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Alex McColl


Alexander Bastin McColl, No. 10/18, 1st Wellington Battalion, 1st Infantry Brigade. Died of wounds, 2 July 1916.

Captain Alexander Bastin McColl is one of 18,058 New Zealanders who died as a result of First World War service and are listed on the Roll of Honour.

Born in 1892 to parents Kathleen and Peter, an engineer, Alexander McColl was the third of seven children. Standing more than six feet tall, with blue eyes and fair hair, McColl was an old boy of Wellington College where he had excelled at sport. In 1909 he was a member of the school’s First XV rugby team and he was also a rowing champion. After completing his schooling, he worked as a surveyor in Taumarunui and served in the Territorial Forces. Like many of his old school friends, he was quick to enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force when war broke out in August 1914.  

McColl joined the Wellington Battalion as a second lieutenant and left New Zealand with the Main Body in October 1914. By April the following year he was at Gallipoli. He was wounded in action and briefly hospitalised before returning to active service. During his time on the peninsula McColl received a promotion to lieutenant. Evacuated in December, McColl and the New Zealand brigade sailed to Egypt. While there he was promoted to captain in March 1916.

A month later McColl arrived in France with the newly created New Zealand Division. Their destination was the Armentières sector on Western Front. On 1 July, he wrote home to his mother, excitedly telling her that he was to lead a raid on the German lines the next day. He wrote that he had ‘just the boys for this game’ and was confident of success, ‘so please, dear mother, do not worry about me.’ [1] It was McColl’s final letter. Discovering on the evening after the raid that not all the wounded had been recovered, he returned to no-man’s-land to bring the last of them in. While assisting two wounded men he was hit by machine-gun fire. He made it back to the New Zealand lines but died soon after from his wounds. He was 24 years old.

Alexander McColl’s raid was a success and he was mentioned in dispatches for his actions. (A Mention in Despatches was the only award for gallantry other than the Victoria Cross that could be made posthumously.) The citation noted that the ‘brilliant result’ of the raid was largely due to McColl’s ‘capable leadership, coolness and courage’. [2] He was one of more than 220 Wellington College old boys killed during the First World War. Alexander McColl is buried at the Cité Bonjean Military Cemetery in Armentières in France, and is remembered on the Taumarunui First World War memorial.

Alex McColl's grave

Further information

Auckland Museum Cenotaph record

Casualty details (CWGC)

Wellington College old boys killed on the Western Front

Wellington College and the war in Belgium

[1] Alexander McColl to Kathleen McColl, 1 July 1916, Wellington College Archives.

By 1916, McColl was in France with the 1st Battalion, The Wellington Regiment. On 1 July, he wrote to his mother, excited at the prospect of leading a raid on the German lines.

July 1, 1916

My Dearest Mother,

Just a small note in case I should be incapacitated for a few days or so. Today is a red letter day in my history as I am taking out a raiding party against the huns. I have been down here with my party for a few days and everything is working beautifully. If we don’t give the Boche the biggest hiding he has ever received it will not be our fault.

I suppose you think it rather strange that I as an adjutant should be selected for this job. I am really the luckiest of men to have got the chance. In the first place all subalterns were selected for the job, but through a most unfortunate bombing accident two of these were killed. Capt Nareby was next thought of but soon after he went back to England with appendicitis. As we are awfully short of officers at present there was no one left with the necessary experience and stamina to take the party.

I know that the Colonel did not like me going but his hands are tied and personally I consider myself the luckiest of men to have the opportunity of leading such a splendid body of men that I have under me.

They are all trained like fighting cocks. I have been at football etc for the last few weeks. I have most of the old football team here including some very well known reps, just the boys for this game.

Am feeling absolutely confident, so please, dear mother, do not worry about me. I am quite sure you would not have me do otherwise, especially if you saw how pleased the men were when they found I was coming down.

I have received several of your lovely letters lately, written as only you know how to write them. I am quite excited about the improvements to the house and would dearly like to see them. I would love to fit into my old place at home once more.

Best love to all the girls and many thanks for their letters. Tell Dad I am trying to keep his good name untarnished. Received a lovely birthday parcel a few days ago.

All my love and good wishes. Ever your loving son

[2] London Gazette, 4 January 1917, p. 261. 

In recognition of his ‘distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty’, McColl was mentioned in dispatches in November 1916. An extract of this award appeared in the London Gazette on 4 January 1917:

This Officer commanded the raiding party from this Battalion which raided the enemy’s trenches on the night of the 1st/2nd July. The raid was a complete success, the whole of the enemy there being killed or captured, and 10 prisoners were bought back to our trenches. This brilliant result was largely due to the capable leadership, coolness and courage of this Officer. After returning to our trenches he learnt that all the wounded had not been bought in, and he again went into “No Man’s Land” and while assisting to bring in 2 wounded men he himself was wounded by machine gun fire, from which he subsequently died.


Main image: 

Auckland Libraries
Reference: Sir George Grey Special Collections,  AWNS-19160720-44-7
No known copyright.

Grave image: Wellington College

How to cite this page

Alex McColl, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated