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Eric and Rewi Alley Great War Story

Video file

The video for this story about Eric and Rewi Alley screened on Newshub on 23 April 2018.

Better known for his work in China from the late 1920s, Rewi Alley also served as a soldier in the First World War. Eric Alley, his brother, was the oldest of their large Christchurch family. Their mother Clara (Buckingham) Alley, a member of the National Council of Women in the 1890s, was secretary to women's suffrage leader Kate Sheppard. Their father Frederic was a progressive headmaster with a keen interest in farming.

Eric Alley was working on Frederic Alley’s land in Lumsden when war was declared. Eric wasted no time in joining the Otago Mounted Rifles and later the Otago Infantry.

Although wounded, Eric survived Gallipoli. But in June 1916 after doing reconnaissance in no man’s land leading up to the German trenches, Eric was killed at Armentières in northern France.

He was known as a great leader and much loved by his men, who erected a cross in his memory.

Letters from a London nurse to Eric Alley are held in the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Two years later Rewi Alley was serving as a soldier in that much fought-over tract of land and found Eric’s cross in the mud. He had it sent back to New Zealand. It now stands as part of the memorial to Eric Alley in the Gore RSA.

Rewi was awarded a Military Medal in the later stages of the First World War. Although he wanted a career in the army, he was instead to go to China as an educator, writer and poet. He joined the Communist Party and for over 50 years was the best-known Kiwi in China, where he died in 1987 at the age of 90.


Video: Produced and directed by Anna Cottrell, AC Productions for MediaWorks Newshub. Made with the support of NZ On Air. See full video credits here (pdf)

How to cite this page

Eric and Rewi Alley Great War Story, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated