Topic: Samuel James Keam (1887-1917)

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28-year-old Welcome Bay farmer Samuel James Keam was killed in action in Belgium on 7 June 1917, the first day of the Battle of Messines which was fought on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders. Story by Debbie McCauley.

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Samuel James Keam was born in Brunner in the northwest of New Zealand's South Island on 26 July 1887 (reg. 1887/6636). His parents were Samuel and Phillipa Keam (nee Wills) who married in Durham, England, in July 1876. 

On 6 February 1907 Samuel's mother Phillipa died in Eketahuna. She was buried in the Mangaoranga Eketahuna Cemetery. A notice appeared in the Wairarapa Daily Times on 4 February 1907: 

The friends of Mr Samuel Keam, of Eketahuua, are respectfully invited to attend the funeral of his late wife, which will leave his residence. Parkville, for the Eketahuua cemetery, at 1 o'clock on Tuesday, 5th February.

Some time after this the family moved to Welcome Bay in Tauranga. Known as 'Jim', Samuel was a preacher and debater and worked as a farmer in Welcome Bay.

He became engaged to Alice Reubina Ridley, while his friend Samuel Pemberton became engaged to her sister Dolly.

Samuel enlisted to fight in World War I on 2 July 1916 (Service No. 29902). He trained at Featherston Military Camp, and before he embarked, wrote home, 'Many times since I came into camp have I longed to be with you all again. And I pray God that for your sakes I may be spared to come'.

He served with the Auckland Infantry Battalion, 1st Battalion. On 16 April 1917 Samuel wrote home to his sister and loved ones:

I hate writing when I know that all I say will have to be read by my own Officer and so I will try to write now a few loving lines from that restraint. Blow the Censor. I do not like the idea of him having to see everything besides there are hundreds of things one would like to talk about and which would interest you but there is a curtain drawn behind which none but soldiers must look.

Corporal Samuel James Keam was killed in action in Belgium on 7 June 1917, aged 28. This was on the first day of the Battle of Messines which was fought on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium from 7 to 14 June 1917.

Written in the front cover of his diary was, 'In case of fatality will the finder be good enough to return this to Alice Ridley... and thus earn the lasting gratitude of a worthy woman and her lover'. 

Samuel is remembered on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial at Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium.

Samuel James Keam (1887-1917)

In 1920 Alice married Adam Francis (reg. 1920/12369).

When Samuel's father died on 2 February 1923 he was buried in the Tauranga Methodist Cemetery. Samuel's name and details were inscribed on his father's headstone.



Archives New Zealand: Military Personnel File.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

McLean, Heather (1996). Tauranga Methodist and Children's Cemetery.

Tararua District Council: Phillipa Keam Burial Record.

Wairarapa Daily Times (4 February 1907, p. 4).


A version of this article was archived in August 2016 at Perma CC

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Samuel James Keam (1887-1917)

Note:Service Number: 29902
First Names:Samuel James
Last Name:Keam
Date of Birth:26 July 1887
Place of Birth:Brunner
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:7 June 1917
Place of death:Messines, West Flanders, Belgium
Place of burial:Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium
Spouses name:Alice Reubina Ridley (fiancé)
Spouses date of birth:1884
Spouses place of birth:Dunedin, New Zealand
Spouses date of death:22 November 1963
Spouses place of death:Dunedin, New Zealand
Spouses place of burial:Southern Cemetery, Dunedin, New Zealand
Fathers name:Samuel Keam
Fathers date of birth:31 December 1854
Fathers place of birth:St Mewan, Cornwall, England
Fathers date of death:2 February 1923
Fathers place of death:Tauranga, New Zealand
Mothers name:Phillipa Wills
Mothers date of birth:c1847
Mothers place of birth:Gwennap, Cornwall, England
Mothers date of death:6 February 1907
Mothers place of death:Eketahuna, New Zealand
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)

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