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Kenneth Duncan Ambrose, 1890 - 1916

Kenneth Ambrose was serving with the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps when he was killed in action near Flers on the Somme in France on 15 September 1916. He was aged 24. He is buried at Thistle Dump Cemetery, High Wood, Longueval, France

Born in Wellington on 14 November 1890, his parents were Barbara and John Andrew Ambrose. His father worked in the Lands and Deeds Office. He attended Richmond School and then Christ's College and was a gifted pupil, doing particularly well in French and Latin before passing his matriculation and solicitors' general knowledge at the end of 1908. He went on to Canterbury University College, where he studied law from 1909 to 1913, gaining his degree in November 1913 and qualifying as a solicitor in January 1914.

photo of Kenneth Ambrose  

His first legal job was with the Christchurch firm Garrick, Cowlishaw, Alpers and Nicholls. He left them in March 1914 to take up employment as managing clerk in Westport with Free and Cottrell.

Ambrose was active in the territorial forces and was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Westport Garrison Artillery on 30 July 1914. He enlisted on 7 July 1915 and, holding the rank of Second Lieutenant (on probation), was sent to training camp at Trentham. His rank was confirmed on 1 November 1915. He embarked from Wellington on 13 November 1915 with the Second Reinforcements to the First Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. They arrived in Suez, Egypt on 18 December 1915.

Ambrose was transferred to Number 3 Company of the Machine Gun Corps on 9 March 1916 and his unit left for France from Egypt on 6 April 1916. On 15 September 1916 Second Lieutenant Ambrose was killed early in the morning 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.

A close friend in Ambrose's company later wrote to his (the friend's) mother about the moment Ambrose (known as "Dad") died: "After our third wave or line had gone over and down the other side to what was called Brown Line. Well Blackwatch Trench was not very far from it, Switch Trench and Fritz was very angry, so we were in the way of many shells, things were moving very fast by about Eight o'clock and Dad kept coming wanting to know when we were going to move. Well it was near or past the time we should move and things as I say, were going some, I was not in command of the Eight Guns, but Dad always looked to me I suppose being his oldest friend. Anyway it was decided to stay a little longer, as things were too thick ahead. So out went Dad with his guns, about one hundred yards and opened fire. Gee, he was fine that day. You would think he was out for fun that day. Well it was about ten that a shell caught him - missed one or two of his gun team, "oh, it's all right, I'll be right in a  minute", - just as bright as ever, but the poor old boy died in ten minutes, still smiling and not in pain. So Mum, I lost a very good friend, one of the cleanest I ever knew, and while too he died as he lived - a man."

His name is on the bronze plaque in the Canterbury Law Library with the names of Canterbury lawyers killed during the war. Ambrose is also remembered on the Westport War Memorial, which was unveiled on 3 June 1922. Unfortunately there are mistakes on both memorials with his initials.

Sources: Press, 20 December 1902, page 9; Press, 20 December 1906, page 9; Star, 19 December 1907, page 4; Press, 21 January 1908, page 8; Star, 21 December 1911, page 1; Press, 18 December 1912, page 9; Press, 18 December 1913, page 7; Sun, 19 March 1914, page 10; Star, 4 April 1914, page 1; New Zealand Gazette, 30 July 1914; New Zealand Gazette, 22 July 1915; New Zealand Herald, 20 August 1915, page 8; New Zealand Gazette, 11 November 1915; Marlborough Express, 25 September 1916, page 8; JH Luxford, With the Machine Gunners in France and Palestine (Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, 1923, Auckland), page 40; Pip Grant-Taylor, Lives of the First World War, Kenneth Duncan Ambrose.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who lost their lives while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour. 

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz.

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Last updated on the 13th September 2016