William Alexander was killed in action at the Somme in France on 14 July 1916. He was aged 23. He is buried at Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres, France.
William was born on 3 September 1893 at Mangapiko, Te Awamutu. His parents were Flora and Charles Alexander. His father was for a time President of the Te Awamutu branch of Federated Farmers. He attended Hamilton High School before enrolling at Auckland University College in 1910 to study law. While at university he played cricket, for the University and Eden clubs. He was active in law student affairs, and was Secretary of the University Law Students Society in 1914, participating in the moots and discussions and also taking part in the University Debating Club. He was also involved with the New Zealand Power Boat Association.
Alexander graduated LLB in June 1914 and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court on 9 September 1914 by Justice Cooper on the motion of AE Skelton. He was employed by Wynyard Skelton and Wilson and by October 1914 he was appearing in the Auckland Police Court. One of his pleas in mitigation (his client had pleaded guilty to the theft of a case of sugar) was reported: "Mr WM Alexander also urged the magistrate to impose a fine instead of imprisonment. He said that Anderson had had a lot of sickness in his family lately and had been strongly tempted. Another point in his favour was that for 10 years he had led a reformed life." The Magistrate, FV Frazer SM, was obviously swayed and imposed a fine on Alexander's client, noting that it was usual to punish the offence with imprisonment. (New Zealand Herald, 14 November 1914, page 5). In March 1915 he was in the Auckland Supreme Court, representing two clients charged with perjury.
He enlisted on 8 May 1915 and held the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant in the seventh reinforcement draft of the New Zealand expeditionary force which left Auckland for training at Trentham. His medical examination report shows he was 5 foot 8 tall (1.73 metres), weighed 10 stone (63.5 kg) and had hazel eyes and brown hair.
He embarked with the Otago Infantry Battallion from Wellington on 9 October 1915 for Suez in Egypt, arriving on 18 November. After training at Ismailia he left for France on 6 April 1916. On 14 July 1916 he was killed in action at Armentieres with 34 other Otago battlion soldiers during a disastrous night-time raid on German lines.
The Waikato Times carried a tribute to William Alexander: "A brilliant career has been cut short by the death in France of QMS William Moon Alexander, son of Mr and Mrs J.M. Alexander of Mangapiko. Deceased received his education at the Hamilton High School, where he was regarded as the most promising pupil of the school, and a boy of the highest mental attainments. After he matriculated he continued his studies at the Auckland University, where he graduated LLB at 20, and was admitted to the Bar on coming of age. Later he was associated with Messrs Wynyard and Skelton, barristers, of Auckland, and Mr Skelton on more than one occasion remarked that young Alexander was faced with a most brilliant future. He left New Zealand with the 7th reinforcements, and his parents have now received word that he was killed in action on the 14th inst. All who knew him will regard his death as a loss to the community, and his parents will be the recipients of widespread sympathy." (Waikato Times, 27 July 1916, page 5).
His parents, brothers and sisters remembered him each year through a memorial notice inserted in the New Zealand Herald. The notice placed in 1940 reads: "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." (New Zealand Herald, 13 July 1940, page 1).
A plaque in the Pirongia War Memorial Hall includes William Alexander's name and his name is on the Te Awamutu War Memorial. He is also included in the Memorial Tablet for members of the legal profession from the Auckland district who were killed in World War I.
Sources: New Zealand Herald, 19 January 1910, page 8; New Zealand Herald, 1 December 1911, page 4; Auckland Star, 8 April 1914, page 5; New Zealand Herald, 6 June 1914, page 11; New Zealand Herald, 15 June 1914, page 12; New Zealand Herald, 30 June 1914, page 5; New Zealand Herald, 9 July 1914, page 14; Auckland Star, 10 Septemer 1914, page 4; New Zealand Herald, 17 September 1914, page 4; New Zealand Herald, 21 October 1914, page 5; New Zealand Herald, 14 November 1914, page 5; New Zealand Herald, 19 March 1915, page 5; New Zealand Herald, 4 May 1915, page 9; New Zealand Herald, 16 September 1915, page 4; Waikato Times, 27 July 1916, page 5; AE Byrne, Official History of the Otago Regiment NZEF in the Great War 1914-1918 (J Wilkie & Company, 1924), page 102; New Zealand Herald, 14 July 1924, page 1; New Zealand Herald, 13 July 1940, page 1; New Zealand Herald, 14 July 1944, page 1.
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.
By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: firstname.lastname@example.org.