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Ewen George Pilling


Ewen George Pilling, No. 8/1601, Otago Infantry Battalion.

Killed in action, 7 June 1917.

Lieutenant Ewen George Pilling 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 at Millers Flat, Otago in 1893 to parents Mary and Samuel, a former headmaster at the local school, Ewen Pilling was the second of three children. As a young man he attended Otago Boys’ High School and was known for his ability in both rugby and cricket. Standing a few inches under six feet tall, with brown eyes and dark hair, Pilling was studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Otago with the intention of becoming a Presbyterian minister when war broke out.

Pilling enlisted in the Otago Infantry Battalion in December 1914 and left New Zealand with the Third Reinforcements in February 1915. Soon after his arrival in Egypt, Pilling embarked for the Dardanelles and landed at Gallipoli on 25 April. He was promoted to sergeant and in early August he was involved in the Chunuk Bair offensive, helping to direct his men in the defence of their line. He later wrote that in those 24 hours of fighting,

I learned more of the hellishness and awfulness of war than during the previous 15 weeks on Gallipoli. Suffice … to say that we hung on. [1]

A few days later Pilling was evacuated to the Greek island of Lemnos suffering from both concussion and dysentery. He did not return to Gallipoli. Instead, he was recommended for a commission and in March 1916 returned to New Zealand for officer training. By the end of the year Pilling, now a second lieutenant, was on the Western Front. In March 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant and in June that year he took part in the assault on Messines Ridge in Belgium.

On 7 June 1917, in the early stages of the Messines offensive, the 23-year-old Pilling was killed in action while leading his men forward. Shot through the head, he died instantly. Pilling was buried where he fell and the site of his grave was eventually lost.

He is remembered on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial to the Missing in Belgium and on the Milburn war memorial in South Otago. Lieutenant-Colonel Charters, the commanding officer of the First Otago Battalion, said of Pilling’s death:

We have lost a true comrade – the type of soldier it is a privilege to meet, and a still greater privilege to call 'Friend.’ [2]

Further information

Ewen George Pilling Online Cenotaph record  

Commonwealth War Graves Commission page

‘Needless to say, we hung on …’: The Otagos at Gallipoli (WW100)

The late Lieut. Pilling’, Bruce Herald, 30 August 1917, p. 5. (Papers Past)

In Gallipoli’, Otago Daily Times, 16 October 1915, p. 8. (Papers Past)

[1] ‘In Gallipoli’, Otago Daily Times, 16 October 1915, p. 8.

[2] ‘The late Lieut. Pilling’, Bruce Herald, 30 August 1917, p. 5.


Auckland Libraries
Reference: Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19170705-40-7
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How to cite this page

Ewen George Pilling, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated