top of page

23/864 Rifleman William John Oliff

C Company 1st Battalion

3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade

2nd February 1918


Born in Wellington, New Zealand on 07/12/1895.

His parents were Henry Oliff(1860-05/09/1934) and Alice Turner(1862-21/11/1960). They were married in 1890.

William had 3 brothers; Henry James(1891-24/05/19660, Frederick Charles(12/08/1902-1976) and Arthur Edward(1904-19/04/1965).

He also had 4 sisters; Ellen Elizabeth(1890-02/05/1891), Ethel May(born in 1893),Alice Ward(1895-1986) and Mary Jane(born in 1899).  

He enlisted on 28/05/1915 at Trentham Camp, previously, he had been employed as a farmer in

Te Wharau.  

William had already had a medical on 22/03/1915,

details below;

Declared Age - 20 years 3 months, Trade or Occupation - Farmer, Height - 5ft 8 inches, Weight - 140lbs, Chest measurement - Minimum - 331/2 inches,

Maximum 361/2 inches. 

William spent the next few months training in New Zealand before embarking at Wellington on 09/10/1915 and heading for Suez, 

where he disembarked on 15/11/1915.  

Williams battalion were originally due to replace the 2/5th Devons in the Citadel of Cairo, when on 16/02/1915 at 8pm "the orders were cancelled and replaced by fresh instructions to be ready to leave at short notice for service  with the Western Frontiers Force at Mersa Matruh. Orders for the move were received at mid-day on the 18th and by 6pm the complete battalion, strength 30 officers  and 968 other ranks had left for Alexandria".* 

It was at Mersa Matruh, 200 miles west of Alexandria, that William saw action for the first time when the 1st battalion were part of a column attacking a prominent hill called Jebel Medwa, that was 8 miles to the south west of Matruh, that in its vicinity a body of around  5000 men of the Senussi forces  had begun to concentrate. 

The first engagement the column had with the enemy came around 6am on 25/12/1915 but it was not until noon that Williams 'C' company were brought into the firing line around the Wadi Majid extending it to the right. Their job was to continue to clear the nullahs(gullies or ravines) that branched off from the Wadi, this was achieved, but slowly.

It was not until soon after 4pm that the enemy stronghold at the head of the wadi was finally taken by  'A' and 'B' Companies. The New Zealanders lost 14 rank and file  killed and 3 officers and 47 other ranks wounded. The enemy lost 370 dead and 82 taken as prisoners.

William stayed in Egypt until 06/04/1916 when he embarked for France aboard the "Arcadian" in Alexandria,

dis-embarking in Marseilles on either 12,13,14,/04/1916. It was then a 3 day train journey from Marseilles up to Hazebrouck.

On 28/07/1916, William was sent to Divisional Grenade School, re-joining his battalion 2 days later.

He was sent to Divisional Grenade School again on 10/09/1916,staying longer this time and not returning to his battalion on 20/09/1916.

The extremely wet month of August 1917 saw William admitted to No.83 NZ Field Ambulance on 04/08/1917 with trench foot. He was then admitted to No.81 NZ Field Ambulance on 07/08/1917, before being discharged to his unit on 17/08/1917 and returning to his battalion a day later. 

Just over a week later, William was marched into the Anzac Reinforcement Camp on 26/08/1917. He stayed here until he returned to his unit on 03/09/1917.

5 days later saw him detached to the No.2 Army Rest Camp, not re-joining his battalion until 20/09/1917.

William again suffered with trench foot and was admitted to NZ Field Ambulance on 12/10/1917,before next day being admitted to No.83 Australian Field Ambulance and then onto No.2 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. He remained here until being moved to No.2 Convalescent Hospital on 24/10/1917.

He was discharged to duties after 7 days on 31/10/1917. On 11/11/1917 he was marched into Etaples camp, staying there until he re-joined his battalion on 19/12/1917.

After Christmas, William was given leave back in the UK on 14/01/1918,not re-joining his battalion until 30/01/1918.

Sadly 3 days later he was killed in action. 

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

New Zealand Post - 20 February 1918

Oliff - Killed in action on the 2nd February1918. 23/864 Rifleman William John Oliff, second son of Mr H and A Oliff, No.112 Holloway Road ,Mitchell Town, aged 21 years.


His duty nobly done.      

*The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade compiled by Lieutenant Colonel W.S. Austin D.S.O. page 22 


bottom of page