorial Tablet in the New Zealand Law Society's Wellington Library.

Further information about each of the lawyers may be found by following the links or on the New Zealand Lawyers Roll of Honour, World War I.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019