Dunedin family's pride as soldier honoured

Lynley Mackenzie, of Halfway Bush, with a photo of her father, Harry Ham [left] and her uncle, Willie Ham. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Lynley Mackenzie, of Halfway Bush, with a photo of her father, Harry Ham [left] and her uncle, Willie Ham. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
New Zealand's first casualty in World War 1 will be honoured at the National Army Museum, Waiouru, today, much to the delight of a Dunedin family.

On February 3, 1915, Private William [Willie] Ham (22) was severely wounded in the neck by a Turkish bullet at Serapeum while defending the Suez Canal in Egypt.

He died several days later and is buried in the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery.

His niece, Lynley Mackenzie, of Halfway Bush, said yesterday the family had been trying for years to have him recognised as the first of New Zealand's 16,697 World War 1 fatalities.

Pte Ham was born in Bray, Ireland, on April 14, 1892, and emigrated to New Zealand with his parents, William and Hester, and three younger brothers - including Mrs Mackenzie's father, Harry - in 1904.

The family eventually settled at Ngati Moki, near Nelson, and, at the time he joined up, Pte Ham was working for a surveyor.

Mrs Mackenzie said she knew little about her uncle apart from some bare facts from his army records.

He spent 11 years in New Zealand before sailing to Egypt as a member of 10 platoon, 12th Nelson Company, Canterbury Infantry Battalion.

Historians suggest the New Zealand troops complained of being bored training in the desert and were "delighted" to hear they were being sent by train to meet 12,000 Turks who were advancing on the canal.

The New Zealand Brigade, and other units, deployed along the canal - the Otago battalion at Kubri, 5km from Suez.

At Serapeum, Turkish soldiers attempted to cross the canal three times in aluminium pontoon boats, but were repulsed with heavy casualties.

After the last attempt, New Zealand soldiers were ordered "to close" on brigade headquarters and it was then Pte Ham was mortally wounded.

Pte Ham's father died of pneumonia a month after receiving the news of his son's death and Mrs Mackenzie said the family believed he died of a "broken heart".

Mrs Mackenzie's grand-daughter, Ashley Mackenzie-White (23), a student at Victoria University, in Wellington, would attend today's ceremony at the museum.

A museum spokesman said today had been chosen to launch the "rebranded" army museum because of the significance of the date.

The toll
-At the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, New Zealand's population was 1,099,499.
-240,000 New Zealanders eligible to serve overseas.
-100,444 New Zealanders served overseas.
-16,697 died.
-41,317 wounded.