Serial Number: 13/759
RAF Trade: Observer, then Pilot
Date of Enlistment: 13th of July 1914
Rank Achieved: Major
Flying Hours: 385.40 hours as Pilot (252.4 hours operational), 100 hours as Observer
Date of Birth: 9th of December 1893 at Meremere, Ohangai, Hawera
Personal Details: Harry was born in the Ohangai district of Taranaki, approximately 20km from Hawera, at a place called Meremere. Meremere Road and Ohangai Road meet at Ohangai.
Harry was the son of William III Williams and Kate (Kitty) Williams (nee Arthur). He was the brother of Ida Constance Williams, Lillian Mary Williams, Griffith William Arthur Williams, Olive Kate Winifred Williams, Amy Rose Williams, and Alfred Edward Williams.
Though born in Taranaki his family was also farming dairy cattle in the Cambridge district as well as Taranaki before and after World War One. The family were part of the J.J. Pattersen-Williams farming enterprise which covered both Cambridge and Taranaki. it seems at some stage before WWI he also resided for a time at Maungakaramea, just south-west of Whangarei in Northland.
Harry was the great, great uncle of Regan Washer. Regan has researched Harry's life and wrote, "Henry was a particularly nice man. Very modest and full of fun. Barbara Williams remembers Henry farewelling Alfred (his younger brother) saying "Goodbye Alf, good to see you" as he put his hand on Alfred`s head. When he lifted it there was a very ripe large tomato squashed and dripping down over Albert`s face. They were always playing silly jokes like a couple of kids."
Harry had two nephews - sons of his brother Griffith - who also had a military air service connnection in the Second World War. The younger of the two joined up first. He was Arthur Griffith Reeve Williams, known as Reeve. He joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, and was on his way to Britain to undergo his training in that service aboard the New Zealand Shipping Line's R.M.S. Rangitane. However on the 27th of November 1940 the German Navy's raider vessels Komet and Orion and their supply ship Kulmerland intercepted, shelled and captured the Rangitane in the Pacific.
The captured service personnel were given a choice either be put ashore on remote Emirau island and making a signed promise that they would not fight the Germans again in the war - or go with the Nazi vessels back to Germany into captivity as a Prisoner Of War.
Reeve chose the the option of being put ashore on Emirau Island, as did other RNZAF and Fleet Air Arm members onboard. All the civilian passengers and crew were also dropped onto the island. Lyn was rescued and returned home. Now legally a non-combatant due to the contract signed with the German sailors, this freed up his eldest brother Lyn from his farm exemption.
Lyn William Williams went into the Royal New Zealand Air Force in Reeve's place and became a fighter pilot, but he was sadly killed in action in Curtiss P-40M Warhawk NZ3076 on the 31st of July 1943. Reeve never really got over the death of his brother who'd taken his place in the war. Reeve passed away in about 2005.
Service Details: Harry joined the Army on the 13th of July 1914, just before the entry of New Zealand and Britain into World War One. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Auckland Mounted Rifles on the 16th of January 1915, and embarked for war service on the 14th of February 1915. He was a member of the 11th Squadron, Auckland Mounted Rifles, as part of the 3rd Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force under the command of Colonel Andrew H. Russell.
They arrived at Zeitoun Camp, Egypt, on the 26th of March 1915, where the men were issued with 115 new horses, some of poor quality. On the 2nd of April the Mounted Rifles were called in to quell a riot of ANZAC soldiers in Cairo’s Wazzir brothel district. All leave was stopped as a result.
The following day, on the 3rd of April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps received orders to prepare for the invasion of Gallipoli. The NZMR (including the Auckland Mounted Rifles) and the two Australian Light Horse brigades are ordered to remain in Egypt to continue training and to defend the Suez Canal against the Turks. Training focused on long-distance treks and inter-brigade manoeuvres.
The next day, the 4th of April, Harry wrote home to his father William. Extracts were published in the Hawera & Normanby Star, on the 24th of May 1915, and in the letter he wrote,
"We do not expect to stay here long, for the main body has already got marching orders; eighteen trains of men and gear moved out last night, and the same number will go away every day now, but it will take ten days or even a fortnight to move them.all, for there are nearly three hundred thousand men in Egypt, and we are to be the.last to move. The infantry have been promised two days' sailing, and then three days' solid fighting, using the boats as their temporary base, so it looks as if we are to attack the Turks in co-operation with the battleships at the Dardanelles. I would like to get in with the first lot if possible, and I am trying hard to do so, but I am afraid there is not much chance.
"We are camped in the desert, and dust and flies are almost unbearable, especially the flies which make for one's eyes. I have seen Norman and Hedley Arthur, Railton, the Murphys, and Snowy Winks and Tebbutts, besides a great many others, whom you would not know, and they are all right. Cairo is an awful place. I think it must be the most immoral place in the world, and after having seen it once you' do not want to see it again, for it is simply disgusting, and things which we would look down upon in New Zealand are quite a matter of course here. Even the higher class of people, who would be respected in New Zealand when judged from our standards are quite beyond respect; but they all seem to be the same, high and low alike, and the lowest are ten times worse than dogs. It makes one appreciate little New Zealand. It is no wonder that the men get out of bounds sometimes.
"The country round the Nile is magnificent and there are hundreds of thousands of acres, just like market gardens and of beautiful color. This country is worth from £150 to £200 per acre, but they get three crops a year off it. The locusts are bad this year, and sometimes the sky is covered with a great cloud of them, and they make it look as if there was going to be a thunderstorm. The natives frighten them off the fields with tins.
" We made a record this time with the horses and only lost a total of 1 per cent, of the whole lot. The boat I was in made a world's record of only half per cent., and those died through poison in the feed."
The landings at Gallipoli in Turkey began in the early hours of the 25th of April 1915. While the 1,500 men in the Auckland Mounted Rifles were originally not expected to be needed in the landings and subsequent campaign, heavy losses at ANZAC Cove and subsequent battles meant that they would be required to reinforce the infantry. On the 5th of May 1915 the NZMR received orders to move to Gallipoli as infantry, leaving their horses in Egypt.
So on the 8th of May the Auckland Mounted Rifles, including Harry, left Zeitoun Camp and traveled by train to Alexandria to embark on troopships. They arrived at Gallipoli at 10.30pm on the 12th of May and were thrust into the fighting in the early hours of the 19th of May when Ottoman troops launched an assault against Walker’s Ridge and Quinn’s Post.
The main enemy thrust in the New Zealand sector fell on the Auckland Mounted Rifles. They held their fire until the Turks were around twenty yards (18 metres) away. Then every weapon opened up, the machine-guns causing severe casualties amongst the attacking Turks, who were forced to go to ground and take cover. By 4.30 a.m. the attack had been repulsed, at the cost of 22 men killed and 27 more wounded from the Auckland Mounted Rifles. By daybreak they Turks began to retire to their own lines, leaving thousands of dead behind, with around 500 of them lying in no-man’s land in front of the Auckland Mounted Rifles' positions.
Harry had survived his first taste of battle. More came the following day on the 20th of May when another Turkish attack began, but New Zealand machine-gun fire forced them to withdraw back to their own lines. Following a truce on the 24th so the Turks could retrieve wounded and bury their dead, the battle lines settled down to a stalemate for some time to sniping and skirmishes.
On the 28th of May 1915, Harry was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
Harry's next large scale action was during the big push to take the summit of Chunuk Bair, which was the next major battle for the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Chunuk Bair was the second highest point on the whole Gallipoli peninsular ridge line, and thus a much desired strategic point.
At some point on the 9th of August 1915 Harry was wounded on Chunuk Bair during the attack. He received shrapnel through his left thigh. He was evacuated from Gallipoli and taken back to Egypt. There he was admitted to the 15th General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, on the 13th of August 1915. The injury would mean that he could no longer ride horses nor walk properly.
On the 20th of August Harry wrote home from the hospital, and the following was published later in the Hawera & Normanby Star, on the 13th of October 1915. He wrote:
"Just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and kicking, or, at least, I can kick with one leg. the other one got in the way of a bomb which exploded, with the result that part of my thigh is missing, and the other part is rather too stiff to do much kicking just at present.
"The bomb suffered most though, for it was blown to pieces, so I don't mind so much. That happened ten or eleven days ago, and since then I have been gradually shifted about by boats and motor ambulances, until, at last, I was dropped here; but they don't seem to have finished with me yet, for I believe I am to he sent to England by the next hospital ship.
"In one way I am rather pleased at.that news, but I want to. go back to Gallipoli, and I am afraid that I won't be wanted there after I come back from England. However, in this game we have to go where we are told to, and that is not always the same place as we want to go to.
"We had three days of heavy fighting before I got bowled over, and by that time [censored]. In fact, when I went down there was only one left, and he fell a few minutes afterwards; but we managed to hold the position until the rest of our regiment came up and they kept it until relieved next morning, when there were only [censored] of the whole regiment left unwounded.
"It was fine to see the way our fellows stood up to it and held back thousands of the Turks, who were entrenched only seven to ten yards away, and who tried several times to . . . our fellows with the bayonet . . . bullets were rained on top of us until everything seemed to be blown away.
"But we had been fighting for three days and had won a good many miles of country at a great cost, so we could not afford to give way then, and eventually the hill was won, although our chaps were not in at the last."
Following hospitalisation in Egypt, Harry was sent to Britain for rest and recuperation. On the 8th of October 1915 it was reported in the Otago Daily Times that Harry was a patient at the Prince of Wales Convalescent Home, in Staines.
According to the Williams family's understanding he was sent to rest - probably after being in Staines, to Scotland. This was on a large estate, and whilst talking with the lady who owned the estate he apparently expressed his desire to continue fighting, and that he would like to join the Royal Flying Corps.
It happened that the lady's brother was General Russell, who was in charge of the British Forces in the East, so she gave Harry a letter of recommendation for him to give to the general.
Harry was posted to the New Zealand Base Depot at Hornchurch on the 13th of January 1916, where he was on Light Duties, and undergoing instructional courses as he recovered from the wound. He was transferred then to a Mtd Train (?) Regiment from the 26th of April till the 6th of May 1916.
Royal Flying Corps Service
It seems that Harry must have gotten to see General Russell with that letter, because was allowed to transfer to the Royal Flying Corps as an Observer. he was attached to the RFC on the 6th of May 1916.
In May 1916 Harry was posted to Egypt so he embarked in London and on the 1st of June 1916 he arrived back in Alexandria, from where he joined No. 17 Squadron at Asyut for reconnaissance and bombing duties over the oasis's in the Sahara Desert, which were used by the Sensussi Tribe who were aligned with the Germans.
The aircraft used by the unit was the BE.2c scout. As Harry was an Observer he would mainly have been sitting in the front seat taking photographs, marking map references and taking notes and using a wireless to direct artillery. The pilot sat in the rear seat of these 60hp two-seat aircraft. The Observer also operated a Vickers machine-gun for defence of the aeroplane should it be attacked, though by 1916 the enemy's fighter aircraft could easily knock the underpowered, under-armed BE.2c out of the sky.
On the 15th of June Harry was in one of two BE.2c aircraft that were sent to the Dakhilah Oasis some 40 miles west into the Sahara. They became lost and were forced to land. In the morning one of the aircraft would not start. The four men decided to flip a coin to see who would fly out for help. Harry Williams won the toss. The two left behind were pilot, 2/Lt Stewart Gordon Ridley, and Air Mechanic 1st Class, John Albert Garside.
When a rescue plane returned on the 17th they could not find the two men who had remained behind. It turned out that they had managed to get the aeroplane running temporarily and had flown it a short distance before having to put down again. On the 18th, with their water gone, Ridley, shot himself while Garside's back was turned. Garside died the next day, after having smashing the aeroplanes compass for extra water. Their bodies were not found until the 20th of June 1916. They were buried there near the Dakhilah Oasis.
The next month saw a move across the Mediterranean. On the 7th of July 1916 Harry and "B" Flight of No. 17 Squadron arrived at Salonika in Greece. By this time the squadron had become a mixed unit with twelve BE.2c aircraft for reconnaissance purposes, and two de Havilland DH2's and three Bristol Scout fighters for a more offensive capability.
The Royal Flying Corps was in Salonika at the request of the Greek Prime Minister to assist against the Bulgarians who attempted to invade in July 1916. They were repulsed by the British. The British established a large beach head and defensive trench system across northern Greece called the "Bird Cage" because it was surrounded Greece with so much barbed wire. It held for all of WWI and stopped the Bulgarians invading Greece.
This posting didn't last long for Harry though, as he set off again from Salonika on the 11th of August 1916 by ship back to Egypt, from where he then proceeded back to England.
By then Harry had completed 100 hours in the air carrying out the duties of an Air Observer. For some of his time with No. 17 Squadron he'd still been in the New Zealand Army. His service with the Army was terminated on the 15th of July 1916 and he was formally taken on strength with the Royal Flying Corps.
Harry had applied to join a Wings course to learn to be a pilot and was accepted in August 1916, which prompted his leaving Salonika. On arrival back in the UK he was posted to Brasenose College, Oxford , where he completed a basic theory test in November 1916.
Harry then had 15 flights with an instructor totaling 1.15hrs. His first solo flight was undertaken on Christmas Eve 1916. He was now officially a pilot.
A bad day for any pilot occurred on the 16th of January 1917, when Harry experienced two consecutive engine failures during further training. However he landed without any damage from both. Another engine failure occurred on the 2nd of February when he was flying at 500ft. This time he crashed heavily into a forest, writing the plane off. However he was unhurt and flew again three hours later.
On the 24th of February 1917 Harry was admitted to the New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst, with Rubella (or German measles). He was in the hospital for several weeks, and apparently had surgery during that time too, but whether that was related to the illness or perhaps his old leg wound, is not known. However he was laid up till the 12th of April, which probably saved his life as many of his classmates would have been killed by "Bloody April" in France.
All fit and well again, Harry was posted to No. 7 Squadron, RFC, at Matigny, in France. This was approximately 17 miles south west of Saint Quentin. Again Harry was flying in the old BE.2's, but now he was the pilot. He conducted his first operational flight over the Western Front on the 5th of May 1917. He and his observer were tasked with directing artillery on Maissemy, and during the flight they experienced both engine and wireless failure, and had to turn back three times.
On the 27th of May 1917 Harry was sent to the Somme to take part in the Battle of Messines Ridge. He operated out of Poperinghe about 15 miles west of Ypres city, and 20 miles from no man's land. He was flying for around 2.5 hours every day at this point.
Harry experienced his first flying accident on operations on the 2nd of June 1917, when he landed his BE.2e on rough ground and sheared the wheels and propeller off his B.E.2e, serial number A2940.
A prime target was hit on the 6th of June when Harry and his crew member directed artillery onto a large ammunition dump. The next day they had a large hole blown through their wing but they returned safely.
Strafing was the purpose of their flight on the 8th of June when Harry's Observer, Lieutenant Wilmott, fired three drum (290 rounds) of Lewis Gun ammunition into troops in the trenches. The Battle of Messines came to an end on the 14th of June, 1917.
Harry had a very lucky escape on the 24th of June when his aeroplane was attacked by seven enemy aircraft, his Observer, Lt Willmot, managed to fight them off with his Lewis gun.
On the 26th of June Harry and Lt. Wilmott flew to St Julian, and dropped bombs on targets there. Also onboard was Wilmott's wireless set. If this was in a BE.2 they must have worked miracles to get off the ground as that sort of loading of fuel, bombs, second crewmember and wireless set was really too much for the poor old BE.2.
However the next day things looked up for such missions because all new aeroplanes were delivered to No. 7 Squadron on the 27th of June 1917. They were the much more desirable RE.8 reconnaissance bomber. This aircraft was fitted with a 150 hp (112 kW) Royal Aircraft Factory 4a air-cooled V12 engine which provided twice the horse power of the B.E.2. It also had a large air scoop and similar vertically mounted exhausts protruding over the upper wing to carry the engine fumes clear of the two crew. The more powerful motor improved on the feeble speed and climb rate of the earlier B.E.2, and allowed the aircraft to carry a better payload. This permitted the R.E.8 to operate as a true two-seater – since the observer no longer had to be left at home when bombs or a full fuel load were carried, there was no need for his seat to be at the centre of gravity – as a result he could now be seated behind the pilot, in the proper position to operate a defensive machine gun (rather than shoot over the pilots head).
The 17th of July 1917 was not a great day for Harry. He suffered three separate engine breakdowns, and one of these saw him crash land into a field of oats where the aeroplane flipped over smashing it propeller and his Observer was thrown out, but no one was injured.
On the 27th of July Harry's R.E.8 was attacked by two enemy machines, but he carried on with his work directing artillery, after driving one off and destroying the other. He saw it crash at Langemarck. on the same day Harry Williams was promoted to the rank of Captain.
Harry was now flying every day over the Somme, directing artillery and sometimes dropping bombs in his new plane. On the 31st of July 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres began, during which.4.5 million shells were fired, and Harry was responsible for directing where many of them landed.
On the 9th of August 1917, Harry and his observer took a dozen good reconnaissance photos, and although they were attacked by three enemy aircraft they managed to fight them off and escape.
Bad weather made photography and flying difficult for two weeks. On the 16th of August Harry's aircraft was attacked by three enemy aeroplanes but again he was able to drive them off.
Harry and his Observer were attacked by twelve enemy aircraft on the 21st of September, but they still managed to complete their operation.
On October 27th during the Second Battle of Passchendale, Harry and his Observer spotted three large freight trains under the cover of bad weather and called in an artillery strike which hit all three trains. One of the trains was probably carrying munitions as it blew up, completely destroying all 15 carriages.
After three long months Harry finally saw the capture of Passchendale on the 6th of November 1917. He was looking down upon five miles of ground that cost 325,000 lives. He had been flying for six months over the Somme where the average life expectancy for a pilot was just 21 days. He had flown 252.40hrs over the Somme. He was finally given leave and returned to the UK.
Back in Britain, following a much deserved rest and Christmas, Harry was posted on the 5th of January 1918 to the Midlands Instructor School, to learn the ropes of instructing other pilots.
On the 17th of January 1918 it was gazetted that Temporary Captain Henry Williams had been awarded the Military Cross. the citation read. "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 27th July whilst carrying out artillery observation. Although attacked by two machines, he carried on with his work, driving one off and destroying the other. He has consistently shown courage and perseverance in carrying out his work and set a fine example to the squadron."
On completing this instructor's course he then was posted to No. 9 Training Depot Station, at Shawbury, as an instructor. He flew the DH.9 as an Instructor.
William Williams received a letter from his son Harry in which he wrote the following - that was published in the Hawera & Normanby Star on the 13th of May 1918, "I was sent for by the General in charge of all the R.F.C. in England, and he told me he wanted to make me a staff officer, but first I would have to go to all the R.F.C. schools in England and Scotland in company with six other captains to get an idea of how the schools were organised... It is a remarkably good job, and one that i never expected to get, nor had I even applied for it... I believe that when we get settled down we will each have the training of the R.F.C. of a large area of England, and be responsible for the harmony of all branches of the Flying Corps in that area."
So Harry's last months of the war, during which he held the rank of Major, was spent flying around various flying schools in a Sopwith Pup fighter, visiting each and getting to know their training systems. Other aircraft types he'd flown in this last year of the war in Britain included the SE.5A, the Bristol Fighter and the venerable old Avro 504K.
He received demobilisation on the 20th of December 1918. On demob Harry had flown in his career a total of 385.40 hrs as a Pilot and 100 hrs as an Observer. he did not return immediately to New Zealand however, and it was not till the 2nd of September 1919 that Harry arrived back in his home country aboard the Niagara. along with another New Zealand pilot, Captain Warnock of Taranaki.
Following World War One, Harry was offered the role of commanding the New Zealand Permanent Air Force. However he declined, preferring to return to farming in Cambridge.
Date of Death : 26th of June 1981, at Howick, Auckland
Cremated: at Purewa Crematorium, Auckland
Connection with Cambridge: Harry had family ties to Cambridge from the beginning and he went farming in Cambridge after the Great War.
Information sourced from Regan Wash via email, and anonymous forum member Mungus here
Regan sourced some information from the H.D. Williams Papers and Photographs held by the Walsh Memorial Library at the Museum of ransport And Technology, and "A Lucky break Major HD Williams" short story by Peter Chapman, in 'Over The Front' magazine volume 14, number 2, Summer 1999.
Additional information has been sourced by Dave Homewood from Harry Williams' Army service records on the Archives New Zealand 'Archway' website; and from various old newspaper reports on the National Library of New Zealand's Papers Past website.