James McNeece

James McNeece

James McNeece, No. 27561

2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment

Died of wounds, 21 June 1917

Born in Invercargill in 1885 to parents James and Bridget, James ‘Jim’ McNeece was the third of five children. He attended Invercargill Middle School and was a talented sportsman, representing Southland in rugby and cricket. Standing over six feet tall, the brown-haired and grey-eyed forward was a versatile and athletic rugby player. Selected for the All Blacks in 1913, he played for the national team in 11 matches, including five tests.

In June 1916 Jim was farming at Ryal Bush, between Invercargill and Winton, when he decided to enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He became a private with the Otago Infantry Regiment and left for service overseas in September. On arrival in England he spent time at Sling Camp before joining the New Zealand Division on the Western Front in time to experience the coldest winter of the war. 

Early in 1917 the New Zealanders moved into Belgium to prepare for an assault on Messines Ridge. The attack on 7 June 1917 was a great success. The next day Jim and a fellow soldier were catching up on their sleep when the Germans began shelling the New Zealand position. Jim stood up and was caught in the blast from a shell. Wounded in the torso, he was evacuated from the lines and admitted to No. 6 General Hospital in Rouen, northern France.

In hospital Jim wrote a last letter, to be sent to his family should he die. He described the battle and sought to reassure them, writing: ‘I hope …, if you do receive this, you will not cut up over me, as I reckon I did my bit. … So I will say good-bye, and be brave, as I am more than cheerful and have got over my pain.’ [1] Jim lingered for a fortnight before succumbing to his wounds on 21 June. He was one of 13 All Blacks to die in the war.  

Jim is buried at the St Sever Cemetery Extension in Rouen and remembered on the Invercargill Cenotaph and at Waikiwi Memorial Hall. On the anniversary of his death in 1919 his family placed a notice in the Southland Times which conveyed their sense of loss: ‘We never thought when we did part he would no more return. Now he lies in a soldier’s grave and we are left to mourn. Peaceful be your rest, dear Jim, ‛tis sweet to breathe your name. In life we loved you very dear, in death we do the same.’ [2] 

Further information

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph record - Jim McNeece

Jim McNeece's Commonwealth War Graves Commission record

McNeece's All Blacks profile

'Cricket', Southland Times, 2 December 1904, p. 4

'Cricket', Clutha Leader, 4 January 1907, p. 6

'Football', Southern Cross, 31 August 1907, p. 7

'The Roll of Honour', Southland Times, 22 June 1917, p. 2

'Personal items', Mataura Ensign, 4 July 1917, p. 5

'The Roll of Honour', Southland Times, 4 July 1917, p. 3

'For the Empire's cause', Southland Times, 4 July 1917, p. 4

'A soldier's last letter', Southland Times, 5 October 1917, p. 2

'The Roll of Honour', Southland Times, 29 October 1917, p. 2

'For the Empire's cause', Southland Times, 22 June 1918, p. 4

'In Memoriam', Southland Times, 21 June 1919, p. 4

Matt Elliott, War Blacks: the extraordinary story of New Zealand’s World War I All Blacks, HarperCollins, Auckland, 2016

[1] 'A soldier's last letter', Southland Times, 5 October 1917, p. 2.

[2] 'In Memoriam', Southland Times, 21 June 1919, p. 4.

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