Topic: Arthur Harold McCoy

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Arthur Harold McCoy (Service no. 6/1354) enlisted for the First World War with a Peterborough Street address.

Arthur Harold McCoy, adventurer, sailor and soldier was born in the gold rush town of Lawrence, Otago in 1877. His parents were Belfast born Frederick Henry McCoy, barrister and solicitor, and London born Mary Ann Ellen Thompson (Ellen), and he was one of seven surviving children. His paternal grandfather Sir Frederick McCoy was a prominent academic and professor in palaeontology and geology at the University of Melbourne.  His maternal grandfather Captain Charles Edward Thompson fought and died in the New Zealand Wars.

Arthur Harold McCoy Frederick McCoy died suddenly aged only 44, in 1887, when Arthur was ten. The widowed Ellen stayed on in Lawrence for a few years but then moved the family to York Place, Dunedin in the late 1880s. Arthur spent 5 years at Lawrence School (1883-1888) and attended both the High Street and Arthur Street Schools in Dunedin.

Arthur went to sea at an early age and travelled extensively both by ship and on land. He predominantly sailed deep-water vessels and eventually gained his Master Mariner’s ticket. He spent time in the United Kingdom, in Europe, China, and the United States of America. He also made several trading trips in peacetime through the Dardanelles to Russian and Turkish ports. In 1897 he served with the Shanghai police, a mixture of British, Chinese and Sikh constables and officers, with policing authority over the Shanghai International Settlement. 

He also found to time to marry. In 1906 he married Edith Florence Blackford, of Dunedin, and in 1907 their only daughter Thora Iris was born. There is some indication the marriage was not a success as Arthur made no mention of his wife or daughter in his enlistment details and gave his next-of-kin as his mother Ellen at 24 Peterborough Street, Christchurch. His mother, younger brother Claude (Charley) and two unmarried sisters Blanche and Ethel had moved to Christchurch in 1908 or 1909. This may have been to further Charley’s career as a land agent, stock and share broker. The rest of the family stayed in Dunedin.

In 1914 while on a visit to his mother and siblings Arthur enlisted with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion (2nd Company). His September medical showed him to be 6ft 1 inches, brown haired, blue eyed and with a tattoo on his left wrist. He officially joined the army on the 20th of October 1914 and spent some 56 days in training with the 2nd Reinforcement before departing New Zealand on the HMNZT Willochra. 

Arthur arrived in Egypt on the 29th of January 1915. He is next heard of at the notorious Cape Helles landing. Here British, French and New Zealand forces attempted to capture the Turkish forts that defended the Dardanelles straits. The British Command ordered a daylight attack on the 8th of May. The Canterbury Battalions (12th & 2nd Companies) advanced the front line attack. They met with strong resistance from the Turks and made little gain in ground, over 3 days the allies advanced a mere 500 meters. Fifty Canterbury Infantrymen were killed, with 135 injured and 21 missing. 

Private Arthur Harold McCoy was one of those wounded in action and he died as a result of these injuries on the 10th of May 1915. 

Two of Arthur’s brothers also served during the First World War. Hubert Lancelot, born in 1886, served with the Australian Infantry (5th Battalion, 20th Reinforcement) and Frederick Henry, born in 1871, although too old for active service, enlisted in 1918 and was classified C2 or suitable for both physical or clerical duties. He spent some 6 months with the New Zealand Army Ordinance Corps at Trentham Camp as a clerk and reached the rank of Corporal.

Arthur’s brother Charley didn’t serve but died suddenly on the 9th of May 1922 aged only 38. 

Both Charley and Arthur were long remembered by their mother and sisters and “In Memoriam” listings to both brothers appeared in The Christchurch Press on the 9th of May for many years. The family also sent an ANZAC Day wreath in memory of Arthur to the Christchurch Cathedral on several occasions. 

Arthur’s name is included on the honour board at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Dunedin. He has a headstone at Lawrence Cemetery in the family plot and is also memorialised at the Lancashire Landing Cemetery at Helles,Turkey. Arthur’s nominated next-of-kin, his mother, received his medals: 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. His plaque and scroll were sent to his legal-next-of-kin, his widow Edith in 1921.

Arthur’s obituary made mention of his “many experiences and adventures”, his unassuming nature and the high esteem with which he was held but contained no recognition of his wife or child. Edith eventually remarried in 1922 and died aged 80 in 1959 at Dunedin. Thora Iris briefly married, and then divorced. She spent her life in Dunedin living in the house she inherited from her mother and working as a typist/clerk. She died in 1977 and her ashes were interred with those of her paternal aunt, Arthur’s eldest sister, Emily.


Related resources

  • Online cenotaph record for Arthur McCoy. Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Arthur McCoy's military personnel file. Archives New Zealand (Archway)


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Arthur Harold McCoy

First Names:Arthur Harold
Last Name:McCoy
Place of Birth:Lawrence, Otago, New Zealand