Topic: John McLaren Lett (1877-1917)

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In 2015 John Foster came in to the Tauranga City Libraries to remember his great grandfather John McLaren Lett, as part of the Threads of Memory project. Filming: Bay of Plenty Polytechnic Students.

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John Foster telling his grandfather's story to Debbie McCauley. Photo: Lee Switzer.

John Foster talked about his grandfather, John McLaren Lett, who was one of sixteen children. His parents were Charles and Sarah Jane Lett (nee Watson).

John Foster shares his grandfather's story with Debbie McCauley during the 2015 Threads of Memory project.

John McLaren Lett was known as 'Jack'. He was born in Wellington on 28 January 1877 and later became a farmer. He fought in the South African conflict (Boer War 1899-1902), Service Number: 3386. John left New Zealand on 30 January 1901 aboard the Cornwall. He served as a Private with the No. 17 company (Wellington section).

Jack McLaren Lett (1877-1917)

John McLaren Lett (1877-1917).

On 26 May 1902 he married Kathleen Elizabeth Akenson (1880-1965) (reg. 1902/1543). The wedding was reported in the Manawatu Standard on 29 May 1902:

The Horowhenua Village Settlement was enlivened on the afternoon of Monday last with a wedding, and there was a pleasant gathering of friends to witness the ceremony and offer congratulations. Miss Kathleen Elizabeth Akenson was the bride, and Mr John McLaren Lett, a returned trooper, the bridegroom.

John and Kathleen had two daughters; Barbara Kathleen Lett and Mavis Isabell Lett. The couple later separated and John moved to Austinmer, New South Wales, Australia, where he worked as a gravel merchant.

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John Foster and the "Dead Man’s Penny". Photo: Lee Switzer.

In January 1916 John enlisted to fight in World War I with the Australian Imperial Force. He was with the Australian Infantry, 29th Battalion. On the way to Europe aboard the SS Port Napier, John was docked a day's pay as punishment for gambling.

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"Dead Man’s Penny". Photo: Debbie McCauley. 

John was sent to France. He took part in the Battle of Passchendaele near Ypres in Belgium. He was killed by friendly fire during the Battle of Polygon Wood on 27 September 1917 (Service Number: 6762). John's name is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

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War Medals of John McLaren Lett. Photo: Debbie McCauley.

John Foster owns a metal hat that his grandfather made out of an 18-pounder shell casing whilst in the Passchendaele trenches.

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The metal hat made in the in the Passchendaele trenches from an 18-pounder shell casing. Photo: Debbie McCauley.

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Inside details of the metal hat. Photo: Lee Switzer.

He also has a World War I bayonet that has been passed down through the family.

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World War I Bayonet. Photo: Debbie McCauley.

John Lett's daughter Barbara went on to marry John's father, Albert Edward Foster (1903-1967) in 1927.

Albert was a Homeguard Commander in the Far North of New Zealand during World War II. He was born in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1903. He died in Kaitaia in 1967. Barbara died in 1987 (reg. 1987/43849). 

Amongst John's treasures is a policeman's whistle. This belonged to Albert's father, James Foster, who was a policeman in Hobart around 1900.

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John showing James Foster's policeman's whistle. Photo: Lee Switzer.

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James Foster's policeman's whistle. Photo: Lee Switzer.


Further Information:

Anzac Day: Friendly fire took one of our own (Bay of Plenty Times, 15 April 2015).

Australian War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial (Red Cross Wounded and Missing).

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Cenotaph Database (Auckland War Memorial Museum).

Manawatu Standard (29 May 1902, p 2).


This article was archived at Perma CC on August 10, 2016 (

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John McLaren Lett (1877-1917)

Note:Service Number: 6762
First Names:John McLaren
Last Name:Lett
Date of Birth:28 January 1877
Place of Birth:Hawker Street, Wellington
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:27 September 1917
Place of death:Ypres, Belgium
Spouses name:Kathleen Elizabeth Akenson
Spouses date of birth:1880
Spouses date of death:1965
Place of marriage:26 May 1902
Fathers name:Charles Lett