8/2134 – WALTER GRAHAM SINCLAIR, M.M.
On Mar 07, 11.30pm I was winding up the days medal research when I received a post forwarded to me by a friend on Facebook drawing my attention to an Southland Times article posted on STUFF regarding the discovery of a WW1 Memorial (‘Death Penny’) Plaque and the search for relatives.
Bevan & Audrey Hunter had been cleaning out their house in Milton, Otago and found a WW1 Memorial Plaque named to WALTER GRAHAM SINCLAIR, a name that had no connection to their family. After some checking the Hunters discovered the plaque had been sent to Walter’s father, Robert Sinclair of Browns in Southland. The Hunters contacted their cousin Bill Allen for help who happened to live at Browns but sadly, after canvassing the locals for information, a blank was drawn on descendants.
A neighbour of the Bill’s was then contacted for assistance – Iain Davidson is a local, fourth-generation farmer and history enthusiast who also manages a couple of websites dedicated to local military history – “Soldiers and Nurses of Southland” and ”Unknown Warriors of the NZEF”.
Walter Graham Sinclair was the second youngest child of Robert Paterson SINCLAIR (1844-1920) and wife Janet ‘Jessie’ Fraser CAMPBELL (1854-1926). The Sinclair family comprised six boys and three girls: James, Eric, John, Rubina, Alice, Ethel, Robert, Walter & William.
Born in 1891 at Caroline, a rural farm area between Dipton and Lumsden in Southland, Walter worked as a saw-miller joining his brothers in his father’s sawmill business, Sinclair & Sons, at Browns in the southern Hokonui Hills (famous for illicit brewing in the early days) just east of Winton in Central Southland.
Known as ‘Wattie’ to his family, Walter Sinclair was 23 years of age when he enlisted into the Otago Infantry Battalion, embarking for Egypt in April 1915 as a member of the 10th Company. In August he joined his unit on Gallipoili, for just ONE week, before he was evacuated to Malta on the HS Guildford Castle with Enteritis (caused by eating or drinking things that are contaminated with bacteria or viruses).
By Dec 1915 Pte. Sinclair was fit enough to return to his unit which had by then been evacuated from Gallipoli to Moascar Camp near Suez. Four months later Pte. Sinclair’s unit was once again bound for the trenches in northern France.
Now a Lance Corporal, in August Wattie was again hospitalized in Rouen with Shellshock. Once recovered, it was back to his unit in March 1917, promotion to Corporal in October and by April 1917 a further promotion to Sergeant.
On June 27th 1917 Sgt. Sinclair’s unit, 1st Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment, was engaged in the initial stages of the Battle of Messines in the vicinity of Ypres, Belgium. The Battalion’s loss of officers was very heavy and when his own officer (Platoon Commander) was killed during the Advance stage of the main attack, Sgt. Sinclair “immediately took command of the Platoon, carried them on to their objective with complete success, and handled them with marked ability. As there was only one Officer left unwounded (sic) in his Company, Sgt. Sinclair was indefatigable in supervising the consolidation under heavy enfilade shell fire, and throughout set a fine example of bravery and determination.”
For his actions Sgt. Sinclair was awarded the Military Medal (M.M.), gazetted on 16 August 1917.
Four months later on 12 October 1917, Sgt. Walter (‘Wattie’) Graham Sinclair, MM was ‘Killed In Action’ in France, likely the result of bombardment as no remains were located. Sgt. Sinclair, MM is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial (NZ Apse) within the Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
Awards: Military Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, a Memorial Plaque & Scroll – also entitled to the ANZAC Medallion, 1967.
Note: Walter’s older brother also served – 53272 Pte. Eric Charles Sinclair, 27th Reinforcements, O.I.R., spent 1 year 384 days overseas in Egypt and France from June 1917. Aside from a non-fatal gunshot wound to his left hand and several hospitalisations for Trenchfoot, Eric Sinclair returned to NZ on the TS Paparoa in June 1919, and the sawmill at Browns.
Upon reading the Southland Times article I dashed off an email Iain and Bill offering the services of MRNZ to assist with the search – that was at 11.30pm on 07 March.
Out of interest I had a quick look at Sgt. Sinclair’s AWM Cenotaph entry. What a surprise it was to find an attached post from a “Mary Alicia” of Invercargill, outlining the fact that Walter Sinclair was her father’s youngest brother, ergo – Mary Alicia Sinclair was a niece! A quick check of the phone book confirmed Mary’s location and so I emailed Iain again advising him to disregard my previous email, and what I had found – job done. It was exactly 11.51pm … solved in 21 minutes ! Case closed ? … yes, but there was more …
Next morning I received a reply from Iain:
“Thanks for your offer, but even before this story has gone to print I have found a niece of Walters. And there will be a happy ending. However I have had about 20 or 30 emails last night and in one I have had another offer to reunite a death plaque which as I am down in Southland I will refer to you. Laurie C. has one named to William James Green. I will forward on his details and it would be great if you helped this kind man out.”
Delighted to help Iain. I have since been in contact with Laurie who is forwarding the plaque to MRNZ as I write this Post. A very satisfactory outcome for all five of us – Iain, Bill, Mary, Laurie and MRNZ.
I recently received this update – given the number of responses Ian and Bill received in response to their request for descendants of Walter Sinclair to come forward, it has taken some time to decide which of these the Plaque would go to. A decision has now been made to pass the plaque to a descendant resident in Mosgiel. It does however beg the question of the whereabouts of Walter Sinclair’s medals which remains unknown. When I broached this subject with Mary she told me Walter’s mother kept his medals in a biscuit tin under the floorboards of their house in Browns, now long since demolished. Sgt. Sinclair’s medals have not been seen since – are they out there somewhere, with a medal collector maybe – can you help to locate them ?
* You can read the original Southland Times article dated 08 March 2017 here: