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Joseph Alexander Mercer

Joseph Alexander Mercer

Birth date: 
19 November 1894
Death date: 
09 March 1971
Served with: 
New Zealand Forces
Serial number: 
A company 2nd Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade

On 19 July 1916, 19-year-old Rifleman Joseph Mercer disappeared. After a bit of confusion he was finally tracked down in a German prisoner of war (POW) camp. Aside from a shrapnel wound to the head he was alright. Joseph was able to make contact with a relative in London, Mrs Robertson, who sent him care packages. Most of his requests sound like they could have been written by any soldier – tinned food, baking, cigarettes, loose tobacco and shaving equipment were common comforts sent to fighting men regardless of whether they were on the front or in a POW camp. But one of Joseph’s requests stands out from the rest – sheet music. An accomplished violinist, Mercer was allowed to play his instrument to pass the time at the camp.

He moved from camp to camp, spending time at Dulmen, Friedrichsfield, Mannheim and Krisgefangen before finally being released at the end of the war, only to catch influenza. Fortunately he recovered from the flu and made it back to New Zealand.

Music remained a big part of Joseph’s life. He continued to play the violin as well as the viola and joined the Christchurch Musical Union Orchestra. He toured with the group around New Zealand and overseas living a long life passing away in 1971 at the age of 77.

Some of the letters he sent home and to Mrs Robertson in London are now held at Canterbury Museum.