William Stud Bovey


William Stud Bovey, 1872-1917, was one of the eight Stoke men who died in World War One. He is commemorated on the Stoke Memorial Gates.

William Stud Bovey. Image supplied by authorWilliam Stud Bovey. Image supplied by author
Click image to enlarge

William’s parents were John and Elizabeth Stud (née Greaves) Bovey of Stoke.  John and Elizabeth were migrants from England who married in Raglan, New Zealand in 1859.   They had eight children between 1860 and 1876, of whom William (known as Bill to family and friends), born on 8 March 1872, was the sixth.

Bill grew up to be a gardener and in his late twenties enlisted in the Boer War (1899-1902).  Bill and another Stoke man, William Frederick Cresswell, are among those reported in the Nelson Evening Mail of 19 February 1900 as having applied “for service in the Nelson troop of Rough Riders for the Fourth Contingent”.   In Bill’s case he is listed “with horse”.  Altogether, 34 applications were received and the two Bills were among the 12 who passed the preliminary selection process (a minimum regulation chest measurement of 36 inches) on 20 February.  Bill’s description reads:

“Wm. S. Bovey (Stoke). – 28 years; 5ft 11in; chest, 36in; 2 years Volunteer; 2nd class shot; fair rider; would find own horse.” 

The successful applicants were then given shooting and riding tests the next day, followed by a medical.  The final selection of eight men was made on 23 February and included the two Bills from Stoke.

After local training, the Nelson Evening Mail reported, on 2 March, that the eight men were leaving Wellington for Dunedin and added:

“Trooper Bovey, one of the members of the Nelson Company, has not been allowed to leave the colony without some souvenir.  The young folk of Stoke have subscribed to purchase a pair of binoculars and a pair of spurs, and these, with a sum in cash, have been forwarded to Trooper Bovey by his sister.  A letter has also been sent to him, wishing him God speed and success.”

Bovey Rough RidersThe Rough Riders, Fourth Contingent’s Nelson Troop. Bill is in the back row, third from the right. From With the Fourth New Zealand Rough Riders.
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The Fourth New Zealand Contingent, together with the third, were known as  “Rough Riders”  They were volunteers and mounted riflemen, whereas the first two contingents were all infantrymen.   They sailed for South Africa on 24 March 1900. 

The Contingent disembarked at the end of April at Beira in, what was then, Portuguese East Africa and proceeded across Rhodesia and into the Transvaal where it took part in the war for just over a year.1

Early in 1901 Bill went down with enteric fever (typhoid) and, after spending some time recovering in hospital, he was well enough to return to New Zealand and was back home early in June that year.  An official welcome back ceremony for the Nelson troopers of the Fourth and Fifth Regiments took place on 18 July.   The Stoke Section of the Stoke Rifles and Foresters held a special Concert and Dance on Tuesday 6 August to celebrate the return of Troopers Bovey and Cresswell.

As a war invalid, Bill was badly done by and at one stage was struck off without pay.  In response, Bill went right to the top:  he retaliated with letters to both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence.  His efforts led to the reimbursement of the money owed to him and a successful operation in June 1902, which restored him to an active life.  Bill was awarded several medals for his service in South Africa.

By the time of his enlistment in the NZ Expeditionary Force on 5 January 1917, William was 43 and working as a gardener at the Experimental Farm in Levin, north of Wellington.  He was then recorded as being 5’ 11” in height, weighing 161 lb and with chest measurements of 34 ½ to 37 ½”.  He was described as being of a fair complexion with grey eyes and brown hair.

By 26 April William, as 45974 Private William Steed Bovey (a mistake on the part of the Army), was aboard the Tofua in the F Company of the NZEF’s 25th Reinforcements, bound for Devonport where his Canterbury Regiment disembarked on 20 July for further training at Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plain near Bulford in Wiltshire.

On 5 September, after further training in England, William was on his way to France and reached the NZ Infantry & General Base Depot at Etaples on 9 September.  A week later his army records indicate that he “Joined B/n & Posted to 1st Coy” in the field.

Bill’s fate was now to be in the hands of the British General Haig’s failing offensive to take Passchendaele which had got underway on 31 July:

Bovey PasschendaeleWestern Front. Battle of Passchendaele. Image from Wikimedia Commons:A Short Military History of World War I - Atlas. Click image to enlarge

“With visions of a strategic breakthrough fading fast, Haig now looked to General Plumer’s Second Army (which included the New Zealand Division as part of II Anzac Corps) to seize Passchendaele.  Using the bite-and-hold tactics he had employed at Messines, Plumer launched his first attack on 20 September...” 2

“On September 24th, the [New Zealand] Division received orders to move the following day, by route march, to the battle area” (2) which Bill’s 1st Canterbury Battalion reached on 28 September.

The next two entries in Bill’s army records reveal that on 30 September he was detailed to the Divisional Dump, where all the munitions, equipment, food, etc. required for the campaign were stored, and rejoined his Battalion on 7 October at Godewaersvelde where it had been billeted.3

The New Zealand Division had entered the fray on 4 October and succeeded in its objective of capturing the Gravenstafel Spur.  Buoyed by initial successes, the British High Command then underestimated the strength of the German opposition and made the fatal decision to press on despite rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and without thorough preparations.

A further attack on 9 October resulted in failure and a massive loss of life.  The main assault on Passchendaele then took place in heavy rain and deep mud on 12 October and, in terms of casualties, proved to be the blackest day in World War 1 for New Zealand.  The horror of this event is vividly described by one of the survivors, 8/2004 Private Leonard Mitchell Hart who served with the Otago Infantry Battalion.   In a letter to his parents, Private Hart relates:

“Through some blunder our artillery barrage opened up about two hundred yards short of the specified range and thus opened up right in the midst of us….our own men getting cut to pieces in dozens by our own guns.” 4

Those that survived then found themselves facing “deadly rifle and machine gun fire” 5 from “a long line of practically undamaged German concrete machine gun emplacements with barbed wire entanglements in front of them fully fifty yards deep6 – due to the failure of the initial artillery barrage.

Sadly, Bill Bovey was one of well over 3,000 New Zealand casualties of that day.  He was initially reported as missing and then a few days later was found to have been killed in action.  He is remembered not only on the Stoke Memorial Gates but also on the Wereroa Peace Gates in Levin and the Tyne Cot Memorial at Zonnebeck in Belgium.


Updated May 12, 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Bovey William Stud - Boer War Military History  https://horowhenua.kete.net.nz/item/c2b85742-1440-4b76-88dd-ffa39d92df82
  2. The Passchendaele offensive (2014). Retrieved from NZ History Online (Ministry for Culture and Heritage) updated 1-Sep-2014
  3. Ferguson, Capt. D. (1925) History of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment, NZRF 1914-1919. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs p.192
  4. Passchendaele letter from Leonard Hart (2014). Retrieved from NZ History Online (Ministry for Culture and Heritage) updated 24-Sep-2014
  5. Passchendaele letter from Leonard Hart
  6. Passchendaele letter from Leonard Hart

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