• ‘The Workers’ a photograph of No 2 Platoon, NZ Railway Engineers, Samoan Expeditionary Force, 1914

‘The Workers’ a photograph of No 2 Platoon, NZ Railway Engineers, Samoan Expeditionary Force, 1914

31 March, 2020     SHARE:

In December 2019 the museum received a photograph of members of No 2 Platoon of the SEF (Samoan Expeditionary Force), dated December 1914, from the Gisborne Returned Services Association.

After publishing the photograph in The Gisborne Herald, we received help from one of our Friends of Tairāwhiti Museum, John Johnston, who has assisted us by compiling a much more detailed list of the men photographed based on the information in the book “The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915” by Stephen John Smith, pub. 1924. Thanks to John we have now been able to identify (or narrow down to a few possibilities) each of the men pictured, although we are yet to establish a Tairāwhiti connection.

Wayne Marriott, great-grandson of Peter Stanley Marriott (pictured in the third row) also got in touch.  He told us that although the photograph was dated 18 December 1914 it must have been taken earlier as Peter was back in Wellington on 7 December 1914 having contracted a disease while stationed in Samoa.

If you have any more information to share please get in touch.


No 2 Platoon Samoan Expeditionary Force, 1914


No 2 Platoon Samoan Expeditionary Force, 1914 (back of photograph)

Transcription of back of photograph:

“No 2 Platoon (The Workers)”

Back row: Daniel (store tent?), Fenton (warden), Howlett (warden), Jones (elect), Bennett, Salt (elect), Perry (horse lines), G Bell, Brown (carpenter), McArtney (carpenter), Hewson (carpenter), Adams (boot maker?), Bateman

2nd row: Black (boot maker?), H Henderson (post office), Brogan, Caldwell, Hammond (Sergt), Guiness, W Christophers, Harrison (Sergt), Williamson, Johnson (horselines), Burnett (carpenter), Peryer, O’Brien (ganger?)

3rd row: Spencer (shops), Sutherland (engine driver), Burke, Tonge (orderly), Marriott (horselines), Olsen, WJ Martin (painter), Mills (wireless gang), Helm (shops), Smyrk (asst driver), Henderson (shops)

4th row: Johnston (anything), Wilson (carpenter) J H Morton? (wireless layer), Shore (orderly), Williams, Veysey, Simpson (saddler), Phillips, Robinson

Buglers: Ashley, McCain

“There are only about 7? Men in this lot who are not on Special Duty and so it is only on occasions like this when they are all together.”

“I have put over their names what each of them do mostly here.”

Stamp: A Tattersall Photo Apia 18 December 1914

Members of the New Zealand Railway Engineers unit in Samoa pose alongside their commandeered German narrow-gauge locomotive, now bearing the letters ‘NZR’ (New Zealand Railways).\ One of the men leaning against the engine has been identified as Sapper Peter Stanley Marriott, an NZR locomotive fireman who was later wounded while serving with a trench mortar battery on the Western Front. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/nz-railways-engineers-samoa-1914

In August 1914 a composite force was mobilised in New Zealand with the aim of seizing the German wireless station in German Samoa. The German population of the island was believed to number 300 to 400 men of military age.

The force included a total of 1363 officers, nurses and men, including one company of New Zealand Railway Engineers, totalling 258 men. The men for this company were drawn from all parts of New Zealand and within 24 hours of the call being made for volunteers from the NZ Railways Department and NZ Railways Battalions they paraded in Wellington, uniformed, armed and equipped. A detachment of Railway Engineers joined the train at Whanganui. An immense crowd at the Napier railway station farewelled a handful of local men, and at Masterton the whole town turned out with its band to give a fitting send-off to its fourteen volunteers.

The SEF landed at Apia on 29 August. There was no resistance from German officials and the following morning the Occupation was complete. Historian J.W. Davidson described New Zealand rule over Samoa as a ‘ramshackle administration’.

One of the Railway Engineers described their work in a letter published in the Evening Post, 11 November 1914:

Fortunately, on arrival it was found that the Germans had already constructed a light railway to the wireless station, but the line being in disrepair, a gang of surfacemen under Lieutenant Christophers, late of Engineers’ staff at Ohakune, was soon at work in the blazing sun, lifting, ballasting, and relaying rails. The total length of railway now in service is about eight miles, including the various lines to plantations. A petrol locomotive engine, manufactured by the Telefunken Wireless Co., was soon overhauled, and is now capable of hauling a maximum load of five tons at a maximum speed of twelve miles per hour. The engine is now employed conveying stores, etc., from the water front to Vaea Camp, where the Railway Corps is encamped. A frequent service was instituted, and for several days the ‘train’ averaged 30 trips per diem between Apia and Vaea. The engine is now branded N.Z.R. and has been christened A1, but the men miss exceedingly the customary whistle of an ‘A’ class engine. Enginemen Sutherland [W.A. Sutherland] and Smyrke [E.W. Smyrk] are requested to arrange to have a whistle affixed to the engine. (both pictured in this photograph)

On their return from Samoa many of these men went on to serve in other theatres of the war.

In late 1918 Western Samoa was devastated by an influenza pandemic . Sick passengers on  the New Zealand ship Talune arrived at Apia from Auckland on 7 November 1918 and were allowed to disembark without quarantine, a failure of the New Zealand Administration.  Influenza spread rapidly through the islands and killed up to 8500 people – a staggering one-fifth of the population.

You can find out more about the Occupation of German Samoa and the Influenza Pandemic in this video story from the Great War Stories series. The episode ends with Tupe Lualua’s 1918, a choreographed performance of the devastation caused by the influenza epidemic.


Back row:

4/142 Sapper Daniel, J.                      later L/Corpl., 8th Rfts. (Reinforcements) in Embarkation Roll

Probably 10/3234 L/Cpl. John Daniel, Farndon, H.B. NofK mother in Eketahuna (this John Daniel worked for NZ Railways, Pahiatua, on enlistment)

4/168 Sapper Fenton, J. N.                 later Sergt., 6th Rfts.

Joseph Nurse Fenton, Taihape, NofK mother in Lyttelton

4/134 L/Corpl. Howlett, L. V.              later Corpl., 9th Rfts.

Leonard Victor Howlett, Wellington, NofK sister in Wellington

4/128 Sapper Jones, D. R. R.               later L/Corpl., 5th Rfts.

David Robert Rowlands Jones, Dunedin, NofK father in Lawrence

4/149 Sapper Bennett, C. F.                later L/Corpl., 14th Rfts., Killed in Action, France

Charles Frederick Bennett, Windsor, North Otago, NofK mother in Southland

4/230 Sapper Salt, C. H.                      later Lieut., 5th Rfts.

Charles Henry Salt, Auckland

4/221 Sapper Perry, S.                        later Sergt. 3rd N.Z.R.B., Killed in Action, France

Samuel Perry, Ohakune, NofK mother in Wellington

4/338 Sapper Bell, G. J.                       later 11th Rfts.

George Joseph Bell, Wellington, NofK father in Wellington

4/80 Sapper Brown, N. E.                 later L/Corpl., 4th Rfts., Killed in Action, France

6/2366 Norman Ellis Brown, Oamaru, NofK father in Dunedin, Fireman


4/179 Sapper Brown, H.

Harold Brown, Wellington, NofK father in Cumberland, England, Clerk/electrician D. Napier 1970

4/236 Sapper McArtney, A.                later Sergt. 7th Rfts.

10/3004 Angus McArtney, Wellington, NofK brother in Wanganui

4/115 Sapper Hewson, J. C.   

Joseph Clement Hewson, Wellington, NofK father in Pelorus Sound

4/63 Sapper Adams, E. R.

Ernest Richard Adams, Marton Junction, NofK father in Marton Junction

4/84 Sapper Bateman, F. H.   

Frank Harold Bateman, Dunedin, NofK father in Dunedin

Second row:

4/79 Sapper Black, A. S.                      later 14th Rfts.

Alexander Stewart Black, Auckland, NofK father in Auckland

4/111 Sapper Henderson, L. A.           later 5th Rfts., Died of Wounds, France

10/2434 Lyn Atkinson Henderson, Christchurch, NofK father in Christchurch


4/114 Sapper Henderson, H. H.          later Corpl. 18th Rfts.

Harley Hector Henderson, Taihape, NofK mother in Inglewood


4/200 Sapper Henderson, H. S. L.

Horace Stanley Lawrence Henderson, Otorohanga, NofK mother in Otorohanga   

4/54 Sapper Brogan, W. A.                 later C.Q.M.S., 14th Rfts.

4/1025 Wilfred Augustine Brogan, Wellington, NofK father in Hamilton

4/82 Corpl. Caldwell, R. T.                  later W. O., 3rd N.Z.R.B. (Military Medal)

Robert Todd Caldwell, Christchurch, NofK mother in Christchurch

4/173 Sergt. Hammond, L. J. B.

Leonard James Bathurst Hammond, Waimate

0/12 Lieut. Guiness, W. J. P.               later Captain, 2nd N.Z.R.B., Died of Wounds, France

24/1267 William John Pritchard Guiness, Frankton Junction, NofK father in Christchurch

4/195 Lieut. Christophers, H. H.         later Captain, 2nd N.Z.R.B.

24/7 Herbert Henry Christophers, Ohakune, NofK wife in Paraparaumu. KIA in France

4/126 Sergt. Harrison, T. A.

Thomas Albert Harrison, Auckland, NofK father in Auckland

4/216   Corpl. Williamson, H. M.         later Sergt., 26th Rfts.

Herbert Milne Williamson, Wellington, NofK father in Wellington

4/118 Sapper Johnson, W.

William Johnson, Napier, NofK father in Chertsey, NZ

4/110 Sapper Johnson, N. W.             later 7th Rfts.

Did not find this man’s Army records.

4/94 Sapper Burnett, A.                      later 9th Rfts.

Arthur Burnett, Wanganui, NofK father in Wanganui

4/207 Sapper Peryer, S. M.

Stanley Matson Peryer, Christchurch, NofK father in Christchurch

4/265 Sapper O’Brien, E. A.                later Corpl., 18th Rfts.

Edward Anthony O’Brien, Christchurch, NofK mother in Christchurch

4/266 Sapper O’Brien, A. M.               later 17th Rfts.

Algar Michael O’Brien, Auckland, NofK mother in Auckland

Third row:

4/192 Sapper Spencer, R. T.

Robert Theophilus Spencer, Wellington, NofK mother in Wellington

4/102 Sapper Sutherland, W. A.         later Sergt., 24th Rfts.

William Albert Sutherland, Wanganui, NofK father in Dunedin

4/143 Sapper Burke, D. P.                   Died in New Zealand after Discharge

Denis Patrick Burke, Wellington, NofK father in Wellington

4/270 Tonge, C. H. (in Embarkation Roll):

4/270 Charles Henry Tonge, Auckland, NofK father in Runciman, Drury, Waikato

4/243 Marriott, P. S. ( in Embarkation Roll)

11/2148 Peter Stanley Marriott, Palmerston North, NofK mother in Christchurch.

4/244 Sapper Olsen, W. J.                  later 41st Rfts.

William John Olsen, Woodville, NofK wife in Ormondville

4/86 Sapper Martin, W. J.

William James Martin, Petone, NofK father in Petone

4/204 Mills, F. (in Embarkation Roll)

4/204 Frederick Mills, Upper Hutt, NofK father in Morcombe Lake, Dorset, England

4/123 Sapper Helm, A. McK.              later Sergt., 8th Rfts. (Military Medal)

8/3292 Angus McKay Helm, Riverton, NofK father in Riverton

4/291 Sapper Smyrk, E. W.                 later Home Service

Edward William Smyrk, Petone, NofK father in Napier

4/111 Sapper Henderson, L. A.          later 5th Rfts., Died of Wounds, France

10/2434 Lyn Atkinson Henderson, Christchurch, NofK father in Christchurch


4/114 Sapper Henderson, H. H.          later Corpl. 18th Rfts.

Harley Hector Henderson, Taihape, NofK mother in Inglewood


4/200 Sapper Henderson, H. S. I.

Horace Stanley Lawrence Henderson, Otorohanga, NofK mother in Otorohanga   


Fourth row:

4/120 L/Corpl. Johnston, C. G.            later 2nd Lieut., 3rd N.Z.R.B., Killed in Action, France

Cameron Gordon Johnston, Wellington, NofK mother in Wellington

4/260 Q.M.S. Wilson, W. E.                later 5th Rfts. And Lt., R.F.A.

William Ernest Wilson, Lyttelton, NofK father in Foxton

4/91 Sapper Wilson, A. G. H.              later 5th Rfts.

10/2474 Arthur George Halliday Wilson, Dunedin, NoK in Dunedin

4/299 Sapper Wilson, F. W.                later Lieut., 4th Rfts. (Military Cross)

56695 Francis William Wilson, (born in Australia) Auckland, NofK friend in Auckland

“J. H. Morton”, not in NZ Railway Engineers list

Probably 4/268, 4/1973 Sapper James Horace Martin, Upper Hutt, NofK father in Upper Hutt

4/194 Sapper Shore, W. H.                 later 5th Rfts.

William Henry Shore, Wellington, NofK father in Wellington

4/280 Sapper Williams, C. F. T.           later 4th Rfts.

8/2376 Charles Frederick Trengrove Williams, Wellington, NofK father in Mt Pleasant, Marl.

4/281 Sapper Williams, L.

Llewellyn Williams, Frankton Junction, NofK father in Whangarei

4/199 Sapper Veysey, R.                     later W.O., 11th Rfts.

Roy Veysey, Wellington, NofK father in Nelson

4/276 Sapper Simpson, W.G.              later Corpl., 5th Rfts.

William George Simpson, Mangaweka Railways, NofK (friend) in Tauranga

4/286 Sapper Phillips, H.                    Died in England after Discharge

Henry Phillips, Wellington, NofK father in Westport

4/89 Sapper Robinson, G. J.                later 5th Rfts.

George James Robinson, Wanganui, NofK brother? In Queenstown



4/62 Sapper Ashley, A. W.                  later 9th Rfts.

4/1729 Alfred William Ashley, Auckland, NofK mother in Auckland

4/240 Bugler McKain, E. T.                 later Lt., 1st Bn., N.Z.R.B.

23/1262 Ernest Theodore McKain, Palmerston North, NofK father in Levin

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