JAMES ROBERT RUXTON LEYS
Regimental No. 4/557 changed to 15/557A
1 October 1895 – 17 April 1918
James Robert Ruxton LEYS (known as Jim) was the eldest son of Robert Ruxton and Florence Amelia Mary (nee Thurston) LEYS who were married on the 5th July 1894 in Marton, a small town in the Rangitikei region of the North Island of New Zealand. Robert was a journalist and he and Florence lived in Marton until 1896. James, their first child, was born on 1st October 1895, and the following year the family moved to Wellington.
Five more children were born during the next 15 years:
Daniel Fisher Cunliffe born 6 October 1899;
Gladys Rosa born 18 June 1900;
Kenneth Thurston born 7 September 1903;
Eric Tiki born 29 May 1907 and
Mary Cara 12 December 1911
In Wellington the family lived first at 13 Mulgrave Street, but they moved house many times; in 1902 they were at 12 Normanby Street, Newtown, 1905 at 21 Picton Avenue, Newtown; by1906 they had moved to 76 Tinakori Road, Thorndon; in 1909 they were at 48 Abel Smith Street; in 1912 at 6 Watson Street, Te Aro; and on the 1914 Electoral Roll they were at 19 Colombo Street, Newtown. The family eventually settled at 128 Ohiro Road, Brooklyn. At some stage Robert set aside his work as a journalist, and became a civil servant.
Jim attended Newtown School and Thorndon Normal School, taking part in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” operetta as a dwarf at the latter school in 1907. In 1908 while in Standard VI he received an award for ‘Diligence and Progress’ and a Second Class Attendance Certificate. After leaving Thorndon School he attended Wellington College until 1909 where he did well both scholastically and in sport. In 1909 Jim sat the Civil Service examination and gained 423 marks which was a good pass mark. When he left college, he joined the head office of the Bank of New Zealand in Wellington as a Clerk. At this time he was a member of the Wellington College Old Boys’ Cricket Eleven and the Athletic Football Club
Jim was living at 19 Colombo Street on 13 August 1914 when at the age of 19, like many other young men who worked at the Bank of New Zealand (393 by June 1918), he enlisted in the Divisional Signal Company at Trentham. He lied about his age, saying he had been born on 1st October 1893 rather than 1895 and gave his ‘apparent age’ as 20 years 2 months (which would also have been incorrect if he had been born in 1893). He was described as being 5 feet nine inches tall, weighed 10 stones 7 pounds; had fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. His religious profession was Church of England. His medical examination showed he had good eyesight and teeth; his hearing and colour vision were normal; he was free from hernia, variocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin-disease and had a distinct mark of vaccination. At his medical examination he was considered in good bodily and mental health with no defects sufficient to cause rejection. Although his father was still living, he gave his mother’s name and address as next of kin. Jim was assigned regimental number 4/557 and commenced military training at Trentham with the Divisional Signal Corps.
On 12 October 1914 as a Sapper Jim boarded the Waimana (NZTS 12). He was one of the 8,500 men comprising the Main Body of the NZ Expeditionary Force. The convoy of 10 ships sailed from Wellington on 16 October 1914 and stopped in Albany, Australia before departing with 28 Australian troopships for Alexandria, Egypt on 1 November 1914, arriving there on 2nd December 1914. Just before departing on the Waimana Jim was given additional inoculation to that received while at Trentham, and he was revaccinated in Egypt on 6th January 1915.
On 26 January 1915 whilst in Egypt Jim was transferred to Divisional Headquarters and his regimental number was changed from 4/557 to 15/557A which he retained for the remainder of his service. He quickly rose through the ranks, and by January 1915 he had been made Staff Sergeant. In April 1915 he was amongst the men who fought at Anzac Cove in the Dardanelles. In July, while still in Gallipoli he was transferred to HMT ‘Minnewaska’ and admitted to hospital for a week with sunstroke.
His service at Gallipoli continued until 9 September when he was sent back to Alexandria and assigned to clerical duties at Divisional HQ. Then he was taken on strength at Kasr-El-Nil Barracks in Cairo as Staff Sergeant in January 1916. In March of that year Jim was admitted to hospital in Cairo suffering from measles. His clerical role continued until on 5 May 1916 he was sent back to New Zealand aboard ‘Tahiti’ for commission.
Just prior to Jim’s return, his father, Robert Ruxton LEYS, was registered in No.5 Group as medically fit for service. Robert enlisted at Trentham on 1 May 1916 and was given the regimental number 20176 in F Company 16th Reinforcements and served as Staff Sergeant at Defence Headquarters in Wellington. His military personnel file comprises two pages of scant information so it is not known how long he remained with the Defence Department.
After a short time on leave Jim went to Trentham for officer training. He was nominated for a commission on 18 May 1916 by Col. Gibbon and was appointed as 2nd Lieutenant. On 30 June 1916 he transferred to B Company 3rd Battalion Otago Regiment at Trentham. In July 1916 he did training with the Officers’ Class and was then posted to the 19th Reinforcements. He was considered to be weak at instructing recruits and it was recommended that he have a further course of instruction. By 18 September the Assistant Infantry Instructor stated that ‘this Officer is fairly well up in his work, but has no command nor personality. With the arrival of the 21st Reinforcements in Camp this week these faults may be checked after some experience with the men. I consider further instruction would not be of any use to him.’ Jim remained with the 21st Reinforcements at Trentham and made satisfactory progress until December 1916 when he went on leave prior to once again being sent to Europe.
Second Lieutenant Leys left Wellington with HMNZT 74 aboard the Ulimaroa on 19 January 1917, arriving in Devonport, England on 27 March 1917. He was taken on strength and posted to 2nd Otago Infantry Battalion at Sling until 15 April 1917 where he was to be Lieutenant to complete the establishment. He was only at Sling until 2 May when he marched out to the 4th Brigade at Codford and taken on strength with 10th Company. On 28 March 1917 he left Codford and embarked for France, disembarking at Le Havre on 29 March.
Jim was in the field in France until 3 August when he was detached to the Machine Gun School at Le Toquet to learn to use the Lewis gun. On 20 August 1917 he was arrested by the Military Police and charged with being drunk at Paris-Plage when on active service. At his Court Martial on 3 September 1917 he pleaded Not Guilty to drunkenness and stated that his alcohol had been poisoned. He was found to be Guilty and his sentence was to be severely reprimanded.
On 15 September 1917 Jim was detached from the School of Instruction and rejoined his Battalion in the field. He remained there until 9 December when he proceeded on leave until 15 December.
In February 1918 Jim had the temporary rank of Captain while commanding a company of the Entrenching Battalion in France. On 16 April 1918 while in command of the 1st Otago Company during the Fourth Battle of Ypres, Jim was wounded in the wrist in action near Meteren, France. Although his wrist was broken, he killed five men with his revolver while leading his party to capture an enemy machine gun which was causing heavy casualties. He was shot in the stomach by another gun and his men rescued him and took him to the 19th Field Ambulance dressing station. From there he was transferred to the 36th Casualty Clearing Station in Belgium where he died of his wounds on 17 April 1918, aged 22. For this action he was awarded the Military Cross the citation reading “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy attack. He led his party forward and captured a machine gun which was causing heavy casualties, killing five of the enemy with his revolver. He showed fine courage and determination.” Supplement London Gazette 13 September 1918.
The role of the Entrenching Battalion in the actions of April 1918 are fully described in pages 304-308 of Chapter XIV of the Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918 which is available online at http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz//tm/scholarly/tei-WH1-Otag-t1-body-d2-d14.html. Jim’s role and the action for which he was awarded the Military Cross are fully described on page 307.
Jim was buried on 20 April 1918 at Haringhe Military Cemetery, (approx. 18kms west of Ieper, Belgium) in grave V.D.21. He was only 22 years old, and had served for nearly four years.
Jim's Military Cross was presented by the Governor General to his father Robert Ruxton Leys of 228 Happy Valley Road as next of kin of the late (temp) Captain J.R.R. Leys at an investiture held at Government House, Wellington on 22 March 1921. His plaque and scroll were sent to his father in August 1921 and his 1914-1918 Star, British War Medal and Victoria Medal were sent to his mother at 228 Happy Valley Road on 28 September 1921.
Jim is named on the Bank of New Zealand ‘In Memoriam’ plaque which can be viewed in the Bank of New Zealand Arcade, Willis St/Featherston St/Lambton Quay, Wellington. He is one of 71 named men who had worked for the Bank of New Zealand and died during the 1914-1918 War.
Other family information
One of James’ younger brothers, Kenneth Thurston Leys who married Gwendoline May CONNELL in 1930, named his son James Robert Thurston after his deceased brother.
Jim’s father Robert died on 13 June 1933 aged 62 years. A report in The Evening Post of 17 June 1933, p.14. advised that Robert had committed suicide. “A verdict that the deceased hanged himself while in a state of mental depression brought on by illness was returned by the coroner, Mr E. Gilbertson, J.P., at an inquest yesterday on the death of Robert Ruxton Leys, who was found hanging from a tree in the Town Belt, Kilbirnie, on Tuesday.”
Jim’s mother died at the age of 62 on 20 January 1938. She and Robert were buried in Karori Cemetery.
Research undertaken by Ann Walker.
Evening Post, 29 April 1918:
LEYS – Died of wounds somewhere in France on 17th April 1918, Captain (temporary) James Robert Ruxton Leys (Main Body and 21st Reinforcements), beloved eldest son of R.R. and F. Leys of 228 Happy Valley Road, Brooklyn, and grandson of the late James Leys, master mariner: aged 22 years. Deeply regretted; loved by all. (Wanganui papers please copy)
Otago Daily Times, 10 May 1918 p.4.
On April 17, 1918, died from wounds “Somewhere in France” Captain James Robert Leys (Main Body and 21st Reinforcements) beloved eldest son of R.R. and F. Leys of Brooklyn, Wellington, and grandson of the late James Leys (master mariner), and nephew of Mrs Walter Wright, Girdwood Leys, and the late Mrs Max Darcy; aged 22 years. Loved by all.
Dominion, 17 April 1919:
“In loving memory of Captain James R.R. Leys M.C. (Main Body and Twenty-first Reinforcements), who died of wounds received action near Meteren on 17 April 1918; in his 23rd year.
He shall not grow old, as we are left grow old,
Age shall not weary him, nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember him.
(Inserted by loving parents and brothers and sisters)
The immediately below were kindly supplied by Leys family descendants. The first (on the left) is Jim in civilian clothes, presumably taken prior to him signing up. The second has been cropped from the group photograph (far right). None of the photos are dated but on the back of the group photo is: James Robert Ruxton WW11914-1918 Second Lieutenant Embarkation Wellington 17.01.1917 Vessel-Ulimoroa Destination-Suez, Egypt