Topic: Reginald Alfred Watkins (1885-1916)

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30-year-old Tauranga Salvation Army Officer Reginald Alfred Watkins died of his wounds in France on 23 July 1916 whilst serving during World War I. The last message from Reginald to his family before he died was written by a church minister at a casualty station: 'He is badly wounded and is anxious for me to send word. I have grave doubts as to his recovery. He sends his love to you all.' Story by Debbie McCauley.

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Reginald Alfred Watkins was born at Okaiawa in Taranaki on 5 December 1885. His parents were Matthew Lewis and Mary Watkins (nee Jones) who arrived in New Zealand 1879 from Monmouthshire on board the Wanganui in 1879. They became early settlers of Taranaki before moving to the Waikato where they farmed at Karapiro and Fencourt.

Mary died on 2 November 1911 and was buried in the Pukerimu Cemetery in Cambridge. 

Reginald moved to Tauranga where he worked as a Salvation Army Captain. He lived on Rangiwaea Island, near Matakana Island in the Tauranga harbour, and according to the Bay of Plenty Times was 'held in great esteem' by Maori on Rangiwaea. He was also a photographer, horseman, skilled bushman, sailor and was fluent in te reo Maori.

On 20 October 1915 Reginald enlisted to served during World War I at Trentham  where he did his training. He was with the Auckland Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 6th (Hauraki) Company (Service No. 12/3861), embarking from Wellington as part of the medical corps in January 1916.

Younger brother Lewis (1889-1969) also served during World War I (Service No. 26946).

Reginald's unit first went to Egypt, but when the call went out for stretcher bearers in France, he volunteered and was transferred to another battalion. He sung Salvation Army hymns in English and Maori as he transported the injured on stretchers, which saw him dubbed 'the singing captain'

On 12 July 1916 Reginald wrote, 'Just to let you know I am safe and sound. My work consists in dressing and carrying the wounded from the firing line to the first field dressing station... we need all the nerve and moral courage we possess at this task, and we hope and pray that our services will soon not be required'.

On 18 July 1916 he wrote to his sister Nellie, 'Just a line or two to let you know I am still safe. We are still in the trenches occupying the N.Z. sector. Although no advance has been made here, bombardments with all kinds of weapons have taken place, including raids and you will see by the papers we have sustained casulties.'

Two days later on 20 July 1916, Reginald was helping a wounded soldier when he was struck by shell shrapnel in the side and through the abdomen. Reginald was carried to a Casualty Clearing Station, singing hymns as he went. The last message from Reginald to his family before he died was written by a church minister who was by his side: 'He is badly wounded and is anxious for me to send word. I have grave doubts as to his recovery. He sends his love to you all.'

Private Reginald Alfred Watkins died from his wounds in France on 23 July 1916, aged 30. He was buried in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension in Nord, France (Grave Reference: II.F.76).

Reginald's medals were sent to his father at Fencourt in Cambridge.

Reginald Alfred Watkins (1885-1916)


Archives New Zealand: Military Personnel File.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Kean, Fiona (2014). From Tauranga to the Trenches (pp. 20-21).

Parker, Eris (1989). Cambridge Roads W, X, Y, Z (Cambridge Museum)


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

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Reginald Alfred Watkins (1885-1916)

Note:Service Number: 12/3861
First Names:Reginald Alfred
Last Name:Watkins
Date of Birth:5 December 1885
Place of Birth:Okaiawa, Taranaki
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:20 October 1915
Place of death:France
Place of burial:Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France
Occupation:Salvation Army Officer
Fathers name:Matthew Lewis Watkins
Fathers date of birth:1853
Fathers date of death:20 July 1921
Fathers place of death:Cambridge, New Zealand
Mothers name:Mary Jones
Mothers date of birth:1852
Mothers date of death:2 November 1911
Mothers place of death:Cambridge, New Zealand
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)