59366 Private Herbert (Herb) Harris – Wellington Infantry Regiment

Herbert (Herb) Harris’s grandparents settled in the Pauatahanui area in 1858.[i] Their third son David Harris married
Mary Champion in 1879,[ii] and the couple farmed land near Battle Hill, Horokiwi Valley, Pauatahanui and raised a family
of nine children. Herbert Harris was born on 16th August 1893 the youngest of three sons and sixth child in this family of
nine children. The Harris children along with numerous cousins all went to Pauatahanui School with Herb, as he was known, who was enrolled at the school in 1898[iii].

With war in Europe David and Mary’s three sons were called up for service. The first enlistment was Walter (Wal) Harris
who left New Zealand on 5th April 1917 as 41542 Private Walter Harris, 24th Reinforcements, Otago Infantry. Their oldest son Charles was selected in the 4th Military ballot in February 1917 entering camp in April 1917 as 55957 Private Charles Harris. Private Harris lodged an appeal against conscription on medical grounds and while the appeal was rejected following assessment, resulted in him being classified for service in New Zealand. Private Charles Harris was in camp
when the third and youngest son Herbert (Herb) was selected in the 7th Military Ballot.

In the Hutt Valley Independent on 12th May 1917 the following were listed from Horokiwi Riding; E S Dickerson,
E D Galloway and H Harris all from Pahautanui. Among those from Mungaroa Riding; H Johnson from Akatarawa. 
Ernest David Galloway may have been rejected during his medical or appealed the conscription as there is no military file for him. 83656 Private Eric Sydney Dickerson had medical conditions and his service was restricted to New Zealand.

Herb Harris and Harry Johnson both entered Trentham Camp on the 28th June
1917, 59366 Private H Harris[iv] and 59384 Private Harry Johnson[v] were
assigned to B Company, 30th Reinforcements. During basic training both Privates
were redeployed on 25th July 1917 to B Company, 29th Reinforcements and
were with this company when they left New Zealand on 15th August 1917 as 29th
Reinforcements, Wellington Infantry Reinforcements.

59366 Private Herbert Harris - 29th Reinforcements 

The Reinforcements arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on 2nd October 1917 and
were transported by rail to the Sling Military Camp. Private Harris was ‘marched’
into the 4th Reserve Battalion of the Wellington Regiment for training and was at
Sling Camp when news of the death of his older brother 41542 Private Walter
(Wal) Harris, Otago Infantry on 12th October 1917 during the Battle of

Training at Sling was brief and on 26th October 1917 Private Harris was sent
to France. On 3rd November 1917 France Private Harris was in the NZ General
Reserve when he was sent to hospital with influenza, he was not posted to his
battalion until 19th December 1917 when he joined the 7th (Wellington West Coast Rifles) 3rd Battalion, WIR. New Year
was spent in the rear areas in very cold and snowy conditions. On 7th February 1918 the 3rd Battalion was disbanded and the men distributed between the two remaining Battalions with Private Harris moving on 11th March 1918 to the 2nd Battalion. Later in March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring Offensive and the NZ Division was moved forward
to counter a potential gap in the Allied Lines. The 2nd Wellington’s, as part of the NZ Division, were positioned along the  Hebuterne Road near La Signy Farm. There were periods of time spent in the front lines and in the reserve lines as the German Offensive slowly winding down.

On 2nd July 1918 Private Harris was again admitted to hospital with influenza and while there he was seen by his
cousin Private Wilf Mexted, NZFA, who wrote back to his parents in Tawa on 8th July 1918.[vi]

8th July 1918 – Somewhere in France
My Dear Mama, Papa & All at Home

Since I wrote to any of you quite a lot of things have happened, we have shifted & my turn
of the flu has been round. I have had it since Thursday & am not up to much yet. It is very
common here just now & almost everyone is getting it in their turn. . . . .
I am at present in an isolation camp. All under canvas infantry & all combined. I met
Herb Harris here last night, he’s had it too and went out last night. He’s grown and has put
on some condition I didn’t know him for a start, explained all in Dorothy’s of today, he’s the
same old Herb when he speaks. I felt like asking him if he had his morning wood in. . . . . . .
but I was surprised to see him so cheerful with these conditions & loosing Wal, but he didn’t
seem to look on the serious side at all in fact he was giggling all the time.’

Private Harris returned to his unit on 8th July 1918 as the Allied forces began to pressure the Germans. In early
August 1918 the Wellingtons were in reserve, then moved up to take over trenches in the Gommecourt sector of the Front.

Also in August 1918 American troops of the United State  317th  Regiment were assigned to various New Zealand units including the 2nd Wellington’s to get experience on the Western Front. As the Germans retreated in stages towards
Achiet-le-Petit they subjected the advancing 2nd Wellington Battalion and other New Zealand units to heavy shelling
during which 68285 Private George Henry (Sonny) Galloway recalled that [vii]:

'The USA 317 Regiment newly arrived on the Western Front provided a number of their ‘green troops’ 
to serve with the 2nd Wellington Battalion to experience the conditions on the Western Front.
‘Sonny’ Galloway was with these American troops but during a fierce German bombardment,
became separated and was seeking shelter in a shell hole when another soldier made a hurried entry
also seeking shelter. Sonny picked up in all the noise and confusion a ‘Kiwi Accent’ and found it to be
another Pahautanui boy – 59366 Private Herbert (Herb) Harris.'

It was also during the advance that Private Harris was wounded on the 16th August 1918, as recalled by his nephew
Wally Brown, Pauatahanui[viii]:

‘Herb was a company runner and was hit in the neck by a German sniper. He was pulled to safety
by a man he had enlisted with in 1917, 59348 Private Harry Johnson. Private Johnson, because of his
religious beliefs, would not carry any arms so served as a stretcher bearer with the 2nd Wellington’s.’

Private Harris was treated at the No 2 Field Ambulance but fortunately the gunshot wound to the ‘Right Head’ did not
prove serious and by 22th August 1918 was back with his unit. Private Harris remained with his unit through the
Battle of Baupame and the following 100 days advance towards the German Border. It is possible that after the Armistice,  Private Harris served in the NZEF elements of Army of Occupation based in Cologne, Germany. Private Harris' files simply notes that he left London on 27th April 1919 on the SS Tahiti.

Private Harris arrived back in New Zealand on 7th July 1919 and on the 2nd August 1919 was, along with other returning soldiers, were welcomed home at a Pauatahanui reception:[ix]

'Eight residents of the Pahautanui district who saw service in the war – Gunner F. Attwood,
Trooper J. Barber, Private E. Draper, Gunner A. Greig, Private H Harris, Private N. Olsen,
Private A. Sims (M.M.), and Fitter A. Trevor – were the guests at a “social” held at Pahautanui
last night. During the evening, Mr. R. A. Wright, M.P. for Wellington Suburbs, on behalf of
those present, handed to each man a gold albert chain and maltese cross suitably inscribed.
Mr. W. H. Field,  M.P. for Otaki replied, on behalf of the soldiers, and the rest of the evening
was spent in dancing, music provided by Mr. E. J. King and Mr. W. C. Tanner.  

On 18th August 1919 Private Herbert Harris was discharged from the NZEF ‘ on termination of his period of service’
and returned to farming in the Pauatahanui District.

In 1923 Harry Johnson, the man who pulled Herb to safety, married Herb’s oldest sister Alice.

On 22nd April 1925 Herbert Harris married Miriam Elsinore (Elsie) Taylor. Elise was born in 1901 to another Pauatahanui farming family and had also attended Pauatahanui School. In 1928 the couple purchase land in Moonshine and farmed there into the late 1940’s early 1950’s. 

Elsie Harris 1940's 

Herbert Harris died in Pauatahanui on 19th May 1959 and Elsie in 1989[x].

The historic spelling, Pahautanui is used in documents from the era.

Pauatahanui – a local history
Paperspast Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files

Private Herbert Harris, 29th Reinforcements : Wally Brown
Elsie Harris on Moonshine Road: Wally Brown
2nd Brigade runner November 1917: RSA Collection - Alexander Turnbull 

[i]    Pauatahanui – a local history
[ii]   NZ BDM
[iii]  Pauatahanui School Class Lists
[iv]  Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 59366 Private Herbert Harris
[v]   Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 59384 Private Harry Johnson
[vi]   50095 Driver James Wilfred (Wilf) Mexted – Letters Home (unpublished)
[vii]  Oral History - Hudson
[viii]  Oral History – Wally Brown
[ix]   Return Home, 2nd August 1919, Evening Post
[x]   NZ BDM  
2nd Brigade Runner - Western Front