William Farquharson Bey

William Farquharson Bey, No. 38799
1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment 
Killed in action, 25 August 1918.

William Farquharson Bey was born in Greytown, Wairarapa, in 1886, the only son and second child of William and Eveline Bey. His father, a doctor, was the surgeon at Greytown Hospital and well-known in the community. William attended Wanganui Collegiate before studying electrical engineering at Cable and Co., a Wellington foundry. He then switched to farming, taking over Springbank estate in Gladstone, Wairarapa.

In October 1916 William enlisted for service in the First World War. Before he left New Zealand he was promoted to sergeant and, with a fellow soldier, received a hearty send-off from the Gladstone community. Each man was gifted a shaving kit as a leaving present.

Shortly after his arrival in England William reverted to the rank of private. He soon departed for the Western Front and in October 1917 joined the 3rd Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment in the front lines. He arrived in time to witness the later stages of the Ypres offensive, including the disastrous attempt to capture Passchendaele. He and his fellow New Zealanders then settled down for the winter in the battle-scarred landscape.

William transferred to the Otago Regiment’s 1st Battalion in February 1918, a month before the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. The New Zealanders were rushed south to the Somme to help fill a gap in the Allied line. The German forces were unable to achieve a decisive breakthrough and as summer came to an end the Allies launched a counter-offensive.

In late August 1918, the New Zealand Division took part in a hard-fought battle to capture the German-held town of Bapaume in northern France. On the 25th, William was part of an attempt to outflank the town, in which the Germans were holding their ground. The day’s action cost his battalion more than 200 men. William was among those killed, reportedly by an exploding shell. Three more days of fighting followed before the Germans relinquished Bapaume to the New Zealanders. 

William was initially buried in the nearby village of Biefvillers, but his grave was later lost. He is remembered on the Grevillers New Zealand Memorial north-west of Bapaume. Back home his name is inscribed on war memorials in Greytown and Gladstone. Less than three months after his death, William’s family was dealt another blow when his father died in the influenza pandemic

Further information 

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph record – William Bey
Commonwealth War Graves Commission record – William Bey
'Collegiate Old Boy shelled in France', National Army Museum article
'Personal items', Wairarapa Daily Times, 2 January 1917, p. 4
'Personal', Wairarapa Age, 14 September 1918, p. 5
'Personal items', Dominion, 17 September 1918, p. 4
'While doing their duty', Evening Post, 25 September 1918, p. 7
'Personalia', New Zealand Times, 26 September 1918, p. 3
'Death of Dr Bey', Wairarapa Daily Times, 14 November 1918, p. 4
'Obituary', Dominion, 16 November 1918, p. 6

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