23/1187 Rifleman Robert Henry O'Kane
D Company 1st Battalion
3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Served as Robert Sloan
4th December 1917

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Born in Dublin Ireland on 18/12/1877.

His parents were Thomas O'Kane

(1860-27/02/1888) and

Sarah Ann Keenan(1864-20/05/1936).

At some point between 1878 and 1885, the family emigrated to New Zealand. It was in 1885 that Roberts sister Annie was born in New Zealand(she died of tuberculosis on 04/05/1901). Robert may have had more siblings, but Annie is the only one I can find a record of. 

Roberts father died on 27/02/1888 and his mother later remarried in 1897 to John Timpany(26/01/1860-24/04/1946). 

In the 1904 NZ Post Office Directory, Robert was listed as working as a bank clerk in Queenstown, Otago.

In the 1907 addition   On 26/09/1908 Rob, he was listed as working as a bank clerk in Alexandra South, Otago.

Robert married Ruby Violet Margaretta Mitchell(188-1965) and they had a son, Leslie(30/03/1912-30/06/1951)

and 2 daughters, Marie Ann(26/05/1909-15/12/1941) and Agatha Rose(30/06/1910-1963). 

Sadly the marriage did not last and Ruby was granted a divorce on 19/08/1914 on the grounds of cruelty.

 

Unhappy MarriagesNew Zealand Herald 19 August 1914

 

Applications for Divorce

Allegations of a Wife

 A sitting of the Supreme Court presided over by Mr. Justice Cooper was held yesterday to deal with applications for divorce.

Ruby Violet Margaretta O’Kane, who was represented by Mr. Singer, petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage with

Robert Henry O’Kane, to whom she was married on September 26, 1908, at Invercargill., It was stated that she lived with her husband, a bank clerk, in Invercargill for some time, but within a few months he drank so heavily that he lost his position.

After that her father-maintained petitioner and respondent for several months. Her husband then secured employment in Dunedin, but still drank heavily, ill-treated petitioner and gave her insufficient money. She left him after being improperly treated but returned to him when he promised amendment. However, his drunkenness and cruelty to her eventually forced her to leave him altogether and she and her three children had since lived with her father in Auckland. 

His honor granted a decree nisi, allowed costs on the lowest scale against the respondent, and gave petitioner the custody of the children.

Auckland Divorce CaseGrey River Argus, 22/08/1914

 

A Bank Clerk’s Cruelty

 His Honor Justice Cooper continued the hearing of undefended divorce cases in the Auckland Supreme Court on Wednesday.

 On the ground of cruelty, Ruby Violet, Margaretta O’Kane of Auckland petitioned for a dissolution of her marriage with

Robert Henry O’Kane, of Dunedin, formerly a bank clerk. Mr R.A. Singer represented the petitioner.

Married on September 26, 1908, at Invercargill petitioner resided in the town with her husband and three children were born.

Almost immediately after the marriage, she told the court, the respondent developed drinking habits, and a year later lost his position at the bank where he was employed, petitioner’s father took the family into his own home and kept them for seven months during which time he had a prohibition order against the respondent. Subsequently respondent obtained employment in Dunedin, but he continued drinking and when under the influence of liquor subjected witness to objectionable language and violent treatment. He squandered his wages to such an extent that witness’s father again had to come to the rescue. On one occasion respondent borrowed money on a promissory note, and his father-in-law had to provide the money when it became due. Ultimately he turned the petitioner out , and she went home, but on his request and promise to reform, she returned. Twice she was ill owing to his

ill-treatment and had to be fetched away by her father, who had removed to Auckland. Twelve months ago, she had to leave respondent for good and since that time he had failed to maintain her.

Corroborative evidence was given by the sister of the petitioner and his Honor granted a decree nisi to be moved absolute,

giving the petitioner the interim custody of the children. 

For some reason, when Robert enlisted at Trentham Camp on 30/05/1915, he did so under a false name, that of Robert Sloan. It may have been that he once again owed money to people or just didn't want part of his army wages sent to his ex-wife to help look after his children. 

Robert gave his trade as clerk and his last employer was the Union Steam Ship Company in Port Chalmers, whilst he was living at the Godfreds Hotel in Port Chalmers.

He had previously had his medical in Dunedin on 21/05/1915,results of which are as follows;

Apparent Age - 37 years 4 months, Height -  5ft 91/2 inches, Weight - 164lbs.

Chest Measurement - Minimum - 37 inches, Maximum - 39 inches, Complexion - Dark, Colour of Eyes - Brown, Colour of Hair - Dark.

Religious Profession - Presbyterian.

While he was at Trentham Camp , Robert was admitted to hospital on 01/07/1915 with influenza. He was then given sick leave from 15/07/1915 to 30/07/1915, but upon returning to camp on 29/07/1915 he was re-admitted to hospital.

Robert seems to have recovered as he completed his training and was sent to Egypt, embarking from Wellington on 09/10/1915.

Disembarkation came at Suez on 15/11/1915. He was to stay here until embarking for Marsa Matruh from Alexandria on 21/12/1915 aboard the "Noor El Bahr".  

It was at Marsa Matruh that Robert was to take part in the NZ Rifle Brigades first action of the war against the Senussi Muslims around a place called Jebel Medwa. The attack commenced at 5am on 25/12/1915, with Roberts D Company not sent to the firing line until noon. It was not until 4pm that the final position was taken from the enemy.  

Another engagement with the enemy involving the 1st Battalion NZRB took place on 23/01/1916,but it is not clear from the account in the official history of NZRB what part that Roberts D Company played in the attack.

Robert started his  return journey by sea to Alexandria at 3pm on 15/02/1916.

Back in Moascar, Robert was appointed cook on 02/03/1916, but relinquishes the duties of a cook just 10 days later.

A month later on 04/04/1916, he embarked for France aboard the  "Arcadian". arriving at Marseilles between the 12/04/1916 and 14/04/1916.

In the next eighteen months, Robert was disciplined on 3 separate occasions; on 24/07/1916 he was deprived 3 days pay for failing to comply with an order. He was deprived 4 days pay on 05/05/1917 for being absent from parade and 7 days pay was kept from him for being absent from tattoo call at 9pm 24/07/1917 till 9.45pm 25/07/1917.

Robert was killed in action on 04/12/1917.

He was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the 1914-1918 British War and Allied Victory medals.

Southland Times 22 March 1918 page 4

 For the Empire’s Cause

 O’Kane – Killed in France on December 4. 1917, Robert Henry O’Kane, eldest son of Mrs Sarah Timpany, Earn Street, Invercargill.

He gave his life for his country.

Lake County Press – 28 March 1918 page 4

 Rifleman Robert Henry O’Kane of the Seventh Reinforcements, reported killed in action on 4th December last, was the

eldest son of Mrs John Timpany, Queenstown, and was 32 years of age. He was educated at Lower Shotover and Queenstown schools and Otago Boys High School. On leaving school he joined the staff of the Bank of New Zealand, Queenstown.

He was afterwards on the staff of the Arrow branch of the bank for a number of years. Previous to enlisting,

he was in Messrs Mackerras and Hazlett’s Dunedin office. The late soldier was a  keen tennis and football player.

It was not until a form of declaration witnessed by a Justice of the Peace was sent by his mother on 07/05/1920

that his army records were changed to his real name.