Topic: Thomas Coster Newnham

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Thomas Coster Newnham (Service no. 52099) was a First World War soldier with links to Upper Riccarton.

Thomas Coster Newnham was born on 20 August 1896 in Kaiapoi, North Canterbury, New Zealand.

He was the third eldest of eight children, born to Thomas Ollivant Newnham and Margaret Ann Newnham (nee Fogerty). Thomas and Margaret Ann were married in 1892 in New Zealand and are said to have been born in New Zealand but there is no record of their births. Thomas’ siblings were Ollivant James (born 1894), Mary (1895), Victor Stuart (1897), Aileen Elica (1898), William Gordon (1899), Margaret Alice (1900) and Elizabeth (1901).


On 4 May 1902 Thomas’ mother, Margaret, passed away at Ohoka. Little sister, Aileen Elica, also died in 1902 when she fell into a container of boiling water at the bakery where her father worked. Thomas’ father remarried in 1903, to Elizabeth Doig and they had five children; John William (1903), Archibald (1904), Matthew Charles (1907), Patrick Herbert (1910) and Barbara Joan (1914).


Thomas’ father, Thomas Ollivant Newnham, was politically active in Canterbury. He was a representative for the Baker’s Union, a Riccarton School committee member, a counsellor on the Upper Riccarton Domain Board and in 1937 was elected chairman of the Waimairi County Council.


Thomas’s older brother, Ollivant James Newnham (Service no. 5/112A) also served in WW1, enlisting on 12 August 1914, the same month that war broke out. He spent most of the war in Gallipoli and  Egypt as a driver. He was finally discharged in 1919 due to repeated bouts of malaria.


Thomas first signed up for the Army on 29 May 1915. He was given the Service no. 23/534. However, he was caught lying about his age, saying that he was born 20 August 1895. That made him only 19 years old so he was discharged for being under the age of 20, having served for 17 days at Trentham Military Camp.


In 1917 Thomas’ name was published in the daily lists of those called up to fight because they were over the age of 20. Thomas signed up again on the 16 March 1917 at Christchurch and was given the new Service no. of 52099. At that time he was a shepherd employed by W. Erquet of Mt Algidus. Thomas’ father and step-mother, Elizabeth and siblings were living at 73 Allen Street (now Newnham Terrace).


Thomas’ war record described him as having blue eyes, light brown hair, a fresh complexion, being 5 foot 5 ½ inches (162 cm) tall and weighing 115 lbs (52 kg). He was a Roman Catholic. No photo was found of Thomas.


Thomas was assigned to the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment and embarked overseas with the 27th Reinforcements, New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 12 June 1917 from Wellington on either the vessel Tahiti or Maunganui. He arrived in Plymouth, in the United Kingdom, on the 16th of August 1917 and marched to Sling Camp. On 20 October 1917 he embarked for France and proceeded to Etaples. On the 24th of March 1918 Thomas signed his will. Fortunately he had, because only 3 days later on the 27th of March 1918 he died.


On 27 March, 1918 Thomas Coster Newnham was killed in action, aged 21, on the Somme in Northern France. His body was never found but his name is recorded on the New Zealand section of the Grevillers Memorial in the British Grevillers Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. Thomas is also remembered on the Roll of Honour at the Upper Riccarton Memorial Library.


Researched by Jessica Smith and Victoria Bee of Riccarton High School.

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Thomas Coster Newnham

First Names:Thomas Coster
Last Name:Newnham
Place of Birth:Kaiapoi, Canterbury, New Zealand