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Frank Williamson, Sapper

Frank Williamson, Sapper

Birth date: 
21 January 1886
Death date: 
5 May 1935
Served with: 
New Zealand Forces
Serial number: 
12th New Zealand Royal Engineers

Frank Williamson was born at Christchurch on 21 January 1886, the son of Joseph and Annie Williamson. In 1902, he passed the sixth standard examinations at St. Albans Primary School. He worked as a plumber, hence his nickname, ‘Plumb’.

In 1915, Frank was working for Waters Brothers of Hawarden. In January 1916, he enlisted, as No. 12091, as a sapper with the 12th New Zealand Royal Engineers. His enlistment records show that he was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 11 stone. His minimum chest measurement was 31 inches, his maximum 37 ½. Of medium complexion, he had brown eyes and hair and tattoo marks on the upper part of each arm. His bottom teeth were in good condition and he was about to be fitted with new top dentures.

After training at Trentham, Williamson sailed for France in October 1916. In June 1917, the allies planned a major offensive at Passchendaele in Belgium. To facilitate this, New Zealand sappers undermined the Messines Ridge to clear the area of observant Germans. The enemy fell back but bombarded the newly captured areas and Frank was gassed during this attack.

Frank was treated at Brockenhurst Hospital in the New Forest. While in England, he made an Expeditionary Force Will which was to be administered by the Public Trust. It was never updated. He was also guilty of misconduct by being absent without leave at Boscombe in Bournemouth and at the Salisbury railway station was improperly dressed (he failed to wear a belt). For each offence, he was docked a day’s pay. Frank rejoined his unit a month before the war’s end.

Upon his return to New Zealand, Frank moved back into the family home, 201 Springfield Road with his widowed father and two unmarried sisters. Frank had a woman friend, Lilian McVey but decided that, because his sisters had such limited work skills, he must not marry and would instead remain with them.

Family stories tell us that he was a handsome man with a red face – perhaps a result of his war wound – and that he was a favourite with his three nieces. One was jealous of the fact that he insisted on calling her ginger-haired cousin ‘Goldie’.

Frank died of cancer on 5th may 1935. It is unclear if his illness had any relationship to his exposure to poisonous gas during the First World War. Due to poor record keeping by his family Frank’s age in both the Press death notice and on his tombstone is shown as 43, but he was actually 49. He is buried in the Returned Services’ section of the Bromley Cemetery.