Topic: Trooper Thomas William Withers

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A soldier of the Great War who died of malaria in Palestine.

Thomas William WithersTrooper Thomas William Withers – 50050

Thomas was born at Southbridge on 12th September 1896, youngest son of Dr Thomas John and Margaret Withers. He was born and educated at Southbridge and before going into camp was employed on the "Oakleigh "estate, his last employer being C. H. Enson of Rangiora. He was described as a lad of a bright disposition and made many friends. He had previous military experience with the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry, 1st Mounted Rifles. He was 5ft 8in tall with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair.

Thomas enlisted at Christchurch on 2 February 1917 and was assigned to the 29th Reinforcements, Mounted Rifles Brigade. He embarked 13 November 1917 fromWellington for Suez on board the SS Tofua arriving just before Christmas on 21 December 1917. He marched in and was posted to the Mounted Rifles Training Regiment. On 13th January he was posted to the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Squadron based at Moascar and then three months later transferred to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. He joined them in the field and was posted to the 10th Squadron on 17 April and then to the 1st squadron on 10 August. However on 27 September he was sent to hospital and admitted to the Field Ambulance with Pyrexia ie fever. He arrived at the 34th Casualty Clearing Hospital in Jersusalem on 7 October but sadly was one of the many to die of Malignant (falciparum) Malaria. He died on 9 October 1918, aged 22 and was buried in the Jerusalem War cemetery, Palestine on the same day with Rev P. Evans officiating. It must have given some comfort to the family of a sincere Christian such as Thomas to know that he lies in a cemetery at the north end of the famous Mount of Olives and to the west of Mount Scopus. In New Zealand Thomas is remembered on the Ellesmere County War Memorial and the Southbridge School Roll of Honour.

The Ellesmere Guardian reported on a service held to honour him. “The evening service on young people's day at the Southbridge Presbyterian Church was turned into an in memoriam service in honour of the late Trooper T. W. Withers. The Rev. T. G. Butler preached a suitable sermon and also read the following appreciation written by the late minister, the Rev. Geo. Lindsay:  It is questionable if any of the young men, of the district was better or more favourably known than the younger son of the late Dr Withers. He was born and grew up in this district, and by his kind, genial disposition won the respect and esteem of companions, friends and loved ones. He possessed great kindliness of heart, and was ever ready to help in whatever way he could those to whom he judged he could be of service. When he reached the age when he could enlist he at once did so, showing his loyalty and readiness to bear arms and take the risks of the battlefield, and even lay down life in the service of the Empire. There is no need to tell of his deep loving interest in the welfare of St. John's congregation; his gift of the Roll of Honour which hangs on the wall of the church is a proof of the love he bore his church. As his minister for close on five years I had many tokens of his willingness to render what help he could in carrying on the work of the parish. I had also frequent opportunities of knowing his personal interest in religion. One of the marked features of Tom Withers's character was his love for his mother. It was delightful to see the little courtesies and attention shown to her, and his evident desire to put honour upon her and give her pleasure. Next to his devotion to his mother was his regard for his sisters and readiness to do them service. There is comfort in the thought that the Commander-in-Chief has called him to the higher service." Now the labourer's task is o'er, Now the battle day is past, Now upon the farther shore Lands the voyager at last. Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XXIV, Issue 4019, 2 November 1918, Page 2

NOTE: In October 1918, the troops in Palestine experienced simultaneous epidemics of falciparum malaria and influenza during the cavalry campaign that defeated the Turkish Army. Falciparum malaria is the most dangerous type of malaria, which is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Falciparum malaria is associated with high levels of parasites in the blood and has the highest death rate and rate of complications of all types of malaria. Red blood cells that are infected with the parasite tend to sludge and lead to micro-infarctions (tiny areas of dead tissue due to lack of oxygen) in capillaries in the brain, liver, adrenal gland, intestinal tract, kidneys, lungs, and other organs. This malaria infection occurred 2 weeks after the advance of cavalry units into areas without environmental mosquito control. Pandemic influenza, now thought to be an A/H1N1 strain, struck at the same time. In the Egyptian Expeditionary Force of 315 000 soldiers, 773 died from malaria and 934 from influenza–pneumonia. Disease casualties outnumbered those due to combat by more than 37 to 1. For more information cf https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2009/191/11/simultaneous-epidemics-influenza-and-malaria-australian-army-palestine-1918

Researched and written by L M Seaton 

CWGC Cemetery locale history: t the outbreak of the First World War, Palestine (now Israel) was part of the Turkish Empire and it was not entered by Allied forces until December 1916. The advance to Jerusalem took a further year, but from 1914 to December 1917, about 250 Commonwealth prisoners of war were buried in the German and Anglo-German cemeteries of the city. By 21 November 1917, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force had gained a line about five kilometres west of Jerusalem, but the city was deliberately spared bombardment and direct attack. Very severe fighting followed, lasting until the evening of 8 December, when the 53rd (Welsh) Division on the south, and the 60th (London) and 74th (Yeomanry) Divisions on the west, had captured all the city's prepared defences. Turkish forces left Jerusalem throughout that night and in the morning of 9 December, the Mayor came to the Allied lines with the Turkish Governor's letter of surrender. Jerusalem was occupied that day and on 11 December, General Allenby formally entered the city, followed by representatives of France and Italy. Meanwhile, the 60th Division pushed across the road to Nablus, and the 53rd across the eastern road. From 26 to 30 December, severe fighting took place to the north and east of the city but it remained in Allied hands. JERUSALEM WAR CEMETERY was begun after the occupation of the city, with 270 burials. It was later enlarged to take graves from the battlefields and smaller cemeteries in the neighbourhood, including:- BETHLEHEM GERMAN CEMETERY, in which one man of the Australian Light Horse was buried in June 1918. JERICHO MILITARY CEMETERY No.1, a little South of the Jerusalem road, which contained the graves of 61 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 27 from Australia and six from New Zealand. Jericho was entered by the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade on the 21st February 1918, and in May the 2nd/4th London Field Ambulance was stationed there. JERICHO MILITARY CEMETERY No.2, approximately 3 kilometres South West of the town. It contained the graves of 17 soldiers from Australia, 17 from India, nine from the United Kingdom, six from the West Indies and three from New Zealand; one man of the Egyptian Labour Corps; and four German and three Turkish prisoners. JERUSALEM PROTESTANT CEMETERY, on the side of Mount Zion. It was owned by the British and German religious communities. It contained the graves of 114 British soldiers, buried from March to December 1917, by the enemy, and then, until February 1918, by the British forces. JERUSALEM GERMAN HOSPICE MILITARY CEMETERY, on the Mount of Olives, in which 166 British and a number of German soldiers were buried. LIMBER HILL MILITARY CEMETERY No.1, close to a Casualty Clearing Station, near the road from Bireh to Jufna. Here were buried, in April-October 1918, 70 soldiers from India, 31 from the United Kingdom, three of the Cape Corps and one German prisoner. RAM ALLAH MILITARY CEMETERY, where 19 soldiers from the United Kingdom and one German airman were buried from December 1917 until April 1918. There are now 2,515 Commonwealth burials of the First World War in the cemetery, 100 of them unidentified. There is a small Jewish Section, near Plot "N". Within the cemetery stands the JERUSALEM MEMORIAL, commemorating 3,300 Commonwealth servicemen who died during the First World War in operations in Egypt or Palestine and who have no known grave. It was designed by Sir John Burnet, with sculpture by Gilbert Bayes. In addition, the mosaic in the Memorial Chapel was designed by Robert Anning Bell. The Memorial was unveiled by Lord Allenby and Sir James Parr on 7 May 1927.

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Trooper Thomas William Withers


First Names:Thomas William
Last Name:Withers
Date of Birth:12th September 1896
Place of Birth:Southbridge
Date of Death:09 October 1918
Place of Death:Palestine/Israel
Memorial or Cemetery:Jerusalem War cemetery, Israel
Age at death:22
User Name:L. M. Seaton
Occupation before enlisting:Farmer
Marital Status:Single
Nominal Roll:74/5
Regiment or Service:Mounted Rifles
Country:New Zealand
Enlistment details:12 February 1917
Parents or Next of Kin:Son of Dr Thomas John and Margaret Withers (father), Southbridge, New Zealand
Service Number:50050
Rank last held:Trooper
Embarkation:13 November 1917
Place of Embarkation:Wellington
Transport:Tofua
Theatres of War:Palestine
Cause of Death:Died of malaria
Other biographical information:Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Trooper Thomas William Withers by Selwyn Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License