On this day in 1917, William ‘Willie’ Henwood Johns (1891-1917) died in Palestine in the Great War.
William was a lieutenant in the Auckland Mounted Rifles of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force when he lost his life. He was 25.
Official records show that he was ‘killed in action’.
However, one family member said he bled to death on a train after being wounded.
A teacher, William was captain of junior cadets before undergoing two years of officer training.
He enlisted in the 4th (Waikato) Mounted Rifles in Hamilton on August 14, 1914 and sailed to Egypt in December that year.
William went to Gallipoli in May 1915 and was shot in the face in August that year.
A sergeant at the time, he was mentioned in despatches for his bravery in action.
In a postcard to his sister Clara, William said his face was ‘unrecognisable’ and ‘distorted’ after he was shot and taken to hospital.
The bullet ‘entered just under (my) left eye – a narrow squeak eh!’, he wrote. ‘Joys of a soldier.
‘I lost all strength, but am getting it back slowly. No need to worry about me. Thoughts of home made me fight for life as soon as I came round’.
He said he was ‘practically deaf’ in his right ear and he could only open his jaw with great difficulty.
He went back to New Zealand in SS Willochra to recover and returned to the Middle East in December 1916 as a 2nd lieutenant.
He was married three months before going back to war.
William joined the Auckland Mounted Rifles and was promoted to lieutenant on April 23, 1917.
He was fighting with them when he lost his life at Beersheba, a city today in southern Israel.
William was buried at Beersheba War Cemetery in Israel and is also remembered at St John’s Churchyard, Waikato, New Zealand.
William was a nephew of Caroline Roberts (1847-1921), the youngest sister of John Roberts (1829-1919), my great-great grandfather who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War.
William was the son of John Johns (1836-1919) and Martha Henwood (1851- 1942). Born on November 23, 1891 in Pukekohe, William married Caroline May Kirkham (1894- 1966) on September 13, 1916 in New Zealand. A fine sportsman, he played hockey for the Auckland province.
William Henwood Johns.