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Remembering the lawyers who died in World War I

07 November 2018 - By Geoff Adlam

Hokitika, Matamata, Christchurch, Masterton, Auckland, Timaru … They came from all over New Zealand. Some were single. Some were married. Some were fathers. Their lifespans ranged from 22 to 56 years. What they all had in common was that they were members of the legal profession and they died while serving in the First World War.

The First World War came to an end on 11 November 1918. A century later, the New Zealand Law Society remembers those who died because of the war. The Lawyers Roll of Honour commemorates them. Biographies of each lawyer can be accessed through the link from the lawyer's name. The objective is to ensure the names of the lawyers who died because of World War I are preserved and remembered through their connection to the legal profession.

Over 18,000 New Zealanders were killed during the war. At least 54 were lawyers and over 60 more were training to be lawyers. A much larger number of lawyers and law clerks and students served during the War and returned to legal practice safely.

photo of Douglas Harle

Legal experience

The lawyers on the Roll had a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Their average age at death was 29 years and 9 months. Some had just qualified; others had built substantial practices and reputations. Douglas Harle appeared in uniform for his admission by Justice Hosking on 25 May 1916. Arthur Spedding was admitted less than two months before he left New Zealand for Egypt and then Gallipoli where he was killed. Leonard Liardet enlisted just over a year after beginning work with Bell Gully and represented the Defence Department in an inquest on a soldier killed by a train at Wellington station. Grahame Vial was a lawyer for the Public Trust Office when he enlisted. John McCallum was prevented from enlisting on the outbreak of war because he had to complete his final law examinations. He successfully led a scheme to put army training for students on hold until their examinations were completed.

photo of Robert Spence

Wellington lawyer Gerald Fell built a reputation as one of New Zealand’s leading junior counsel. When news of his death in 1917 reached New Zealand, Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout described him as a man of rare ability who had had a great future in front of him. Robert Spence was aged 18 when he became the youngest student to pass the final law examination – and with the highest marks. He moved to Stratford and developed a large litigation practice. On his death in October 1917 it was said he would have been one of the leaders of the bar if he had practised in a main centre.

Outside the law

As could be expected from a group of young professionals, lawyers on the roll were active in sports and the community.

Eric Harper was a champion athlete, cricketer, mountaineer and member of the Original All Blacks team that toured Britain and France in 1905, not long after he had been admitted as a solicitor. He volunteered for service at the age of 38 and was killed in Palestine in April 1918.

Anthony Wilding, the son of a Christchurch King’s Counsel, won many international tennis titles, including Wimbledon. He was admitted as a solicitor in New Zealand in 1909. Wilding joined the Royal Marines and was killed at Ypres in Belgium in May 1915.

Irish lawyer John Persse was clay pigeon shooting champion of Ireland. He migrated to New Zealand and practised for three years in Napier before joining the army and being killed at Gallipoli in August 1915.

William Dillon Bell was a Member of Parliament from 1911 to 1914 when he retired and joined up, the first MP to do so. He was killed in fighting at Ypres in July 1917. His father, Sir Francis Bell KC, was the first New Zealand-born Prime Minister and President of the New Zealand Law Society from 1901 to 1918.

War service

The first lawyer killed in World War I was Herman Baddeley, Otorohanga partner of the Te Awamutu firm Cox, Luxford and Baddeley. He was reported wounded and missing on the day New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli, 25 April 1915. By February 1916 a Court of Inquiry had determined that he had been killed during the landing. Nine lawyers were killed in the Gallipoli campaign.

Photo of Lieut HA Forrest

From Turkey the New Zealand forces moved to France. Twelve lawyers died in mid-1916 during the battles along the Somme. Two more – Robert Spence and Hugh Forrest – were among 846 New Zealanders killed within the first four hours of the Battle of Paschendaele on 12 October 1917.

The fighting in World War I continued right up until 11 November 1918. Of the lawyers who died in the war, 19 – over one-third – were killed or died of wounds in 1918. Te Kuiti lawyer Samuel Poole was killed in the assault on the village of Le Quesnoy on 4 November 1918, the last lawyer soldier killed in action.

Valour

Almost all of the lawyers who went to war were volunteers. Several, such as Timaru lawyer Neville Joyce and Greymouth solicitor Kenneth Ambrose were active in the territorial forces before the war. Herman Baddeley, Eric Burnard and John Persse joined up on the day war was declared. Others, such as Sainsbury Logan and Williams partner James Murdoch made their way to England to join the “home” forces.

Photo of Kenneth Ambrose

English-born William Moore was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery in action while serving with the Royal Field Artillery in Belgium. Not long afterwards he was killed in action.

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone practised in Stratford after he was admitted as a solicitor in 1894 and was mentioned in dispatches before he was killed at Chunuk Bair in Gallipoli. All New Zealand mourned one of its best-known soldiers.

Colin Hally practised at Morrinsville before enlisting and being awarded the Military Cross for leading a successful raid on enemy trenches in 1917. He was killed in April 1918 during fighting on the Somme.

After the death in October 1916 of Alfred Cowie, who worked for Treadwell Gordon in Whanganui, it became known that he had been praised for his courage in capturing important German documents and rescuing wounded men under fire.

Finding himself ahead of the men he was leading in a charge on a Turkish trench at Gallipoli, Captain Arthur Spedding leapt in and emptied his revolver before being shot and killed.

Influenza

The worldwide influenza epidemic which appeared near the end of the war resulted in the deaths of three lawyers who were serving in the army. Greymouth lawyer Claude Chalk and Auckland University College law lecturer Benson Wyman were both in New Zealand training camps when they caught and then died from influenza. In the week they died, 65 other soldiers in the camps also succumbed. Percy Henderson was discharged from the Army in April 1918 because of his severe wounds but in his weakened condition caught influenza and died on 15 November 1918.

Remembering them

New Zealand has many war memorials for soldiers who served and died in World War 1. Of the lawyers who died while serving, only three are buried in New Zealand. Most of the rest lie in war cemeteries in Turkey, Palestine and Europe – however, 13 are named on a memorial and have no grave. Maginnity & Son, Nelson lawyer James Houlker was buried at sea off Gallipoli after dying from wounds on the hospital ship Valdivia.

The names of the lawyers are on memorials around New Zealand. A tree was planted at Auckland’s Birkdale School to commemorate Julian Brook. Streets in Takapuna were renamed to remember Hugh Forrest and Athol Hart. Charles Darling’s law partner donated the Dargaville town clock to remember him. The Houlker Scholarship at Nelson College was set up by James Houlker’s friends in 1916. It was awarded to Oscar Lew in 2018. Samuel Atkinson, who tirelessly campaigned for New Zealand to send more soldiers to Europe before joining up at the age of 42, is remembered by Victoria University of Wellington's Arnold Atkinson Memorial Prize. Charles Brown's widow erected a memorial plaque in Wellington's Old St Pauls. The plaque reads: "In proud and loving memory of my husband Charles Raymond Brown, killed in action, France, October 1, 1918, aged 28. With eternal love." They had been married for two months when he entered the army.

photo of William M Alexander

William Alexander was remembered by a notice placed in the New Zealand Herald every year on the anniversary of his death at Armentieres on 11 July 1916. The notice placed in 1940 read: "In ever-loving memory of Sergeant W.M. Alexander, killed in action at Armentieres July 11, 1916. Ever remembered. - Inserted by his loving parents, brothers and sisters, Mangapiko."

The District Law Societies of Auckland, Hamilton (later Waikato Bay of Plenty), Wellington and Canterbury all erected memorial tablets for lawyers from their area who died in the war. These commemorate 32 of the lawyers. The New Zealand Law Society hopes that it can help keep memories alive by providing some information about the lawyers’ lives and legal careers. Contributions of additional information to the biographies are welcomed.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019