WW1 soldier’s prayer book returned to family

140-YEAR JOURNEY: This prayer book was presented to John Hubert Wallis as a christening present in 1879. It was found on a farm station in 1958 and was recently returned to Mr Wallis’s family. Picture by Liam Clayton

The prayer book of the Gisborne farmer and British soldier killed in World War 1, John Hubert Wallis, has been returned to the Wallis family 140 years after it was presented to its original owner as a christening present in 1879.

Hubert Mark Wallis, who is known as Mark, said he immediately realised The Gisborne Herald article seeking descendants of the owner was about his great uncle.

Retired man Max Stevens found the prayer book in a deserted homestead on Hauturu Station inland from Te Puia Springs in 1958.

Mark said his father Bruce had told him stories over the years about his grandfather, Edgar Wallis, who survived the war, and his brother, John Wallis, who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know much about World War 1,’’ he said.

But a visit to Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition in Wellington gave him an appreciation of what the soldiers had endured.

Mark said the two brothers, both English-born, had started to break in Bushy Knoll Station under a Crown lease before returning to Britain to serve in the British Army when the war broke out

Edgar was gassed and wounded by shrapnel, but survived the war and returned to Gisborne.

He died in May, 1948, aged 79, and is buried in Taruheru Cemetery.

Their sister, Emily Kathleen Wallis, featured in the recently-published work by historian Kay Morris Matthews about Gisborne-East Coast nurses entitled Recovery: Women’s Overseas Service in World War 1.

Emily owned a private hospital in Gisborne, which she sold when she returned to England after war was declared in 1914.

She served in the Territorial Force Nursing Service in England and France, and never returned to New Zealand.

Emily died in 1943 after some years of illness.

On April 23 of that year, Mark Wallis’s son Shaun, who lives in London, visited the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium in April where John Hubert Wallis is honoured.

Tyne Cot Memorial is part of Tyne Cot Cemetery near the town of Ieper, which is better known by its French name of Ypres.

The memorial bears the names of 35,000 British and New Zealand soldiers who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918.

John Hubert Wallis is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial Panels 23 to 28 and 163A.

Mark said photographs of the military cemetery showed the experiences and loss suffered by his family made them “just one of many such families’’.

The prayer book was now his because ‘‘I’m the next in line’’.

He thanked Mr Stevens for returning the prayer book.

The two men met and enjoyed a long conversation about the past.

Mr Stevens said he found the prayer book more than 60 years ago and very much wanted to return it to the descendants of the original owner.

‘’I didn’t think there was a hope in hell. But it’s back; that’s the main thing.’’

The prayer book of the Gisborne farmer and British soldier killed in World War 1, John Hubert Wallis, has been returned to the Wallis family 140 years after it was presented to its original owner as a christening present in 1879.

Hubert Mark Wallis, who is known as Mark, said he immediately realised The Gisborne Herald article seeking descendants of the owner was about his great uncle.

Retired man Max Stevens found the prayer book in a deserted homestead on Hauturu Station inland from Te Puia Springs in 1958.

Mark said his father Bruce had told him stories over the years about his grandfather, Edgar Wallis, who survived the war, and his brother, John Wallis, who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know much about World War 1,’’ he said.

But a visit to Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition in Wellington gave him an appreciation of what the soldiers had endured.

Mark said the two brothers, both English-born, had started to break in Bushy Knoll Station under a Crown lease before returning to Britain to serve in the British Army when the war broke out

Edgar was gassed and wounded by shrapnel, but survived the war and returned to Gisborne.

He died in May, 1948, aged 79, and is buried in Taruheru Cemetery.

Their sister, Emily Kathleen Wallis, featured in the recently-published work by historian Kay Morris Matthews about Gisborne-East Coast nurses entitled Recovery: Women’s Overseas Service in World War 1.

Emily owned a private hospital in Gisborne, which she sold when she returned to England after war was declared in 1914.

She served in the Territorial Force Nursing Service in England and France, and never returned to New Zealand.

Emily died in 1943 after some years of illness.

On April 23 of that year, Mark Wallis’s son Shaun, who lives in London, visited the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium in April where John Hubert Wallis is honoured.

Tyne Cot Memorial is part of Tyne Cot Cemetery near the town of Ieper, which is better known by its French name of Ypres.

The memorial bears the names of 35,000 British and New Zealand soldiers who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918.

John Hubert Wallis is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial Panels 23 to 28 and 163A.

Mark said photographs of the military cemetery showed the experiences and loss suffered by his family made them “just one of many such families’’.

The prayer book was now his because ‘‘I’m the next in line’’.

He thanked Mr Stevens for returning the prayer book.

The two men met and enjoyed a long conversation about the past.

Mr Stevens said he found the prayer book more than 60 years ago and very much wanted to return it to the descendants of the original owner.

‘’I didn’t think there was a hope in hell. But it’s back; that’s the main thing.’’

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