Topic: Eric Tristram Harper

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Eric Tristram Harper (Service no. 35694) was a First World War soldier with links to New Brighton

Private Eric T. Harper. Portrait, Auckland Weekly News 1918Eric Tristram Harper was born on 1st December 1877 in Christchurch. He was the son of George and Agnes Harper, from a prominent pioneering family. His grandfather Right Rev. Henry J.C. Harper had been the first Anglican Bishop of Canterbury.

Eric was educated at Christchurch Boys High School and St Patrick’s College. He went to university and studied law, passing his final solicitor's exams at the end of 1903. He worked as a solicitor in 0partnership with his father

He was an outstanding sportsman who won the first national track title in 1901 in 440 yards hurdle and the next year won the 880 yards hurdles.  Eric was also a keen mountaineer and made important discoveries in the Southern Alps ( eg. finding a pass to the West Coast at the head of the Rangitata in 1908) He played cricket in the United Club’s first eleven and later for the West Christchurch Club. He played tennis, and belonged to the Catholic Cathedral Tennis Club. He played golf at the Shirley Golf Club.He also belonged to the New Brighton Surf Bathing and Lifesaving Club.

Eric was a well-known rugby player. He represented Canterbury in many games, and at times he was the captain.He was a member of the Red and Black Association, and at one stage the Vice-President. He also played rugby union for New Zealand  and in 1905 become one of the original All Blacks when he toured Britain and Ireland with Dave Gallaher’s team.

In 1913 Eric married Beatrice Anne Sibella Randall, (a widow) the only daughter of the late F. de C. Malet, at the Westminster Roman Catholic Cathedral, in London. They returned to New Zealand shortly after and at the time of Eric's enlistment they had two small children, Frederick and Anne, and Eric was working as a barrister and solicitor.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Eric joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 4th October 1916. Reaching the rank of Sergeant Major he served in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles division and was posted to Palestine. "It was characteristic of him that on reaching the front, he asked to be relieved of his stripes so that he might go into the firing line at once". On 30th April 1918 at the age of 40, while his unit was coming under artillery bombardment in Jerusalem, his attempt to quiet horses was his ultimate downfall. He was killed in the attack. He is commemorated at the Jerusalem Memorial in Israel, and on the New Brighton Surf Bathing and Lifesaving Club Memorial Window.

The Harper family had all served their country. Two of Eric's brothers, Gordon and Robert, embarked with the Canterbury Mounted Rifled as part of the main Body on 16 October 1914. Another brother, Philip Hamilton Harper, who had also served in the Boer war embarked with the Main Body. His other brothers, Edmond Harper and Cuthbert Harper, had also served in the Boer War.


Related Resources

  • Online Cenotaph Record for Eric Harper. Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Military personnel file for Eric Harper. Archives New Zealand (Archway)
  • website All Blacks A to Z- player profile for Eric Harper 
  • New Zealand Law Society biography of Eric Harper
  • 100 summers of service : New Brighton Surf Bathing & Lifesaving Club's journey through 100 years of surf service & sport, 1910-2010 / Oakes, Peter J.


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