Topic: Robert Weir
Robert Weir (Service no. 36505) was a First World War soldier with links to Heathcote.
Born in Ashburton on the 1st of June, 1886, Robert Weir was the 7th of 11 children, and the fourth son born to Scottish immigrants, John Spence Weir and Annie Gilanders Weir (née Scott). Robert’s Father and Uncle opened a china and glass merchants on Colombo Street in 1869, which according to the Christchurch Star suffered financial losses of an estimated £100 as a result of the June 5th 1869 earthquake.
Although he suffered from asthma as a child, on 24th July 1916 at the age of thirty, Robert was deemed fit for military service. Up until that time, he had been working as a shepherd, and he identified his faith as Church of England. Further information on his military papers indicate that he stood 5ft 6 ½ inches (1.689m), and weighed 122 pounds (55.338kg). He had black hair, brown eyes, and a complexion described as “fresh”.
Robert Weir officially enlisted as a soldier on 20th September 1916, and left his home at 78 Bridle Path Road, Heathcote Valley, Christchurch. Having committed to service for the duration of the war, he couldn’t have been sure when, or indeed if he would return. He arrived at Trentham Military Camp the following day, and was later sent to Featherston Military camp.
The tactical withdrawal of allied troops from Gallipoli, and the subsequent focus on the Western Front saw Robert undertake the eight-day sea voyage from New Zealand to Plymouth in Devon, England. He boarded the troopship, Waitemata (designated HMNZT 75) as a Rifleman belonging to the 21st Reinforcements NZ Expeditionary Force, and in the company of members of the 13th Reinforcements Māori Contingent. On 28th March 1917, he and his company marched the two miles from the railhead at Bulford village into the bleak military encampment known as Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. On 24th April 1917, at the nearby Codford, at which was located the New Zealand Command Depot and the Number 3 New Zealand General Hospital, he was posted to G Company.
Robert’s official military records indicate that he attained promotion in the following months, first to vice Lance Corporal on 5th October 1917, and later to Corporal on Christmas day 1917. On 8th February 1918, he bolstered the attached strength at Abeele on the French/Belgian border, where he was subsequently transferred to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, and two months later rejoined the 2nd Battalion and was posted to G Company.
A brief period of leave to the UK between 19th August and 5th September 1918 provided a temporary respite from the combat, but not before Robert curiously relinquished his appointment to Corporal at his own request on 24th June. Exactly what motivated this decision is a matter for speculation, as his military records offer no further explanation for his actions.
On the 26th October 1918, Rifleman Robert Weir and his comrades in No. 9 Platoon, G company, under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Richards engaged the enemy in a battle which ultimately saw 2nd Lieutenant Richards and a number of his men cut off from their troops and captured. Rifleman Robert Weir was amongst those reported missing.
A board of enquiry accepted the evidence of 2nd Lieutenant R. B. Gibbons, who was present during the fighting, in conjunction with the written testimony of 2nd Lieutenant Richards (who had been repatriated) that Robert Weir had been wounded in the exchange, and later died of these wounds in Bavai hospital in France. As a consequence, Robert Weir was officially declared to have been killed in action on October 26th 1918. He was buried at the Cross Roads Cemetery in Fontaine-au-Bois, France, and his grave is located near the far left-hand corner from the cemetery’s entrance.
Robert is remembered on the Heathcote War Memorial.
- Online Cenotaph entry for Robert Weir. Auckland War Memorial Museum
- Robert Weir's military personnel file. Archives New Zealand (Archway)