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We Are Remembering Them...

Ric Carlyon - Saturday, August 16, 2014


The J.P. who “…went to war, anyway”

The story of patriot William Forrest, J.P., who was determined to participate in the First World War and would not hear those who said he was too old.

28 year old Scotsman William Forrest and his wife Janet (Jessie), arrived in New Zealand aboard the “British King”.


British King – made the first direct steamship voyage UK-NZ in 1883

They eventually settled in Paeroa where Forrest owned the rights to the “Defiance” gold claim and continued his timber, drainage pipe and contracting business. He quickly entered community life… he was a devoted Presbyterian and a member on the A and P show committee: he was appointed to the inaugural Paeroa Domain Board.


Forrest had joined the Masonic Lodge in Scotland in 1874

He resumed active involvement with the Masonic Lodge, forming Lodge Ohinemuri. He was a keen supporter of the local fire brigade… and in 1897 was appointed a Justice of the Peace and the District Coroner for Ohinemuri and surrounds.

Local JP
Sitting in the weekly session at the Paeroa Police Court, it is recorded William Forrest presided over cases such as riding a horse on a footpath, assault and using profane language within hearing of a public place. A memorable charge was heard when police alleged a man obscenely exposed himself within view of a Paeroa street. JPs Forrest and Thorpe found the man guilty, agreed jail was appropriate but decided it wasn’t very serious and sentenced the miscreant to just 10 hours inside! As coroner, William Forrest oversaw many inquests, the deaths often the result of accidents in the mines or drowning in dams or streams used in connection with mining.
Forrest was nominated three times for election to the local licensing committee, but failed on each occasion. Perhaps voters were wary of a potential Presbyterian conservatism when it came to deciding sale of liquor, even though he was also an active member of the local branch of the Liberal and Labour Party.

Move to Pt Chevalier
Forrest moved to Auckland around 1910 to carry on his drainage business and, continuing his community service, he was elected to the Point Chevalier Road Board in 1912. He became Chairman. His experience with drainage works made him most suitable as a member of the Auckland Suburban Drainage Board when suburbs were beginning to expand.
In July,1914 World War One began and within the year Forrest was one of those in Pt Chevalier to form a branch of the National Reserve.

“Prepare, prepare the iron helm of war..."
-William Blake

He had his 60th birthday in 1915, and, ever the patriot, he was determined to show the way and tried to enlist. Army recruiting officers turned him away.  “Too old!”.

“I’m going, anyway”
By July he was preparing to go to war on his own account. “I am resigning public office, leaving my wife and family in Auckland, paying my own way to England where I will volunteer my services, prepared to go to the front…”  he told the Ohinemuri Gazette, “…I am going to serve wherever, in whatever capacity. I consider there’s scope for my efforts in connection with the manufacture of munitions or in the transport and supplies department of the army, and I will cheerfully take the wages of an artisan”.
Forrest travelled to London. Once there he managed to persuade the military that he could be of assistance, he received training and was given his orders to proceed abroad. His dream was coming true, even if he must have been one of the oldest New Zealanders to enlist for active duty, he was off to the front!

Goodbye, Piccadilly,
Farewell, Leicester Square!
It's a long, long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.
             W.W.1 song It’s a Long Way to Tipperary!

Early in 1916 Sergeant William Forrest, R.E., was sounding personally fulfilled and self-satisfied when, in a letter home from France, he reported “…I am of course, not a combatant, but am in the 3rd Labour Battalion of the Royal Engineers. I am as happy as a cricket and quite contented, and very glad that I came, because I feel I am successfully ‘doing my little bit’. I have been drilled and trained for months, and am nearly a month out here, right in the middle of the thick of it. I am quite comfortable too, and a spice of danger is only sauce to one when danger is so common”.

The War Catches Up
By mid-1917, possibly after the major allies’ thrust at Messines, things weren’t so bright with official reports that Lieutenant Forrest was suffering shell-shock and influenza and was moved to England to convalesce. 

Take me back to dear old Blighty…
Put me on the train for London town!
W.W.1 song Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty

Recovered, the determined soldier returned to the front in France with a Labour Company but after serving a further 12 months was laid low again, this time with fever. Doctors ruled him unfit.

William Forrest, J.P.

After another stretch in a UK hospital, William Forrest came home to a further period in hospital. Once recuperated he set out on a series of unsuccessful petitions against the Government claiming loss of contracting business on a tunnelling project allegedly curtailed because of the war. He claimed he was, financially, a “ruined man”. He later returned to Paeroa, where he led a quiet life and died in Thames Hospital on 28th of January 1937 at the age of 82.


We Are Remembering Them:
 Lt William Forrest, J.P., R.E.
+ Enlisted at the age of 60 as a private in the Royal Engineers
+ 12th Labour Battalion, promoted to Sergeant.
+ 3rd Battalion of the Royal Engineers, France.
+ 37th Labour Battalion Royal Fusiliers through the Somme, promoted to Lieutenant.
+ Twice invalided out, recovered in England: ruled unfit after the second time.
+ Returned to New Zealand for further convalescence aged 65
+ Died Thames, 1937 aged 82.

NZETC website
Timespanner website
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal
Papers Past website
World War One Songs – various websites


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