25555 Private William Thomas Mair – Wellington Infantry Regiment

William Thomas and John Gillbanks Mair were twins born on the 10th July 1893. the eldest children of Mary Elanor
(Nee Gillbanks) and Frederick Mair. John Gillbanks Mair died in December 1893. The couple had three other sons,
Alford Isaac (1895), Percy (1896) and Frederick Prictor (1904).[i]

Frederick was employed by the Wellington & Manawatu Railways, initially in the laying of tracks between Johnsonville and Pukerua Bay but by 1896 he had been promoted to a permanent position as a engine driver on the Manawatu Line between Wellington and Kereru (near Otaki.)[ii]

In 1903 William, his two younger brothers, Alford and Percy were all enrolled in the Porirua School. Their grandfather
Isaac and grandmother Ann Gillbanks had moved to the district about this time where Isaac Gillbanks, a bootmaker/shoemaker by trade, set up a trade. 

Both William and his grandfather Isaac are listed as living in Porirua in the 1914 electoral roles for Otaki. Porirua was considered in the boundary of that electorate.

On 30th May 1916 William Thomas Mair enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The 23 year old was employed
as a clerk Wellington wine merchants; B Reginald Collins & Co. William listed his last residence as Porirua and gave his grandfather Isaac as his next of kin[iii]. It is possible that his father and mother had moved to Australia prior to
World War One. Frederick (Fred) is listed as living in Sydney in 1916 and is listed as the next of kin of
17/255 Fitter Alfred (Alford) Mair, NZ Field Artillery.

Private Mair entered camp in B Company, 17th Reinforcements and underwent basic training and was promoted to
Lance Corporal Mair on 29th June 1916. On 22nd September 1916 he left for service on the Western Front with the
17th Reinforcements, Wellington Infantry.

On arrival in England the 17th Reinforcements were dispatched to the Sling Military Training Camp where
Lance Corporal Mair reverted, as was standard practice, to the rank of private. On 18th November 1916 Private Mair
was allocated to the 1st Wellington Company, 3rd Reserve Battalion and was given the temporary rank of Lance Corporal while the reserves underwent training for the front.

Lance Corporal Mair was sent to France on 6th January 1917 and again reverted to the ranks when he was attached to
the 9th (Wellington East Coast) Company, 1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment. The 1st Battalion was in reserve
and during this period they suffered very cold conditions in a particularly severe winter. There were periods in the
trenches and in the rear but also training for the next major battle, Messines. This battle was well planned and was launched on 6th June 1917 after the explosion of huge mines under the German trenches on the Messines Ridge.
New Zealand casualties were comparatively light during the opening days but as the German forces recovered, heavier shelling increased the numbers of killed and wounded and the assault was halted.

By the 18th June 1917 the 1st Battalion, as part of the 1st Brigade, was in positions in front of La Basse Ville where the
1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment relieved the 1st Otago in reserve on Hill 63. The 1st Battalion remained at
Hill 63 until 23rd  June 1917, nearly the whole strength of the battalion being employed on working parties. Every night
Hill 63 was heavily shelled with gas and high explosives (HE) with some casualties were sustained.[iv] One of these casualties was Private Mair who was evacuated to the rear with ‘shell gassed.’ This was not serious and he rejoined his
unit on 29th June 1917.

Private Mair was again in the trenches in the La Basse Ville area on 22nd July 1917 when he was evacuated by the
3rd NZ Field Ambulance to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) and then to the 11th Stationary Hospital in Rouen. Assessed as suffering from Nephritis, Private Mair was stabilised and then on 5th August 1917 evacuated by the hospital ship St George and to the No 1 NZ General Hospital, Brockenhurst, England. Private Mair remained at Brockenhurst for a month before being sent to the NZ Discharge Deport at Torquay where he was assessed as unfit for active service and arrangements made for his return to New Zealand.

Private Mair arrived back in New Zealand on 7th January 1918 returning to Porirua where he was given a civic reception
on 12th January 1918[v]:

“At the Porirua Social Hall last night a gathering was held to welcome Pte. W.T. Mair, who
has returned from the front invalided after active service in France. Pte. Mair has two
brothers at the front. His popularity is the district was proved by the large attendance of
residents to bid him welcome. Dr Hassell presided, and the speakers of the evening were:
Mr R.A. Wright, M.P. for Wellington Suburbs, the Revs W. H. Walton and Earwaker, and
Mr E Windley. The arrangements for the function were made be a committee of which
Mr W. Harding was chairman.”

Finally on 4th April 1918 Private Mair was discharged ‘being no longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service (Nephritis).’ As the Nephritis was considered as a result of war service he was given six months pension at 30/- per week for six months then 20/- per week for another six months.

William returned to live with his grandfather and grandmother in Porirua and is listed as a Clerk, Porirua in the 1919 Electoral Rolls[vi].

In 1927 William Thomas Mair married Gladys Louise Morris and in 1928 the couple are listed as living in Woodville. Also living in the area was William’s grandfather Isaac who had moved up to the area following the death of his wife Ann. Also living in the Palmerston area were William’s two brothers Percy and Alford.

William and Gladys were still in Woodville area in 1935 but by 1938 both were working for the New Zealand Railways
first in the Hawkes Bay area and the Bay of Plenty before moving to the Patea area. William and Gladys finally moved to Wanganui where William retired and finally died in 1965.

William Thomas Mair is remembered on the Porirua School Roll of Honour “ they also served.[vii]”

Two other brothers served both with the NZEF
17/255 Fitter Alfred (Alford) Mair NZ Field Artillery from
11/1293 Gunner Percy Mair NZ Field Artillery from Palmerston North
Nephritis – a kidney complaint often is the first symptom of diabetes

NZ Electoral Roles 1853 – 1976 Ancestry.com
The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914-1919: NZETC
Paperspast Online
Porirua School Jubilee 1873 – 1923
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files

Porirua Village

[ii] Frederic Mair, The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1897
[iii] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 25555 Private William Thomas Mair
[iv] The Wellington Regiment – trench warfare after Messines
[v] Home, 12th January 1918, Evening Post
[vi] NZ Electoral Rolls 1919
[vii] Porirua School class rolls 1873 – 1923 
Porirua Village and Hospital c1910