Topic: Robert John Petre

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Robert John Petre (Service no. 6/816) was a First World War soldier.

Robert John Petre Robert John Petre was born in Reefton on 15th April 1894, the eldest son of Robert George and Elizabeth Grace (nee Ferguson) and the grandson of Henry William Petre, one of the pioneers of Wellington. Robert had three siblings, Sibyl Mary, Elizabeth Bertha and Francis William.

His father had worked for the Railway Department and had been the stationmaster at Ahaura, Reefton and Blenheim during the 1890s and early 20th Century. By 1911 the family had relocated to Christchurch, and were living at 17 Andover Street, Merivale.

Robert was educated at convent schools in both Blenheim and Christchurch, and then at Christchurch Boys High School (CBHS). At Boys High he excelled at sport and had been a member of the1st XV Rugby and 1st XI cricket teams. He then went on to study engineering at Canterbury College.

He enlisted on 13 August 1914 and joined the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, where he was appointed Corporal.

He was mentioned in The Press as attending a high tea at College Hall on the evening of 22nd August 1914. Robert, along with his fellow students who had signed up, were being entertained and farewelled by the Canterbury College Student’s Association.

Robert left with the main Expeditionary Force, from Lyttelton, on 16 October 1914, on the Athenic HMNZT 11 arriving in Egypt on 4 December 1914.

Robert wrote of his trip to Egypt:

In this platoon are all the Old Boys, also College Old Boys and Varsity men. We have a few arguments as to the merits of the two schools, but they all end peacefully. Sleeping in the bunk beneath me is a College prefect of 1908 by the name of Norris—we are no longer rivals, but good friends. (CBHS website)

Robert was hospitalised for a period in February 1915, first to the Field Ambulance Hospital on the 16th with "no pain but much buzzing in ear" and then transferred to Abbassia on the 19th. Robert enjoyed the respite from camp in hospital and he records this in his diary as "Beautiful time in hospital and "could spend more time here". He was discharged on 26 February and returned to camp.

In early 1915 he wrote to Boy's High headmaster Charles Bevan-Brown:

I have seven Old Boys’ in my section…..the first four and myself have been in the same tent all along and we were very pleased to hear of the game fight that School put up in the rowing race. (CBHS website)

Robert was also remembered in another letter to the headmaster, this one from Gordon Harper:

Petre …...faced death with the courage born of a clean heart. He came in company with Cookson to see me the day before he was killed. He and Cookson, with A.C.W. Bain were the three surviving members of a band of 14 mates…….Everyone had been killed or wounded and the next night, Petre and Bain joined the rest whose lives had been spent in the same classrooms and on the same playfields. (CBHS website)   

Robert was killed in action on 5 June 1915 at Quinn’s Post.

He is remembered on the Twelve Tree Copse (New Zealand) Memorial, Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Helles, Turkey.


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Robert John Petre

First Names:Robert John
Last Name:Petre
Place of Birth:Reefton, New Zealand